Hidden away on the banks of the dry Ripape riverbed is one of Kruger National Park’s newest and probably most exquisite accommodation gems – Kruger Untamed Tshokwane River Camp. It is unspoilt beauty and splendour, but with a catch: It’s only operational for five months of the year.
Guests’ breath will be taken away the moment they step onto the wooden deck, set under leadwood trees, deep within the Kruger bush, and see before them the dry riverbed with its communal relaxation areas. Ranged along the white sand are loungers, bomas, a rustic bar, beckoning poufs and even a bright blue pool.
With zero signal, it is as close to nature as one can be, with only the sounds of the bush and animal kingdom to entertain you. This sentence from the brochure probably encapsulates it best: ‘It offers the perfect opportunity to disconnect and reconnect’.
The luxury tented camp concession opened its ‘tent flaps’ for business in the first week of July and in future, guests will be able to enjoy the unexplored, novel location between May and September each year. It is, however, its quest to minimise its environmental footprint that captivated the media group during a recent visit.
For Lysta Stander, co-founder of Chiefs Tented Camps and a former Lowvelder who now lives in the Cape, Tshokwane River Camp is a dream come true and a celebration of ‘coming home’ to the bush. Stander and Allan Johnston first ventured into a similarly ambitious project when they opened a seasonal tented camp in the Namaqua National Park during flower season. The Beach Flower Camp is open from mid-August to mid-September and all the tents have a captivating sea view, lovely beaches, plenty of rocks for sundowners, miles to walk, and plenty to experience.
Their ability to offer such an experience with minimal impact on the environment opened the opportunity to engage with SANParks on doing a similar set-up in Kruger. The process took seven years; it was only in May that it was all systems go.
Stander says they offer five-star luxury in the bush, but make sure everything is entirely removed when the camp closes, allowing the land to restore itself during the rainy months. Their strict environmental management plan is regularly scrutinised and audited.
Being a seasonal camp comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is limited access to resources such as power and water. To address this, the camp relies on a combination of a generator and solar power. While the generator provides a reliable source of energy, the camp also utilises solar power to reduce its carbon footprint and decrease its reliance on non-renewable resources.
Additionally, water limitations are carefully managed using low-flow fixtures and conservation practices. The butler-filled shower system offers guests the opportunity to enjoy hot water from a nearby donkey system, while looking up at the star-filled sky.
The luxury tents all have en-suite bathrooms and a covered patio. The fresh linen and duvets plus a hot water bottle and turn-down service ensure that everyone sleeps comfortably.
In the early hours of both days’ stay, the roar of lions provided the perfect wake-up call for the game drives.
The Tshokwane area is renowned for its lion sightings and the pride of 17 lions lazing on the tar road near the camp set the tone for what would become a magnificent outing. Hyena, elephant, antelope, zebra and two big herds of buffalo were ticked off the list before the vehicles stopped at a nearby dam to watch a variety of animals drinking water.
A small herd of buffalo on the banks grew unsettled and the group then saw what the guide called ‘a once-in-a-lifetime’ experience. The pride of lions slowly moved in, no doubt hoping to separate a baby buffalo from its protective herd.
For the next 20 minutes, everyone’s attention was fixed on the battlefield in front of them as the lions cautiously moved in and the buffalo bravely stormed back. There was no kill, but it was evident as the group moved deeper into the bush that the pride was not going to let a potential meal get away.
Two sightings of leopard and a lioness with her three cubs made it an unforgettable experience.
Pinotage king Beyers Truter treated guests to a wine pairing at dinner time, starting with a few Beyerskloof signature wines at the boma, lit with lanterns and fires, before moving to the dining area where slow-cooked warthog potjie was complemented by Grand Pinotage wines.
With only a few weeks left to go, book a breakaway and unplug from real life for a day or two. The rates for Tshokwane River Camp start at R5 950 per person per night sharing for SADC residents and R9 500 per person per night sharing for international guests. Included are all meals, teas and coffees, soft drinks, house wines and local brand spirits and beers, as well as two game drives daily or daily guided walking safaris.
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