Nelspruit - I admit, we did look at ourselves and wonder if we were slightly mad: pensioners tenting in the middle of winter in the Kruger National Park.
And then what does the weather do but turn worse and winter takes its first real bite… out of us.
We headed off to the Nkambeni Safari Camp with clouds hanging heavy in the sky and, as you can only book in after 2pm, decided to take a drive around the park.
We were lucky enough to aviod most of the rain as the lightning flashed far off in the distance – and dodged a hail storm which left little ice balls piled up to 10cm deep on the roadside.
It is that time of the year when the hyaenas have their young ones running around and we were lucky enough to see plenty right at the roadside… Jackie and I work on the theory that two minutes is the difference between “now you see it, now you don’t” and this happened to us several times during this stay.
When you see another car parked with their brake lights on you know they are looking at something, so you pull over behind it. This time around we could hear a crying coming from a hole in the embankment, and were lucky enough to see a black puppy scurrying back through the thick bush to the den.
As two other cars pulled away after taking their pictures, I let the guy who was double parked in a combi go first. How many pictures of the same animal can you take, for goodness sake? However he did not move off and the pup went quiet and was out of sight before he moved off.
Well, no more “Mr Nice Guy” for me: next time I’ll be selfish and hog the spot until I’m good and ready, and to hell with everyone else.
Half a kilometre on and there were two young hyaenas suckling. Another guy moved off to give me a clean shot, so yes, there are nice people out there.
We also came across a lion kill – a giraffe – we took our picture but then the traffic built up and we could not get out to let others in as the road was blocked solid, three lanes with half of the cars facing the wrong way. But that wasn’t the worst of it: two guys with caravans decided to try and go through the middle lane, so we sat for 30 to 40 mins not going anywhere, and not an official in sight.
We booked in at Nkambeni Safari Camp, which is normally accessed by the Numbi Gate and is close to White River and Hazyview. I asked what time the gate closed as we wanted to go out for dinner and was told by the receptionist the gates close at 6pm and we would have to have dinner in the park.
Not having eaten, I was about to get uptight when she informed me there was a buffet which was only R130 a head. It turned out to be well worth the money. We really did enjoy it.
There were 250 people in the camp that night and there was food aplenty and everything was perfectly cooked and the queues were mercifully short.
Heaters were spread throughout the room and candles flickered in brown paper bags, creating a warm, relaxed atmosphere.
The venue was only a three-star spot, but I would say they offer five-star treatment. The staff are warm and friendly and they really go the extra mile to help you.
Back to our tent – it’s unfair to call it that, though. Nkambeni like to refer to them as airconditioned canvas chalets – and they are.
You have your own private deck to relax on with a sundowner to take in the setting sun; inside are two single beds, which we tried making into one as we love sleeping next to each other. Unfortunately, they have been well used and tend to have sunk in the middle so you tend to keep rolling back.
But they do have a duvet and a warm woollen blanket to keep you snug. For the children, there are two fold-out bunks, the en-suite bathrooms have indoor and outdoor showers.
The camp offers 146 of these so-called “canvas chalets”, with restaurant and boma dinners available. The “Danger Ranger” bar has a viewing deck looking out on to the park, where you can chat about your sightings of the day over your favorite tipple. For the children, there is a jungle gym, sand pit and large swimming pool. They also offer morning, afternoon, full-day and sundowner game drives, plus guided bush walks. In all, a truly wonderful weekend and well worth it.
Telephone: +27 (0) 13 590 1011, or go to: www.nkambeni.com or firstname.lastname@example.org - Saturday Star