In Africa the Big 5 animals are so named because they are the most dangerous to hunt. Since the turn of the last century many of those animals have been protected on game reserves.  South Africa tourism safaris are such a big part of the Big 5 experience that the beasts themselves are imprinted on the local currency — the rand.  The leopard is the most elusive big cat and is found on the 200R note; A Cape Buffalo bull is on the 100R note; a male lion is on the 50R; an elephant is on the 20R; and the rhino — technically the rare black variety — is on the 10R.

We were only 10 feet from a lounging lion.

Of all the safari lodges I visited in South Africa, Kings Camp seemed to have the most diverse population of big cats; I saw leopards and lots of lion, but unfortunately no cheetahs, which are struggling throughout Africa to regain a toe hold.  Game drives at Kings Camp are set up at fixed hours of departure at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., with breakfast and dinner served in the splendid restaurant afterwards.  All Kings Camp accommodation packages come with two game drives daily and full board dining.

I met up with my ranger, Patrick, at the two story waterhole viewing terrace for early morning coffee wakeup, and then linked up with our tracker, Albert, at the Land Rover.  On the first morning’s drive we came across open billed storks, white backed vultures, African spoon bills, and at mid-morning, 3 six-year-old male lions all from the same litter, lounging in a ravine under the acacias.  Soon they all conked out after a night of bushveld feasting. (See the lions in the opening photo.)

The wildlife viewing tower and terrace, left;
and the Kings Camp restaurant, right.

Speaking of bushveld feasting, Kings Camp knocks itself out daily with a plethora of fresh food and premier South African wines.  Occasionally dinner is served around a crackling campfire in the boma that is kept a secret until arrival in the bush beneath the stars. The boma was the best BBQ I found anywhere in Africa, with braized and grilled wild game, like kudu and impala.

After the next morning's game drive, and after watching sex-driven jousting male impalas and a hungry herd of Cape Buffalo eyeing us inquisitively and snorting the air, I was soon eyeing my own Timbavati Sunrise breakfast which was a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and plenty of coffee. I don’t know if the sunrise breakfast is named after the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, or the reserve is named after the Kings Camp breakfast, both are immense.

Kings Camps is part of the
Greater Kruger Conservancy.

Kings Camp Private Nature Reserve is located within the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park which shares the open boundary.  The traditionally styled colonial Kings Camp was only established in 1995, which seems surprising because it seems to have been part of the landscape much longer.  I could image Victoria Age hunters pounding through the bush to score one of the Big 5.

In 1992 the western boundary fence separating the Kruger National Park and Timbavati was removed to create a 2.2 million hectare open ecosystem that today promotes natural ecological cycles for the animals  The Timbavati area is located both within the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces of South Africa.  The area is now known as the Greater Kruger Conservancy.

Everyone enjoys Kings Camp game drives.

But the area does indeed date back to the Victorian era as a reserve. In 1898, The Sabi Game Reserve was proclaimed a protected area by the government, which set aside the land between the Crocodile and Sabi Rivers.  Lieutenant Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton came from Scotland to serve as the first warden of the reserve.  In 1899, the second Anglo Boer War broke out and the reserve remained inactive until the end of the war in 1902.  During this time the young new warden returned to Britain.   In 1902 the natives and farmers living in the Sabi Game Reserve were removed and settled elsewhere.

In 1903 the Sabi Reserve added an extension between the Sabi and Olifants Rivers as well as the Shingwedzi Game Reserve between the Letaba and Pafuri Rivers.  About half of the farms between the Sabi and Olifants river were owned by private land owning companies, interspersed with government farms.  While they continued to farm with cattle they were no longer allowed to hunt the wild animals.

Kings Camp traffic jam.

In 1923 a line was drawn between the Kruger National Park and the many western situated private game reserves, and soon all the farms east of the demarcation line became government owned land that would be included in Kruger National Park. The private game reserves west of the line included Timbavati, Manyaleti, Klaserie, Umbabat, and Sabi Sands Game Reserve. In 1926, Kruger was declared a national park and the land between the Latba and Olifants Rivers was added to the park. The new park officially opened in 1927, and only tents were provided for guest accommodations as they camped off in the thorn bushes. In the early days and even today there are still very few roads that transverse Kruger.

During a 1938 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease all small stock and cattle were destroyed within the park, leaving just the Big 5 and the smaller animals in blissful peace.

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve came into existence in 1956 when a group of private landowners in the area came together to conserve their lands in one huge unit.

The Timbavati Association now governs by a constitution to preserve the animals and land. Later on the Balule Nature Reserve and Olifants Game Reserve west of Kruger joined the association creating an even larger tract for the animals to roam.  Pick up a copy of the first game warden's book by James Stevenson Hamilton called, “South African Eden", which tells the story and history of the park.  He retired in 1949 at the age of 79.

Giraffe are naturally curious about Kings Camp guests.

