In central Kruger, about 21 kilometers north from Talamati Bushveld Camp, lies Hamiltons Tented Camp. Possibly one of the most magical places on earth.
It’s a combination of things which leads me to say that it is one of the most magical places on earth. Named after the legend himself, James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first warden of the Kruger National Park, it lives up to its fine name.
Hamiltons is a luxury tented camp, with a 1920’s “Out of Africa” theme, nestled amongst a canopy of the oldest trees, on the N’waswitsontso River (which is pretty dried up currently), surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, and pristine wilderness. It pulls out all the stops; great service, delicious food, and stunning accommodation. Careful thought and attention to detail goes into every single aspect of the lodge.
It was a scorcher of a day, at a whopping 42 degrees Celsius in the shade. We entered at Paul Kruger Gate and the further north we went, the drier and hotter it became, although the heat did not deter the wildlife from being out in full force, and we had the most splendid sightings.
We arrived at Hamiltons in time for high tea, and were warmly welcomed by the friendly staff, and many elephants digging for water in the riverbed. One particular ellie was right next to the walkway and had earlier apparently tried to sip some water from the swimming pool.
We opted not to go on game drive, as we were hot and pretty tired, so we put on our cozzies and headed to the pool, for a G&T and some R&R time.
Whilst sat in the pool, enjoying the tranquility, and finally feeling cool and refreshed for the first time that day, the baboons began to alarm call, the kudus bolted into the distance, and the bush buck began to “cough” – their alarm call.
An ellie had made his way in to the camp to snack on some of the delicious tasting trees, and although we were marvelling at his sight, I wanted to go to the main deck to see what was getting all of the plains game into a state.
As we arrived on the main deck of Hamiltons, an enormous male lion came walking through the riverbed in front of us, and past tent one. (we were in tent two, so right next door).
We followed him on the walkway keeping a safe distance and watched him continue into some thick bush at the back of the lodge. In all the excitement, I had forgot my camera behind, and hadn’t felt brave enough to run to the tent to get it.
Still feeling drunk on the adrenaline, and excitement, we eventually headed to our tent, and sat on the deck for sundowners. A little while after, the monkeys began to alarm call again, and a lioness came down to the remaining pool of water for a drink, the ellies also known as “the bullies of the bush” were not far off, and one particular elephant walked towards her, chasing her away. Once he had moved through, she came back, and spent ages drinking. She looked as though she had cubs not far off.
A storm was brewing on the horizon, as the wind began to pick up, and the thunder was rolling. The sweet promise of rain filled the air. She finished drinking and walked down the riverbed in front of us. The last remnants of daylight were fading, and the giant trees shadows were dancing on the sandy shores. The bushveld makes me feel so alive. Behind our tent, I could see dark clouds forming. I was praying for rain.
The riverbed in front of Hamiltons Tented Camp is an animal highway, and the ellies especially seem to use one particular path, the poor lioness was once again met by ellies who chased her into the bush on the opposite bank.
Interesting to watch the ellies on this "highway", as they pass each other going in different directions, they'll greet and move on.
It was time to get ready for dinner, and not having time for a bath, I used the outside shower. As I was standing in the shower, enjoying the hot water running down my back, and cleansing off the heat of the day, a giant ellie came waltzing past, and the baboons were still barking (alarm calling) and squealing about the lioness they had just seen.
There is nothing more exhilarating, then an outdoor shower, listening to the bush choir, and even better when you get to watch the wildlife pass by; bushveld tv- total bliss.
As mentioned before, my brother, Darryl is a guide at Imbali, Hamiltons and Hoyo Hoyo, so he came to join us for dinner that evening.
A dinner at Hamiltons is a grand affair, and whilst sat at the table enjoying each other’s company, and the delicious freshly baked bread, the power went out. For some time we just sat there in the dark, with only a few candles and lanterns flickering. It was thrilling, knowing that the rest of the pride of lions weren’t far off, which Darryl had just told us about, when he had arrived back from game drive.
We listened to the sounds of the bush, and the silence in between. Hamiltons was full of old-world charm, but especially now more than ever with the power out. I kept thinking to myself, this is how they used to go on safari in the old days. No fences, no power, just out there in the magical wilderness taking it all in.
As soon as the power came back on, I heard some rustling in the bushes behind me, and to our surprise, an adorable honey badger had stopped by for a visit (well actually he had stopped by to see what he could steal from the kitchen). He had stolen a lamb bone. He placed himself right next to the elevated walkway and took the bone between his little bear like paws, nibbling away, not one bit perturbed by us.
We fell asleep to the lions roaring.
The next morning, I woke up at 5am to Darryl knocking on our door. “Dan, there’s a lioness drinking water outside your tent”, he told me, when I answered the door. I leapt out of bed, grabbed my binos (which I didn't actually need as she was so close), and went on the deck to see her. I actually couldn’t think of a better way to start my day.
Lions… literally the only reason I’ll get out of bed early in the morning.
The weather had done a total 180, and it was rather chilly, so I bundled up in warm clothes, quickly got ready, and we walked down to the main area for coffee and rusks, and then hopped on Darryl’s game drive vehicle for a morning safari.
We had just left the camp, when one of the guides called over the radio, saying there was a pack of wild dogs in the riverbed hunting and that they had just killed an impala. We drove down in to the riverbed, but didn’t see the painted dogs, only a baboon sitting there eating the impala remnants – that was a first for me. I’ve heard of baboons eating meat, but I’ve never proven this theory with my own eyes.
On the other side of the riverbed, we found one lonely hyena, and then the pack of painted wolves, all running around squeaking.
They ran in to the riverbed, and had a drink of water, and then up the opposite bank, and caught a bushbuck. The pack had the cutest pups, and they were all feeding.
We watched them for ages, before they moved off, and as we set off again for the rest of the safari, we were called on the radio again. A big male lion had now taken the bushbuck carcass and was eating the remnants under a nearby bush. Naturally we went back, and there he was with the bushbuck between his paws, licking off the remains of the carcass. Turns out it was the same handsome male; we had spotted yesterday in front of the lodge.
We had certainly worked up an appetite in all of the excitement, and headed back to the lodge (which was literally 300 meters away) to enjoy a scrumptious breakfast, and a delicious cuppa coffee.
After breakfast we were treated to a foot massage on the deck of our tent, and an abundance of game visited. A herd of waterbuck, bushbuck, baboons, dagga buffalo boys, elephants, warthogs and an array of birdlife.
The guineafowls had begun the morning choir, followed in hot pursuit by the spurfowls, chirping away, a baboon barked in the distance, and a loerie flapped about in the tree above us.
We were completely immersed in nature and the daily ongoings of the resident wildlife, as if we were in a daze, mesmerized by the enchanting atmosphere surrounding us.
My heart felt like it may just burst with happiness, euphoria had set in…
My heart belongs to Africa, my heart belongs to Kruger and never again will it be returned to me, for the African bushveld will forever have its hold on me.