By Jeanne Coupelon
Animal safaris are usually a bit like watching TV from a jeep: sure, you see the animals, but you certainly don’t interact with them. But if you’ve ever wanted to cuddle up to a cheetah, run beside zebras or just watch the impala dance through the grass whilst you sip on an icy cold beer in the sun, Emdoneni Lodge lets you do all that, and more. The lodge is situated on a small game farm in South Africa, surrounded by verdant sand forest vegetation. Adding to the lush scenery are passing zebra, impala, nyala and other fauna, including abundant varieties of birds.
Less than two and a half hours from the town of Durban, the lodge offers guests intimate and comfortable accommodation in luxurious chalets and villas made and decorated mainly from sustainable, local materials.
The cotton linens and firm mattresses in our room were topped by naturally woven bedspreads decorated with traditional local patterns. Fully equipped bathrooms include a pleasant shower with a rainfall shower head, and fat, fluffy towels. We could choose to go eco with a ceiling fan, but other guests may prefer air conditioning to stay cool. Food is very basic, served buffet style and unfortunately, there were very few vegetarian options when we were there, which was a bit disappointing.
While a holiday here is relaxing enough, just chilling by the pool and taking in the scenery, wandering through the vast gardens or working out in the excellent fitness centre. the main point for most, including us, who visit the lodge is to participate in what Emdoneni is most famous for: conserving South Africa’s endangered wild cat species.
We were completely mesmerised by the beauty of the caracal (also known as the lynx); enchanted by the playful serval, astonished by the speed and agility of the cheetah and delighted by the rare African wildcat. Educational tours about the animals are offered daily by the expert staff. We witnessed feeding time during the afternoon and learned a bit more about the cats and Emdoneni’s project during an informative talk.
For example, we discovered that the main aim of the Emdoneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre is to care for wild cheetahs, serval cats, African wildcats and caracal which have been orphaned or injured in the wild and are in need of care and rehabilitation. The lodge also tries to breed these species whenever possible, and then releases the cubs back into their natural habitat.
This is especially important given that other lodges in the area actually–and sickeningly–offer those who stay with them the experience of hunting the cubs they raise. Yes, that’s right: guests pay to kill captive animals. Emdoneni Lodge has gone the complete opposite way, encouraging guests to truly appreciate nature in ways that can sometimes be surprising: I never thought I’d be able to touch a cheetah without losing a hand, but I did–I stroked the majestic cat like it was a pet, and watching her belly rise and fall with every breath and seeing her slowly shut her eyes as she relaxed under my touch is something I will never forget.
Our kind and good humoured guide really related the personalities of the animals he introduced us to well, recounting their individual stories and explaining how they lived in the wild and the challenges they face. Of course, he was very concerned for not only our safety, but for the well being of the animals too.
The lodge may not be the most luxurious accommodation in South Africa, but feeling the rumbling vibration of a cheetah’s purr as you stroke it or awakening to impala feeding just outside your bedroom window remind you that a healthy relationship with nature is the greatest luxury of them all.
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