Timbavati: place of magic & wonder…

The Timbavati Game Reserve borders the Kruger National Park to the north and east. The name Timbavati was derived from a Shangaan expression meaning ‘the place where something sacred came down to earth from the heavens’. This sums up the magical spirit of the Timbavati reserve which has a tangible sense of wilderness. It has no fences so animals are able to move freely, in search of fresh grasses and water.

The Timbavati private game reserve has a vast array of wildlife which includes the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino) thriving amongst giraffe, zebra, warthogs, hyena and many antelope species. It also protects sustainable populations of many endangered species such as black and white rhinoceros, pangolins, and many others. All in all there are over 40 mammal species in the Timbavati as well as 360 species of bird life.

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Why we love it

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Fenceless borders

Open, fenceless borders with the Kruger National Park

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Big Five

Big Five Reserve & frequent sightings of wild dogs

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Few Vehicles

Pervasive sense of wilderness with low vehicle density

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Timbavati Leopards

Great chance of seeing leopard given the terrain


Timbavati Lodges

Romantic Luxurious tented lodge.

Hilltop Lodge has one of the finest settings in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve, an unfenced but private part of the Kruger Park. It’s perched on the hillside with wide angle views over the bush and views to the distant mountains of the Drakensberg escarpment. Below lie the expansive Mbali Dam and the Nhlaralumi River, where you may be lucky to see elephant, and other wildlife, come to quench their thirst.

Enjoy game-viewing experience from our deck…

Simbavati River Lodge enjoys a unique setting on the banks of the Kruger Park’s Nhlaralumi River in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. This lodge has a broad appeal, with a traditional safari ambience but with a relaxed contemporary twist in terms of décor.

Opulent and Spacious Two Bedroomed Villa

River Sands Villa is a combination of luxury and opulence with exceptional private views overlooking a watering hole, in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. It is positioned alongside a dry river bed running through the Timbavati. The waterfall pool feature overlooks the watering hole that attracts a variety of wildlife throughout the day.

Quaint and Picturesque Two Bedroomed Cottage

Mvubu is a picturesque cottage in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve,  with views of untouched African bush. It is located alongside the expansive Mbali Dam and the Nhlaralumi River.

Untamed African wildlife wonderland…

Simbavati Trails Camp is a gem; a luxury-yet-back-to-basics walking trails camp located in a secluded area of the Timbavati Game Reserve. There is no electricity, WiFi or cell phone reception. Just you, in the heart of an untamed African wildlife wonderland.


Getting to the Timbavati…

The Timbavati Private Game Reserve lies approx 495km north-east from Johannesburg. The closest airport is Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport, which is about 1 hour from most camps. There are direct flights from both Cape Town and Johannesburg into Hoedspruit. From there you enjoy a complimentary transfer to our Timbavati lodges.

If you stay in the Hazyview area, the drive is approx 2½ hours to most camps. However you could enjoy scenic tour of the Panorama route via the majestic Blyde River Canyon. This takes much longer, but you can easily arrive in time for afternoon tea prior to safari activities.

Johannesburg to the Timbavati safari lodges takes at least 6½ hours (as the final stretch is slow driving once you are IN the reserve). For specific driving directions, look at How to Get There on each of our Timbavati safari lodge pages and download the directions.

Closest Airport



Drive time from Hoedspruit

1 hour

to most camps

Dry Season


Wet Season



Best Time to visit the Timbavati Private Game Reserve

The Timbavati has a typical sub-tropical climate with warm, wet summer and dry, but sunny winters. It is in the summer rainfall region of South Africa.

Summer babies

The Greater Kruger has a summer rainfall climate with the rains starting somewhere in November. This usually takes the form of late afternoon or evening thunderstorms which are actually welcome, as it cools the air and keeps everything lush and green. Temperatures are hot and humid during the day. And it stays warm in the evening and night. The rains are heaviest in January and February. 

The bush comes alive again after the rains offering lush vegetation. It is harder to spot the wildlife during this time as the grasses are longer. However birding is excellent with many summer migrants, many young ones are being born, and the interesting cloud shapes make it the perfect time for keen photographers. 

