nThambo Tree Camp
After spending a night in Johannesburg, we were met at our hotel by Ashton’s, a company who provides travelers who don’t want to rent a car a means of getting to Kruger Park. I was really impressed with Ashton’s; starting with the night before when shortly after arriving in our room we had a phone call from the driver telling us what time he would be at the hotel in the morning to pick us up. He turned out to be really funny and constantly kept us updated (there were 10 passengers in total) on what was happening and how long we had before arriving at our scheduled drop-off points.
We were dropped off at the Bush Pub, and within minutes Isaack, one of the trackers from the lodge, came to get us. We met Lily, the manager of the lodge on arrival, had our bags taken to our room and had a bit of a freshen up, and then sat down for a spaghetti lunch with the other 8 people staying at the lodge with us. After I had befriended the African Wild Cat that has been domesticated and lives at the lodge. No pictures I’m afraid, as I only saw her the once and thought I’d get some later. Stupid later!
And soon, Matt had us in our open-top jeep to begin our first game drive of the trip. The South African winter had ended and spring had started, but the trees and bushes hadn’t reached full bloom yet – meaning it was optimal time to view animals as there were less places for them to hide and fewer permanent sources of water for them to frequent. And with temperatures in the mid-20s during the day, it wasn’t like we were going to freeze either.
As with most game drives, the odds of seeing one of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo) before seeing another animal is pretty slim. It happens of course; but you usually see something else first. In our case, the lovely zebra. Those were followed by some uncooperative warthogs, a cute little steenbok … and then it got good.
We were staying on a private reserve, which means fewer cars, vehicles do not have to stick to the roads or paths, and all the vehicles you encounter belong to the other lodges in the area. And each of those vehicles is in contact with each other outlining where certain animals are or are headed. The radio was a constant buzz of information, and soon we had stumbled upon a small pride of 5 lions, resting after a big meal (the meal was nowhere to be seen but we didn’t go looking). A little further on, we encountered 2 hyenas, and further on from there we saw another 2 lions, one of which it was told to us had had a litter of 3 cubs only 4 days earlier. We soon stopped for sundowners and watched an epic African sunset before driving on.
Isaack, sitting on the seat on the hood of the jeep, manned the spotlight as we continued our drive deep into the night. Sadly, most of the animals you see under spotlight do not stay around long enough to have their photos taken. We saw several scrub hares, a genet, a few antelope species (impala, steenbok, greysbok), a fast of foot side-striped jackal, and nearly ran into some rhino. Unfortunately, any of the animals you can view during the day cannot be viewed under spotlight as it is bad for their eyes, so we could only look on in awe as these lumbering grey masses milled around us. Photos would have to wait for another day.
On our return to the lodge, dinner was served within minutes of our arrival. We started with kudu Carpaccio on rocket. A kudu is the second largest antelope species in Africa (and largest in this area of Kruger). For a main we had stuffed chicken breast on risotto with green beans and stuffed squash with corn and cheese. For dessert, a simple but elegant chocolate mousse.
All in all, our first 9 hours at nThambo had been wonderful. If the rest of the week was half as good as that first day, we would be in luck.