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Issue 10
Africa Travel> Issue 10
UPDATED: December 9, 2014
Place of Silent Giants
Northern Tuli Game Reserve – sandstone and wildlife in perfect harmony
By Jo Kromberg

Tuli Safari Lodge swimming pool – the place to relax after a hot day on the game trail (COURTESY OF WWW.TULILODGE.COM)

Set in spacious gardens along the banks of the Limpopo River in Botswana against a backdrop of stunning sandstone outcrops, Tuli Safari Lodge is unique.

The mercury steadily rises like a zeppelin in slow motion the further we travel north into the heart of southern Africa. It is 33 degrees as the brown bushes rush past us.

The blistering white sky is blinding and the air is hot as though the earth is slowly breathing fire. Gradually Mopani trees start appearing and I now know we are nearing the South Africa/Botswana border post. We are en-route to the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (courtesy of Waterberg Countrywide Transfers), located in the easternmost corner of Botswana, close to the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site in South Africa and an easy five hours' drive from Johannesburg.

Thankfully the border is deserted. Three men, whom I presume work here, are holding court. I overhear their fascinating conversation as we wait for our transfer to Tuli Lodge. "You must charge but be reasonable," says the Alpha male. "Three cows or eight thousand rand should be standard lobola," announces a guy apparently known as John They all nod sagely. This discussion between Tswanas conducted in perfect Queen's English about what and how many cows a bride's father must charge to sell her, is just one of the myriad reasons I love Africa.

Unique location

A fish eagle sounds in the distance and the heat bears down like a python pinning its prey. But driving to the lodge we are lost in the wild in the blink of an eye. The undulating orange rock formations remind me of something from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Suddenly the lodge is before us and reveals itself like a lush and green principle in a desert dance of the seven veils.

Set in spacious gardens along the banks of the Limpopo River against a backdrop of stunning sandstone outcrops, Tuli Safari Lodge is unique. The rustic oasis with rolling green lawns and thatched roof chalets makes the ambience charmingly ageless.

The main building nestles under massive sky-high trees and each chalet has a different look and character although all retain the muted, earthy lines and colours of the bush. My thatched roof chalet is enormous with loads of light flooding in, a sitting area, coffee and tea (and ice cold water, bless them) as well a massive and almost outside shower - better since the ceiling above is translucent so you get the benefit of the sky but not the invasion of nature and its smaller creatures. Eight tented suites with draped canvas over timber frames are spacious, airy and elevated. Large wrap-around decks are designed to provide a relaxing outdoor space with views over the Tuli grounds and surrounding bush. The interiors are a modern take on classic 'out of Africa' décor, with a flowing open plan design. All suites feature an island bed, lounge area, freestanding bath, separate wet room shower, double basin vanity area, toilet and lots of all-important hanging and drawer space plus tea/coffee facilities, hairdryer and safe. Each of the three classic suites is furnished and designed to the same high standards.

Wild dogs spotted on a game drive in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve

Wildlife haven

A sparkling pool, various game viewing points and peaceful gardens also await your return to the lodge after a hot game drive.

We make a beeline for the tranquil pool with its kiddie splash area and waterfall, and laze about like indolent royalty, absorbing as by osmoses the peace and serenity. After a nigh comatose afternoon nap, we congregate at the bar in the last light for sundowners, listening to the strange piercing sound of the cute dassies running around everywhere. We are transported through the night for a dinner deep in the bush under a gazillion stars. There is not a breath of wind and the temperature is still about 30 degrees. Butterbean soup, chops, "pap", sosaties (traditional South African dish of meat cooked on skewers) and sausage are served from the barbecue in the riverbed in the black night by lantern light. In fact, the food here roves. The lodge does not have a dining room per se so the venue for the next meal is always a surprise. A bush breakfast with all the trimmings is our following morning treat. This after a leopard, giraffe, a myriad species of buck (antelope), zebra and elephant peer at us as we spot them in the fist rays of the ominously hot sun on the game drive. The Northern Tuli Game Reserve is a true haven for wildlife.

Bush walks give a real opportunity to experience Africa at ground level, taking in the sounds and smells of the bush as well as the sights. There are 48 large mammal species in the reserve, totalling approximately twenty thousand animals, which include elephant, fifteen large herbivore species and four cat species to mention but a few.

Rhino and buffalo are virtually the only animals NOT present here!

The sunset game drive later takes place against a panorama of breathtaking beauty as we stop for a drink on a cliff high somewhere between the wild earth below and blue-black velvet clouds above, the sun sinking slowly under the horizon like hot, sticky molasses. The snaky branches of the silent giant baobabs besiege the skies in the fading light in quite prayers of rain.

As I lay in my wonderfully cool cocoon much later that night, I think of Hemingway's words: "All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I would wake up in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already..."

Go to http://www.tulilodge.com/ for more information or reservations.

More Tuli accommodation options:

Nokalodi Tented Camp is a self-catering tented camp offering accommodation in en-suite safari tents on the banks of the Limpopo River. Game activities available.

Molema Bush Camp is a self-catering bush camp offering en-suite chalets and campsite accommodation on the banks of the Limpopo River. Molema is located on private land immediately to the west of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in eastern Botswana, close to Platjan border post. For further information please visit www.molema.com

Nokalodi and Molema are managed and operated by Tuli Safari Lodge, but please note that they are separate operations and their bush camp guests are not able to use the facilities offered at the lodge itself nor may they self-drive within the Northern Tuli Game Reserve.

Getting there:

There are no direct flights currently between China and Botswana so you are advised to fly South African Airways. They offer three direct weekly flights between Beijing and Johannesburg.

From Johannesburg you are advised to take a road transfer.

We were kindly transported to Tuli Lodge by Waterberg Countrywide Transfers. They have over 15 year's experience in the South African tourism industry and their services include airport and long distance lodge and game reserve safaris as well as excursions in Gauteng and surrounds. Go to http://www.waterbergtransfers.com/

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