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How I fell for the bush…

While I’ve been lucky enough to take dozens of vacations, somehow the bush isn’t one that would’ve naturally been top of mind for me and I’m not sure why. Maybe its having grown up in Cape Town? Without realising it holidays became alternating between beach and city breaks and no one told me I was missing out – in a really big way!

I’m slightly ashamed to say that before this year I hadn’t even been to the Kruger before (I literally drove through the Kruger a few months ago on this trip) and that’s after having lived in Jozi for 10 years now (yes this is me admitting I have no excuses!). So when a last-minute opportunity came to join some journos in the bush for a week recently I jumped at it but really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it quite as much as I did.

A 5 hour drive from Jozi, we headed to the Klaserie Private Game Reserve. At just under 70 000 hectares it’s the largest private nature reserve within the greater Kruger area. In all of that space there are just 4 lodges, 2 of which we visited for 2 nights at each…

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nThambo Tree Camp – think sleeping in a tree house, raised in the air on stilts!

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Africa On Foot – who knew walking safaris were even possible?

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A peak inside my tree house at nThambo Tree Camp – I even had a private balcony…

Both lodges are 4 star family run and owned by couple Courteney  & Cecilia Blunden who spent many years earning their own stripes in the bush (where they met & married). They decided what the market was missing was an authentic bush experience that was comfortable, affordable and not pretentious to make the bush about well, the bush and being as close to nature as possible. They took over this family land and bit by bit built Africa on Foot (which is also their home) 7 years ago with nThambo Tree Camp following 4 years later.

Lust

  •  If the aim was experience that brought you back to nature, you’re definitely getting that and some! Both camps are unfenced so animals can and do walk in out freely and there are even reports of elephants coming to drink from the pool! On the 1st 2 nights I spent at nThambo Tree Camp I was in bed reading when I could hear honey badgers having quite a party right under my tree house!
  • Given how incredibly elusive leopards are I didn’t just see a leopard for the first time in this trip but we saw leopard for 4 of the 5 days we were there! And as if that wasn’t enough we actually got to witness a leopard prey on a heard of impalas and kill one. That’s tough to top!

Love

  • The appeal of these 2 lodges really resides in their intimacy. They each have 5 units i.e. sleep around 10 guests at a time (Africa on Foot has 2 family chalets so can accommodate a bit more) so its a personal experience without making you feel crowded.
  • Not to take anything away from the big 5 (we were able to tick that box very quickly!), but we had a few special moments that I’ll treasure like coming across a den of banded mongoose pups just days old, bald, eyes still shut & screaming their lungs out – a sight our rangers said they had never seen before.
  • We could go off-road at Klaserie (and saw so much when we did) which I took for granted until I later found out that this wasn’t allowed at the Kruger
  • Let’s face it, the bush is about seeing animals so you’ll appreciate that tied into above point re the size of the lodges only 2 vehicles are allowed at an (animal) sighting (e.g. if we spotted a lion, leopard etc.). This means the animals don’t feel crowded and that way we can also stay longer (there are no time limits) without needing to give other vehicles a turn.
  • Every day ended with a game drive where we’d pull over in a different spot, unpack drinks and snacks and watch the sunset – this was one of the favourite things about this trip and the sunsets were nothing less that spectacular!
  • There’s free, uncapped, password free Wi-Fi in the lounges of both camps!!! (I’m a blogger ok – it’s my job to be connected!)

Loathe

  • I won’t lie, given my normal regime the daily 5am starts were a challenge and not something I’d naturally equate with a holiday per se. Nothing a cup of coffee can’t fix though! And minutes in when you’ve spotted for your 1st animals for the day, you realise there’s no other way to do the bush… Also, your daily schedule can be customised as you’d prefer, so you can tailor your time to do what you want – even if that means laying by the pool…

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Yip, we were this close to the lions one morning. They seemed completely indifferent to us…

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Imagine driving into a heard of 30+ elephants, including many calves…

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I kept wondering what those white bags/pouches were that we’d regularly see close to water…

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Take a closer look… It’s where frogs lay their eggs – fascinating!

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A lions eye (good for runny tummies, eye infections) picked by our ranger Fafa…

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Drinks with a view…

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Just another bush sunset…

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We came back to the lodge from our game drive one night and found a surprise bush dinner setup under the stars…

The flexibility of a small camp was something I appreciated most when over dinner one right our ranger hushed us for a moment, his tuned in ears picking up a male lion roaring nearby. We all keenly hopped into the Land Rover and I didn’t have high hopes. I mean the property is huge and it was pitch, pitch black out but we found him…

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The food definitely needs a mention and is a cross between homely & gourmet. With my messy halaal requirements I went with no/low expectations around food but was very well fed all week. One of our journos was gluten intolerant (I usually watch these poor folks starve when they’re travelling) but with sufficient notice, the kitchens are really prepared to work around whatever you need which I really appreciated. Also, as a standard the rangers sit and have meals with guest (and also double as our barmen) so by the end of the week, we were hugging them goodbye.

Need to know

  • Between the 2 camps the child friendly one is Africa on Foot with activities for kids etc.

If I ran the place

  • I may never leave. Life in the bush seems clean, simple, uncomplicated. I now see why so many people choose it as a lifestyle…

It was day 4 (I think) and in the middle of a game drive one day, our ranger, affectionately known as Fafa pulled over in the middle of the road and told us to have a look around. I reached for my camera almost instinctively, wondering how I could have missed whatever animal we were stopping to take a look at. What he pointed out was the unending view, the canopy of green that the eye can’t see an end to & the quiet sounds of the bush. So you’ll understand then that I left Klaseri feeling a tad jealous of this family and their staff (they really all just seem like friends) who get to live, work and play there everyday. And the way they do it doesn’t make it look/feel much like work…

W

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