TANDA TULA Plains Camp Friendly staff

Annie & Charlene at Tanda Tula

written by
Sue van Winsen
Sue van Winsen

A Contemporary and Distinctly African Safari Experience

Annie Lin and Charlene Chand from Niarra Travel’s Reservations and Operations team, flying from their hometown of Cape Town to experience the new-look Tanda Tula Safari Lodge in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger, South Africa. Sue van Winsen, Niarra Travel’s Content Writer, spoke to them to get their thoughts about the property.

After a radical transformation, Tanda Tula, run by husband-and-wife team Don and Nina Scott, reopened its doors mid-2023 with a bold new design reflecting its identity and vision for the future of modern safaris. Positioned on the banks of the Nhlaralumi River, the lodge features nine hybrid off-grid suites designed by renowned safari architect, Nicholas Plewman, with a distinctly contemporary touch. Annie and Charlene spent two nights there, experiencing the activities on offer and learning more about the impact this property has had on its team, conservation in the Greater Kruger and the surrounding communities.

TANDA TULA Safari Camp Sunset

Annie, had you travelled to Kruger and the Timbavati before this trip?

Yes, I went to Timbavati for the first time when Rockfig Safari Lodge opened in 2019 for a night or two, and not long after I also spent some time in Thornybush, but I haven’t been back since the pandemic.

And how about you, Charlene?

Despite spending lots of time in the bush, particularly in East Africa, this was actually my first trip to Kruger, ever!

For me, it was very important to keep a completely open mind, I didn’t want to compare the experience to the Serengeti in Tanzania or the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and I also didn’t want to think about what people had told me to expect. The result was that I was able to experience the Kruger for the remarkable place it is, in its own completely unique way.

Charlene, tell me a bit about what your average day looked like at Tanda Tula?

Charlene: It was a very early wake-up at 04:30am, each day started with a friendly ‘good morning’ from a member of the Tanda Tula team outside our door, letting us know it was time to get out of bed. The next priority was switching on the coffee machine in the room to get our first dose of caffeine for the day, followed very quickly by our second as we met the rest of the group in the central area at about 05:00am. At this stage, all our safari guides became baristas with their cappuccino foam art – I requested a flamingo and he did not disappoint.

TANDA TULA Safari Camp Interiro Tea and Coffee Set Up on the Bed scaled

From there it was onto our vehicles (with another to-go coffee for the road) and we were off on our safari which was wonderful as we were there in summer and the weather in the mornings was lovely and cool. Animal sightings in the Timbavati were excellent and in just two days we were able to see leopard, rhinos, elephants and loads of lions.

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Just as we were starting to get hungry, our vehicle pulled up to a beautiful set-up overlooking the dry riverbed where the team was ready and waiting with a champagne breakfast. And then we were back onto the vehicle for more game-viewing.

TANDA TULA Safari Camp Exterior Breakfast Station

We returned to the lodge and had the option of lunch in our room or with the group in the central area. As we were sure some of Niarra’s clients would want to spend some time relaxing in their room after their safari and enjoy their private infinity pool, we opted for an in-room lunch, which was excellent. Then there was just enough time for a quick swim, before High Tea in the central area and off for our late afternoon drive, which included sundowners in the bush.

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Annie, what were your favourite aspects of the lodge?

For me it was definitely the hide area, which is right in front of a waterhole and you can sit and watch the animals that come to drink. What makes this space really special is that you can also have a private dinner there, right in the middle of the bush with the sounds of nature all around you.

Also, I was really impressed with the food offering. Everything was really lovely and light – well-balanced with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables which didn’t leave us feeling overly full or sluggish.

Tanda Tula Melanie van Zyl 66 scaled

And Charlene, what stood out most to you?

My best was the bathroom – it is absolutely gorgeous and just makes sense. The outdoor shower is right next to the plunge pool, which means you don’t have to traipse all the way through the room after a swim. The outdoor shower leads straight to the indoor shower and the huge bathtub, with bowls of bath salts and other amenities to make it feel extra special, while natural light pours through the ceiling. It was just perfect.

In general, the design was impressive – they have managed to avoid the typical colonial safari look while keeping the aesthetic African. The colours and patterns are bold and bright, yet everything is chic and goes so well together.

TANDA TULA Safari Camp Interior Bathroom Ensuite

Charlene, what can you tell us about the lodge team?

Something that sets Tanda Tula apart from other lodges is that some of the staff are actually shareholders in the company. As a guest, you can sense that the team feels as though this isn’t simply somewhere they work, but rather that the business belongs to them as well.

I learnt that whole families from the surrounding community end up working at the lodge. For example, after many years at Tanda Tula, the barman’s daughter now works in the restaurant. Everyone was proud and happy to be there, with a strong sense of community and belonging that always felt natural and never felt forced.

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Annie, what does Tanda Tula do from a sustainability perspective?

The lodge has been built with a light footprint, from the solar-powered facilities to the water-wise plunge pools. Through the Tanda Tula Foundation, the lodge contributes conservation levies, provides educational opportunities and scholarships to children and works to support a hyper-local supply chain linking community businesses with the safari industry.

Tanda Tula is also very focused on upskilling their staff. One of the owners, Nina, told us that one day she saw a person from her team paging through a National Geographic magazine and when she asked them which articles he liked most, he told her that he couldn’t read. That was all she needed to hear, the next thing she had enrolIed in a course on how to teach others to read and write and implemented a Tanda Tula literacy programme. These are truly spectacular people who really care about others.

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Annie, do you have any top tips to share for anyone travelling to Tanda Tula?

  1. If you are interested in conservation, it may be worth including a trip up in Tanda Tula’s helicopter for one of their twice-daily poaching patrols. There is a heli-pad just by the entrance and the conservation team goes up to look for any suspicious activity or animals in distress. They also take anti-poaching canines up in the helicopter and drop them in the bush for regular foot patrols. This is something guests have the option of adding onto their trip for a completely different perspective of the landscape, while learning more about conservation efforts in the process.
  2. Similarly, I’d recommend going on a walking safari, if you have the opportunity, for a chance to home in on all the little details you can often miss on a game drive.
Tanda Tula Field Camp Exploring the Timbavati on foot 1

And Charlene, what would your top suggestions be?

  1. Include some time to peruse the safari shop – it is amazing. I also loved that a lot of the products they sell have a purpose attached to them – so for example, if you buy an item, a percentage goes towards pangolin conservation. It is not your typical curio shop.
  2. Be sure to try a gin and tonic – they have a huge gin selection, but their specialty is the Six Dogs blue gin with pink tonic, my new favourite drink as a very occasional drinker!
Tanda Tula Gin cocktails on Safari

Lastly, Annie, who do you think a trip to Tanda Tula would best suit?

I think this is a property that anyone would love. Families would have plenty to do and the guides do a fantastic job of connecting with guests of all ages. The team is also very accommodating, so if you are on a honeymoon or a romantic getaway, they would find ways to ensure you have privacy with in-room dining or private dinners set up in special locations.

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