Umlani Bush Camp is an owner-run traditional rustic lodge in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. The whole area is unfenced with the Kruger and shares its game, although Timbavati's eponymous White Lions don't seem to wander that far away and are frequently sighted around Umlani. There were plenty of new white lion cubs in 2014. Timbavati is much less developed than some of the Greater Kruger, and you are far away from the madding crowds. Umlani offers proper immersion in the bush. There are no modern distractions such as TV, cellphone signals or electricity. There is consequently a timeless, classic feel to the place. Umlani is justly reputed for the welcoming, friendly nature of its staff.
Umlani is most certainly in a Big Five area: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo are all here along with cheetah, giraffe, zebra and many species of antelope. A maximum of 16 guests are accommodated in well-spaced out ensuite reed and thatch rondavels.
Game Drives in open Land Rovers traverse an area of more than 10,000 hectares (24,000 acres), and take place both as day and afternoon-night activities. This is plenty of space to explore. Umlani offers very good guided walks into the unspoilt wilderness. You may find yourselves tracking the Big Five on foot, accompanied by experienced (and armed) Guides and trackers. You’ll certainly become involved with game big and small, the prolific birdlife and be fascinated by the diverse trees, flora and fauna. Getting out of the vehicle is a must here.
The highlight of an extended stay (three nights or more) is a night spent in the double-storey treehouse (we will arrange this in advance for you). You are left on your own in an enclosed overnight shelter well away from camp (about 2km). This has great views out over a busy waterhole. The sense of solitude and harmony with Nature from spending the night here is hard to beat. Not much sleep might result as you enjoy the otherwise unseen and (generally) tranquil comings and goings of the nocturnal hours. The only concessions to modernity at the treehouse are the mosquito nets enclosing the bedding, some torches, a nice bottle of wine to calm the nerves, and a radio to summon the Guides if you change your minds or need help.
Umlani's normal routine starts with an early start in order to enjoy a spectacular sunrise deep in the bush, either on a drive or driving to a location from which to walk. After your morning activity, you will return to camp for a hearty breakfast. It is really worthwhile spending the heat of the day with a cool box of refreshments at one of the waterhole hides. Here you will be rewarded with birds swooping down to the water and mammals materialising out of the bush. Or laze in the double hammocks around the splash pool sipping iced drinks.
During your evening drive, watch the white light of the moon take over from the flame-coloured sun while enjoying sundowners surrounded by the unique sounds of the African wilderness. At the end of your spotlighted night drive, return to the welcoming comfort of old Africa. The romantic glow of paraffin lamps infuses the camp and lights your way. Enjoy pre-dinner drinks in the convivial bar overlooking the Nshlaralumi river course or around a roaring fire in the boma. Watch the chef put the finishing touches to the dinner prepared on an open fire. Enjoy it accompanied by fine South African wines and tall tales with your fellow guests (particularly those that have been in the treehouse).
Your comfortable en suite reed and thatch rondavel will soon be calling, but before falling into bed, take a steaming hot shower under a blanket of stars in your own open-air reeded bathroom. The magic is complete when the haunting sounds of nearby hyena and lion lull you to sleep.
Note that there are facilities to enable you to charge cameras etc. Umlani is certified by Fair Trade Tourism South Africa.