Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A quiet Kruger escape

A quiet Kruger escape








Article By: Gill Mclaren
Mon, 13 Sep 2010 6:13

Click to view published article: http://travel.iafrica.com/accommodation/662585.html

When driving in the Kruger Park, I have often gazed down the no-entry roads with a sense of longing. It has seemed to me that the elusive sable antelope, or even a large male lion, would be strolling down one of those forbidden paths.

To get to Hamilton’s Tented Camp, in the Mluwati concession, I was allowed to venture down exactly such a path.

At the tented camp - carefully camouflaged and integrated into an existing glade of trees - we were greeted by the manager Ben Singini and were led to the reception area for a welcome iced tea. From the wooden deck we saw a herd of waterbuck in the dry river bed below the camp, with a male displaying splendid horns presiding over his harem. There were also impala, bushbuck and a group of vervet monkeys sunning themselves: it seems that at Hamilton’s one does not have to go on a game drive to see abundant animal life.
The mature trees were alive with birds and I was excited to hear the mournful call of the grey-headed bush shrike. There was so much to see from the deck that my son James had to pull me away to have a look at our tent. 

We were lucky to have been allocated tent number one, which is sited directly over a dam within the river bed. As we settling in, two elephants lumbered down to the water’s edge. What a privilege to be deep within the pristine Kruger bush and to see these giants from our bedroom. I noticed a pair of the endangered saddle billed storks, flocks of turtle doves having sand baths then flying to sip water, and about a dozen terrapins facing away from the sun, to warm their leathery backs.

The tent is spacious and airy, and has an inviting slipper bath with a glorious view. While James was luxuriating in the outside shower he saw two lionesses padding down to the water. I decided there and then to skip the game drive the following morning, to revel in the teeming game visiting our tent.   

Our guide, Andrew Harrison, is the head ranger for Hamilton’s as well as sister-lodges Imbali and Hoyo Hoyo. He told me that it is a challenge for the guides when they have people who know the bush well alongside those on safari for the first time. He certainly managed the balance well, between a couple who could identify every bird, and a young woman from Australia on her first game drive.

The comfortable and spacious Land Cruiser enhanced the pleasure of being out in the bush. As well as the thrill of spotting game from an open vehicle, I enjoyed a sunset gin and tonic and the slices of rare steak served during our stop. I am trying to learn the animal tracks and Andrew showed me a few in the fast fading light.

The staff was friendly and so flexible, even letting us choose where we wanted our table to be set for meals. Our waiter, Ronny, entertained us with African stories in between courses at dinner. The food was healthy with fresh, al dente vegetables to accompany the lamb or prawn option. 

Off to Imbali
 
I have seldom felt as close to inhabiting the romantic world of “Out of Africa”, and to describe our departure from our immersion into this world of safari splendour as reluctant would be more than an understatement.  Our reluctance was tempered by our anticipation of a night’s stay at the nearby Imbali Lodge.
There was great excitement and commotion on the main deck at Imbali as we arrived, as a huge elephant bull was drinking from the swimming pool. A group of children had been swimming and were now torn between fascination and fear, as they retreated from the water to watch the spectacle. Imbali is also sited on a dry river bed and has a water hole across the river, opposite the deck, where we saw a breeding herd of elephant slaking their thirst.

In our suite, we had our own deck facing the river bed and, to James’ delight, a hot outdoor Jacuzzi.  On our game drive we saw a herd of 15 sable antelope and a pair of mating lions. As it was in the concession, our guide drove off road and we had superb views, with my concerns regarding off-roading immediately allayed on learning that GPS co-ordinates of off-road activity are carefully recorded, so the site can be inspected and rehabilitated when necessary.

Natalie Howes, the manager of Imbali is full of energy and loves children visiting the lodge. She has a stock of good wildlife videos to entertain all ages, and she takes youngsters on special excursions to teach them about the bush. 

As we drove home down those alluring roads, we agreed that – while the Kruger Park is always rewarding - we had experienced another dimension of game and bird viewing in the open vehicles of Hamilton’s and Imbali. We felt as though we had been thrown back in to the grand old days of the elegance and splendour of the Colonial African Safari.

For information and to book, call + 27 (0)11 516 4367 or visit http://www.hamiltonstentedcamp.co.za.

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Gillian Mclaren Travel and Science Writer

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