Southern African adventure of a lifetime, from lost kingdoms to adventurous Safaris
Welcome to your Southern Africa wilderness adventure!
Once you’ve arrived and recovered from your international flight, your trip starts with collecting your vehicle and self-driving to the Kruger National Park. You’ll spend three nights (Day 2 – 5) at Umlani Bushcamp, an ecologically sensitive lodge built out of naturally available materials in the Timbavati reserve in Greater Kruger.
On Day 5, you start your drive towards Mapungubwe, first with an overnight in Tzaneen at the Kings Walden Garden Manor. There will be a chance to visit the Cycad Forest when you’re here.
On Day 6 and Day 7, you’ll be staying at the Venda Village Lodge in Leshiba - a remote mountain hideaway - for two nights.
Arriving in Mapungubwe itself on Day 8, you’ll stay two nights at the Tshugulu Lodge, learning about the fascinating anthropological discoveries made in the area in the 20th century as well as appreciating the most unusual and diverse wildlife to be found in the park.
Day 10 sees you driving towards Madikwe, with an overnight stop at Kololo Game Lodge on the way.
Arriving in Madikwe on Day 11, you’ll spend four nights at Thakadu Camp, enjoying a restful four days of safari after all your long road trip. You’ll then drive back to Johannesburg on Day 15 for a brief overnight in the city.
On Day 16, you take your trip to the central Kalahari, flying from Johannesburg to Maun, and spending four nights at the remote Deception Valley Lodge. Here you’ll have ample opportunity to interact with the ancient San people in their traditional habitat.
Day 20 sees you flying back to Johannesburg, again for an overnight in the city, before your flight home on Day 21.
Welcome to Leighwood Lodge! It’s been a firm favourite of travellers to Johannesburg for many years: we think it’s the tranquillity right in the middle of one of Africa’s largest cities that really sets it apart, as well as the owners, Sam and Leigh, who are the most gracious hosts one can imagine.
Enjoy the lush rose gardens and the extra length beds as well as breakfast served outside if you’d like. There’s a small pool area too for winding down. Leighwood is one of those rare places that is the size of a large house but feels like a luxurious hotel – we do hope you enjoy!
41 - 2nd Ave, Parktown North
Tel +27 (0)11 788 9311
Umlani is a bold and brave take on the more ubiquitous luxury safari lodge to be found all over Kruger. It’s an owner-managed and founded establishment, which Marco and Marie-Louise have built entirely from locally available materials. The whole place is focused on having a minimal environmental impact, meaning the emphasis is on immersing yourself into the bush, its smells, sights and sounds, without the distractions of machines and electricity.
Umlani is entirely unfenced to the reserve in which it sits, the Timbavati Nature Reserve, which is itself unfenced to the Kruger. This is a truly wild place! All Huts are in close proximity of main areas so you won’t have far to walk when at the camp but animals do roam around and often through the camp after dark. Each room has solar torches that the guests may use inside the rooms as they are quite dark at night or to light the pathways when being escorted to and from camp. Rangers will escort you back to your rooms at night for dinner.
Being as environmentally sensitive as possible, the entire bushcamp is off-the-grid for electricity and is solar powered. You’re staying in a Standard Hut which has no power of its own but you can use the camp charging station to charge cell phones and cameras. Umlani does ask if you can avoid it that you don’t use hair dryers or electric shavers as the solar power will not be able to support such high usage. They do have a back up generator to charge the battery bank as needed but it runs on diesel and as such from an environmental perspective, they’d really like not to have to turn it on!
Don’t worry; Umlani is not so basic as not to have running water: the Standard Huts all have gas-heated water. Additionally, water bottles are provided in the rooms and these are replenished daily and the same for the safaris. The tap water is safe to drink, but does have high lime content which gives it a bitter taste. Water bottles are provided for Safaris.
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve
Tel +27 21 785 5547
Kings Walden Manor
Kings Walden Garden Manor is a splendid owner-managed establishment (Bill and Minette have been the owners for the last ten years). They have a long background in the hospitality industry in Botswana, and seeing as you’re going there on this trip, you might like to talk to them about that part of their lives. They are normally onsite at breakfast and in the evenings.
