First and foremost, let me start by saying this post is in no way sponsored, or paid for. These are my own thoughts and views and genuine recommendations based on places I love.
These past December holidays we decided, like many other South African families who just can’t comprehend the cost involved in oversea’s vacations, to take a “staycation” around Gauteng. It was also the last time we would be able to properly “adventure” as a family of four (and a normal sized car :)). I ticked off places on my bucket list that I have been meaning to visit for more than 10 years (there are still quite a few more to go).
We chose to explore the Cradle of Mankind area a little more and wanted to stay in places that offered activities for the whole family to enjoy.
First up on the agenda was the serene Kloofzicht Lodge. We had been there before previously, in fact I booked in there for a night for our wedding anniversary (and boy did they pull out the stops), so I knew it offered great service coupled with family fun.
Hubby had been dying to just spend quality time with the boys, teaching them how to fish and taking them on nature walks. Aadam is the perfect age to fish but Yusuf still gets a little bored and his mind wanders, so we needed something to cater to us all. I loved the fact that at Kloofzicht the swimming pools are all pretty centrally located to the lakes. So Daddy and Aadam went of fishing and the moment little one got bored, Mummy and Yusuf could go off and jump into the pool! They also have perfect “shallow sections” for kids to splash about in.
When we arrived we were greeted by 3 healthy looking Giraffe slowly cruising their way through the bush. The sign of a beautiful weekend to come! At Kloofzicht you can go on hikes and the grounds are home to Giraffe, Zebra, Eland, Wildebeest and Warthog to name a few. To walk amongst them in the mornings was an absolute treat! All the rooms overlook the mountains and six exquisite fly fishing dams (one of which you can fish for carp). If you are keen on the fishing side you don’t need to be “resident” at the hotel to fish, visitors can pay a daily rate for a permit and use the facilities for the day as well. We had such a huge milestone moment with Aadam bringing in his first catch and learning how to cast all by himself.
For those that don’t know the lodge also offers a fabulous spa which offers a variety of treatments, massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and tailor-made spa packages. They also stock my favourite Matsimela range. Hubby and I took it in turns to have a treat at the spa allowing us each to get some quality time in.
For me personally, one of the things I appreciated most about the lodge is the layout. You never ever feel that it’s too “busy” nor does it have a “resort” feeling. I felt comfortable spending my days lying by the pool without feeling conscious of my body or too many people around. The pools are always warm and inviting. My only “stumbling block” if that the poolside bar in front of the family rooms wasn’t operational. It would have been great to have been able to order some mocktails or snacks without having to trek up to the “Overmeer Bistro.”
Whilst we were in the area we stopped by our favourite Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. It’s literally around the corner and due to it being under construction is quite quiet. They have the most fabulous BMX bike park that they boys spend hours riding around and we helped give Solly the giraffe a bit of lunch too. The Nature Reserve is an actual “Nature Reserve”, the predator enclosure is nice and big and you don’t have that horrible “I’m in a zoo” feeling.
Our next stop after was another member in the Guvon Hotel Group, Askari Lodge. The one thing you should know about my husband is that is expectations are extremely high. He will not stay in a hotel or place that is not “better than his house”, because otherwise, “whats the point of leaving home” 🙂 We have different views of travel… but I digress, I was a little nervous about Askari as I hadn’t been before and we had heard mixed reviews. I booked the “garden suites” and had no idea what to expect!
We were very very pleasantly surprised! The garden suites are newly built (I cannot comment on the older thatched rooms as I didn’t see them). Our “room” however was brilliant! It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, SUCH a treat for mum and dad to have two separate rooms, woooo hoooo! The rooms were joined in the middle with a little kitchenette, complete with a sink and a microwave. Such a bonus when travelling with small kids. We often battle when travelling as most hotels don’t “cater” for halaal without bringing in external vendors, so we usually opt for fish/vegetarian options. After 4 days of pizza/pasta or fish we usually crave meat. At Askari, we had our own braai area on the outside patio which was fantastic! Definitely something to keep in mind for future trips.
The garden suites overlook the central swimming pool and are just a short walk away from some of the watering holes where you can spot the resident hippos. The old restaurant is fantastically quaint, it stems off the Bodenstein family farmhouse, and some of the original pieces like the family bible, telephone and staircase are still in tact. We spent an afternoon playing chess upstairs with the kids.
Of all the places we ate at, we actually enjoyed Askari’s food the most. It was mainly buffet style, again a bit limiting if you can’t eat the meat, but the food was tasty and well spiced. One area they could definitely improve on is “afternoon tea”. We went through to the restaurant at about 4pm wanting to get some tea and cake to keep the boys going till 7pm dinner time. They were very accommodating but stated they would have to check with the “top” kitchen if there was any cake (all food is prepared in the bigger kitchens at the main reception and brought down). Our waiter brought us down some scones they had left from breakfast I presume but didn’t supply any jams, honey or cream. I would recommend that they should always be prepared for “tea time”.
Breakfast was a bit of an odd set up as well. The buffet is situated precariously around the stairs of the main reception room and hot water for tea in the morning had to come from the “coffee station” machine. I had to go to the manager to ask him for a pot of hot water for tea as the waiters told me to utilise the self-service station. That being said, the views from the deck are fantastic and we could have sat there for hours but our game drive was waiting.
Being the only “family” there with small kids we were treated to our own safari vehicle in case the kids got bored quickly. (I loved the consideration they took not only of us but of other guests as well). I was disappointed at the “lion enclosure” – we weren’t allowed to drive inside and there were only 3 lions (There are better options around Joburg for a better lion experience). Though I was hugely impressed with our guide. He was friendly, informative and very clued up on the history of the area, the weather and the animals. We got to see Giraffe, Hippo, Springbok, Eland, Waterbuck, Impala, wildebeest, rhino, zebra, jackal to name a few., we even got to “walk” with the giraffes for a bit. It was definitely worth the price and I hope the kids appreciated the beauty.
Askari is also home to the Plumari Heritage Museum. Our transport obsessed kids were enthralled by all the old Ox Wagons and carts, and it was such a treat to show them how transport has developed. The famous “Mrs Ples” is also at this museum and we had a mini history lesson for the kids. The museum is also home to a much sadder story, but a very important one for our kids. It contains the fetus of a baby rhino, a mere 2 months away from being born. Sadly his mother was a victim of poachers and by the time they found the mama the baby rhino had already passed on inside her womb. The boys took it in and understood more than I thought they would. But to see such a perfectly formed baby rhino, so close to being born, is just heartbreaking.
On Sunday we got the biggest treat when the two resident elephants walked down to the watering holes at lunch time. One of my absolute favourite animals, it was magical to get to watch these beauties up close. The boys even got to give them a few treats! These are memories we will never ever forget!
We will absolutely go back to both Askari and Kloofzicht. At 45 minutes out-of-town it’s really such a treat to escape from the city. Im so glad we chose to explore our province in more depth, these are really memories we will always cherish as a family. I encourage you all this year to explore whats around you and take time to adventure.
Part 2 is coming up soon where I’ll feature a few more of our stops, so keep an eye out for that!