– African Safari Review by Jonathan Sophie Ellaby
We visit one of Addo’s three exclusive lodges for a dose of colonial luxury and come away impressed with what the large reserve has to offer. And the hospitality.
It’s a warm winter’s day when we arrive, greeted by the competent front-of-house team and we tuck into a scrumptious lunch while our room is being prepared. A good chunk of the reserve’s 120-odd elephant are parading not far from the lunch terrace, while a couple of fish eagles wheel overhead. It’s a promising start.
Addo Main Game Area can sometimes feel a bit claustrophobic, with a lot of roads traversing quite a small area. If you’re yearning for a bit of space, then River Bend Lodge has the answer. The only lodge in the huge 14,000 hectare Nyati section of the park, you and your fellow guests will have this whole tract of wilderness to yourselves.
After high tea with our guide, Mike, we pile into the land cruiser for the evening game drive. Mike has taken time to chat to us and find out exactly what our interests are, which is what guides are supposed to do but these days often don’t, being instead obsessed with finding what they THINK their clients want to see. So we’re impressed. But what, I want to know, makes River Bend unique, and why does he enjoy working here?
“Addo has incredible diversity and much of it is right here at River Bend,” he explains. No less than 5 of South Africa’s 7 biomes are represented in a small area – from Cape Fynbos to sub-tropical thicket, Afromontane forest, and savannah. “And we’re incredibly fortunate to be the only lodge on this whole reserve.”
We spend some time with the elephants, which are remarkably relaxed around the vehicle, allowing for some excellent interactions, before checking out some birds and sundowners looking out over the river. We rumble a few spring hares and no less than three Spotted Eagle Owls on the night drive back to the lodge, before tucking into a superb three course a la carte dinner.
A few things stand out. First is the ambiance, which is colonial style and relaxed – from the lounge areas packed with soft chairs, to the library and self-contained chalets comprising the guest suites, each with a private deck overlooking the bush and, (always a winner this), its own private outdoor shower.
Second is the level of hospitality and attention to detail, which we usually associate with lodges in a much higher price bracket. You always expect smiles and greetings from hospitality managers but here, the waiters greet you by name and the gardeners welcome you too with genuine warmth. All this without being over-attentive or fussed over. Here, River Bend succeeds where a lot of other places let slip.
The lodge location within the