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A safari tale

The sound of creaking wagon wheels and the coughing and spluttering of those early car engines have been replaced with the quiet throb of modern transport. It is here that your mini safari begins – not in a wagon, but in a modern game drive vehicle, as we set off to explore the three private camps in the Mlutawi Concession in the Kruger National Park.

Situated on the banks of the Nwatswitso River and enveloped by jackalberry and tamboti trees is Imbali Safari Lodge. A long, covered walkway leads from the drop-off point to the desk that serves as the reception area. Worn by time, this desk could have been taken off the back of a wagon. The walkway is lined, both on the walls and sunken into the pathway, with implements and memorabilia from a settlement that stood here some 400 years ago. Is that the crack of an ox-whip that we hear? No, it is just a troop of baboons playing overhead in the trees.

The game drives take place in the early morning and late afternoon, depending on the season. The excitement and expectation of what could be spotted cannot be too different from what the early pioneers experienced. But it is time to head off on the next leg of the adventure.

Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge

Coming around a corner, the shape of traditional Tsonga bee-hive huts lets you know that you have arrived at Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge. The terracotta coloured buildings sit comfortably in the landscape, blending into their surroundings rather than standing out. Guests are often welcomed with stunning elephant sightings. From the entrance to the main building, guests would be forgiven for thinking the pachyderms are actually inside the lodge, but upon closer inspection, visitors will find that the elephants are at a waterhole of the far side of the Mluwati River. The camp is protected by a fence to make certain that both humans and animals are safe.

Like the wings of a bird, the huts can be found to the left and right of the main lodge building. The accommodation is only a short walk from the main public spaces. From the outside the traditional rondavels look small, but open the door and the high-ceilinged, spacious and brightly coloured room is a feast for the eyes. There is a bath as well as the ubiquitous outdoor shower, the use of which, no matter what the weather, is almost a rite of passage.

The time between game drives can be spent relaxing at the pool or eating. All the lodges do breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a “high tea” just before setting off on your drive. And if that is not enough, there are also snacks provided during both the morning and afternoon drives.

Hamiltons Tented Camp

Back on the road again, we were off to the final and probably the most memorable of the lodges, Hamiltons Tented Camp. It was named in honour of James Stevenson-Hamilton and the indelible contribution he made to the establishment of the park as the first head warden. His Tsonga name was Skukuza meaning “he who turns everything upside down”.

The camp, made entirely of canvas, consists of six stunning suites that are accessed via raised walkways that lead off from the main lounge, reception and dining area – much of which relies on the coverage of jackalberry and sausage Trees. The décor is definitely 19th century and is packed with steamer trunks, pith helmets and old binoculars.

Set alongside the Nwatswitsonto River, the views as guests look down on the wildlife are stunning. Even though the waterhole might look small, it has been known to accommodate elephant herds in excess of 60 animals.

Near Hamiltons Tented Camp visitors will discover the largest and most southern baobab tree in the park. It is said to be more than 1 000 years old.

As each game drive is a unique experience, it is not always about the large mammals. Take some time to smell the air, to observe the natural landscapes and, more importantly, become immersed in what the African bush has to offer.

By sitting still and allowing the past 120 years of history to wash over us, perhaps we can, albeit briefly, connect with those who came before us – the trailblazers and the pioneers. Those who fought hard–won battles so that we, in the 21st century and beyond, can enjoy all the beauty and splendour that days and nights in the African bush can provide.

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