My husband and I bid on a trip at a charity auction a few years ago and had the opportunity of a lifetime. We bought a trip for a Safari at Ezulwini Game Preserve. The only way to visit is to purchase by donation to a charity.
While talking to a friend, I soon learned that she had lived in Johannesburg for two years and shared her love for Cape Town, South Africa. My husband and I were determined to add it to our trip.
We flew into Johannesburg directly from Atlanta (an 18 hr direct flight) The couple who bought the Safari the year before us flew into Amsterdam with a layover for a night while celebrating their honeymoon and then continued into Johannesburg a day later.
We stayed in “Jo-Berg” overnight at an American Hotel Chain and enjoyed an incredible meal. It was a late flight so we ate there, had a bottle of wine (all for about 40 bucks including a steak…be ready to spend tiny bits of money for elaborate meals in South Africa~ and no scrimping on the quality) and turned in.
There is a lot to see in Jo-berg but it is dangerous at night. We were just ready to sleep to get ready for the new day and adjust to the time change. A little prescribed Ambian on the plane is not a bad idea either. I usually do not take anything ever….but as someone who already creatively gets my days and nights mixed, I thought it best to get on the same schedule as my traveling companion.
We rented a four wheel drive car (recommended) and drove to Ezulwini’s main camp the next morning. It is a beautiful drive but if you are not comfortable exploring and ending up on roads that lead to nowhere, then you might want to arrange public transportation.
Some people took a short flight from Johannesburg to the place they recommend near Ezulwini and Krueger National Park.
I believe it was a four to six hour drive through mountains and on back roads and once we ended up at the end of a road after a wrong turn in a township which was a bit scary but that is how we roll. Let me also note that there ARE signs at exits that say HIGH HIGHJACK AREA DO NOT STOP. WE whisked through that one looking LEFT RIGHT LEFT…NOT GOOD AS YOU DRIVE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD SITTING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE CAR. Luckily THEY stopped as we entered oncoming traffic to the left.
Do not let that deter though. South Africa is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and that includes most of Central Europe, Costa Rica, Mexico and across the U.S.
We DID make it and as we drove through the huge gates into the property we were all alone in a car passing monkeys, elephants, giraffe and some hippos on the way in. Imagine the excitement of that!
Driving from the city we were able to get an idea of the industry, huge diamond mines and mills along winding cliffs and fields coated in dark black stones with cattle grazing among the rock. We began to wonder how South Africa can be so poor yet so rich at the same time.
We stayed at Ezulwini’s main lodge for two nights and Billy’s Lodge three nights. I would recommend that combination. Each night others who have bid arrive and together we enjoy shared dinners around the table cooked by the staff at both places. It is incredible to meet people from all over the world who have also won the trip through a donation to a charity. We each had an individual “hut” that was airtight (sealed from the critters that include scorpions and other things I had not studied up on) but they make sure to sweep out each night and there are nets to give you the feeling of security from things that bite. Again, I have to admit, Ambian became my nightly friend.
There is a pool at the Main Lodge and open air bar that is a fun place to look at all of the photos of others who have passed through, write in a journal, sit around and meet the locals who work there or you can wait for the sunset views from the tower overlooking the watering hole. You will not be disappointed by the facilities. It is more like visiting someone’s home than a resort. The Billy’s location has more of an open air/ hotel feeling. There they have long overlook walkways and some of the homes have private pools. Ours did not but our neighbors were so sweet to share it one day when they were out exploring. There we were, sunbathing overlooking the bush as animals roamed just in front of our feet in the valley below.
They DO recommend you be escorted at night anywhere on the grounds, as in all camps there because WE are prey to lions and many times those animals pass through. There is also the thing I did NOT research and that is the BLACK MAMBA. So it is not for the faint at heart but we even had an elderly woman with cane-like walker who did FINE on the trip and rode in the vehicles on all of the drives. She had no problems.
Our first night at Billy’s Lodge the owners were there. They invited us to their private wine cellar located in a luxury cave that still had line drawings etched in the walls from hundreds of years before. There was a complete bar and a staff member to serve us. He shared the history of the places. They emphasized that they only allow those who have a heart of giving to be a part of their preserves. We never met a person we didn’t love getting to know as they all had various philanthropies and the same urge to explore the world while also giving back.
After that we travelled to Cape Town by plane and will both say that is the most incredible place in the world. It is wine country that competes with California in climate and sophistication. The beaches have white sand and are clean with crystal blue waters. Whales pass through seasonally and there are seals that make their home on the nearby rocky shore. The hotel we stayed in was just beneath Table Mountain and first class. I think it was Harbourview, a name that later in my life became significant. The pools were oriented, as well as the entrances, so that you felt you were there all alone. Community dinners gave us an opportunity to again make friends with a couple from London who later went to dinner with us at a local restaurant that served the freshest food and some of our favorite wines to date. We ended the night in a pub where karaoke soon rang out with a little “Sweet Home Alabama” twang.
We had drivers take us around in Range Rovers as you can quickly end up in a township that is best explored with someone guiding you.
Ezulwini’s owners also own an incredible house tucked beneath a mountain overlooking the sea just about an hour outside of Cape Town. Here is the LINK to Maritime on Moonlit Bay. It is remote on the end of a peninsula overlooking a lighthouse and not much else. Baboons roam free there across the roads. We travelled out there by car and they were so kind to just tell us “stay, really stay”. It was a private house when we were there but that is how the owners are. There is also another private home with security. They are incredibly generous and just want the world to know how great South Africa is. Everyone in Cape Town speaks ‘LONDON ANGLISH”. BEING FROM THE SOUTH, I GOT A KICK OUT OF THAT.
If you want to visit contact them for information.
Follow Ezulwini on Facebook.
Trevor and the guides update the hunts as they happen. We just saw that the lion king of the pride died since we have been there. Big Boy. So as you see, even two years later we are connected to what goes on there. We saw all but one of the big 5 (Cheetahs were off in another area but some others the day we got there had seen them) on tours that were made twice a day.
The unique experience here is that they are a part of an innovative group taking down fences to ensure a natural environment for the animals to have free range on private lands. A number of the owners in the area work together to see that they have more open range. Many are fenced. There is NO hunting on this preserve, but the photos and memories are priceless!