Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tanda Tula Safari Camp - Keith Marallich

What advice does anyone buying a house always get? “Location, location, location!” What is important when visiting a game lodge (and I may add, over which you have no control whatsoever)? “Weather, weather, weather!” So, with this in mind Janice and I arrived at the Tanda Tula Safari Camp in the Timbavati Game Reserve with the weather not looking promising. The sky was heavily overcast and a cool wind had picked up. It’s funny how we always complain about the weather but fail to do anything about it.

Set on the banks of the Nharalumi riverbed in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Tanda Tula Safari Camp is shaded by majestic trees and overlooks a watering hole. Each of the twelve luxury tents is completely private and surrounded by lush riverine bush overlooking the riverbed, epitomising the ultimate  wildlife experience. Each tent has its own private deck complete with comfortable loungers, which offers an opportunity to relax and absorb the beauty and tranquility of the African bush. Our tent featured a beautiful en suite bathroom with a traditional Victorian bathtub and romantic outdoor shower. The interiors were furnished in elegance and the pool overlooks a large watering hole which is reputedly often frequented by a variety of wildlife.

    The hide overlooking the water hole

   The bath with the outdoor shower in the background - man, l I loved this shower!

    Another view of the bathroom and outside shower

    The entrance to our tent (at half-flap)

    and open

    A view from the waterhole looking back at the lodge and pool

    One of the lounges - notice the two fires!

     and the pub

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is one of South Africa’s undiscovered wilderness jewels; home to Africa’s big five, in an area renowned for its biodiversity, ranging from savannah woodlands to grasslands and riverine glades. The reserve was established in 1956 by like-minded landowners. Today, it forms part of one of the largest game reserves in the world, the Kruger National Park. A unique feature of the Timbavati is the low rate of commercialisation, with game lodges that are dedicated to preserving the sense of true wilderness. Tented camps such as Tanda Tula Safari Camp are ideal for enjoying the African bush as it should be. The white lions of the Timbavati were first discovered by Chris McBride on the Tanda Tula property in the late 1970s. While he was studying the white lions, Chris and his wife Charlotte helped build and set up Tanda Tula Safari Camp in its initial phase of development. The first pride to produce white lion cubs was the Machaton Pride, a pride that still exists today, and their core territory continues to be based on the Tanda Tula Safari Camp property. White lions are still being born to various prides throughout the Timbavati, however, due to their conspicuous white colour their survival rate is low.

The weather, if it had been bad on our arrival, turned foul in time for the afternoon drive, so Janice opted to stay in camp. I may have mentioned this before, but I really don’t miss a game drive except in exceptional circumstances – these were not yet exceptional circumstances, so off I went with Scotch, our guide. One thing about Scotch – I think this was his party trick – was to point out a bird and then tell whoever had the Sasol Field Guide to the Birds of S.A.  in their hands, not only what page this bird was one, but also what number it was on that particular page. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe his party trick would not work if anyone had another guide other than the Sasol guide! Unfortunately, the weather did not help and we saw some buffalo, zebra and general game – I was quite pleased to get back to camp in a dry state.

For the game drive the following morning, if anything, it had gotten colder and still heavily overcast and very windy, to boot. This drive produced some elephant, hyena, more buffalo, plenty of giraffe and some general game, such as impala, zebra and steenbuck. After breakfast we wandered around inside the camp and saws some nyala, bushbuck, vervet monkeys and banded mongoose in camp.  

The afternoon drive had no change in the weather – it was as bad as ever, but we did see elephant, buffalo, lots of general game and then also a leopard. Unfortunately by the time that we had found the leopard, it was in thick bush and a few seconds after we had seen her, she took cover in some very thick bush and was hardly visible. However, this was a leopard sighting and I always marvel at how lucky I am to actually see one in the wild. 

What happens at Tanda Tula is your guide wakes you up early in the morning and leaves a tray of coffee and tea for you at the entrance to your tent. Well, on the last morning Scotch was again there with this when I told him that I would give this morning's drive a miss - I had quite far to travel that day in any event, but this was not the reason. I am very seldom awoken by wake-up calls, and so when Scotch arrived at my tent, I had been outside peering intently at the cloud above for some minutes already. I concluded that the heavens were about to open and I did not want to be on an open vehicle when this happened. Scotch disagreed - he was of the opinion that it would not rain, but I held firm - there would be no game drive for me on this morning. Hah, no sooner had the game drive vehicle departed when the heavens opened up with force, and for the rest of the day it rained.

I would love to go back to Tanda Tula again, but would hope for better weather, bad weather certainly affects not only one's comfort, but also the quality of the game drives. Look at my photos above, not a patch of blue sky in any of them. 


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