Set on a hilltop overlooking the undulating plains, Rockfig Lodge Madikwe in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve is the perfect juxtaposition of luxury, style, and authenticity.
South Africa has some really well-known game reserves – say the name Kruger National Park and visitors immediately know what you are talking about. When an invitation by Phoenix Collective appears in my Inbox to visit the lesser-known Madikwe Game Reserve, I accept without delay. Sharing a border with Botswana, this jewel in the North West Province is even more enticing – it’s sized at an impressive 290 square miles, is home to The Big 5, is malaria free, and with no day visitors allowed, there are fewer vehicles per sighting.
My journey to travel the 930 miles between Cape Town and Madikwe Game Reserve commences on a Tuesday morning with an Airlink flight from Cape Town International Airport to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. To get from the city to the bush, I opt for a flight with Federal Airlines, where their service excellence starts the moment you arrive. With a complimentary meet and greet at OR Tambo Airport, I am handed over to Dumi, who drives me to the exclusive Federal Airlines lounge, where I wait in supreme comfort for my flight to depart. Taking to the skies in one of the new Federal Airlines Cessna 208B EX Caravans with captains Divan and Louise at the controls, I am mesmerized by the sight of red earth from my vantage point at 11,000 ft, dotted with lush greenery as they descend to land the aircraft at Madikwe’s Western airstrip.
I am collected at the airstrip by Honest, my Field Guide for the duration of my glorious 3-night stay at the family-owned Rockfig Lodge Madikwe. The drive through the reserve takes around 20 minutes, depending on what is encountered along the way. I am welcomed at the reception area by the effervescent Neo, who hands me a refresher towel and leads the way to the dining area. To my right, there is a dam where a cacophony of sound emerges – the Cape Weavers are nesting in the surrounding trees, and the males look exquisite in their yellow plumage and orange faces.
Following a tour around the lodge, Neo loads me into the golf cart to take me to my impressive Villa, named Tshukudu, which means Rhino in the native Tswana language. The red brick walls are adorned with stunning black-and-white rhino images, paying homage to these endangered animals. Interiors are the handiwork of Liezel Lambinon Interiors, who was the ideal candidate for bringing her client’s vision to life, given their professional relationship spanning more than a decade and a number of completed projects.
“My client made contact with me midway through the construction phase regarding the units under development,” Liezel tells me. “They significantly diverged from the conventional African Bush architectural style characterized by thatch roofs. These units featured face brick exteriors and green tin roofs – a departure from the customary aesthetic. His intention was to experiment with a modern colonial concept. He entrusted me with the directive to exercise creative liberty. In alignment with the architectural style, my aim was to conceive a design that subverted expectations.”
Liezel continues: “I opted for a contemporary interior characterized by clean lines, enriched with warmth and coziness through the use of natural woods and leather. Accentuating select furniture pieces and vanities with steel elements infused a modern touch and imparted a masculine ambiance. The incorporation of textured fabrics on all upholstered pieces contributed to comfort, while the integration of modernized African patterns and colors complemented the overall aesthetic.”
The food at Rockfig Lodge Madikwe is absolutely delicious. Chefs Lesego and Robert ensure that all dietary requirements are catered for, and there is a great choice of meals for even the fussiest diners. My first night’s dinner consists of mozzarella cheese balls, chicken & couscous, and the most delectable vanilla pannacotta with vanilla ice cream and fruit. The second night has smoked salmon with avocado & mango salad for starters, beef fillet with baby corn & mashed potato, and the morish cheesecake to conclude my meal. A boma dinner is on the cards for the third night, and sitting outside under a blanket of stars with the wonderfully fragrant aroma of a barbeque is the quintessential way to end the day.
Twice daily game drives form part of a stay at Rockfig Lodge Madikwe, and the scene is set for incredible wildlife sightings, starting off with a cheetah named Felix. He is having a little snooze after he savored a well-earned meal, which he caught himself. We find a troop of banded mongoose, curious about our presence. A pale chanting goshawk stands proudly at the very top of a dead leadwood tree, making for a phenomenal photograph.
