Timbavati Safari Lodge does not disappoint. Combining native tradition with abundant comfort and making full use of the famous South African “one year summer” , the lodge, managed by Kylie McGuirk and her husband Ryan McGuirk, has become a destination of choice for the traveller seeking something memorable. The grand African elephant, cheeky hyenas and the occasionally spotted leopard certainly aren’t easy to forget.
Only 20 minutes from the centre of the Kruger National Park, one of the largest and certainly one of the most important wildlife reserves in the world, Timbavati provides a real taste of Africa for the international and local traveller. Able to accommodate 120 guests, with facilities suitable for large groups or independent travellers, it offers 30 traditional Ndebele rondawels and four family chalets.
“We knew from the start that space and shade would be important to our guests,” says Kylie McGuirk, “Rooms are arranged to enable guests to embrace the bush and natural surroundings, without feeling in each other’s space.”
The traditional rondawel is a round structure and is a hallmark of any traditional African hut. Often very vibrantly painted, they are as synonymous with the region of Southern Africa as the tipi is for the native Indians of North America.
Like any premium hospitality business, the lodge requires constant upkeep, not only in terms of the rooms, chalets and rondawels but also the grounds. With approximately 10,000 guests per year, each of which staying anywhere from two to four nights, the lodge is always busy, so much of the maintenance is done in the background.
“Every year we are renovating something within the lodge surroundings,” Kylie reveals, “This is not restricted to accommodation, but all the important facilities for the guests. We thoroughly inspect all the beds each night for any bed bugs or insects, as a good sleep is important for enjoying your time here.”
Kylie and her staff often spend nights in the guest rooms, to ensure that things are working and that the facilities are still comfortable. She also insists that either she or one of her front-of-house colleagues meet each of the guests as they arrive, to introduce them to Timbavati Safari Lodge properly.
For hundreds of years, South Africa has offered the promise of adventure and has lured many travellers to venture there, to seek it out, but at Timbavati Lodge, if you wait too long it might come find you, “On the property we have what we call general game which include impala, zebra, warthogs, kudu and monkeys,” Kylie says, “But we are so close to the Kruger National Park and Big 5 reserves* that we are always aware of our surroundings. It doesn’t happen often but we have had at different times leopards, elephants, cheetahs and hyena come onto the property.”
While guests can be enamoured with the idea of animals roaming the grounds, these are still wild animals and should be admired from a safe zone, while they are professionally returned to the reserves.
“We have 24hr security which is very reliable and able to protect the guests; always on standby for any help that’s needed.” Kylie reveals.
Anyone who has spent time in South Africa knows that you need to plan ahead. It would takes weeks, if not months, to see everything that there is to offer, even if you isolate just one area. To ensure that time is well spent and that guests get the most out of their time, Kylie explains that many travel plans are arranged before guests even arrive.
“90% of our guests communicate via email or through the group guide, before arriving, about what they would like to participate in,” she says, adding, “This also gives us the chance to recommend certain activities that we know will make their adventure all the better.”
The advice would be well heeded as Kylie’s top three favourite things to do include game viewing, finding wild and secluded places where you can switch off without technology and travelling with a rooftop tent.
Originally from New Zealand, Kylie McGuirk has been with the lodge for ten years after coming to the country for a six-month field-guiding course. Her family is experienced in the hospitality industry and she freely admits that this industry is a 24/7 vocation.
“We are a family-run lodge and everyone is very passionate. This industry has to be your lifestyle and not just a job, if you want to shine above all others. Although everyone has tough days, we really love what we do and would not change it for any other work.”
It has paid off, as Timbavati has some of the best reviews to be found online.
“Authentically perfect,” says one.
“Love, Love, LOVE, this place.” Says another.
The busiest times to book are actually the coolest, temperature-wise. July to November covers winter and spring in South Africa. To make sure you get your preferred time, you also have to book at least 12-18 months ahead.
Thanks to sites like Tripadvisor and booking.com, the process of booking has become far easier for international visitors to make arrangements, iron out travel details and prepare for their great African adventure. It’s interesting to note that, according to Kylie, other websites like the peer-to-peer Airbnb.com has not affected the business at all.
“The lodge owner is the marketing director,” Kylie reveals, “And participates in a lot of road shows worldwide. Because he is passionate about the lodge, which he has grown up in for most of his life, it comes through when presenting the lodge to interested people.”
The staff are trained through mentorship and onsite/offsite training courses and management are sure to look hard and filter through a lot of candidates to find the perfect additions to the Timbavati family. It is very much a case of taking the time to fill the positions with the right people; no shortcuts.
Everyone working at the lodge needs to be on the same page because there are a lot of very real responsibilities that need to be taken care of. Also, it is a place where culture meets safari and the team have to do their best to avoid disrupting the natural surroundings. Working WITH them is the key.
THE ALLURE OF TIMBAVATI SAFARI LODGE
Timbavati has a warm and welcoming atmosphere, having not sacrificed personal touches and comfortable communication with guests. That’s quite a rarity, given the size of the lodge. Kylie explains:
“We do not want people to feel lost, so whether you are travelling alone, with friends, family or in a large tour group, the manager on duty will always be around and checking on everybody’s comfort. It doesn’t cost anything to communicate and this is very important to ensure a guest’s stay is the best it can be.”