I recently enjoyed a terrific holiday in South Africa. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Iberia A330 Business Class from Madrid to Johannesburg
- Review: Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg
- Review: River Lodge, Lion Sands Game Reserve
- Review: Royal Malewane, Thornybush Private Game Reserve (today)
- Review: Kapama Karula, Kapama Private Game Reserve
- Review: Rovos train from Pretoria to Cape Town
- Review: 12 Apostles hotel, Cape Town
- Review: Cape Grace, Cape Town
- Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town
- Review: South African Airways A340 Business Class from Cape Town to Johannesburg
- Review: British Airways A380 First Class from Johannesburg to London
Today (February 8, 2017): Review of Royal Malewane (Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa).
- Location: Google Maps
- Address: Thornybush Private Game Reserve, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
- Hotel website: Royal Malewane
Royal Malewane is a luxury safari lodge with only 7 one- to six-bedroom villas, located in Thornybush private game reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park. The lodge, which has Bill Gates, Bono, Oprah and Elton John among its repeat guests, exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort and convenience. Here, the classic safari experience is unsurpassed with unrivaled Big Five game viewing and the country’s most qualified guiding team, who will provide detailed insights into the complex and fascinating ecosystems of the South African bushveld. Guests can also indulge in sensual treatments at the tranquil waters of Royal Malewane’s Bush Spa and enjoy nightly feasts under the African stars.
In this review (more info below the slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Royal Malewane is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.
- The lodge is located in the Greater Kruger National Park, which refers to the Kruger National Park itself –operated by the South African National Parks Board – as well as the private game reserves on the Western border of the Kruger National Park such as the Sabi Sand, Timbavati, Manyeleti and Thornybush Private Game Reserve. The latter is the home to Royal Malewane, and set in the heart of the rolling Lowveld savannah. As there is no fence separating the reserve and the park, animals move freely between the two wilderness areas.
- The distinction between the Kruger National Park and its adjacent private game reserves (such as Royal Malewane) is an important one as the latter offer a superior safari experience where nature is paramount: there are no restrictions on access or driving times, only specialized safari vehicles with guides are permitted (and they are permitted to go off-road in search of the wildlife) and a maximum of two vehicles at a time are permitted on a single sighting resulting in a more intimate wildlife experience and fantastic photographic opportunities.
- The open-sided, thatched roof, main lodge provides an elegant colonial-style refuge in the heart of the African bush. Two bronze cheetahs guard the entrance. Besides a boutique shop and the dining room, it features several seating and lounge areas, all of them boasting unparalleled views of the nearby waterhole (which attracts plenty of big game) and the raw uncompromising wilderness.
- The stunningly beautiful décor is classic colonial bush style, brimming with old world, timeless elegance, and mixed with Oriental antique ornaments such as Persian carpets. The lavish décor was created by design maven Liz Biden, who is also the mastermind behind Royal Malewane’s sister properties La Residence in the Cape Winelands and Birkenhead House in Hermanus.
- Royal Malewane accommodates a maximum of 20 guests in the utmost colonial splendor of six Luxury Suites, two Royal Suites, and one Africa House (an exclusive bush villa with six bedrooms). Elevated walkways connects all accommodations with the main lodge. During my holiday, I stayed in a Royal Suite, which ranks among the most spacious and opulent villas that I have ever stayed in – and I’ve seen a few. Luxuriously appointed and fully air-conditioned, the extravagantly proportioned villa featured a large living room with fireplace, and two separate bedrooms, each one with a Mahogany four-posters bed and an extravagant bathroom with a window-side Victoria bath. The villa was surrounded by a huge outside deck complete with crystal-clear pool and two thatched gazebos, so you could take the most of the surrounding wild beauty and enjoy the warmth of the African sunshine in complete privacy.
- The Waters of Royal Malewane Bush Spa is an oasis of a very special sort, a chance to refresh and restore mind, body and spirit amid the serenity and peace of the bush. Located at short walking distance from the main lodge, the spa is renowned for its beautiful setting and the sheer luxuriousness of its treatments, many of which make inspired use of indigenous ingredients. Facilities include a fully equipped gym, a rectangular heated lap pool, steam room, hot and cold African baths and private casitas for relaxation or treatments. It’s not uncommon to spot a passing impala gazing in fascination as you change position on your massage bed.
- Dinners at Royal Malewane are sumptuous affairs, with a constantly changing menu and a wide variety of beautiful settings in which to savor the contemporary cuisine prepared by Executive Chef, Brandon Souris and his dedicated team. Whether you feel like a light salad by the pool in the privacy of your villa or a decadent six-course dinner paired with fine wines on the main dining terrace, the culinary team at Royal Malewane will ensure that you are carefully looked after. All meals, soft drinks, spirits and wines are included in the accommodation rates at Royal Malewane, so you can completely relax and enjoy the endless temptations available.
