The Pilanesberg’s most Lucious Lodge

by Jared
 * This article first appeared here in Wanted Magazine

Thanks to a one-of-a-kind geological structure, the allure of a string of private lodges, and then proximity to Johannesburg, locals are joining the stream of foreign visitors heading through the gates of Pilanesberg National Park. Often seen as the reserve hiding behind Sun City; it may be surprising to some, but it is the fourth largest park in South Africa.

The reserve was formed in 1979 in one of the planet’s most unique geological phenomena – a large alkaline rock-ring complex formed during a volcanic eruption 1 200 – 1 300 million years ago. These hills form the park’s concentric border, with the Northern curve crowned by the private Black Rhino Reserve – home to a handful of private lodges.

Here I found Lush Lodge, cradled alongside the eastern flank of the ancient hills, which then rippled out into the remainder of the reserve. Arriving on a crisp winter afternoon, Lodge Manager Dalmane Van Der Heever gave me the usual “Welcome – and make yourself at home.” Turning around I chuckled at the unexpected truth to his words – for a hot second I did think I was back home since the adjacent dining table was beautifully dressed in the same Ardmore Sabie tablecloth that adorned mine back home.

The lodge spreads itself over the property, abounding in space, taking in several lounge spaces, a dining room, an alfresco dining courtyard, a boma, a unique wine cellar, and rooftop bar. Both lodge entrance and bar feature granite slabs that were carefully excavated from the Golden Cascade quarry and here proudly display their millions of years of age. Contrasted with the bright modern Ardmore ceramics and furnishings it is a styling that pays homage to the land’s history and is also not afraid to echo its vibrancy.

In addition to the lodge’s luxury and deluxe suites, Lush boasts a brand new Superior Deluxe Suite, and I felt justifiably smug as its second-ever guest. The suite offers complete privacy being the furthest away from the lodge. It also has the largest open deck space of all the suites, allowing for intimate and unique wildlife experiences that are par for the course. Sitting penning these words, I was temporarily paused by three of the park’s pachyderms, slowly grazing their way past the suite.

The new suite was in every way a passion project for the owners, the Lupini family, with Kyne Lupini leading the project. Having curated the décor themselves, with furniture distinct from the other suites – including the custom-made whiskey cabinet with fabric inlays, book cabinet with a private library and then luxuriant foliage. The African-chic opulence spills into the outside space there the large deck offers a double shower, heated pool, lounge, and dining space. In short, a level of luxury I’d usually associate with the slickest of the five-star lodges in the Kruger National Park. And yet, here I was under three hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

Adjacent to the suite is the Spa, where slices of soothing pink marble and then six-meter-long folding doors open to the outside, making no soothing spa tracks necessary: the rustling of the leaves and curious cackling of the louries provide a natural soundtrack. If Kea is available, her healing hands are among the most talented I’ve experienced.

Morning game drives are generally into the South of the Reserve, and then in the evening’s shorter drives explore the private concession. It’s essentially a safari best-of-both with access to both public and private areas. Our ranger Hannes has expertly guided us around the 50000-hectare park and its furry residents – including a morning stop at the tranquil Mankwe Dam. All this in LUSH’s brand-new Land Cruiser, a beautiful creature itself.

The bush of course, never ceases to survive, and with the right guide, the daily drives have the potential of being memorable. As a seasoned safari-goer, I’ve heard my lion’s share of facts, but Hannes – even at the tender age of 22 – was a constant source of new information: the passing termite mounds with their concealed underground nests as big tennis courts, the elephants we met with an astounding 40000 muscles in their trunk, and then the ability impala of the plentiful pregnant impala to delay their birth by up to two weeks depending on weather conditions.

Our bush stops included all the usual safari trimmings but with a few added treats. Our morning coffeechocarulas(a glorious wake-up cocktail of coffee, hot chocolate, and Amarula) were accompanied by muffins and glass muesli pots I’d not seen before. The clever glass jars held the homemade muesli in the bottom and the yoghurt in an internal smaller section screwed into the lids. In the evenings the full bush-bar was enhanced by the brochette served with a sumptuous biltong butter.

The team of Lush chefs ensured that every meal was served with flair and flavour. I was particularly delighted to hear that this spring an ex-Mala Mala sommelier would soon be arriving to take up the vino reigns.

After the final night’s festivities around the Boma, I returned to the suite and climbed into the outdoor bath. With a stone-clad backing laden with lamps, and a front-row view into the wild, I couldn’t have felt more removed from the strictures of city life. A welcomed immersion into remoteness.  Perhaps that’s why owner Brenno said it better than I could: “Lush is a space in time. Where for a moment we are afforded the brief opportunity to get lost in a world within a world. Hence, our slogan: This is Life. This is. Lush”.

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