The overwhelming thunderous sound forces me to turn around. Not only for the reverberating noise but seeing the rolling hills in the distance lit up. What was meant to be a quiet dinner has turned into the most magnificent light show with thunder, lightning, and the life-giving sound of rain falling on the earth in this part of the vast Karoo. This is only a small part of the magic that guests can experience at Sky Lodge, part of the Magic Hills Private Collection within 25 miles of the Eastern Cape town of Jansenville.
With an early departure from Cape Town International Airport to Port Elizabeth International Airport at 07:10 on Airlink’s Embraer E-Jet, we arrive at 08:20, allowing enough time for an unhurried 3-hour road transfer or a quick 30-minute charter flight with Absolute Aviation. We are met at Port Elizabeth Airport by the effervescent Eluisa from Magic Hills, who accompanies us on the transfer through a few quaint little towns en route to Jansenville / Magic Hills, where the obligatory two or more stops for leg stretching can turn into snack or shopping breaks. Renowned for being the home of the Angora goat, Jansenville lies in the heart of the Noorsveld, and The Ark in the Karoo farmstall is a favorite pause for purchasing a few mementos to take back home.
Lodge General Manager Pieter and Head Guide Warren collect us at the start of our mountainous journey with the Magic Hills all-terrain vehicles. Set at 30,000 feet above sea level in the 40,000-acre reserve, getting to Sky Lodge is a journey in itself. The open plains, rolling valleys and hills are offset by the two different biomes found in reserve – the Thicket biome and the Nama Karoo biome.
At Sky Lodge, a heartfelt welcome is bestowed upon us with warm refresher towels and a hot drink to ward off the chilly afternoon. Variations in weather patterns can result in a complete change of seasons in one day. Because of the altitude of Sky Lodge, afternoons tend to become windy, bringing the most picturesque sunsets, albeit a relief in the summer months on very hot days.
Sky Lodge has two apartments and seven suites, and I’m staying in suite number 3 with the most awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains. Decorated in modern minimalist tones, wooden floors counterpoise the white bedding and grey bathroom louvers perfectly. Four-poster beds are used throughout the rooms, with lounge areas, a writing desk, and an outside verandah from which to savor the views yet again.
A big drawcard is the main guest area, where a preferred place seems to be the striking infinity pool with wraparound vistas. Enjoying lunch while overlooking the landscape is an essential part of a stay at Sky Lodge. Chef John is a master at creating the most astonishing meals, so any plans you might have for not enjoying his culinary masterworks should be left at home. For today’s lunch, the delectable deconstructed salmon salad is followed by a gourmet burger served on a black bun with fries and onion rings. Our meal is concluded with tropical fruit salad and granadilla sorbet.
An afternoon at leisure means enjoying your surroundings, and I do exactly that, sinking into the comfortable couch while relishing the company of a dear friend. Before long, it’s time for our sundowner drive. On the sunset deck, an informative talk of exciting projects is presented by Conservation Administrator Carmen and General Manager for the Magic Hills Private Collection Declan, which includes expansion plans, the rewilding of cheetahs, rehabilitation of the area, turning an old reservoir into an observatory & library and the launch of the refurbished Ilanga Manor House, Elsa’s Farmhouse and Isanti Karoo.
Returning to Sky Lodge, the time has come for pre-dinner drinks in the bar area, and I’m already looking forward to the prospect of another delicious meal prepared by Chef John. Tonight’s dinner is amuse-bouche, consisting of vichyssoise martini, followed by a starter of Cape Malay bobotie and mains being a choice of succulent stuffed chicken fillet served with baby carrot, mange tout, creamy risotto, parmesan crisp and a beetroot reduction or pan-seared springbok loin served with the same side orders as the chicken. This scrumptious meal is concluded with decadent dark chocolate mousse in a tuile shell accompanied by blackberries and raspberries or a local cheese board with fig preserves and grapes.
Guests will undoubtedly notice the friendly service provided by Byron and Paula. Not only are they always at hand to take your drinks order and serve your meals, but they will also really make you feel like part of a big family. During our morning coffee stop, Byron has a surprise up his sleeve. Having cut his teeth in the hospitality industry and conservation business, he is the perfect candidate to showcase the newly found Bushman paintings with the wit and vigor he puts into everything he tackles.
Warren drives us to Ilanga Manor House, but we stop along the way for a pioneering experience, where we are instrumental in the rebirth by each cutting a piece of wire as fences will be removed to expand the conservation footprint of Magic Hills. At Ilanga Manor House, we enjoy a hearty breakfast, and a giraffe is standing perfectly still alongside the road waiting for its picture to be taken. On our way back to Sky Lodge, we spot what we initially think is the incredibly rare sighting of a riverine rabbit, but it turns out to be a scrub hare.
I have a spa session booked after lunch and spa therapist Rudi starts with a holistic foot ritual with my choice of amethyst, creating a healing feeling. Her soothing hands go to work on the Magic Experience using Africology muscle relaxant and sends me straight to dreamland.
Another groundbreaking event takes place in the late afternoon – each of us plants a Spekboom in aid of offsetting our carbon footprint. Byron hosts our late afternoon Juniper Journey, where his talk on the history of gin and the trimmings for the ideal G&T makes us all sit up and take notice.
Dinner is once again a gastronomic feast and concludes a perfect stay at Sky Lodge. We are scheduled to leave on a charter flight, and the advantage of having to wake up very early is to witness the breathtaking sunrise. This morning, we feel like we’re floating above the clouds as they cover the hills and valleys below us. Warren drives us to the airstrip where Absolute Aviation’s Cessna 208 Caravan is waiting to transport us to Port Elizabeth Airport. As I greet the captain, I notice that the propeller blade is reflected in a puddle on the ground.
With the blessing of rain on the horizon, we depart for our onward journey to Port Elizabeth and the final leg to Cape Town. Getting us from Port Elizabeth Airport to Cape Town International Airport is the Airlink Embraer regional jet, flying us back in only one hour, landing well ahead of time, ensuring a flawless conclusion to an unforgettable stay at Sky Lodge.
For more information, please visit Magic Hills Private Collection.
*** Views expressed are the author’s own. Thank you to Nicky Arthur from Nicky Arthur PR for hosting me and the incredible hospitality of the Magic Hills staff.
Airlink is: Privately owned and operates as the largest regional airline servicing over 55 routes and offers the widest network and choice of flights in Southern Africa and St Helena Island. Airlink is customer-centric, reliable, and committed to punctuality. Consistently 95% on-time across 60 000 flights servicing some 2 million customers per annum.
Travelers can also enjoy the benefit of intra-continental style business class service on select routes on the magnificent Embraer E-Jet.
Route Specific Information: Direct scheduled flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth.
Book direct on www.flyairlink.com or your travel agent. Airlink will operate independently under its flight code 4Z from 20 April 2020.