Last week I visited Ant’s Hill Lodge in Waterberg – an area that hosts a wider variety of flora and fauna than anywhere else in Africa. The reserve is made out of 12 different ecological zones from open grassy plains to thick montane bush to savannah bushveld so looking through my photos of the incredible landscapes now that I’m home has filled me with wanderlust once more!
This was my first time travelling in South Africa and it was an experience that will stay with me forever. This holiday wasn’t just special because of it’s beautiful destination but also because going on safari was a charity wish for my brother, Tom. Every moment I spent with African soil beneath my feet was a precious memory of our adventure as a family and I’m really excited to share it with you…
After a three hour transfer from O.R Tambo airport we arrived at the gates of the private game reserve. Nestled in the folds of the magnificent Waterberg region are two beautiful bush homes called Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill which we were visiting for a safari holiday.
As soon as we arrived we were greeted with smiling faces waiting to help us with our bags and welcome us with a drink. It may have only been lunchtime but it’s never too early for a gin and tonic on holiday so I put my suitcase down and walked to the bar. Whilst I enjoyed my drink and took time to unwind from our long flight I walked around the main lodge and explored what would be my home for the next few days.
The main lodge has a spacious living area, dining room and a large veranda which overhangs the gorge. To top it all the pool at Ant’s Hill overlooks a waterhole where you can see all kinds of wildlife. In between activities I would slip into the pool for a swim in my bikini.
I was travelling with my family so we stayed in a cottage which was big enough for the five of us. My parents’ bedroom was like something out of The Swiss Family Treehouse as it had a wooden four poster bed and waterfall shower made out of rocks from the valley. My loft bedroom was nestled under the thatched room to make it extra cosy. By the time we left, just a week later, it felt like a home away from home.
As well as the bedrooms our cottage had a large sitting room and decked balcony but we barely spent any time there as we were always so busy! Each day we could choose a morning activity and an afternoon activity so if you love adventure then a safari is definitely the perfect holiday for you! This is what a day at Ant’s Hill was like for me:
- Wake Up Call at 7am with a cup of fresh Kenyan coffee
- Breakfast of fresh fruit, pancakes and more delicious coffee
- Morning horse ride to see the animals on the reserve for around two hours
- Lunch of traditional South African dishes
- Afternoon swim in the pool
- High tea of cake and coffee at around 3pm
- Game drive or another horse ride to see some more wildlife
- Alfresco drinks as we watch the sunset. Known in South Africa as ‘sundowners’
- Three course dinner of South African dishes and desserts
- Bedtime after an exciting day
Most of our days consisted of horse riding as it’s the best way to see the wildlife on the reserve because you can approach animals without them feeling threatened or running away. On our daily horse rides I was lucky enough to see Giraffe, Zebra, Sable, Kudu and even Buffalo! On a safari everyone wants to see ‘The Big Five’ (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard & Rhinoceros) but to see animals this big, and dangerous, you usually need to be on a game drive.
I arrived as a bit of a nervous rider but because every day was tailored to what we wanted I never felt pressured to get on a horse. My horse was called Shashi and I really grew to love him. He was so gentle and well behaved which made me feel safe (I think he could tell I was a beginner) so by the end of the week I was able to trot and canter with a bit of confidence. Who would have thought eh?
The guides, who led us on the horses each day, were so knowledgeable about the reserve. From the birds and animals to the plants and bugs they knew everything about everything. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much on holiday but I left with many new insights, and a lot more appreciation, for the nature around me.
But it wasn’t just riding we got up to! During my stay I went on game drives, swam with horses and I even gave fishing a go (needless to say I wasn’t very good). I put on my khaki shorts, woven espadrilles and packed my Cru Leather Bag for a peaceful afternoon of fishing – what a lovely way to watch the world go by!
I’m not usually a morning person but in South Africa I was up early, eager to get outside and see some wildlife. Each day we saw something different and learnt something new so it was great waking up not knowing what to expect. If you had told me when I got on the plane that I would be leaving my holiday having learnt to fish, horse ride and ride an elephant I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
During our stay I tried a lot of traditional South African dishes like Kudo meat, Dorado fish, milk tart and biltong of course! As Ant’s Hill is so large we were able to eat in the lodge, around a campfire or out in the bush. My favourite meal was the al-fresco lunch we had after a long horse ride and it was the best barbecue I’ve ever enjoyed thanks to the sunny weather, light breeze and beautiful surrounding landscape.
I piled my plate high with corn on the cob, potatoes, pork chops, crackling and salad. All finished off with meringue and fruit salad…delicious! Every meal we enjoyed was accompanied by a fine selection of South African wines so I was thoroughly spoilt with gourmet food and wine during the holiday.
Each evening we would travel to a tranquil spot of the reserve and set up tables and chairs so we could sit and enjoy the sunset. Can you imagine a better way to finish your day than sipping a gin and tonic as you watch the sun go down?
‘Sundowners’ is such a great South African tradition and one I would love to take home with me (although British winter means I would be watching the sun set with my g&t at about 4 o’clock!)
For me, the highlight of the holiday had to be seeing rhinos! We were lucky enough to visit the owner’s house where the rhinos on the reserve go each evening for feeding. Rhinos are under serious threat of poaching in the Waterberg area so they are kept under 24hr protection on the reserve for their safety.
Ant and Tessa Baber, who own the Ant’s collection, founded the charity Save the Waterberg Rhino to protect the rhino populations in the Waterberg area so it was amazing to learn about the work of the charity and see for myself what wonderful creatures they really are. As well as getting the chance to feed the rhino its dinner (which was mostly grass and hay) I got to feel the rhino’s horn which was a phenomenal sensation! After watching them in awe for a while they left to the bush and we enjoyed a gin and tonic at the lodge as the sun went down.
Safari holidays can be tailor made to you so they’re perfect for families or couples, young or old. However you start your safari journey and whoever you’re with it promises to be an awe-inspiring experience for all travellers. But I must warn you … a safari holiday is totally unique and will definitely become an addiction! If you’ve got the desire for adventure then you can find out more about the cottages at Ant’s Hill here: www.waterberg.net
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Starlight who made this holiday possible.
Starlight is a charity that brightens the lives of seriously ill children by wish granting. My brother Tom has been receiving chemotherapy for the past year after being diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma and Starlight offered him (along with me, my sister and my parents) a much needed rest from the hospital and treatment rooms.
Going on holiday together distracted Tom from the pain, fear and isolation that children like him can often feel as a result of their illnesses so it was amazing to spend quality time together laughing and having fun.
Starlight offered my family a break from the stress of cancer and enabled us to make lifelong memories together – for that, I will be forever grateful. If you would like to donate to this fantastic cause you can do so here: www.starlight.org.uk/donate-to-starlight