Leaving my heart at Jock Safari Lodge
Somehow, without ever meaning not to, we’ve never really become ‘bush’ people. We’re definite beach people, and total city people, and very convincingly farm people. We’ve explored all over the country (and sometimes the world), enjoying natural lakes, rustic vineyards, and luxury river lodges, but somehow we haven’t spent a lot of time in the bush. In fact, when we decided to spend a weekend at Jock Safari Lodge, it was the first time Ant would be visiting the Kruger National Park… Crazy, right? For people who’ve spent their childhoods holidaying in the countries great parks, it might come as quite a shock – but we were the kinds of kids who spent our Christmas and Easter holidays either in Zimbabwe or at the beach. But now that we’ve had a taste of the bush, I know we’ll be finding and excuse to go back for the rest of our lives.
While I have been lucky enough to visit some game lodges in the past, the thing that’s so incredibly special about Jock Safari Lodge is that it’s actually situated inside the Kruger National Park itself. After about a 4 hour drive to Malelane Gate, you check into the park and let them know that you’ve booked accommodation at Jock, and after paying the small park entrance fee you can carry on to the lodge, which is about another hour in. We decided to take advantage of the April/May long weekend when we stayed at Jock, which means there was a giant queue to enter the park by the time we got there. But with our booking, we were able to jump right to the front of the queue – another total plus of staying there.
Jock Safari Lodge is broken up into two lodges which are about 2 minutes down the road from each other: The Main Jock Lodge and Fitzpatrick’s at Jock. The main lodge is made up of twelve individual thatched rooms, while Fitzpatrick’s is smaller with just three rooms. The thing is, whether you’re staying at Fitzpatrick’s or the main lodge, you’re going to have an incredibly special and personalised experience because the lodges are able to remain quiet and exclusive even when completely full.
We booked into our room at Fitzpatricks’, and were immediately greeted with a ridiculously delicious lunch – a precursor to the onslaught of incredible food that we would face over the weekend. I can honestly say that it was some of the loveliest food we’ve ever had while away: With a strong focus on traditional South African flavours, our chef treated us to some local classics reimagined in mouth-watering ways. I’m still dreaming about the food even now.
Once we’d stuffed ourselves full of food (if I’d known how the food would continue I might have paced myself at that first lunch… jokes I totally would have stuffed myself anyway) we were shown to our room: An incredible double suite with a patio overlooking the Park itself. Part of what makes Jock such an incredibly remarkable destination is that each room has its own unique little patio that looks onto the Kruger National Park. From our patio (and, actually, from our bed) we were able to look out on the endlessly peaceful bush and even catch an animal walking by every now and then, making you feel like you’re actually part of the Park in some way. Don’t freak out: The whole property is surrounded by electric fencing so the animals can’t get too personal, but you hardly notice the fencing due to the lodge’s raised position. We opted to sleep with the doors open (but the mosquito netting door closed, obviously) and I swear I never sleep as well as I do with the sounds of the bush in my ears. As with all places in the Kruger, the night sky is like something out of a sci-fi movie, and we ended up spending hours just lying on the deck loungers looking up at the stars.
I loved that our room had a semi-outdoor shower – a giant shower that had glass sliding doors opening up onto the deck and looking out into the park, so any elephant passerby could have a cheeky look in and see you showering, which I’m pretty positive is just about as close to nature as you can get.
The bed was giant and covered in a beautiful mosquito net, which really added to the feel of the room. Coupled with the lush furnishings and ample light, I could have happily moved in forever. And the decor and furniture in the common areas is just as lovely. Outside the plunge pool (which we sadly didnt get to use because the weather hates me) is surrounded by sun loungers and soft grass, and there’s a boma with ridiculously comfortable couches if you need a break from the sun (or in my case, the rain.)
This all adds up to a very special getaway but, unsurprisingly, the real show-stealer at Jock Safari Lodge was the incredible game viewing. Every day you’re treated to two game drives as part of your Jock package: One at sunrise, and one at sunset, the best times of the day for game viewing. I’ve been on game drives before where you’re packed into a game viewing vehicle like cattle and spend the entire drive craning your neck to see over the 100 cars in front of you to see a speck of an elephant in the far, far distance. This description couldn’t be farther from our experience at Jock. There were only four of us in the game vehicle (us, another couple, and then, of course, our game ranger) and at no point was there any neck-craning or seat stealing or awkwardness. And, because Jock has their own roads around the park, you’re able to get off the beaten track and see things directly from the bush. I have to say, you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen a leopard while driving down a dry river bed.
I have to give a huge shout out to our game ranger, David van Zyl. Special roads or not, you can drive around The Kruger Park for weeks and not see anything if you don’t know what you’re looking for. But if you have a fantastic ranger with you, like Dave, they know exactly what to look for, and it is as a result of his years of experience and skill, we genuinely had the best sightings of my life. We saw leopard twice (my first time ever seeing a leopard in the wild), lions three times, wild dogs (a real rarity in the park) as well as incredible sightings of all the rest of the big five, hyhenas, and countless other animals. I’d have to say though, my highlight would have to be all of the new babies we got to see (I’m such a sucker for little ones) including baby hyenas, zebras, buffalo, and the tiniest rhino that Dave informed us was probably only a couple of days old. The game viewing was unmatched, and getting to spend a weekend looking at animals from a Jock Safari Lodge vehicle with a game ranger like Dave (who also happens to be hilarious) is worth the price alone.
Ant always laughs at me, because I somehow always manage to fall in love with the people when we stay somewhere, and Jock Safari Lodge was no different. Between Dave, who looked after us when we were on the game viewing vehicle, to Anelda, who looked after us when we were back at Fitzpatrick’s, it took us less than our allotted two days to make friends with these two incredible people, and I can’t wait to go back even if its just to see the two of them. Perhaps they’re just really good at their jobs, and they make everyone feel that happy and at home, but if that’s the case then I’m even happier – it’s testament to how Jock trains the kind of people who that that amazing at what they do.
If you’re looking for somewhere special in the bush to spend a birthday, honeymoon, anniversary, or really any other occassion, then Jock is the place for you. It comes at premium price, but I will say that by the end of the weekend I was 100% convinced that you get what you pay for. I mean, even as a formerly-non-bush-person, two leopards in less than 48 hours is pretty good, right?
Tel: +27 (0) 13 010 0019