The husband and wife management team at Kings Camp consists of Lisha and Warren, whom have been at the camp since the opening 16 years ago.  Warren started as a ranger and now he is the General Manager; he was in the throes of completing the camp’s new villa, he informed me over lunch.  He later ran off to install power lines to the new family style villa. Lisha makes the daily drive to the closest village of Hoedspruit to take the kids to school and pick up camp supplies.  Tristan, the congenial Assistant Manager, has been at the camp nearly as long.  “I love this place,” he says.  “I hate to leave for a day.”

During lunch I check off what I desired for the evening meal.

My hut/lodge/suite/villa #6 was earthy and fun.

Kings Camp is family friendly.

My free standing thatched hut #6 is more like a villa and is larger than most homes in South Africa. Kings Camp is situated facing an open savanna plain. There are 22 beds in spacious suites at the camp, with nine Colonial suites, and two honeymoon suites (two rooms are fitted with sleeper couches for families with children). All suites have A/C, telephone, plus indoor and outdoor double shower, fully stocked mini-bar and private verandah.

Zebra rugs lay strewn on the floor. Antique hunting and expedition photos were framed on every wall.  The Victorian style ball and claw bathtub featured Molton Brown shampoos and Recharge Black Pepper body wash.  There was a bottle of Terra Firma mist for the room and linens of the canopied double bed.

After the evening game drive I always found a warm bath drawn and the candles lit for a romantic evening at home. I would scoop in some of the bath salts from an elevated tray. The thick heavy towels were great for lounging on in the private open air shower area when the sun shined.  I read a copy of the “Seasons of Africa” Coalition magazine, a lodge consortium, of which Kings Camp is a member.

My Colonial-style suite, with canopy bed.

When leaving my hut/lodge/suite/villa for the evening game drive I close all the doors to keep out the inquisitive vervet monkeys, the sneaks, who steal the fruit from the pewter bowl and platter on the table.  I expected to find monkeys stretched out in the patio hammock because the bush literally begins at the backyard patio and it is not circled with electrified fencing — that would have turned the vervets into howler monkeys! Hmmm . . . I wonder if they would have taken a shot of sherry from the decanter on the table; I know I would, because I did,

The outdoorsy Spa sala.

I presume the monkeys will be running up a massage treatment tab at the spa sala next to my hut while I am on safari, or swimming the backstroke in the Olympian style pool on the edge of the property, or working off the calories in the gym, or reading about their relatives in the library, or watching National Geographic on the satellite TV, or logging onto the library computer with internet access. They did steal a cigarette lighter from a German lounging by the pool, and he had to ransom a piece of fruit to get it back.  Those monkeys are certainly clever primates.

During the evening game safari we spotted the national bird of South Africa, the Crested Roller Bird. A family of giraffes wandered by wondering what we were up to. Warthogs dashed across the road, their tails are beacons for all to follow.

A large herd of Cape Buffalo tanked up at a waterhole.  You seldom see Cape Buffalo on safari menus or metro restaurants buffets; they are too expensive, even when raised on a hunting reserve.  A typical Cape Buffalo sells for about 150,000 rands.  Many have tuberculosis; it is expensive to raise TB free meat, which is like a USDA prime choice rating by the South African government.

Follow the Kings Camp Cape Buffalo herd.

We shadow a herd of elephant and a four month old baby tried to keep up to get a tug of milk from its mother.  It’s the smallest elephant I see anywhere in Africa. A pride of lionesses sleep right out in the open veld in the open daylight.  The three mothers nursed a total of nine cubs between them. “They probably have a kill nearby,” whispers Patrick.

Night stalkers stalk a leopard on a photo op.

In a scruby gulch we came across a young male leopard lurking in the grass.  Hyena could be heard in the area.  The leopard’s mother was out hunting up a meal, but at 18 months old he was about ready to scramble for his own meals. The hyenas made him nervous, so he climbed into a tree for an evening photo shoot. The German couple in my Land Rover popped pictures left and right, hey I did too! The Germans have been visiting Kings Camp for years because of the incredible prices and the outstanding wildlife viewing.

After the evening game drive and back at the camp, the Germans and I gather with other guests at the bar; the friendly bartender, Maggie, pours out the wine but questions my drink choice: a shot of Captain Morgan’s rum mixed on the rocks with a few ounces of amarula liqueur made from Maraula tree berries that are about the size of crab apples.  When the berries drop to the ground they often ferment and elephants eat them by the bushel to get a natural stupor.  This is what makes them wild!

Kings Camp has its own airstrip for p
rivate and charter flights and helicopter transfers. I take flight with General Aviation and wing out to my next African Travel Inc. adventure.

Kings Camp's airstrip connects flights to Joburg, Durban,
Kruger National Park, and smaller bush airports.

Since Kings Camp's opening, African Travel Inc., based in the USA, has been providing adventure safaris to the area as part of their exceptional itineraries.  Kings Camp works closely with African Travel Inc. to insure your stay is the penultimate experience of a lifetime. African Travel Inc. knows Africa and Kings Camp knows where to find the Big 5 and the Big Cats. Contact African Travel Inc. at or work with your travel professional that knows African Travel Inc.

When you are "bushed", relax at Kings Camp.

— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by the author and courtesy of Kings Camp.