- Once a week, Royal Malewane organizes a feast, served family style with one communal table for all guests, in a Bedouin Tent in the heart of the African bush. This is truly a remarkable and romantic experience with glowing lanterns casting a gentle light among the brightly burning braziers. The sounds of the wild and the local village choir provide the soundtrack to a very special evening where you can enjoy being out in the bush by the fireside under the African stars as the ranger and your fellow guests recounts the stories of the day.
- Of course, the main raison d’être for staying at Royal Malewane is the safari experience. With over 130 mammal species and over 300 bird species, the lodge delivers an unrivaled wildlife adventure, but most guests are here of course in the hope of spotting one of the Big Five animals: lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and black rhino. The Big Five phrase was coined by hunters back in the day, and referred to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot and the degree of danger involved. Your chances of observing the Big Five at Royal Malewane are extremely high (although never guaranteed of course) and the property is especially famous for its leopard sightings.
- The game drives at dawn and dusk form the basic rhythm of the day, when the wildlife is most active and the temperature more moderate. To engage with the landscape even more intimately, you can also explore the bush on foot with Royal Malewane’s expert guides and trackers at your side. You are encouraged to relax and experience the African bush at your own pace. There are no set meal times and the guiding team will accommodate your needs and interests as far as possible. Below is a schedule of what to expect on a typical day at Royal Malewane:
- 5 am: wake up call
- 5.30 am: light breakfast
- 6 am: game drive
- 9 am: return to the lodge for full breakfast
- 9.30-1 pm: time at your leisure
- 1 pm: lunch
- 2-4 pm: time at your leisure
- 4 pm: afternoon tea
- 4.30-7 pm: game drive
- 7 pm: return to the lodge for dinner
- 9 pm: guided escort to your room
- A typical game drive lasts for three to four hours and all game drives are included in the rates. The game drive vehicles at Royal Malewane seat only 6 guests in order to optimize each guest’s game viewing experience and comfort affording ample space for photographic equipment (and some refreshments of course). Top of the range, specialist Land Cruisers and Land Rovers ensure that the guides can go off-road safely in search of the ultimate wildlife sightings no matter what the conditions.
- On all game drives, guests are guided on specialized Land Rovers by a ranger who drives the vehicle and by a tracker who sits on an especially precarious seat at the front of the bonnet. And you are in good hands since Royal Malewane has the most qualified guiding team in Africa, with over 300 years of African bush experience between them. All the game rangers at Royal Malewane hold the highest FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) qualifications as well as advanced rifle handling certificates. These qualifications ensure guests an exceptional and safe game experience – not only while on game drive, but also on foot. Our guide Ryan and tracker Mumps were the best guides I have ever encountered on a safari on the African continent, and they managed to find the Big Five on all of our game drives.
- The gorgeously extravagant lodge has played host to a bevy of Hollywood actors, pop stars, royals and presidents who, like every guest, appreciate the privacy, opulence, and discreet attention they receive. A-List guests who have had stayed at the lodge include former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen, as well as Richard Gere, Oprah, Bono, and Elton John.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Royal Malewane is one of South Africa’s grandest and most famous lodges, and it doesn’t get better than this. The exquisite décor, incredible food and the unbelievable wildlife adventure with the best safari guides ever made this a trip of a lifetime that I will never forget. The resort has no real cons, but you need to know the following when going in:
- This is not Disney land. While wildlife sightings are common, it is not guaranteed that you will spot the Big Five. Having said that, this is one of Africa’s most game-rich reserves and best places to spot the Big Five, especially the elusive leopard, but luck certainly plays its part as do the knowledge of the guides.
- The lodge is not fenced so wildlife freely moves around the lodge. Although it is uncommon, predators such as leopards have been spotted in the lodge and on the villa’s terraces. Although most wildlife enthusiasts would be thrilled by such a special sighting, some may feel a little uncomfortable with all the wildlife around them, especially when walking between the main lodge and villas on the elevated walkways. However, it should not be too much of an issue since the staff is aways there to escort you.
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: 9/10
- Resort grounds: 10/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 10/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 10/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 9,7/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury resort like Royal Malewane (and receive many free perks).
- The lodge has only seven villas, all of them superbly located in the African bush and enjoying similar views, so you cannot go wrong with any of them. If you don’t like to walk to much between your room and the lobby, request a villa close to the public areas.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time to visit really depends on your personal preferences – nature has something to offer throughout the year. Incredible game viewing can be experienced at any time and there is not really a ‘best time of year for game viewing’. The region enjoys summer rains and dramatic thunder storms – temperatures soar into the 30s in the summer months. The vegetation is lush and verdant attracting incredible bird life while many new borns appear at this time of year. The winter months are drier and cooler – the vegetation is sparser resulting in improved visibility for game viewing as the animals make their way to the watering holes for hydration.
HOW TO GET THERE
Royal Malewane is easily accessible by road from Johannesburg in under 5 hours. Most guests though will prefer to travel by air, by making use of a commercial flight to one of the nearby airports (either the Hoedspruit Airport or Nelson’s Kruger Mpumulanga International Airport), or by chartering their own flights directly onto the lodge’s private airstrip.