A Di­a­mond in the Rough

SLOW Magazine - - Contents -

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.

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