Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kambaku Safari Lodge, Timbavati - Keith Marallich

I was looking forward to my visit to the Timbavati Game Reserve, a large tract of private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park and surrounded by other game reserves, with not a fence in sight. This means that the animals are free to roam anywhere in the 58,000 ha Timbavati Reserve or their neighbours, the 40,000 ha Umbabat Reserve, the 95,000 ha Klaserie Reserve and the 2.2 million ha Kruger National Park, from one reserve to the other. If these nomadic animals still have the energy left after travelling in this area of 2,393,000 ha, they still have the opportunity of crossing into the 23,000 ha Manyeleti Reserve or the 75,000 ha Sabi Sands Reserve – and I’m not including the Mozambique part of this transfrontier park, it is just too much! The hectare (symbol ha) is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres (100 m by 100 m). A hectare of land is about 2.47 acres. This is bigger than some countries, but enough of the stats – and now to the lodge.

The lodge that Janice and I stayed at for two nights was the Kambaku Safari Lodge, situated in the western sector of the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. This lodge is not star-rated (many game lodges are not star rated) but had it been, it would in my opinion qualify for more than five stars for service and friendliness. I have had the privilege of staying at many private lodges in and around South Africa, lodges that have awesome reputations and long pedigrees, but I can honestly say that Kambaku, for me, certainly rates up there with the best of them. From the owners to the lowliest staff members deserve accolades for their attitudes to guests and their attention to service. One can sense that this was not a show – these staff members truly enjoy doing what they do and enjoy having visitors at their lodge and what they do, they do well. 

Getting to the lodge is a piece of cake – one drives on a good tarred road all the way from the R40 main road between Hoedspruit and Hazyview, you travel past the Eastgate (Hoedspruit) Airport on a good tarred road, and enter the Timbavati Reserve, still on a good tarred road. From here its a few kilometers to the lodge on a dirt road that is in pretty good condition.

Clarissa welcomed us at the lodge and gave us a run-down of the lodge, the times of the various activities, teas, meals, drives, the do’s and don’ts, etc. The shared lounges and dining areas are comfortable and the room that we had been given was very pleasant. Accommodation at Kambaku Safari Lodge comprises of eight thatched, en-suite chalets situated in a semi-circle overlooking a waterhole. Each of the eight thatched chalets contains a full en-suite bathroom with both a shower and a bath. Decorated in the best of ethnic, our suite exuded luxury and elegance. The king-sized four-poster bed, elegant beaded throws, bright cushions and plush accessories affirmed its splendor. There was also a gift shop for those people who felt the need to buy some mementoes of their visit. There is an elephant proof fence around the camp, which is likely to keep out these great pachyderms, surely also buffalo and rhino, but not much else. Unfortunately for Bryce and Nicola, the owners, this fence does not keep out the porcupines which dig up the garden on a regular basis or the honey badgers that from time to time raid the lodge for whatever it is that honey badgers desire. Unfortunately for Janice and me, we did not see the porcupines (Janice has never seen porcupines in the wild) or the honey badgers (which must rate amongst my favourite animals – man, I love their attitude!).

 During my stay here I was given a tour of the lodge, and what especially stood out for me was the self-sufficiency of the lodge, relying on solar power rather than the sometimes erratic national power supply grid, garnered from burning coal which is where South Africa’s power is derived from. Only the hot water geysers are currently gas powered, but this will soon be placed on the solar grid as well. Other that the hot water, the solar power runs all the lights, power plugs, refrigerators, freezers etc. whilst gas currently takes care of the hot water and the stoves. 

At high tea we were introduced to our ranger, Van and our tracker, Albert – what a delightful team, both full of knowledge, at ease with guests and each other and very good at what they do. The first animals that we encountered on our afternoon drive were a fairly large herd of impala – probably the most common antelope in these parts. Because of this, most people tend to ignore them as there are so many of them. Do yourself a favour next time you come across impala, observe them for a while and you will not be disappointed, these are interesting animals. Whilst we were watching this herd, all of a sudden three of the animals started to stot. This is when an impala jumps high into the air to release pheromones from the fetlock scent gland in their hind legs, in mid-air. This scent is easier for a rapidly running impala to pick up than one left on the ground – a follow-me sign really. This is called stotting. Now I was so taken with this unexpected behavior that I forgot that I had a camera in my hand, so no photos were taken of this behavior – chalk this down to a missed chance!

We then came upon a large herd of buffalo, until our vehicle was totally surrounded by buffalo in every direction. Were there eight hundred, a thousand, more? Who knows, only that there were plenty of buffalo to be seen. When you are in the midst of a herd of buffalo, safely ensconced in the game drive vehicle, you are safe from them, but if you suddenly encounter them on foot, be afraid, be very afraid… especially be afraid of the old “dagga boys”, they are not to be trifled with. If you are on foot and you see buffalo, make sure that they don’t pick up you or your scent, so rather go the long way around!

