Jayson's Notes on Safari Part 1: Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

At Safari.com, we like to send our safari experts on safari every now and again, just to ensure that they are up to date on the goings on in the African bush, and can pass on this knowledge to their clients. We recently sent senior consultant Jayson Scheepers to the Timbavati and Klaserie game reserves, and what follows are his notes on the trip.

You can get to know Jayson a little better, here

Jayson with a member of staff at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

Day 1:

We arrived at Hoedspruit airport at 13H45 from Cape Town via JHB. I was travelling with my colleague Kim, whose account of our journey you can read here. Our transfer was waiting for us, and an hour later we arrived at Simbavati Hilltop lodge, which is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. We were met by lodge host, Bongi, and received a heartfelt and much appreciated welcome from the camp staff. Cold drinks and warm towels were handed out and we made our way to the main lounge area to relax after the long drive. Then we boarded another vehicle, which drove us to our private accommodation, which felt very decadent, as it was only about 300m away!

Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

We would be staying in the Mvubu cottage, a two-room suite that was only recently added to the Simbavati collection, but checked in first at the Hilltop Lodge reception area. The bedrooms in the cottage, which is located alongside the expansive Mbali Dam and the Nhlaralumi River, each contained king sized beds complete with crisp and luxurious bedding. Both rooms have ensuite facilities, and there’s an outdoor shower as well, for those who like to bathe with a view. There was also a ceiling fan, an indoor bar, hot beverage making facilities, and a laundry service.

Mvubu Cottage interior.

We would have our own dedicated guide, tracker and vehicle for the duration of our stay. We were offered the option to dine in the cottage but chose to eat in the lodge with the other guests. We of course already knew about the outstanding service and luxury provided by the Simbavati lodges, but it was still hard not to be impressed. We had everything we could possibly need to fully relax and enjoy our safari. 

Our first game drive would prove to be a spectacular one and include a sighting of two white lions! The word Timbavati translates into English as ‘the place where the heavenly ones alighted’ and is a reference to the majestic and extremely rare white lions that are indigenous to the area. These lions are, as a result of a genetic mutation affecting the balance of pigment in their skin, much paler than regular lions. Sadly, we were so entranced by the sight of the lions, that neither of us thought to take a picture!

Jayson on a game drive.

Amazingly, our guide, Andre (who was extremely patient and knowledgeable), told us it had been almost a decade since a white lion was spotted in the area. The two lions were walking side by side, and after tracking them for a while, we eventually lost them in the bush. Not long after that, we saw a fully grown male leopard. White lions are a tough act to follow, but the massive leopard, with its belly swollen from a recent meal, did a pretty good job. 

Then it was back to the camp for dinner and bed. Mvubu Cottage is perfect for small families, friends, or couple’s looking for privacy and exclusivity. The second bedroom is relatively small, so it’s probably not suitable for two couples travelling together. The beds are about as luxurious, and comfortable as beds get, and we both enjoyed a deep and restful sleep.

En suite bathroom at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

‍The next day started early, as we met for breakfast and then hopped onto the truck for our next game drive. It wasn’t long before we came across a pride of lions feeding off a kill. Andre told us that from the look of things, the hunt had probably ended about an hour ago. Then we saw a leopard feasting on a nyala, which it had dragged up into a treetop. Predators like to hunt at night, and it’s not uncommon to see them eating their catch in the early morning hours. 

The Boma at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

We spotted a hyena in the bush nearby, jealously watching the Leopard eat, hoping it would have a turn with the carcass when the big cat was done. We drove up a nearby hill and enjoyed a stunning view of the surrounding reserve while enjoying the first coffee of the day. Driving back to the lodge, we saw some giraffe and a hippo, who didn’t seem to appreciate our presence, flapping his powerful jaws at us until we took the hint and moved on.

After a delicious lunch, we headed back to our cottage, where we would spend the afternoon relaxing in the pool, and even having a quick nap. Heaven. After the afternoon game drive, we met in the Boma for dinner, where we were joined by our guides and spent the evening sharing stories and laughter. It had been a most enjoyable stay, but we would soon be moving on to our next destination.

Simbavati River Lodge reception area.

Finally, I’ll share some of my notes regarding the different Simbavati lodges we inspected while in the Timbavati reserve, for those interested in visiting the area.

1. Simbavati Hilltop Lodge: Small, intimate Luxury tented lodge, more for couples, honeymooners or adults and as the tents are all a far walking distance from the main lodge, I would not recommend guests with mobility issues to stay here.

2. Simbavati River Sands: New to the Simbavati collection and booked on exclusive use basis only.

3. Simbavati River Lodge: Suitable for families and kids of all ages are welcome.

For more info on lodges and tours in the Timbavati region, click here.

Look out for part 2 of Jayson’s notes on Safari, which will cover his time in the Klaserie Reserve.

If you'd like assistance from Jayson in planning a trip, feel free to get in touch below:


Or click here to chat to Jayson on WhatsApp.

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