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24 Hours in the Timbavati Reserve with Kambaku River Sands

24 Hours in the Timbavati Reserve with Kambaku River Sands


The Timbavati Reserve lies in the depths of the Greater Kruger area. Green and lush, with terrain ranging from far reaching savanna to dense thickets, the area provides the ideal playground for any first time or seasoned safari goer.

Long established as a private nature reserve, the fences that separated the area and the Kruger National Park were officially taken down in 1993, resulting in many wildlife species now calling the area their home.

On a windy, chilly bush weekend, we were invited to spend the night at Kambaku River Sands, a romantic safari lodge in easy driving distance from the Timbavati Reserve gates. Upon arrival into the reserve, one’s excitement always begins to peak, and one’s senses seem to heighten automatically as we try to distinguish between the oddly shaped tree stump and the back end of a lion. Within just 20 minutes of comfortable tar and dirt roads, we arrived at the lodge. Right away we were greeted by Johan, the lodge manager, who instructed us to relax and leave our bags – someone would pick them up and bring them to our room for us.

My first impression of the lodge was one of wilderness. Though the buildings are large and spacious, and the configuration of the suites and common areas leave much privacy, one feels overcome with a sense of space. The private suites seem to hide behind tall grass and ageing trees – almost like nature herself had placed a gate or a fence around each one.

The camp is completely unfenced, adding an ever present sense of adventure to the experience. It is not uncommon for animals to wander throughout camp, and it is for that very reason that guests are always escorted to and from their rooms in the ‘danger hours’ – dawn, dusk and nightfall.

Johan showed us to the main area of the lodge, which set the theme for the rest of the accommodation – open, with a modern indoor and outdoor flow, expansive views and warm staff. As we were greeted with a welcome drink, a lone elephant rambled along the opposite side of the riverbed, providing a wonderful start to our stay. A wine cellar/ground level hide provided a surprise addition, perfect for romantic and intimate experiences.

The lodge itself sleeps 20 people, and only allows children over 12 – providing the perfect escape for honeymoon couples, or any couples wanting to enjoy a romantic getaway.

One of Kambaku’s luxury suites

As we were shown to our room, I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the suite – easily large enough for two, with plenty of space to relax and unwind – a gigantic bed (mosquito net, of course) with a lounge area too, overlooking the open riverbed and shrubbery. The bathroom is one of the most spacious ones I’ve seen, with a romantic claw foot bath overlooking the bush, and an indoor/outdoor free flow shower, his and hers sinks (always helpful!), with slippers and robes for that extra touch of comfort. I am always a sucker for attention to detail, so this ticked a box for me. Before he left us, Johan turned and said, ‘Oh, just one more thing – the hyenas have been eating the deck chairs lately, so that is why you might see a bite mark on one of them…’. Talk about excitement! He also pointed to the sliding door (and the gauze door that was in front of it), and suggested that while it was perfectly safe to sleep with the door open (in order to hear the wildlife at night), we must please keep the gauze door closed for safety. After hearing about the hyenas, he certainly didn’t need to tell us twice!

The perfect spot to relax for an afternoon, watching animals enjoy a drink at the watering hole

We unpacked and made ourselves comfortable, Rod cracking open a beer for us both. That was a great benefit of the lodge – minibars in the room itself was a convenient addition, especially as the walk to the main common lounge was quite a distance. We relaxed for an hour, alternating between the comfy lounge chairs inside, and the laid back deck chairs outside. We often heard rustles in the bush, setting our imaginations on fire.

As the warmth of the day began to reside, it was time to join our fellow guests for high tea, and to meet our ranger. Palence greeted us with a round smile, and I knew right away we were in good hands. Having been in the industry for many years, Palence inherited his love of the bush from his Grandfather, who worked at a nearby reserve while Palence was growing up. He would visit him often, and hear tales of what it was like to live a wild life. This inspired him to change his career path from wanting to join the police, to becoming a ranger.

Hanging out with Kenny and Palence on our morning safari coffee break

As we sat down and met the other guests, we were invited to enjoy a multitude of snacks – sweet treats in the form of caramel cupcakes, along with savoury eats such as quiche and boerewors – our local South African sausage. This was accompanied with a selection of beverages, including home made iced coffee – a real treat in the bush!

After being asked what we fancied for our sundowner drinks (gin and tonic for me, Castle Lite for Rod!), we hopped into the game vehicle and set off with the perfect safari attitude – NO expectations. I was stoked to see the vehicle had a box for storage in each row, where the middle seat usually is – making it wonderfully comfortable with only 6 people per vehicle. We were joined by tracker Kenny, who had an air of absolute expertise about him – spotting tracks and signs of animals far in the distance long before the vehicle drove close to them.

We were treated to Palence’s encyclopaedic knowledge – he seemed to know a fun fact about every bird, plant, tree and animal that we came across! He even taught us about the medicinal and tribal qualities of many plants, which I enjoyed. To me, having been in this industry for seven years now, the mark of a good guide is one that can excite guests even when there are no animals to be seen. Though this wasn’t the case on our drive (we saw many species of animals and birds, including zebra, impala, elephant, buffalo, warthog and so much more), it always leaves a marked impression when the rangers go above and beyond the stock standard information about the many different species part of the Greater Kruger.

