Written by James Bainbridge
1. The White Lion
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park and also has a thriving wildlife population including the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo). The park has other predators as well, from cheetahs to hyenas. However, amid this diverse animal population, Timbavati is synonymous with the unique and extremely beautiful white lion. Books have been written about them.
Some claim they’re mythical creatures. Whatever you may or may not believe, seeing the white lions of the Timbavati is an unforgettable experience; the very notion of a snow white lion prowling around in the African savanna is incredible. Timbavati’s white lions are neither albinos nor leucistic - their whiteness is due to a recessive gene. Whilst there are isolated sightings of white lions in the Kruger National Park, and there are many white lions bred in captivity and semi-captivity both locally and abroad, the Timbavati remains the only reserve in the world where wild white lions occur regularly and naturally.
2. Lodges for All
While some private reserves offer only exclusive high-end accommodation, Timbavati has safari lodges for all budgets and holiday goals. Regal Kings Camp has thatched suites featuring air-conditioning, ball-and-claw bathtub and veranda overlooking the bush. At the well-priced Shindzela Tented Camp, R2,800 (US$185) buys you full-board safari-tent accommodation and two game drives or walks. There are also self-catering camps, such as Walkers River Camp with its swimming pool, ‘bush TV’ (boma fire-pit), and cosy lounge and bar for discussing the day’s sightings.
3. Unspoilt Environment
The African bush of Timbavati and adjoining Kruger is more than just a backdrop for dramatic wildlife sightings, with the 20,000km2/7,722mi2 national park containing diverse terrains from kopje-spotted grassland and riverine forest to mopaneveld and lonely baobabs. The subtropical Lowveld covering most of this region east of the Drakensberg Escarpment is considered by many to be the classic South Africa of Jock of the Bushveld, where the sun sets beyond the acacia trees as the crickets hum and braais (open-fire grills) sizzle.
Timbavati conserves a beautifully unspoilt part of the Lowveld, where habitat and wildlife have been carefully managed for serveral decades . Large tracts of land here have never been permanently settled and the Timbavati remains a vast area with a very small human footprint. This part of the bushveld is therefore special for being genuinely wild. Visitors owe the experience to decades of work by local landowners, who formed the Timbavati Association in 1956 and address issues including poaching, water management, erosion and alien plants.
4. Intimate Experience
No day visitors are allowed in this 750km2/290mi2 private reserve, offering a more exclusive experience than the busy major parks. Safari vehicles are allowed within 6m/19ft of animals, making excellent views possible. The highly trained guides and trackers working with Timbavati’s lodges know how to sniff out the Big Five. Timbavati also hosts numerous scientific research projects into the behaviours of animals, from elephants and leopards to vultures and southern ground hornbills, ensuring guests benefit from up-to-date wildlife information and anecdotes. The Timbavati and its lodges also sponsor a range of community development projects and is a source of employment and skills development for neigbouring communities.
5. Convenience and Value
Timbavati has an excellent location, deep in the bush but within easy reach of civilisation and cold beer. Hoedspruit, home to supermarkets, restaurants and the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, is less than an hour’s drive from most Timbavati lodges. The town also has Eastgate Airport, from where Airlink flies to Johannesburg OR Tambo, Africa’s busiest international airport, and Cape Town. This is good news for budgets and itineraries alike, as it minimises travel time to reach that sunset wildlife drive and keeps costs down by ensuring short airport-lodge transfers.
Alternatively, if time is more important than money, you can catch a direct Federal Airlines flight to Timbavatifrom OR Tambo or Nelspruit’s Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. Timbavati can also be included on a road trip with neighbouring South African highlights such as Krugerand Blyde River Canyon, the world’s third-largest canyon.
About the Author
James Bainbridge is a travel writer based in Cape Town, who goes on safari as often as possible and writes about his adventures for publishers including Lonely Planet and SafariBookings.com.
*The opinions and views of guest bloggers are their own and do not represent the views of Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.