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Monday, February 24, 2014

Tanda Tula - To Love the Quiet

Nestled amongst 20,000 acres in the Timbavati Game Reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo province, lies Tanda Tula, a tented safari lodge and home to the Big 5.
After a much anticipated flight from Cape Town to Nelspruit, a short lodge hop to the landing strip in the Timbavati was the only thing between us and the life of wild. I was über-excited to be back in the bushveld; this was going to be another epic trip and Facebook was waiting for any update. Upon arrival, there was no sign of our transfer so my friend and I took the opportunity to stage an impromptu monochrome photo shoot next to our six-seater prop plane, channelling the likes of Karen Blixen and Louis Vuitton. Our host for the next four days, Dale Jackson, arrived tout de suite to whisk his charges away and so began our latest bush adventure.
The Timbavati Reserve is new territory for me. To its south is the Sabi Sand Reserve, one I am more familiar with and to the east, the great Kruger Park lies, its fences down, allowing a plethora of animals to roam freely (as it should be) between the two. It was not long into our transfer to the lodge before the towering sight of an elephant came into view on the main road to Tanda Tula. These giants of the bushveld are the pedestrians and to them, one must give way. The consequences can be eventful and expensive!
On arrival at Tanda Tula, we were greeted by the cheeky smile of Thabo, he basically runs the place, or so he would like one to think. He promptly set my luggage aloft on his head for transport to my tent; his little trick to try to impress the ladies! Next were our ranger, Civilized, and his tracker, Jack; a fine team that the animals cannot elude. A quick refreshing welcome drink and we were off to be shown our lodging for the next four days. Tanda Tula is a tented camp and we were certainly not disappointed by the beautifully appointed rooms, all with porches overlooking the dry riverbed. We were shown the ins and outs of securing the entry to our tent to avoid the mishaps associated with curious, mischievous monkeys who will grasp any opportunity to run amok in the tents.
We arrived in time to enjoy a little poolside lunch with views of the watering hole where impala and warthogs munched happily away. I will say this for Tanda Tula – they probably have one of the BEST chefs in the bush. This food is Michelin star worthy and Chef Ryan and his team create the most organic, uncomplicated, mouth-watering dishes. Ryan’s homemade pesto was a constant at every meal because it made absolutely everything even better. It was so good I wanted to take some home to put under my pillow! I have attempted to recreate it now that I am back at home (the recipe is on the website) but it is just not the same! Ryan’s attention to detail and his enthusiasm when he explains each meal is infectious and the anticipation you are left with is quickly satiated with the first forkful. He is a true genius at his craft. Meals are especially exceptional at Tanda Tula. Breakfast was always served in the bush overlooking the dried riverbed and the offerings were plentiful from bacon, eggs and sausage to pancakes, sautéed mushrooms and a cold buffet. Dinner at the lodge always led to late night conversations with new acquaintances accompanied by a glass (or two) of Amarula, the Bailey’s of the bush and one of my vices!
Have I mentioned that each night when I go to bed I wish I was waking up to a game drive? It’s true! So when that blessed time actually comes, there is no boundary to my excitement. In jest, I mentioned to Civilized and Jack that there were three sightings on my must-see list this time around – the white lions of the Timbabvati, a pangolin and a honey badger. Now, for those who have yet to embark on their first safari, this may sound achievable but I promise you, this is no easy task hence why it was ‘in jest’. BUT, on the afternoon of our 2nd day, Civilized announced he had a surprise for us but we would have to hurry and forego any sightings for the next twenty-five minutes if we wanted to see it. The word was out that the white lions had been spotted so off we sped to catch a glimpse! I have been on I would say close to fifty game drives and when you see an animal for the first time, it takes your breath away. The white lions were no different. Oh, I have seen plenty of lions in the wild but the white lions are something very special. They are not albino but instead a recessive ‘white’ gene has been inherited from both parents causing the fur to be white and the eyes and skin to pigment. The condition is rare and the Timbavati is one of very few places in Africa that these lions inhabit. My anticipation was limitless for the twenty-five minute drive and then we saw them; a pride of female lions, in which two were white lions. As we eked closer to them, stopping about twelve feet away, I sat quietly in awe of them before I remembered that I had to get footage to prove that they were in fact real. Simply beautiful.
Our four days at Tanda Tula were full of amazing sightings and watching heart-pumping interactions. From lionesses stalking cape buffalo only to be scattered like cockroaches when the tables turned to a 29-strong pack of wild dogs tempting fate with a mating herd of elephants complete with hyena on the periphery. We followed leopards to their kills and watched the young with their mothers yet the pangolin and the honey badger remained elusive. That was no surprise. We fell asleep to the call of lions and awoke to grazing nyalas an arm’s length away. With a different locale each evening for dinner, from the beautiful boma with its warming fire to the poolside lawn aglow with lanterns, Tanda Tula gave us a new experience in every way on every day.
I always dread my last morning at any lodge. I have never been a fan of goodbyes and Tanda Tula was no different. The attention to detail that the staff goes to to ensure that your stay lacks for nothing is a testament to the African people. I will never tire of their names; Civilized, Dolphin, Pretty, Pinky, Happiness, to name just a few. As I prepared myself for the farewell embraces before entering our van that would whisk us back to reality, I encouraged my sunglasses onto my nose to hide my welling eyes. It happens every time, only to be shed again upon my next visit. Thank you, Tanda Tula, and all of your charges for another magical notch in my travel bucket list.
The best part about leaving Africa is knowing when you’re coming back!
Best,
Zoe Mulholland
**This African adventure, as with all of my others, was designed by Roar Africa - look no further when booking your travels to Africa.

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