nThambo Tree Camp

We’re only 20 minutes into our evening game drive when the radio in crackles excitedly in our Land Rover.

Come back to the lodge, the message urges, there’s been a cheetah kill between rooms three and four. We look at each other quizzically. A cheetah has killed an impala outside our bedrooms?

Matt Roberts, the hunky ranger from nThambo Tree Camp, gives us a choice. We can dash back to camp and hope the cheetah is still there, or carry on tracking down a herd of buffalo.

No contest. Matt swings around and starts a Ferrari Safari back to camp. It’s a tense trip, and not only because we’re clinging onto our seats as we bounce through the bush, kicking up a fierce dust trail. We’re also racing against the sunset, because cheetahs aren't nocturnal hunters and are nervous to stay out after dark. We must beat the scavenging hyenas too, before they pick up the scent and steal away the kill.

We swing into camp a few minutes later, and see the staff peeking out nervously from a doorway. It’s an astonishing site, a beautiful cheetah still panting with the exertion of chasing down an impala right outside our rooms.

She glances straight at us with calculating eyes, then looks left and right again, more concerned about rival predators than harmless spectators. Then as dusk thickens she sinks her fangs into the impala’s bum and drags it into the bushes.

The design of nThambo Tree Camp really encourages such wildlife encounters, because its five bedrooms are raised on stilts above the bush. The animals aren’t as wary of it as they are of traditional camps, where large buildings squat on the ground and announce the human presence very loudly.

The camp is in South Africa’s Klaserie Game Reserve and has unfenced borders with the famous Kruger National Park. We enjoy brilliant sightings thanks to Matt and tracker Isaack Nkuna. They’re as much of an attraction as the animals, telling fabulous stories that bring the bush to life rather than just relating facts and figures. They show us glorious sights of a leopard shinning up a tree, a trio of fully-maned lions and elephant passing so close you could lean out and pat them.

nThambo also offers daily bush walks to discover the smaller side of nature. Bush walks are my favourite part of the safari experience - you’re not likely to trip over a lion, but there’s always the thrill of anticipation. Instead the guides spin fascinating tales about spiders and bugs, grasses and paw prints in the dust.

A big highlight for me is nThamo’s friendliness for solo travellers, so even if you’re alone, you’re far from lonely. For a start there’s no single room supplement, and at mealtimes everyone gathers around the communal table and guests of all nationalities swap their stories. The socialising continues after supper around a camp fire under a million stars in the dark skies of the bush.

The camp is run by young and friendly staff and offers ample luxury without the least bit of snootiness. The elevated wood-and-canvas bedrooms are so old-style elegant that you expect Dr Livingstone to be sitting at your writing desk or perched upon your balcony.

En suite bathrooms spare you from worrying about what’s lurking below if nature calls in the middle of the night. I was very glad to be out of danger’s way when I lay awake listening to a lion roar and a leopard so close I could hear its heavy breathing.

The days begin with a dawn game drive to catch the animals at their most active. Lazing by the plunge pool on a wooden deck looking out into the bush is a perfect way to spend the afternoon, before the evening game drive begins.

Then as the huge red sun sets over endless plains, we stop for drinks and stare mesmerized until the last flickers of pink and purple are finally extinguished. The air chills quickly, and we wrap in blankets for the drive back to camp for a hearty dinner like vegetarian spring rolls, chicken schnitzel and baked apple and custard.

When you’re done for the night, a tracker walks you to your room by torchlight, to make sure you’re not molested by any passing predators.

One evening there was no electricity in the camp because a thirsty elephant had chewed through a water pipe for a drink, and leaking water blew the power supply. The make-a-plan rangers had it fixed by morning, but flickering paraffin lamps in my stilt room made the whole experience even more magical.

It’s about a 6-hour drive from Joburg, but you can book a transfer with Ashton’s Shuttles and get dropped off just outside Timbavati Gate, where nThambo will collect you.

For details, click here:  or email: reservations@sundestinations.co.za.

Anonymous's picture