We then made our way to a hyena den that Van and Albert knew about, and chanced upon two sets of hyena pups, one set probably about five months old and the others probably less than two months old. How satisfying to be able to sit in peace, with only our vehicle present, watching these cute and endearing animals at play and at feeding. This den was situated within an abandoned termite mound which made the ideal home, with what looked like three separate entrances in the mound, all linked by tunnels.

Later that evening, as it was growing dark, Van took us on a fairly long drive to a leopard that had been sighted. Luckily our timing was perfect – we came upon the leopard just as she made her way up the tree to continue feeding off an impala that she had killed. What may have encouraged her to get into the tree at that particular moment was the sudden appearance of two hyenas – they had smelled blood! Once she was up the tree, she was not concerned with the hyenas, not even when she had dropped a fore-leg of the impala on the ground and this was snatched up by one of the hyenas, to be crunched up within seconds.

Dinner that evening was a treat – the table had been set up under the stars overlooking the waterhole and we were joined by Bryce and Nicola, Van and three other guests. The meal, a three-course affair, was superb. A person with no teeth and a very blunt knife would have found that fillet steak tender – never have I had such a tender piece of meat (and those that know me will also know that I have had my fair share of meat in my life).
That following morning’s drive did not produce any predators, but we did see lots of general plains game, such as zebra, giraffe, impala, kudu, steenbuck, etc. Whilst enjoying brunch back at the lodge, a small herd of seven or eight elephants wandered down past the waterhole, but did not bother to stop in for a drink. Oh well, another wasted opportunity. That afternoon, before high tea, as I was lazing on my verandah overlooking the waterhole, I seemingly awoke from a slight nap and saw what looked like a wolf at the waterhole. I rubbed my eyes and thought, “No, it cannot be a wolf – it must be a wild dog” This did not go down too well either, so I rubbed my eyes again and saw that it was a side-striped jackal, but not only the one I originally saw, its mate too had also joined at the waterhole, so I was looking at two of them – the fuzziness of waking from a nap... This was maybe the first time that I had seen these beautiful animals in the daylight, all my previous sightings of them had been at night. Along with the jackal at the waterhole were both banded and slender mongoose and a number of birds, all taking turns to drink. The game drive that evening produced some elephant, giraffe, kudu, general game and hyenas – no cats this time. However, we were treated to a magnificent sunset, so all was fine in Africa. 

What a surprise at dinner. A private dinner had been arranged for Janice and me in front of our chalet under the stars and another superb three-course dinner was served. The bath was adorned with flowers and candles, as was the bed (okay, not candles adorning the bed) and I suspect that this was more for Janice than for me as no flowers had been placed in the shower for me!) and a lovely evening was had by all.

The following morning dawned overcast but no rain as yet. We came upon two white rhinos just as there was a break in the clouds, so I managed to get a half-decent photo or two in fairly good light. Isn’t it still a treat to see rhino in the wild, despite the severe pressure placed on their existence by those backward people who regard rhino horn as a cure for some disease or bodily malfunction or something? I have news for you people – chew your finger and toe-nails, it works just as well, is easier and cheaper to harvest and is legal!

We continued on our drive and came to a vast open area, where Van pointed out two cats in the distance – cheetahs! We got fairly close to these two male cheetahs and our luck held -  we were rewarded with another break in the clouds to give some sunlight on these beautiful cats. We must have sat with them for close to 30 minutes and when I asked Van later why no other game drive vehicles had turned up, I was informed that their game drive vehicles were the only ones permitted to traverse in this particular area. (I could not help at this time but think of some clients of mine that visited S.A. about three years ago, clients who had a special interest in photographing cheetahs, and we did not even see one in about two weeks of safari! What they would have given for 30 minutes or more here). These brothers posed and played around the vicinity of the vehicle and this is certainly the sighting that stood out for me on this trip. 

Now I usually have the same disconnect with shopping malls and most things electronic that the majority of today’s folk have with all things natural. If you are a bit like me and like all things natural, then this lodge is it. You will not find 5-star spas here, but good quiet nooks to sit quietly and contemplate the meaning of life. You will not find caviar and French-sounding names on the menu, but good, wholesome, down-to-earth South African food, you will not find air-conditioned, climate controlled suites with bar fridges here, but good, comfortable rooms under a thatched roof and with overhead fans (powered by the sun). Your game drives here will be conducted by enthusiastic, knowledgeable guides with a passion for nature and the staff will be friendly, and genuinely friendly at that. You may also meet the owners, who have in their time managed many top lodges in Botswana and South Africa, and who have a belief and passion for their lodge – go there, you will not be disappointed!

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