Eat, Sleep, Safari, Repeat (pt2)
Our flight to Timbavati was in a slightly more luxurious ridiculously small plane, but I was still glad to get off it and be met by Dale, Tanda Tula’s General Manager at the airstrip.
Until 1993, it too was fenced like Madikwe, but then it was opened up to the greater park, so although it’s still a private reserve and only guests of the lodges are able to visit it, the animals are free to roam the whole of Kruger’s 19,485 square kilometres.
Like Makanyane, Tanda Tula camp is completely open, apart from a high wire fence to deter elephants (purely because they would cause so much destruction if they wandered in). Unlike Makanyane, whilst still luxurious, the accommodation of 12 “tents” gives the illusion of a camping experience. I say illusion because they are on hard standing with a roof and a solid building housing the incredible bathroom at the back and a vast wooden veranda looking out over the Nhlaralumi Riverbed (dry when we were there).
In fact, the only real nod to them being a tent is that you have to use a carabiner on the tent zips to prevent the monkeys coming in and stealing your food!
Should you want a "real" camping experience in Kruger, Tanda Tula also offer a Field Camp Safari but we left that for the more adventurous. I’m not one to go without home comforts if I don’t have to (although frankly it hardly looked like you'd be slumming it). Timbavati is also a malaria free reserve.
Unlike Makanyane, Tanda Tula has a tracker with each jeep as well as a guide. There are two views on this – something which Jacques at Makanyane discussed with us. If you have a tracker you can get caught up in following a specific animal for several hours and see nothing, whereas with shared info with other guides, you can drive around the general area and see plenty of animals in the same amount of time. He thought it was better to see 5 different types of animals in three hours than spend the same period tracking, say, a leopard, and not seeing anything.
Our guide was Anthony and our tracker was Jack. They were a great team. Jack sat up on the bonnet of the jeep checking for sightings and tracks, Anthony shared his incredible knowledge with us. (Once again jeeps were limited to just 6 people). Because of the open nature of Timbavati they never really know what’s going to be on the reserve at any one time as the animals move around, so having a tracker does assist the guides in understanding what’s on the reserve that day/night.
Whilst there wasn’t the volume of animals we had seen at Madikwe (for example the amount of giraffe journeys at Madikwe, and the number of rhinos was much greater), we still saw plenty and once again all the Big 5. A couple of times MrS and I felt a little guilty, like when Anthony excitedly announced we were lucky to see the rhino we’d just seen, when we had seen a crash of eight of them in Madikwe.
"the most amazing sight was seeing the elephants at the waterhole"
For me the most amazing sight was seeing the elephants at the waterhole. The waterhole was right on the edge of camp, just the other side of the swimming pool. On our second day I was sitting by the pool with my book and, wondering what the strange noise was, I looked up to see a herd of 19 elephants of various sizes enjoying a splash and a drink. Definitely an experience I will never forget.
The increase in temperature compared to Madikwe was noticeable, the mornings and evenings in Timbavati turned out to be several degrees warmer than in Madikwe.
Also, we were granted the luxury of getting up at 5:30 instead of 5.
The days at Tanda Tula followed a similar pattern to those at Makanyane. Breakfast was served at the end of the morning drive, not back at the camp, but in a beautiful location in the riverbed. As at Makanyane, breakfast is eaten with your jeep buddies and guide. Both places exude a family feel without it feeling forced or fake. The staff at Tanda Tula were friendly and simply could not do enough for you, an experience we would continue to have for our entire stay in South Africa.
Unlike Makanyane, Tanda Tula also serve a lunch. Their chef, Ryan Mullet personally serves lunch and spends time chatting with the guests. I don’t think any food issues would have phased him!
Evening meals at Tanda Tula are eaten at one long table with the rest of the guests. Depending on your perspective this is either brilliant, or your idea of hell. On safari you do spend an awful lot of time with other people, and mostly you can’t choose who with. MrS took great delight on the first night winding up Americans, who outnumbered us by about 5 to 1, although we all resolutely avoided discussing politics (we met a lovely couple from St Louis at Makanyane and they apologised quite early on for Donald Trump).
On our second night we were treated to a fabulous evening down in the river bed with a traditional brai and singing by the staff. We managed both to avoid getting dragged up to dance and the Americans that MrS had wound up the previous night.
"I was beginning to know what Oscar Wilde meant when he said, “Hell is other people”."
On our final night we were surprised with a private dinner on our veranda. This was a really lovely idea and I think my favourite meal whilst on safari – although the food was incredible for the whole of our stay. It was also a much-needed respite for me as I was beginning to know what Oscar Wilde meant when he said, “Hell is other people”.
The following morning while we were packing I forgot to put the carabiner on the tent and a couple of vervet monkeys paid us a visit and stole our pillow sweets. I watched in amazement (after they’d scared the hell out of me) while they sat in the tree and unwrapped the sweets (2 layers of paper!) and scoffed them while giving me the side eye. Cheeky monkeys.
Once again we were very sad to leave, but after one final Tanda Tula breakfast we were collected by our driver for the 3-hour drive to Kruger airport where we began the next leg of our trip – the flight to Cape Town.
A word about camera equipment...
Someone asked while we were there if they needed "a big camera" before they went on safari.
I have been serious about photography for nearly 10 years. I have always used Canon, and currently we both have a Canon80D DSLR. These are wifi enabled so you send your photos straight to your phone or iPad. This means 2 things - you can send them straight out into the social media ether, but also you can back all your photos up to the cloud for safe keeping and edit them immediately if you like.
I had a Canon Zoom 70-300mm L series lens but also my basic 18-50mm kit lens with me on holiday and MrS had a 150-600mm Sigma on his Canon body. We both had a macro lens and a wide angle lens as well but those are just 'nice to have' as far as a safari is concerned. This kit isn't cheap, but we wanted to get the best photos we could and as we also already had most of it, we each had birthday presents of the new zoom lenses. We also researched it really well and knew that we would continue to use them after the holiday.
Whilst you don't need this level of equipment I would advocate an entry level DSLR with at least a 70-250mm lens as well as the 18-50mm lens that comes with those cameras. Keep an eye out for offers as Canon regularly update their range and you can get some really good deals.
A 'bridge' camera or 'point and shoot' with a good size digital zoom would be great for those less experienced photographers, which ever route you decide to go, do go to a good camera shop like London Camera Exchange (a misnomer as they are not just in London) or Wex and get advice. They are there to help you and they also have a vast range of pre-used equipment which is ideal when you're first setting out.
Then make sure you practise, practise, practise with the camera before you go. When MrS first got his zoom he was disappointed with the results, but by the time we went to SA he had mastered it and his photos are amazing.
Please, whatever you decide (and this isn't me being a camera snob) don't go on the trip of a lifetime and expect great wildlife photos on your phone.
We travelled with Abercrombie and Kent who put together this bespoke package for us.
*This post originally appeared on Life and Love in London Oct 2017