For an alternative bush experience, Marataba luxury tented camp is a special blend of romance, modern design and trendy gourmet fare
WHERE IS IT? In the Mara concession in the Marakele National Park, a three-hour drive north-west from Joburg.
WHY GO THERE? It’s so close to Joburg and Pretoria, but once you are there you are surrounded by 23 000 hectares of private game reserve with dramatic mountains and vast plains. Game drives are exciting as the restored bush terrain is rich in wildlife, allowing some rare sightings as well as the usual Big Five suspects. (The Marakele national park is a publicprivate partnership eco-tourism success story on its own.)
Rooms are tented, but with all the creature comforts of a luxury hotel room. Not for the faint-hearted, as there is no fencing around the camp, and at night it is only you, the canvas and the vast bushveld outside. I heard a honeymoon couple say that on their first night at the lodge they sat around the bonfire till all hours, too afraid to venture to bed.
This is not your typical African bush lodge. Design aficionados will appreciate architect Tim Plewman’s clean lines. He was quoted as saying the lodge industry is “fraught with ethno-bongo kitsch” and that he prefers an “organic, African-inspired design”.
Refreshing and unpretentious. The talented young team of chefs, headed by Marcia Smith, calls it “Eurasian-African” cuisine, but it suits the climate with a menu of fresh, fruity meals. Lunch platters include either an innovative take on an old favourite like bobotie, or something unusual like salmon and papaya wraps served with salad, breads and relishes in tapas style. I had a caper berry and strawberry salad. Delicious! “I also try to bring in elements of French and African fusion like the Amarula and gooseberry sauce with warthog fillet and potato gratin,” says Marcia. “It’s important to me to feel satisfied and energetic after a meal, not heavy and tired.
Venison is a huge hit. Kudu, gemsbok and springbok go down very well, as does the warthog carpaccio. Most guests are adventurous and will try these things for the first time at Marataba: I try to keep it simple but tasty.” Dinner is a three-course meal served on the lawn with lanterns spread out against the backdrop of the mountains and the chorus of frogs – quite spectacular – but it doesn’t leave you feeling too full. “The response to the menu has been great. I think our tapas-style platters for lunch are unique and offer the variety that guests want,” says Marcia.
WHO GOES THERE? It’s mostly an international clientele, being an exclusive Relais & Chateaux property, but it’s also popular with South Africans, according to lodge manager Sjani Cuyler.
HOW MUCH? From R3 495 per person per night (full board).
CONTACT: Call Hunter Hotels on 044-501-1111 or visit www.hunterhotels.com.
THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE
I had never experienced the local Hunter Hotels brand but now that I have, I am a big fan. Aside from a great destination and relaxed service, the little touches were impressive – like our names on the menu each night, a packed padkos after leaving on Sunday and wines that were affordably priced, especially for the local clientele.