Feels like home: This luxe lodge in Limpopo caters for the whole family

Tintswalo Family Camp in the Welgevonden Game Reserve is the perfect place to connect with nature — and your children, writes Katharynn Kesselaar

06 December 2020 - 00:00 By Katharynn Kesselaar
An aerial view of Tintswalo Family Camp at Welgevonden.
An aerial view of Tintswalo Family Camp at Welgevonden.
Image: Supplied

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I could not remember the last time I had been in the bush. That was until recently, when I found myself en route to the malaria-free Waterberg in Limpopo, where just three hours outside Johannesburg you'll find 40,000ha of pristine bushveld in the Welgevonden Game Reserve.

I kept racking my brain trying to recall my last memory of the bush, and after a short “game drive” from the main gate to the lodge — no private vehicles are allowed to enter the reserve — it all came flooding back.

That smell, that feeling — it's magic how mere proximity to raw, wild nature has the power to heal you. Instantly, I felt the granite in my shoulders from months of ill-equipped working from home melt away. This is what my soul had been yearning for.

And, after the briefest introduction, I knew this was going to be special. Within minutes we'd spotted a crash of rhinos grazing on Fig Tree Plains, while zebra dazzled between and warthog busied about. Welgevonden has one of the healthiest rhino populations in SA. Given the devastating reality that these remarkable animals face, it was a moment of serendipity.

We arrived at Tintswalo Family Camp — the latest addition to the luxury lodge and hotel group — to a welcome song, refreshing iced tea and cool towels. Face masks and a “sanitise station” served as the only reminder of the stark realities of the outside world.

Stepping off the Land Cruiser, earth crunching beneath my sneakers, it felt like coming home after being lost for some time — and it was really comforting.

IT'S A KID'S WORLD

The camp was originally a holiday hideaway for Tintswalo owners and founders Gaye and Ernest Corbett, who decided they wanted to share their understated-luxury home with others. As Tintswalo's general manager of operations Alistair Leuner explained, “We want it to feel like home, for families to enjoy and relax.”

Positioned as a family camp, it is one of very few luxury lodges in SA that caters intentionally to parents and their children.

The lodge sleeps 16, and is booked on an exclusive-use basis only. Comprising five luxury units, each bedroom has an en suite bathroom, a fireplace and outside shower. The first thing I did when I dropped my bags? Enjoyed a cuppa on the deck while taking in the natural surrounds that would lull me to sleep later that night.

A chill area for the whole family on the deck of the Tintswalo Family Camp.
A chill area for the whole family on the deck of the Tintswalo Family Camp.
Image: Katharynn Kesselaar

My unit had a spare bedroom with two single beds facing the deck. While I don't have children, I can picture my nieces and nephews staring out at the landscape, eagerly anticipating the adventures that await them later on their bespoke game drive and bush walk. A goody bag comprising educational materials, binoculars, a compass and more also ensures the kids will be kept entertained during their stay. Mental note: I must return here with them pronto.

The fact that there's no cell reception, and Wi-Fi is limited to the reception area, is welcome respite for family members looking to switch off and reconnect with one another.

In the main communal lounge area there is a bar and an expansive deck that overlooks the valley below. A long dining table encourages traditional feasting with delicious, no-nonsense, home-cooked meals. If you prefer, there is a self-catering option too.

There is a pool for the kids to splash around in, and loungers for the parents. A childminder can be arranged if parents need a little more “me time”. The camp is protected by electric fencing, allowing children to roam the outdoors.

Have dinner under the stars in the outdoor boma while the kids make their own pizza with help from the chef. End the evening off with a nightcap at the bar, before sinking into a hot bath that has been prepared for you by the staff.

GOT A VISUAL

Exclusive-use means there's no competition for 4x4 vehicles, and game drives can be tailored to your needs. On our drives with ranger Andre Kruger, at any moment he'd yell, “I've got a visual!” — and we were never disappointed.

A pioneer in conservation initiatives, these parts are home to wildlife that faces little man-made threat. Rhinos flourish in their bevy at the waterhole, with baby splashing about and following mom around like a shadow. I love the way they move — a paradox of bulking weight moving delicately on ballerina feet.

Lion brothers relaxing after a feed.
Lion brothers relaxing after a feed.
Image: Katharynn Kesselaar

We passed two lion brothers, unperturbed by our presence. They'd just fed and, as the saying goes, “magies vol, ogies toe” (tummies full, eyes closed). I caught the gaze of one brother, his golden eyes pierced through mine.

We heard the calls of the black-backed jackals before we saw them, and the waterbuck sized us up as we drove past. Wildebeest, skittish as they are, moved swiftly out of the way, and talk turned to the “ugly five” as they're known, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor things.

With the sun setting, and content with our first day's sightings, we settled on a spot to sip G & before heading back for dinner. Sundowners in the bush, you just can't beat it.

After a brief lie-in the next morning, and a quick grub refuel, we were off again. This time Leuner initiated a spotting game, and I was on the lookout for a herd of elephants (secretly, I was hoping we'd see a pangolin — this to no avail). We did, however, find Tembe (one of two dominant male lions in the reserve) guarding his zebra kill. He would be there for the rest of the day, and so we moved on.

“I've got a visual,” said Kruger from the front — this time it was a “flat dog”, or crocodile to you and me. Hippos bathed in the water further on, while monkeys moved between the trees. We spotted one lone elephant bull and a pair of giraffes. As sunset rolled in, a mama cheetah crossed our path with her two cubs in tow. We were spoilt.

Evening drinks take place under the stars at the viewing deck (which is available for sleep-out, for the most adventurous sleepers). Kruger told us tales of the stars, of the battle between Scorpio and Orion. We headed back to the main lodge, where laughter rippled across the table as we enjoyed our last dinner together.

An idyllic setting to enjoy sundowners.
An idyllic setting to enjoy sundowners.
Image: Katharynn Kesselaar

The next morning we woke up early for one last drive, on a mission to find the ever-elusive leopard. And find her, and her two cubs, we did, although a few minutes too late. Hidden just out of view, sheltered by rocks near the waterberry tree, her little family eluded us humans yet again.

REMEMBER YOU, FONDLY

From elephant-shaped towels to chocolates on pillows to poems about Africa, the staff make every effort to ensure a memorable stay. It's these little touches, the attention to detail, that elevate the entire safari experience at Tintswalo Family Camp. Readying myself to leave, I had one last cuppa on the deck and bade farewell to this place that owns a piece of my soul. I will remember it fondly.

Those few days it seemed, as if almost intuitively, that the bush was calling me home. And, like home, you never realise how much you miss the bush until you go back. And man, I really missed it.

PLAN YOUR TRIP

• The Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo is about a three-hour drive from Johannesburg.

• Tintswalo Family Camp is made up of five luxury units, booked for exclusive-use only, for groups of 10 to 16 people (20 if children are included).

• Rates are per night, based on full takeover of all five units, for 10 people.

  • Off-peak: mid-week, Sunday to Thursday, R25,000; Friday to Saturday, R32,500.
  • Peak season: December 20 2020 to January 10 2021, R37,800.
  • An additional six guests can be accommodated at an extra cost per person, per night.

• Prices include all meals, coffee and tea, two game drives a day with refreshments, laundry, Wi-Fi at reception, and transport to and from the reserve's main gate. The reserve gate fee and conservation levy are excluded.

E-mail reservations@tintswalo.com, phone 021-773-0900 or visit www.tintswalo.com.