After enduring the longest flight of our lives, my family arrived in South Africa’s mega city in the pitch black of night. We were picked up and zoomed outside of the city to the suburbs where we would be spending our first two nights at Moafrika Lodge. The start of our three week family South African adventure would start with a six day G Adventures Kruger Safari.
The following morning I felt like a total zombie. The Moafrika Lodge has three rottweilers and a coop full of chickens on property which make waking up at the crack of dawn a breeze. My family opted to spend our first day recuperating from our journey. That evening we were introduced to our tour leader who debriefed the group on what to expect over the next few days and joined us at the bar for our first South African beer cheers (ice cold bottles of Castle). That evening we sat around the table together enjoying a traditional South African BBQ featuring grilled beef, roast chicken, spiced sausage and pap slathered in tomato gravy.
The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn (you will notice early mornings become habitual during this tour). We jumped into a minivan at 5am and spent the next several hours zooming along the highway towards Kruger National Park. We took a few breaks along the way to stretch our legs and grab snacks. I personally was still so exhausted I dozed off most of the way.
In the early afternoon we arrived at the stunning Simbavati River Lodge where we would be spending the next two nights. The lodge is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve which borders Kruger National Park. In 1993 the fences between the Kruger National Park and the Timbavati Reserve were removed to encourage natural species migration. Today the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve comprises 53,392 hectares of private land adjoining the Kruger National Park. Currently, there are over 40 mammal species in the Timbavati including the Big Five as well as 360 species of bird life.
Before arriving at Simbavati we first had to make our way through the Timbavati Gates. We then drove for another hour to the lodge, pleased to get our first glimpses of the African wild. We spotted several elephants, kudu and warthogs along the way.
Our jaws dropped when we arrived at the Simbavati reception, the place was absolutely stunning. We were greeted with welcome cocktails and sat in an open concept lobby while we were given our room keys. We were told that since on a private reserve animals are free to roam wherever they please. We were advised that baboons, hyaenas, kudo and even elephants and lions are known to regularly visit the front desk. At night the lodge have staff available to take you to and from your room. Room keys are affixed with an emergency whistle.
Simbavati was the creme de la creme of accommodation on our tour. My sister and I shared a glamping tent (glamorous-camping) which featured two beds with fluffy duvet, bathtub, porcelain sinks and outdoor jungle shower. Meals were served up buffet style and offered a taste of local (kudu steaks were tender and delicious) as well as classics such as roast chicken and salads.
We enjoyed four game drives at Simbavati over the next two days. Early morning game drives start at the crack of dawn around 5am while evening drives start in the mid afternoon and end at dusk. The game drive experience really reminded us all of Jurassic Park, sitting in massive 4×4 off roading vehicles which swirled around on dirt jungle paths. When an animal was spotted our driver (much to our shock initially and humour long term) would drive right off the path and start bulldozing the vehicle over boulders and shrubs. It is important to note that you can only enjoy this unique game drive experience on private reserves. If you are hoping to do a safari during your trip to South Africa and only plan on visiting Kruger or Ado Elephant Park for example you have to stick to the roads in your own closed vehicle.
Our driver was fantastic and ensured that we saw the Big 5 by lurching about the reserve. Much to my dismay, my Canon G10 broke on our first game drive. For the rest of my trip I would have to use my iPhone and mothers rather outdated point and shoot to capture the rest of my trip.
We enjoyed our last early morning game drive then grabbed a quick breakfast at the lodge before hopping back in a mini van bound for the main gates. We were greeted by our Tour Leader who transfered our luggage into his vehicle. We made a quick stop at a local grocery store to pick up provisions for lunch then found ourselves at the Phabeni Gate of Kruger National Park.
We spent the afternoon zooming around Kruger National Park from the comfort of our mini van. We saw lots of monkeys, zebra, giraffe and kudu along the way. While a visit to Kruger is most certainly a must when visiting South Africa, if you are crunched for time I would most certainly suggest visiting a private reserve for the off roading open air 4×4 experience. Zooming around in a little mini van on paved roads in Kruger National Park just doesn’t compare.
Just as the sun was setting over Kruger we arrived at Nkambeni Tented Lodge where we would be spending the night glamping and eating ourselves silly. I had a quick shower and then joined my sister at the main lodge where we chilled out by the pool. Once the sun had set we walked back up to the lodge and found our tour leader and parents by the bar enjoying a bottle of wine. We had just finished the quintessential African safari adventure and celebrated with wee shot glasses full of Amarula. After a fantastic feast buffet styles we headed to bed and woke up early the next morning for our next adventure along the Panorama Route.
Highlights of our Simbavati Game Drives included:
- spotting a massive herd of water buffalo as they arrived at a drinking hole.
- wine and beer enjoyed at the end of each evenings game drive.
- off-roading to follow a leopard.
- the humour of the yawning hippopotamus.
- being charged, twice, by a massive male elephant.
- spotting two female lions sun tanning on the road.
- enjoying a silent (and rare) moment with two endangered rhinoceros.