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Up close with King of the Beasts – Nsala Wilderness Camp



Learn the habits of wildlife on Game drives

The closest I have ever been to a lion was probably when I was watching Lion KingZootopia, or perhaps Animals Unite.

But up close and personal with the King of the Beasts is an experience on another level.

Even though it happened only on the third day of my stay in the bush at Nsala Wilderness Camp on the border of the Kruger National Park, the encounter remains one of the days I will never forget and probably my eternal first reference in any conversation I will ever engage in about spending time in the bush.

We started spotting plenty of impalas as we drove into the camp. Within 30-45 minutes, we reached our destination and were welcomed by the friendly staff and the fine chef for our stay, Vision Ndlovu.

We were ushered to our rooms to freshen up before a light lunch and my very first game drive. The rooms were not fancy but decent.

Of course, I did not expect a five-star hotel. It’s a wilderness camp, after all. Plus, we had wi-fi, which was a massive bonus for me as a journalist who never wants to miss trending topics. I am not sure if I would survive three days without

Game Drive

After freshening up, it was time to explore. As soon as we hit the road for our late game drive, the camp’s ranger, Shoas Mhlongo, started teaching us about the bush, from trees and spiders to animals we spotted that day, including a buffalo herd.

A hyena also came through and released the loudest whoop as we sat by the fire, indulging in our mouthwatering dinner prepared by chef Vision.

Day two in the bush started with a coffee session before embarking on another exciting game drive.

Game drives are about learning – but they are also about patience, as we found out, because we did not see the big cats and even the elephants were out of sight.

That evening’s trip into the bush was memorable. After a long, breezy drive, we finally made a safe stop – meaning the lowest form of risk from any dangerous encounter with the animals – because, remember, in certain situations at certain times and for certain animals, we as humans are just as much on the menu as the tasty snacks laid alongside our sundowner/moon rise drinks.

These were the perfect complement to the massive blue moon, or supermoon, which looked even bigger looming above the trees of the bush and the clear dark night sky, unpolluted by city lights.

It was definitely something for the memory banks as it won’t be as big until 2035, according to Nasa.

King of the Beasts

The following day we took another morning game drive, eager to see the white lions (nine of them are frequent visitors to Nsala Wilderness Camp, according to the camp’s owner, Matthew.) By 5am, I was already up preparing for the adventure. About 10 minutes into our drive, we saw a herd of elephants having a drink, but little did I know that this was just a starter and the main course of the day was yet to come.

As we enjoyed the scenery, Mhlongo told us everything we needed to know about elephants, including that the oldest male elephant had to drink first, and then the rest follow, and it happened exactly that way.

Needless to say, it was another mind-blowing bush moment for me. I knew I could not miss the afternoon drive.

We did not even drive too far that day, and there they were… Mufasa and Sarabi. Magnificent lions in all their regal glory, enjoying the shade of a tree during the scorching hot weather of Umbabat Reserve (which adjoins Kruger).

The hyena returned that night. The leopard, who seemed to be a daily visitor, also came to drink at the camp’s water hole just as we left for the game drive.

As we drove out of Nsala Wilderness Camp, we saw a troop of young baboons right in the middle of the road – another typical day in the wilderness. We stopped briefly before driving off, and I knew I had to come back with my friends.

Nsala Wilderness Camp

Situated in Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, about seven hours away from the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Nsala Wilderness Camp is one of the most remote camps in the Greater Kruger and the only camp in the Umbabat.

Nsala Wilderness Camp is available for families, small groups of friends and couples.

Children are welcome but must be accompanied at all times if they are under 12 years of age. Children’s activities include craft painting, digging for water in the river bed, walking to the waterhole, and learning about tracking, bow and arrow making, tracking, early and late game drives and more.

Self-catering is also an option at the Nsala Wilderness Camp. However, you can still use the staff services when you opt for self-catering. The service includes firewood, beds, cleaning and braai preparations.

The rate is R6 350, excluding a once-off conservation levy. The common wildlife sightings include elephant herds, white lions, and a strong coalition of three male lions called the Birmingham Breakaways, leopards and buffalo.

Another interesting fact about Nsala Wilderness Camp is that it is unfenced, which is not usual for lodges and camps. It also has an exclusive traverse guarantee, meaning you will not see other vehicles during your game drive.


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