As the sun began its descent towards the horizon, we drifted lazily along the river, surrounded by ancient mountains and bushveld-covered valleys. Skittish waterbuck scrambled behind the trees as we approached, and a trio of hippos ahead of us bobbed up and down over the water surface. Above, a fish eagle surveyed us from its lofty perch. Content and relaxed, I pondered the meaning of the word Tintswalo. In the Shangaan language, it means “the intangible feeling of love, gratitude and peace that you bestow upon someone who has given you a meaningful and worthy gift.” This aptly describes what you will feel during your stay at Tintswalo at Lapalala .
The Tintswalo brand speaks for itself with its stunning lodges in the Hout Bay, Boulders Beach, Welgevonden and Greater Kruger areas. Tintswalo at Lapalala is one of the latest additions to the family, and was opened in October 2018. Just under 300 km from Johannesburg, it is located in the malaria-free Lapalala Reserve, within the 2-billion year old UNESCO-declared Waterberg biosphere. It is one of only two commercial lodges there, so you have this pristine wilderness pretty much to yourself.
The Lapalala reserve was born out of a passion for conservation and it is a conservation story in progress. A fascinating coffee table book in the rooms "Lapalala Wilderness – in the Waterberg "by Clive Walker, explains how he and the late Dale Parker founded the reserve in 1981, building it up from the initial 5000-hectare purchase to the magnificent 44 500-hectare reserve it is today. The reserve runs successful breeding programs with endangered roan antelope and disease-free Cape Buffalo. It is also home to the renowned Lapalala Wilderness School which has made outstanding contributions to environmental education in South Africa. More than 100,000 children have passed through the school to date!
Although it is not teeming with wildlife – yet - they are constantly being brought in from other reserves in Southern Africa, and it is fascinating to see how they become integrated into the reserve, sometimes battling with rival groups before finding their own territory. During our game drives we saw lions and cheetahs with fresh kills, buffalos, rhinos and many species of plains game. Other guests were lucky enough to spot the last free-roaming pack of African wild dogs in Southern Africa, after a long absence.
There is much more to do here other than conventional safari activities. Apart from game drives and guided bush walks where you can see the Big Five and more, you can go on a sundowner cruise or fish in the crystalline mountain waters. Admire ancient Bushman rock art in shaded caves or hike to an Iron Age site. Visit the Lapalala Wilderness School or indulge in a relaxing spa treatment. Gaze at stars in the unpolluted night sky when darkness falls or spend the entire night under the stars on a sleep-out deck. The options are plentiful.
The lodge is off the grid, so you can rest assured that you are getting a truly sustainable safari experience. Reducing the lodges carbon footprint is taken seriously. It runs off solar power and generators and reusable items are used in lieu of disposable materials.
The main lodge houses dining and seating areas, a curio shop, a swimming pool and a sprawling deck punctuated by a Weeping Boer Bean tree as its centrepiece. There is a small waterhole in front of the lodge where wildlife come to quench their thirst. A lion had recently killed an antelope there, and leopards have been spotted there too.
Secluded and intimate, there are seven luxury tents , including two family tents, and a two-bedroom family suite, connected by elevated wooden walkways. Each tent has a private plunge pool - the family suite had two – and a private deck overlooking the wilderness. Some of them have outdoor showers and bathtubs. The attractive suites are named after great African tribes like the Maasai , the Zulu and the Tuareg and reflect symbols and portraits of the tribe. Ours was the Xhosa suite. It was an expansive suite with two spacious bedrooms and bathrooms from where you could watch the game passing by.
The ultra-comfortable beds were flanked by lounging areas with a working desk, a daybed and a fireplace. Plush gowns and slippers were provided as well as a fully stocked mini-bar and snacks. After dinner, we would return to our rooms to find creatively folded towel animals with our sweet treats.
The lodge is family-friendly and we saw kids of all ages having fun there, including ours. Younger children are provided with welcome packs and activities can be arranged to entertain them. For older children, there are board games and bush activities. My children loved their rooms, the towel art, and the yummy snacks and drinks. They also enjoyed the game drives.
Rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner and most of our meals were served al-fresco – on the deck or around the blazing boma firepit. The talented chefs spoilt us with their culinary creations and we surely left a few kilograms heavier. Bush breakfasts and riverside picnics are arranged, weather-permitting. Dinner starters were usually served in the bush with our game drive sundowners. On Heritage Day, we were treated to potjiekos - delicious food cooked in traditional cast-iron pots on the fire, and milk tart. After dinner, the children had fun making their own smores on the fire.
The staff are friendly, and the hospitality is so genuine that you will certainly get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Tintswalo at Lapalala is one of South Africa’s undiscovered safari gems and it’s time that more people experienced this unforgettable wilderness eco-adventure.
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