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Kambaku River Sands Safari Lodge

While 'the location is amazing and the standard of safari guide second to none', Olivia Allwood-Mollon balks at being locked in without internet from 8pm every night at Kambaku River Sands

The credentials:

“Kambaku Lodges are highly sought after by local and international guests because of their prime location within the highly acclaimed Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Being part of the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the Timbavati enjoys a wealth of incredible biodiversity of both fauna and flora as well as the amazing White Lions* of the Timbavati. Kambaku offers guests an exceptional safari experience, either by open safari vehicles or by foot.

Expect to enjoy intimate sightings of the Big Five, white lions*, wild dogs, cheetah, hippo, and crocodile as well as a large variety of other game and birds whilst taking in the natural beauty of the real African bush.

Being completely unfenced the camp is home to a continuous stream of game, with almost daily up close and personal experiences with elephant, buffalo, hyena, warthog and bushbuck, to name but a few.

Experience luxury at its best—spoil yourself in the spa, enjoy a game of chess in our proudly South African premium wine cellar, have a cocktail whilst watching elephants drink from the pool, or work up a sweat in our private gym.”


The lodges are comfortable, with a large Jacuzzi tub bathroom, outdoor and indoor showers and vast, improbably comfortable beds—but lighting was woefully inadequate and you’re essentially locked in from around 8pm. Guests are sent to bed after supper and not allowed out unaccompanied until the 4.45am wake-up call, as the camp is unfenced and deep in the bush with wild animals roaming right up to and sometimes even through the buildings. Elephants wander through the dining and bar area and drink from the dipping pool and lions have been seen near the rooms.

There was an irritating dusting of sand/grit on the floor, which stuck to my feet and got into our sheets, and the décor was tired and not hugely elegant. Think twee triptychs, trinkets and a dated avocado and brown colour scheme.

The room had no TV, internet or wine in the mini-bar and room service is out of the question, so, after having a bath, an adult nap, then maybe another bath, ad infinitum, one sort of runs out of things to do.

Basic old-school board games would have made a world of difference, and providing internet in the rooms would be less invasive than a TV, but still allow guests who did want entertainment or contact with the outside world that option. Most guests are not African nationals so tethering a laptop to roaming phone internet becomes prohibitively expensive within seconds.


Food was the real high point at Kambaku. Supper the first night was ostrich from a couple of kilometres away, which was outstanding. The second night was a braai in a large circular sand pit.

Lit by gas-burning tiki torches, hyenas danced nearby, adding to the sense of magic, but, as to be expected in Kruger, bugs found their way onto the table, under the table, onto your plate, into your wine and under your clothes. C’est la vie.

Who goes there?

Safari buffs in search of their next hit, young newlyweds, ancient Dutch couples more wrinkled than the elephants, hotchpotch extended Swedish families, and anyone excited by the free-range element of the lodge.

Out & about:

As far as I could tell there is no out and about beyond the surrounding bush. In the camp there are 16 lodges for guests and a main lodge building, with an open dining area, braai (BBQ) sand pit, bar area, two open fires, subterranean wine cellar, pool, mini gym, and spa. Annoyingly for late November, it rained constantly and the token spa needed notice if you wanted to use the miniature steam room.

The worst thing:

The management. Having sent us two confirmations of our arrival and departure dates via email, and then several days after these initial confirmations an additional ‘confirmation form’ with the same dates laid out in stark black print, they casually came back several days after we’d gone on to book flights with the news that they’d ‘made a mistake’ and we were only welcome to stay two of the four nights they’d invited us. We were then expected to rebook more flights at our own expense and just take the wasted cost of the initial flights on the chin!

On meeting the owner, she seemed incredibly business-minded, and not in a good way. I was summoned to her office as though she were headmistress the morning we were due to leave, and at a time that suited her and not our schedule. She offered very little in the way of apology for their monumental cock-up, and seemed more interested in exactly how much editorial coverage she would get, and how soon.

Being held under house arrest in your lodge from 8pm is faintly terrifying to Londoners used to 2am dog walks and popping to VQ for eggs Benedict at 3am. A phone in the room to contact staff with questions would have been great, although we did discover—only upon leaving—that our room had a foghorn in a cupboard to sound in emergencies. Good to know on departure.

Normally I’d be all for somewhere going back to basics and eschewing TV or internet, but not being allowed to go outside and with nothing to occupy ourselves from 8pm, the panic began to set in. There is very weak wifi in the main dining area, so we spent many hours in vain trying to download Dr No to watch once back in our lodge for the evening. But with nothing to do but count the wood-chip on the avocado wall, you might, almost, contemplate offering yourself up to the lions.

The best thing:

The safaris. There was a 5am and early afternoon one each day, provided it wasn’t too wet. Our guide Mike clearly lived and breathed the bush and really cared that his guests saw all of the animals they were hoping to. He was reassuringly calm and confident during close encounters; he took us right up to sleeping lions, and an elephant with an hour-old baby practically touched me in our open safari-buggy. Having told us the elephant could throw the vehicle over with only its trunk, he also added that as long as I didn’t stand up it was dandy. Over meals he held court—I left Kambaku feeling I knew more about his extended family, next-door neighbour’s second cousins, career tangent and world view than I do my dearest friends—but he was a decent chap and very good at his job.

The lodge held a braai for guests on the second night. A new influx of multigenerational Swedes added a sense of fun to an otherwise subdued atmosphere; embarrassing mothers, too-cool-for-school daughters with boyfriends in tow, cousins, brothers and step-parents. Oh, and a Swiss financier, friendly, but alone, and seemingly confused by the Swedes and their lunatic babble. The braai began with drinks and dancers in the braai pit, with beautifully laid tables lit only by candlelight. There was a wonderfully jolly atmosphere (the owners weren’t present), great conversation, and several game-based options, all of which were brilliant.

We saw the Big Five—African elephant, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, African lion, and African leopard—on pretty much our first foray into the bush and there was no shortage of even more exotic animals. If you take your safaris seriously, the location is amazing and the standard of guide second to none.

*According to our guide there is actually only one white lion left in Kruger

The details:

Per person per night (based on two sharing) ZAR 7600 (£466 at current exchange rates) plus ZAR 328 (£20) conservation levy.
Rates include two game drives per day, bush walks, meals, soft drinks and beer.

Kambaku River Sands, Enkhulu Gate, Arygle Road, Timbavati Game Reserve, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa; www.kambakulodge.com; +27 (0)15 001 7009

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