Decor: Eclectic unresolved mix of Afro, European, Bali, Persian and the smart home décor shop in the mall.
Food: Refined, inventive and very tasty.
Staff: Hosts and rangers treat you like family, while the African staff tend to stay behind the scenes.
Position: Perhaps one of the best placed in Welgevonden for access to all areas of the park.
Game Experience: Thick bush and rocky terrain means this is a genuine seek and find safari for the Big Five, lots of antelopes, baboons, warthog, rhino, wildebeest, ele’s and lots more.
The old cliché about a place being a home away from home, relates perfectly to Shibula Lodge. It’s got your cosy lounge with sofas of brown leather softened over time and splashes of colour from newly upholstered chairs that co-ordinate with the blinds and the throw and scatter cushions of shiny sateen. It’s got your hosts waiting to greet you like long lost friends and a logs blazing in the fireplace on cold winter nights.
Shibula feels like home, except that my loved ones don’t welcome me back with a moist face towel on arrival (refreshingly cold in summer and piping hot in winter), nor do I have a Jacuzzi or splash pool sunk into the terrace outside my bedroom, or elephants in my back yard. I don’t have a resident leopard either, which stalks around on the rocky escarpment opposite the lodge, or lions padding along the path to the man-made waterhole in front of the deck. Perhaps it’s not that much like home after all.
Shibula is in the Welgevonden Reserve, a morning’s drive out of the Johannesburg metropolis, but far enough to be really wild. It is a place of grand rocky scenery with narrow valleys broadening into distant domed hills, interspersed with golden grasslands and marshy streams. It has got a bit of everything here and that includes game. On a morning game drive from Shibula, I saw elephant roaming a steep rocky hillside striping bark off trees. Then there was the most enormous male white rhino with a horn about half a meter long, and ever-present impala and warthog, which are the staple diet of lion and leopard.
In the afternoon the ele’s came down to Lily Dam to drink and we had sundowner drinks beside the Land Rover while watching twenty elephant come and go into the water. But Welgevonden is not easy game viewing country; there is no off-road driving (which would be pretty impossible because of all the rocks) and the bush is thick. To ease the process of finding the needle in a haystack, rangers from all the lodges in the reserve communicate with each other over the radio, so the chances of animal sightings improve.
Shibula style is very relaxed and the latest fashion cuts no sway here. That includes the décor, which is an eclectic mix of Afro, Balinese, colonial, Persian and a spree at the upmarket home decor shop in the mall. It seems to be an ever-evolving feast but one area that has resolved its look is the Shibula Spa.
Had I stayed long enough, I might have tried the TheraNaka African Wood Massage, which begins with relaxing the body through gentle stretching techniques. Then you get drizzled with warm olive oil and sheabutter, massaged in using smooth wooden dumbells. The spa menu mentions other strange yet enticing possibilities, involving the use of rain sticks, basalt stones, baobab extract, rooibos tea or Kalahari watermelon. I imagine one would emerge almost edible from the Shibula Bush Spa.