River Bend Lodge, Addo Elephant National Park

– 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.

River Bend 2After 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.

River Bend 3A 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 reserve is not ideal, being relatively close to a main road and within sight of electricity pylons – for bush purists such as us this is an initial shock but the other pros outweigh this. On the plus side, it’s easy to get to, and the lodge benefits from this with excellent facilities and every comfort in the beautiful chalet-suites – including free Wi-Fi in every room.

River Bend 1On our final morning drive we head up a rough track into the foothills of the Zuurberg mountains and leave the main road far behind – here you feel in the middle of the wild, bumping along up wooded ravines stalked by black rhino (though you’ll be lucky to see one), the shrill whistles of Sombre Greenbuls ringing in your ears. This is also the place to hunt for the elusive Narina Trogon. At once we’re in our element – just us and our guide in a truly remote corner of the park, where you know your moments of peace and solitude won’t be disturbed by anyone else, or any other vehicle. That’s rare in Africa’s parks, even if you’re staying at top-dollar lodges. At River Bend, it’s taken for granted.

We rumble the reserve’s three lion and a large healthy herd of buffalo – but along with the elephant this is as much of the Big Five as you’re likely to see here, or indeed anywhere else in Addo. But that’s not what River Bend is about. It’s about a diverse safari experience, away from the crowds, in a beautiful setting, and with quality of food and hospitality to match.

If that’s your idea of a great safari, River Bend Lodge won’t disappoint.

Good for: Romantic getaways (the honeymoon suite has its own plunge pool), superb food and hospitality

Not so good for: Lodge setting

Our Verdict: One of the best choices for a luxury safari in the Addo area, a place where everything comes together and you’re made to feel part of the family

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

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