The Bush in the back yard

Published in Sunday Times Travel, 1 July 2012

Main Gate to Dinokeng

Main Gate to Dinokeng

Real bushveld is something you will only find in South Africa. A place where the scrub is so thick you can’t see the lion stretching out in the shade of an Acacia tree. A place where the heat is emphasised by the squealing of sunbeetles at midday.

Recessions are not for sissies and we’re all affected in some way or another by the current economic situation in the world, even if it’s only our wallets being a little lighter than we’re used to.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Gauteng`s newest precious gem , only 60 minutes from Johannesburg,  the Dinokeng Game Reserve.

Since I was a little I was crazy about the Kruger National Park and jumped at every chance I got to visit the bushveld. Lately the Kruger is fully booked for weeks or months in advance.  Trying to find accommodation in the Kruger during holiday season is about as rare as a lion-kill in the middle of the main road.

Another thing about the Kruger is it’s quite a hassle getting there for only a weekend. It’s also not ideal trying to find an airline ticket to Nelspruit or hoping that a public holiday falls on the right day to create a very long weekend, so often we simply end up not going to the Kruger after all.

Luckily there’s no need to go looking for lions that far from Gauteng anymore. For the first time in 150 years Gauteng once again has free roaming lions and they can be found within the borders of the 18 500 hectares of the newly developed Dinokeng Game Reserve.

The first free roaming lions in Gauteng in over 100 years

The first free roaming lions in Gauteng in over 100 years

Dinokeng is the brain child of a few farmers who decided to take down the fences of their farms to create wide open spaces, big enough to host the big five, which is now available for sightseeing here. With a little help from the government their plan slowly fell into place and early 2011 the gates were opened and the first lions set free.

Early one cloudy Saturday morning I found my way to the Hammanskraal/ Rust de Winter turnoff, North of Pretoria, for a day in the bushveld. My chosen island of rest for the day in the reserve was Mongena Lodge, a fabulous four-star facility.

Its chalets, luxurious and comfortable, lie widely spread over inviting green lawns and make you feel like you are all by yourself in the bush. If you do start feeling lonely you can always go and enjoy a drink at the swimming pool bar, relax on the big veranda of the breakfast lounge or swoon over the world class quality lunches and dinners served at the modern Kingfisher restaurant.

Accommodation prices include breakfast and/ or dinner. There are different room sizes available with even a family room option which makes it easier for families who would like to stay together.

Aside from Mongena, Dinokeng has  a number of accommodation options available, varying from luxurious four star lodges to more affordable self-catering units (R350 per night). To find the option that suits your needs best, you can send an email to Dinokeng reception and they will help you quickly in finding a proper resting place for your head.

For day visitors, who can’t come for the weekend, Dinokeng has provided a rest camp with a swimming pool and ablution facilities. There’s no chance that visitors to the reserve will suffer from boredom as there is a wide range of activities available across the park, ranging from fishing and horseriding to paragliding and boat cruises on the large dam.

Leaving my car at the lodge (no private cars are allowed in the reserve) I booked one of the daily two-hour game-drives to see the big five up-close. All the lodges have game drives leaving throughout the day at R150pp.

For two hours you become part of the wonder of nature and gape at the unusual shape of the eland (not sure if it’s an ox or an antelope), the snort of the impala and the elegance of the elephant’s huge trunk that can pick a small leaf from a rugged, thorny branch.

After an hour we stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy a cold drink with tasty snacks while a herd of eland is watching us from a safe distance. I guess they probably found us more bizarre than we did them, because after a short while they decided it was time to migrate.

Romantic souls will enjoy the bush-picnic option.  The cost is reasonable at R180pp for three hours, which obviously includes a meal. An option of which I am definitely going to make use of in the near future.

With the taste of one of the Kingfisher restaurant’s chicken burgers (one of the best I have ever had) still in my mouth and the sound of the kingfisher’s call across the dam still in my ears, I had to say goodbye with a heavy heart and head home.

For someone visiting Gauteng and longing to see some game, it’s a good idea to give Dinokeng a try. Whilst the bushveld isn’t exactly a gold reef, it cannot be said it’s not precious in its own right.

For more information: 

Contact:  Carlien—082 736 9160/ 0861 346653/ 0861 DINOKENG

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