Sunday, December 15, 2019

Chiang Mai • Thailand • Getaway Magazine Online

In and around Chiang Mai – Thailand’s novel north


Not as well known as Phuket and Bangkok, Chiang Mai is an appealing, less crowded city in mountainous Northern Thailand. In 2017 it was designated as a Unesco Creative City. Medieval moats and remnants of the Old City wall speak of the ancient past, 1296 – 1558, when the city was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom.
Hosts of temples and now many modern buildings reflect the Lanna style of architecture, with their steeply pitched multi-tiered roofs, on a construction of teak wood. Teak pillars elevate the houses from the ground, to prevent serious flooding in the rainy season and provide shade and extra living or working space in the dry season.
Here are some of my favourite activities in and around Chiang Mai:

1. Temple (Wat) visits


Outside Buddhist temples, worshippers hang up lanterns to ask for favours and blessings. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
 
There are over 300 Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. Buddhism is a way of life in Thailand, so the wats are vibrant and constantly used by locals and tourists alike. 

Items for worship in the Buddhist temples are sold in markets and outside the temples. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
Worshipers bring offerings of floral wreaths and items for worship in the Buddhist temples are sold in markets and outside the temples.

2. Cooking class


Teaching on sourcing the best ingredients for our Thai cooking. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
I do not like cooking, so if my husband wants to eat anything but prepared meals from Woolworths, he has to take over in our kitchen. To my surprise, however, I thoroughly enjoyed a Thai Cooking Class at Grandma’s Cooking School. Tutored by enthusiastic Chef Gobby, I managed to peel, chop, pound and pummel my way to a successful shrimp Tom yum soup and a red prawn curry.
The open-air kitchen, with highly organised units for each student, has a view of gardens where herbs, fruits and edible flowers are grown. grandmascookingschool.com

3. Yoga session


Yoga in airy second-floor studio. Image on left: Gillian McLaren. Image on right: Pixabay
In an airy second-floor studio with a view of tree canopies, I strived to ‘improve my strength and balance, through a series of energising postures’, during a beginner’s yoga class. The teacher, with his highly flexible frame, effortlessly moved into these postures, or asanas, as we contorted our resistant bodies to emulate him. blossom.theyogatree.org

4. Visit Lamphun Province


The oldest temple in the Lamphun Province, from the 8th Century. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
Lamphun, the original capital of the Haripunchai Kingdom, which was constructed along the Khuang River in the eleventh century, lies 25km south of Chiang Mai. It boasts one of Northern Thailand’s most sacred temples, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, now represented on the one-satang coin.
A short walk outside the town is fertile countryside, with small farms producing longan, rice and vegetables.

A local farmer, in Lamphun Province, displays his produce. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
Hospitable local people invited me into their homes, to show me their kitchens, motorbikes with sidecars, garden flowers and to introduce me to their children. I was shown how the Kwoy beetle is trained to fight, a sport for the boys of the area.
Kwoy beetles are prized for their fighting abilities. Image credit: Gillian McLarenThe male beetles are placed near a female that is kept inside hollowed-out wood, then goaded to fight for her by the owners tap-ping on the wood. When not fighting, the beetles are tied to a stick of sugar cane, by a twisted thread of cotton.

5.Food fun


Complimentary traditional food is available each afternoon at Rim Resort, next to the swimming pool. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
Humble street food is excellent in Chiang Mai, with Thai people working hard to cook from their mobile street carts. From tom yung goong ( spicy shrimp soup) served in a plastic bag, to som tam (green papaya salad), or fried dough in the shape of a dragon, I enjoyed the Lanna influenced flavours and meeting the chefs. The night market on Chang Puak Gate is full of vendors, selling their personalised fare at very low prices. Unassuming and simple, street food is well known throughout Thailand and patronised by locals and tourists alike.
However, a special treat was trying some of the cuisines in top-end restaurants, some aspiring to their first Michelin Star. Blackitch Artisan Kitchen in a secret spot above a gelato shop, sees Chef Black create new dishes daily – for a nine-course tasting menu – based on the fresh produce he sources locally. Catering for only 16 guests at 3 tables, with zany wall murals in black ink, the atmosphere is intimate and friendly. A master of fermentation techniques, Chef Black’s home-made rice wine is not to be missed! blackitch.com
Cuisine de Garden, in the Hang Dong area, is set in a lush garden. Playful dishes are conjured up in a 10-course set menu, inspired by elements of nature like the soil, the ocean or a bird’s nest, explicated by the chef as he presents his creations. Surprises for my palate included lychees frozen in dry ice, in a performance art extravaganza, at my table. In a pleasing personal touch, own-ers Khun Mon and Khun Peach welcomed each guest.
cuisinedegarden.com