The real attraction at Kings Walden is how the building itself is beautifully situated, with each room opening out on to the gardens (which are enormous) and through which you can stroll, coming across wonderful views all the time.
Many people think of Limpopo as a hot, dry, desert like province and whilst it does suffer from regular, crippling droughts, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by the tropical verdancy of Tzaneen and its surrounds. The town of Tzaneen manages to retain some of the atmospheric moisture that passes over it from the Wolkberg (literally ‘cloudhill’) Mountains that form the back drop to it and so it’s actually subtropical in climate.
We’d definitely recommend spending some time at the Tzaneen Museum (which has a lot to interest the anthropologist, particularly the collection of drums belonging to the Rain Queen Modjadji. Interestingly, males cannot be heirs in the Balobedu tribe of which she is monarch – it’s always been a matrilineal rule). Sadly the royal line is under threat and there’s currently a dispute of the legitimacy of the last queen, Makobo’s, daughter.
If you’ve the time, we’d also recommend taking a walk through the Grootbosch Nature Reserve, where you can follow the Lesodi Trail (also called the Swartbos Trail) through the misty mountain forests. The moisture is so thick here that wild orchids grow in the trees of many varieties and shapes and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see parrots and monkeys who call this place home.
Old Coach Road, Agatha
Tel +27 (0) 15 307 3262
Leshiba Game & Nature Reserve
Hopefully you’ll find your way to this fantastic mountain retreat! Leshiba is located in the Soutpansberg Mountains, which are part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (interestingly your next stop, Mapungubwe, is part of the same reserve). The reason for being awarded this status is the staggering array of biodiversity in the region (both flora and fauna) which is among the most diverse on the entire continent.
Leshiba is a most unusual place: taking its lead both from the art and culture of the local people, indigenous knowledge practices and also the indigenous wildlife of the area, it puts a strong emphasis on cultural and artistic traditions into the concept of a wilderness safari. To this end, much of the lodging is built not just by local builders but by artists and craftspeople: this is the pioneering work of the Rosmarin family who have made it their personal mission to not only use and commission Venda artists but to promote and train them. Many artists who’ve come into contact with Leshiba have reached international acclaim.
You are staying in the Venda Village Lodge in the Marula Room. Your rate at Leshiba is full board (dinner, brunch, breakfast) and also includes one activity per day (either a bush walk or a game drive). The walks take place in the morning, starting around 07h00, and the drives in the evening, starting around 16h00. Both activities are between 2 and 2.5 hours long.
You do not need to book any more activities than this (unless you want to) as there are over 12 well marked hiking trails right from your front door (no ranger needed). However, they do also offer horse trails if you’re interested and massages.
You may also be interested in visits to local artists (the Venda tribe in the area produces some spectacular pottery) or a visit to the many local natural attractions like Sacred Lake Fundudzi.
As with Umlani, there is only solar power at Leshiba but it’s more limited here. They only have the generator working in the mornings from 07h00 to 13h00, so if you need to charge devices, that’s the time to do it. You won’t be permitted to use hair dryers or irons or in fact any electric device that uses an electric element.
Tel +27 (0) 11 483 1841
Mapungubwe is - like the Kruger Park - a trans-frontier park, spread across the borders of four countries (though on a much smaller scale than Kruger!) There’s a lot to see and do at Mapungubwe: we’d suggest orientating yourselves using the park map.
Unusually for a national park, Mapungubwe has much more than just wildlife to attract visitors: a discovery of several tombs in 1932 revealed some remarkable artefacts of a lost civilisation that inhabited the area around CE1200 – 1300. Very little is known about the Mapungubwe people but you can learn a lot at the Mapungubwe Interpretive Centre which houses a museum section that has many of the artefacts uncovered in the park on display. You can ask to be guided around the centre if you like and up to the top of Mapungubwe hill where the original grave sites were found.