All of a sudden, we hear a growl, and Honest tries to pinpoint where the sound is coming from. “They must be in the block,” he discloses. He waits and listens. There it is again. The two-track leads to the most majestic male lion, sitting to my left. “Aah, the honeymooners,” Honest says with a wry smile. The male looks exhausted – he has a cut on his lip and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in the female when she starts flirting with him. She is not subtle in her intentions – she flicks her tail, indicating to him that it’s now or never. He begrudgingly capitulates and then collapses from sheer fatigue.
A conservation success story, Madikwe Game Reserve has thriving numbers of wildlife, amongst them the world’s most endangered mammal, the African Wild Dog. Seeing the interaction between a pack on safari is a rare privilege, especially when they’re resting in the shade of a tree as they are usually on the move, searching for their next prey.
Rockfig Lodge Madikwe was founded by the late Andrew Walker, whose love for the bush started when he was a little boy. His childhood in Zimbabwe was spent playing and exploring the bush and learning about wildlife. Family holidays saw him taking his family on safari, visiting Kruger National Park, and undertaking camping holidays in Botswana. “Andrew was keen to find an opportunity in the bushveld,” Rockfig Lodge Madikwe CEO Warwick Frost tells me. “When he heard about a new reserve being rehabilitated from old farmlands that were overgrazed with a major focus on conservation, he knew he wanted to be part of it.”
“The plan was that the reserve would limit the numbers of visitors,” Warwick continues, “Ensuring that the vegetation and animals have time to establish themselves and essentially thrive. North West Parks Board did not want self-drive, specifically to allow the land to recover. They set a limited number of leases with strict rules regarding a number of guests and vehicles, and Andrew was lucky enough to be one of the participants and signed a lease in 2000.”
The initial plans were for Andrew to build a commercial lodge, but he started out with a family house and the cliff platform where the rock fig tree is situated that the lodge is named after. Many family holidays were enjoyed in the bush, which made Warwick fall in love with wildlife and Madikwe. Andrew reconsidered the idea of creating a commercial lodge and started planning the three new villas. Building started in 2017 and the first guests at Rockfig Lodge Madikwe arrived towards the end of 2018.
Limited by their lease, the lodge is small and exclusive, with only four villas, each with its own host and one of them being the former family home, which is now called Inkwe Private Family House. Warwick explains: “Madikwe has so much to offer – the area is malaria-free, meaning it is safer for children. Kids can look forward to our unique digital safari – the experience offers budding wildlife enthusiasts the opportunity to explore the wonders of wildlife through the lens of just a phone camera. The Flora and Fauna are astonishing, the reserve boasts The Big 5, Wild Dogs, and cheetahs. The plains, mountains, and cliffs make for a beautiful landscape. Only qualified game rangers are allowed to drive in the park, and the rules are really strict with a ranger counsel enforcing them. There are no self-drive guests, meaning you do not have extra vehicles at sightings or in the park. All in all, this provides an exceptional experience for anyone that visits the area.”
How To Get There
Getting to Rockfig Lodge Madikwe, guests can opt to fly with Federal Airlines, book a road shuttle transfer, or self-drive. Flights take approximately 1 hour and road transfers 4h30. The reservations team at Rockfig Lodge Madikwe will book your accommodation and arrange your choice of travel.
Federal Airlines revolutionized the concept of shuttle flights to Africa’s breathtaking luxury safari lodges in the ‘90s. Forging strategic partnerships with industry leaders in the luxury safari sector, the FedAir brand has become synonymous with delivering an unparalleled and seamless travel experience.
With two primary offerings – shuttle services to opulent safari lodges, and charter services to destinations of choice in the region, FedAir’s reputation as a premier provider of air travel is unrivaled.