6. Thai massage


Traditional Thai massage. Image credit: Pixabay
As massage is a way of life in Thailand, there are many massage parlours, spas that are independent and those that are part of a hotel. Massages, especially of feet, or head and shoulders, are available on the street. I prefer the privacy and air-conditioning of an indoors massage, so tried the in-house spa at 137 Pillars House, which was sublime. A combination of three styles included stretching in the Thai way, hot stone treatment and lastly aromatherapy. After 50 minutes I was turned to jelly, so returned to the oasis of my suite, to doze. 137pillarschiangmai.com
There are plenty other ways to have fun in the Chiang Mai region, including zip-lining in a tropical forest, driving 60 km to quiet Chiang Dao set in the mountains to trek, and meeting local hill tribes. Visiting an elephant sanctuary – to see Asian elephants up close – is a popular pastime, but be warned that it is much like a zoo and concepts of conservation differ from ours in Africa. Get to Chiang Mai soon, while it is still relatively uncommercialised as the city has developed more modern shopping areas since I was here five years ago. Have fun!

Recommended accommodation

Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort is perfect for a wedding, a honeymoon, an anniversary celebration, or a spoil of any kind, because of its timeless charm. Set on the Ping River, under the shade of a huge, ancient tree, this elegant hotel has a manicured garden with a profusion of flowers. I particularly enjoyed the buffet breakfast with excellent Thai cuisine, while sitting at tables next to the river, to watch birds and passing boats. A highlight is the swimming pool – a pleasant social space – flanked by palm trees and looking out to the spreading canopy of the presiding tree. Guests receive a special gift on their beds after turndown each evening. www.nanirand.com

Swimming pool, a perfect length for some swimming training. Image credit: Gillian McLaren
137 Pillars House, unashamedly five-star, is ultra-luxurious with personalised service including a private butler. My suite was spacious, with white walls. A stand-alone ball and claw footbath had me in sensual heaven with the top quality bath products. The hotel spa is immaculate, with skilful masseuses. A highlight was the 25m swimming pool next to a 6m wall that is covered by a creeper. Kleeb Lamduan Thai cookies – resembling the Lamduan flower – are placed on black pottery stands in the suites each night. www.137pillarschiangmai.com
The Rim Resort sports Lanna-style architecture, with teak walls and floors. Rooms look out onto the swimming pool, or onto a tropical garden. In the afternoons, it was fun to sample complimentary traditional Lanna delicacies and participate in Thai cultural activities, including making handicrafts or food. www.therimchiangmai.com

Getting there

Singapore Airlines Flights from ORTI in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport depart every day. Three additional flights (SQ481) will depart from OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening at 22:30 hrs and arrive in Singapore the following day at 1455 hrs. The return flights from Singapore (SQ482) also depart on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoons at 16:35 hrs and arrive in Johannesburg at 21:10 hrs on the same day. Flight time to Singapore is usually ten hours twenty-five minutes. The A350-900 has an extra-wide body and high ceiling. Air is filtered to remove impurities and is completely replaced every 2-3 minutes. Business Class is exceptional, with fully reclining beds, personalised service, plus fine cuisine and wines.
From Singapore, fly SilkAir direct to Chiang Mai Airport
No visa is required for South African passport holders to Singapore or Thailand.
What to bring Singapore and Chiang Mai are hot and humid in summer and pleasantly warm in winter. Lightweight, breathable clothing – especially pure cotton – is best, with a hat or portable umbrella to protect you from the sun, or a rain shower. Consider comfortable closed shoes for walking in Chiang Mai or nearby villages, but sturdy sandals will suffice.
Gillian’s trip was curated and hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand South African representative office. www.blog-thailandsa.co.za