Kambaku’s traversing area is a good 11,000ha, which is one of the larger traversing areas in the region. The bigger a traversing area is, the wider variety of animals can call it home, and thus the higher your chances are of seeing a good variety of species out there. Just in the 3 hour drive, we saw many different terrains, accompanied by various species you only find in those kind of areas! Again, this completely exemplifies the importance of choosing a lodge with a large traversing area.


The highlight of our drive was watching a group of elephant females munch away peacefully on some trees. They were accompanied by a large adult bull elephant, who was in musth. Palence had told us earlier about a bull (also in musth) that had charged them on their morning drive, which made me watch our new friend VERY carefully.


Anyone who has ever locked eyes with an elephant absolutely knows the undeniable power that lies within these extraordinary creatures. They are far deeper than we can imagine, or that we give them credit for. A certain energy comes over you when you’re in their presence, and this is amplified when there is a bull who just wants to mate, and will mess up anything that gets in his way! This also resonates with the power of a good ranger – knowing the species well enough to see when they’re relaxed and happy with your presence, and when they absolutely aren’t!

As we made our way to our ‘sundowner stop’, the sky began to grow darker, threatening to release much needed rain in the form of a storm. Luckily, it passed just as quickly as it had gathered.

A storm brews in the distance….

One of my favourite parts about the actual game drives is the midway stop. I like my food, ok?!
Palence brought us to a massive dam, just as the sun began to set, showing us a treehouse hide that Kambaku offers as a private experience for guests to view game from. We enjoyed chips and traditional snacks, along with our well earned (looking for animals is tough!) drinks. Just a note/small FYI for the ladies here – Palence brought along toilet paper and paper bags to use when you need to take a bush pee! Again – totally love the attention to detail! We spotted many cute little critters, like the squirrel below.

On the way back to the lodge, Kenny once again showed us how talented he was by spotting a chameleon hiding in a bush – need I mention that it was night time, and the only aide he had was that of a spotlight! AMAZING!

As we arrived back at camp, we were greeted with warm towels to refresh ourselves with, and a glass of sherry to warm us up a little more. After being escorted by torchlight to our rooms, we were given half an hour or so to relax before dinner – we took an opportunity to check emails and catch up on a little work (WiFi in all rooms – great for some people, unwanted for others – but happy to see the option there!), before Palence arrived at the door again, ready to take us back to the main lodge. It added a thrilling level of excitement, to be escorted around the camp – a reminder that we truly were out in the Wild!

Dinner was served on the deck overlooking the open riverbed, underneath a cloudy sky. It was mesmerising to hear the call of many different nocturnal birds and animals as they ‘woke up’ for their turn to play, all while enjoying a good choice of house wines – The Protea range. A glass of merlot was savoured with TWO starters – tomato soup, followed by springbok carpaccio. Once completed, we were brought our choice of lamb chops or dorado, served with rice and vegetables. This was tied together with either a chocolate brownie, or apple pie, for dessert. With very full tummies and happy conversation with Palence and Sharon (Kambaku’s wonderful reservationist), Rod and I departed back to the bedroom with the rest of our merlot, headed straight for a relaxing bath before falling asleep to the sound of owls and hyenas floating through the gauze door.

The bath was STUNNING…

At 5:30am, Palence gave us a wake up call in the form of a hello and a friendly ‘Good morning’, ensuring we were up. We were actually – I like to get up a few minutes earlier so that I have time for a super quick shower before heading out on drive!

Happy with coffee and a mid-safari snack!

The air was crisp, and it held the promise of a beautiful day before us. We joined our ranger and other guests for a quick cup of coffee before jumping back into the vehicle and out onto the morning drive. There is nothing more captivating than that of an African sunrise or sunset. Something magical takes over the land, and all those who are witness of it are frozen in time.

We were blessed with buffalo and elephant once more, along with many stunning birds and raptors. The final sighting of the morning, as we were on our way back to the lodge for breakfast, was my favourite of the entire experience. Palence spotted a massive herd of elephants, and navigated his way gently into the herd. He pre-empted where they were going to cross, and stopped the vehicle. We watched in silence as the elephants – there must have been 20 or 30 of them – crossed in front of us or munched around us. There were 3 or 4 young, young elephant calves, and this was pure magic to see. Playing gently with each other, learning to use their trunks, showing off to us by flapping their ears and raising their trunks before running back to their Moms.

The morning was finished off with a seriously divine breakfast – an array of dishes were presented, ranging from cold choices such as cereal, yoghurt and fruit, complemented with a buffet of different salads, cheeses and crackers. Once we’d finished our first meal, we were then offered eggs cooked our liking with a wide variety of sides! Kambaku River Sands certainly scored high on the food, among the other aspects too! I remember being notably impressed by their food a few years back, when visiting their sister property (also in the Timbavati) – Kambaku Safari Lodge.

Kambaku River Sands is an excellent choice of lodge for the couple seeking privacy and space, with fantastic opportunities for varied game viewing. Well done to Bryce and Nicola, the owners of the Kambaku brand, for creating such a magical place for people from all over the world to create life-long memories. The food is superb, the traversing area fantastic, and the overall experience exactly what one would imagine. Can’t wait to visit again!


The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari

The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari



The updated, in depth Ebook designed to assist you in understanding the Kruger safari dynamics. Packed full of insider advice and info, The Ultimate Guide to Planning your Kruger Safari is your one stop shop for everything safari!

