A tale of two girls, a ranger, and a date with wild dogs
It really could have been a ranger’s worst nightmare. Two young South African girls sent on a media visit. Young enough to be up for a some serious fun. Old enough to have many bush visits under our belts. And, we admit, a little know-it-all (but definitely not jaded) when it comes to game lodges. We know game. We know Africa. And we know G&Ts are a preventive measure against malaria. We also arrived with the knowledge that the Kruger area, where we were based, has some of the best leopard sightings in the country. So we put our list out there. The big five. Plus wild dog. Please.
Making sure the story went according to plan was ranger John Dixon … a real camo character fondly referred to as JD. Within hours he’d ensured we had ticked elephant, rhino and buffalo off the list … and shortly after that he had us bush-bashing through the knob thorns to get a sight of Bundu, a young leopard, enjoying his impala kill for dinner. But we wanted wild dog!
Sundowners in the bush were Istagram perfect … vast glasses of Musgrave Pink Rose Water gin that perfectly matched the sunset. And within minutes of the sun going down, a lone wild dog emerged … but a lone wild dog doesn’t make for exciting viewing, and a few of the international guests wondered what all the fuss was about.
They found out halfway through dinner. Mid-Amarula soufflé, shouts echoed through the camp … ‘wild dog, wild dog’. There, not five metres away from us, they were … a pack of Africa’s most endangered predators who’d chased an impala into camp and, completely ignoring the fascinated group watching them by the lights of their iPhones, were feasting away. A double treat … as before long spotted hyenas arrived. A perfect way to end a day in the wild.
Hyped up by the night’s activities we settled into our home for the evening – serious glamping. Our tent was perched on a wooden platform on stilts and was wonderfully luxurious … all open canvas walls and hot water showers and comfy beds with African fables for some bedtime reading. The treehouse-style camp is unfenced, so we were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the hippos grazing below us.
Ours was one of five chalets in this camp, so there’s a maximum of 10 guests at any time. This makes it a lovely choice for either a party of family and friends wanting to take over the entire lodge for a special occasion, or for those who’re happy to share with, and meet, fellow bush enthusiasts but don’t want a huge crowd. The tents are eye-level with the trees, there’s an outdoor lounge and dining area under thatch, where you can sit and take in the splendid views of the plain and the small waterhole in front of the camp, as well as the Drakensberg range in the distance. In summer the pool and deck appeal (and don’t be surprised if a herd of ellies strolls through, looking for a cool drink); our winter visit saw us huddled round the fire in the traditional boma.
Set in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve, which is governed by strict conservation regulations for the safety of guests and wildlife, nThambo offers a more intimate viewing experience … there are fewer vehicles at a sighting and bundu-bashing is restricted. As with all lodges in the area, winter’s best for game viewing, but the warmer summer months are perfect for those who are keen walkers, and is also better for birders. Plus, of course, you experience the magnificent thunderstorms and the bush is green and vibrant. Whichever season you choose to visit is wonderful … the game is plentiful, the flexibility of the small camp allows for rangers to take you on special sightings out of usual game drive hours and night drives to see nocturnal wildlife can be arranged, as can bush walks.
The nThambo Tree Camp is popular with the European maket, but it’s well priced for locals, with rates from R3 095 a person sharing, which includes all meals, game drives and bush walks, teas and coffees. There’s a fully inclusive rate too, which includes local soft and alcoholic drinks. No children under 12 are allowed. Details: www.nthambo.com. Book through firstname.lastname@example.org, 021-712-5284 or 021-712-5285.