Kim on Safari Part 1: Simbavati Hilltop Lodge

At, we like to ensure that our safari experts can draw on a wealth of their own experience when advising clients about where to go, and what to expect when they get there. To that end, we like to send them on safari every now and then, to recharge their batteries, and deepen their knowledge through immersion in the wild.  What follows is part 1 of senior consultant Kim Abrahams’ account of her recent trip to the Timbavati and Klaserie game reserves.

You can read more about Kim, here.

Kim with her guide at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge.


I spent the last few days leading up to my trip studying my itinerary and growing increasingly excited. It had been too long since I had last been on safari, and I was itching for that uniquely magical experience. I’ve been to many Africa destinations in my time, and as each one has proved unique, I expected that my first visit to Timbavati Private Game Reserve would prove equally special, but in truth I had no idea just how special it would be.

I would be travelling with my colleague, Jayson Scheffers. His account of our trip will be published on the site soon. 

Day 1

It was a cold and rainy, 14 degree day in Cape Town when my flight departed for Johannesburg. We touched down after dark. I was met at the airport by one of African Rock Hotel & Spa’s representatives and transferred to the hotel, which was located in Kempton Park. The amazing boutique hotel - with only 11 suites and located 10km from the airport - represents what South Africa’s tourism industry really is about, a little utopia in the city.

We had arrived at the hotel after 21:00, but the chef had stayed late to ensure we could have a proper meal if we wanted one. We were worn out from the flight and went straight to our room, sending our thanks to the chef and saying we would be OK till the morning. Still the staff insisted on putting together a snack platter for us, which was delivered to our suite. We would need to wake up early the next morning to catch our flight to Hoedspruit, where our safari experience would truly begin.

Kim and Jayson with staff at the Simbavati Hilltop Lodge.

Day 2

We reported for breakfast the next morning at 7am, where the chef, complete with immaculate chef’s hat, was already preparing a wholesome and delicious breakfast. Then it was back to Johannesburg international Airport for our 1-hour flight to Hoedspruit Airport, a very small-town airport that doesn’t see much traffic, but serves its purpose well. We cleared security and made our way to the luggage area to collect our luggage. Our driver Derick was already waiting to escort us to our transfer vehicle.

An elephant sighting.

We headed out to Simbavati Hilltop lodge, where we would be staying for 4 nights. The transfers were about 1h30 minutes to  and from the lodge, with one tared road and then mainly gravel as you drive through the bush to get there. We had just entered the Orpen Gate (the only access gate to Timbavati Private Game Reserve) when we saw a few Zebras, and then some Wildebeest, Giraffes and lots of Nyala! Derick was also a tracker at the Lodge, and provided us with one of the most educational transfers I have ever had!

When we arrived at the lodge, we received the warmest of welcomes from the staff. We were given warm towels to wipe down our hands and feet and ushered to the main lounge, where refreshing mint and cucumber drinks awaited us. The lodge host, Bongi, was on hand to make us feel like VIP guests and walk us through the check in protocols. Then we were driven to our two-bedroom private cottage, which was about 300 meters away from the main camp. 

Simbavati Hilltop Lodge Pool Area.

We got to the cottage and took some time to freshen up before embarking on our first game drive which departed at 15h30, around when it starts to get darker in winter. Our first animal sighting was truly unique, even for the guide and tracker, who admitted they’d seen nothing like it for many years. It was two male lions, a spectacular sight in itself, but one of them was white! These incredible lions, which are thought to to be largely indigenous to the Timbavati region, are pale in appearance due to a rare genetic mutation.

The name Timbavati itself, which means the place where the sacred creatures came down to earth, is in fact a reference to the white lions. They are not albino, although the allele responsible for their appearance is also found in Albinism. Their pale complexion  is rather caused by a condition known as leucism, which results in the partial loss of pigmentation, causing the affected lions to range in colour from blonde to just off white. Our guide informed us that a white lion was last seen in the area in 2014. 

A white lion (indigenous to the region)

The two lions were moving quickly in the direction of the Kruger National Park, which runs continuously with the Timbavati Private game reserve, with the border unfenced to allow the unrestricted movement of wildlife between the two. We tried to follow but soon lost sight of the magnificent creatures. Soon we were blessed with another rare and spectacular sight, a full-grown male leopard swaggering through the bush, his bulging belly showing signs of a recent feast. Then it was back to the camp for a three-course meal and an early night. 

Day 3

We woke up early the next morning, just after five am. Of course, guests are free to sleep in late if they choose, but after the incredible sightings of the previous day, we were keen to get in on the morning game drive, which left the camp at 5:45am. Predators are very active at this time, looking for prey before the sun comes up. Shortly after leaving, we spotted another Leopard in a tree alongside the road. It had dragged an inyala into the  tree, where he could eat it undisturbed.

A suite at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge.

We saw a hyena skulking in the bush nearby, its eyes fixed on the Nyala’s carcass hanging precipitously from a branch above, no doubt hoping that it would fall. Hyenas are frequently spotted in the wings after the big cats have pulled off a successful hunt, ready to feast on whatever remains of the carcass. They will even grind down the bones with their specialised teeth and powerful jaws. Sometimes hyenas will devour so much bone that their faeces takes on a chalky white hue.

We stopped for a coffee break shortly thereafter, with some of the guests adding a drop of cream liqueur to their beverage, to put some pep in their step. On our way back to the lodge, we spotted some giraffes and a grumpy hippo, which gaped its massive mouth menacingly in our direction until we departed. The hippo’s yawn is sometimes innocuous, but it can also be meant as a warning. The long sharp teeth and the obvious power of the opened jaws get the message across quickly. 

Jayson by the pool.

There were more warm towels when we arrived back at the camp, where a massive breakfast had been laid out for the guests. They have a wide variety of options for breakfast, but being as picky as I am, I ordered an eggs benedict with Salmon and bacon on the side…and they made it for me!! Once breakfast was over we were transferred back to our cottage, and I had an amazing afternoon swim in the pool that overlooked the Nhlaralumi River. Then it was time for a glorious afternoon siesta!

We reassembled at the main area for lunch, before departing on the afternoon game drive. We saw more Nyala and some Elephants, Giraffes, wild dogs and Hyenas. At one point, we parked next to a clearing where many different types of animals were grazing. I was struck by the serenity of the moment. Then it was back to the camp for another beautiful 3 course meal. Over a glass of wine or two after dinner, we got to know some of the other guests, who hailed from all over the world, a bit better, before heading back to our cottage to sleep.

Look out for the next part of Kim’s adventure soon.

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

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The deck at the lodge.

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