Here we are in the vast and beautiful Tswalu reserve, officially referred to as the 'Tswalu Private Game Reserve'. As its name suggests, it is a private place and it is not any old place in South Africa. In fact, it is the largest private reserve in the country measuring no less than 254,519 acres!
As was explained to us at the reserve, the animals don't come here of there own accord - the owner buys them and brings them to the reserve. Of course, when you learn this, it takes away some of the magic of the place, but it has been here for over 10 years so the animals are now very much part of the landscape. The reserve currently has over 15,000 animals, so you're sure to spot a good few as you walk around.
As far as the staff are concerned, Tswalu is run by an extremely professional and efficient team. Safaris are generally accompanied by a two-man team of a tracker and a ranger. Jo and Sammy, our guides when we visited, showed us round their environment and we left the reserve very much enriched by the experiences they shared with us. The team is also responsible for the safety of visitors to the reserve, so it really is essential that you follow their instructions to the letter.
Transfers by small private aircraft are organised for visitors to get to the reserve. The journey only takes around an hour and a half and you'll soon forget the time once you get comfortable and sit back and enjoy the refreshments and snacks available. These notably include pieces of dried meat, some of which can take a fair bit of time to chew!
Witness a sunrise or sunset from a hot-air balloon - it is a truly extraordinary and spectacular experience! It is sometimes even difficult to put into words the feeling you get once you're inside the gondola and the ground gently starts falling from underneath your feet. The breathtaking scale of the landscape viewed from above is even more spectacular.
As many as possible of the 15,000 animals of various species in the reserve, which include everything from wildebeests to lions, warthogs and even ostriches! Safaris are either organised here early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
A safari holiday is not the most relaxing kind; indeed, when the temperatures are at their peak during the daytime, most of the animals will be hidden away in the shade, asleep. Morning safaris therefore start very early to enable visitors to see as many animals as possible, so it's a good idea to bring some warmer clothing for the morning and evening as the temperatures can drop significantly, particularly when you're riding round in an open-top vehicle.
You are strongly advised against , even prohibited, from getting out of your vehicle in the middle of the bush as some of the animals are very adept at playing hide-and-seek and could well catch you off-guard. Your guide will be familiar with the savannah and will let you know when it is safe for you to get out.
If you come across an aggressive animal whilst out walking, the best thing to do is to not panic, and especially, to not start running. Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you demonstrate nervous behaviour you will make the animal in front of you all the more afraid.
Although the cuisine is very sophisticated in Tswalu, the South-African dishes are certainly worth trying and you certainly won't go hungry here! Whilst seafood is predominant on the coasts of South Africa, when it comes to the reserves, meat really is king! You may find it a little troubling to sit down to eat the meat of animals you have just seen that day roaming around the reserve, but this is how the natives have always lived. Corn-based dishes are also a big part of the staple diet of those in the northern provinces.
There is very little you can bring back from the Tswalu private reserve as there are no shops to speak of on-site, though the Tarkuni lodge does have a small souvenir shop.