Article from Getaway: https://www.getaway.co.za/travel-ideas/destinations-travel-ideas/destinations/chiang-mai-thailands-novel-north/

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Dive into Lembeh Resort • Lembeh Strait • Indonesia • Traveller24

Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea life of Indonesia




“Is it really even a fish?” you may wonder when you see some these incredible creatures from Hairy frogfish to flamboyant cuttlefish, photographed on one of my dives. But it sure is! Many of the critters - as they are called in the Lembeh Strait, next to Northern Sulawesi - are astounding to see and to watch.
Volcanic rock lines the Lembeh Strait, so beaches and the bottom of the strait are covered with dark charcoal-coloured sand.
As I do a back roll off the boat into the water, with my dive master by my side, the scene is dim and murky, with nothing in sight save the silty bottom of the Kasawari Bay, near to the lodge.
It crosses my mind that perhaps we have dived into the wrong place. When I spot a flat fish with two eyes on one side that is buried in the mud, I fin towards it. The fish manoeuvres from its perfectly camouflaged position, swims ahead of me, then settles back into the fine silt. Is it a flounder, or could it be a sole?
I will check in a fish guide when I get back to the lodge.
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
(Photo: Adam Silverma, Eco-Divers)
Feeling encouraged, I flash an “okay” sign to my dive master, who then points upwards to show me a Flamboyant cuttlefish. It is emanating light and changes colour as I observe it. This is a big thrill for me and counts as a super-special find. Smiling to myself, I now begin to realise why this area is considered the best muck diving in Indonesia and possibly in the world.
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
(Photo: Adam Silverma, Eco-Divers) 
During the huge Tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, benthic creatures were raised from the deep and flung onto beaches in Asia. Scientists and lay people alike, were fascinated by some of the adaptations to the dark conditions of these denizens that usually live fathoms under the ocean. During my first muck dive with Dive into Lembeh I wonder if some of the sea life that is shimmying out of the mud are cousins of these bizarre and mysterious animals, despite the fact we are only 15 metres from the water surface.

Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
(Photo: Adam Silverma, Eco-Divers) 
A few of the animals that present themselves during my Lembeh dive are highly venomous, so I view them from what I hope is a safe distance. The Blue ringed octopus - no bigger than 20cm in length - is considered to be our planet’s most deadly creature. It has a serene manner and gorgeous colouration, belying the toxic bite using its beak that leads to complete paralysis of the muscles of prey. When this cephalopod feels threatened, its iridescent rings flash an increasingly bright blue, indicating time for me to move away.
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
 Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea
(Photo: Adam Silverma, Eco-Divers) 
My dive guide extends his closed fist towards an animal, the underwater sign for danger, which alerts me to a Stargazer, with a large downward facing mouth, immaculately camouflaged on the sand. Completely motionless - appearing like an encrusted rock - it waits patiently for prey, then rapidly ambushes and snatches a small fish.
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
Dive into Lembeh for the weird and wonderful sea l
(Photo: Adam Silverma, Eco-Divers) 
It feels far too soon when my dive guide signals for me to surface, leaving behind this wonderland with its surprises all the way. After the ascent we chatter about our awe-inspiring dive, as we dry ourselves with fresh towels, eat slices of pineapple, then head back to the lodge. Euphoric after my muck dive, I am further impressed with Dive into Lembeh when we are met by two Indonesian ladies presenting hot deep fried banana and some hot chocolate. Back in my suite, after a refreshing shower in the al fresco bathroom, I melt into the private hot tub on my verandah deck, to rest, watch the sunset over the ocean and reflect on one of the most magical dives of my life.
Supper is a relaxed, barefoot affair at a communal table, in the open air dining room. Steve Coverdale, the gracious host and owner of this shipshape lodge, joins us to hear about our dive, adding some tales of his own experiences in the astonishing dive and snorkelling sites close to Dive into Lembeh. The meal is most welcome after our adventure. We tuck into a series of Indonesian dishes, which we share, so it is a festive evening. Reluctant to leave the stimulating company, yet knowing that I need to bank some sleep, I nip down to the water’s edge, where my dive gear is stored in a personal wooden cupboard, to check that my torch, magnifying glass and safety buoy are ready for tomorrow’s muck dive. Strolling through the tropical garden with its palm trees, past the swimming pool reflecting a waxing moon, I am deeply thankful to be here.
              Dive into Lembeh for the weird and w
              Dive into Lembeh for the weird and w
              Dive into Lembeh for the weird and w
Getting there:

