Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa is in a wildlife-rich region of South Africa’s Welgevonden game reserve, home to one of the world’s largest populations of rare white rhino. Crouched at the foot of a hill tufted with bird-filled trees and thick bush, this all-suite lodge is a hive of animal activity, with all manner of species seeking out shade beneath the leaves. Set on stilts between the trees, the standalone suites mingle thatched roofs and African artifacts with modern furnishings in earthy, tactile materials, adding all the modern trappings without sacrificing an out-in-the-wilderness feel. Daily game drives and bushwalks offer plenty chances to encounter a glut of African wildlife, but the lodge is equally well set up for ‘sofa safari’, with the lounge, restaurant and pool overlooking a busy watering hole. The pièce de résistance is an underground tunnel that runs to a custom-built hide, allowing you to get within feet of bull elephants as they take their morning drink.
Get this when you book through us:
A 60-minute spa treatment and herbal spa bath each, and a South African gin tasting session
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £759.70 (ZAR15,220), including tax at 15 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of ZAR210.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates usually include breakfast, which changes daily. You can expect a buffet with fresh pastries, muesli, fruit and cold cuts; Continental and American dishes; and classics like a hearty full English made with locally sourced meat.
Boost the soothing effect of safari by booking onto one of the hotel’s five-night wellness programs, which combines the safari experience with guided yoga, mindfulness and meditations sessions; a three-day juice diet; spa treatments; massages and more.
At the hotel
Waterhole hide; star-gazing deck; massage suite with an outdoor soaking tub; curio shop; free WiFi throughout; laundry. In rooms: minibar; Nespresso coffee machine; tea kit; free bottled water; Rain Africa bath products.
Our favourite rooms
With just five suites and a villa, there are no dud rooms here. They’ve all got stylish, earthy interiors, grand bathrooms and views that stretch to the distant bushland. But if we’re forced to pick favourites, the Honeymoon Suite would come out on top. It’s furthest from the main lodge, making it seem as if you’ve got the place to yourself when you’re in the valley-facing plunge pool or gazing at the stars from the daybed.
The outdoor pool curves along the sundeck outside the lounge, giving swimmers an elevated view of the watering hole and untamed bushland beyond. The safari doesn’t all happen in the distance, however – elephants don’t just visit the watering hole, they come to drink from the pool almost every day, making this the perfect spot to see them up close.
The lodge has a dedicated massage suite with a pitched timber roof, a wood-burning stove, pretreatment lounge chairs and space for two beds – though you can also choose to have your treatment on the deck, where the smell of the earth and sound of the birds only adds to the pacifying rituals. The menu includes deep tissue and hot stone massages, aromatherapy treatments, facials and pedicures, all of which use products by Rain Africa, who use indigenous plants and products that have been used by African healers since antiquity. There’s also a soaking tub out on the deck, which is filled with milky, herb-infused water and surrounded with flickering lanterns.
A Leica M and plenty of film, for capturing the wildlife in razor-sharp black and white.
The stony paths and layout of the lodge make it unsuitable for wheelchair users.
All ages are very welcome, and there’s a four-person family suite and villa for those travelling with children. There’s plenty to keep little Smiths occupied, too, including indoor and outdoor play areas, archery, insect walks and kids’ bumble drives.
There are only a few to choose from and each is as good as the next.
You’re out in the wild here, so your safari gear will do fine.
The restaurant is in the main lodge building, letting you watch animals at the waterhole as you eat. The concise menu and constantly changing – there’s usually two starters and three mains for each meal, with meat, fish and vegetarian option each time. The dishes range across modern African and European cuisines, representing South Africa’s diverse heritage and culinary traditions – over the course of a meal, you can expect dishes like ostrich tartare, lobster paella and duck confit. The chefs keep the restaurant as self-sustainable as possible, using produce grown in the lodge greenhouse whenever they can. All the snacks taken on game drives are homemade, too.
The bar is at the end of the lounge, giving it the same views as the restaurant. Guests often mingle over drinks at the end of game drives, proving particularly partial to the house take on the gin and tonic. South African Woodstock gin is poured over thick blocks of ice and left to chill for five minutes, then topped with pickled ginger and Fitch and Leedes tonic. House wines (served by the glass) are free, but if you’re after something really special, the lodge has its own wine cellar stocked with some of South Africa’s best vintages.
The lodge restaurant is open from 7am to 10pm. Breakfast is usually from 7am to 10am, but late breakfasts can be arranged on request.
The full menu is available during restaurant hours.
Mhondoro Safari Lodge is in the Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo, a northern province about three hours’ drive from Johannesburg.
OR Tambo International Airport is closest, and can can be reached directly from London Heathrow and most European hubs. The drive from the airport to the lodge takes around three hours; the hotel can organise private transfers. If you’re looking to shave some time off your transfer (and get bird’s eye views while you’re at it), charter a plane to Welgevonden Western Airstrip, a 15-minute drive from the lodge.
You won’t need a car once you’re on the reserve, as you’ll do all your game drives in custom vehicles with an experienced ranger at the wheel. If you want to hire at the airport and drive to the reserve yourself, the Smith24 team can arrange it.
Worth getting out of bed for
With over 34,000 hectares of the Welgevonden reserve to play with, the main attraction is the wildlife. Most guests go on two game drives a day: the first starts early in the morning when the animals are on the hunt for food; the second usually departs around 4pm, once the midday heat has passed. Alongside the big five, you’ll have a chance of seeing cheetah, giraffe, crocodile, hippo and rhino – Welgevonden is famous for having the largest number of white rhino of any privately owned reserve in the world. Alongside the drives, guided bush walks allow you to leave the road to get closer to the animals (in the company of expert rangers, of course). if you’re looking for something really special, book a white rhino tracking walk – your chances of seeing a whole ‘crash’ of these incredibly rare mammals is much higher than most other reserves. Back at the lodge, the underground waterhole hide lets you get eye to eye with thirsty animals, and the lodge and pool also command uninterrupted views of the action. Before dinner, you’ll have time to squeeze in a limbering hot stone massage or soak in the open-air tub, where you can watch the sun setting over the bushland. Once dusk has fallen, stop by the star deck, which has a computer-enhanced telescope that lights up the constellations in all their glory.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this safari lodge in South Africa and unpacked their Rain Africa products from the hotel boutique, a full account of their wildlife-filled break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Mhondoro Safari Lodge & Villa in South Africa…
It’s one thing when a safari lodge can boast access to one of the world’s largest populations of highly endangered white rhino, but when you can also sit by the pool and let the animals come to you, you know you’re onto a winner. That’s exactly the sort of thing you can expect at Mhondoro Safari Lodge, which is built overlooking a watering hole that’s proven particularly popular with the thirsty locals, some of which weigh 5,000kg and have seven-foot-long tusks. If that doesn’t sound close enough for your liking, you can follow the underground tunnel that runs from the lodge to a stone-walled hide, where you’ll be close enough to see the colour of an elephant's eye or capture the texture of a buffalo’s horn – without a zoom lens, of course. But although there’s no doubt that it delivers on the safari in spades, it’s not as if the lodge has to hide behind the prowess of its animal population. The lounge and restaurant are a study in warm-toned woods, thatch and leather – an appropriately earthy environment to dine on roast duck and sip fine South African wines. Set on stilts and hidden between the trees, the suites have high pitched ceilings, deep soaking tubs and private terraces as standard, promising soaring views in the day and romantic stargazing at night.