There's something about the bush that can make a weekend away feel like a week-long holiday. Maybe it's the enraptured stillness that falls over the group when game is near, or the early mornings watching the sunrise in the freezing cold, maybe it's the rare and delicious opportunity to nap in the afternoon - there's just something, about being out of the city, between mountains and grass plains, that really helps your body and mind to relax.
Four hours from Cape Town, surrounded by the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains, lies Gondwana Private Game Reserve. Home to a variety of the Cape's beautiful and indigenous fynbos and the Big 5, the reserve sprawls across 11 000 hectares of unspoilt natural beauty.
I was invited to join Dawn Jorgensen from the Incidental Tourist, Kayli Vee from Food Blog and Robyn Elford from Nicky Arthur PR on a girls weekend away at this beautiful game lodge. You don't normally think about a safari trip so close to Cape Town, but Gondwana is close enough for a weekend away, while being far enough to make you feel like you are truly in the bush.
We were welcomed with cold drinks and friendly smiles, just in time for a delicious lunch of fresh veggies, salad and tasty cottage pie, served family-style in big bowls at the table for everyone to dish from.
We stayed in one of the big bush villas. The tastefully-African villas sleep up to 8 people, with 4 en-suite bedrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, large dining room that can easily seat a family, and (my favourite) a huge fire place in the living room. The views from every single room are breathtaking and the big patio overlooking the reserve is the perfect place for gin and tonics and just soaking it all up (also for yoga and some cartwheels, if I'm honest).
The first of our four game drives was punctuated by the affectionate re-naming of our guide, James, to Sweet Baby James - a name that stuck for the weekend and no doubt will be part of James' life going forward. The gods of nature must have been on our side, because as the sun was setting, throwing rays of bright orange across pale yellow grass, we came across two elephants.
Which, as we got closer, in fact turned out to be rhino. I'd never seen rhinos so close up before, and had no idea that they were so enormous! We sat completely still, holding our collective breath as these two army tanks of nature ambled over to inspect us. "Miss Daisy", as Sweet Baby James whispered, came up to the van and affectionately nuzzled her horn against her new metal friend. She was almost the size of our 12-seater van and we shook with the weight of her affections as she got to know us. I couldn't even speak, I was so in awe.
After this truly incredible experience, we stopped for sundowners and a view over the surrounding mountains, where the sky was changing from orange and purple to pink and blue in front of our eyes. That night we dined in the Kwena Lodge restaurant on the reserve, before collapsing, exhausted into our warm beds up in the villa.
The next morning was cold and slightly wet, but we got to see the sun rise, while we sat bundled up in blankets, driving through the fynbos. After lunch I lay down to a two hour nap - something incredibly decadent to me and woke up in time for our next game drive. The weather had turned and we pulled on our gumboots and water-proof poncho's as we set out to spot game in the rain. It was cold and the rain stung our eyes, but we laughed as we pulled the poncho hoods over our eyes, hoping to spot some wildlife.
Dinner was served at our villa, where Sweet Baby James came to braai for us, as we sat around chatting in front of the fire. We all ate together and had another early night, tired from doing nothing but relax - the best feeling in the world!
*Note: Please note that we asked the lodge whether posting images of rhino was permitted before sharing the images online. There is a lot being said on social media about keeping the location of rhino a secret, but any reserve advertising online that they are a Big Five reserve, clearly have rhino roaming the property. Gondwana Game Reserve spreads over 11 000 hectares, and the exact number of rhino is not public.