Watching this season of Australia’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here has been very exciting , as I’ve recently been on my own trip to South Africa. I know exactly where they are. The series is filmed in Blyde River Canyon near Hoedspruit. Hoedspruit is the airport we flew into before heading to our Safari in the picturesque Ngala Tented Camp. But I’m getting ahead of myself again! This is how it began……
“No, I don’t do tents!“
This was my first response when my husband invited me to stay at Ngala Tented Camps.
“It says here you can go to sleep with the sound of the big cats outside. How will I be able to sleep if I can hear lions roaring?”
“Well, the main lodge is all booked out for a wedding. They are the only rooms available. Plus it’s only a short airline flight from Johannesburg and it lands on a proper runway. No small planes this time.”
I started to warm to the idea. An hour’s flight from Johannesburg beat the four hour van drive or the small plane ride we’d experienced heading to other safaris.
“The elephants come right up and drink from the pool and they have two white lions. Kimba the White Lion was your favourite cartoon when you were a little girl, wasn’t it?”
He had me there, and as I researched further, the rooms did look quite luxurious and many travel sites had voted it one of the best safaris. We’d stayed at other &Beyond lodges before, so I knew they were top notch. Despite my initial misgivings, I finally said YES to my third African Safari.
When you reach Ngala Tented Camp you are greeted by the lovely manager, Tammy and receive a refreshing drink in the main lodge before meeting your own private butler. Our butler Richard (MK) was on hand at all times for anything we needed. A lovely touch!
We were escorted to the rooms which were as luxurious as the website suggested. They did have canvas sides and roof, but that was the only tent-like thing about them. All of the chic and contemporary rooms sport a super king sized bed, a luxurious indoor bath tub, plus a very private outdoor shower (well, sometimes the monkeys can see you), a fabulous free minibar, fans and air conditioning , an outdoor deck and wifi. Built on platforms, each of the nine tented suites, has been designed to blend in with the riverside trees which form a cool, canopy overhead.
The Camp is found on the banks of the Timbavati river and the camp’s lap pool follows the contours of the riverbank. There is a massage Sala and Safari shop and most meals are served in the Main Lodge building. Ngala Tented Camp is set in a 14 700 hectare private game reserve which shares an unfenced boundary with the world renowned Kruger National Park. This ensures that a wide variety of animals move through the park.
We were there in early December so the temperatures were hot, very similar to Summer in Australia, especially in the middle of the day, when we spent most of our time in the pool. It was cooler for morning and evening game drives, but the jackets we’d used on previous safaris stayed in the suitcases at this time of year.
You are always well fed on Safari and the fresh produce at Ngala was delicious. Meals were inventive and plentiful.The beautiful South African wines on offer were a highlight!
In the morning you are woken with a coffee or juice at 5am, so that you are ready for the morning Safari by 5:30. Each morning and evening you are treated to a stop beside a river, on top of a hill or in a shady clearing. Here you can enjoy a coffee or perhaps a hot chocolate with Amarula, accompanied by the chef’s treats of the day, scones with jam and cream or the South African ‘ Crunchie’ ( similar to an Anzac biscuit) paired with dried mango, biltong or nuts. In the afternoon enjoy an iced coffee and juice with afternoon tea, before stopping later in the drive to watch the amazing African sunset with a G&T and savoury snacks in hand.
Breakfast was always welcome after the long drive and you are offered the lovely juice of the day with a selection of fruits, cereals and pastry before you can order eggs your way, or really whatever you desire. Chef’s Eggs Benedict and omelette were specialities.
Back again for lunch, we always started with a cold soup – carrot and orange, parsnip or pumpkin. Then came the inventive lunch platters with a range of different fresh salads, meat ( ostrich skewers, thinly sliced steak , lamb kofta) and things like arancini balls, quiche plus home made bread. There were lovely desserts like watermelon sorbet, lemon curd pavlova or for the chocolate lovers, a self saucing pudding. You could have as much or as little as you pleased.
Dinner was always a delight with the cold soup followed by two choices of main. I enjoyed a lovely duck dish, lamb and some vegetarian dishes. I love the vegetables in South Africa. They are treated with as much love as the meat. Dessert was hard to fit in, but always a delight.
Our butler organised a private romantic dinner on the lodge deck, where we felt like honeymooners watching the stars. We also enjoyed a beautiful barbecue dinner outdoors with the other guests and our ranger on our last night. Kudu stew was on the menu but I chose the chicken. Dessert on this night was the traditional Malva Pudding.
However, the main reason you come to South Africa is the animals. Our ranger, Nick and experienced guide Gianni were wonderful and gave us a magical experience. On the very first day after seeing a herd of impala, we found a young male leopard lounging in a tree. We watched him patiently dozing before Nick said, “ If we stay a little longer he might just come out of the tree!”
Of course, I was praying that he stayed in the tree. He stretched and wiggled before gracefully jumping from the tree and sitting down right next to me. He looked up at me like he was a house cat. He was so close I could have patted him. I I did learn that day that I can stay still and hold my breath for a very long time!
He was actually the first of six leopards we saw on this Safari. Over the next few days we saw a Mum and her daughter up in another sprawling tree and on one of our morning drives we almost ran into a mother and her two baby leopard cubs. That was very exciting tracking them off-road.The babies were so cute!
On another day we were off to track the lions. We were dismayed to hear that a poacher had killed a rhino overnight and the lions, including the white ones, were all feasting on the carcass. As I write these words tears are threatening, as I remember hearing such sad news. Our rangers were devastated.
How can this still be happening? It needs to stop or these amazing animals will not be around for my grandchildren. I know the poachers are just trying to feed their families….. but the people who buy rhino horn products need to stop and stop now! If there is no market no-one will want to kill these magnificent creatures.
When you’ve seen these funny and curious animals in the wild you know what a crime it is! Needless to say we saw no lions on this trip, as the area they were in was now a crime scene.
But we saw so many more amazing animals. We saw three teenage elephants watched over by an old bull elephant. The boys were frolicking, wrestling and splashing in a water hole and the naughtiest one kept trying to scare the hippos wallowing nearby. He also took great delight in chasing away any Cape buffalo trying to come down for a drink. It was an hilarious experience!
The African Wild Dogs or Painted Dogs are always a favourite and we found the pack twice. The puppies gambol and play just like any other puppies and they are a highlight of any African experience. You are very lucky if you happen to see them as they move so fast.
On our first evening drive we watched and heard the laughs of a pack of spotted hyenas as they feasted on a Cape Buffalo. It was a blood curdling experience.
We watched elephants herds lumbering along with the babies in the middle so they were protected. The suicide bird brought so many laughs as he zoomed up before plummeting straight back to earth. There were vultures and warthogs, the beautiful zebra and giraffes, and smaller creatures like mongoose, chameleon and dung beetles. The rhino were magnificent and having our afternoon gin and tonics whilst watching a family of hippos in the waterhole as the sun set ,will stay with me always.
Every morning we were woken by a clap of thunder as the baboons swung down from the trees and ran across the canvas. One morning Hubby had been drinking his orange juice and just popped inside to grab his phone. I heard a noise and when I peeped out saw a little black faced monkey holding the glass and slurping at his juice, just like a little human. This made me laugh so hard! Around the camp were so many creatures; lots of kudu, bushbucks, a huge nyala and a lone funny old warthog with one tusk.
For a magical experience going on a Safari holiday is always amazing. We were planning our next one before we had even left. Ngala Tented Camp provides luxury, a unique Safari experience, great food and friendly, helpful staff. I might just have to go back again soon just to see those white lions. Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to see Dr Chris Brown and Julia Morris at the airport!
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).