Hotel check: Tanda Tula Safari Camp; Timbavati

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What’s it like?

One of the original safari camps in the middle of South Africa’s Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and forming part of the Greater Kruger National Park, Tanda Tula is a firm favourite with international visitors and locals alike, as the traversing area of over 20 000 hectares literally teems with game, including the Big Five.  This is a lodge with a number of differences. First, it’s privately owned by the Hugo family, who have a long and proud history with the land, the local community and the conservation of the reserve itself.

It has the cosy and familiar feel of a bygone era. Secondly, it’s steeped in history as the oldest established camp in the Timbavati and, thirdly, it accommodates guests in traditional East African safari-style private tents, which are nestled along the Nlharalumi riverbed and overlooking a watering hole. The open-plan central lodge blends into its surroundings and is elegant, but not stuffy, and an infinity rim-flow guest swimming pool discreetly abuts the water hole and is protected by single electrified elephant wire.  It feels like genuine Africa, because it is.


Where is it?

By car, the reserve is around a five-hour drive from Johannesburg along good roads, and the final few kilometres on a sand-sealed road ensure that a normal vehicle can reach the camp with ease. There are also regularly scheduled, daily flights available from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport which is just 30 minutes’ drive away, or some 90 minutes from Phalaborwa Airport (which is Business Traveller Africa’s favourite South African airport). Transfers to and from the airports is provided by the camp staff and is included in the guest rate.  Third, private charter flights can take you to a private airstrip situated close to the camp.

How many rooms?

There are twelve, well-appointed (but not air-conditioned) private luxury safari tents. Each has a private deck and an en-suite bathroom with inside Victorian-styled baths and a separate linked outdoor, very private shower. The tents are comfortably furnished and have large fans, which are necessary in the summer months. For guests requiring complete privacy, there is a separate exclusive camp, Tandala, accommodating four or six guests, with a private pool, fabulous lounge and sweeping deck overlooking the riverbed. A private chef, ranger and vehicle can also be arranged for this section of the camp.

Lodge facilities

Life at Tanda Tula revolves around both the guests and the flora and fauna of the reserve. Early morning and afternoon game drives are firmly on the menu and the game viewing is usually spectacular. On our visit we watched a leopard hunting for over 45 minutes as well as a pack of wild dogs defending their territory from an itinerant hyena – all on one morning. Both the game rangers and camp staff alike seem to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings and are dedicated to service excellence and delivering a memorable guest experience.  Our food, traditional African fare, was average in both quantity and quality – yet the guests around us were totally satisfied.

A special area of interest is the new walking safaris which Tanda Tula has begun operating in January of this year. Guests may choose from a one- or two-night camping stay in the bush, walking exclusively with a private ranger and with an exclusive catered meal service, in the reserve itself, before finishing off their stay with a last night in the main camp itself.  Designed for small groups – or even couples – this is a rare opportunity to walk, camp and live in a Big Five reserve, which will soon prove to be very popular.

Verdict

Tanda Tula is for those looking for a truly unique, but not top quality and price safari experience.  There are smarter and more exclusive lodges available, but this one fits comfortably into the top end of the middle bracket of its genre.  We would stay there again based on the order of what we enjoyed the most: the reserve itself, the animal and birdlife, the friendliness of the staff and then lastly the accommodation and the food.  A brief Internet check on www.tripadvisor.com would leave you in doubt, though, that this property is highly rated by its guests.

Rates

Current summer specials include a ‘book for two and stay for three night’ package.  Rates are R4700 per person sharing per night until 30 April, and thereafter drop to R3450 per person sharing until 30 September 2010.  These rates include accommodation, all meals, soft drinks, local beers, house wines and spirits, game activities and 14% VAT.

Contact

For more information visit tandatula.co.za.

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