Winding down in the wild

Posted by Tabby on Mon March 27, 2023.

There’s nothing quite like a break in the African bushveld to remind you how to breathe. I could feel it from the moment I entered the 14000 Ha Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, part of and open to the Kruger National Park. It’s as if there’s a sign at the gate saying, “No worries beyond this point.”

Windows down, warm breeze on my face, the melodies of so many birds harmonizing with the quiet cacophony of life in the wild, and air – fresh and fragrant – filling my lungs and feeding my soul. It was a heady welcome, and that was before we’d even reached the lodge. 

The chilled drinks and ready smiles that awaited us upon arrival at Shumbalala Game Lodge set the tone for the rest of our stay. The whole team glows with warm efficiency and professional pride, and one look at the opulence of our enormous room, complete with private plunge pool and an uninterrupted view of the winding dry riverbed beyond, was enough to convince me that these are people who understand how comfort and hospitality should work in the bush. Guests’ comfort and enjoyment is the name of the game, and no effort was spared to ensure our every need was met. 

Between the sparkling pool, the outdoor shower, and the enormous canopied bed all calling my name, I could easily have spent my entire stay in our room. But I knew there was so much more in store for us. After all, what’s a safari without game drives?

Anyone who’s experienced a safari in the African bushveld knows it holds a special kind of magic that needs no interpretation. It gets under your skin and into your bones. A good guide can enhance that magic and weave it together with insights and stories, preserving it in memories that linger long after you’re gone.

Bryce Mitchell is an exceptional guide. His passion for all things great and small is infectious, and no matter how new or knowledgeable you are about all that’s out there, a few drives with him and his tracker, Evans, will bring you that much closer to understanding the natural world and its wonders. Between them, Bryce and Evans pulled back the curtain on Thornybush Nature Reserve and its many stars, including the famous ‘Saseka’ leopardess and her cub, and the Monwana lion pride’s newest (and cutest) additions.

I know of no better way to celebrate great sightings than with champagne sundowners to the quiet, rumbling soundtrack of a nearby herd of Africa’s gentle giants.

Time slows at Shumbalala Game Lodge, but if ever there were a moment I wanted to pause indefinitely, this would have been it. Then again, the following morning I’d have missed out on one of my other favourite experiences: a bushveld breakfast under the trees in the heart of the reserve. 

Every meal at Shumbalala Game Lodge was a delightful experience. Whether it was a fluffy breakfast omelette, a crisp lunchtime salad, or a traditional dinnertime braai, it’s obvious that Chef Benny and his team knows what makes a tummy happy. But it’s the various backdrops to these scrumptious meals that enhance his epicurean delights. Enjoying a meal on the terrace or deck, both of which overlook the waterhole and visiting wildlife; in the cool intimacy of the wine cellar, which offers a similar view; or out in the wild under the trees is quite special, but I think perhaps the extravagant simplicity of one of his delicious desserts beneath a canopy of stars might just trump them all. 

Between our many mealtime masterpieces and all the enchanting sightings, there was also plenty of time to do what we came for: relaxing and unwinding. In the peace of our own little poolside bubble and in the more sociable quiet of the lodge’s main pool, where you barely need to think the word cocktail before one appears in your hand, my sense of time unravelled along with the tension of daily life. I’m sure a few years passed while watching for wildlife through the fragrant steam of my bath. 

And yet, there’s something in the losing of time this way that seems to rejuvenate the spirit and rekindle the soul so that when it ends, as all good things do, you feel lighter, younger even, and ready to step back into the bustle of everyday life beyond the boundaries of this wildlife haven. 

At least until the next visit.

- Article written by Tabby Mittins