It was eerily surreal and one of those really visceral moments in life when at least three of the five senses confluence. We were slowly driving through pristine African bush on a quad bike, a dense mist virtually surrounding us. The bush sounds were muted in the enveloping white fog, the air was pungent with kakiebos and the unusual green palate of the lowveld took on an even more vibrant hue.
As we traveled further through the late morning, the fog lifted to reveal the most unusual sights. Peering through the waves of mist, emerged a mystical golf course, serene, yet bold, within the ambits of the African bush.
We were on a tour of the Waterberg Estate near Bela Bela in the Limpopo Province and developer Tony Georgiou was showing me how a combined amazing vision is manifesting itself in the first ever "biosphere" golf course on earth.
Jonathan Stern, a US property developer with business interests worldwide, first recognized the Waterberg area four years ago as having been one of the best kept secrets for future development, not only within South Africa but as an international destination with massive untapped potential.
Stern and his US based investment fund have been the primary financiers of the project to date, which has seen the assembly of 5,800 hectares of pristine bushveld, together with the rights to develop the property. The unique attributes of this property, resulted in the recent equity acquisition by Power Developments, originating from Cape Town, as a significant shareholder and investor into this iconic project.
In addition to a variety of residential options, the project will consist of a hotel, spa, conference centre, various bush lodges, tented camps, animal sanctuaries, nature trails and other lifestyle facilities currently under development.
The first golf course, Elements, the highly acclaimed Peter Matkovich designed course and voted best new course in 2006 by Golf Digest Magazine, is a must for the avid golfer. The second course is the Biosphere golf course of which the first four holes have been constructed and, together with the driving range, will be fully grown in, prior to the launch. The course, when coupled with the nature trail - currently being built - offers a unique marriage of golf and game.
For the traveler expecting a five star African bush experience, this place certainly does not disappoint. The main lodge, Shakama is cradled in the folds of a misty, pristine valley - too beautiful to describe. We were warmly greeted with a welcome drink and the service and attention throughout our stay was superb - personal without being invasive.
A late reception, in the best of the 'high tea tradition', awaited us as well. The lounge area is really extraordinary. The decor is subdued - none of the ersatz African artifacts nowadays so often present in so-called African safari-establishments. There is a style and dignity throughout that pays homage to the true African spirit.
The theme and atmosphere in the luxurious chalets are repeated. The best of everything that can open and shut is available - from a discreet little bar fridge (with the best the liquor trade can offer), no TV for the guests who prefer perfect solitude (you may hire a TV if the urge becomes too great) to an outdoor-shower where you can hear the birds serenade.
A superb dinner followed. Superb in every sense, had it been at a venue somewhere along the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town. I expected something like kudu-steak or warthog-casserole or whatever, something I am not familiar with. Kingklip, however, was as out of context as abalone in this bush environment, even though it was magnificently prepared by talented chef Claudia. She combines nouvelle cuisine with feel-good comfort food in a masterful way. As starter, she combined plums with goats milk cheese and a sweet chili jus... yum.
Her main of kinklip with a mildly spiced red curry sauce was succulent and delicious without being too spicy. Her desert of poached pear affirmed her place in the usually male dominated world of cullinescance at these establishments. Animated dinner conversation, discussing the vision of Waterberg, transferred me into a haven of African solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of the city crowds and urban realities.
The following morning, nestled in the soft down folds of the white duvet, rain whispering against the large windows of the chalet, I realised that I was enfolded by an indescribably tranquil atmosphere - a cocoon of the wilds, where the birds have the freedom to sing their songs of daybreak, where the fish eagle can proclaim its territory. Where nobody intrudes the sanctuary of nature.
A scrumptious breakfast with all the trimming awaited us whereupon we embarked on our quad bike adventure despite the weather. The day held many adventures, including an eventful off-road game drive, ending a bit later than anticipated...
The Lodge has all the other features of a superior establishment - a wellness center with oodles of therapeutic and beauty treatments; a state of the art conference facilities, every detail taken care of on the room and accommodation side - the bath robes and smelly stuff are something to feel and behold. The high grass roofs, stunning views of the bush and then of course the game drives make this an unforgettable getaway.
But back to the golf course...
I've had a couple of brushes with the game of golf, nothing I care to elaborate on here, but the appreciation of the spectacularly designed course, combined with the setting in the thick of nature, (prehistoric animals appreciating your declining handicap at you at no extra charge) must be paradise to any discerning golfers.
Tony's favourite word for describing Shakama is simply "special". Not wonderful, spectacular or awesome. Just special. And that it is. Once you've been here, superficial concrete city life with its meaningless materialism, magically disappear - like mist before the sun.
Review by Jo Kromberg