The Hoedspruit (Hat River in Africaan) airport is a military base for the South Africa Air Force and also an emergency landing field for the space shuttle; my South African Airways flight saw the longest taxi I ever witnessed for a small plane. A warthog skittered across the runway and into the bush as we came to a stop about twenty minutes after landing.  Two cheetahs were recently released near the airport to keep the warthogs off the tarmac.  “They aren’t doing their job,” said Steve, our Camp Jabulani driver when we left the small terminal building.

Steve points out the features
of the flap necked chameleon.

When on a safari in South Africa, everyone wants to see the Big 5: leopards, lions, Cape Buffalo, elephants, and rhinos. But the little guys are just as interesting to watch and photograph, such as the mouse birds, yellow horned hornbills, and the tiny bush babies, the smallest primate in South Africa. 

Steve pulls the Land Rover to the side of the sandy track and reaches out for a green flap necked chameleon who wants to race up his arm and across the dashboard and steering wheel.  The chameleon is as photogenic as a Paris model.

After Steve releases him back to the bush we drive the last few miles to Camp Jabulani; along the way we see a group of running warthogs, collectively known as a Sounder, with their tails in the air like “follow me” signal flags.

A Rank (collective terminology again) of impalas passively graze with no cares; a herd of kudu blend into the broken and dead branches of the bushveld.  We spot weaver bird nests, and broken termite mounds ripped apart by the aardvarks.  Aardvark is an Africaan word and the first word in the English dictionary.

Simon greets guests with cocktails.

Camp Jabulani is about 25 minutes from the airport, located within the fenced Kapama Private Game Reserve in the Valley of the Olifants in the Central lowveld of Limpopo Province near Kruger National Park.

At the camp I am greeted with a sparkling wine cocktail by Simon, the pith helmeted mannequin guarding the front entrance. I am then shown to my hut after crossing a planked suspension bridge over an intermittently dry riverbed.

Hut #1 is known as Setombe and it is nestled quietly along the dry riverine.   I refreshed myself in the deep clay-like bathtub that was large enough to share with wallowing warthogs. The cool winter weather kept me out of the patio cold plunge.  Did I mention quiet, because all of a sudden a bunch of bush babies lamented chilling screeches and whines in the trees over the plunge pool?  Luckily they became used to my presence swiftly, but I found out they make great alarm clocks in the morning.

My private thatched roof Setombe hut.

Safari style slumber.

My thatched roof hut had twin sinks and South African bath amenities.  The heavy drapes are drawn at night by the turn down staff to keep out the cool air streaming through the screened sliding doors. Canvas flaps fasten over the screened windows.  For exceptionally cold nights kindling and acacia wood and red bud willow are set beside the fireplace. Malaria is a low risk in the lowveld but the king bed flows with netting; the cooler winter is the best time to visit the area, I encountered no bugs whatsoever.

A phone connects to the main lodge, but outside calls can be accepted, but I am here to escape the world. The push button lights have dimmers. The walls in the huts and lodge are plastered to look like elephant dung by mixing straw and sand together, giving it a rough feel without the smell. All the huts and the main lodge are fenced with electric wires to keep out the predators.

I get a call from my ranger.  I follow a sandy rock lined path from my hut past a huge green barked fever tree that I use as a datum point on the forked paths leading to other huts.  I turn right at a huge aloe vera plant to get to the lodge; at night I turn left at the plant to get back to the hut.  Better than a compass.  Fever trees are usually found around water courses.

The main lodge and restaurat at Camp Jabulani.

Patio deck dining over the water course.

I meet up at the lodge restaurant with Calvin, my personal ranger/driver, over a delicious lunch of butternut squash soup and bite-sized roasted duck squares. Camp Jabulani is only eight years old (built in 2003), and it employs four rangers, two spa therapists, three chefs, four butlers, and a full scullery (kitchen) staff.  Kapama is actually named after a famous Shangaan chief and many of the Shangaan staff are from local villages.

I commented about the huge dead trees in the reserve that also line the patio dining deck and ornament the railings of the suspension bridge.  Calvin states that the Leadwood tree can live over two thousand years, and because it is so dense it takes hundreds of years to decay.  The trees are protected by law and make great roosting perches for vultures, owls, hawks, and eagles. The post and beams in the lodge itself are made of Australia eucalyptus trees, now considered a nuisance and invasive species that is being eradicated in certain areas because they suck up so much water.

