It seems fitting that the first post in Simply South Africa is about Umlani Bush Camp, one of my favourite places to experience the South African bush. This rustic camp is nestled on a slope of a riverbed in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. There is no electricity, no fences and no cellphone connectivity. But there are comfortable beds, flushing toilets, hot showers and cold beers. In other words: all the comforts you need while still retaining the feeling of completely immersing yourself in the African bush. When you go to bed at night, you can hear the animals through the reed walls. Buffalos often come in to camp to graze, and later at night you can hear the lions roar during their hunt.
In the morning, you are woken before sunrise by the rangers (who have also checked that no four-legged visitors have overstayed their welcome) and treated to a steaming cup of tea and a rusk. Then it’s off on the morning game drive! Being located in a private reserve, the vehicles are allowed to go off-road and the trackers have a canny ability to find the animals where an untrained eye only sees bush.
When you arrive back to camp after the morning drive, you are greeted by an amazing breakfast: yoghurt, cereal, fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs, sausages, tea, coffee, juices: you name it! By the time you’ve worked yourself through the delectables, the day’s heat has started picking up and many feel ready for a nap. Those that manage to stay awake (often those that had the restraint not to try all of the breakfast choices) can laze by the pool, or sit on the viewing deck to see who’s visiting the water hole.
Mid-afternoon, lunch is served (as if you needed to eat more) and I can promise you that those that resisted the morning nap are now down and out! As the worst heat of midday subsides, the afternoon gamedrive sets off. You drive in the warm light of afternoon sun, and once the sun starts to set there is a stop for what the South African’s like to call Sundowners. This is an alcoholic drink of your choice, drunk while the sun sets. Inevitably, nature calls for a few guests after Sundowners but I would advise you to get over any feelings of modesty you may harbour as this is the bush… I’ve heard a story about “the only woman ever to stop weeing mid-stream” – she locked eyes with a lioness while squatting behind the vehicle. The remainder of the drive is in the dark (although the tracker has a torch to show you some of the nocturnal critter that are now roaming about), with a carpet of stars above you.
Back in camp, guests gather around the fire in the boma for a drink and some bush-stories. This is when the rangers tell about eye-to-eye encounters with lions, buffalo and leopards that they have lived to tell. Do not try this at home! Dinner is a feast of salads, home cooked hearty meals and sweet desserts, washed down with plenty of wine. The camp is now lit only by paraffin lamps, and you can really feel what it must have been like for the first explorers that came here. The bush is alive with sounds, and you will be happy for the company of one of the rangers to take you back once you decide to retire. Spending a couple of days at Umlani is something that I strongly recommend. Not only is the bush experience totally amazing, you are also pampered by the small team of staff and you will definitely leave having made new friends that you will be dying to visit soon again.