Just metres away, a mother warthog and six piglets munch on fresh grass. They continue eating without pause or worry as guests move closer to snap close-ups of their tiny eyes.
I’m finishing up my eggs when there is a commotion at the edge of the waterhole. Six elephants have decided to go for a swim to escape the heat. No more than 20 metres away, they spy the vegetation next to the fence and proceed to devour every shrub and plant in sight.
The morning safari leaves bright and early with a 5am wake-up call and 5:30am departure. This is really the best time to explore, as the air is still cool and the animals are finishing up the night’s kill before finding somewhere to bed down for the day to escape the African heat.
Our Safari Suite villa, one of 21 cottages catering to a maximum 42 guests, is nothing short of luxury – two bedrooms with ensuites and a decor inspired by colonial Africa. The master bedroom has an extravagant open bathroom and a large private pool. The sundeck looks out over the scorched Mapone riverbed and nearby grasslands. Sitting on lounges soaking in the view, we quickly discover the monkeys enjoy our pool and patio as much as we do. Unaware of us watching them, they are having a pool party, taking it in turns to cannonball into the water, splashing, drinking and pushing each other. They are having a great time but scatter screeching into the trees when we emerge for our own pool time.
Ngala family suite | Kelly Gabriel
We have very little to worry about as our butler, Noel, is constantly available to us for whatever we need. He makes sure we are up at 5am and is always there with a big smile and a wave – and a fresh scented towel and icy drink – when we return weary from a game drive.
In the middle of the day, between game drives, it’s very relaxing on the veranda. Better yet to enjoy a massage under the tree canopy. I fall asleep during mine and miss several passers-by including buffalo, some baboons and a warthog family.
On the return from our last afternoon drive, we make a surprise detour. Lanterns light the path, casting long golden shadows as our guide leads us to a small clearing in the bush. A bartender delivers Pimms and canapés while sausages and chicken sizzle on a barbecue. Enjoying sundowners with our safari guide and tracker in the middle of the bush, with a dark-red glow on the horizon is surreal. More is to come. While driving back for dinner, we encounter three massive hyenas who have decided that sprawled in the middle of the road is the best place for a rest. They don’t want to move, so we manoeuvre around them. Not at all concerned, they barely open an eye.
Back at the lodge, Noel and the staff have another surprise for us – a beautiful candle-lit dinner complete with white tablecloth and chilled champagne. It’s an incredibly magical dining experience and a fitting end to a trip we will talk about for a long time to come.
A pair of young giraffes | Kelly Gabriel