Expert Reviews – Timbavati NR

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Poor Cousin of the Sabi Sands
Overall rating

At 55,000ha this private game reserve is slightly smaller in size than the Sabi Sands and for some inexplicable reason it seems to always get rated in second place when compared to its more illustrious neighbour to the south. But I don’t believe there is any sound reason for this. The game viewing here is excellent; I would say virtually on a par with the Sabi Sands (but after-all both these reserves form part of the unfenced Greater Kruger Park so this should come as no real surprise). The Big Five, cheetah, wild dog… the Timbivati has it all and with lower tourist numbers to boot. The reserve doesn’t have quite the international reputation of the Sabi Sands, but it does have the wildlife and sightings to match it. If you’re after great game-viewing and would prefer not to deal with big crowds of safari enthusiasts, then the Timbivati Reserve is a very worthwhile safari option to consider.

Home of white lions
Overall rating

Almost three times as large as Sabi Sands, but boasting a fraction of the number of camps, Timbavati sprung to fame in the 1970s when it was discovered to harbour a population of white lions. The lions were removed to a zoo shortly afterwards, but white individuals are still born here quite regularly, thanks to the high incidence of the recessive gene that causes the phenomenon. Today, however the best reason to visit Timbavati us that it offers a comparable game experience to Sabi Sands, but tends to be far less crowded around top sightings. All the big five are present (though rhinos are relatively scarce) and while it is not so famed for leopards as Sabi Sands and surrounds, I had one of my finest leopard sightings ever here. An excellent alternative to the better known private reserves to its south.

Lion tracking in Timbavati
Overall rating

Timbavati is in every way on a par with the more famous Sabi Sands reserves. It borders the vast eco-system of the Kruger Park. The game drives centre around Big 5 Sightings and good sightings of all 5 and more is pretty much guaranteed. Activities are very regulated: 3-hour game drives early morning and late afternoon. For obvious reasons, the number of vehicles allowed at any sighting is regulated as well. I find it quite frustrating to have to cue to be allowed on a sighting and have to leave after 20minutes to make space for others. Especially, so, since all vehicles rush off at the same time for breakfast. Both guides and trackers are excellent. I got quite worried when our unarmed tracker was dropped off in an area with fresh lion prints to track these animals on foot, while we continued our game drive. “That way, we don’t lose any valuable time” our guide explained. After half an hour our tracker called us by radio to join him on the lion sighting!

Up-close encounters in luxurious surrounds
Overall rating

Self-drive safaris are fun, but you'll likely never get the sightings that you can experience on a guided drive. Timbavati is dotted with luxurious lodges, each offering wildlife drives, walks and other activities like bush breakfasts. Our trip coincided with an unseasonably rainy weekend and we expected the wet weather to put a literal dampener on our wildlife watching. Instead our guide, a man whose party piece was reciting from a memorized birding book, treated us to glimpses of things we'd never seen before – a hippo foraging on the river bank, baby hyenas sniffing the jeep's tyres while the mothers lounged nearby, a leopard seeing off an opportunistic hyena and a pack of wild dogs stalking their prey. Off-road driving is probable and with no fences between Timbavati and the Kruger, sightings of at least some of the Big Five are virtually guaranteed.

The home of the white lion
Overall rating

Sharing a fenceless border with Kruger National Park, Timbavati abounds with wildlife. The game sightings here are legendary with the park not only boasting the Big Five, but also what they call the ‘Magnificent Seven’ – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard as well as cheetah and wild dog. Spying all of these in one day on my first visit was a real treat. One that I didn't think could get any better, until on the way back to the lodge we stumbled across one of the park’s much-publicised white lionesses. What a joy! These beautiful creatures were discovered in the area in the 1970s and are quite rare, so I felt very privileged to see one of their numbers in the wild. Birders don’t miss out too, with Timbavati home to more than 300 species of birds. The park’s scrubby bushveld though makes game viewing a little more challenging, so I’d recommend you plan your visit during the winter months when the game viewing is the best.

Pretty much guaranteed Big Five
Overall rating

Timbavati is part of the Greater Kruger Area, and having dropped its fences, game is free to wander between here, Kruger National Park and the surrounding private reserves. Timbavati makes a great first-time destination if you’ve never been on safari before – you are almost guaranteed to see the Big Five, and close up. There are a variety of high-end lodges, all offering pretty much the same wildlife viewing experience – they just differ in degrees of luxuriousness. Personally, I prefer the tented camps, rather than being in a brick chalet, as I like to hear the wildlife sounds at night. The disadvantage of Timbavati is the thick bush, and the central tar road takes away a little of the wilderness feeling. You may also have to await your turn at a sighting – although this is managed very well.

Timbavati: Echoes of Kruger
Overall rating

Timbavati is an extension of Kruger National Park – there are no fences between the two – with all of the wildlife possibilities that brings. Effectively a patchwork of private concessions and community lodges, Timbavati can be difficult to get an overall sense of. But that rarely matters as most of the lodges and camps keep to their own corner of the reserve, and it was in Timbavati that I first saw all of the Big Five on a single afternoon’s game drive. Waterholes draw elephants and lions, while spotted hyena, rhino and leopard lurk in the woodlands, and buffalo and other plains prey species are everywhere. It’s rare here to have more than a couple of vehicles on any sighting and, unusually for the Greater Kruger reserves, accommodation is a good mix of top-end and mid-range.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.0/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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