Lowveld leisure – enjoy the best of Timbavati
It had been some time since my last trip to the bush, long enough for the memories to have faded and the sentimentalities of those soul-stirring experiences to be banished by the brash busyness of life in the city.
But as I descend upon Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, it does not take long for those recollections of familiarities to kick-start a deep-seated excitement within me.This uniquely South African bush-themed airport in Nelspruit is one of my favourites and really sets the tone for an African bush adventure.
We arrive in the dark to the flickering lights of Kambaku Safari Lodge and are afforded an impressive insight into how this eco-friendly lodge, with 80 solar panels discreetly placed throughout the camp, is able to operate entirely off the grid.
Dave, our host, graciously guides us to our rooms and presents us with a torch, the only object we need to access these private chalets. My perplexed stare at this key chain with no key prompts him to casually answer the question written on my face,“Oh, none of the rooms have a key. It's for safety.”
While I tried to make the link between ‘no key' and ‘safety', he continues casually,“In case wild animals enter the camp, we can hightail it into the nearest room, but the camp is fenced and suitable for small children, so you should be fine.”
Well, if the lack of cellphone reception did not speak to the remoteness of our location, those words and the distant hum of an African drum calling us to the dinner table certainly did.
With the capacity for just 16 guests, intimate dinner settings are part and parcel of the experience that includes a watering hole, a mere glance away from our dinner table.
Dave's passion for the bush is obvious from the stories he shares so willingly. While the candles burn deep into the night, the conversations turn to what adventures await in the morning.
A gentle 5am knock on the door is enough to jolt me awake from a restful sleep. We meet briefly over some coffee and rusks before boarding our game-viewing vehicle for the day. Our experienced rangers methodi-
cally explain the usual safety guidelines, which I pay as little attention to as a frequent flyer would to the seatbelt instructions from an air hostess. However, something the game ranger says catches my attention,“Timbavati is a private game reserve and we will be going off-road for certain sightings.”This is not an ordinary trip to the bush – this is going to be something special.
The first fuzzy murmurings over the two-way radio lead us to a clan of playful hyenas enjoying the first rays of morning sunlight. This area is famously known as ‘white lion country' and many tourists arrive eager to catch a glimpse of this rare cat.
For us, it is a different cat that grabs our attention. Unperturbed by our presence, a juvenile leopard elegantly saunters through the bush and past our vehicle. In complete awe, we follow this master of disguise for some time on his morning stroll along the riverbed until, in a manner as gracious as his arrival, he vanishes in plain sight.
Not far from Kambaku Safari Lodge lies our next stop, Kambaku River Sands. Whilst their names suggest similarities, the two lodges are different in character.
Most notably, Kambaku River Sands lies completely unfenced, and its boma and pool overlook a dry riverbed where guests can enjoy total relaxation. But be warned, it is not uncommon for a herd of thirsty elephants to send guests running as they dip their trunks into this chlorinated water source.
From here we are privileged to share in a three-hour guided bush walk where so much can be gleaned from the little insights – from the small treasures of the bush to the protective techniques our guide needed to employ as the thundering sound of elephants bypassed our frozen silhouettes on their walk towards the waterhole.
One of the game-viewing privileges in Timbavati relies on a common commitment by drivers to ensure a maximum of three viewing vehicles per sighting. We were thus accustomed to our trackers and rangers communicating over the two-way radios and arranging the viewing order,
cleverly concealing the identity of any sightings by using an amalgamation of African names for the animals.
However, this particular radio crackle was different. Not even the most experienced ranger could conceal his excitement over the radio. A tangible anticipation creeps from front to back as we make our way towards an airstrip in the bush where a cheetah has just pulled down a steenbok and is doing his best to protect his kill as the setting sun brings with it hyenas keen for their share of the spoils.
Few are privileged enough to catch a glimpse of this incredible teary-eyed cat in the wild, let alone witness the scene playing out before us. Driving back to camp in the dark, a contented quietness hovers over all of us as we reflect on an incredible few days.
Seeking adventure in Sabie
For a change of atmosphere and pace, we head to Sabie for some adventure.Two-and-a-half hours whizz by while we wind our way through spectacular scenery and mountain passes that have become world renowned amongst the biking fraternity.
We are met by Kestell Barnard from Kestell Adventures and are immediately bowled over by his enthusiasm and zest for life. One would think that these activities might become mundane for someone running them on a daily basis, but it's hard to tell who is more excited as he explains the afternoon programme to us.
It's not long before we are bouncing down the river gorge at Mac Mac Falls in search of the pounding spray we had spotted from a viewpoint above. It's not every day you find yourself wading through rivers and scrambling behind a waterfall to appreciate the serene tranquillity of a place undiscovered by most that pass through the area.
Still keen for more excitement, we launch into what I can only describe as one-man white-water raft without the chance to catch a breather. Before we can register what is happening, we are flailing through rapids and laughing uncontrollably at each other during the rollercoaster ride, which ends way downstream.“
In a holiday so varied; from relaxation in the bush and a wildlife experience that will take your breath away, to heart-racing adventures on the doorstep of the Lowveld, this part of the country is well worth a visit.
Writer: Duane Stacey Photographer: Duane Stacey