The library and sitting area.

The library and sitting area across from the restaurant and in the main lobby area consists of a sizable depository of African related wildlife books, a laptop with internet connection on a business desk with zebra and cow skin chairs. The cozy fireplace is surrounded by comfortable sofas and full length windows that allow the reading of coffee table books by the natural rays.

It seems every game lodge has a distinct population of resident animals, and Camp Jabulani is famous for its tame elephants that give guests a thrill with rides through the bush.

In Asia the elephant keepers are called mahouts, but in South Africa they are known as handlers.  All the tame elephants are named after rivers in Zimbabwe, except Jabulani, which the camp is named after; he was rescued from a bog pit in South Africa. 

Camp Jabulani is noted for its elephant riding.

For my afternoon ride that looped around the camp I was given the oldest and most respected elephant, Sabaweki, a 30-year-old dominate male.  I was seated on the huge canvas saddle behind my driver, Tiger, also from Zimbabwe.  I guess the elephants and drivers immigrated together.

Sabaweki is not only the dominate elephant in the herd, but also the most celebrated. He has appeared in television commercials and his image graces the label of the Amarula Liqueur bottles, which when mixed with a shot of rum makes a great sundowner drink.  During the ride we spotted zebra, impala, warthogs, and the Blue Wildebeest, or gnu. At the sundowner I did partake of that rum and amarula elixir.

The search is on for lion.

After the bush break we jump into the green Land Rover that Calvin has waiting for a night drive before supper.

A full moon spills through the wispy clouds.  Calvin free wheels the Land Rover down a grassy ridge. A lion roars nearby and Calvin tries to pinpoint it with a spotlight but only stirs up a bush baby that streaks across the track as if caught naked.

Suddenly two glowing embers walk towards us on the road. The male lion moves through the bush around us.  Calvin calls another game vehicle and we link up with them shortly.  A diufer pops out of the bush, the second smallest antelope in South Africa. 

The lion is now behind us and roars as he paces not more than ten feet past my passenger side door.  We trail the ten year old lion down the dirt track along an electric fence that separates Kapama from a hunting reserve next door. Calvin explains the fence keeps their game from getting shot, and keeps the hunting reserve’s animals from being eaten by Kapama lions.

“We don’t hunt our animals, otherwise they would be skittish and move off into the bush,” explains Calvin. That is why Kapama is well known for its diversity of game, I surmise.  The lion nonchalantly strolls and patrols his territory stopping every 15 minutes to mark his range with urine, which lasts about 48 hours, so the male is on a continuous circuit — life in the bush.

I get hit in the face with a box spider web stretching yards across the road.

Camp Jabulani's fireside restaurant.

After the lion encounter it is back to the lodge for a roast pork dinner, wine, and Windhoek beer from Namibia, Africa’s only unpasteurized beer, and a warming acacia fire. The lodge is a Relais & Chateaux property, so of course the service and dinner was peccary impeccable.

Elephant Cordon Bleu dining.

On the next morning’s game trek with Calvin I saw impala, red billed hornbills, Cape turtle doves, yellow billed hornbills, giraffe, a herd of Cape Buffalo, greater kudu, the largest antelope in South Africa, and the gray go away bird so named because their call sounds like “go-away”, which I am sure means leave us in peace. Af few wild elephants emerge from the bush to break limbs off the acacia trees. One large male makes a stand before the Land Rover challenging us to a dual, but only flaps his ears and huffs off.

Near a knoll a hiking trailhead leads into the blue, misty Drakensburg Mountains in the distance. A family of warthogs ignores us.  A male warthog has two warts under his eyes, a female has one, and they protect their eyes from dirt and pests.

After lunch I am assigned a new driver, Freddie, for the short trip to Kapama’s Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, where injured or abandoned animals are nursed back to health, particularly the cheetah. 

Endangered African wild dogs.

The HFSC is a non-profit organization, and is entirely dependent on funds from sponsorship and eco-tourism.  At the centre I experience a guided tour of the facility where I see King cheetahs, cervals, the smallest wild cat in South Africa, lions, Mirabeau storks, the giant ground horn bills, and sable antelope.

