Vengeance of the mosquito fairy
Hardened hack DAVID BULLARD went on yet another schmooze-mission, only to find he enjoyed the ambience
Of course, once one has taken the bait of free hospitality there is a sort of unwritten understanding between host and journo that a favourable review should follow. After all, goes the reasoning, there is no point in pouring free drinks down a hack's throat if he isn't going to write nice things about you.
All of which casts a dark shadow over any claim of journalistic objectivity because astute readers will know that if the weekend was a success then a gushing review will follow and if it was a disaster no mention will ever be made of the fact.
I offer this caveat simply because I had every intention of breaking with the traditions of leisure journalism, thumbing my nose at the public relations people and writing a warts-and-all review of Sekala Private Game Lodge, irrespective of whether they poured drink down my throat or not. The best I can manage is that they don't seem to have electric shaver points in the bathrooms.
Some years ago, a handful of the more exclusive private game lodges announced that they would accept payment in US dollars only. While this may have been a shrewd currency decision, it managed to alienate a lot of wealthy potential SA visitors who could certainly afford a visit but didn't like being treated as second-class citizens.
For this arrogance, the eco-system fairy sent a plague of malaria-carrying mosquitoes to the lowveld. Visitors to the area now have the choice of dressing in head-to-toe protective clothing, shrugging off the risk or taking nasty drugs which will make them feel ill for weeks after. It seems a high price to pay just to see a leopard choking the life out of a grey duiker.
The Welgevonden Reserve in the Waterberg is currently free of the little buzzing blighters which is proving a big drawcard for foreign tourists who are terrified of dying of tropical diseases. The reserve is also sufficiently close to Johannesburg to enable one to spend a long weekend and the drive will take about two-and-a-half hours along well-maintained roads. Signs warning of potholes just past Nylstroom seem absurdly neurotic to those of us used to driving in Johannesburg's northern suburbs.
At Welgevonden's main gate, guests park their own vehicles and are transported to lodges by Land Rover. The 300m˛ reserve consists of privately owned lodges catering mostly to weekend visitors. This means that during the week the reserve is virtually empty; a great advantage for visitors.
Sekala Private Game Lodge is the first commercial lodge in Welgevonden. Set among an exquisitely landscaped garden within a perimeter of electric fencing, it caters for a maximum of 10 visitors but extra guests can be housed in neighbouring lodges if necessary.
Accommodation is in four superbly appointed thatched double chalets and an executive suite. En-suite bathrooms offer both an indoor and an outdoor shower for those who like to turn the tables and be ogled in the buff by the animals. A vast bath is set in the corner, complete with candle and bathsalts for the romantically inclined.
The construction of Sekala was clearly a labour of love for owner Martin Sherwood and his wife Jan, who was responsible for the decor. The main lodge is set high on stilts with spectacular views across the reserve. Surrounded by a wooden-decked verandah, the rooms are spacious and have been impeccably decorated in fabrics designed to blend with the wood, stone and thatch construction. A central fireplace dominates a cosy lounge area with the sort of settees you might wish to sink into with a good book on a chilly Sunday afternoon. The food is excellent and the extensive wine list is being redesigned to offer the best of SA wines. An air-conditioned wine cellar is also under construction and Martin Sherwood plans to hold fine-wine weekends in the bush.
As far as animals are concerned I am delighted to report that they are just as temperamental here as elsewhere. They lurk in shadows, turn their backs to the camera and are a photographer's nightmare.
Lion were reintroduced to the reserve in January and Sherwood has sponsored two scientists to document their habits and movements. Brian and André, Sekala's two knowledgeable rangers, were quite happy to take us for a late-night drive to track lions, elephants or whatever else we wanted to see.
Sekala charges R1 450 per person per night which includes accommodation, all meals, transfers and game drives. Conference facilities are available and I can think of worse things than planning strategy in the comfort of Sekala. Bookings can be made at 011 803 4924.