Passionate host continues to refine Great Kruger lodge experience
Situated on the banks of the seasonal Monwana river in the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, Shumbalala Game Lodge has it all – luxurious accommodation, welcoming staff and spectacular sightings of the Big Five.
A fervour for entertaining culminated in the acquisition of the lodge in 1999, when it was a rare find. “Having just sold our small farm, we longed for the bush and started looking for another property immediately,” owner Elsa tells me over morning coffee. “Safari lodges don’t come up for sale on a regular basis; I realised the scarcity of such a remarkable setting and knew we had to purchase it – it was love at first sight.” Two years later, they did a complete rebuild, making provision for more spacious suites by converting two rooms into one chalet. The result? Four expansive (75m²) superior suites, sleeping a maximum of two guests. Elsa continues, “We also changed the main pool in 2016 and enlarged the deck in 2022. It’s the ideal spot to keep an eye on the watering hole in front of the lodge, where guests are likely to encounter elephants quenching their thirst or other wildlife ambling by.”
Making light work
Even though she loves going on game drives, another one of Elsa’s favourite activities is sitting out on the deck, watching the sun sinking behind the treetops with the colours changing, especially during the winter months. “The horizon is just beautiful. It’s such a special time at the lodge, but our guests are usually out on a drive; I often wish they could enjoy it too.” Setting the scene for an improbable place in the bush is the appearance on the deck of two eye-catching chandeliers, framing the space in striking style. “I’ve always had a keen interest in interior design, so I wanted to do something different to put my stamp on the space,” Elsa says, pointing to the front chandelier. “Searching far and wide to find lighting that I liked and that would work in the safari realm, nothing resonated with what I had in mind. So, I took these two out of my own house. They work so much better at the lodge and definitely come into their own here.”
After a delicious brunch made by chef Benni, consisting of barbeque chicken wings with coleslaw and baked sweet potato, we’re treated to delectably morish chocolate brownies and vanilla ice cream. Field guide Bryce and tracker Evans round us up for our afternoon game drive through 14,000ha Thornybush. Driving past one of the dams on the reserve, a large frame appears from behind the greenery and suddenly decides the warm weather warrants some cooling off. Wading into the dam, the elephant starts splashing water onto himself and eventually completely immerses himself, with only his trunk and hindquarters appearing every so often. What a glorious sight, seeing such a massive animal having such a spirited roll around. Bryce receives radio communication that there is a leopard not too far from where we are, and as we make our way there, we find him fast asleep in a patch of grass. The precursor to our sighting is an elephant calf storming towards the vehicle, ears flapping and trunk doing a roly-poly move. We leave him to continue his antics as the matriarch is probably somewhere in the vicinity, and it’s best to avoid her should she become protective of her offspring.
View to a kill
Our morning game drive is filled with magnificent sightings, starting with a tawny eagle perched on a bare tree branch. It swiftly takes to the skies, showcasing its impressive wingspan. Suddenly, Bryce speeds up the vehicle as he’s been listening intently to the radio reports of what must be an exciting prospect. We pass four hyenas, seemingly waiting in anticipation, as well as a variety of vultures circling above us, some perched on the ground, en route to what we can only imagine must be a kill. We wait our turn, as vehicles are limited in numbers and the time spent on high-profile sightings. The smell wafting towards us is undoubtedly that of rotten meat. Unpleasant as it is, adrenaline kicks in – this once-in-a-lifetime sighting is not for the squeamish. A pride of lions is busy devouring the remains of a buffalo Those who have had their fill take respite in the shade, bellies bulging and panting from exertion. When lions feast on a carcass, it is anything but a friendly mannered affair. Lots of snarls, guttural growls, a few smacks, and some fierce tugging and dragging – all form part of this feeding frenzy. A young cub approaches the group, which consists mostly of females and sub-adults. Will it be given a stern warning, or worse still, be chased away, tail between its legs? Cleverly, it finds mom and seeks solace underneath her shielding form. The brave cub sits up – it has discovered the ribcage of the buffalo. Without hesitation, it digs in, relishing the chance to be part of the pride, jabbing its pink claws into the skin to get a better grip, savouring the taste of surviving another day in the wild.