A Weekend at Bongani Mountain Lodge with a Jeep Wrangler
I was given a late birthday present of a weekend away at the beautiful Bongani Mountain Lodge near the Kruger National Park, and to add to the occasion, I managed to obtain a Jeep Wrangler from the lovely people at Chrysler Jeep. Ironically, I was supposed to spend the night at Bongani during the official launch of the new Jeep Wrangler. On that particular night, the Kruger area experienced flash floods which prevented us from reaching the lodge that evening. Despite the launch taking place in the middle of the floods, the new Jeeps hardly seemed to notice! This time, the drive to the Nelspruit area was uneventful on a road that has been improved since I last drove that route.
I was impressed by the car at the launch, so the opportunity to use a new Wrangler Rubicon all weekend was one too good to turn down, and when I saw pictures of Bongani Mountain Lodge I knew that staying there would be a wonderful experience as well! The lodge is situated in the Mthethomusha Game Reserve, just south of the Kruger National Park.
The Wrangler itself was a joy to drive as we covered every kind of terrain in our running about. It was outstanding in all ways. The highway drive was comfortable and the car didn’t feel cumbersome at all. Changing to low range was easy, and controlling the car once in low range was also extremely easy giving the driver confidence to take on the terrain. The interior was very well finished while managing to keep that rugged feel throughout. The 3.6 litre motor did everything with aplomb and even having an automatic box didn’t affect its performance off road, which for me was impressive.
Despite the Jeep’s very efficient SAT-NAV system, my girlfriend, Taryn, and I managed to get horribly lost on the way to Bongani. We travelled through various rural towns and villages until a locked gate prevented us from exploring further. We drove through all kinds of terrain, on gravel roads and rutted tracks, turning the journey into quite the adventure! With the dark night settling quickly upon us, we found ourselves stranded on a hill, in the middle of nowhere with only the stars and moon as “light”. The Jeep was our only saving grace, as it gave us a sense of security while lost in the ‘sticks’.
With only patchy network signal, we battled to get hold of the Lodge. We finally managed to get hold of Clint, one of the Lodge Managers, who calmed us down and did everything possible to help us keep our wits about us, We drove back into one of the rural towns and waited while Clint arranged for his rangers to locate us. The Lodge staff were extremely helpful and two of the Rangers, Wandile and Aaron, met us at a petrol station nearby. Wandile hopped in the car with us and directed us up to the Lodge. Luckily, we were in a Jeep so our running around in the rain on the mountain side near the Kruger border was done with ease! The only car other than the ranger’s car that was allowed to go up to the Lodge itself was the Jeep, as most guests are asked to leave their vehicles in a safe area near the gate. They knew the Jeep would be fine to drive up the steep mountain side, so up we went which was very cool.
When we finally got to the Lodge we were greeted by the friendliest staff, including John, the General Manager, who was actually on leave. Even though we were only checking in at 22.30 they were extremely accommodating and very helpful, offering us coffee and dinner. By that stage, however, after an 8 hour journey, the only thing we could think of was a comfortable bed. After a quick coffee rush we headed straight to our room to get some rest.
The room was simply amazing. It was beautifully set out, spacious and open with a massive and wonderfully comfortable bed! It had mosquito netting draped over it, giving the impression of a proper four poster bed. The décor was a lovely mixture of elegant African charm and simple minimalism, which I thought was perfect for the ambience of the Lodge.
We woke up to the most beautiful clear day and to find a rare nyala happily chilling and eating grass outside our room. The wide patio gave the most breathtaking views over the surrounding mountains – it really felt magical. It was an absolutely amazing way to wake up to a new day, especially after the adventures of the night before! Off we went for our buffet breakfast, where we met Michelle (our dedicated Ranger – the unfortunate one who had to wait for 2 hours at the main gate for the “two guests that didn’t arrive on time”). We had the morning at leisure and spent our time on the viewing deck and by the pool, relaxing and enjoying the scenic views over the reserve.
We were served lunch on the viewing deck and then relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I loved the outside shower in our room and enjoyed using it in the day time – it was a very different and free kind of feeling, showering with the open sky above. We finished off a truly peaceful Saturday with an evening game drive. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much game but we did see a giraffe not even 5 metres away from us, which was very special! We would have loved to have seen more animals on our game drive, but the animals and birds we did see were a reminder of all the “other animals” that are normally forgotten.
Dinner was set up for us in the Boma, by firelight, which gave the evening a great atmosphere. Taryn and I are both vegetarians and we really appreciated that the staff went out of their way to cater for us. The staff prepared some amazing food, and a variety of tasty dishes were prepared for our dinner in cast iron potjie pots. I enjoyed a superb sweet corn chowder soup, definitely a recommended Bongani dish! One special touch at the Lodge is that every night when you return to your room, an African story bookmark is waiting on your pillow, together with a small chocolate – a delightful surprise.
Our last day came far too quickly, and we wished we had a few days more to spend at the Lodge. We woke up early to go on a proper morning game drive that was just wonderful. Our special ranger – Michelle – really looked after us extremely well, making the drive fun and educational. We really loved the morning drive! We saw quite a few giraffe, including baby giraffe, and baby zebra, which were extremely precious and so cute. We also saw unusual animals such as water lizards, a massive adder and fascinating birds, adding to our appreciation of the diverse ecosystem of the bush.
Before checking out we had one more delicious breakfast buffet spread, and then made a few purchases at the new curio shop before making the trek back to the city.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the service and the personal touches at the Lodge. It’s been a while since I came across people this knowledgeable, passionate and sincerely friendly, and it makes for a refreshing change. The GPS co-ordinates need to be updated, as I’d hate to be a foreigner lost in the areas we found ourselves on Friday night! The staff were extremely helpful in the circumstances and saved the day with their efforts in getting us safely to the Lodge. The food was amazing and I’d return just for the cuisine alone – especially as vegetarians, we felt they fed us extremely well! The rooms were beautifully decorated and we had a relaxing rest every night. One concern I would have is that entertainment for younger clients might be a problem, as children could become restless between game drives. However, the Lodge is in the process of completing their “46664” room in honour of Nelson Mandela, which will serve as a new a-la-carte restaurant, entertainment lounge and library. For adults and couples, though, the Bongani Mountain Lodge is hard to beat for a rejuvenating weekend away from the city.
- Price: R389,990.00
- Diff Lock: No
- Low Range: Yes
- Gearbox: 5 speed Automatic with Manual mode
- Power Output: [email protected]
- Torque: [email protected]
- Climate Control: Yes
- Remote Side Mirrors: Electric and heated
- Sliding Roof: Soft-top, sunroof and modular hardtop
- Heated Seats: Both Front
- Air Bags: Driver, Passenger and Front Sides
- Side Impact Protection: Yes
- Brakes: Hydraulic Boost, ABS, EBA, Electronic Roll Mitigation, ESC and TSC