‘I don’t do tents,’ are Mr Smith’s first words on hearing about this Mrs Smith's South African reviewing stint idea. ‘But it’s glamping,’ I protest, adding in a small voice, ‘Er, you know, glamorous camping!’ I can see he is far from keen. 'Never were there more polar-opposite words,' he sighs, 'Let alone the creation of such an oxymoronic new verb.'
Silly Mr Smith. So it comes to pass that I arrive at Gorah Elephant Camp with Madam Smith. Not quite the romantic African safari weekend break à la Wills and Kate that I’d had in mind, but nevertheless, Madam and I are beside ourselves with excitement as we speed past Jurassic Park-style fencing and checkpoints along the final six miles of dirt roads.
Situated in the enormous Addo game reserve near Port Elizabeth, Gorah is a fabulous, mid-18th-century heritage manor house. We step back in time as we cross the threshold of the main building, a study in historic, colonial chic. Large, dark antique furniture, horned gaslight fittings and turn-of-the-century safari chairs are overlaid by calming colour palates of cream, taupe and burnt orange which meld together to evoke a bygone era of aristocratic hunting parties. Pictures of long-dead owners’ peer down at us, including one chap who was gored to death by a local elephant; I can only assume the pachydermed one took exception to his rather lavish moustache.
The landscape is mind-bogglingly spectacular with wide open plains as far as the eye can see. And Gorah's main house overlooks a well-used watering hole which has various species of animals breezing past as if choreographed specifically for us. 'Cue the warthog! Let’s go with the zebras! And now – hurry boys! – entering left frame can we have the elephants!' All they needed were top hats and canes. To be perfectly honest, Madam and I are unsure why we would ever need to drive anywhere when right here we can enjoy an excellent leisurely lunch on the terrace paired with sensational South African wines, all served by legions of smiling, warm nothing-is-too-much-trouble staff.
After a rather decadent lunch, we’re shown to our tent. ‘Now this…’ declares Madame as she sweeps aside a canvas flap to reveal a glossy well-thought-through space bigger than most city apartments. 'This, is my idea of camping!’ (A certain Mr Smith would be wholeheartedly eating his words by now if he were here. But he's not. And boy will he regret it.)
The elegant taupe of the canvas frames polished deep-chocolate floorboards. Inviting and comfortable furniture is littered with tassels and plumped cushions, crystal decanters of brandy, and jars of tempting home-made cookies. Waffle-fabric bathrobes, scented burners and full-sized Charlotte Rhys products are impeccably presented in the ensuite area and the beds are made up with crisp, white Egyptian-linens with a thread-count higher than the calories of my daily Starbucks.
A short nap later, we cosset ourselves away by the azure rock-framed swimming pool in a giant Zen-inspired garden of circular-raked sand and giant wood-burning bowls before presenting ourselves for afternoon tea. ‘And this is my kind of safari,’ Madam gushes, tucking into the carrot cake with rose-petal icing, as I take another sip of my Twinings English Breakfast tea.
Animals in the wild beckon, and dutifully we clamber aboard an open-top safari jeep with four other guests for a game drive. With a fabulous rush of fresh air, excitement and bush scents, off we go bouncing our way around the park, discovering animals at every turn… elephants, jackals, impala, elephants, rhino, lions, buffalo, elephants, owls, dung beetles… more elephants… with over 650 of them in the park, they are the undisputed stars of the show.
Darkness falls and the warm glow of over a 170 candles, gas lanterns and crackling, aromatic fires tempts us towards the main house for our three-course silver-service supper. On arrival, the waiting ranger ticks us off for walking unescorted in the dark in this animal-filled park. Madame’s chest swells as she declares, ‘Forgive us young man, but we are very independent women!’ I smile and silently dare any resident wildlife to take on the formidable Madam.
Feeling as though we’ve barely blinked an eye, suddenly it’s a deep sleep later and we’re being woken at an eye-watering 6am. Mr Ranger is cheerfully calling, ‘Don’t forget about your tea tray or the monkeys will eat it!’ Thrilled that we’ve survived the night without being mauled by lions, trampled by elephants or tickled to death by monkeys, we shuffle bleary-eyed onto our tent terrace to be greeted with the calming, early morning noises of the bush. With not one single unnatural sound, the raw, natural beauty and the enormity of the wide African landscapes is quite overwhelming.
Life at Gorah takes on a gentle rhythm of its own: eat, sleep, game drive, eat, nap, eat, game drive, eat, sleep, game drive... Miss a nap or a game drive and eating becomes the main activity, but the food is excellent and the wine list weighty and with camp-generated power only available for a handful of hours a day the experience is as authentic as it gets. Very few creature comforts are not provided at Gorah – electronically driven devices excepted – and if there was ever a single place that embodies the ultimate example of ‘glamping’ then, ladies and gents, Madam and I have found it in Gorah Elephant Camp.