Overwhelmed by the massive choice of lodges and camps? Don’t know the difference between the private and public Kruger? Worried about approaching elephants when self driving? Want to learn game viewing etiquette? Not sure what budget you should choose for your safari? Wondering about which car to rent? Don’t know whether to stay at a lodge or self drive? THIS IS FOR YOU! Fresh off the press, we’ve launched our first ever SAFARI PLANNING GUIDE, packaged in an Ebook format for all you go getters! Sit back, relax, and enjoy our ULTIMATE GUIDE TO PLANNING YOUR KRUGER SAFARI.


We’ve created a specially designed Ebook for all safari goers – with over 40 pages PACKED with insider information and personal knowledge to help you create and plan your ULTIMATE SAFARI.

Along with factual and first hand experience advice, and a breakdown of both the public (self drive) and the private (lodge) experiences, we’ve included many tasty tidbits to assist you;

  • Common animal checklist
  • How to Approach Elephants Safely
  • Top Safari Mistakes – and how to avoid them!
  • All about Tipping
  • Game Viewing Etiquette
  • Safari Cuisine – what your tastebuds can expect
  • How to pick Your Perfect Lodge
  • Budget Guide
  • What to pack for you Safari
  • Detailed Kruger history and Information
  • Transport

And MUCH more!

If you’ve been at it for a while, or you are a safari newbie, this Ebook is perfect for anyone who wants first hand knowledge and advice for their Kruger safari.
Designed with the reader in mind, we break down every portion of your safari experience, assisting you to pick your ULTIMATE Kruger adventure!

Created by Jacqui Sive, owner and operator of Lodge Trackers Safari Specialists (based right in the Kruger area!), your Ebook will provide you with everything you need to know to plan the ultimate Kruger adventure. Lodge Trackers – Bringing you the Best of the Bush!


The Top Three Factors that will Make or Break your Safari Experience

The Top Three Factors that will Make or Break your Safari Experience

A safari in South Africa, and particularly in the Greater Kruger, is a once in a lifetime experience for many. You might spend months or even YEARS saving for your getaway, and even longer planning it. There are so many factors that come into matching your wants and needs with a lodge, so here are my absolute ‘non negotiables’ – the Top 3 factors that I think make or break a safari.

Though this sounds like a TOTAL no brainer, all guides are not actually created equal. Plus, each lodge has different ideas about what makes a good guide. You’ll find some that are purely focused on the Big 5, which is understandable as they receive the most marketing (and bring in the most tips if the ranger can find them), and others that are more holistically focused on a wider experience. There are some lodges that have student programs, and even these differ – for example, one lodge might only employ ‘junior guides’ after they’ve had a year or more experience, whereas others have deals with ranger training programs that they give them 6-12 months experience as a working ranger once their course is completed etc. There are just so many different factors that make a ‘good’ guide, so let me break it down a little more.

It is a common assumption that all game rangers are amazing – and actually, most are – but it really pays to check out the details on who will be making or breaking your safari experience. For example – What level FGASA are they? Do they hold any SKS qualifications (Special Knowledge and Skills)? How long have they been in the industry? And so on.

As mentioned above, some lodges only employ seasoned guides, and some have student programs where guides who are newly qualified work there for 6-12 months to get experience.
I am not at all saying that a new guide won’t be as great as a seasoned one or vice versa – but obviously the higher level FGASA they are, the longer they have been involved in the industry… These are things to be thinking about.

FGASA levels are like the ‘steps up the game ranger career’. I know that they are looking at changing the official names, so don’t pay too much attention here, but for example you’ve got FGASA Level 1, 2, and 3. You then have Back Up Trails Guide and Lead Trails Guide. Further to this, you’ve got SKS – Dangerous Game, Wild Flowers, Birds etc…

To officially work at a lodge, you only need FGASA 1 and maybe Back Up Trails depending on the lodge. So as you can see, there is a lot higher one can go than this. For example – There are only a really small handful of guides that I will trust to walk with out in the wild. And by walk, I don’t mean a quick bushwalk in between breakfast and lunch – I mean focusing on approaching and watching wildlife on foot – once in a lifetime experience! There are others that I really wouldn’t trust to do this with. You can read an in depth example of this here.

There will be an in depth post coming soon where we will explore what to look for when choosing a lodge based on the game ranger, so keep an eye out for further info.


Rates start at around R2,200 per person per night and can go all the way up to R22,000+ per person per night with tonnes of options in between at the Greater Kruger lodges, so it is really important to have a close look at WHY there is such a huge difference. Mostly, any agent or any ranger or anyone who has been on safari will tell you that you are paying extra for LUXURY. The animals really don’t know (or care, haha!) if you’re spending $200 or $2000 per night – they have the ENTIRE Greater Kruger (and KNP!) to call home. So, when choosing a lodge based purely on the opportunity to have good sightings, there are two major factors.

One of the most important aspects that will define your game viewing experience is a traversing area. A traversing area is where the lodge can drive on a safari. So, generally speaking, the larger a traversing area is, the wider variety of habitats it can hold, and this the wider variety of species can call it home. This will enable you to have a more varied game viewing experience, as different animals like different terrains.

Plus, if you’re staying for more than 2 nights, it’ll give you plenty of new areas to explore.

With regards to traversing areas, you’ll find that most lodges have traversing areas that they share with other lodges. They sort of interlap. So a lodge might have, say, 7000ha of traversing space, but they might share this with anywhere from 3 – 10 lodges. This can affect things too, because if you’re in a traversing area that has a tonne of other lodges, your ranger may be able to communicate with the other rangers out on drive to see who has found what where (animal wise!) – but this is a double edged sword, as this might take away from the ‘wild’ feeling of actually finding animals on your own, or you may find you bump into more other vehicles/people than you’d like.
Some lodges also have private land where only they traverse, which makes for a really wild experience.