Rain ceases

This is the start of the dry season and thus the safari season. Usually by mid-March the rains have stopped, making game-viewing much easier. The landscape is still green and lush but grasses start dying down. The sunsets are superb as the skies are clearer. Nights are pleasantly warm. And the drier weather means the malaria risk is much lower.

Peak game-viewing

This is our dry winter climate with virtually no rain for months. This is the best time for game-viewing as the bush is less dense and the animals need to come to the rivers to drink. Daytime temperatures are very pleasant (23-25c) with sunny skies for days on end. But you’ll need to have warm clothing for when the sun sets. And for the early morning game drives. However it starts warming up during August.

Heating up

The spring months of mid-August to October are actually just the tail-end of the dry season in the Timbavati Game Reserve. (So not the classic spring weather you may be used to.) But it remains a very good time for safari. As more and more the animals are congregating around the water sources, where our safari lodges are situated. It’s perfect for those who like warmer night-time temperatures. It starts heating up quickly in late September and October prior to the start of the summer rains (from late October to mid-November). With the build-up of humidity, October tends to be hot!


Birding in the Timbavati

Bird watching in the Timbavati Game Reserve is very rewarding. As well as the frequently-spotted lilac breasted roller, there is a wide array of owls, eagles, kingfishers and other water-birds amongst the 360 species found here. . It also protects sustainable populations of many endangered birds such as saddle-billed storks and southern ground hornbills.

Timbavati Game Reserve - sustainable game-viewing


Sustainable game-viewing

There are comparatively few Timbavati safari lodges. So this pristine wildlife reserve has a low vehicle density as well as strict, ecologically sensitive game-viewing protocols. This ensures that there are no more than two vehicles at any sighting. So as to leave the wildlife as undisturbed as possible.

Drives are in the early morning and late afternoon when wildlife is most likely to be active. Due to a long history of sensitive game-viewing, the animals are quite relaxed allowing for superb viewing from open-topped game vehicles. Your ranger and tracker work as a team to find the wildlife. Being a private reserve, you can also enjoy night drives and follow wildlife off road.

After sundowners, you may be lucky to spot nocturnal animals on the night drive, including many smaller cat species, including African wild cat.

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 The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and its  alluring wilderness calls to wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers and visitors from all over the world seeking out the perfect safari. Within this private reserve, Simbavati Lodge Collection offers a variety of luxurious lodges, villas, cottages and camps, each appealing to different tastes and preferences. 

Simbavati River Lodge: Where Luxury Meets Wilderness

Simbavati River Lodge is a welcoming luxury safari lodge, nestled in the heart of Timbavati. Here, you'll find spacious suites with private decks overlooking the Nhlaralumi River, ensuring that you are always close to the wildlife and wonders of the African bush. The lodge offers a blend of modern comfort and traditional safari charm, making it ideal for families, couples and friends seeking a memorable safari escape

Simbavati River Sands: An Exclusive and Oppulent Safari

Ideal for two couples travelling together or a family of four seeking a private safari experience, Simbavati River Sands is an intimate choice. This luxurious safari villa boasts just four suites, providing an exclusive and private atmosphere. The setting offering breathtaking views of the surrounding wilderness and meals are privately catered at the lodge. Exclusive safari drives and a tranquil ambience make for a wonderful and personal experience. 

Simbavati Hilltop Lodge: Panoramic Views in the Heart of Nature

A romance-inspired lodge, Simbavati Hilltop Lodge offers a unique vantage point from which to appreciate the Timbavati's beauty. Perched up high, it provides panoramic views of the reserve's sprawling landscape and wildlife below. Romance and exclusivity is at the foundation of the experience and it is an idyllic lodge for couples, honeymooners and those seeking a sophisticated, tranquil safari. Recently softly refurbished, the suites are elegantly designed, with private decks featuring a daybed for true relaxation. Hilltop is a fantastic choice for those who wish to immerse themselves in the serenity of the Greater Kruger.

Simbavati Mvubu Cottage: The Epitome of Privacy and Comfort 

Families or couples travelling together can find their perfect safari getaway at Simbavati Mvubu Cottage. This quaint and charismatic safari cottage offers an exclusive-use experience with a comfortable living area, impressive deck and private  pool. The daybed on the upper level is so inviting and the perfect spot to game view or star gaze from.  The name "Mvubu" means "hippo" in Zulu, hinting at the potential wildlife encounters right outside your doorstep. 

