On arrival at Babohi Lodge in Qwabi Private Game Reserve, I am hit by two things – the scale and the views. The main lounge, bar and dining area look out over a pool deck which perches above the suites. With the sun-warmed mountains providing an artistic backdrop, there’s a view in every direction – the kind of views that remind one what incredible experiences Africa offers. And then the scale… where else in the bush are you treated to a double-storey suite?
But the thing about Babohi is that despite the size and opulence, it doesn’t feel over the top. It’s partly due to the décor – tasteful in neutral tones and textures with a vibrant African flair, the couches and chairs strategically placed so that no view is left unnoticed, exceptional but understated trimmings, but also the authenticity and warmth of the team. The staff are friendly in a familiar way as though I had met them all before, and the service on point but not obsequious. And then there is the humour (the most amusing and entertaining ranger I have ever come across) that only a well-chosen, compatible team can deliver, and which gives it that distinctly South African hospitality edge.
“Today’s global traveller demands wilderness experiences that are both sustainable and authentic, without compromising on luxury, and Babohi is a perfect fit for this sector of the market,” says Neil Markovitz, CEO of Newmark Hotels and Reserves, which lives by the promise of ‘experience authentic’.
While every five-star safari should never compromise on luxury – that is what justifies the price tag after all – Babohi’s secret lies in the surprises.
The surprises in the apartment-like suites are many. On arrival, guests are invited to select a scent – cucumber and aloe or rooibos and honey bush – which is then used in the diffuser in your room. There is a revolving bed so that you can catch the perfect panorama, a gin mixing kit for guests to create their signature G&T for a private sundowner, not one but two Nespresso machines (upstairs and downstairs of course), sweet treats when you get back to your room late at night packed into a little glass jar and, dare I forget, the wood-fired hot tub on the deck overlooking the plain below.
And then there’s the ‘Lion’ presidential suite… at over 150sqm with exclusive private dining and bespoke butler service on request, it’s the perfect spot for a private celebration.
Morning excursions come with the offer of a grab and go breakfast pack as well as a takeaway coffee (or tea), with hot water bottles and fleecy parkas to ward off the early chills. The ‘McMuffin’ on our morning stop – a breakfast burger that Food and Beverage Curator Chris Erasmus cooks while we perch on folding chairs sipping on Amarula coffee – is a taste sensation, delivered with quiet aplomb. It’s accompanied by ‘sides’ – banana smoothie, potato salad, fresh cheese cuts – each individually presented in a glass jar.
“With Babohi we have created a uniquely interactive food experience,” explains Chris. “What’s key is that it’s about making unique moments around food, at different times and in different locations around the lodge, and within the reserve.”
“Guests visiting different Newmark properties should never feel like they’re met with a ‘cookie-cutter’ experience, time and again, just in different locations,” adds Markowitz. “Our definition of authentic hospitality is far more granular, more fascinating and, ultimately, more memorable.”
And memorable doesn’t have to be Big Five sightings (although we had those, bar the elusive leopard). It can be the smell of fresh popcorn as it pops on a burner while sundowners are served on the evening drive (definitely a first for me) or the rare spot of the nocturnal aardvark and aardwolf, not only on the same drive, but five minutes apart.
Back at the lodge, instead of the traditional welcoming sherry, we were served a whisky cocktail the one evening and Campari with orange and star anise the next. The boma meal was rounded off with a malva pudding meets crème brulee – easily one of the most decadent, but delicious desserts I have tasted. On the second night dinner was ‘prepared’ by guests, with Habachi grills placed on the tables and an assortment of meat cuts and vegetables ready to grill to personal taste. It’s a charming and sociable way to dine and certainly unlike any other dinner I have had on a safari. Wines can be paired with the meals with insights provided by Marlvin Gwese, the passionate Group Sommelier.
There are hoops to jump through to be registered as a five-star lodge, but to actually deliver on that luxury experience in a way that surprises and excites guests is something that very few get right. The team at Babohi really has worked hard to create memorable moments that are integrated into the stay of each guest.
Qwabi Private Game Reserve is approximately three hours by road from Johannesburg and 60kms from the town of Bela Bela in a malaria-free area. It is easily accessible for self-drive visitors, although guests may also fly into the reserve via helicopter.
For booking enquiries, visit www.newmarkhotels.com