Tranquil, beautiful, thrilling

Amanda Ngudle

Amanda Ngudle

The last supper under shimmering skies with beautiful strangersturned-fun-buddies was the signature to the late Christmas present we didn't anticipate.

We were basking in the lap of luxury of North West Tourism hospitality and in the post-card perfect Sun City's Santorini Restaurant.

Three days earlier it hadn't looked as if things would really pick up.

We were late arriving at our meeting place and some of us, having skipped breakfast, knew the journey to the Madikwe Game Reserve was going to be long and hard. Our stomachs growled.

Luckily our driver and sales and information manager of North West Tourism Karabo Moshoete had made arrangements for a stopover at a very charming restaurant called Manzingwe.

The food was delicious and the service simply deft. We left the pleasurable eatery a good two hours later - and without a care in the world.

With the car stereo pumping classic gems and current hits like HHP's Walk On By and crooners Boys II Men's Tracks Of My Tears, we sat back and downed the wine as if it were going out of fashion.

Our incredibly smooth VW Touareg V6 made the trip to Madikwe a pleasant drive through the park.

This latest offering from VW has been compared with a Jeep Grand Cherokee and Hummer H2 as far as comfort, power and packaging is concerned - but on the open road it is in a league of its own.

The passengers in a passing Touareg V8 and V10 seemed to agree and gave us the thumbs up whenever they overtook us.

But reality kicked in when, amid thick dust, three Rhinos suddenly appeared, ready to flex their muscles.

Standing in the middle of the dirt road the huge beasts waited for any move from us.

With the stereo turned off and lights dimmed, we sat patiently like primary schoolkids waiting for the bullies to give way.

They did after what seemed like forever and a day. I was annoyed but my companions were enthralled.

We finally arrived at Etali, a five-star safari lodge. We were welcomed by our hosts who came bearing virgin cocktails. We later enjoyed a scrumptious. threecourse dinner.

When we were escorted to our divine bedrooms, we marveled at the effort that had gone into making them ideal for overworked souls like us. The space and decor was breathtaking.

You could easily have mistaken the bathroom for a lounging area. I even had my personal jacuzzi on a wooden porch and king-sized inside and outdoor showers.

As for my room, it was heaven. I felt like Madam Mobutu Sese Seko must have. Legend has it that an army of servants would set out a path with gold plates for the Sese Seko's in Zaire (now the DRC) to walk on.

Sober heads woke up for a game drive bright and early at 5am the next day, while I bonded with my cosy room. Then it was time for breakfast, leisure time and lunch, which was followed by a drive to Sun City.

We were booked at the Palace, a far cry from the Cascades, even though wealthy movers will tell you the difference is only in the name as far as service goes.

To be honest, the Palace has seen better days and the decor in my room sucked. Sure, it still exude the comfort and luxury that only a five-star hotel can offer, but some things need to catch up with the new era.

The highlight for me was quad biking the next day. We raced and played in the scorching heat and I have never had so much fun in my entire life.

But if there is one thing that every adult must do before they die, it's zip sliding. Some grown men almost cried with fear. I believe the experience has changed people's lives.

In the guest book someone wrote: "The bestest thing, better than sex with it's multiple orgasm."

I wouldn't disagree. You can imagine my depression when it was time to say goodbye.

l The author was a guest of North West Parks and Tourism Board and Sun International. VW SA sponsored the trip.