Tswalu and Kwandwe, four weeks in South Africa
Lucinda saw as much of South Africa in a month as possible and is now an expert on anything from boutique guest houses in Cape Town to some of the most luxurious safari lodges on the planet. Do give her a call if you’d like suggestions for this diverse holiday destination. It does live up to its ‘world in one country’ claim. While we would love to write about all her adventures, here are her thoughts on just two of the highlights she’s picked from her trip.
If asked to sum up Tswalu (the largest private game reserve in South Africa – covering 312 square miles on the edge of the Kalahari Desert) in two words I would struggle. But I might say bewitching and extraordinary. The landscape, wildlife, accommodation and whole ethos of the place astonished me. There is something undefinable in this incredible wilderness which gets into your soul. It left me, even after a short stay, feeling revived, rejuvenated and privileged to have had a peek at this unique part of the world. Tswalu means rebirth and from the moment I arrived, I felt that something important was going on here. Returning this land to its natural state after years of intensive farming and neglect. Now the plains, verdant for a desert, are dotted with oryx, red hartebeest, black and white rhino, sable and roan.
The landscape is surprisingly varied. Mountains, whose rocky outcrops form a backdrop to the open plains below, are interspersed by sand dunes. Climb one of these and you get a great view as the plains roll away into the distance. With over 100,000 hectares to explore and with only 30 guests at Tswalu at any one time, this is a place where you feel back in the wilderness of Africa. I tracked black rhino on foot here (only possible at a handful of lodges throughout Africa). Which was perhaps one of the most memorable wildlife experiences I have had. Creeping up behind a tree and watching a rhino and her calf from ground level was an incredible moment. It wasn’t all about rhino though. Whether sitting with habituated meerkats, seeing aardwolf (a termite-eating member of the hyena family), baby ostrich with their parents or watching the animals and birds coming to drink in front of camp. There was always something to enjoy. It was a real wrench to leave. I was pretty sure I’d enjoy the remoteness and majesty of Tswalu, but after four years living in the wilds of Zambia’s South Luangwa valley I did wonder what I’d make of the game reserves around the Eastern Cape.
Can you get wilderness so close to the sophistication of Cape Town? Well, yes, definitely. Kwandwe is one, with a great balance between wonderful accommodation and service. Hot bubble baths waiting after night drives, incredible food. Superb game viewing with excellent guides. Our guide kept us well entertained, whether trying berries from the jacketplum tree (good, if a little tart), tracking a white rhino with her calf, or watching two cheetah eyeing up supper in the form of a baby black wildebeest.
There’s some phenomenal bird life here too, including the blue crane, South Africa’s national bird (surprisingly scarce elsewhere on my travels) which is a beautiful creature with long tail feathers and a rather regal stance. A particular highlight was my evening on the inaugural ‘sundowner voyage’ of the Kwandwe pontoon. Drink in hand, we set off for the middle of a dam. Watching the setting sun while listening to the bush erupt into a nocturnal cacophony of sound was a magical way to end the day. Future plans include the option to sleep on the pontoon – a definite must in my view.
Both Tswalu and Kwandwe offer accommodation ranging from traditional lodge to exclusive use houses. You can sleep out – so exciting and highly recommended – and will also see more unusual game like oryx, aardvark or aardwolf in beautiful surroundings. Both pride themselves on being family friendly, with guides who will make the bush come alive for children and adults alike. Certainly the flexibility and variety of activities, together with the fact that they’re in malaria free areas, makes these a particularly wonderful choice for families.