Kelly Visits Timbavati and Madikwe Game Reserves

At the end of November, my colleague Mary and I were fortunate enough to head out to South Africa to explore the big five Sabi Sand and Timbavati Game Reserves which border the iconic Kruger National Park. We were looking forward to some excellent game viewing and some warmth!

After landing in Johannesburg and spending the night there to recover from our flight and update on a couple of properties, we flew up to Hoedspruit, where we collected our car and set off to the nearby Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Both Mary and I have spent significant time in this reserve in the past, but there have been a quite a few new properties opening in recent years; not to mention old favourites which have had refurbishments, so we were excited to see what had changed!

The Timbavati is always a great option for a South African safari. Sitting to the north-east of Johannesburg it is easy to get to, with several short commercial flights between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit operating daily. It works very well as a short stand-alone safari, but also combines really nicely with the Sabi Sand for those who would like a longer safari experience. With approximately 60,000 hectares of pristine bushveld to explore, the reserve is home to more than 40 mammal species and 282 species of bird – suffice to say great wildlife sightings are not in short supply here!

In terms of accommodation, the Timbavati offers a wonderful range of properties to choose from, which should suit most budgets. For those looking for high end luxury I would highly recommend Tanda Tula Safari Camp and Makanyi Private Game Lodge – these properties are both simply stunning with expansive suites and high standards of dining and service. For those looking for high levels of comfort at a slightly lower price tag, there are still some great options. A relatively new addition to the reserve is Thabamati Luxury Tented Camp which offers very chic accommodation and an excellent all-round experience at price point that is less prohibitive. It has a lovely romantic feel that is just perfect for a honeymoon safari. I also have to mention Kings Camp, an exceptionally smart property, with an amazing underground hide and a very welcoming ‘home away from home’ feel.

For those looking for a more traditional style of safari lodge, then Motswari Private Game Reserve is an excellent choice. It’s a little larger than some of the other properties in the area, but it has a wonderfully sociable atmosphere, great facilities and comfortable accommodation. This is a lodge that will suit solo travellers, families and couples alike. Essentially, it’s a good all-round property that offers really great value for money, along with Bateleur Safari Camp and Kambaku Safari Lodge, two properties that we already recommend often.

From the Timbavati, Mary and I drove down to the Sabi Sand for a further four nights. Mary covers our experiences here in more detail in her most recent blog post, but it most certainly did not disappoint, and our safari here simply reaffirmed the reserve’s reputation as a phenomenal wildlife destination.

After our stay in the Sabi Sand, Mary returned home and I headed to the Madikwe Game Reserve for a further few nights on safari. Madikwe is in the north-west of South Africa close to the border with Botswana. It is less well known than the Kruger region but delivers a unique environment to explore and a very good big game experience. The reserve comprises over 75,000 hectares of open grasslands and bushveld plains and is home to the famous big five as well as a healthy population of African wild dogs and a steadily growing cheetah population. Madikwe also has the added benefit of being completely malaria free, making it a great choice for families with younger children.

In terms of access, it is possible to reach Madikwe by road from Johannesburg, which is a drive of about five hours. However, I would highly recommend using the Federal Air flight shuttle service which operates out of Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. Federal Air has its own hanger at the airport and a very well equipped departure lounge complete with showers, comfortable seating and complementary refreshments. There are twice daily shuttles between Johannesburg and Madikwe with a flight time of approximately 55 mins, making it a very convenient option.

With regards to accommodation, the reserve features a wide selection of lodges that should suit all tastes. On this occasion I stayed at Rhulani Safari Lodge and Impodimo Game Lodge, which both offer excellent service, guiding and value for money and I would not hesitate to recommend them.

I was pleased to see that an old favourite, Madikwe Bush House, seemed to be operating well under new ownership and remains an excellent value option with an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. It was also good to see that Jamala, arguably the reserve’s most exclusive lodge, was open again after a fire devastated their central areas last year. I mentioned earlier that Madikwe is good for families, and this is backed up by the number of excellent family accommodation options on offer. I have always loved the Morukuru Family collection (a set of three private houses), while Jaci’s Safari Lodge is another established option for families, especially their excellent Nare Suite.

Even though my visit to Madikwe was relatively short, I was reminded what a beautiful reserve it is, and enjoyed some excellent game viewing. I didn’t catch up with the local wild dog pack, but I did have several superb cheetah sightings!

Kelly stayed at The Parkwood Boutique Hotel, Simbavati Hilltop, Rockfig Safari Lodge, Kambaku River Sands, Makanyi Private Game Lodge, Impodimo Game Lodge and Rhulani Safari Lodge.

Kelly visited Hoeveld House, Walkers Plains Camp, Kings Camp, Tanda Tula Safari Camp, Motswari Private Game Reserve, Kambaku Safari Lodge, Kateka, Camp George Simbavati, Ngala Safari Lodge, Shindzela Tented Camp, Thabamati Luxury Tented Camp, Bataleur Safari Camp, Motswiri Private Safari Lodge, Last Word Madikwe Bush House, Tuningi Safari Lodge, Jamala Madikwe, Jaci’s Safari Lodge, Jaci’s Tree Lodge, Molori Safari Lodge, Etali Safari Lodge, Madikwe Hills and Madikwe Safari Lodge.

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