It is just after 12pm when our VW combo pulls through the entrance gates of Safari Plains. Abundant recent rain showers have spread a carpet of bright green across the shrubs and trees and the vibrant song of birds fills the air.
We are met at the reception area by Beverley, the Assistant Resident Manager and, after sanitising our hands and having our temperature taken, she shows us through the small gift shop and corridor into the bar area, where we are offered a welcome drink and are invited to fill in some forms.
The bar and lounge area, with its heigh thatch ceilings, comfortable sofas and high chairs and tables and long, long curtains are stunningly contemporary. Tall glass doors open out to the terrace, where white outdoor furniture on dark brown timber and pristine white parasols offset the bright blue swimming pool. Safari Plains, in essence, is architecturally stylish, colourfully fashionable and quintessentially modern; a genuinely sophisticated place.
We are accommodated in tent number 10, which in itself is pretty impressive. The views over the open savannah plains are expansive, especially as seen from the comforts of the private sala; a daytime lounger which is connected to this particular tent via a wooden boardwalk
Entering through the wooden door, we find that the main feature has to be the King size bed, which is opulently draped with white mosquito netting. There are two nightstands, a comfortable chair, a writing desk and chair with convenient sockets for charging laptops or notebooks, an armoire and a bar fridge. The luxuriously appointed bathroom, on the other side of the inside wall behind the bed, comprises of two stylish washbasins complimented by indulgent toiletries and fluffy towels. We discover a lovely Victorian-style bath with shelves boasting thick candles in one room, plus a separate toilet and, again, separate shower. There is also a space to hang our clothes, shelves and a safe. On the far side of the bathroom is an extra bedroom.
Time, now, for lunch. Closing the door behind us, we make our way back to the outside terrace where we take a seat at one of the tables overlooking the swimming tool. We order a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which is swiftly served and poured into elegant wine glasses. There is both a bottle of still and sparkling water on the table, along with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar; it is like being at a trendy, upmarket place in Cape Town.
Eager for our afternoon safari, we meet our guide, Russel, at 3.30. After introductions, he asks what we would most like to see, and when we tell him that the Mabula elephants and the coalition of two male cheetah brothers have given us the slip so far, he grins. “You are always lucky with Russel”, he jokes and, adjusting his cap and sunglasses, adds, “we will certainly try!”
It is a beautiful afternoon; much warmer than the last few days and, content to savour the magnificent views over the bushveld, we sit back to enjoy the ride and admire the abundant other natural delights The Greater Mabula Game Reserve has to offer; the stunning colours of a lilac-breasted roller in flight, the unmistakeable sounds emanating from arrow-marked babblers in a nearby bush and the lovely sight of the tiniest of fragile light yellow coloured butterflies, dancing from one clump of upturned soil to the next.
And then … “Elephants!”
Laughing out loud, Russel points ahead triumphantly. “There! Up on that small ridge next to the road!”
There, at last, are the large iconic pachyderms that we have been looking for these past few days. Slowly moving in our direction, the herd comes very close. One of the younger bulls is standing in the road and raises his trunk to catch our scent. The other elephants are milling about nearby; one of them is throwing up clouds of dust in the beautiful soft, golden afternoon light.
Suddenly, as if sparked by some signal, the elephants start moving again, and are now approaching us on the road. Closer they come, and closer still. Russel reverses our vehicle to allow them right of way and they calmly traverse the road to pass our vehicle. It is a magical sighting. When they reach the dam wall, their burley bodies are reflected as a mirror image by the water’s edge.
We couldn’t have orchestrated it better if we had tried and when the herd eventually disappears into one of the gullies, we let out an exhilarated sigh. It is a perfect ending to a perfect day.