Experience gifts from the gods in the serenity of the Mpumalanga lowveld

Matthew McClure finds the divine in the distancing at the exclusive Rock Fig Safari Lodge in the Timbavati

15 August 2021 - 00:00 By Matthew McClure
The buildings at Rock Fig Safari Lodge are open, light and airy and lend themselves to social distancing in a most tranquil setting.
The buildings at Rock Fig Safari Lodge are open, light and airy and lend themselves to social distancing in a most tranquil setting.
Image: Rock Fig Safari Lodge

There's no denying we live in uncertain times, and one must pause every once in a while to reconnect to the human side — that part of you and others that might feel a little neglected in these days of distancing. An immersion into the peace and serenity of the Mpumalanga lowveld might be just the ticket. It was for me.

Those familiar with this little corner of SA will know the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, formed as a wildlife concession in 1956. The name Timbavati is Xitsonga, a reference to the notion that the reserve's rare and famous white lions are gifts from the gods. All fences between Timbavati and the adjoining Kruger National Park have been removed, so wildlife is free to roam. And it is here that we ensconced ourselves at Rock Fig Safari Lodge recently for a few days of sheer bliss with people who share a passion for wildlife and family.

The current lodge is the second Rock Fig incarnation, having opened in 2019 right next door to where the owners, Bruce and Glen Jenkins, built the original lodge as a private family getaway. The new buildings are open, light and airy — an ideal setup for social distancing — and the designers and architects have made sure that the safari experience is kept intimate.

One of six private chalets with doors that fold back and out.
One of six private chalets with doors that fold back and out.
Image: Rock Fig Lodge

There are only six private chalets, all constructed to make the most of the breathtaking beauty of the Timbavati bushveld. Doors fold back and out, allowing the outside in at all times of the day and night. The massive bath in our chalet (big enough for two people) looks out onto stately thorn trees and the endless blue sky, and each chalet is at a comfortable distance from the next so you really do feel like you're totally alone with only the sound of the birds as company.

The reserve is perhaps best known for its lion, but it was the leopards that truly stole our hearts — we were lucky enough to see two of them. The highlight was witnessing a majestic female at the top of a tall leadwood tree, nibbling on a recent impala kill which she was guarding jealously from marauding hyenas. As the sun set in the background, and the scene before us lit up in soft pinks and reds with only the sound of the night insects coming alive, we were reminded of how deep our connection to this little part of Africa really is.

Baths in the chalets look out onto stately thorn trees and the endless blue sky.
Baths in the chalets look out onto stately thorn trees and the endless blue sky.
Image: Rock Fig Lodge


It was, in fact, another female leopard that inspired the establishment of Rock Fig Lodge in the first place, as director Martin Stone told us over dinner on the first night. The Jenkinses had called Timbavati their “home away from home” since the 1990s, but it was a beautiful female leopard lazing in the fork of a rock fig tree on one of their game drives that convinced them to build Rock Fig as a secret escape.

I'm not ashamed to admit that there are a few creature comforts in which I languish when I travel, and one of these is a turn-down service. There's nothing more luxurious than returning after a delicious dinner to a room that has been gently heated to ward off the evening chill, with soft down duvets and sheets pulled back welcomingly and gauzy mosquito nets draped to create a cosy refuge.

The staff focus on the small details: a scented, warm towelette to refresh you after a drive; remembering your drink order from the night before; making sure you have a fluffy blanket to drape over your legs at dinner. These are the small gestures, sometimes unnoticed, that keep people coming back, and Rock Fig has them down pat.


Covid has been hard on tourism. A few nearby lodges have been mothballed due to loss of business, but Rock Fig has endured. For years before the pandemic, Stone, his wife Adri and the Jenkinses fostered a large client base of South Africans, who paid local rates to visit the lodge.

The Rock Fig family grew over the years and many guests make their next booking on the same day they leave. With the winning ingredients of a beautiful setting, warm and welcoming staff and a truly homely feel, this bushveld gem is a place to come back to.


You will surely enjoy sitting around a roaring fire at night between the game drive and dinner, sharing stories with your fellow guests. I haven't done this in years, and
I didn't realise how much I missed the companionship and camaraderie.


Skip a game drive on one of your days and watch the lodge come alive around you. Birds, reptiles, squirrels and all manner of small creatures call this area their home. The landscaping around the chalets cleverly includes many indigenous aloe species that, during our visit, were in full bloom. There is nothing more soothing than watching a sugarbird enjoying a morning meal from an aloe while sipping your coffee on your private veranda.


If you're lucky, one of your morning drives will end in a communal breakfast under the shade of a massive riverside tree. It's such a treat to enjoy delicious, freshly made food outdoors on a crisp, clear morning. Don't miss out on the homemade doughnuts and mouthwatering toasted granola.

Wrap up a game drive with a delicious breakfast spread.
Wrap up a game drive with a delicious breakfast spread.
Image: Rock Fig Lodge



The standard rate is R12,500 pppn.

Rock Fig is offering a special for SA residents of R3,999 pppn, for a minimum two-night stay. Kids 6-16 pay R1,999 pn and kids under 5 stay free.

Want to book out all six suites? The exclusive-use special is R45,000 per night (minimum two nights), based on 12 adults. An additional four children can be accommodated at extra cost.

Alternatively, book their exclusive-use, self-catering special at R20,000 pn for up to 10 people. Excludes food, drinks, conservation levies and gate entrance fees.

Specials valid until December 15 2021. Terms and conditions apply. For inclusions and exclusions and to book, visit rockfigsafarilodge.com


Treat yourself to a thrilling chartered flight and be at Rock Fig Lodge in just over an hour. Federal Airlines offers daily flights to premium lodges in the Timbavati. You will feel spoilt from the moment you step into their private departure lounge close to OR Tambo International. They'll drop you off at the Rock Fig private airstrip, a few minutes' drive from the lodge. Flights are kept to a minimum to prevent unnecessary noise pollution, and are fully compliant with all Covid-19 protocols. See fedair.com.

McClure was a guest of Rock Fig Safari Lodge and Federal Airlines.