Jacques van der Westhuyzen

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Head of Sport

Pilanesberg getaway: There’s nothing like the bushveld

The majestic Pilanesberg and its surrounds offers plenty to the city slicker – and the best part of it, its close enough to go away for a weekend.

For someone who grew up in the Free State, where nothing much happens, living in the bright lights and big city of Joburg has been nothing short of exciting.

It’s the place I’ve called home for over 20 years and while it is not everyone’s cup of tea and it certainly has its downfalls, big city life has been good to me, and I’ve enjoyed it.

The one positive of living in Gauteng is that there is always plenty to do and lots to see.

But more importantly, only a few kilometres outside of Joburg and Pretoria there is a whole new world – the bush.

And there’s nothing like the South African bushveld to warm the heart and lift the spirits in these challenging times we live in.

Life is crazy nowadays; it certainly seems busier and more demanding since Covid hit our world and, ironically, there never seems to be an opportunity to properly switch off. It really is go, go, go!

But, when one does get a gap to escape, bordering on the outskirts of Gauteng, the majestic Pilanesberg and its surrounds, in North West, offers plenty to the city slicker – and the best part of it all is there are many places close enough to go away for a weekend.

So, when I was afforded the opportunity of a two-night getaway, I took it.

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Now, while I’ve always enjoyed the sea and beach holidays, I’ve possibly always loved the bush a little more – maybe it’s the Free State upbringing or the fact the bush is so quiet, the fact the stars shine so brightly or that one can really get close to nature.

Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge game drives. Pictures: Supplied
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. Picture: Supplied

Seeing Africa’s great wild animals in their natural habitat is of course a bonus.

So, we set off to Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge one Friday afternoon. I knew where it was from many visits to Sun City over the years (it’s right next door) so I knew it was only a two-hour drive. Bonus.

Now, if you know that part of the world and the Pilanesberg you know it’s dry, hard bushveld. Either you like it or you don’t. I like it. And the fact there haven’t been any rains recently makes it all the more natural.

Anyway, Kwa Maritane – which translates to “Place of the Rock” – is in the Pilanesberg National Park and from the moment you enter the gates you get that “holiday, weekend-getaway vibe” in which all your strains and stresses are left behind.

Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge elephant. Picture: Supplied
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. Picture: Supplied

It’s a beautiful set-up. There is the hotel section, with a variety of different rooms and suites, and there are the self-catering units spread out across a stunning piece of land, with the restaurant, spa, gym, bar, main pool and reception area in the middle.

We stayed in a hotel room, which was spacious, with a nice view of the bushveld, but it is the self-catering units that probably have the best views of the actual park and animals that pass or stop to drink at the watering hole, which borders on the lodge.

An underground tunnel of 200m from the lodge to a hide in the park is something quite special and unique, and if you get lucky you’ll be able to get really close to seeing elephants and other animals drinking and cooling off at the watering hole.

Live visuals from the hide are screened on a television channel in the rooms so visitors can always keep an eye on what’s happening at the watering hole, which is pretty cool.

Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge playground. Picture: Supplied
Picture: Supplied

The resort offers all sorts of entertainment to the young and old – there are multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, putt-putt, kiddies playground, a climbing wall, pool table and table tennis, and for the adults a superb bar/lounge to unwind.

There’s also a business centre, conference facility, a museum and wildlife centre.

Also, Kwa Maritane now also offers a junior game-ranger programme for kids under 12, while for those interested in “creepy crawlies” there are snake and reptile demonstrations on weekends.

Of course, when you go into the bush, the highlight will always be the game-drive and Kwa Maritane doesn’t disappoint.

Having only ever experienced a “self-drive” – at other parks and especially the Kruger National Park – there was plenty of excitement among us (that’s me, my wife and a 13-year-old boy) that for the first time, we’d go for a game-drive in an open truck.

Pilanesberg National Park is home to Africa’s “Big Five”, but we didn’t get that lucky. But we saw plenty of buck, zebra, rhino, giraffe, hippopotamus, wildebee stand of course elephant.

Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge outdoors. Picture: Supplied
Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge. Picture: Supplied

We were wonderfully taken care of and always felt safe even when our exit of the park was interrupted by a herd of elephants on the road and we were forced to stop for close to an hour. It was dark already, but the elephants were enjoying a tasty meal and didn’t budge.

What an experience that was – seeing the elephants a metre or two away from our truck eating from the trees and shrubs.

Following the game-drive, we were offered the opportunity to dine at the open-air bush boma (which it does to all visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays), which I looked forward to as the last time I’d experienced anything like that was years ago on my honeymoon in Zimbabwe at Elephant Hills, close to the Victoria Falls.

Sadly, we left the bush braai after just an hour. The food was cold, the service wasn’t great and there was little atmosphere, even with a marimba band playing.

Unfortunately, the experience at the boma wasn’t the only dining disappointment. While the restaurant offered fabulous food (and I especially liked Friday night’s fish offering) everything that wasn’t prepared freshly on the hot plates, such as the fresh fish, stirfry, steaks (on a Saturday night) and at breakfast, the eggs, waffles and pancakes, everything was, again, cold.

Our Saturday lunchtime pizza on the restaurant deck, overlooking the park, was delicious and probably one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten, but this was made to order. Come on Kwa Maritane, heat up your food, and all will be great!

Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge food offerings. Picture: Supplied

Overall, it was a wonderful getaway. We played tennis, pool, went on a game drive, enjoyed a drink under the stars and heard no noisy motorbikes or souped-up cars revving at the closest traffic light. We nearly took a dip, too, but it was just too cold.

The younger kids weren’t put off and they enjoyed the slide and heated kids’ pool.

We could have gone for a spa treatment or a massage or used the gym, but time wasn’t on our side.

It was peaceful, the staff were friendly and helpful and we left saying, “That was great!”

And that’s what matters most, in the end.

I’d certainly consider going back, maybe for more than just the two nights and in summer when it’s a bit warmer and we can all swim – and stay outside for longer.

There’s something about the South African bush that is very special, and no one can take that away from Kwa Maritane.

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