After a swift connecting flight from Johannesburg, I found myself standing in Hoedspruit airport caught up in excited anticipation. I was on my way to Shumbalala Lodge in the Thornybush Game Reserve (forming a part of the Greater Kruger). I had heard some amazing things about this reserve and wondered if my expectations were going to be fulfilled in terms of game viewing and whether the lodge itself would live up to its reputation for luxury accommodation and superb service.
After a pleasant road transfer from the airport we reached the lodge and were greeted by friendly staff offering a cool drink which was most welcome. Shumbalala’s high thatched roofs, glass panelled doors and gentle décor are all very homely while still being elegant and luxurious. My suite had its own private viewing deck with views over the water hole and I loved spending time sitting there, feet up, indulging the sights and sounds of the African bushveld. I was also lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the amazing Presidential Suite with its two bedrooms, private dining room, lounge and wrap around private deck including a private plunge pool with remote controlled pool cover!
Days at Shumbalala began with an early start, I rose and shone around half 5, which sounds painful but all thoughts of tiredness were soon overthrown by a wake up coffee and a phenomenal game drive. The quality of game viewing exceeded expectation, mostly because of my amazing guides; Wahian and Palance, both of whom not only knew their stuff but were truly passionate about their jobs as well. Their expertise brought me to within (what felt like) touching distance of all of the Big 5 and plenty more. Of the many rhino we saw one sighting was particularly touching; we watched a mother nurturing her calf, it was lovely to see, especially with rhinos so endangered.
The Reserve has spectacular game viewing, with a maximum of two vehicles ever allowed at one sighting and guides who are always in constant radio contact. This means that you are practically guaranteed sightings of the Big 5 and other amazing animals and without the touristy hustle and bustle you usually find in other safari parks. Being autumn when I visited it could get a little chilly, particularly on night drives, so it was a nice touch for the lodge to supply us with the means to stay warm. Not only was I issued with a cosy jacket but a hot water bottle and blanket were also thrown in. On one night drive in particular I found the blanket very useful indeed, although more to hide under than to wrap around me! A huge male lion was only a few feet away from the vehicle and started roaring loudly, an experience I found both invigorating and terrifying all at the same time.
One of my overall highlights staying at Shumbalala has got to be the food; the diversity of tastes and flavours was simply masterful. After a morning game drive I enjoyed a colossal lunch, a regal afternoon tea, which made me feel nothing short of a queen, and an evening game drive on which sundowners were served. Returning to the lodge at night was always a pleasure; no detail was spared, from the lit fire in my room to the glass of sherry waiting for me and, of course, a succulent kudu steak dinner to top it all off.
One of the foodie delights of my trip though, was enjoying lunch in the lodge’s wine cellar. The quaint room was offset by a beautiful glass window overlooking a waterhole in front of the lodge. The delicious taste of the meal went almost unnoticed as elephants stole my attention; enjoying a refreshing drink at the waterhole before wandering off. It was a moment infused with the same magic held by so much of Shumbalala and I was beyond sad when the time finally came for me to leave. To me my whole experience was utterly remarkable, marked by all kinds of emotion and memories, however, to the wonderful staff who make the lodge their passion and their home it’s just the day to day happenings of life in Shumbalala, a fact I shall be forever envious of.
Shumbalala Lodge is based in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve in the Greater Kruger. It can be accessed via the nearby Hoedspruit Airport (flights currently from Johannesburg and Cape Town), by private charter into the reserve’s own airstrip or by road (private transfer or self-drive). Popular combinations with a safari to Shumbalala include Cape Town and the Cape Winelands or Mauritius.