Finding the Big Five – Trekking at Tanda Tula

On the prowl – Male Leopard in the early morning

Tanda Tula Safari Camp is a four star tented camp, located in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve, which is located to the north of Sabi Sands on the Western Edge of Kruger National Park. The Timbavati is home to over 40 different mammals, including the much sought after Big Five, that’s Lion, African Elephant, African Buffalo, African Leopard and Black Rhinoceros.  The area also boasts over 360 different species of birds, 79 of reptile, 49 of fish and at least 85 listed species of tree.

Tanda Tula which means “to love the quiet” is about an hour from Hoedspruit the nearest airport and is one of a dozen private camps in the area.  It was on that one hour drive that we got our first highlight. Two male Cheetah were running alongside the road next to the fence, keeping just ahead of the three cars (including us) tracking them.  I had not spotted any Cheetah during my previous Africa visit, so this was a special moment, but the best was yet to come.

Cheetah by the roadside

I have met many people who have taken years and perhaps twenty plus game drives to complete the Big Five which is most people’s initial objective; at Tanda Tula we had it in the bag by 7.00pm after one game drive.  For three of our group it was their first ever game drive.  It was stunningly brilliant, almost unbelievable and this is how it unfolded:

Driving out of the camp our ranger (his name was Formen) stopped to brief us on the rules, talked about what we were looking for and generally made us aware of what we should expect.  Then we were off down the well worn tracks and after just 15 minutes with a couple of Giraffe and a Zebra or two on view, we were introduced to our first African Buffalo, a loan male who had been wallowing in his own little mud hole, for most of the day from the look of it.

Lonely male Buffalo – loving the mud

Then around a few corners across an open area and we came across a herd of Elephants, we stopped and switched off so we could watch quietly.  Formen remarked that one of the females (the Matriarch) looked a little “skittish” so we kept our distance and she kept her eye on us the whole time that we were there.

As we departed, it seems that we crossed some invisible line in the sand, because she did not like it and suddenly they were after us the whole herd; trunks up, ears flapping, giant legs pumping all chasing our van, 10/15 angry Elephants.  Oh joy!

Angry Matriarch on her guard

Of course we outran them, Formen just put his foot down and away we went, but not before we got a few great photo shots as well as a bit of an adrenaline rush at the unexpected start to our game drive.  The adrenaline kept pumping as we got the word that we had a choice for the question what’s next?  Lions in the dry riverbed nearby or two Leopards with a fresh kill at the other end of the park

We chose the Leopards as Formen explained we could pick the Lions up on the way back, even in the half light but that we needed daylight for the Leopards.  We took fast trip across country and first saw the kill; an Impala that had been ripped open from throat to tail, then in a tree the two Leopards.

Don’t look up – Leopard on guard

These are amazing animals, they are my favorite amongst all the critters; they are sleek, powerful and graceful killers and don’t they know it!  Mother and son were in the tree and we got really close, at one stage mum stood up on a tree branch above my head and just glared at me.  I absolutely chose not to glare back.

We spent fifteen minutes with the Leopards then we headed back for the Lions, and we reached them just before they moved as darkness started to fall.  We tracked them for a short time as they went back to collect their cubs, that they had stashed away for the day; then in the semi darkness headed back for the camp.

That’s when we cracked the jackpot, in the half dark swinging around a bend in fairly open country there they were Rhino’s, in fact a “crash” of Rhino’s (don’t you just love that collective noun; a crash).  We caught them in the spotlight which we quickly killed and watched them for a few minutes as they ambled across the track and into the bush.  Formen promised he would find them in full daylight the next day so we could get photos.

Nice looking chappy

So we had seen the Big Five on our first game drive what a buzz that was, but it did not lessen the rest of our stay.  We had three more game drives, we found the Rhinos again and got some great photos, we sat with a family of lions, including their cubs and a pair of male rascals called the Timbavati Boys.

Timbavati Boys
The Timbavati Boys

We caught up with Hippos, Buffalo, Giraffes, Impala, Zebra, Warthogs and one other truly stunning male Leopard as well as assorted birds, insects and trees, we even came face to face with a Chameleon in the dark on our second night.

The whole Tanda Tula experience was extra special, and I cannot wait to go back, with some good friends, and share the experience with them.

Peter Watson visited Tanda Tula as a guest of Tourism South Africa and South African Airways

Chameleon at night

2 thoughts on “Finding the Big Five – Trekking at Tanda Tula

Add yours

  1. Nice one Pete – can you go into the edit section and make it sticky (under visibility tick the box that says stick this post to the front page) so that you get a larger main pic. I have dropped a couple of other blogs back to small pics. If you can’t do it I will have another look later tonight – just gotta ruch out now. G

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