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Luxury in South Africa’s wilderness at Imbali Safari Lodge

When you think of a holiday in South Africa, you think of a luxury safari. Imbali Safari Lodge in Kruger National Park offers the best of this time-honoured safari tradition.

Imbali Safari Lodge review and photos by Jessica Braithwaite.

Close encounters and rare African lullabies. Our writer discovers the trick to a true luxury South African safari is finding a place that makes your heart race.

An antelope just saw me naked. I’m not sure who was more shocked, the antelope or me. For there I was, quietly cherishing the aromas of my bush-based rain shower, when the unsuspecting antelope simply wandered into view. He crooked his neck and looked at me curiously, seemingly processing the strange sight before him. Who was the pasty white Australian girl baring her bum to the wildlife of this formidable land?

That’s the thing about Imbali Safari Lodge. This luxury resort houses you in the midst of South Africa ‘s safari heartland. Close enough to hear the heartbeat and deep enough to feel the rhythm in your waking. Here, you are not just a visitor. Instead, you become a part of the landscape and the landscape becomes a part of you.

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The best of luxury South Africa

A snap-happy brigade of tourists flock to Kruger National Park each year to sight revered animals including the white rhino, cheetah and lion. Imbali Safari Lodge is nestled beyond the boundaries of the Orpen Gate in what’s known by locals as the less crowded section of the park. Imbali is in keeping with this understated theme and is not the most well-known, nor the most high-profile, of the luxury offerings within. Rather, Imbali Safari Lodge is more of a rough gem, waiting to be discovered.

This luxury lodge has 12 individual suites, all with private plunge pools or Jacuzzis. As a guest you get a little bit of Africa all to yourself, with a deck overlooking untouched bushland and an array of friendly wildlife. The luxe accommodation packages include high teas, three-course meals and, of course, safaris.

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The thrill of safari and sundowners

Our Imbali safari guide was a rough and ready Afrikaans expert named Stefan. Stefan walks to the beat of the park and his passion for the place laces every word he speaks. He’s so Kruger, his surname is… wait for it… Kruger. With Stefan at the helm of our comfortable safari vehicle, we set off in the near fluorescent glow of the sinking sun. Stefan says words like ‘copy that’ and ‘roger’ into his walkie-talkie, making me feel like I really am on an adventure.

Within minutes, we are sharing our time and space with some of Earth’s rarest creatures. An elephant strolls so close I can make out her wrinkles. The giraffes are a picture of grace as they navigate in teams of three. Sure, I’ve seen elephants and giraffes before in a zoo, but that is nothing compared to this. There’s something calm and majestic about seeing these animals on their own piece of the planet. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m actually in Africa.

At sunset we disembark our safari vehicle to take part in an activity I’ve come to love while spending time here: sundowners. The disappearing sun sets the horizon on fire with pinks and purples as we sip wine and listen to stories of the land. The atmosphere is calm, the air is thick and the bush is a timeless beauty. A fellow traveller from India scans the park nervously for lions. Given we’re now out of our vehicle enjoying beverages and canapés, it’s probably not the best time for a sighting. But I decide to place my faith in Stefan. If he’s not worried, I’m not worried.

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An African lullaby

While luxurious in nature, this is not a holiday for lazing around or relaxing. This is a different type of luxury. A luxury where you might get a little bit dirty. A luxury where your heart may race. A luxury where your body may grow tired but your mind will shine in the inspiring new surroundings.

I know I should tell you that my favourite part of the trip to Imbali Safari Lodge was being that close to the elephants, or snapping a delightful picture of a zebra crossing the road (get it?), but I have to tell the truth. My favourite part of the trip happened long after the sun had gone down and all of the other travellers had gone to bed. I placed my head on the pillow of my king-size bed and closed my eyes. I know it sounds strange. All of those beautiful sights and I had the best time ever with my eyes closed. But I promise you, this part of the Imbali safari journey really is something. With your head on that pillow and your legs a little weary from a hard day’s safari, you rest your eyes and the sounds of the bush come to life. As you drift towards sleep, the calls of the spotted owls, southern nightjars and crowned lapwings settle your soul and caress your dreams. It’s like an exquisite African lullaby that only you will ever hear, and a reminder that you truly are in another world.

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