Don’t let this fascinating human history make you think that the wildlife is somehow secondary, however. You can expect to see all of the Big 5, including elephant, giraffe and lion whilst in the park.
The vistas at Mapungubwe are a large part of your visit: there is a treetop walkway (watch out for the baboons!) with hides set along it from where you can observe animals drinking from the Limpopo River.
Tel +27 (0) 15 534 7923/4
Kololo has a superb situation: located in the Waterberg Biosphere (yes, it stretches this far), it offers its own game viewing and activities on site, but is also surrounded by several large public reserves.
A particularly nice feature of Kololo is that they have separated the reserve into areas where there is no predatory game and areas where there is. The latter you can only access with a ranger either on foot or in a vehicle, but the former you can walk or cycle through to your heart’s content. The fences between the two sections are transparent, so you can have the wonderful sensation of cycling a bicycle through the bush, coming across a lion and not being bothered about it at all!
We’re also proud to say that Kololo is Fair Trade in Tourism fully accredited and certified. The owners, Ton and Yvonne Jansen, have backgrounds in the wintersport business in Austria but have deep connections to South Africa.
Amongst the many initiatives they have started, not least the constant fight against alien vegetation which is so harmful to the soil, animals and water resources, they also have established ‘Friends of Kololo’, which allows visitors to make contributions to particular sections of the sustainability initiatives of the place. You can choose to support the anti-poaching, the ecology or the social welfare projects they run.
Tel +27 (0) 14 721 920
Madikwe Game Reserve
Madikwe is a partially privately owned and community-owned public park. However, most of the lodges within it are privately owned, with one or two being community-owned establishments.
It’s very large, being the fifth largest park in the country but because of its relatively remote location (it’s actually almost on the border with Botswana) it doesn’t get the column inches that Kruger gets, for example.
Thakadu sits on the banks of the Marico river and your luxury tent will have a private deck leading off it to enjoy the wildlife sightings along the river day and night.
Madikwe Game Reserve, Molatedi
Tel +27 (0) 18 365 9912
Deception Valley Lodge
If you’re looking for an utterly unique safari location set in a true wilderness, Deception Valley Lodge is it. It borders on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and was one of the first lodges to be established in this area.
There’s a natural waterhole right in front of the lodge which attracts the local inhabitants of all shapes and sizes by day and by night. There are only eight suites, each with a bedroom, separate lounge area, en-suite bathroom with Victorian bath and outdoor shower. The lodge itself has a swimming pool and a myriad of verandas and public rooms in which to relax, should you feel like being social.
The history of the lodge is particularly interesting: formed by a group of Botswanan shareholders over twenty years ago, the lodge is now managed by Braam Badenhorst, whose original idea the establishment of the lodge was. He was actually born and raised in the area, growing up alongside several different clans of the San people, learning of and being fully immersed in their way of life. He is as such able to claim a deep knowledge of San culture and history, having fostered trust with them over the course of his whole life.
You might think that being located in the middle of a desert that there’s not a huge amount to do at Deception Valley Lodge. In fact, the reverse is true: activities are very varied and plentiful. The Reserve’s extensive network of tracks make for perfect day and night driving terrain (personally we find the night drives through the desert even more fascinating than the day!).
The Kalahari sand offers excellent opportunities for tracking lion and leopard and where your guide can follow off road as this is a private game reserve (so your guide has freedom to drive you and walk with you wherever and whenever and the only other humans you’ll encounter will be staying at the same lodge).
The lodge also offers a highly acclaimed Bushman (San) experience. Whilst walking through a terrain that appears to the uninitiated to offer little in the way of sustenance, you’ll come to realize that, in fact, it is a treasure-trove of fruits, berries, tubers, barks, herbs and flowers used in cooking, medicine, ceremonies and for a plethora of other purposes.
The San worldview of the mammals, birds, reptiles and insects that form part of the fascinating panoply of their desert world is totally different to that of Western scientific taxonomies. You’ll learn of both ways of looking at exactly the same animal, itself a wonder.
100% ecologically sensitive accommodation