High Profile

Tented luxury lodge seems to float above the landscape

Sharing an unfenced border with Kruger National Park, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is the ultimate place to spot a variety of wildlife, from the most beautiful birds to the Big Five. A sojourn at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge offers that and much more.

Perched on a hillside, the spectacular lodge overlooks the Mbali Dam and the Nhlaralumi River, where the sound of African fish eagles calling and the intermittent snorting of hippos form the soundtrack to a stay. It takes a skilled driver to navigate the steep incline to the lodge and not stall the vehicle, and both safari guides in their respective modes of transport – Rudolf in the Toyota Land Cruiser and André in the Land Rover – are excellent at manoeuvring us safely to the reception area.

Camp manager Brett offers guests a warm welcome, and a butler is always at hand to show arriving guests where to go next. First up is the main deck, where there is a sparkling pool to the left, a lounge and bar area at the front and a dining area to the right. After a hearty lunch consisting of freshly baked rolls, beef wraps and salad for the main course and sorbet for dessert, assistant camp manager Bongi shows me to an impressive tented suite. Brett says, “The views from your suite make the walk to it so worth it. You’ll see.” As we make our way to the end of the wooden walkway, the path snakes to the left. “Here we are!” Bongi exclaims. Brett was right – the panorama is breathtaking!

The pavilion-style tented suite is raised off the ground on a wooden platform with two separate rooms – one houses a stunning bedroom, and one contains a bathroom with a bath so cleverly placed that you can take in the sunset while enjoying some bubbles. Divided by a passage, the outdoor shower, with showerheads for two, sits pretty in the middle. If you enjoy a pre- or post-meal snooze, the sala, with its double daybed on the private deck, is the perfect place for it.


Who’s the boss?

After high tea, the afternoon game drive leaves from reception. The most requested sighting is the elusive leopard. Our first sighting, though, is just outside the lodge, beyond the dam wall: a breeding herd of elephants. Wading through the tall grass in the river, they amble our way. It’s a substantial herd, with loads of little ones shyly hiding behind the adults, some looking like they’re wearing long socks, having just come out of the water.

Rudolf is listening intently to what someone is saying in his earpiece. He picks up the two-way radio and enquires if there’s a lineup. Clicking the radio back into place on the dashboard, he speeds up the vehicle, which means it has to be something exciting. Tracker Thabo is shining the spotlight as we’re in hot pursuit of not one, not two, but three leopards! The exhilaration of ‘bundu bashing’ (driving off-road through the bush, with permission) has everyone in high spirits, especially if it means casting eyes on a female leopard and her two 18-month-old cubs.

The following morning, our guide and tracker duo find a large herd of Cape buffalo.

“They sleep facing different directions,” Rudolf tells us. “This is so that they have a 360° view of their surroundings and can’t be ambushed by a predator. You see the horns on their heads? The male’s horn is called a boss, and it curves, forming a shield to protect their brain when they fight.”


Blind Faith

Simbavati Mvubu Cottage is located a stone’s throw from Hilltop Lodge. This quaint, exclusive-use two-bedroomed cottage has a pool as well as an upstairs sleepout and viewing deck. It’s the ideal place for a family of four or two couples travelling together. For travellers in search of privacy and versatility, this special option is well worth considering.

Meals can be enjoyed at the cottage, or if guests prefer, their private guide can drive them to Simbavati Hilltop Lodge should they want to dine there. Sitting out on the deck, my lunch is delivered to the cottage, arriving at 1 pm sharp. Reclining next to the pool with dessert in hand and gazing out over the dam, I see a lone waterbuck looking straight at me.

Embarking on the afternoon game drive with Andre, who has been guiding for 10 years, we encounter a large bull elephant and can smell that he is clearly in musth (in heat). He is standing in our way, but André knows we need to wait it out since bull elephants’ heightened levels of testosterone can make them rather aggressive. The elephant approaches, shakes his ears and trunk, and then calms down, apparently falling asleep while standing. Noticing he is collared, André suggests we reach out to Elephants Alive, as they might be able to tell us his name. From the photograph and video, they identify him as Spencer. Spencer eventually walks away, leaving a pungent aroma in his wake.

André’s favourite animal is the African wild dog, and he is eager for us to check out a den site. I’d seen the pups the previous day, all 13 of them, playing in and around the termite mound under the watchful supervision of the alpha female. Wild dog pups are born blind and unable to walk and are easy prey for predators. We find the alpha female resting in the shade, with the pups nowhere to be seen. They are probably inside the den, giving their tired mom a well-deserved break.

Text and photography | Heléne Ramackers

For more information or to book a stay, go to simbavati.com

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