The latest addition to The Royal Portfolio’s luxury safari lodge collection is Waterside, a property with splashes as bright in color as the iridescent sky above.

When a property in the northern part of Thornybush Private Nature Reserve became available, it was a foregone conclusion for the Biden family to acquire Waterside, and further extend their footing in this pristine reserve, thus allowing guests a selection of three magnificent properties. The very first lodge Royal Malewane still remains a favorite after 22 years, The Farmstead’s popularity has risen since its opening in 2019, and with Waterside being the new kid on the block, guests have a tough choice where to stay. Why not combine all three – they really offer the best of everything!

Waterside has magnificent views over the large watering hole. Photograph courtesy of Waterside

Making our way from Cape Town International Airport to Hoedspruit on Airlink, we are flying in the impressive Embraer 190 E-Jet, which is configured in 6 business class 1 by 2 seats and 92 economy class 2 x 2 seats. Selecting our seats before departure and checking in online is straightforward on the Airlink App – no more printed boarding passes; you only have to scan the QR code on your smartphone. We opt to SkyCheck our luggage as we know our suitcases will be offloaded at our arrival airport and waiting for us on the tarmac.

Aloe Suite at Waterside
Our Aloe Suite is colorfully decorated. Photograph courtesy of Waterside

Setting foot in a new safari lodge always comes with great excitement, especially if it has the inimitable stamp of owner Liz Biden on it. “I live in such amazing color in my own home, and it makes me happy,” Liz explains. “I felt that guests would love it too.” With a flair for the dramatic, Liz waved her magic wand over the interiors, sourcing it all – from the furniture, right down to the artwork. “It is important to me that not only does it look nice, but that it’s comfortable with a little touch of magic,” she says. “I love my guests to think “ah, that’s entertaining” or “that’s unusual”.

Entrance at Waterside
The picturesque welcome pavilion is very inviting. Photograph courtesy of Waterside

The welcome pavilion at Waterside is spectacular, with comfortable couches and chairs covered in shades of mustard, yellow, gold, and an all-time favorite – leopard print. Two daybeds are ideally positioned for languidly enjoying the parade of passing wildlife, should the resident hippos grant it permission to do so. A tiny hippo calf sunbathes out on the opposite side of the bank with both parents and when the sun starts tinging its sensitive skin, it glides right back into the water, albeit with a loud splash.

Dining at Waterside
The rack of lamb is simply too good to resist. Photograph courtesy of Waterside

Arriving in time for lunch, we are seated on the deck of the library, feasting on delicious cuisine prepared by a team of chefs. My daughter and I each receive personalized menus, categorized into from the earth (soups and salads), from the air (poultry), from the sea (fish), from the field (meat), from the side (salad and vegetables) and from the heavens (dessert). 

A nyala enjoys the greenery found around the suites. Photographs by Heléne Ramackers
A nyala enjoys the greenery found around the suites. Photographs by Heléne Ramackers

A winding wooden walkway leads to our one-bedroom Aloe Suite, where we will be staying for the next two nights. The family of nyalas is enjoying the greenery and the tiniest baby I’ve ever seen is trying to nurse from its mother. Our suite is colorfully decorated in hues of orange and accents of lime green. As with each Royal Portfolio property, the softest pure cotton bedding awaits your slumber, with the only nocturnal disturbance that of a lion roaring or a hyena whooping. 

The cutest leopard cub sits in the safety of a tall tree stump. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers
The cutest leopard cub sits in the safety of a tall tree stump. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

Twice daily game drives in the expansive Thornybush Nature Reserve always delight with sightings of the Big Five. Field guide H.J., together with tracker Selby work as a team to find us a variety of wildlife. Our first evening is spent with a leopard and her cubs feeding in a tree, a pride of lions the following day, as well as some African wild dogs. It is our last morning, and as we sit admiring the herd of elephants feeding in the drainage line, Selby asks for binoculars to look at something in the distance. He gestures to H.J. that we leave the current sighting, as there is something much more exciting up ahead. As we pull up alongside a tall tree stump, I have to blink twice to see what is so well camouflaged – the most adorable tiny leopard cub. Said cub had scrambled up the tree, possibly to avoid the barrage of elephants, and not wanting to put stress on the youngster, we spend only a few minutes with this gorgeous creature. Long may he prosper!

**Views expressed are the author’s own. 


How To Get There
Airlink is a privately-owned, independent premier regional airline offering the widest route network and connectivity to more than 45 destinations in 13 countries in Southern Africa and St Helena Island. 

With more than 60 regional jetliners in the fleet, Airlink has been ranked as South Africa’s most punctual airline, based on its 97% average on-time performance year to date. This is a clear indication of their determination and commitment to remain synonymous with customer centricity, punctuality, service excellence, and reliability.

Travelers can also enjoy the benefit of their intra-continental style business class service on select routes operating our magnificent Embraer E-195 / E-190 / E-170 regional jets

How To Get There:  Direct scheduled flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Hoedspruit.

Book direct on, the FlyAirlink app, or your favorite travel agent.