IF YOU were a high-profile couple like, say, William and Kate, you would have to look for a pretty special place to escape to. Somewhere that offers the ultimate in privacy, yet at the same time offers intimate communal facilities.
That place would be even more special if it somehow managed to combine all the attractions of the bush, while at the same time being just a stone’s throw away from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
But such a place does exist and it’s right on our doorsteps, being a short drive from East London, and an easy four-hour or less drive from Port Elizabeth.
The place in question is the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve near Chintsa where the luxury tents are set a discreet distance away from each other, and accommodation is kept to just 13 units to give a feeling of being completely at one with nature.
But these are no ordinary tents. Ours, in the Valley Camp, had a spacious deck with armchairs overlooking lush green vegetation. There are also wooden floors in the bedroom, which comes complete with bar fridge, and tiled floors in the bathroom which features a freestanding slipper bath and a glass-walled shower which divides the room from the bush, offering an indoor/outdoor shower experience which is a real pleasure.
Meals, which are an experience in itself, are served in the Sunset Lapa sited a small drive from the tents where a welcome fire (it being a very damp weekend when we visited) helps set the mood for a freshly prepared meal of shrimp cocktail, followed by a choice of kingklip or a (very substantial) mixed grill comprising steak, pork chop and sausage accompanied by potato bake and an assortment of veggies.
Simple fare maybe, but honest-to- goodness home cooking.
Desserts, should you find the space, included ice cream and chocolate sauce and fruit salad.
Breakfast is also served in the communal restaurant and is a recommended start to the day, with choices ranging from yoghurt and cereal to the traditional full English.
And so, tummies full, it was time to set off to explore the 4500 hectare reserve which has the Big Five.
As mentioned, it being more of an English day than South African, our hopes of spotting game were not all that high, so we headed for the elephant interaction where we were met by the very knowledgeable Trinity Kaswaurere who started off by explaining that the three elephants at the interaction had been rescued from culling in Limpopo.
For an hour we got to learn so much more about these gentle giants, which can live quite happily alongside man.
For instance, we learnt how difficult it was to control the elephant population: In small reserves it is possible to put the cow on the pill, but in larger reserves like Addo, it is nigh on impossible. Castration for bulls is also out as their testicles are inside the body. A cut on an elephant can take up to 18 months to heal, during which time infection would probably set in and the animal would die.
We also learnt that elephants are not, in fact, afraid of mice. It’s just that they have very bad eyesight and would get a fright, just as you or I would, if a mouse ran across their feet. Making up for the bad eyesight, is their incredible sense of smell, far superior to that of sniffer dogs.
And the saying an elephant never forgets: It’s true. For instance, if you come across an elephant shaking its head from side to side and give it a reward while saying “headshake”, it will oblige to the command when you repeat it. Even years later.
And, as we learnt during the interaction where members of the public get to feed (and cuddle in one case!) the animals, they do not just respond to the trainer. They will react to the command from anyone – but just don’t forget that treat!
The weather having brightened a little, we left the elephants with not just a little reluctance in search of another prize – white lions which, at one point, were thought to have become extinct.
However, they were found at the Kruger National Park some years ago. Fences were taken down and breeding once again started. That said, there are only believed to be 300 white lions worldwide so we were extremely lucky to come across a mixed pride of white and brown lions only minutes into our search.
There was a huge male, a number of females and three cubs, two white one brown, none of which seemed perturbed by our presence. In fact, when we finally decided it was time to head back to base, they followed us for a little distance.
The reserve is also home to a wide variety of buck, zebra, giraffe, ostrich, buffalo and much more.
For those of a slightly nervous dispostion (yes, we did see a snake!) or if the lack of TV bothers you, then check out sister accommodation Chintsa Sands where there is TV in a communal lounge as well as in all the rooms or the Umnenga lodge.
Day game drives can be arranged from both venues.
But for those with a love of the bush, or simply a desire to get off the beaten track for a while, back at Inkwenkwezi there may be no hairdryers in the room, definitely no TV – let alone internet access – but who needs gadgets when you have the chance to commune with nature in an amazing pristine yet tropical spot?
It’s the ideal retreat.