Simbavati Trails Camp: An Immersive Wilderness Experience

For the adventurous souls, Simbavati Trails Camp promises an authentic, immersive wilderness experience. Here, you'll embark on guided walking safaris, getting up close and personal with the flora and fauna of Timbavati. This luxury-yet-back-to-basics camp provides a unique opportunity to connect with nature and each other while enjoying wonderful fire-to-plate style food and in-camp relaxation too. 

The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and Simbavati's diverse lodges offer something for everyone. Whether you're seeking luxury, romance, family-friendly accommodation, or an adventurous experience, you'll find it here. Each lodge provides exceptional service, guided safaris, and a chance to witness Africa's magnificent wildlife in their natural habitat.

Discover more about the Timbavati and our lodges within it.


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Kruger Timbavati

A Safari for Every Taste in the Timbavati

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    [post_date] => 2021-09-06 07:39:49
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It was just another chilly morning in the bush. As usual, we had our coffee and tea around dawn while we waited for the sun to rise. Just enough for us to see what was going on in the gradually lessening shadows. We left in the morning on foot and nothing was out of the norm. It was the same wonderful landscape we walked in everyday. But today something happened that we thought we would never experience.

As we left camp we started to make our way towards a small dam just to the side of camp. This is usually what we do in the morning as we go to the water to see what animals have been visiting. So just as usual, we walk towards the small dam not thinking much, as it's only an 8 minute walk from camp.

We walked through a small mopane thicket and turned left onto the dam road. That's when we just stopped dead in our tracks. Straight ahead of us were two lion cubs playing around the water. Wow! We just stood still watching the cubs for a moment or two, when we started to think…where is the mother?

It didn't take long before we managed to spot the lioness. Unfortunately, she had already spotted us first. Everything at that point just went utterly quiet. When we saw the lioness lying in the bush to the left of us, and the cubs straight ahead, we knew what was coming. We slowly started to walk backwards to give some space between us and the lioness. That's when we heard this loud noise, it sounded just like somebody was on a Harley Davidson. The lioness was warning us that we better not get any closer.

We didn’t need telling. But before we could back away more, she came bolting towards us. People always tell you that you shouldn't run in the bush. I found out that day that, at the speed that the lioness was charging towards us, you dont even have time to think about running. Luckily, she stopped about three metres from us.

So she just wanted to make it clear that she didn't have the intention to harm us. She just wanted to warn us to stay away from her cubs, like any mother would do. After she warned us with a mock charge, she turned around and trotted towards her cubs. She picked one of them up in her mouth and the family made their way back into the bush.

We left the lioness with her cubs and moved away to find that there were lots of vultures in the sky not too far from camp. We started to walk that way trying to see what was going on. On the way there we bumped into a hyena that appeared to be searching for something. We just watched him for a bit to try and figure out what he was looking for. Then the wind picked up and we got this smell of something rotten in the bush.

At that moment we realized why we found the lioness and cubs by the dam. They’d made a kill somewhere around our camp, but where? We tried to follow the smell but the wind would drop and the smell would disappear. That's when we heard that sound of a Harley Davidson again.

Straight in front of us, under the weeping wattle tree, were four lionesses and the two cubs. Busy devouring a wildebeest. We just stopped and watched them for a minute or two. However we decided not to chance our luck with these cats anymore, but to rather head back to camp.

That astounding walk is a moment in time that will never be forgotten. Yes, we cannot forget the rush of fear when she charged us. But equally memorable was the beauty of a good mother nurturing and protecting her young.

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Kruger Timbavati

Trails Camp

Lioness on Foot in the Timbavati

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Our ‘Secret Seven’ wildlife species in Africa are rarely seen and elusive animals. Well, the name says it all.

These are the most secretive animals and even many frequent visitors to National Parks and wildlife reserves haven’t been fortunate enough to see them all.  The secret seven comprise aardvark, African wild cat, civet, large spotted genet, pangolin, porcupine and serval.

In a lifetime career working in the bush I’ve been lucky enough to see six of our Secret Seven. But one I am yet to see in all my years..

