– African Safari Review by Jonathan & Sophie Ellaby
It’s easy to spot Gorah from afar, perched in rolling hills, each luxury safari tent with a commanding view of the bush and no fences to interfere with it. But it’s only when you get there that you appreciate how intense it can be and how different it is to anywhere else in Addo, or for that matter, South Africa. As seasoned bush hands, we were simply blown away.
First, a step back. The modern-day lodge is on the site of a farmhouse dating back to 1856, since lovingly restored, and the house oozes a sense of family history from the moment you step through its doors. Open verandas, lots of wood and old furniture and giant fireplaces are designed to conjure up images of hunting parties and colonial splendor.
The farming history is apparent in the large swathes of grassland previously used for cattle grazing, now the domain of larger herbivores such as zebra, kudu, hartebeest and eland. And elephant of course. Ironically, these open grasslands (which ought naturally to be thickets) make you feel more than ever like you’re in Africa, evoking the great savannah plains of East Africa.
We sit out on the colonial-style veranda for a ‘light lunch’ gazing out onto the plain, with herds of elephant just metres away and no fence in between – this comes close to many people’s vision of what a safari ought to be like. And we have to say, having spent many months in the bush, that this is pretty damn good. With a waterhole a stone’s throw away, you have a good chance of observing most of the plains game as well as elephant, at close range, while enjoying every gourmet meal Gorah’s superb staff lay on for you.
There’s little to fault the service either – from the meet and greet, waiting staff, guides and tent escorts – there’s everything you’d expect for a five-star lodge. The camp runs on solar power so there are a few compromises on things some take for granted – no air-con for example, and to get a battery charged you have to give it to your guide to take away overnight. But these are small things in what is otherwise a very luxurious set-up.
It’s the lack of electricity that gives the historic lodge its charm in the evenings – the whole place lit only with candles and heated by blazing wooden fires in each room, and after a post-game drive drink in the paneled lounge, we sit down to a superb 3-course dinner (by candle light of course: there’s no other way).
After dinner, we step onto our private tent veranda for one of our most memorable bush experiences ever. There’s nothing but wild bush everywhere in front of us, all lit up by an almost-full moon and the air is dead still, punctured only by nightjars and the shrieks of a barn owl. Then comes the first rumbling, then another, and a big bull elephant is standing right in front of us, tearing grass from the very edge of the veranda. We sit motionless, spellbound, close enough for him to touch us with his trunk if he tried. Next morning, recalling this encounter in the silvery swathe of moonlight seems like it was a dream.
Our evening game drive yielded more special elephant moments. Gorah is unique in Addo in being allowed to use entirely open-top vehicles, with not even a canopy to shield you from the grey beasts. Make no mistake – this results in far more intimate encounters (and also ensures you’ll get a soaking if it unexpectedly rains, as it did for us next morning). With 5,000-odd hectares of private concession to themselves, as well as access to the rest of Addo Main Game Area should the need arise, the game viewing is exclusive, as you’d expect. We miss the lion, but glimpse a black rhino across the hills (there are regular sightings of this extremely rare animal).
Sipping complimentary sparkling wine on comfy chairs in the luxury of your tent, while gazing out at vast herds of kudu (we counted 52), elephant and other game, you’ll most likely have a ‘pinch-me-is-this-real’ moment. We did. And if one of Addo’s 12 lions took down one of those kudu at that moment it would be, well, unreal. But it could just happen. At Gorah, you hardly need to go on game drives. The game comes to you.
Good for: Classic luxury tent safari in a spectacular setting (ask for tent 10 for the most spectacular experience of all)
Not so good for: Those who demand the highest level of creature comforts (the lodge runs off solar). Ticking off all the Big Five
Our Verdict: The combination of old family history and an exquisite camp almost guarantee an unforgettable experience
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