Situated in the southern sector of South Africa’s premier game-viewing area, the Timbavati Game Reserve, Makanyi Private Game Lodge provides the most magnificent accommodation, highlighted by the most phenomenal animal sightings. Some places get it right, and Makanyi is one of them.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Makanyi’s beautiful pool and dining area at night. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

When Jessica Gold dipped her toe in South Africa for the first time in 2013, she surrendered her heart and fell in love. The subject of her adoration was not as one might have imagined but does get her pulse racing every time, she speaks so passionately about it.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Plush seating in the lounge area is the ideal spot for a relaxed conversation. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

“The narrative of Makanyi is one of those storybook tales, the only difference is that this one is true,” Jessica tells me with a glisten in her eyes over coffee at Makanyi. “I was born and raised in Italy by a British father and an Italian mother. When I was 18, I moved around a lot and lived in nine different countries. For me, home is where the heart is.”

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The entrance to Makanyi is lined with beautiful gardens on both sides of the walkway. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

Having no plans over the 2013 Easter holidays and with her son, William, visiting his dad in America, a childhood friend got in touch with Jessica and suggested a visit to South Africa. She immediately agreed, and her love affair with South Africa began the moment the plane’s wheels touched the tarmac.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The sunken fire-pit is where pre-dinner drinks are enjoyed. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

“Everyone told me I had to see Cape Town, so we decided to visit the port city for a few days, and it was indeed the most breath-taking destination. We also visited a lion park in Johannesburg and being a tourist, I took some pictures and sent them home to my son and my dad, who were amazed and proposed we go back and see it together.”

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The striking entrance to Makanyi’s lounge and dining area. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

Jessica’s next idea was to go on safari, which she embarked on in May 2013 with William accompanying her, only a month after her initial visit. During this holiday, she fell even further in love with the African bush, so much so that she knew this was where she could put into practice her hospitality degree from Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Breakfast with a view of the watering hole. What could be better than this? Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

“I never really just wanted to have a hotel in Rome or London to apply the skills I learned while studying, but it dawned on me that here, in South Africa, I could put it to good use should I be able to acquire my bush lodge. When I visited again on a solo trip in August, I convinced myself to go outside of my comfort zone and to turn my holiday into a business opportunity. The adage of ‘visiting nice places and then going back to reality’ rang so real that I knew the time was right to turn my dreams into reality.”

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
A Boma dinner is an essential part of a safari lodge stay. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

Once back in London, Jessica began the arduous process of finding the right property as bush lodges don’t come up for sale very often. With the help of a friend, she stumbled upon a private lodge in the Timbavati, and not knowing the area at all, put to good use the contacts she had made during her visits to guide her as to whether or not this was a viable option. They all went to see it together and concurred that this would be the perfect place for Jessica to establish what is now ranked by many as one of the top safari lodges in South Africa.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Makanyi’s electric safari vehicle paves the way for sustainability and more serene experience. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

I always feel incredibly privileged visiting different destinations, and a bush lodge is one of the places I can never get enough of. When I hear that a 2-night stay at Makanyi is confirmed, I can hardly contain my excitement as the vastness of the Timbavati is something challenging to put into words. I was collected at the gate to the Timbavati Game Reserve in Makanyi’s own, first of a kind in South Africa, Electric Safari Vehicle, making the game viewing experience a lot more serene and sustainable to the precious bush environment.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The suites at Makanyi are very luxurious, with a heavenly four-poster bed, a large bathroom, a lounge area with a fireplace and an outside area. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

My home is suite no 4, with all the luxuries you can think of – a heavenly four-poster bed with draped mosquito netting, a large bathroom with tub, shower and double vanities, a lounge area with a fireplace and an outside area with a great view of the watering hole and it’s many wildlife visitors. I’m within short walking distance from the main lodge area where meals are served on the deck while again watching an ever-changing parade of animals’ meander past.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
Meals are perfectly prepared by chef Amos. Photograph courtesy of Makanyi Private Game Lodge

Chef Amos perfects every meal at Makanyi with so much flair and the freshest ingredients; the only problem is overindulgence. Who can say no to the most deliciously prepared gourmet beef burgers with French fries, delectable scallops, tender cuts of meat, and mouth-watering desserts?

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
A female giraffe is quenching her thirst at the watering hole. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

Twice daily game drives are part and parcel of staying at Makanyi and guide Alfred and tracker Themba are intent on showcasing the myriad of animals that inhabit this part of the Timbavati. We had only just left the property when we spot a male and female giraffe quenching their thirst at the watering hole.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
A young female leopard spotted on one of our game drives. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

If seeing the Big 5 is something you would like to experience, Makanyi offers this and so much more. The sightings my fellow guests and I enjoyed included a young female leopard, the Avoca pride of 19 lions, the Xikukutso male lions, elephants by the dozen, enormous breeding herds of buffalos and not forgetting the plethora of birds, reptiles and insects.

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
A very young lion cub from the Avoca pride pleading for milk from its mom. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

The nocturnal sound of lions roaring and finding them the following day is a very special occurrence. As Jessica so eloquently put it, Makanyi’s attraction is not only the animals; it is the exclusivity, the homely feeling, the excellent service without it being stuffy. I admire her leap of faith in creating this wonderful environment for her and her son, from big city life to having a life in the bush. Her parting words resonate – “It completely resets me. When I’m here, I take in every sunrise and every sunset. I appreciate it; it grounds me.”

Makanyi Private Game Lodge
The Timbavati is renowned for its magical sunsets. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

As I pack to return home after a wonderful time spent at Makanyi, I relish the heart-warming memories I can share with my family back in Cape Town. After saying my goodbyes, my road transfer takes me from Timbavati through the town of Hoedspruit and delivers me at Hoedspruit Airport, where my direct flight back to Cape Town is on Airlink’s glorious Embraer E-Jet. As we taxi for take-off, I see another Airlink E-190 on the runway waiting to offload passengers, filled with safari-goers who will undoubtedly enjoy their time in this special part of the bush.

*** Views expressed are the author’s own.

Thank you to Julie Hedley from Julie Hedley PR for making my arrangements and to Jessica for allowing me to share a piece of paradise you have created.

Airlink’s glorious Embraer E-Jet at Hoedspruit Airport. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers
Airlink’s glorious Embraer E-Jet at Hoedspruit Airport. Photograph by Heléne Ramackers

Airlink – How to Get There

Airlink: Airlink is the largest Regional Feeder airline connecting the major cities of southern Africa with the smaller towns, cities, and eco-leisure destinations. Airlink is a privately-owned airline with more than 25 years of customer-focused experience and a network of over 55 routes throughout the SADC region and St Helena Island.

Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Hoedspruit.

Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA, travelers can connect conveniently, effortlessly, and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.

Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of the South African Airways Loyalty program -Voyager.

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