For a safari of more than 2 nights, I would say 4,000 – 6,000+ is ideal.

Another really important aspect when choosing a lodge based on game viewing is not only whether the traversing area holds water sources, but also whether the lodge itself has any of these attractions. You spend down time at the lodge in between the game drives and for meals (usually having 3-4 hours free time) so it really helps to have a lodge that either overlooks a waterhole, or overlooks a dry (or wet in rainy season) riverbed (or both!!) that will allow you to spot and watch game without even leaving the lodge. If it does overlook a waterhole – is there a spotlight? IF so – is there only a stationary one that overlooks the water, or is there perhaps a roaming one for you to use at night time to search for nocturnal animals? SO MANY THINGS TO THINK ABOUT!

I think that many rangers and camp managers would agree with me when I say that probably THE MOST important factor that will make or break your safari experience is what you EXPECT from it. If you EXPECT to see the Big 5 numerous times over, AND at least 3 hunts and kills, you WILL be dissapointed. I don’t mean to sound negative – I just have enough experience to tell you that the BEST way to experience a safari is to go with an open mind. What you see depends entirely on what nature wants you to see – but, there are things (like the above points) that you can do to maximize your chances of having a good game viewing experience.
The best approach is to look at your safari like a ‘who knows’ game. Who knows what you’ll see on drive today? Who knows what might creep past the lodge at night? Who knows which bird you might find in a tree? Who knows how many species you’ll come across? Etc. And to be EXCITED for it all. Yes, I understand that many people want to see the Big 5 and only the Big 5, and this is mainly because they have been marketed the best over and over again. Let me tell you though – as majestic as each and every one of the members of the ‘Big 5’ club are, there are SO MANY other species just as worthy of the excitement felt when you see them. So go forth, intrepid safari lover, and seize whatever the day throws at you for ULTIMATE enjoyment and satisfaction!

Got a question? Want to share your top factors when choosing a lodge?
Throw me a line at – I’d love to hear from you!




A Walking Safari Experience with James Steyn
Senalala Luxury Safari Camp, Klaserie Reserve, Greater Kruger.



Experiencing a driving safari, comfortably seated in a large metal vehicle is a wonderful experience. You’re safe, smiling happily as a lion walks next to you, snapping away with your camera, hoping he will turn his scarred grizzly face toward you, so you can get that perfect photograph. And – there it is – his eyes lock into yours for a moment, and you instinctively sink a little deeper into your Land Cruiser seat, forgetting about your photo, thankful for the metal between you and one of Africa’s most dangerous predators.
You’re secretly relieved as the ranger turns the key, and you feel the comforting shake of the game drive vehicle as you bounce toward your next sighting.

But, when approaching some of Africa’s most dangerous animals on foot WITHOUT the protection or security of a game drive vehicle to lull you into a sense of safety, the quality of your guide is the crucial factor in deciding whether you will come back alive or not. Any guide can take a bushwalk, but it takes a ranger of real standard to lead a true walking safari, and a log of over 11,000 walking hours in Big 5 territory is near impossible to beat.

Hidden away in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve of the Greater Kruger lies one of the most authentic safari camps I have ever come across. Overlooking a wide portion of the Ntsiri River, Senalala Luxury Safari Camp is one of a kind. Priding themselves in a ‘real’ safari experience, the team are determined to offer everything a safari is supposed to be about, with a focus on keeping it wild.
Calling this camp home for the last 12 years is James Steyn, who is the head guide and camp manager along with his team mate and wife Corlia. With one of only 9 Scout badges (a highly qualified, experienced and trained Dangerous Game Specialist) in the entire country, along with his impressive walking hours, James is undoubtedly the ‘go to guide’ for an in depth walking safari experience.

As I drove through the thick Mopani trees and wound my way to Senalala’s main camp gates, I was a little nervous for what the day would hold. Approaching giraffe and zebra is one thing, and I have done that many times on a bushwalk at various lodge within the Kruger, but today’s activity was going to be distinctly different. I knew that when it came to James, lions were his favorite to approach on foot. This may be due to the 179 trails he led while in the Sweni area of the Kruger – famous for their man eating lions that roamed the plains – but as we began speaking, he admitted the reason behind his choice.

“Lions are a big part of Africa – for many guests, it is the one animal they love to see. So when we can safely and successfully have an on foot experience with a pride or even just a solo lion, the guests all have these unbeatable smiles on their faces –and that makes me feel like I have done my job properly.”

“This job,” James continued as he offered me freshly brewed 6am coffee, “is just as much about the people as it is about the animals. You have to be able to read your guests in a way that will enable you to give them the best experience – what they’ve flown halfway around the world for. And if you can achieve that, you’ve done well.”

As we began to get comfortable on the cushioned couches, and as they teased my bush walking outfit (jeans and CAT boots – what’s a girl to do?!), Lize (one of the trainee rangers) ran toward us, announcing quietly that one of the lions they’d seen late the night before was back at the waterhole.

Grabbing my camera, I followed the team out onto the wooden viewing deck, and strained my eyes in the early morning light, pretending to see the male lion that they were all viewing. I nodded slowly, trying to look like I was simply looking from side to side while the others were all chatting about what he might have been up to since they’d seen him last.

