By Bert Duplessis

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By midday, once again, we headed out to our last Madikwe property – Mateya Lodge, which was actually not very far at all from Madikwe Hills Lodge.  We were simply blown away by this fabulous deluxe property.  The main lounge & dining room is a ‘de facto’ art gallery with dozens of authentic – and some clearly priceless – African bronze statuettes and other artifacts, some made of wood or stone.  There were also many original oil paintings on display, several by the renowned Paul Augustinus.  Owner Susan Mathis who hails from Atlanta GA had apparently collected most of the bronze statues over the course of 2 years while traveling with a private aircraft through western and central Africa.  Ms Mathis lives on the property except for a few summer months when she returns to the USA. 

We spent the next two nights in a massive room with a view over a water hole (seeing white rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, baboons, impala and kudu in the process).  There was a huge marble bath with his and hers indoor showers with 2 faucets and shower heads as well as an outdoor shower, side by side.  Doors open up in front of both the bathroom and the living quarter areas for views over the plains.  From the bedroom the doors open up to a huge outdoor patio with large private plunge pool right in front.  There are 2 comfortable wicker chairs on the left hand side of the patio and a glass-topped table and chairs as well as two loungers on the right.  We easily could have spent a lazy morning or afternoon right there, particularly in one of the warmer summer months. 

Our Mateya ranger was Francois who was extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the nature experience at Madikwe, from birds through rodents to elephants.  We very much enjoyed our time with him and he was at all times most considerate of our requirements, making sure that the vehicle positioning was just right for both of us, every time.  We enjoyed a quiet dinner with Francois in front of the indoor fireplace at Mateya on our day of arrival there.  It was impeccable: a 5-course affair complete with guava sorbet as a ‘degustation’.  I was really happy to see a stir-fried tofu dish on the menu as well, together with a fantastic salad.  We had our pick from amongst 3800 to 4000 bottles of wine in Mateya’s private wine cellar (except for Ms Mathis’ special French wine collection).  In the end my choice of a Rustenberg Merriman turned out to an excellent one.  It worked particularly well with Kathleen’s main dish which was (farm-raised) kudu fillet as I recall. 

Birds and Cheetahs at Mateya

The two game drives on this day combined perfectly for everything one could hope for on safari.  We enjoyed some bird-watching in the morning – as well as taking photographs of some rather wary Ground Squirrels – and then went off for some bigger and better things in the afternoon.  No doubt the highlight of our stay at Madikwe – a coalition of 4 superb male cheetahs.  We stayed with the cheetahs for nearly half an hour, watching them taking chunks of meat from a freshly killed juvenile wildebeest.  It was one of our better cheetah sightings of the last few years, and both Kathy and I made some good captures of the cheetahs’ bloodied faces in pretty good afternoon light. 

On the way back to Mateya we also had a look – not the best yet but a good glimpse nonetheless – of a pair of black rhinos.  We had been looking for them high and low so it was nice to finally find them.

Rhino Poaching – nowhere is safe

We were very dismayed to learn that the scourge of rhino poaching had already extended its grim tentacles to the far-off reaches of Madikwe.  Several of these amazing animals had already been killed in the reserve over the last couple of years or so.  Like elsewhere, it is just about impossible to effectively protect these rather amiable behemoths against the lethal attention of intruders who slip in at night, stay clear of lodges and game drives, commit their murderous deeds and then disappear with their grizzly trophies in a sack.  It is hardly more difficult than it would be hunting for cows. 

Unless something is done soon to reduce or control the growing demand fro rhino horn it appears to me that the species has very little chance of surviving in viable numbers in the wild.  There will always be small, heavily protected pockets of rhino here and there, but effectively the species will be lost to mankind, within the next 20 years. 

It is a slowly unfolding tragedy of monumental proportion.  It would be a stain on our collective conscience if this signature species – such as clear and distinctive link with the prehistoric past – were to disappear due to greed, ignorance and horrible mis-information and apathy. 

This evening Kathy and I were treated to a private dinner in the wine cellar at Mateya.  Just the two of us sitting side by side with some 4000 bottles of wine spanning 3 sides of the room, right in front of us and to our left and right.  Our attendant Connies was keen to show us some of Ms. Mathis most prized French wines, including several splendid Bordeaux, some from the Pauillac region, a Chateau Mouton Rothschild and many others.  With our meal – Kathy had a steak with peppercorn sauce and my special meal was a medley of quinoa and red beans with fresh vegetables – we enjoyed a fine Pinot Noir.  It was a fitting end to a lovely stay at Madikwe.

June 9 – Johannesburg

We skipped the game drive this morning, took it easy and then drove back direct to Oliver R Tambo Airport, this time using a different route via Sun City.  From the Madikwe gate it took just about 4 hrs of moderately fast driving (at or just above the legal speed limit which varies widely) to reach the airport.  The first 40 kilometers or so are on a dirt road which is a pity:  it is not a bad road but I think most people who may consider doing this trip on a self-drive basis would likely prefer to stay on asphalt throughout.  The total distance was round 325 km or just over 200 miles, right into the Budget Car Rental return bay.  The signposting for the car rental return area at ORTI is just as bad as ever, with a few tiny unobtrusive signs not quite pointing the way…

CityLodge at ORTI a good choice

Kathleen was supposed to depart for Houston via Paris early this evening but as it turned out her Air France flight was delayed for all of 18 hrs.  Quelle horreur!  Fortunately we had a room at the CityLodge ORTI.  So we had a nice dinner together and she was off early the next morning.

The CityLodge ORTI is an ideal stop-over for a quick overnight in Jo’burg, especially with a late arrival and/or early departure the next day.  It is at most an 8 to 10 minute walk (in complete safety) from one’s room at the CityLodge to the terminal A or B check-in counters. 

The rooms are on the small side but they have a bath plus separate shower, an HD TV screen , WIFI on demand (at additional cost), a built-in safe and the rooms are fairly well insulated.  We never heard any aircraft noise, just some slamming doors and cars honking. 

The restaurant has a pretty good casual restaurant, at least judged by its breakfast offerings.  One of the hotel’s best features is its proximity to a slew of restaurants less than a six minute walk from the foyer.  These include Nando’s Chicken, Ocean Basket, Fournos Bakery, Kauai (vegan options), Fish n Chips, Anat Mediterannean, Raj Indian, Wimpy Burger, Spur Soaring Eagle Steak House & Burgers, Mugg & Bean and Woolworths for some quality take-aways. 

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