Close encounters with the Big Four at Tintswalo lodge
On the far eastern escarpment of the Mpumalanga and the Limpopo provinces, lies the territory with the bulk of South Africa's wildlife.
This past weekend I visited the Manyeleti Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger National Park, to get an up close and personal encounter with the wild.
Manyeleti, which means "place of the stars", is near the town of Bushbuckridge.
I stayed at the Livingston Suite, courtesy of five-star Tintswalo Safari Lodge, relishing the variety of cuisine on offer.
Their exotic menu includes game dishes, not to mention their specialities such as breakfast and brunch in the bush, bush picnics, boma and bush dinners, as well as fine dining for those with a discerning taste.
At Tintswalo, the game drives start with a 5am wake- up call. You can always shower on your return, thereafter take a nap in your posh suite until lunch time, in anticipation of the afternoon game drive at 4pm.
Climate change and drought has not been favourable to the wildlife of the Kruger Park, resulting in the decline in the animal population, according to my game drive guide and wildlife expert Wikus Potgieter, working with experienced tracker Mpho Malepane.
During the drive we stop once, to stretch and for refreshments, before being served breakfast in the bush, cooked over a wood fire - what has come to be known as a "spade breakfast". Too scrumptious for words.
Potgieter spotted an elephant herd and drove his Land Cruiser over scary rocks and vegetation, towards the edge of steely waters of the numerous man-made waterholes.
I have never been so close to an elephant before. I could actually see its hair. I got to see large herds of elephant at every turn and a number of lonesome bulls, minding their own business while grazing non-stop.
Other members of the Big Five I got close to were lionesses with their cubs, buffalo and rhino.
Awesomely, hordes of wildebeest, antelope, warthogs, jackals and giraffe, hippos, hyenas and warthogs made up for my leopard no-show.
The reserve is also home to the huge jackalberry and weeping boer-bean trees that provide shade to the lodge.
Established and developed by Gaye and Ernest Corbett in 2003, Tintswalo Safari Lodge is one of the four lodges around the country owned by the family.
Tintswalo general manager Emily Leuner says a concession agreement was reached between the Corbett family, the local chief and the community to develop the land in order to create job opportunities.
"The Corbett family does not own the land, it is a reserve."
The 24000-hectare Manyeleti reserve shares an open border with the Kruger Park, allowing free movement of animals in an area renowned for spontaneous sightings of the Big Five.
There are eight five-star luxury suites at Tintswalo.
Apart from game drives, Tintswalo Safari Lodge is famous for game walks, private 4x4 safaris and bird watching.
- Beyond the reserve, there is the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project, a tour to see the king cheetah and other endangered species.
- The Manyaleti Community Trip to view crafters at work, and perhaps visit a local school or a sangoma.
- The Panorama Tour is a visit to the famous God's Window, the Three Rondavels and the nearby towns of Graskop and Pilgrim's Rest.
- You can ride in a hot air balloon in the early morning, flying over the bushveld to view the sunrise.
- Kruger Park World Heritage Site is where you can see the beautiful sights and animals.
- Visiting the Moholoholo animal rehabilitation centre gives you a guided tour and interesting information on conservation.
- The Hoedspruit Town Tour and Kamagelo Tourism Centre introduces you to local flavours, shops and restaurants.
- Jessica the hippo can be visited and interacted with near Hoedspruit.
- Elephant Whispers affords you to interact with these gigantic and magnificent creatures. -tintswalo.com