Then, just like in the movies, my eyes landed upon his massive mane, golden dawn light washing through the strands as he walked swiftly into the clearing. If he’d been a human, he would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger. Tawny skin covered strong and lean muscle, and though he stepped quietly and softly as he walked, it seemed as if you were near enough to him, you might just feel the earth move with each step he took. We observed him for a few moments, and I listened to the bush gossip – it was actually a different male lion, a new one to the area, pushed so far out of his normal territory because of the drought. The team around me concluded that he was walking so quickly because he’d sniffed the females in the area. Men!

As he disappeared into the bush, I followed James, Corlia, and the owner of Senalala back into the lounge to continue our discussion. The owner is a South African born business man, who has found the secret to a successful working partnership – empowering his staff.

As the owner – it is really important to empower the people who you work with. Actually, the most important thing is your staff. I have a really powerful team.” He says humbly.

As the owner and I sat chatting a little more, James reappeared, his rifle resting lightly over his shoulder. He asked us politely but urgently to follow him – the lion was back. I paused for a second, knowing that rifle-on-shoulder-and-walking-boots-on-feet meant it was time to move. I also knew that a lion out there meant James was about to lead me into an experience I’d never undertaken before.

As we left the security of Senalala Lodge behind and made our way into the wild, approaching the wide dry riverbed, James stopped a few meters out of the gate and turned toward us. Had we found the lion already?
He placed the butt of his rifle into the river sand, his eyes sweeping across the open plain, and darting underneath every bush. He lowered his voice, signalling us all to come closer.

“I need you to stand directly behind me at all times, one behind each other, close together in single file. You’re welcome to ask questions, but please try and keep a quiet voice.” James said rather seriously, not helping the racing heart in my chest. For someone who had lived and worked in the bush for almost 6 years, I was suddenly terrified. I nodded hard, said my prayers to the Universe and prepared to set off.

As we took off at a rather quick pace, I made damn sure I stepped directly into the footsteps James left in front of me, probably closer to him than society would deem appropriate. But when your life is in the hands of someone, you do exactly what they tell you. I watched as he took an odd looking plastic bottle out of his pocket, unscrewing the lid with his mouth. He squeezed the bottle slightly, watching it intently as a white powder blew out of it and into the wind. We paused for a moment as he assessed the powder. Not only does a walking safari guide need to focus on tracking game and presenting his guests with sightings – in fact, that is the least of his worries –  but he needs to have an in depth knowledge of his surroundings and the animals that call it home. Which way is the wind blowing? Where were the lions last night? When did they last eat? Do they have offspring – and if so, how old are they?? In this case, James was checking where the wind was coming from, and where it was going to.

James put his bottle away and changed direction slightly, managing to dodge bushes and shrubs all while surveying the land and keeping an eye on the walkers-in-tow behind him. My body began to heat up as we crunched through the bush, and I felt like a rookie as I managed to get snagged on almost every thorn that James had so professionally avoided. Swearing under my breath, I vowed to be more careful each time, and failed each time.
I’m not going to lie to you – I pretended to be hard-core and fearless, excited about the idea about meeting Nala, Simba and Mufasa on foot – and I suppose I was, underneath my fear – but in reality, I was terrified.
Naturally, our logical brain begins to question how smart this decision is in regards to how it will affect the outcome of our survival. But, when offered the opportunity of a lifetime to experience the primality of a walking safari, I couldn’t refuse. There is no other ranger I would trust to the extent that I trust James – and in my opinion and experience – he is the industry leader in walking safaris. His relaxed nature is balanced by his extreme attention to the task when he leads the walks.

“During a walk I stay focused and have an exceptionally high level of situational awareness. If I don’t have a specific purpose like tracking or approaching an animal, I look for things to present themselves to talk about. Throughout the walk I always stay sensitive to the environment, the animals, the people, and most importantly, myself. I let my experience guide me instead of trying to guide an experience.” James says, explaining how he assesses his approach to a trail.

Throughout our walk, I saw him put this into practice in a way that only an experienced old hand could do.
Not only was he extremely aware of us all, making sure we understood what we were doing, but throughout the trail he continuously assessed and re-assessed our movements, interpreted the environment around us, and stopped to teach us interesting bits and pieces about the bush along the way.
As we got thicker into the bush and the lodge was long out of sight, a subconscious shift began within. And, as we trekked deeper into the wild, something primal began to take over.

I found myself less in my head, and more in my gut. Thoughts about getting eaten alive and making sure I exactly in the footsteps that were laid in front of me began to be replaced by a keener sense of what was happening around me.
Though my heart was still pumped by a healthy fear, a growing sense of calm begin to present itself. The internal chatter stilled.

We all fell into step with James effortlessly, and walked in silence as he continued to navigate pathways around thick thorn bushes and crumbling termite mounds. I watched as he constantly scanned the environment, and wondered if his eyes were able to move different directions at once. Just as I felt comfortable with what was happening, James stopped suddenly, raising his hand in a calm manner.

“There.” He whispered, pointing toward a curve in the road no more than 20 meters in front of us. Frozen in my half paced walk, my boots glued to the red earth, my eyes immediately fell upon him. A young male lion stared back at us, the white underlining of his eye catching the early morning sun. He blended perfectly into the bush that surrounded him. So did his siblings – who I hadn’t noticed yet – but that James naturally had.

