African Safari Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby
Set on its own private concession within the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, Morkuru’s three ‘mini-lodges’ promise a different formula and a different experience. We find out how it compares with other Madikwe offerings.
Sometimes we can tell straightaway when a place ‘has it’. Well, Morukuru has it. It’s a combination of a great many things all coming together, but first, a bit about how Morukuru is different.
Instead of one lodge, Morukuru consists of three ‘mini-lodges’ – the Owners House, The Lodge, and The Farmhouse, which each sleep 2-10 guests, and are booked exclusively. Each comes with its own team of dedicated staff – guide, tracker and hostess, chef, butler and back-up staff so whether you’re a honeymoon couple, a family, or group of friends, this team is at your very own disposal throughout your stay, including your own private safari vehicle.
Our whole team is waiting to meet us when we arrive, with a cold cocktail and traditional African song before our hosts, Anthony and Amy, accompany us to our villa. We’re staying at the Owners House – the house originally built by Ed and Anka Zeeman, who fell in love with Madikwe after their first visit here in 2003, and built this incredible bush house on the site of giant Tamboti tree (Morukuru means Tamboti in Tswana).
Imagine your idea of a luxury safari suite overlooking a wooded river bed (or if you can’t, read some of our other blogs). Then quadruple it in size, add several outdoor decks and wooden walkways among the trees, add a dining room as well as a lounge, kitchen, library and study, and finally a private heated rim-flow pool (larger than many a 5-star lodge’s communal pool) that appears to hover among the trees, and you have an idea of what this place is like.
There’s even an integrated sound system, where you can play different music in different parts of the house (including speakers in the outdoor shower).
And this is just for the two of us. But it gets better.
“At Morukuru, we don’t work on any schedule”, Anthony explains. “We can go for game drives whenever you like. Joyce [our chef] can cook for you whatever you like, whenever you like. We’re all at your disposal”.
This is not normal. Most top-end lodges have a strict schedule – from a wakeup call to meal times and game drive times, and although you can skip whatever you like, you can’t tailor every day to your personal wishes. At Morukuru, you can.
Of course having infinite choices can be stressful. Do you go to check out those lions you heard roaring earlier, or relax instead in the pool while Evanz [our butler] plies you with cocktails? Should you choose a vintage wine from the owner’s private collection instead of a house wine, and if so, what? Luckily, everyone from your chef to your guide is on hand to make recommendations and we’re happy to follow them for our stay.
It’s time for our afternoon game drive and Anthony takes us on a tour of the 1,000 hectare private concession that forms part of Madikwe Game Reserve. Madikwe has a lot of lodges and it can get quite crowded at sightings, but here you’ll only see other Morukuru vehicles, although they also have access to the rest of the reserve. So we had a beautiful lion sighting to ourselves, and stared down a rare African Wild Cat before a private dinner on one of our decks, and a moonlight swim (the pool is heated to 30C today).
Next morning we combine a game drive with a stop at the Farmhouse – a bigger mini-lodge sleeping up to ten, different, but just as luxurious. Here you virtually have your own private reserve as well as a private lodge, as the huge grounds, complete with many antelope, are fenced, so completely safe for children.
Morukuru is generally fantastic for children, who can accompany adults on game drives, or be whisked away for their own drives or other activities, such as tracking, setting up camera traps and a host of other exciting activities. And all in a malaria-free part of the country. For kids, it doesn’t get better than this.
In our experience, individually owned (as opposed to corporate) lodges are often more intimate, and Morukuru is no exception; the owners’ touches are present everywhere, right down to the specially customised safari vehicle. And the owners must be doing something right, as Anthony and Amy have been with them for two years, perfecting the art of guiding and hospitality.
With all your own dedicated staff, you might think there’d be people fussing over you the whole time. But this is not ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ service – that is not what hospitality is about. When it’s done properly, you don’t notice – everything just happens the way you want it, effortlessly. It’s easy to say, but requires great skill and experience to achieve. Morukuru manages it where many others fail.
If all this sounds a bit mediocre to you, don’t despair. There are a few things we’re not mentioning – call them Morukuru family secrets if you like – that might just blow your mind. Don’t ask because we’re not telling, but if you’re curious there’s only one way to find out…
Good for: Exclusive, tailored, Big Five game viewing and other activities, with the best hospitality around, including for children.
Not so good for: We’re struggling with this one.
Our verdict: State-of-the-art quality across the board