By Claire Roadley
I had been following the popular Motswari Rangers Blog for many years, and heard countless tales of the “Leopard-Man” – not to mention “oooh-ed and aaah-ed over photographs from my parents who had a rolling reservation at Geiger’s Camp (or what was then Sharalumi) for many years on the trot. So it was with great anticipation that I finally got to visit with my father last year. And it more than exceeded my ridiculously high expectations!
Motswari Private Game Reserve has what they call a great “location, location, location” – tucked away in the popular Timbavati Nature Reserve – renowned for its rare white lions (sadly I didn’t see any) and its big cats in general. It is one of the oldest and most pristine reserves in South Africa and shares an unfenced western border with the famous Kruger National Park – so the animals wander between the reserves freely. It offers outstanding game viewing of the iconic “Big 5” (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino) for those with a tick list – but a love of just “being out in the bushveld” is something my Dad and I have shared since I was young enough to call zebras “pretty horses”. The fresh air, the sounds, the smells – and of course the chance of spotting any one of the more than 140 mammals and 500 bird species. I am at my happiest perched on the back of a Landrover!
A Family Affair
Motswari has been owned by two generations of the Geiger family over 4 decades – they are currently celebrating their 40th birthday!
You can feel this sense of history in the atmosphere and in the warmth of your welcome as soon as you check in. These people are not staff – they are a big extended family and you are invited to join it.
The late Paul Geiger and his wife Mechthild bought the farm Java in 1978. Paul then, in 1981, bought a share in adjoining Motswari Game Lodge which had originally opened in 1976. In 1982 he bought the whole property from Colin Harper and Freddy Pickard and it has been in the family ever since. It was at Motswari that his children Roland and Marion learned to drive, that Roland celebrated his 21st birthday, that Marion got married to Fabrice, that Mechthild celebrated her 70th birthday. Paul Geiger was just preparing to retire in 1998 when Roland, who was set to run the family business, was killed in a tragic light aircraft crash in Kenya and stopped everyone in their paths.
Paul had always dreamed of expanding his home, the two bedroomed Shlaralumi Cottage, to accommodate friends and family. Determined to realize her late husband’s dream, Roland’s wife Roxy got to work completing the renovations and in the late 2000’s, the Camp was transformed into a self-catering camp, run on gas fridges and ovens. Marion then completed the transformation in 2014 to create Geiger’s Camp – a 4-bedroomed private lodge in honour of her father and brother’s memories.
Today, Fabrice and Marion are at the helm and Marion’s personal touches and attention to detail are evident all over both Geiger’s camp and Motswari Lodge. Her artistic eye creates beauty seamlessly amidst the wild and untamed bush – be it the beautifully rustic embellished frames around your bathroom mirror or the creative art works along the pathways between bungalows. But this personal touch is not just cosmetic. It shines in the eyes of the people who work there. This is not Responsible Tourism for the sake of ticking boxes and winning awards (although they are lovely to have, of course).
This has been the ethos of Motswari since the very beginning – with some staff members, such as Godfrey Mathebula, who grew up on Java farm, Paul Geiger’s original property, as the son of its caretakers. The Geigers took Godfrey under their wing and ensured he got a good education and he has worked his way up to being Assistant General Manager of the Lodge and one of the most highly qualified rangers in the country. The staff genuinely love and feel enormous pride in their lodge and this positivity shines through and ensures guests get that “warm fuzzy feeling” that ensures a memorable visit.
A sense of place
Most people love a dash of luxury on holiday – but I really feel Motswari hits the mark perfectly … balancing those all-important creature comforts whilst maintaining that all importance “sense of place”. Décor is tastefully rustic and very organic – and you can see that time and thought has been put into every aspect to create a relaxing, unpretentious space where you can truly get back to nature.
All fifteen thatched bungalows are named after animals and I was delighted when Camp Managers showed us to Lion – the one on the furthest edge of camp with lovely views over the riverbed. Our bungalow had two sumptuous mosquito net draped beds as well as a lounge area with some lovely books to browse through at leisure – although when given the chance, we both opted to sit on the patio and see if we could spot any game along the dry riverbed. The bathroom had real “wow” factor with an enormous bath with picture window to enjoy the views outside – as well as a large shower. The air-conditioning in the heat of March was an absolute saviour! It was almost a pity not to have more time to just sit and soak it all in – but there were places to go, animals to see…
The central lounge and dining area is a great place to sit and relax and chat to other guests – and by night it transforms into a magical safari fairyland with lanterns everywhere you look. There is also a lovely swimming rock pool overlooking the river that is so inviting and refreshing that the elephants regularly pop in for a pint or two! I also spent some time reading all the history and browsing old photos in the fascinating library area and the art gallery has some of Marion’s paintings on display too. It was also the only place I got good enough WIFI to post my braggy wildlife selfies on social media – ensuring a much needed digital detox!
Food for the soul
This was probably the biggest surprise of all for me. I have stayed in a lot of very nice hotels and game lodges – many renowned for their food. But few if any can compete with the incredible food we enjoyed at Motswari. Every meal we had was amazing and enjoyed in a different, yet equally special spot around camp. We had dinner under the stars on the pool deck, a sumptuous brunch next to the river after our early morning drive (one I will never forget thanks to the beautiful singing and sheer variety of yumminess laid out) and delicious light lunch on the patio. We sadly didn’t try out the boma as it was fairly quiet in Camp during our stay but I have heard their boma dinners set the benchmark. Plus all soft drinks, local beers and house wines are included, which is great value for money.
Motswari means “to conserve and protect” In Tswana and this phrase epitomises the whole philosophy behind it. In 1978 the late Paul Geiger bought this piece of land with the dream of restoring it for wildlife conservation with the spin offs being job creation and general community upliftment. His vision, in many ways years ahead of his time, has earned Motswari a long list of prestigious accolades, including being Fair Trade accredited since 2008. Motswari also holds Gold Class status from the internationally recognized Heritage Environmental Certification Program for its sustainability and responsible business initiatives. Responsible Tourism is the very core of what Motswari stands for, and the family is very proactive in raising awareness of the plight of the rhinos through their Rhino Disharmony project.
“Spotted” in the bush
We were delighted to have none other than the famous Chad Cocking – master of blogs and photography (and the neatest sundowner barman you will ever meet!) as our ranger along with the skilled talents of tracker Difference during our stay – although clearly all the guides are at the top of their game. Although we only had time for four game drives – we saw an abundance of game including all the Big 5 –although the pack of wild dogs we tracked did their utmost to elude us right until the end! But I kind of like that about the bush. There’s no sense of achievement and satisfaction if sightings are easy and always guaranteed.
But what is guaranteed is that, as their motto goes, you arrive as guests and leave as friends. I think I’ll take that one step further and nominate myself as family. That’s why, from now on, it will always be … My Magical Motswari.
Happy 40th Birthday to all the team at Motswari!