You are treated at Tintswalo in the same way the owners treat their staff, like family. It’s like being a guest at a luxury villa of an old family acquaintance, except that it is deep in the African bush.
I woke up in a glow, remembering yesterday as if it were a special birthday. Without trying very hard, we saw Africa’s Big 5 animals in just two game drives, even though an encounter with eleven lions was not expected. Nobody had ever seen this pride before – they had come up from the south, killed a buffalo and gorged until their stomachs looked like they would burst (especially the young males who snatch as much meat as they can before the older females snarl them into submission and send them packing). The Tintswalo rangers and trackers are hoping this pride will settle here as it’ll make their life a lot easier when there are forty-four paw prints to track to the source.
My tracker and ranger team at Tintswalo Safari Lodge of Alfie and Omega (where do they get these names?), swear that with this many lions in the Manyaleti Game Reserve of 23,000 hectares, not a single day will go by without them finding the lions.
But more beautiful than these golden felines is the exquisite leopard – possibly the most perfect creature in all the world. The chances of finding a leopard lying along a bough of a tree with legs dangling in slumber, is small, but we were invincible yesterday. Alfie spotted her (he misses nothing). But she was agitated and jumped down and her loose belly indicated she had cubs. Doing a quick loop to where we thought she was heading, we sat and waited on the sand track. Right on queue she padded past in all her maternal beauty.
Add to these fabulous animal encounters, the hugest male white rhino I have ever seen, a giant old bull elephant feeding casually, some grumpy old men buffalo and a host of newly born impala, and I considered myself the luckiest person in Africa today.
It wasn’t just the game viewing that made me feel that way, it was the wicked duo Alfie and Omega. These guys know how to have some fun with guests; Alfie (the tracker) said the way to tell when buffalo dung is ready to mix with termite mound earth to make cement for the walls of their huts, is to stick your finger in a pile of dung then lick it! He demonstrated this so fast that I really thought he’d actually sucked the finger that he’d just put in a wet pile of buffalo dung. He had of course, put a different finger into his mouth, but he almost got me. I asked if he really fooled guests into trying this. He collapsed in his own mirth, nodding furiously.
Omega, also an expert Tracker but now promoted to the status of Ranger, told us about the uses of plants that his Father (also a Ranger) had taught him. There’s the Magic Quarri tree whose fibrous twigs make a perfect toothbrush and the ash of a Leadwood tree for toothpaste. The very toxic white sap of the Tamboti tree – whose logs you should never use on a fire because the smoke will kill you – can be used to treat toothache. And if you inhale some smoke from smouldering elephant dung it will remove any headache. The Land Cruiser cigarette lighter was our means to light the dry elephant poo and we all sat there deep in the African jungle smoking elephant dung just in case we might get a headache later. It smelled surprisingly good!
Tintswalo Safari Lodge only accommodates twelve guests, making it feel like a family affair. This is the ethos of the owners for whom it really is a family business. Managers Claire and Lee with their three rarely-seen gorgeous children, are superb in perpetuating this. In fact, the amazing atmosphere is a strong selling point of Tintswalo Safari Lodge.
Suites are huge spreading out from the main lodge along the line of a sand river where pockets of water attract elephant and monkeys. It is also the domain of electric blue woodland kingfishers, who proclaim their domain by calling constantly.
Bathrooms have his ‘n hers basins, ball and claw-foot bath and a shower that opens to the outside. There are sweet smelling lotions and potions and towels thicker than absolutely necessary – quite simply everything you have ever wanted from a bathroom.
Rooms are themed after explorers; Stanley, Livingstone, Mary Kingsley (who?). A female explorer in the late 1880s, in a time when women didn’t head off alone into Africa. Décor is attractive and conservative within the confines of luxury and comfort without making any firm statement.
The architecture on the other hand is innovative with layered stone walls and domes of thatch creating an African village come Zimbabwe stone ruins feel. There are great armchairs in luxurious fabrics, colonial desks with an old fashioned telephone by which to order tea and coffee in your bed, which by the way is dressed with only the finest, carefully pressed white linens.
Food must get a mention because it’s one of those places where I asked for some recipes – it’s that good. One dish in question was a Thai vegetable curry, so fully resolved in flavour that even though I was full, I kept eating till it was gone. Tintswalo take their food seriously with an Executive Chef, a couple of other chefs in the kitchen and a High Chief of a Chef.
The latter goes between the three Tintwsalo properties (Tintswalo at Waterfall in Joburg, Tintswalo Atlantic in Cape Town and Tintswalo Safari Lodge), making sure it is up to scratch. The other special thing about food at Tintswalo is that you never eat at the same table twice. It may be on the deck, in the riverbed, in the wine cellar or any other surprise location they decide to set up table.
The boma braai meal, however, was like every other safari lodge barbeque meal, which I find very ordinary when compared with the other superb food that usually comes out of the kitchen – albeit in a lovely lantern-lit setting. This observation is not confined to this lodge, as every boma braai I have at any lodge offers pretty much the same bland meal that does no justice to the usual high standards.
The rest of the food at Tintswalo Safari Lodge is superb and when cooked by the lovely Rhulani (fiancé of Omega), tastes doubly good as she is obviously dedicated to her craft.
Another master of her art is Ulrika, the Spa therapist. Although she will be leaving soon, her magic hands deserve to be noted. I fell into a stupor during the complimentary 15 minute massage.
Tintswalo Safari Lodge is only five years old but is certainly competing at a high level with all the other fabulous safari lodges of South Africa. To compliment its offering, they also have a Manor House, fully equipped to take families with children, with its own chef and game ranger/tracker team and nature activities to keep kids entertained. Then there’s the Presidential Suite at Safari Lodge, which is a two bedroom suite that is fully self contained with own butler, ranger and chef, for the exclusively shy who don’t want to mingle with the likes of me.
See more about Tintswalo Lodges.