Breakfast after early morning game drives is plentiful, served around a long table overlooking the Timbavati River. Adept at stealing food from our plates, monkeys are comically intercepted by our waiters, before retreating to the canopy above. We enjoyed a tantalising array of fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurt, pastries and juice – a succulent and hearty amuse bouche to hot dishes of eggs and meats. Coffee – my barometer of a great establishment – was perfect on the palate: rich, dark and smooth. Whatever your dietary requirements, genius and genial Chef Dumi will create it for you.
You can work off hearty breakfasts and lunches with a few laps in the inviting pool. Or if you’d prefer someone else to do the work, I recommend a massage from the magic hands of Phila which loosened my stiff limbs and prepared me for the ‘demands’ of further game viewing. Since you’ll be sitting most of the day, I highly recommend some exercise to balance the incredible cuisine. Each room has a gym-in-a-basket but the view from the pool – and its coolness – is much more tempting.
In successive game drives we were lucky to encounter a herd of giraffe and baby, their size and grace truly wonderful to witness, playful zebras, more pachyderms, a female leopard dozing high in the treetops, hippos, a honey badger and even a rare pack of painted dogs that have set up home at Ngala Tented Camp. Long vilified as pests – perhaps also due to their less than agreeable features – these amazing creatures are in danger of being hunted to extinction.
Living in packs they are led by a dominant male and female who account for most of the breeding activity. The pups are born in an underground burrow and fed by the whole pack from regurgitated meat. Once they are three months old, the pups then join the hunt.
We were also privileged to spend time just feet away from another pride of lions and cubs. The lionesses were resting in the trees just behind the group – clearly needing a break from parenting and had handed over duties to the males.
My particular safari highlight was the sight of a young elephant, approaching us in greeting by putting his trunk in his ear. Andrew told us that he was being friendly, but since this beautiful pachyderm could also flip the vehicle, we decided to beat a hasty retreat.
Taking a different route back to the camp we meandered along the sandy Timbavati riverbed, lights of the camp twinkling to our right. Then ahead, the sound of voices, a glowing fire pit, and approaching closer we saw the welcoming faces of the Ngala staff, there to join us for our final alfresco barbeque of kudu, ostrich and steak, and celebration of a most extraordinary experience. Tales were shared, visions for the future offered up to the star-filled heavens; wine flowed and hearts expanded. In the lantern-lit riverbed, we celebrated the magical mythical land that is Africa. Her richness, her wildlife and above all the incredible staff at Ngala Tented Camp – South Africans who had made our stay so memorable by sharing their love of their country and her wildlife with us so generously.
Travel has a profound way of healing us. And if we let go of controlling our environment, and allow our hearts to connect with the landscapes, the experience expands the mind and the heart like nothing else. Sharing Sundowners with friends that magical final evening at Ngala, warm air on bare skin, as the African-orange sky hastened to star-filled dusk, I was reminded of Henry Miller’s words: One’s destination is never a place, rather a new way of looking at things.
South Africa’s heartbeat was forever connected to mine and had given me a new perspective on life, on myself and established an on-going love affair with the land and the people who inhabit her.
Ngala Tented Camp – Where and How?
andBeyond operates 33 lodges and camps in six African countries, as well as India. They also design personalised luxury safaris in 15 African countries, as well as arranging bespoke tours in India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Chile and Argentina.
Kruger National Park: www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/
Facebook: Andrew Nicholson Wildlife Photography
Fact Sheet – tips
- Weather: hot wet summers, cool dry winters. Rain – in short sharp bursts late afternoon or early evening. Usually between October and March (summer). Average temp summer: 18 to 36/64 to 96F. Winter: 2 to 16C/36 to 61F.
- Limited Wi-Fi throughout the camp
- Landline phones in each tent
- Take a warm jacket/fleece for the evenings and early morning game drives. A sunhat is essential, as is plenty of high-factor sunscreen. Insect repellent advised.
- Game viewing is fabulous all year round, but probably best in winter (northern hemisphere summers) as the animals often converge on waterholes.
- Bring binoculars and a good camera with zoom.
- Local lingo: Hello – A Hee/Thank you – Inkomu/How are you? Kunjani