Discover a portion of Mavela magic…

by | Oct 19, 2016 | Travel Stories | 0 comments

Perched on a hill in the Mkuze Valley Lowveld, Mavela Game Lodge lies nestled within 22 000 hectares of the Zululand Rhino Reserve. A petite and professional outfit, well suited to those who prefer the intimacy of “glamping” (glamourous camping).

Mavela Magic in the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Mavela Magic

I make my way along the dirt road from the N2 Mkuze turn-off to the lodge.

It is hot. A guest sits quietly reading on the shaded veranda whilst her son plays in the swimming pool. The air is still and clammy. I have arrived before schedule and make myself comfortable in the communal lounge area with a cup of coffee whilst the team prepares the tents for new arrivals.

The Mavela Game Lodge Main Area

Mavela Lodge main activity area

It is the “lull” period, in the day at Mavela, whereby enrolled guests can relax at the bar upstairs/play chess/utilise the WiFi or lie around the pool deck and read a book from the lodge’s bookshelf. Mavela offers a unique “all-inclusive” tariff whereby guests can help themselves to the bar and tea/coffee for the duration of their stay.

I glance around the large space and recall the description of the thatched roof being likened to a “diving raptor in flight”. Comfortable canvas chairs are sociably arranged at the breakfast table to afford guests an opportunity to get to know one another and exchange news and snippets from earlier game drives.

Breakfast at Mavela Game Lodge

Communal breakfast table in the main Mavela lodge

Anxious to unpack, I make my way to the last tent along the path. The décor is luxuriously comfortable with a wonderful range of toiletries. A practical supply of umbrella, torch and insect repellent ensures basic bush needs are well catered for.

Tent interiors at Mavela Game Lodge

The stately décor inside the Mavela tented accommodation.

I pause and take a moment to sit on the veranda, armed with laptop and binoculars. Now, this is what I call a great “office”! Whilst the emails are downloading, I scan the valley below. A movement catches my eye and a light grey shape slides behind a bush. “What could it be?” I hold my breath and scan further. It has disappeared. How frustrating. Suddenly, three female kudu gracefully glide into a clearing. I savour the sighting before resuming work to the background chatter of a flock of glossy starlings. The land is parched. We hear daily warnings of the South African drought status but the impact becomes more real when faced directly with it.

View from guest tents at Mavela Game Lodge

Bird baths are thoughtfully positioned in front of each tent

I head off to meet the lodge manager, Chantelle Smith and assistant manager, Sam Vorster. Chantelle derives from a culinary background, being a qualified chef of twelve years. Her husband Brad, heads the field guiding and has been in the industry for fifteen years. An optimal combination for running a successful game lodge, the Smiths have been with Mavela from its inception. Brad is passionate about the environment and this reflects in the stories he recalls on the daily game drives. He has a keen knowledge of birds which he shares freely with guests.

Sam is facilitating this evening’s game drive. The temperature is still sizzling (36 degrees Celsius). The guests meet at high tea (a scrumptious carrot cake and savoury scones). The departure time is delayed to beat the heat. No need for jackets this evening!

An international contingent eagerly awaits the night drive

An international contingent eagerly awaits the night drive

As we rumble across the terrain, the two-way radio sparks to life. “Ndlovu (elephants)” are reported and the location supplied. We head off stopping for encounters with kudu, giraffe, impala and warthog. As the vehicle noses its way along the dam wall, a small breeding herd of elephants is discovered in a glade of Fever trees.

Elephant at the waterhole in the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Breeding herd of elephants.

The elephants are relaxed and foraging in a peaceful manner. We edge around the dam for a closer encounter. Elephants are notoriously sociable and it is fascinating to see them communicate via leg movements, waving trunks and sniffing, in a manner we cannot fathom.

Elephant sightings in the Zululand Rhino Reserve with Mavela Game Lodge

Intimate moments with the herd.

Aside from searching for the larger mammals, Sam makes the time to stop and explain the life cycle and habits of a dung beetle. We are fortunate to encounter black and white rhino, buffalo, porcupine, white-tailed mongoose, antelope, Senegal lapwing, Egyptian goose and a baby night-jar.

Sam at Mavela Game Lodge

Sam digging deeper with a dung beetle “home”

After thirst-quenching “sundowners”, we head back to camp for a delicious three-course supper. Tables have been set per guest quota out on the main deck under the trees. The stars shine brightly. The Mavela team weave around us to serve the first course of sliced savoury brinjal and drinks. Main course is help yourself from the buffet of braai meat and salad. The cherry on top is the home-made ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce with a slither of orange rind. Guests bid each other goodnight to prepare for the next adventure.

Brad is heading up the early drive and his radio contacts have informed him that wild dog have been spotted at a dam on an adjacent property. “Hold on tight,” he shouts. “Wild dog are a good capture and not common”. The land cruiser responds effortlessly. We are fortunate the dogs are settled. We sit and enjoy the moment. Brad follows a hunch to check another area where we come across three cheetah walking in the early morning sun. They pause to rest then move on.

Wildlife sightings at Mavela Game Lodge in the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Sightings from the early morning drive near Mavela

The birds are out celebrating the cooler weather from golden breasted buntings, African Hoopoo and a special sighting of a Namaqua dove. A bright blue waxbill darts around in the mud. We see a host of other bird species but as I am not a professional birder, their names are a little overwhelming for my mental data capture.

Brad at Mavela Game Lodge in the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Brad serving Amarula coffee with a smile

As we arrive at base, we are warmly greeted with heated hand towels to wipe away the dust. Breakfast has been custom prepared and the guests gather around the table to swap anecdotes and plans for their further travels. Brad explains, “Mavela is intimate where guests often form good friendships and swap contact details to keep in touch.”

Indeed, as I observe the breakfast banter, I concur that Mavela has created something special.

KwaZulu-Natal Sunset over the Zululand Rhino Reserve

Sunset at Mavela

Mavela Game Lodge are offering an amazing summer special of R 2,090.00 per person sharing per night on a fully inclusive basis. That’s accommodation, all meals, drinks and twice daily guided game drives. To take advantage of the special contact their reservations team on


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