“Do you see the others?” He asked us quietly, his voice blending effortlessly into the background noise of the bush. I craned my neck around James’ shoulder, not sure where I should be looking, when the others began poking their heads curiously out of the thorn bush. Whether I swore out loud or only in my head, only one word starting with an F summed up the insane amount of adrenaline that was rushing through my body.

There are rare moments in life that require intense exhilaration to be balanced with total peace, presence and calm – and this was one of them. For what felt like hours, we were in an experience that made me feel more alive than I had in years. It was an odd emotion, feeling my body switch to survival mode – blood pumping in my ears, tight chest, and sweaty palms – but not wanting to move in case I missed even a second of this “out of this world” moment. Being mere meters from 8 lions, with no physical boundaries between you and their teeth is a once in a lifetime experience.

As we watched the pride become more relaxed, James motioned for us to drop a little lower. Automatically we listened to his instruction, dropping slowly onto our haunches as a few of the more curious lions began to approach us, their huge padded paws stepping gently onto the sand that covered the road.
There it was – the moment I’d been terrified to witness. But, instead of freaking out like I assumed I would do, I felt completely at ease. James’ total awareness of the situation allowed me to relax into the experience, knowing at a deep level that I was totally safe with him.
It was in that moment, as the lions trotted happily toward us, that I understood the most important factor when it came to enjoying a successful and safe walking safari – and that is the quality of your guide. I soaked in the present moment, allowing myself to be truly humbled by what stood before me – Africa’s icon animal, the King of the Jungle, the fearsome predator – as curious about me as I was about them.

James instructed us in a hushed voice to slowly get up and start walking away, and we again listened without hesitation. Though I didn’t look, I sensed him stay behind for a few moments longer, ensuring we were safely headed on our way while he kept an eye on the curious pride. It wasn’t until he asked me how I felt about the experience that I knew he was back with us.
As we left the lions exactly how we found them, I was grateful to have had such a natural experience. Our presence didn’t affect the behavior of the lions, who were only inquisitive toward us. I think that is what sets James – and Senalala – so apart from everything else. James is not a hotelier, with thousands of hours of hotel management experience – James is man naturally born to be in this role, who steps into his ‘job’ so effortlessly that you wonder how he could ever be anything else. You can’t help but admire the deep level of knowledge and experience of all things wild that James offers.

As we left the lions comfortably behind, and a level of normality returned to our group, I asked James what makes a walking safari guide different from any other guide –what, in his opinion, guests should look for when choosing a lodge based on their walking safari experiences.

“Well,” he said, resting his rifle on his shoulder again, “A lot of average, or not so experienced guides can lead a really great bush walk. But it takes an experienced, well rounded, bush orientated person to lead a successful walking safari. There are the legal requirements of course – as set out by the National department of tourism – but when it comes down to it, the longer you’ve done it the more successful you’re going to be.” After having just experienced what we did, I couldn’t agree with him more. James used his knowledge to create such an intense sighting for us, and this understanding of the wild and the animals that call it home can only come from years (and YEARS!) of experience.

“If you just want to plod along and see a butterfly and an impala and one tree – a Trails Guide qualification is absolutely fine, and this is of course where we all start – with around 150 to 300 hours on foot logged… That’s ok for a bushwalk. Once a guide gets to 500 hours, then you start to see the guide begin coming into their own. Becoming confident. Then, there’s a huge difference between being confident in leading your walks, and being comfortable to lead the walks.”

As Senalala’s thatched roof came into view across the wide open riverbed, and I got a whiff of the delicious breakfast being cooked, I pondered what James meant – the difference between confident and being comfortable.

I guessed that it came down to the amount of times you’ve pushed yourself out of that comfort zone in order to grow. We can’t become comfortable in a situation until we’ve done it time and time again, or until we’ve been faced with overcoming challenges we hadn’t previously encountered before. And that’s where the hours, the weeks, the months and the years come in – in this case, the hard work of putting one foot in front of another, meeting hundreds of different animals, encountering a different situation each time you step out of the lodge, having to make decisions in a split second, all while looking after guests and ensuring the safety of those around you.


That sort of comfort only comes from one place.

Experience – and 11,000 hours worth of it.


James, Corlia, HJ & me. Truly grateful to the team at Senalala - together, they create an experience unlinke any other. Authentic & wild!
James, Corlia, HJ & me.
Truly grateful to the team at Senalala – together, they create an experience unlinke any other. Authentic & wild!






And how to avoid them!

When visiting the reserve of your dreams, you want to make sure that you adhere to all of the norms, right?
If you want to gain respect from your fellow guests and even your game ranger, check out these common mistakes – and make sure to avoid them!

As tempting as it may be to whistle or ‘ksss ksss’ at that big male lion while he is chowing down on that delicious zebra so you can get your Photo of the Month,  we need to remember never to disturb the wildlife in their natural environment.

This is for a few different reasons. For example, in a lion case such as above, it could distract the dominant male, allowing a secondary male to seize the opportunity to feed, thus disrupting the natural hierarchy – this could cause a lot of trouble! Secondly, it is not a fun thing for other guests to experience – many would like to simply be in the moment, witnessing the wildlife instead of getting annoyed at the sound or movement of the distracter. Thirdly, and most importantly, it could land you in some serious trouble. The safari jeeps in the Kruger are open topped and open sided – there is not a lot between you and the animals.

