A Visit to Mashatu, Land of the Giants

In May 2023, Seraphina had the opportunity to visit the Mashatu Game Reserve, located in Botswana along the Limpopo River in an area that borders South Africa and Zimbabwe! Below is her trip report.

 Endless skies, towering rock formations, ancient baobab trees, and the largest free-roaming elephant population on private land have earned Mashatu the name, “Land of the Giants”. Mashatu is a bit off-the-beaten-path, with direct access by air into Limpopo, or for the more adventurous like me, by a short flight to Polokwane, followed by a road transfer and a fun cable car ride across the river. With three nights in this massive, 76,000-acre conservation area, I was fortunate to be able to visit all four lodges, along with the new sole-use villa that will be opening soon.

Heading out on a game drive from Tuli Safari Lodge, my guide expertly navigated the otherworldly rock-scape, through an area he said made him feel like being in an old western movie, arriving atop a plateau overlooking the expansive valley in time for sundowners. After sharing the stunning African sunset with curious lizards, elephant shrews, and shy dassies, I was then taken to Euphorbia Lodge for a surprise dinner with a friend who happened to be staying there. What a way to end the day!

Those looking for luxury accommodation will be delighted by Euphorbia’s elegant, nature-inspired design and tranquil setting high on the rocks in a stand of mature euphorbia trees. The lodge is located in one of the best areas for viewing wildlife, not far from Mashatu “main” Lodge, and with a longer stay, you can even venture out beyond this area to explore the far reaches of this massive private reserve.

The following day, we continued with a game drive to a hyena den, perched up in a rock cave, which had unfortunately been recently abandoned by all but one lone hyena, who watched us for a bit before sauntering off. Although we didn’t have luck spotting the large clan, just around the other side of the rocks were a few small, millennia-old San rock paintings, weathered and faded, but still visible and amazing to see in person.

Mashatu’s underground photographic hide is probably best known for its incredible elephant sightings, but other mammals find their way there too, including mongoose, impala, steenbok, kudu, zebra, eland, and giraffe. The possibility of seeing elephants up close lured me in and I had to book a session. Setting out from camp at dawn, I arrived at the hide as the sun was rising, and quietly slid down the stairs to find my seat in front of the open window and try to wait patiently. As the photographic guide explained, first the birds come, then the antelopes and zebra, and eventually the elephants make their way to the waterhole. I will forever be amazed at how an animal so massive can seemingly appear out of nowhere, lumbering forward with delicate, silent footsteps. Once at the waterhole, the elephants were the stars of the show, drinking, splashing, playing, and even tossing water at the hide (one lucky person got splashed!), standing so close that their rumbles vibrated through us.

Because the elephants at Mashatu are so relaxed and completely unbothered by the vehicles, they allowed us to drive right through the herds, parking near entire families, while they dug for water in the dry river beds or foraged from their favorite trees. With gentle curiosity, some walked up to the vehicles and watched us, lifting a trunk to smell, then returned to the herd to continue with the day’s activities. These quiet moments with the elephants are incredibly special memories that I will cherish from my time there.

In addition to game drives and the hide, Mashatu offers a variety of activities, with night drives, walking safaris, horseback riding, mountain biking, visits to a local village, and the opportunity to see the ancient San rock art – all providing exciting ways to become immersed in the beauty of the wilderness. And with only 29 days of rain annually, making it a great option year-round!

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