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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.

Time­less Tim­ba­vati

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.

Some­thing spe­cial

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.

Re­ward­ing game-view­ing

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

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