I was once on a safari in the Pilanesberg, and we happened across three lionesses relaxing in next to the road. The guide stopped for us to view them, and one guest decided to stand up and call the nearest lioness. BOY, did she listen! She got up, and within seconds was close to the vehicle, with her eyes dangerously fixated on the guest. The guide drove us off at a high speed.

Remember that you are in THEIR domain, and we need to respect their comfort zones.

Whilst there is no real need to buy brand new ‘hollywood style’ safari outfits, there are some colors that should generally be avoided. This includes white, as the red dust of the earth often gathers on your safari outfits, and particularly on white! Bright colors should also be avoided, as even though many of the animals are color blind, it still plays a huge role in camoflauge.

Last August, we participated in a walk where a fellow guest wore  a bright red head to toe track suit, which was quite distracting for the animals and for us.
Greens, olives, khakis and beiges are most recommended – but again there is really no pressure to go and buy new clothes!

On this note – high heels are also not needed on safari!!!! It makes getting in and out of the safari jeep seem like climbing Mt. Kiliminjaro!

On safari, comfort is key.

I completely understand how tough it is to wake up at 4:30am, especially if you have only recently arrived at your lodge. But, believe me when I say it is COMPLETELY worth it.

In those last hours of darkness is when all the animals come out to play, especially those that are not seen often – hyena, leopard, porcupine, honey badger, civet, caracal, and so on. Even more so, the predators are all beginning to quite down, and one can often observe lions and other carnivores in a relaxed state.
Plus, you will have plenty of time between the hours of around 10 and 2 to relax and do whatever you please (sleeping, for many!), so rather use your safari time to its full potential.

Every safari goer has to start somewhere. Be it your first, our four hundredth safari, questions are always welcomed by your guide or hosts.  For many guests, a safari is a once in a lifetime experience, so we always encourage our guests to make the most of it. There is absolutely no such thing as a stupid question, and trust me when I say you’ll regret not asking it.

I am not talking about extra cost activities, but more about options that are already included in your rate, such as bush walks or educational discussions that are there for you to do during your free time at your lodge.
Getting up close and personal with the wildlife on foot is an experience never to be missed, and you will often learn things on these walks that you would miss on a driving safari. Plus, it can make for great pictures!

While this is a huge draw card for your safari experience, only focusing on the famous Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino) can make you easily miss out on ‘amazingness’ of the lesser known animals. Try and have a few animals in mind that you would like to see (should your ranger ask), but try to generally keep an open mind when it comes to sightings. Being in the bush and in the wilderness is about taking everything as it comes, and this includes game sightings. Even the common impala will have something interesting, unique and new to offer you.

**Photography by Ed Hetherington



Pondering which lodge is best for you? Read on for helpful tips and tricks to help you to pick.
Pondering which lodge is best for you? Read on for helpful tips and tricks to help you to pick.



How To Pick Your Perfect Kruger Safari 

Deciding between the many accommodation options in the Greater Kruger area can be a very overwhelming task – will the lodge be right for you, and how do you know?

To start with, there are a few factors you can decide on that will help you to narrow down some choices!

1. Do you want a tented camp, traditional chalet, or something else?

Tented camps are not literally tents in the middle of a field, but more luxury canvas with incredible comfort inside; large beds, beautiful decorations, a ‘luxury’ experience.
The draw card of a tented camp is the completely wild aspect of it; Hardly anywhere else in the world can you sleep under canvas with wild animals all around you. Listening to the roar of lions through material is unbeatable.
If this all sounds a little too wild for you, never fear – Traditional chalets are also on offer. Usually made of brick, and sometimes coated (and sometimes left natural), traditional chalets are often thatched and offer a real feel of Africa. Otherwise, there are also mixtures of the two, such as nThambo Tree Camp, which offers tented walls but a thatched roof. Another option is something like Nottens Bush Camp, with a modern twist on the traditional.

2. Fenced, or unfenced?

This again relates to your level of wild comfort.
Fenced camps have a full fence around them, a ‘predator fence’, or an elephant fence designed to keep the mentioned animals out.
Alternatively, you can have no fences whatsoever, but be prepared for the wildlife to make your lodge home too!

3. Traversing area size?

Ok, now this is a very important question to think about when choosing your lodge.
A traversing area is where the lodge has permission to conduct their safaris. The sizes vary from 650 hectares all the way to 20,000 hectares.
The bigger the traversing area, the higher your chance is to see a large variety of game, as your safaris can cover more ground. This also means that the lodge will have more contact with other lodges & game rangers on safari, so they can share the animal gossip as to who is where.
For example, this allows your ranger to hear that there is a leopard in a tree on the other side of the area.
Size really does matter with a traversing area!

4. Dining quality

If you are looking for a fine dining experience, or prefer something more laid back, make sure you check what kind of food you will be served during your safari experience.
Fine dining often comes with the more expensive lodges, while the laid back & home cooked style is more of a rustic lodge choice.

5. Beverages

If you’re keen on a party safari, it might be worth it to check if beverages are included in your rate. It could work out cheaper for you.
But, if you’re more of a one-glass-at-dinner kind of safari goer, then paying extra for unlimited drinks would be a waste for you.