In the bone yard vultures drop leg shanks from the air to break open the marrow and the storks lurk for their share.

The resident pack of wild dogs rip apart their lunch but constantly keep watch for other predators by instinct, even though they were in a protected enclosure.

Freddie and friend.

But the cheetah kitten petting stop was everyone’s favorite.  The musky balls of fur purred like huge house cats.  Many of them will never make it back into the bush, but are raised as breeding stock to carry on the species’ DNA.  It was nice to see that all the animals had large pens to roam around in and a full veterinary staff that provides surgery and care around the clock. Over 10,000 visitors annually share a little vacation time with the animals and a special student program teaches the ways of the wild and conservation. During the three week program the centre arranges hot air ballooning, river rafting on the Blyde River Canyon, horse rides, and paint ball games.

At the Centre’s curio shop I purchased unique carved animal bowls and tableware, lion imprinted T-shirts and a cap, and then snacked at the nearby tea garden. 

On the drive back from the Centre we spot a few waterbuck; lions don’t like to eat waterbuck because their leg musk glands emit a strong odor.  At a stock pond a Raft (or also called a Bloat) of hippos bubbles out of the depths.  Hippos don’t swim, but walk on the muddy pond bottom, coming up for air every few minutes.  In a marula tree vervet monkeys (collectively called Shrewdness) give us a collective eyeball.

Camp Jabulani elephant bathing break.

At a waterhole we watched the wild herd of elephants (called a Parade) take a bath.  The older elephants sprayed down the youngsters who dipped and hid from view and then linked trunks to tails for a family pull out of the muck.  I was looking forward to the evening’s night ride on the camp’s tame herd after the sundowner under a huge marula tree.

The marula is a multi-use pharmaceutical tree: the sap makes a healing soap, the fruit can be used for a local fermented beer that can’t be sold, and the berries make an excellent jam.  But my favorite aspect is the white, sweet liqueur, often served alone on the rocks. 

Sabaweki beds down for the night.

We only spot a few giraffe in the twilight ride. The elephants became excited as they padded softly back to the huge stables for a mixture of hay and feed and water.  The stables protect the herd from wild bull elephants that attempt to stampede the females off into their harem.

Then it was another moonlit drive in the fresh breeze where we came across spotted hyenas as we paralleled the eastern boundary of the reserve, along the banks of the only year round flowing river, the Komsire. I ducked a box spider web and then smelled French fries and I though a McDonalds was around the bend grilling up gnu burgers.  “That’s the smell of the potato bush, but it is uneatable,” stated Calvin. 

But back at the lodge later that night there was grilled warthog on the menu.  Camp Jabulani gets all its fresh game sourced from area hunting reserves, and that warthog was lean and succulent.

On the last morning at Camp Jabulani I awoke with my crazed neighbors, the bush babies.  On my private morning game drive Calvin and I spotted bulbul birds and emerald spotted wood doves, lonely curved horned kudu bucks, bachelor impala males, and white backed vultures.

The white rhino.

Then on the fringe of an open plain, a former Voortrekker farm, a mother white rhino and her nearly grown calf munched thatch grass sedately in the acacia forest verge.

White rhino are not necessary white, but are named so because of their wide, square jaw that early Voortrekkers named “wide mouth rhino ” in Africaan, which was translated into English as “white rhino”.  Rhinos must eat enormous amounts of fodder because their Jurassic age digestive system is not so evolved to uptake nutrients — a prehistoric eating machine that must continually seek fresh grass in the 800 meter highveld.

While I was at Camp Jabulani for only a few days, I did see four of the “Big 5”: white rhinos, elephants, lions, and cape buffalos, and it was delightful to see the little guys too, except maybe for the early morning bush babies.

There are only six private and isolated suites/huts at Camp Jabulani, so you must make your arrangements in advance to assure accommodations in this superb safari environment. The camp has a new Villa that can sleep groups or large families, with its own kitchen facilities. The best way to insure an outstanding adventure at Camp Jabulani is by contacting African Travel Inc. at or visit your professional travel agent that works closely with the experienced 35 year Africa tour operator.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.