A Diamond in the Rough
Aleopard mother skulked in the long grass, protective of her two cubs who were gnawing greedily on what was left of the impala carcass. The long horns of the male buck were the only things left after breakfast was devoured and the cubs, plump and content, joined their mother under a shady acacia tree where they would rest for the day as the heat of the sun began to beat down on the bushveld.
We moved on in the open-air game vehicle, navigating the landscape to what appeared to be another bush breakfast encounter – the mighty cats seemed to be hungry this particular morning. Before we knew it, the crunching of bones could be heard and we were sitting a mere two meters from two hungry female lions, finishing up what was left of the young wildebeest they had hunted the previous evening. One female, slightly disturbed by our voyeuristic presence, growled possessively and lunged towards the vehicle in warning. We respectfully left the queens of the jungle to their bloody spoils, and headed back to camp, passing a riverbed where we saw a lone male buffalo who had laid his head to rest for the last time near the edge of the water. The only witness to his quiet death, a male hippo who watched over the corpse inquisitively. This would, inevitably, be breakfast, lunch and dinner for predators, scavengers and the rest of the food chain in mere minutes. A stark reminder that Africa is definitely not for the weak.
This was day one of three during our time spent at Shumbalala Game Lodge, in the heart of the 14,000-ha Thornybush Reserve now
part of the Kruger National Park. Shumbalala, meaning where the lion sleeps, epitomises the experience of being immersed in the African bushveld. Located on the banks of the seasonal Monwana River, the unfenced five-star camp sees hordes of animals pass through each day. Giant herds of elephants, buffalo, buck, and other locals come to drink at the permanent waterhole on the other side of the river each day. This waterhole, which is regularly topped up by natural underground spring water, is a flurry of activity which can be observed whilst lazing in the sparkling infinity pool, enjoying a meal, or from the privacy of your very own deck whilst sipping a sundowner.
Already we knew that one-on-one experiences with animals were not just limited to game drives. That very evening, a hyena graced us with his presence during dinner at the lodge, walking straight through the openplan lobby without batting an eyelid. This might sound terrifying to some, but there is nothing to fear – the exceptionally professional guides monitor the grounds all day and night to ensure guests are safe, and no one is allowed to walk around at night unless accompanied by a ranger. The camp is alive with activity and this is a direct reflection of Shumbalala’s dedication to not disrupting the natural order of the environment – one of the many things that make it a truly special experience. The animals are, after all, the real hosts here.
Warm, friendly, family-run hospitality and utmost luxury complete the feeling of being immersed in the bush at Shumbalala, and no stone is left unturned when it comes to ensuring guests’ comfort. Newly refurbished, the lodge exudes a sense of opulence, whilst leaving the natural beauty of the bush untouched. Think timeless Africa meets firstclass exclusivity. In addition to the four luxury Superior Suites on offer – all designed to ensure the ultimate break and coupled with a romantic African flair and utmost privacy – there is the Presidential Suite, which is undoubtedly the star of the show. At 225 m², this spacious suite is a haven of opulence which includes two full en-suite bedrooms, a private dining room, private lounge, fireplace, wrap-around private deck with outside dining facilities, a private boma, and private plunge pool. All the interiors at Shumbalala exude a sense of understated African influence with décor that complements the bush whilst offering guests a sense of contemporary luxury. Natural colours, wooden decks, lush leather couches, thatched roofs and open fireplaces merge seamlessly with the natural environment, creating an unmatched romantic African ambience. After a thrilling game drive that felt like true bundu bashing and encounters with fauna and flora of all shapes and sizes, arriving back at Shumbalala feels like coming home.
Wining and dining at the lodge is always an occasion. True to its five-star rating, sumptuous cuisine is thoughtfully prepared for each meal by Chef Danielle and her team, who all have a serious passion for food. Full Continental and English breakfasts await guests after the early-morning game drives, and each day there is a unique hot breakfast special on offer that never failed to impress. A delectable High Tea is served at about 15h00 just before the evening game drive, where guests can enjoy delicious tapas-style snacks with sundowners before heading back to the lodge for dinner – presumably ravenous after all the close encounters in the bountiful bush. A three-course dinner (which is explained at High Tea when orders are placed) follows and, depending on previous arrangements, can be enjoyed in the candle-lit dining area, al fresco on the deck, in the privacy of your suite, or even in the romantic wine cellar. Meals are simple, yet exquisite. Using the freshest ingredients and best cuts of meat available, the results are hearty and delicious.
Having spent a large part of my formative years and beyond exploring the bushveld in and around South Africa, I pride myself on knowing when I have encountered a diamond in the rough, so to speak. Shumbalala is that diamond. Prior to writing this, I had the intention of steering clear of any stereotypical descriptions of what one might expect from an article describing a lodge such as this. But I simply can’t. It is majestic, it is breath-taking and it is, undoubtedly, a memorable experience that will leave you feeling awakened and exhilarated. Shumbalala will show you Africa in all her grandiose glory, ensuring you come back for more, and more, and more.
For more information, please visit www.shumbalala.co.za.