Flights from ORTI in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport depart everyday. Three additional flights (SQ481) will depart from OR Tambo International Airport on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening at 2230 hrs and arrive in Singapore the following day at 1455 hrs. The return flights from Singapore (SQ482) will also depart on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday afternoon at 1635 hrs and arrive in Johannesburg at 2110 hrs on the same day.
Flight time to Singapore is usually ten hours twenty five minutes.The A350-900 has an extra wide body and high ceiling. Air is filtered to remove impurities and is completely replaced every 2-3 minutes.
Business Class is exceptional, with fully reclining beds, personalised service, plus fine cuisine and wines. 
From Singapore, fly SilkAir to Manado, where Dive in Lembeh can organise a driver to transport you to the lodge. The journey is a pleasant 2 hours through pretty landscape and small villages
Visa for Singapore and Indonesia: No visa is required for South African passport holders
Highly Recommended Accommodation in Indonesia:
If you extend your trip, consider experiencing exciting muck dives, from White Sands Beach Resort in the Lembeh Strait
For coral reefs, with pelagics, stay at Tasik Ria near to Bunakan Marine National Park, in Northern Sulawesi.
To dive the renowned area of Raja Ampat, visit MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge, on a private island. Simply stroll off the white sands of the beach or off the wooden pier, to snorkel and dive with Bamboo sharks, Wobegongs, Dugongs, nudibranchs and turtles. Plus hundreds of reef fishes.
Highly recommended accommodation In Singapore:
The Jen Tangolin has chic, compact rooms with quirky décor - expediting some cute selfies - a fifteen minute stroll from Orchard Road, the famous shopping belt for designer fashion and other kinds of retail allure. Tuck into the Chilli Crab at Ah Hoi’s Kitchen, one of the four hotel restaurants. 
The Outpost Hotel Sentosa is a trendy adults only hotel, with clean black and white design, amenities by Appelles and an infinity pool looking out onto the harbour. Choose between sea, island or pool view rooms. Note the high tech room toilet, a cutting edge design where two guests may set individual programmes for front or back spray, temperature of water jet, whether water oscillates or streams freely, heated or cooled seat and preference for night light on the seat.   
Crowne Plaza Changi Airport is perfect for a luxurious overnight stay, walking distance from Terminal 3. Multi-cultural breakfasts are served from open kitchens. I loved my room facing the runway, as it is quiet, with an absorbing view of aeroplanes - one of my passions - through floor to ceiling windows.

What to take:

Singapore and Indonesia are hot and humid all year round. Lightweight, breathable clothing - especially pure cotton - is best, with a hat or portable umbrella to protect you from the sun, or a flash rain shower. Consider comfortable closed shoes if you would like to walk to explore in Singapore or nearby villages in Lembeh, but sandals or even slip slops will suffice. Remember your wetsuit or skin for diving or snorkelling.
Have lots of fun!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero • Botswana • Luxury Travel Magazine

An African Riverside Retreat at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero



An African Riverside Retreat at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero

As I arrive at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero Lodge - after a ten minute journey from Kasane Airport in Northern Botswana - I am met by khaki-clad staff members with an enthusiastic welcome song. I can’t help but smile as they offer me a cool scented cloth to refresh my hands and face, followed by an iced lemon, ginger and honey drink. Guided through carved wooden doors, I am greeted by an expansive view over the verandah, across a garden, down to the islands and flood plains of Chobe River, as far as Namibia.
The communal area of the lodge comprises a lounge decorated with authentic African artefacts, comfortable couches and tables laden with inviting coffee table books, a dining room with inside and al fresco seating, plus an open air bar.
Though tempting to linger in this space, I am keen to see my room - one of 15 air-conditioned thatched suites which has recently been remodelled and refurbished - before beginning my first boat safari. Strolling down cement paths lined with indigenous trees, I am distracted by an Orange-breasted bush-shrike, a lizard or two, plus warthogs on their knees, feeding on the grass. A shy Bushbuck family watch me as I watch them.

