Umlani Bush Camp is one of my favourite places in this beautiful country! It means “place of rest”, and that is exactly how I feel when I am there. The stress and craziness of the real world just melts away as you arrive at this little piece of paradise in the African bush. Sit down, have a cold beer and enjoy a lovingly home cooked meal while buffalo, antelopes and elephants quench their thirst at the nearby waterhole. This is the first experience guests have when they arrive at Umlani; check-in can wait until you have had food and drink. First things first; I like that approach.
The rooms are just the right level of rustic; the walls made of bamboo let in the sounds and smells of the bush while you lay in your comfortable bed. The shower is under the African sky; refreshingly cool on a hot day and steaming hot on a chilly winter’s morning. The camp is unfenced and it is not unusual to hear buffalo graze outside the room once guests have gone to bed. But my favourite sound is that of a male lion roaring in the night, letting everyone know who is king.
The camp is lit only by paraffin lamps at night, and there is always a fire burning in the boma. I have spent many evenings here, listening to the Shangaan rangers telling stories from their life in the bush. During the day, a small solar-powered plug point allows guests to charge their camera batteries. There is a WiFi spot, but I love the fact that this is away from the dining room, where no surfing is allowed; a good way to cater for today’s connectivity-addicts, while retaining the back-to-basics feel of the camp.
Just as you though it wasn’t possible to get any closer to the bush; enter the Tree House. This is a simple structure by a small dam a kilometer or so from the main camp. You can pack a cooler box and spend a few hours here during the day, or sleep in a comfy bed warmed by hot water bottles for a night.
While I am a big proponent of leaving the hunt for the Big Five behind and just enjoy everything that comes your way in the bush, Timbavati is Big Cat Territory. I have never visited this place without seeing leopards. I have been to many private reserves and national parks, and this majestic and elusive animal is often the one guests have to leave without encountering. There are also many lion prides here, and if you are really lucky you may get to see the rare white lions. Timbavati is the only place, where they occur in the wild and only a few lucky ones ever get to see them.
Umlani brings me close to nature and close to the earth. Their simple and non-intrusive camp inspires me to take another look at what I can change in my life to be kinder to the environment. If they can do it in the middle of the bush, why shouldn’t I do it in the city? But most importantly, being at Umlani reminds me to slow down and appreciate the small things in life; the sun breaking the horizon, the sound of birds waking up, the beauty of Africa, and the chance to spend time with loved ones without letting life distract the encounter.
Umlani has been Fair Trade Tourism certified for almost 10 years, a sign of their commitment not only to conservation but also to their staff and the surrounding communities. They operate completely off the grid, and work hard to leave no trace in the environment, while at the same time leaving a positive legacy in the communities. Read more about Umlani’s Responsible Tourism initiatives here.
Words and pictures: Katarina Mancama