Shelagh Forster

SHELAGH FOSTER reviews Buffelshoek Tented Camp and snapped the images

Days, weeks even, before I’m due to go the bush (‘the bush’ being any game reserve or wilderness big enough for me to get lost in) I feel flutters of anticipation. I know I’m heading for a place where I can be entirely me. It is poetry before the poem is written. Buffelshoek Camp offers exactly that space.

This expanse of utter peace is situated in the Manyeleti Game Reserve, bordering the Kruger Park: five en-suite double tents, no electricity, no TV or music, no children, three meals and two game drives a day, is what every weary tourist needs to restore calm and sanity.

Poetry before the poem is written, Buffelshoek Camp is what every city slicker needs to restore calm and sanity

The entrance to the reserve is mere metres from KNP’s Orpen gate. I wish this had been made clearer in the emailed directions as we took a couple of detours from Hazyview before finding the right road. But once we were through the main gates, had taken off seatbelts, cracked open a beer and wound down windows, the soft wild-scented breeze swept away any travel frustrations.

It’s a good hour’s drive from gate to camp (longer if your brain is fried from driving and you misread the signposts), but as we turned the last bend, we saw the lodge.

After a warm welcome by Sylvia, who helped us lug our luggage to the tent, we simply stood and stared at the view. There are no fences. Not one. This means that any curious lion, elephant or leopard is free to wander in to check out what our species is up to on any given day or night. This, as much as anything, added a thrill that simply can’t be experienced in my beloved Kruger.

One of five en-suite double tents at Buffelhoek Camp

I was ever watchful, but our only encounter was auditory when conversation was halted by the unmistakable soul-stirring roar of a lion, on our first night as we dined with fellow guests. We stopped with wine-glasses mid-way, eyes bush-baby wide. Was it in the camp? Had it gone? It must have moved off. Then, just as we were finishing up, we heard it again, on the other side of the camp. Don’t walk alone to your tent, Sylvia had told us. The warning wasn’t necessary.

That night, clutching each other and giggling softly (partly the fine wine plied on us by a Brazilian guest, partly fear) we tottered to our tent. And that was when the true magic happened.

No, not that. The sky!

From the moment of sunset, stars had started appearing. As the day faded, distant voices from the other tents blended with the evening sounds of the bush and I felt myself unwinding into the singing night and untouched air; but it was only once we returned after dinner that the spell was fully cast as we gazed up, up, up. Not a flicker of man-made light separated us from the heavens. We just stood, necks craned, and gazed at the utter wonder of the universe. That night, we slept the sleep of the just.

The Milkyway sky, taken just a metre in front of our tent. Picture: Richard Brooksbank.

You’ll want to know about the wildlife, of course. Louis, our knowledgeable and friendly guide took us out morning and evening. We saw endless birds and beasts and all but one of the Big 5 on our three-hour drives (the leopard remained elusive), but for me, the real bliss was bouncing along with the wind in my hair, my nose quivering like a dog’s, and my ‘spotting eyes’ on alert for any critter big or small. Sometimes, I would just close my eyes and imagine I was a meteor rushing through space.

Apart from sky watching, game spotting, birding, photographing, dreaming, chatting, eating and drinking, there’s nothing to do there and three days is the ideal stay. I took books that remained unread, my mind too still to even turn a page.

A vulture surveys the dusky landscape

Buffelshoek allowed me to rediscover that oft-hidden part of me: the lover of the soft African palette, the appreciator of the dusty, knotted landscape. I long to go back.

What I loved most

  • The view from our tent
  • The private game drives
  • Communal dining with interesting strangers
  • The warm yet unfussy hospitality
  • The sky
  • The driveable distance from Joburg
  • Good value for money
  • Hot showers

What didn’t work

  • The same soup three nights in a row.
  • Cake and cream for dessert.
  • Confusing directions to the camp.
  • No flasks or mugs in the tent for early morning tea.