South Africa Travelogue: Timbavati Private Nature Reserve


Dr. Sanjeev Aurangabadkar, Planetwildlife client


I recently made my third visit to Africa to photograph wildlife and birds. My previous two visits were to Masai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti/Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, both with Planetwildlife. The meticulous arrangements, superb game viewing and attention to detail on my previous trips are the reasons that made me go back with them, only this time to South Africa. I chose Kambaku Safari Lodge in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve on their recommendation, and boy was it the right choice—absolutely high quality safari experience, top-notch service at the lodge and very knowledgeable rangers/trackers. I must admit it was total value for money!


The Safari Experience

While Kenya and Tanzania are all about quantity (sheer numbers of animals), Timbavati is about quality. It offers magnificent viewing of the Big 5 from close range along with many other mammals and birds. Since it is a private reserve, off-roading is allowed (unlike Masai Mara and Serengeti) and the ranger wouldn’t miss an opportunity to get us close to the animals with out disturbing them too much. There were only one or two other vehicles around during those special sightings, allowing almost exclusive and unobtrusive viewing. This gave me a fantastic opportunity to photograph animals without being rushed or pushed for space! The sundowners every evening were simply awesome, with a chance to step out into the bush at dusk to stretch a leg and have your choice of beverage from those nicely laid out on the bonnet of a land rover!

Each evening game drive ended with a night safari where the tracker, Albert, used a powerful searchlight to locate wildlife in the dark and stop for anything exciting. One of the most chilling experiences was when a herd of elephants crossed the road in complete darkness on a starry night in pin drop silence. The ranger stopped the vehicle to allow them to cross and they came within inches of the vehicle, inspected us and moved on! And by the way, the land rovers were open-top—no roof, no windows, no bars, offering unobstructed views.

On the eight game drives I saw everything from lions, leopards, a cheetah, African buffalos, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, hyenas, impalas, zebras, kudu, nyala, civets, waterbucks, fish eagles, snake eagles, vultures, horn bills etc just to name a few! Ranger Evan, a photographer himself, always tried to position the vehicle in the right spot to aid in getting a clear shot with the right lighting!

The highlight of the trip was the sighting of seven leopards, three female, one male and three cubs, from up close! Another unforgettable experience was the sighting of a cheetah at sundown and witnessing it dash at 70 miles an hour right next to our vehicle to hunt a steinbok! The ranger (Evan Van Niekerk) always had some surprise in store for us as one evening after dark he took us to a hyena den where we saw six pups under the spotlight. They came right up to the vehicle to sniff and look at us with great curiosity!

The Stay

The stay at Kambaku safari lodge was superb. Excellent hospitality, top-notch service and small personal touches that touched ones heart! The lodge has eight villas, each neatly appointed, comfortable, cozy and clean overlooking a water hole where animals come to quench their thirst. Each meal had something special and was laid out in a different location, one was an African Boma dinner, another was a candle-lit one near the water hole next to the lodge, brunch by the poolside, etc. The food was sumptuous with due attention given to each ones’ preferences.

After the evening game drive, the manager welcomed us with some hot towels and some sherry to freshen and warm us up! Soft drinks, beer and house wine were on the house and a high tea was served in evening between 3-4 with some amazing baked stuff! Our manager, Wilmarie Botha, was very friendly and warm and made us feel right at home. Free wi-fi was available from mornings till about 4pm in evening at the lobby area, which helped us stay connected with the rest of the world.

Final Thoughts

It was a whirlwind four days with eight fascinating game drives at Timbavati, with outstanding game viewing, a pleasant and comfortable stay at Kambaku far away from the bustling, polluted and noisy city life. It was nothing short of therapy for the body and soul. I will always cherish it and those memories will linger in my mind forever! Africa Rocks!

Click here to see more photos from this trip. If you enjoyed reading this blog, check out Dr Aurangabadkar's post on his Great Migration Experience