This is not your conventional game reserve so we won’t be doing conventional things like two game drives a day,” says our ranger Dave. I swear I want to kiss this man. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind game drives. It’s just that I have been yearning for a game lodge that offers something a little different. And the piece of paradise we find ourselves at on this sunny winter’s afternoon has “different” in spades.
Tintswalo Lapalala lies about a 3.5 hours’ drive from Johannesburg and it is obvious we are in for a unique experience from the get-go. We are all given a lovely goodie bag at the main gate as we alight the game drive vehicle. No private cars are allowed in the reserve which is a great idea for various reasons. Dave says it will take about an hour to get to Tintswalo Lapalala, the only lodge in the massive 44 500 hectare Lapalala Wilderness Reserve which was founded in 1981 by conservation leaders Dale Parker and Clive Walker. The owners of Tintswalo are passionate about continuing this legacy so the entire lodge is off the grid.
Along the route to the lodge, we encounter rutting impala, zebra, dassies, waterbuck, monkeys and giraffe. It quickly becomes evident that Dave is immensely knowledgeable about the wild as he explains the animals’ behaviour in fascinating detail. The escarpment rises, exposing the beautiful bush beneath and exquisite dewy blue mountains in the distance. Our welcome at the lodge is an experience in itself. Smiling from ear to ear, the amazing staff all introduce themselves and hand out cold drinks and hot cloths. We are lucky enough to meet two of the members of the family who own the lodge and I am struck by their genuine warmth and passion for their environment and guests. We are then taken to our lodgings for the next two days. The exquisite luxury tents all lie along a wooden walkway and each has a different African tribal theme. They all look out onto an open plain and you can spend hours lying in your private pool or lounging on the deck chairs, drinking in the wild around you. They all have outdoor baths as well and the amazing attention to detail in terms of understated décor and personal touches is quite unique. And of course, all 5-star luxuries are taken care of such as a minibar, amazing linen and Africology bath and shower products.
We have sundowners on the main deck and with G&T in hand we watch zebra, giraffe and two white rhino coming to drink at the waterhole in front of the lodge in the last rays of the sun. Bliss…
We hop on the vehicle for a short sunset drive to the top of the escarpment and the view is breath-taking. A warm fire has already been lit and we are met by lanterns and divine drinks and snacks, all served by the tireless, amazing staff. On the way back we spot two black rhinos of which there are only about 2500 left in the entire world, says Dave. Back at the lodge, we see two more at the watering hole and Dave says this is the first time in his 12-year career he has seen five in one day. Dinner is a yummy affair of mushroom soup, the most succulent steak and a marvellous pannacotta. Back in my tent, I discover roaring flames in my fireplace and a hot water bottle in my turned-down bed. I fall into a dreamless, deep sleep before I know it.
Morning brings with it a wake-up call with steaming coffee. After a lovely breakfast, we take to the road to have a gander at the Bushman paintings in the caves in the area. On the way we see all sorts – roan antelope, a bat-eared fox, and various bird species. Home to a plethora of wild game, the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve forms part of the UNESCO-declared Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, one of Africa’s most diverse ecological settings.
We rock-hop to the caves and Dave shows us the astonishing bushman drawings and paintings, dating back thousands of years. Then it’s lunchtime at the river. The staff already have everything set up at a beautiful location along the Palala River. We are spoilt rotten with lovely food and drinks served under canvas with massive cushions scattered and even Persian carpets! And a massage therapist to boot…
During summer, we are told, guests spend the whole day out here, relaxing and frolicking in this part of the (safe!) stretch of river.
But time is a-wastin’ as a sunset cruise is afoot. We see a herd of buffalo, grazing next to the dam and checking us out in a not too friendly manner. We also navigate carefully past a few hippos. What a joyous day. Tintswalo Lapalala really offers a cornucopia of amazing experiences – apart from the ones mentioned, guests can also fly-fish, go on hikes up the hills to an iron-age site at the top, go on bush-walks and picnics and also take part in the rhino notching conservation project here. Two days here is really not long enough.
Before dinner, Dave gathers us all together to observe the mesmerising night sky. There is almost no light in this part of the world which illuminates the galaxy and stars in the most breath-taking way. He shows us Orion and Scorpio and a whole host of other things but I’m lost in wonder and reverie under the magnificence of this ink-black blanket of beauty.
Much mirth ensues at dinner as we are treated to a braai with different types of venison, including wildebeest and crocodile. A bush breakfast is our last hurrah the following morning and we are also shown the sleep-out space, replete with toilet and shower where the more adventurous guests can spend the night in true wilderness style with all the trimmings.
With a sad heart, I say goodbye to this most special and unique of places. If you are looking for a totally off-the-map, luxurious and truly wild and different experience, Tintswalo Lapalala should be entered into your diary, right now.
Tintswalo Lapalala offers the special rate of R4200 pppn all-inclusive (apart from certain activities) for South African residents until 15 December 2019, so take advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Story by: Jo Kromberg.
Photographs supplied by Tintswalo