African Retreat
My spacious suite has an extra length king-sized bed with white linen, canopied by a mosquito net. Freshly painted, the walls are stone coloured and decor is in soft hues of beige and grey, with a splash of colour on the throw across the base of the bed. A highlight for me is the sizeable bathroom with a freestanding stone bath on a screed floor, twin basins and a shower with steel designer taps and mixers. Thick white towels, a range of white pillar candles, lavish bath salts and Africology products add to my anticipation of luxuriating after my river cruise.

African Retreat
A pleasant drive through the Kasane Forest Reserve, in a game vehicle having only three pairs of seats, with a console between each pair, takes me to a landing stage on the river, under a canopy of mature trees. Boarding a small motorboat, with a canvas roof, I sit right in front, with an unimpeded view of Chobe River and the cloudscape above. A crocodile, partly submerged, is so close to the boat that I can observe his his yellow eyes and the ridges on his skin. After a few minutes on the water, we find a water monitor basking on the trunk of a fallen tree. When I stand up to photograph the reptile, it feels strange to be eye to eye with it, rather than looking down on it from a game vehicle.

African Retreat
My guide, with his sharp eyes and wealth of experience, points out and names birds as we proceed. It is an up close and personal time as we watch Pied kingfisher hovering above the river, then plunging vertically to catch a fish. Pairs of Fish eagle, their iconic call reverberating across the water, perch high up in the trees lining the river bank. An iridescent kingfisher waits patiently on some reeds, scanning for small fishes. Abundant bird life, a guarantee of rich photography,  includes darters, cormorants, several species of herons and ducks, as well as egrets.  Near the top of a tree, we see an impressive wild beehive - of the Apis mellifera species - that is about a metre long, . Too high for honey badgers and with thousands of bees defending the nest against wasps, or any kind of honey robber, it has been able to reach this unusually large size.

African Retreat
A solitary African buffalo, with thick black clay coating his skin, has been forced out of the herd by the virile bulls. He stands motionless in the river immersed up to his flanks, living out his life close to the softer grass. One of the ‘Big Five’, these old bulls known as ‘dagga boys’ are notoriously aggressive and cantankerous, provoking many a thrilling tale for hunters and game rangers. This one looks innocuous as he begins to ruminate and tolerates a Red-billed oxpecker foraging for parasites in his ear.

African Retreat
We motor over to the other side of the Chobe River, where elephants are cavorting in the water, next to an island. Their trunks like giant snorkels, they throw themselves under the water, playing exuberantly with one another. As the sun begins to sink, the clouds become a crimson blaze, reflected in the surface of the water. With our motorboat berthed in a strategically chosen spot, I sip gin and tonic, the quintessential safari sunset drink, nibbling on canapés and gazing at the splendour of the scene. Heading to their roosts, birds fly in skeins across the sky.
Back at Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, I find that my bath has been run for me and has been decorated around the edges with flowers, plus petals strewn onto the water. After languishing in the quiet of my suite, I call the guard to escort me to dinner. Though the lodge is fenced, on rare occasions a leopard has been seen in the grounds, so guests are advised not to walk alone at night. The atmosphere around the al fresco bar is relaxed, as guests chat about their sightings of the day, savoring cocktails, or one of the fine whiskeys that line the well stocked shelves.

African Retreat
Meal times are flexible, so though it is early evening, I tuck into the gourmet fare served during the three course evening meal, each paired with South African wine chosen by the sommelier. The cauliflower and broccoli  soup, Botswana beef fillet with seasonable vegetables, followed by Portuguese lemon tart, are all delectable. My waiter is discreet and professional. Executive Chef Shillah Legakabe visits my table to check that I am satisfied with his creations. Lingering on the verandah, I hear a jackal calling in the distance, as well as the repeated call of a Pearl spotted owlet. I am deeply peaceful in this moment, but also looking forward to the activities of the next day which include a land safari, for me to search for the rare Sable and Roan antelopes and learn more about the impressive elephant population. As the Spa is renowned for its treatments, I have booked for a Soul of Africa conditioning massage.

