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Pilanesberg steps up to the plate with kosher Villa

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With the doors of international travel slammed shut on an exhausted nation, and South Africans desperate to escape the monotony of nearly two years of lockdown and working from home, a brand-new kosher option has opened in the African bush.

The tranquil Big Five, Pilanesberg game reserve, just two hours from Johannesburg, opened its gates in 1979 to coincide with the launch of the Vegas-style neon lights of Sun City, situated right next door. To stock the 550km2 reserve, “Operation Genesis” was put into motion, one of the biggest ever relocations of wildlife game, with 6 000 animals shipped in to populate the park.

Its short distance from Johannesburg, malaria-free grasslands, abundance of wildlife, and 360 species of birds, has turned Pilanesberg into one of the country’s most popular safari parks. The nature reserve situated in a 1.3 billion-year-old dormant volcano showcases the huge Mankwe Dam in the centre of the crater, its circular mountain ranges the remnants of the shockwave left over from the volcano’s violent eruption.

As much as South Africa with its myriad of political problems, potholes, electricity blackouts, and water shortages frustrates us all, a few days in the bush, makes you fall in love with Africa all over again.

When you stare out over the endless thorn trees and dusty earth, with the cry of its insects and the rustle of an elephant feeding off the bark of a tree, you’re reminded of the musings of Karen Blixen, in Out of Africa, who wrote, “Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”

During my recent 12-day stint in the park, I witnessed leopard hunt a baby impala, saw a lioness charge a herd of wildebeest, watched a standoff between rhino and hippo, and got caught in an elephant traffic jam, as baby pachyderms played endlessly on the road.

The enormity of Africa makes you feel small.

As the quality of accommodation in the Kruger Park and other national parks has rapidly deteriorated, the North-West Parks Board has seized the opportunity by creating a slew of reasonably priced privately operated lodges within the Pilanesberg reserve. Many people will know the timeshare resorts of Kwa-Maritane and Bakubung in the game park, but the Ivory Tree and Shepherds Tree game lodges offer a big step up in terms of quality of accommodation and the genuine African Safari experience. Luxury accommodation combines with gourmet food and twice daily game drives through the savanna with game rangers in open jeeps.

But until now, the options for kosher travellers who want to take advantage of the African bush have been severely limited. Kosher food has generally been triple wrapped in tin-foil and served like airplane nosh in the chic dining rooms of Ivory Tree and Shepherds Tree lodges, while the other guests have feasted on gourmet cuisine.

That has all changed with the introduction by Ivory Tree of its new kosher Villa, with its kosher kitchen featuring guest chef Doron Gavronsky and certified supervising mashgiach, Aharon Bogati. The Villa will also soon be certified by the Johannesburg Kosher Department

The Villa could best be described as a luxury kosher club-house within the lodge with indoor and outdoor lounges, dining areas, and a private swimming pool. Wild animals wander past the edge of the Villa, ignoring the sumptuous kosher food plated on the other side of the fence.

Guests who stay in the adjoining chalets can then make use of the boutique kosher Villa for all their meals, expertly curated and prepared by Bogati and Gavronsky. The Villa can accommodate up to 16 guests at a time, and serves three kosher meals per day.

There’s nothing more exhilarating than watching a lioness call her pride, who come running through the high wheaten grass at sunset, or a cheetah hunting for food at dawn’s pale light. As Alan Paton proclaimed, Ah, but Your Land Is Beautiful.

For more information, contact or call +27 (0) 442 5888.

  • The writer was the guest of Ivory Tree Lodge management for two nights.

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