“If you need anything, your butler’s name is Isaac.”
Butler?! I have a butler?! It took me a moment to realize he wasn’t kidding.
Toni Watson, my host at the Molori Safari Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, smiled and opened the massive wooden doors (think Game of Thrones) that led to the Metsi presidential suite where I would spend the next three nights.
Stepping into the vestibule I froze. In front of me lay a sprawling living room larger than my New York City apartment. Opposite me, a wall of retractable glass doors revealed a large wrap around patio with a full size infinity pool, jacuzzi and outdoor shower.
When I recovered from my shock, Toni took me on a little tour. To my left stood a kitchen and a dining room for six. To my right, a small study with an iMac and every National Geographic magazine printed to date. My bedroom—which was massive—included a king-sized bed, entertainment center, sitting area, vaulted ceiling, and a crystal chandelier.
Just when I thought he was finished, he presented the walk-in dressing room and the pièce du résistance, a huge marble bathroom with a glass-enclosed, free-standing tub. The suite was so over-the-top that I expected to find Brad and Angelina around the next corner.
And that, essentially, is what Molori is all about. It’s the kind of sanctuary that celebrities, politicians and discerning travelers seek for their romantic getaways and posh family vacations.
Located in the Madikwe Game Reserve near the Botswana border, Molori offers guests a mountainside retreat with unabashed luxury, first class cuisine and customized service. Want to go on a game drive in middle of the night? Sure. Eat all your meals in your suite? No problem, a chef is on call. But more importantly, Molori delivers privacy. Each of the six suites is a world unto itself, a home away from home. Literally. It’s the kind of solitude that the rich and famous desire but few can provide.
For those who wish to venture out, the open-air main house provides patrons with a public venue—and I say “public” lightly considering the number of suites available—where guests can mingle. There’s a bar, another pool, various views of the countryside below from terraces strategically place among the trees, and the lodge’s private watering hole—a favorite haunt for thirsty wildlife.
The Bush at Molori Safari Lodge
Before I arrived in South Africa, I spent eight days along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, a world that for the most part all wide open spaces and a sea of neutral colors. Madikwe was the polar opposite. Awash in orange soil and green leaves, the scenery was strikingly vivid and almost prehistoric with its bush willow trees and dense shrubbery.
My guide was Sean van der Merwe, a 13-year veteran of the bush, who specializes in trees and is a closet bonsai lover. His degree in Dendrology aside, Sean kept us in the middle of the action when it came to wildlife.
On our first game drive we watched two male white rhinos engage in a fierce battle for dominance, and shortly afterwards a pride of lions devouring a buffalo—two unique sightings made all the more special back to back.
In Namibia, I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of a brown hyena, but it wasn’t until Madikwe that I had my first sighting. A pair of jackals were happily chewing on remnants of an impala kill when two brown hyena appeared. At first it looked as if they might share, but at the first opportunity the hyenas bolted with the bones, leaving the jackals with a solitary hoof.
One of the most memorable mornings took place during a raging downpour. We’d been sitting at a nearby dam waiting for animals to come and drink, when suddenly the wind picked up and the clouds let loose. Everything was soaked.
We decided to wait out the rain at Molori and to our surprise there were over 60 elephants, along with some kudu and impala, at the watering hole in front of the lodge. After weeks of drought, the rain was a much needed salve for the reserve, and while experts say we shouldn’t anthropomorphize their behavior, I swear the elephants were celebrating.
In between game drives, I spent a lot of my time eating (no one will ever go hungry at Molori, there was more food than I could ever eat in a lifetime), editing photographs or photographing the animals around the watering hole. Molori treated me to a massage, and as is always the case, I had no idea how sore I was until the masseuse started working on me. By the time it was over my muscles were wet noodles of contentment and my soul soon followed.
A girl could really get used to the high life. I wonder how much a butler costs?
Molori Safari Lodge
Who’ll love it: Families looking for quality time together. The camp is fenced and children of all ages are welcome. Honeymooners or couples that want to go all out. Solo travelers that don’t mind possibly being alone during their stay if the other guests are more reclusive.
How to get there: From Johannesburg, Molori is a four-hour drive or a one hour small plane ride on Federal Air. Best to let Molori handle the booking, the airline is hard to reach outside of South Africa. The lodge is a 10 minute drive once you set down in Madikwe. For those who prefer helicopters, Molori also has a helipad.
For international travelers from the United States, I recommend South African Air’s direct flight from JFK. If you arrive late, the Intercontinental Hotel at the airport is perfect for a layover stay. The Federal Air terminal is within the OR Tambo airport complex and an easy walk from the hotel. (Full disclosure: SAA provided me with a flight for this trip but I’ve been flying SAA for years and they have no influence over what I write. )
Sightings: Lots of elephants, lion, leopard, black-backed jackal, wildebeest, brown hyena, leopard tortoise, kudu, impala, wart hog, giraffe, zebra, hyrax, white rhino, a black mamba snake, and a myriad of birds,
Photographers dream: The lodge has a jeep modified for photographers. It has six seats instead of the standard nine, enabling freedom of movement throughout the vehicle, and two swiveling metal bars for shooters who prefer to use gimbal heads. I particularly liked the large bin affixed to the back of the front seat that held my tripod, personal belongings and ancillary equipment.
Other features worth checking out: Check out the gym, outdoor yoga studio and spa near the main house.
Nice touch: When my laundry delivered it was wrapped so beautifully in tissue paper (and a ribbon) I thought they’d given me a gift.
You should try: Indulge in high tea. I had mine under a lovely tent high on one of the lodge’s many terraces overlooking the bush.