African Retreat
With all the amenities of a resort, this intimate lodge deep in the Botswana bush, provides a boutique experience. I can’t fault the personalised service, the quality of staff - especially the knowledgeable guides - or the comfort of my suite. The river cruises are especially enjoyable and a unique safari experience. As I leave Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, staff members that now feel like friends, give me a handshake or a hug, then stand in a line to wave goodbye and call out blessings.

African Retreat
For more features written by Gillian Mclaren, or to receive an email when she posts a new story, please visit www.gillianmclaren.blogspot.com
African Retreat
White-fronted bee-eater
African Retreat
How to Get There
Airlink is a privately owned and funded entity.  It operates as a Regional Feeder Airline and franchisee of South African Airways using its own visible brand intellectual property. Airlink connects travellers to more than 55 routes within southern Africa and St Helena Island.
Route Specific Information:  Direct scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Kasane (Chobe) - Botswana. With an all Jet service, Airlink provides a Business Class service, styled in the manner of a European intra-continental service. Priority boarding, ample leg room, personal service with tasty meals served on porcelain crockery, as well as a choice of South African wines, make Business Class sheer pleasure.    
Connectivity: Through our alliance with SAA, travellers can connect conveniently, effortlessly and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Discover more:  www.flyairlink.com
Taken from: https://www.luxurytravelmagazine.com/news-articles/an-african-riverside-retreat-at-sanctuary-chobe-chilwero

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dulini River Lodge • Dulini Collection • Sabi Sands • Luxury Travel Magazine

A Dream Safari at Dulini River Lodge



A Dream Safari at Dulini River Lodge

Right next to the dust road, deep in the savannah of Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park, we stop next to a colossal bull elephant. Standing in a shallow pool of water, he is clearly enjoying himself as he sprays mud all over his body, even onto the back of his giant ears. Dave Potgieter - our safari guide, who has a degree in Zoology - informs us that this bull is probably over 33 years old, that the mud is a way to keep cool, as well as to get rid of ticks when he rubs his body against a tree trunk. Ambling closer to us, this impressive male sprays himself vigorously one last time and I am left with an up close and personal souvenir of a few mud dots on my shirt! What a thrill to be near enough to this intelligent beast for me to capture a close-up of his eye with its long eyelashes.

Dulini River lodge elephant
In high spirits after our sprinkling of African mud, we continue our game drive in the open Land Rover (not standard issue, mind you - only two seats per row, separated by a spacious console for our personal use). No luxury is spared by Dulini, so I am delighted, but not surprised to find a designer amenity kit in the console, including Charlotte Rhys insect spray and sun block, tissues and paper bags for waste. Pentax binoculars are provided, for perfect viewing of birds or animals that are spotted in the distance. Not that we need to use binoculars very often, as we drive off-road through the bush when our tracker, Observe Mhlaba, spots interesting tracks. He finds the lion spoor that we are hoping for and after “bundu bashing” through the terrain, we are rewarded with a red-maned male that is having his early morning roll in the grass. We are amused at this playful behaviour by the King of the Veld. Nearby is a tawny lioness, so they are likely to be a mating couple, but they flop down to sleep.

Dulini River lodge lion
Our excitement mounts as Observe notices leopard tracks in a river bed. Following these tracks in the sand, we come across a pretty female with her cub. The cute youngster, full of energy, tries to catch a butterfly, chases a lizard and nuzzles up to his mother between bursts of activity. Chattering Vervet monkeys catch the female’s attention and, with a burst of speed, she runs off in their direction. Immediately the cub runs to the base of the nearest tree and sits still, waiting in the relative safety of the shadow for his mother to return. Dave drives to follow the female, who does not manage a kill, as the shrieking monkeys are too fast for her. She heads back to her cub, which runs out to greet her with exuberant affection.

