Monday, October 6, 2014

Umlani Bushcamp – Timbavati Private Game Reserve – by Jeremy Williamson

“See the real Africa at Umlani Bushcamp, enjoy the ultimate experience of true wilderness and seclusion in a camp that accommodates just 16 guests, in traditional African reed and thatch huts. At a Classic African Safari Camp”

This is how Umlani Bush Camp in the Timbavati Nature Reserve describes itself and how the owners would like guests to experience their hospitality.  In today’s modern World, getting away from it all, is what so many seek when visiting the Bushveld. At many venues, the break is not that complete, WiFi, TV, air-conditioning, telephone  and such. At Umlani, guests are able to really get away from all these modern connections, to experience the African Bush, in the way that many believe it should be and in comfort.
This is how Lana and I discovered the Umlani 3 star graded Bushcamp to be like.
The camp is indeed rustic, all reed and thatch with some brick under thatch buildings. Styled much as the early pioneer farmer / hunters would have built a camp. A number of separate rondavels overlooking an ephemeral river – presently dry – with a waterhole beyond.
We had taken a slow drive through from the southern sector of the Kruger National Park and arrived  just in time for lunch. Home made iced tea, with a very tasty pasta, vegetables and salad for lunch– teas coffees always on tap (hot water on the fire)  ...
also included in the tariff are all locally branded spirits and beers as well as their  house wines and soft drinks.  These are stored in a cooler box at the view deck/luncheon venue and in the dining room, just help yourself. High ceilings and being open on the sides, allows these rooms to be pleasantly cool. Remember no air-conditioning here, no fans either, very limited electricity - one power point for the recharging of batteries. Despite the weather being particularly warm, peaking at 37degrees C each day whilst we were visiting, we did not feel uncomfortable in any way, possibly it being a dry heat also helped. 
The pool is partially shaded so that would be the ideal way to cool off and then to relax there in one of the hammocks or in one of the surprisingly comfortable log and mesh recliners.
Our room (rondavel) was fortunately their brand new Eco Rondavel, This is a brick under thatch structure,  with windows instead of screens and has a turbine extractor fan set at the peak which sucked out the warm air, certainly keeping this room cooler that those without this clever feature I am sure.
Comfortable bed with effective mosquito net, as with no air-conditioning, one would needs keep the windows open, a big plus is that one is then able to hear the night sounds from the bush. we were lucky to hear the lion calling and a side-striped jackal too. The bathroom was partially covered, well the loo and basin were,
 ..with the shower open to the skies.
A bonus for this Eco Rondavel is that there are some battery powered LED lights, the bed-side lamps and one in the bathroom. This is such a good idea, still very eco-friendly but for folk not used to paraffin lamps, almost a must. Lana and I were at another Lodge where paraffin lamps were the only means of lighting as well, a guest had screwed the wick down to extinguish the light when going to bed – only, she had screwed the wick down and out of the mechanism, which made it not ignite in the morning when she needed light to get ready for the early game drive. She was quite distraught. I sincerely hope that Umlani Bushcamp introduces this limited electric light concept to all the accommodation unts.
Contrary to this, Lana and I were so impressed when returning from the afternoon/ evening game drive, arriving in camp after dark to see the plethora of paraffin lamps, like a fairy tale garden illuminating the dinner table and room.  
Drinks around blazing fires, exchanging the days sightings with other guests, enjoying the stars, the ambiance and companionship. The silence of the night was broken by the beating of a drum, dinner had been announced and our chef described what she had prepared.
The dinners were really delicious too, tomato soup to start followed by a really good Ox-tail main and then a fruit dessert.  Another night it was a Thai styled chicken dish. All help yourself and plenty for all. Three star plus, a slight negative could be that if Ox-tail was not really on your wish list, that was it, no alternative, unless you had detailed your dietary requirements to the chef before-hand.  All the while our hosts made sure all had sufficient to drink and joined in with anecdotes and tales of bushveld life.
It was the bushveld and its wild inhabitants that we were really here for. Sinhle, our Ranger and Maurice the Tracker, were to give us some really wonderful experiences. After a safety briefing we were out there on a maze of roads searching. It did not take too long before we had a leopard and her cub right there next to us as they bonded and relaxed close the cubs safe haven, in a river bed.   
Then a couple of male lion that were for all intense and purpose, dead to the World! They wouldn’t even stir, maybe the occasion flick of a tale proved that in there, there was life.

A really lovely sighting of a breeding herd of elephant, they ambled past our vehicle, some so close..

such a happy chappie
...some buffalo and rhino and thus the Big 5 all in one game drive and all so clearly and close too. One of the Buffalo sightings with the inevitable oxpeckers, had the rare yellow-billed variety doing their thing. 
Yip the sightings in the Timbavati are not at all bad.  We had some amazing  time with the leopard and cubs, which were so special.
Emotions had run high amongst the guests on our vehicle one afternoon at one of the sightings. We had found a female leopard – waiting in ambush for prey at a water-hole.  
With our arrival she decided to move off, so we followed her. She walked right past a Steenbuck who froze and watched her pass.
Steenbuck top left
She started calling, then stopping, venting her territorial call, wonderful to hear so close, not quite the call one would expect and more like the rough hand sawing of timber. 
The call for her cub became more frequent and so too the ‘territorial call’. We must have followed her for more than three kilometers from when she first started calling for her cub. 
Our Ranger became quite concerned and suggested that there was a possibility that her cub had been discovered and possibly attacked. She seemed to be calling more frantically – stopping occasionally to lie down. Then up and call and on. 
What a long way we had followed her. She lay down again and we even started to presume that something might have happened to her cub. Best we leave her, as another vehicle had arrived to see her, we decided to depart and possibly hear the fate of the cub from this vehicle’s Ranger later. We turned the vehicle to exit the sighting... when, there, running through the veld, was a tiny bundle of fur, cryptically coloured in the afternoon light, but making it as fast as it could, directly for Mum. 
The affection at the reunion was enough to bring tears to my eyes, what with the fear of the cub having possibly been killed, fresh in our minds. 
There were exclamations of relief and joy from our vehicle’s occupants, we left in high spirits, Sinhle had a smile back on his face – so life plays out in the wilds of Africa.
At one of these sightings, the radio call that White Lion had been found came through. That was it, we left the cub in the embrace of its mother and sped off (well sort of) to see this rare genetic strain, discovered first in the Timbavati and written about by a friend of mine, Chris McBride, back in the mid 1970’s
They were quite far from where we were, we arrived just in time as the sun was about to set. There was the fear that we might have to abandon our quest to see them should we arrive after dark, as there were 4 cubs and Park policy has it that no light may be shone near very young cubs – we were in time, no lights needed. What a sighting, 3 snow white little wooly kittens and one tawny, all 4 from the same litter. 
Then there was mum, a white lioness and another white adult  as well as a tawny in this pride. What a privilege to have been able to see so many of these truly special cats, in their true wild environment. There are now a few more white lion in the Timbavati area, than the original 3 that Chris found and wrote about.

The Umlani Bushcamp is a no frills bushveld getaway, that really does produce the goods. Clean comfortable camp, excellent food, knowledgeable rangers and seriously good game viewing with quite a diversity of species.
Lana and I, in so many ways preferred this down to earth hospitality, one just needs to know what to expect from this excellent value for money venue - I hope the above pictures and info will make your stay more enjoyable.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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