Explore Gondwana Game Reserve's Ulubisi House
Posted: 22 February 2018
Ulubisi House, an exclusive luxury lodge at Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, is the ideal safari venue for quality time with friends and family. It is named after the endangered black harrier frequently seen hunting in the surrounding grasslands.Field guide Eugene Jansen van Rensburg crouches down and hands my daughter Charlotte (who is four) a perfect ball of poo. She promptly puts it in her pocket as ‘treasure’, then about five seconds later, it’s back out of the pocket and on the ground as apparently it’s messing with exoskeletons and feathers, more precious finds. We’re on a walk around a 1 000ha protected area that’s part of the 11 000ha Gondwana Game Reserve, located on the Garden Route just 30 minutes inland from Mossel Bay.
Gondwana co-owner Wendy Rutherfoord curated Ulubisi House’s decor and layout, which includes a wraparound veranda that extends from the spacious living area and offers magnificent views of the surrounding landscape.Gondwana is home to the Big Five, but the section we’re walking through is a fenced-off breeding ground for bontebok, Cape mountain zebra and sable. There is, however, a cheetah on the loose here that has eluded the rangers and refuses to be caged in. We don’t see it, but Eugene, a passionate eco-warrior, chats us through the devastating decline of the wild cat. Charlotte is a bit too young to be interested in this, though. She knows cheetah run very fast, but they’re not immediately present and therefore, are removed. She’s far more fascinated by the almost 2m-high termite mounds, thriving mini-cities that are connected through intricate underground passageways. Ulubisi House, the privately staffed lodge in Gondwana Game Reserve where we are spending the weekend, we watch a small bird of prey circling – it’s getting ready to fly north for the winter, says Eugene. It’s enchanting to watch it swoop and lift on the currents. Whether driving or hiking, I find it somewhat incongruous to be having a game experience in a fynbos landscape. For me, ‘the bush’ is dry and flat, with spots of acacia trees – and I expected red dust. And yet here we are, and Gondwana Game Reserve is a notable exception to those usual ‘rules’. The largest private game reserve on the Garden Route, it’s an easy stop for those travelling from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (or vice versa).
The clean-lined, contemporary Afro-chic interior is softened by natural textures and warm wooden elements.While it may give an initial impression that game on the reserve is tame, when we later drive for two hours through deep craters and rutted paths in a fruitless search for lion, we realise that the animals really do go their own way and that it’s (happily, really) not always possible to have a ‘Disneyland’ experience of wildlife with every creature available to view on demand. We drive down an unmarked track road through a coded gate on our return to Ulubisi House, which is the luxurious new addition to the Gondwana Game Reserve offering, having been completed last year. Arriving back from the long outing rather tired and cold, we are delighted to be greeted by our friendly private butler Douglas Mutingwende, who hands us steaming mugs of hot chocolate.
Although your butler is always on hand to assist, the honesty bar includes a specialised coffee machine and a range of fine wines should you prefer to help yourself.It’s early autumn, the fires are lit and the house has the sort of intimate warmth that you might not initially expect from a villa built to open up onto a sweeping vista of the Outeniqua Mountains. The building’s classic thatched roof keeps out the evening cold (and the daytime heat), and along with the oversized dome-like beaten-copper lampshades, the material adds a cosy dimension to the double-height ceilings and clean, contemporary finishes.