6. Extras

What kind of extras do the lodges offer?
Do they have a treehouse where you can escape to and view game? Do they offer bushwalks included in their rate, or do you want a spa where you can enjoy a massage?
Some lodges, such as Tanda Tula Luxury Tented Camp offer Star Beds – The lodge drops you off with a picnic basket and bottle of wine, and sets up a treehouse style structure (overlooking a dam) ahead of time with mozzie nets and more. You are left there with a radio and your partner, and you are allowed to even sleep over there should you wish. Otherwise, you can easily enjoy an entire afternoon game viewing with your loved one in the romance of Africa.

7. Children friendly

If you are a family, a children friendly lodge is a must, as they offer all kinds of entertaining activities for your young ones.
On the other hand, if you are on a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, you may wish to inquire about a lodge with a more romance, less kids kind of vibe.

Once you have answered these questions, you should end up with a better idea of what kind of lodge you are looking for, and you can contact Jacqui to see which options would suit you best!

*Feature image of Simbavati River Lodge.



What exactly to pack for a safari is always a question we get asked frequently. But what are the absolute essentials?

It’s tough! Khaki? Camera and binocs? Extra lenses? Animal guide books? Bug spray? WHAT?

Over the past few years, I’ve have settled on my ‘must haves’ that I always carry with me when I head out on a lodge safari. Take a peek below at my TOP FOUR, and let me know if you think I should add something!

  1. CAMERA.
    Always, always, ALWAYS. You don’t need a fancy one, I actually mostly use my phone camera or a small compact one. For the most part, especially in the Sabi Sands, you will be getting quite close to the wildlife, so you won’t desperately need a ‘close up’ lens. Also, if you are on a full vehicle, having sufficient space to store your extra lenses securely can be a bit hard to find.  There are usually pockets on the back of the seats for you to use, but as the vehicle jumps around a lot, I wouldn’t want to store it in there!
    Some might argue that this may not be a super essential, but I’ve found it really helps my guests to keep track of everything they’ve seen on safari. Some of the names of our wildlife can be very confusing – Bateleur? Klipspringer? Steenbok? And how on earth do you pronounce them?
    Enter the handy notebook. Not only will this help you remember what you saw on your safari (and what photograph corresponds to it!) but it will also create a life long keepsake of your safari journey.
    This is one that often slips under the radar. In summer, they serve an obvious purpose, but in winter – they help immensely to block out the cold wind that sometimes leaves your eyes streaming with water! Also, if you a cheeky nap overtakes you as you zoom out of the lodge, sunglasses are a great disguise…. Ask me how I know this, haha.
    Yes, even if you are a man!
    The sun can get extremely hot in the bush (up to 50 degrees in summer), and the wind can be excruciating on your lips in the winter if they are dry. I recommend popping a chapstick in your bag with SPF in it too, so you can keep your lips comfortable, enabling you to focus on your safari instead of your sore, chapped lips!


Kruger in the Summer - full of water, GREEN, and LIFE!
Kruger in the Summer – full of water, GREEN, and LIFE!


In the Kruger, our year is basically divided into two. We have the dry season, and we have the wet season.

When it comes to going on safari, they both yield different pros and cons.
THE DRY SEASON (A.k.a – ‘Winter’)
May  to early October.

The dry season offers the year’s best game viewing. This is due to the minimal amount of rainfall.
During the month of May, the bush begins to thin out, allowing your eyes to search further.  May also still offers some warmth, with average temperatures around 25 – 28 degrees during the day, and a comfortable 15 or so at night. As soon as June comes around, the temperatures drop significantly, and we suggest to all travellers to take WARM THINGS with them if travelling during winter, as the wind chill factor on the game drive vehicles can make you feel as if you are in Antarctica (if you are not dressed correctly).

Winter also allows for fantastic sightings around waterholes, as all of the natural water sources (little pans, rivers, streams and so on) have ceased to exist thanks to the lack of rain. So, the wildlife ventures out of the shrubbery and into clear view, taking a delicious drink in the ‘heat’ of a winters day. Winter can thus be a great time to stay at a lodge with a waterhole in view!

Another point to note is that if you don’t like bugs – BOOK YOUR SAFARI FOR WINTER.
Listen, there is no Africa without bugs, and especially out on safari – you are in their domain! But, if you (like quite a few of our previous clients) are not a huge fan of the creepy crawlies, then winter is the best time for you to go.
The cooler temps put a lot of bugs on hiatus, so you can enjoy your safari without worrying about what may be crawling around.

The humidity levels are also minimal, so don’t worry ladies – no frizzy hair!
THE WET SEASON (A.k.a – ‘Summer’)
October – April

Arriving from mid October onwards, our summer rains are phenomenas that seem like they come straight out of a movie.  Developing over 2-3 incredibly hot days, and leaving just as fast as they arrived, the thunderstorms are pure magic.

The rain brings relief to the dry plains, empty rivers, and brown grasses – but most of all, it signals that new life is about to begin.

Coming in summer can afford you the opportunity to see some of South Africa’s cutest babies, as many of the animals begin to ‘drop’ (give birth) soon after the first few rains. Doey eyed impalas, elephant calves that don’t know what to do with their trunks, lion cubs biting onto mom’s tail instead of her teats – these can all make for excellent sightings.

Heat wise, the summer days can range from 28 degrees to 50 degrees Celcius, and the nights are a warm and balmy affair of around 20 – 25 degrees. We definitely recommend a lodge with a pool for this season!

Spotting game can become a bit tougher during the wet season as the thirsty trees and shrubs soak up the rain and grow thicker & taller, so it always helps to have your eyes peeled at all times.

Have any questions, or need help? Email me at

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