The main reason these guys are such a rare ‘spot’ is due to the fact that they are mostly nocturnal, solitary and shy animals. Let’s run through our list so that you’ll be ready to share in the excitement if you do spot one. It’s usually quite a fleeting sighting and they are certainly camera-shy!


Afrikaans Name: Erdvark

This animal has long ears, a long pig-like snout and a very thick tail. Their skin is almost bare and of a yellow-grey colour while the hair on the legs is generally darker in colour. Plus their hindquarters are also much heavier than the front quarters and their shoulders are much lower than the crop. Their limbs are extremely powerful and the feet, especially their front feet, have strong claws adapted for digging and for breaking into anthills. The aardvark is very adaptable and occurs in areas where the soil is not very compact and where a sufficient number of termites are. 

Male aardvarks are slightly more heavily built than the females. Both are generally solitary. They range widely seeking food, with those noses of theirs held close to ground as their sense of smell is amazing. They are nocturnal (active at night) and usually sleep in a hole that they fill up behind them.

Speaking of their holes. You may be surprised that they have three holes with three different uses:

Hole 1: They live in this hole as well as give birth to their young in this hole. They give birth to a single young and they are born from July to September after a gestation period of +-7 months.

Hole 2: This acts as a temporary shelter from bad weather or unexpected weather or if they travelled a bit too far they will seek shelter before moving back to hole 1.

Hole 3: A small excavation for seeking food.

They can dig at unbelievable rates. Sometimes when they are done with their holes, if they are in good condition, then other animals will move in! They'll make & shape them into dens or shelters for themselves.  All and all, you can call the Aardvark the architect of bush.

African Wild Cat

Afrikaans Name: Vaalboskat

The second of our secret seven wildlife species is a slender animal resembling a grey house cat! Their colour varies from grey to dark grey, from reddish to dusky red stripes on their legs and tail. African wild cats are larger than small spotted cats and they usually have more spots. These cats can easily interbreed with domestic cats, but the cross-breeds will have shorter legs and lack the reddish tinge on the back of their ears which African wild cats are known for, however the cross-breeds will have a red nose instead of the normal black nose. You can find these cats everywhere, provided there is sufficient dense thicket, tall grass and rocks for shelters.

These shy, cunning animals are usually solitary, except for mating season when one or more males will be around a single female. 2 to 5 young are born any time of the year with the peak being between September and March, after a gestation period of +-2 months. They are mainly nocturnal. But you may be lucky and see them in the late afternoon at sunset. They are very territorial and both sexes will defend their areas. Although these cats are mainly terrestrial they are very good climbers, especially if they are being pursued. They also sometimes hunt from trees. I have been very lucky to have seen them, but only 2 individuals in my career.

African Civet

Afrikaans Name: Siwet

This cat-like animal is a whitish-grey with indistinct spots on the forequarters and regular black spots which merge into stripes on their hindquarters. Their legs are black and their tail white, bushy and ringed with a black tip. These animals prefer woodlands with thick undergrowth. They also like to be in well-watered surroundings. African civets are exclusively nocturnal and are most active during the early hours of the evening or just before sunrise. 

They are mainly solitary animals. Civets can climb trees but they mostly move on the ground, you will find these guys usually along footpaths and walking purposefully with their heads held down. They are extremely shy animals. If you disturb them, they will either stand motionless or lie down on the ground. Depending on good camouflage rather than fight. One to four young are born between August to December after a gestation period of +-2 months. These animals can live up to 12 years if they don’t get killed by lion, leopard or pythons.

I have been lucky enough to see four individuals and the last one was my best sighting; a civet being chased by a leopard! He survived due to the fact that the leopard wasn’t hunting or anything. It seemed that they just accidentally walked into each other in tall grass. Personally, I think the leopard got just as much of a fright as the civet.

Large Spotted Genet

Afrikaans Name: Grootkolmuskejaatkat

The fourth one in the secret seven roll-call is a rather small, cat-like animal. The large spotted genet are white or greyish-white with dark spots and stripes. Their tail is long and dark with white rings. The species has been split into the Large spotted genet with black spots, stripes and rings. And the Rusty-spotted genet with rust-brown stripes and spots. These animals like to be in well-watered areas with sufficient undergrowth. 

