The matriarch

This May we’re honouring the matriarch … and we visit the extraordinary Tintswalo Safari Lodge, where ellie is queen.

We sat for an hour or so in an open vehicle late one afternoon, quietly watching a herd of about 40 elephant – from a graceful matriarch who kept a watchful eye on us to a youngster of just a few months old – swimming, rolling and cooling down in the dam. Quite probably the most peaceful, relaxing hour of the year so far.

It wasn’t the first elephant sighting of the trip. There was a trio standing under the jackal-berry tree which shades the deck of Tintswalo Safari Lodge … taking turns to drink from a hosepipe that’s hooked up in the branches.

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Then there was the young bull we encountered on an early morning drive, who trumpeted and did a little mock charge and showed off his muscles by breaking branches off a small tree … determined to show us who was boss. Such a teenager!

The elephants were definitely the highlight of our trip to this magnificent lodge in the Manyeleti Game Reserve, which is surrounded by the unfenced borders of the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands and Timbavati.

The lodge prides itself on offering guests an authentic African safari experience. And by golly does it deliver!

The game viewing is exceptional. A leopard mum lazed in a tree while her cub played in the dry river bed below. A rather smooth young cheetah showed off … posing for a good 10 minutes on a fallen log … model-like in his turns to ensure everyone got a great shot. Hyenas were less friendly … darting across the road after sundown and disappearing quickly into thick bush. We saw – and not just briefly – lions and rhino and giraffe and a host of antelope and so much more.

Rangers and trackers – most of the latter from the native Shangaan communities – are passionate and skilled, so it’s doubtful you’ll leave without seeing a few of the big five. If you’re lucky, you’ll have ranger and tracker duo Eric and Foster, who could well star as a comedy duo in a show if they gave up their day jobs.

As exciting as rounding a corner to encounter a rhino may be, is rounding one and coming across the Welcome to Bush Drinks sign … an opening where drinks and snacks are spread out for a pre-dinner treat. The next morning, the same area is transformed into an outdoor breakfast venue. Mimosas and eggs with a soundtrack of birdsong.

Dinner could be on the verandah, or in the dry river bed in front of the lodge, and trust us, it’s a dinner that’s sensational.

Sensational, too, are the rooms … from the grand two-bedroom Grant and Baines presidential suites to the smaller but no less desirable Explorer Suites. All have private plunge pools and wooden decks, wood burning fireplaces and baths with a view! So romantic.
With just six suites, the lodge is never overcrowded … and if you’re after total privacy for you and your family, you can book the Manor House – an exclusive use villa with five en-suite bedrooms, its own chef, butler, and game vehicle.

The rates include all meals, house wines and soft drinks, two game drives a day, a 15 minute back and neck massage as well as everything else you’d expect from a luxury lodge … Wi-Fi and mini bars, free laundry and the like. Children under 12 aren’t allowed at the main lodge, but those nine and older are welcome in the presidential suites, where personalised itineraries and kid’s programmes can be arranged.

Rates are from R11 905, but vary depending on suites, seasons and specials, so it’s worth visiting the website. Details:

An elephant is killed, on average, every 15 to 20 minutes. Let that sink in a little. These gentle, magnificent creatures are a species in crisis. The authors of The Last Elephants, Don Pinnock and Colin Bell, hope their book will fulfil two wishes … that at CITES 2019 elephants will be upgraded to Appendix I (forbidding trade of elephants or their parts across international borders) and that those countries that receive and use legal and poached ivory (mainly China, Vietnam, Laos and Japan) will ban and police its trade and use. In the book, the story of our continent’s elephants and the dangers they face is told through the eyes of more than 40 researchers, conservationists, poets, activists and rangers. With a foreword by HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, the book is also a tribute to the people who work for the welfare of elephants, particularly those who risk their lives for them, often for little or no pay. Exceptional photographs, an exceptional book. Penguin, R490

This month we’re drinking Indlovu Gin … made from elephant dung (yes, really!). Elephants eat all day, consuming vast amounts of fruit and plants that often aren’t digested … and it’s this lovely savannah vegetation that gives Indlovu Gin its unique, woody, earthy flavours. Perfect for an African sundowner. R615 from Yuppie Chef, with 15 per cent of the profits going to the African Foundation to support their conservation work through the Phinda Wildlife Project.

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