Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Umlani Bushcamp, Timbavati Game Reserve

Originally published on

Expect surprise visitors when staying at Umlani Bushcamp in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve...
Within half an hour of my arrival at Umlani Bushcamp, part of the greater Kruger National Park, I had a visitor. A loud rustling had me nervously peering out at a large grey trunk pulling leaves from a marula tree overhanging the pool I had dipped in moments before. Elephants drinking from the rock pool built for human guests are not uncommon. The camp is not fenced.

With only 16 in the camp at a time, Umlani offers personal VIP attention to the needs of guests.
On my first afternoon drive, our ranger Ginger and tracker Shadrack received a radio call that lions were nearby at an elephant carcass. We soon spotted vultures circling - and the surrounding trees were filled with them. Quite a sight, set against the pink sky and setting, red sun. This elephant had been dead for days, but Ginger told us lions had no qualms about eating carrion. Click here to view the gallery of images on gotravel24 website
Call of the drum
We stopped at a hyena den where month-old pups came out to greet us. We returned to camp for a drink in the boma with roaring fire, and were soon called to a delicious dinner by a beating drum.
The food was given rave reviews by guests from Australia, Holland, Canada and the United States. The Australian in our group continued to praise the Tiramisu the following night, saying it was better than that offered by Italian restaurants boasting the best Tiramisu in the world.
We had an Oxtail stew with fluffy mash potato one night, with the tomato based sauce just melting in the mouth. Lemon chicken and basmati rice, pork fillet with a cheese sauce, and always the crunchiest steamed or roast veg accompanying.
Keeping track the green way
The very comfortable accommodation at Umlani is in reed and thatch huts, blending in with the surroundings with the least possible impact to the environment. With no fencing around the camp and paths raked daily by staff, one can pick up tracks in the morning from buffalo, hyena and even lion that traipse through camp as guests sleep.
Bathroom facilities are en-suite, with an open air shower fuelled by wood fires.
The atmosphere in camp, the lantern-lit paths and rooms, showering by moonlight and excellent cuisine are an indulgence - but it is the real bush experience which is the attraction of Umlani, heightened by the au natural and electricity-free.
Bright and crispy start
I suggest laying out your clothes the night before - your wake-up call for the morning drive is early, and you need to dress quickly and get to the bar area for a coffee and rusk before leaving at 6.30 am.
This was the only time I felt the cold, the air of the crisp mornings can be biting, so wrap up in layers that can be peeled off as the sun thaws you out. There was no shortage of lions.
We saw them every day of my four days there. We had an exciting encounter on one evening drive with a male lion getting aggressive with us at a leopard’s impala kill which he had appropriated.
As Formen, our ranger, reversed to get away, the American family that was now only metres from this fearsome growling beast was getting very nervous. But they loved it.
At no point were we in any real danger. The rangers know the bush and have the utmost respect for the wildlife. They do not take risks.
When we came across a rhino with a baby, Ginger said he would not follow her into the bush, and he was also cautious when two male elephants we encountered were in must and challenging each other.
Walking in the bush
You certainly should do a bush walk. Experiencing the bush on foot is very special. Walking single file with Formen carrying a loaded gun, we stopped regularly to learn about the flora and have things pointed out to us we would have otherwise missed.
A hole in the ground we were shown was an antlion’s hunting ground. Formen took a stick and gently touched the side of the hole and up popped a small beetle.
The antlion is one of the “little five”. The others are the buffalo weaver, the elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, and the rhino beetle.
I left Umlani after a few days with a new respect for our environment. The smells and sounds of the bush stay with you for a good few days before city life takes over again and you have to dream of when next you can indulge in a bush adventure.