Usually solitary animals, but they can sometimes be found in pairs. They are nocturnal animals and will emerge a few hours after sunset. During the day they sleep in old aardvark holes (our architect of the bush, remember?), spring hare holes or sometimes they will sleep in hollow tree stumps. They are mainly terrestrial but will either take shelter or hunt in trees. Their movements are watchful and furtive and when they run they keep their heads down and their tails horizontal.

These animals love dog pellets so people that live on farms where they keep dogs have to keep the dog food inside or they end up stealing the dog pellets.


Afrikaans Name: Ystervark

These guys are the largest rodent in the region. Their bodies are covered in quills, spines and flattened black bristles. Quills are generally black and white and very distinctive.

Porcupines are usually solitary but three or more can be found using the same shelters. Sometimes at the holes you will find bones which the porcupines drag to the shelters where they gnaw on the bones for calcium.

These guys are very adaptable and you can find them everywhere except in forests and desserts. So you may see them away from conservation areas. Indeed they are the worst enemy to veggie gardens and agricultural lands and cause a lot of damage.   

They can travel long distances looking for food at night. These guys might look slow but they can run really fast if being pursued by a predator. Speaking of dangerous encounters for porcupine, they are pretty feisty. The quills by the neck and hindquarters are longer and thinner. They raise these up to make the porcupine look bigger and more fearsome to its enemies.

Look at this encounter between a leopard and a porcupine in the Kruger...

Quills cannot be shot out or released as folklore says, (cool though that would be). They actually back up into the predator where the quills will stick and remain in the predator. Lions and leopards struggle after an altercation between them and a porcupine as the quills cause infections and festering sores, making it difficult to hunt, eat or even drinking water, so they become weak and easy targets to their own enemies. Some people working in the bush actually refer to porcupines as the serial killer of the bush.


Afrikaans Name: Tierboskat

The serval is a slender animal with long legs, a rather small, rounded head and large ears. Colour varies from dull white to light golden-yellow with black stripes down the neck and irregular black spots on the body. The serval is sometimes confused with a young cheetah cubs as they look very similar. Yet so different if you know what to look for. Servals prefer thicker, more humid types of woodland with sufficient shelter and water. 

These animals usually forage alone, although pairs sometimes hunt together, even in swampy areas. They are mainly nocturnal but you may see them in the early morning and late afternoon. They can run fast for short distances. At night they range far in search of food, using roads and footpaths to avoid difficult terrain. Although they are excellent tree climbers they are mainly terrestrial. These guys can live up to +-12 years unless their predators like lion and crocodile get to them first.


Afrikaans Name: Ietermagog

And last, but not least, in our secret seven line-up is probably the animal that most keen safari visitors would LOVE to see. These guys have got very hard, dark grey-brown scales which cover the body like roof tiles, their defining characteristic. It’s a very odd animal. You very rarely see them, being even more elusive than the other secret seven clan.

Pangolin walk on their hind legs with the front legs held off the ground, only touching now and then. The front feet have long, curved claws which are used to dig. They like sandy soil in dry fairly humid types of savannah with adequate shelters.

Pangolin are usually solitary animals and move about noisily as they brush against bushes and branches. They are also mainly nocturnal but you can occasionally see them during the day. If they suspect any intrusion they will stand on their back legs supported by their tails. When threatened they will roll themselves into a ball. They live in old Aardvark holes and hunt for food at night. They eat mainly ants and sometimes termites. Intriguingly they also emit a really foul odour when threatened.

These guys can live a good life of over 12 years in the wild and have no natural enemies. Their worst enemies are humans, unfortunately. Sadly they are the most trafficked animals in the world, mainly sought after for their scales. Again, another sad story of ignorance, greed and misinformation about non-existent health benefits. This animal has evaded me watching to catch a slighting for 9 years and going. So Mr Pangolin, watch out! Our cat and mouse game ain’t over just quite yet. I’ve still got my eyes open and I will see you soon!

So as the sundowner drinks come to an end, and the night drive begins, keep your eyes peeled for one of these secret seven gems. 

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Secret seven wildlife - aarvark


Camp George

Hilltop Lodge


Kruger Klaserie

Kruger Timbavati

River Lodge

Wildlife & Safari

Secret Seven wildlife of the Timbavati & Klaserie