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The breeding herd of elephants moves through the South African savannah, towards the waterhole in front of our suite at Serondella Game Lodge. Surprisingly quiet on their feet, the pachyderms head for the water’s edge to slake their thirst. A tiny calf struggles to control his trunk, a skill he has yet to learn. It gives up trying and suckles from its mother’s engorged breasts that hang between her front legs. One mature female, possibly the matriarch, sports long tusks.

As silently as they appeared, the family group disappears into the bush, leaving ripples on the water. As I laze in the private plunge pool on our deck, a flash of yellow alerts me to the Black-headed Oriole, whose liquid notes have been cascading down from the Jacket-plum tree above me. A Lilac-breasted roller hunts for insects, repeatedly returning to its perch.

With two family cottages and three suites, Serondella is an intimate lodge, with lush grass and landscaped beds of indigenous plants, set in the Thornybush Game Reserve. Recently reimagined and refurbished, the beds are comfortable, the linen new – including fluffy grey bath sheets, and Indian cotton towels – the mosquito nets on curtain runners, are easy to draw back in the morning. Inside and outdoor showers have views of the waterhole. Having an al fresco bath laden with bath salts, beneath a Weeping boerbean tree, is a foretaste of Nirvana.

The communal area of Serondella comprises a lounge, well-stocked bar and indoor dining area, with a wooden deck facing the waterhole. Our table is set in a different place for each meal, including in the library, adjacent to the wine cellar. I am impressed to find South African wines, awarded 4-5 stars. Lingering here after my lunch, I peruse the coffee table books, then select a novel set in Africa, from the carefully curated collection.

Children of all ages are warmly welcomed at Serondella, where they may join their parents on a game drive. When parents prefer a drive on their own, children revel in time back at the lodge with caring staff. During a nature ramble in the lodge gardens – known as a ‘Bumble’ – kids explore to find lizards, spider webs, interesting stones, insects and antelope dung. Entertained with board games about animals and birds, with delightful children’s books on a range of topics, imagination and education merge. The communal infinity swimming provides hours of play. In addition, youngsters never know what creatures may visit the waterhole…

Thornybush Game Reserve is renowned for extraordinary game sightings. It is possible to see the Big Five, as well as packs of African wild dogs. We find a coalition of four male lions, which has hunted down a giraffe.

Later, I photograph a young leopard female up a Marula tree, feeding on the impala that she has caught. At another sighting our tracker locates a male leopard with notably thick neck muscles. This cat has also chosen a Marula tree to hoist an impala ram and Stash in forked branch. All in a day’s viewing!

Fascinating to watch – though emotional for me – is a feeding frenzy with eleven Spotted hyenas and scores of vultures on an elephant carcass. It’s a chaotic scene with vultures bickering, as they unfurl their wings, attempting to scare one another away from the food. Hyenas charge the vultures and snarl and snap at one another. This is a graphic visual of fight for survival in the wild and the cycle of nutrients and of life.

At my evening meal, the rack of Impala served with al dente vegetables, is arguably the best I have ever tasted. As well as savoring the pecan nut pie for dessert, I am offered home-made Vanilla ice-cream that my butler knows I like. How could I refuse? Each three-course dinner includes vegetarian, fish or chicken options. Vegan creations are readily made on request.

As I sip my cappuccino under a waxing moon, I glance across to the waterhole. A solitary elephant bull, monumental in silhouette, stands with his trunk resting on one of his tusks. Serondella – a Tsonga word for ‘place of the elephants’ – has surely lived up to its name.

Getting There

Federal Airlines has shuttle flights from their private air terminal near to Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, to lodge landing strips in the Lowveld. To Serondella’s airstrip and back to Johannesburg, I was turbopropped in a Cessna 208B Caravan, a nine-seater aircraft. Covid protocols are observed in the private terminal lounge, as well as on the flights. The lounge has an indoor and outdoor area, where drinks and snacks are served as I wait. It is a simple, comfortable space, right next to their runway.

Self Drive from Johannesburg is a pleasant 6-hour road trip.

Consider this:

Thornybush is a malaria area, so please consult your doctor for prophylaxis
Thornybush Game Reserve has outstanding game sightings all year round
Article by Gillian McLaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Gillian McLaren and Serondella

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