Dulini River lodge animals
Chatting about our astonishing morning venture, we alight near to a Sausage tree bearing fruit next to the river for tea and freshly baked orange-flavoured cookies, tastefully set out on an African print cotton table cloth. I feel inordinately privileged to be standing out of the vehicle in this remote spot in South Africa. We hear grunting, groaning and wheezing of a hippo and the iconic call of a Fish eagle. Dave points out the wide variety of grasses, teaches us how to recognise some of the tracks in the vicinity and draws our attention to the diversity of butterflies. Although Dave is guiding a rather mixed audience – a honeymoon couple on their first ever safari, and a seasoned bush-lover like me - he is sensitive to us and answers all of our questions informatively and interestingly. Few lodges can boast of a ranger this highly educated and skilled.

Dulini River lodge bird
Back at Dulini River Lodge - after a warm welcome with cool, scented hand towels - we sit together at a table on the raised platform of the veranda, to tuck into a veritable feast. As well as a generous buffet with fine cold fare, there is a full cooked breakfast to order. Everything is made from scratch: even jams, sauces, coulis, dips and dressings are lovingly crafted by enthusiastic Chef Altus du Toit and his team. Sipping my rooibos tea, I gaze out over the Sand River where three Southern ground hornbills move slowly as they forage and a pair of critically endangered White-backed vultures perch on their nest in the upper crown of a Knob-thorn tree.

Dulini River lodge
The communal area of Dulini River Lodge is open plan and al fresco, under a roof thatched with Cape reed. Two lounges with comfortable chairs and scatter cushions in fresh organic tones are adjacent to a gift gallery displaying curios, animal print scarves and books. Décor includes an array of fine baskets on a wall, wooden chandeliers and other elemental features. A professionally climate controlled wine cellar cools an impressive array of South African wines - carefully curated by Chef Altus - a range of artisanal gins and spirits, including Glenlivet 12 year old whisky. The single malt is my tipple of choice for the sunset stop on the evening game drive.

Dulini River lodge lounge
After my breakfast I meander down the wooden pathway to revel in the time spent in my lavish suite, one of only six. The open plan design is pleasingly light and fresh: the spacious bedroom on a wooden floor supports a sizeable extra long King. With plate glass windows to maximise the view, the space has an inside outside flow. A changing area provides drawers and cupboard, plus a separate toilet. Behind the desk - with a splendid vista of the plunge pool plus recliners and the Sand River beyond - a drinks cabinet is filled with unopened Bombay Sapphire gin, a single malt Scotch, Absolute vodka and Amarula, the famous South African liqueur. Hand-made nougat, fresh lemons, spiced nuts and cookies beckon temptingly.

Dulini River lodge bedroom
An outside shower, encircled by stone walls, has a rain shower head and designer Hansgrohe taps. Liberal containers of shampoo, conditioner and body wash again treat me to Charlotte Rhys’ exotic and pampering smells, adding to the sensuality of the Dulini River Lodge shower and bath experience.

Dulini River lodge bathtub
From the raised wooden deck I observe a parade of animals descending the river banks to slake their thirst, as well as entertaining displays of birds flitting in a massive Jackalberry tree that shades the space.

Dulini River lodge desk
The level of attention to detail, quality of the staff, fabulous dining and wining experience, plus the lavish nature of the suites, make this an exceptional lodge in my experience. Time to watch game - including the magnificent big five - as they conduct their private lives, is of immeasurable worth.
For information on Dulini River Lodge as well as Leadwood Lodge and Dulini Lodge - the other two lodges in the Dulini Collection - visit https://www.dulini.com/home
Dulini River lodgeLounge area of  Dulini Lodge
Dulini River lodgeCommunal area of Leadwood Lodge
GETTING THERE:
Airlink – is a privately owned airline business, operating as a regional feeder Airline, connecting travellers to more than 55 routes within southern Africa and St Helena Island.
Route Specific Information: Direct daily scheduled flights from Oliver Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport to Nelspruit KMIA and Skukuza, in the Kruger National Park, to Ulusaba Aerodrome, where a Landrover from Dulini River Lodge meets guests.
Connectivity: Through Airlink’s alliance with SAA, travellers can connect conveniently, effortlessly and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Discover more:  www.flyairlink.com
Article by Gillian Mclaren (@Jetset_Gillian)
Images by Gillian Mclaren and David Rogers Photography
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Gillian Mclaren Travel and Science Writer

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