Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Palace of the Lost City

You're into the last few days of your African honeymoon and you've just flown into Johannesburg from Victoria Falls. You collect your bags, clear customs and immigration and in no time you emerge into the very impressive arrival hall. You've organised a private car transfer to Sun City and there standing in front of you is a broadly smiling African clutching a board with your names on it. It's always a relief to see your driver waiting for you when you arrive in a strange city, but by now you are no longer surprised by the efficiency of African tourism operators.

It's a hot afternoon, but your car is new and air-conditioned. The journey is comfortable and scenic and in under three hours you are pulling up at the main entrance of The Palace of the Lost City. You wanted to stay at one of the cheaper hotels there - Cascades, The Sun City Hotel or the Cabanas. (Not because you're tight fisted but.......Okay then maybe your are a little.) However your travel agent persuaded you to spend your two nights at The Palace. Now you can see why he recommended that if you're going to the trouble of driving to Sun City you have to stay at The Palace. You make a mental note to buy him a bottle of Penfolds Grange when you get back to Australia. The building glows with an inner golden light in the late afternoon sun and the it's many green domes stand out against the tawny hills behind. At the centre of a roundabout in front of the entrance is a magnificent copper sculpture. A pair of cheetahs are chasing a herd of leaping impala across a shallow pool of reflective water.

You are relieved of your luggage by a smartly uniformed porter and you tip your driver generously. The romance is really getting to you. You follow the porter into the reception hall and stand aghast at the towering dome above you decorated by a da Vinci-esque fresco, while the polished marble floor beneath your feet is covered with African animal scenes. Everywhere you look is opulence. In Las Vegas it would be tacky, but here somehow because of the quality of the art it is simply delightful. As you are shown to your room you pass more stunning works of art. There are sculptures, statues, paintings and frescoes - all depicting African scenes and wildlife. Your room, although the most reasonably priced is huge with what seems like a tennis court sized bathroom. There's a huge king sized bed and a double spa bath. That'll come in handy you both think. That evening after a relaxing bath you take a walk in the gardens. Looking back at the The Palace you are amazed to see flames from huge torches at the top of each domed tower. It's eerily atmospheric, like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

The next morning is beautiful, warm and sunny, cloudless and low humidity. After the most sumptuous breakfast you've ever had (and you've had a few) you decide to have a good look around the gardens in daylight. Here you find a precipitous waterslide and "The Valley of the Waves" - an enormous wave pool with a real sand beach. You spend most of the afternoon here, alternately relaxing in the sun and cooling off in the pool. You think next time you'll bring your golf clubs and have a bash around one or both of the two golf courses which have real Nile crocodiles in the water hazards. Now that's what I call a hazard!

That evening you visit the casino where you break even - about the best you can expect in a casino, but it was fun anyway. You also see a show and have a wonderful meal before strolling back hand in hand to the Palace through the fragrant garden with the awesome shape of the Palace of the Lost City with it's flaming towers as a backdrop.

The following morning after yet another tummy tingling breakfast you are transferred by private car to Madikwe Hills Lodge in Madikwe Private Game Reserve. You have never been game viewing in Africa before and have no idea what to expect. Your travel agent recommended this particular lodge and before your stay is over you have decided to upgrade his gift from a bottle of Penfold Grange to a full carton.

The lodge is set on a kopje (hill) of house sized boulders and the rooms are enormous. Nights here can be chilly and there is a real log fire in your room that is always miraculously blazing when you return to your room after dinner. In the morning, when it is even chillier you are more than happy to discover that there is underfloor heating to keep your bare feet nice and toasty.

Your first game drive is the evening you arrive. You wander up to the restaurant and are met there by the other guests, your ranger and your tracker. They run through the safety procedures - a few dos and don'ts and then you climb into the open four wheel drive vehicle. You are amazed to see that the African tracker sits on a seat bolted to the bull-bar. You are even more amazed at how close you get to the animals and at how still and cool the tracker remains as a large lioness sniffs his boots. Before the end of the first game drive you have already seen the "Big Five" - elephants, lions, buffalo, a pride of lions and later as you drive back to the lodge in the dark with the tracker wielding a spotlight, you see a leopard.

And so over the next couple of days you settle in to the gentle, hypnotic routine of life in a really good game lodge. At five-thirty in the morning there's a wake up call and you wander up to the main building for coffee and biscuits before heading out on your morning game drive. Then after a couple of hours you stop in a particularly scenic spot for coffee and muffins before continuing for a further hour or so. By ten you're back at the lodge for a huge brunch. Then the rest of the day is yours to swim, read, have a massage or do whatever people do on their honeymoon.

At about three-thirty in the afternoon you return to the main building for high tea. Sandwiches, quiche, samosas and cakes and then you're off on your afternoon game drive. Right on sunset your ranger pulls up and he and the tracker break out the drinks for a sundowner. You sip your excellent chardonnay and chew your biltong as you hold hands and gaze at yet another breathtaking African sunset. Then it's more game viewing and finally back to the lodge for a magnificent gourmet dinner of equal or greater quality than you would expect from any top notch city restaurant.

So after three days of this you are transferred by your ranger out to the Madikwe airstrip, seeing more game on the way. You waddle to the eight seater aircraft wondering how long it will take you to lose the weight you've gained in the last three days but not regretting a single gram of it. Then as the plane climbs away towards Johannesburg and your international flight back to Australia you see a herd of elephants trundling towards a waterhole, kicking up little clouds of dust as they go. To your surprise a tear springs to your eye and at that moment you know for sure that you will both return.

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