ANT'S LODGES, SOUTH AFRICA
23/10/17Ant’s Nest and Ant’s Hill Bush Lodges
My holidays usually involve either painting or riding. I’ve been on about 16 riding holidays over the past 12 years with In The Saddle and this one was possibly the best to date. It was a trip to South Africa to ride on a 12500-acre private game reserve in the malaria-free Waterberg, north of Johannesburg.
To get there from the UK was, to me, a sensible journey – early evening departure from LHR, 11 hours flight arriving early next morning in Jo’burg, with a similar return flight time 10 days later which simply added an extra night to each end of my stay without any jet lag. From Jo’burg it was a 3 hour drive in a private car to my final destination, arriving in time for lunch.
The game reserve, owned by Anthony and Tessa Baber, has two lodges about 5 miles apart. The classic and spacious bush homes are owner designed and built using local stone and thatch that blend into the surroundings, with wonderful views looking out across the bush. My booking was a late one so it was a matter of taking whatever accommodation was available. I spent the first 3 nights at Ant's Nest, nestling down in the plain, in the family suite - 7 foot bed, en suite bathroom, twin room, 2nd bathroom, huge sitting room with enormous fireplace and bar plus equally huge verandah - all to myself! I then spent 5 nights up at Ant's Hill, perched atop a gorge, in similar luxurious accommodation.
They have a herd of about 90 horses of all shapes and sizes to suit riders of all ability and experience, and they live out in the bush with the game. However, you don’t have to ride in order to enjoy and make the most of this holiday (but they’ll do their damndest to get you on a horse if they can!) – there are plenty of other activities. Each morning and mid-afternoon I had choice of approx 3 hrs riding, bush walking, mountain biking, bush driving or visiting a local township. I managed mostly riding, plus one bush walk and a couple of drives. Plus two evening drives with strong searchlights when we were fortunate and privileged enough to gain two sightings of the elusive anteater – something our guides/drivers told us they had rarely seen over the past 5 or 6 years.
At the end of the morning activities we either returned to the lodge for an alfresco buffet or stayed out in the bush for a BBQ, after which there was time for a siesta or dip in the pool. Each pm culminated in a sundowner, as riders, walkers and drivers would meet up each evening at a different spot where we would find the chairs lined up (with rugs in case it got chilly), the bar laid out and drinks served whilst watching the sun go down. At this point all the horse were unsaddled and turned loose to make their own way home and once the sun had set we were driven back to the lodge. Dinners were announced by the chef of the evening who appeared at 7.30 pm, introduced themselves and explained the menu to us - food was first class, especially the wildebeest steaks! Both lunch and dinner were hosted by a different pair of staff each day so conversation was always interesting and lively! They really seemed to treat us and look after us as their house guests rather than just another 'load of punters', and were obviously very proud of their respective roles within the team. They all have opportunities to participate in regular training courses in their particular field to enhance their skills. Of the two lodges I preferred Ant's Hill - better horses! Fellow travellers were mixed and interesting - several of them had visited Ant's before, which is always a good recommendation.
Riding could be fast or slow - the first few days I wanted to stop, look, listen and learn about the game and their environment. On these slow rides we managed to get within just a few yards of the game and they accepted the presence of the horses without alarm. Then, once I could recognise kudo, impala, giraffe, zebra, sable, etc. I joined the faster rides with energetic, exhilarating 10 minute canters along twisty sandy tracks allowing us to venture further out into the reserve.
Ant and Tessa are very involved with saving the Waterberg rhino, a much endangered species. Their horns are sought by poachers and so the rhinos on the reserve are protected by armed guards who are particularly vigilante at the time of the full moon. In the evenings the rhino are encouraged to the perimeter of the Baber’s lodge for protection at night, and a couple of times we joined them for our sundowners. Here you can get so close to these animals while they are feeding that it’s possible to actually touch them.
I believe that one of the plus points of this location is that you can arrive and depart on any day. So, unlike the holidays where you all arrive and leave together on the same days (we’ve all experienced those trips when we’ve looked at the rest of our group and thought, “Oh, goodness, am I really stuck with this lot for the rest of the week?”), there is a constant flow of different people arriving and departing throughout your stay. In addition, as a single traveller at no time was I expected to join another group and their activities - it was all tailored to my requirements. Each evening I was asked personally what I would like to do the following day and at what time. If other guests had identical or similar plans then we would join up and go out together.
I’m a great lover of learning something new wherever I go and the one main lesson I learned in South Africa from my bush walks and rides was that the flora and fauna will survive without any assistance from us. For example, a certain species of acacia tree from time to time has a very high tannin content in its leaves. This attracts the giraffes to graze on the leaves. When the tree feels overwhelmed by this excessive grazing it sends out ‘messages’ (probably in the form of pheromones?) to nearby trees causing them to increase their tannin content which attracts the giraffes away from the besieged tree. Forgive my very rudimentary explanation but I don’t know the technical terms! In fact, after a few days there I decided that mankind probably causes more destruction than any other species on earth.