Author: Jill Harrison

African Experience: Soft Option – South Africa, Africa

His massive grey bulk suddenly emerged from behind a thorn bush. Ears flapping he pawed the earth with his
foot and shaking his head, crashed through the bush towards us, stopping 10 metres from our vehicle.

Ndlobu, the Elephant

leant his weight against a tree to show his strength, tested the air with his
trunk, then threw a cloud of sand over us.
Ndlobu, the Elephant.

was the third morning of our stay at Jackalberry Lodge in the 65-thousand-acre
Thornybush Game Reserve, near Kruger National Park in South Africa. Whether you want peace and relaxation, the
bush experience, or see the animals and take photos, honeymooners,
couples and families, young and old, all can enjoy the African experience at

our way over Africa, land of my dreams, two days before, I had watched the landscape
change from green patchwork to rugged mountains and finally, a dry yellow
brown. A
smiling African face greeted us at Hoedspruit Airport and drove us to the Lodge,
where we immediately felt welcome and at home.
Jackalberry offers an intimate camp that blends perfectly with the bush
surroundings. Our overwhelming first
impression was of Jackalberry’s stunning ambience, understated comfort,
welcoming friendliness and quiet peacefulness.

upgraded, the Lodge accommodates visitors in family
suites, luxury suites and double chalets, all with air-conditioning. The huts,
built in a traditional African style under deep thatch, have unique en-suite,
semi-open air bathrooms that look out onto the bushland. Just imagine viewing the African
sunrise from your early morning shower.

Game drives are taken in open
safari vehicles at 6:00 am and 4:00 pm. On the
morning drives a coffee break is taken out in the bush, and a buffet brunch is
served on your return to camp around 9.30-10:00 am. From then till 3.30 pm when afternoon tea is served, time is your own to
spend at your leisure.

feature of the afternoon drive is sunset drinks under a gorgeous coloured
sky. Spotlighting on the way back to camp is a chance to see some of the night
animals like bushbabies, jackals and civets.
On our first evening we toasted Africa as a herd of zebra grazed
nearby. Our adventure had only just
begun, but it already promised to be everything we had hoped for.

scrumptious buffet dinner is served around a fire in the boma, a
wonderful time to relive experiences.
Sit back and relax by the campfire under a blanket of stars, and listen
to the night sounds of Africa .

at Jackalberry, guests can hire a car, or take a tour to the nearby Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre,
Pilgrim’s Rest, the Drakensberg Ranges, the spectacular Blyde River Canyon and
God’s Window lookouts, various waterfalls and other places of interest in the
area. Roadside curio stalls are great
places to buy local crafts and that special souvenir.

the more adventurous, guided day bush walks can be taken in the area around the
Lodge. While we didn’t encounter any
large animals (to my relief), other than the hippos that peered curiously at us
from the other side of the dam, we learnt a lot about animal tracks, birds and
plants. The experience was well worth

to unwind and relax – then laze by the pool and enjoy the peace and quiet which
is Jackalberry. A sitting area under the
trees is a cool spot to relax with a book and a drink.

Lodge’s open plan living area, incorporates dining, bar, sitting, and lounging
area in front of an open fireplace, all looking out across the grass to the
pool and the bush beyond.

Our guide during our visit, Grant Furniss, has been in the industry for eight years,
and has a passion for the bush. His
knowledge of animals, birds, plants and bush remedies is extensive, he is
always ready to answer any questions.
The African trackers, who work with the guides on
the game drives, are expert bushmen, able to read the animal tracks and
understand animal behaviour. Guests are
ensured of close encounters with the animals.

Lion: Don't be fooled by his sleepy look, he is watching your every move

enjoys meeting people and taking them on the game drives. “The feeling the person gets when they see an
animal for the first time, I really enjoy that – watching the person’s reactions – to see their faces light up. It’s a great feeling. It makes the job all the more
worthwhile for me.” It was our fourth
drive when we saw our first lion, an 11-year-old male with a magnificent ginger
and black mane. To have a wild lion
staring right into your eyes is a feeling that is totally indescribable.

believes the experience should continue when you arrive back in camp after the
game drives. He and partner Angelique, join guests for the evening meal. Being a small camp it
is easy to get to know people on a personal basis. Grant says this is important, to know what
guests want from their experience.

and Angie aim for a friendly and homey feel "to give people an
intimate bush experience, relaxed, informal and professional.” They
think it is important to present “a holistic approach to the experience so
that guests really feel like they were in the bush and felt welcome the whole
time.” They want peoplle to realise their dream of coming
to Africa as a “whole
experience – sitting around the fire, the
meals, the people, going out and learning, the conservation side, a true
bush experience.”

Thornybush Reserve teams with wildlife, including the “Big Five” (an old term
for those animals game hunters considered the most dangerous to hunt) – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – all of which we saw
during our stay. There are also more
than 60 species of wildlife, including hippo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest,
impala, kudu, duiker, waterbuck, nyala, warthog and 280 species of birds.

game drive has its own surprises and should not be missed as “something special
may happen”. However, Grant believes it
is important not to just focus on the big five; he tries to show people the small things as well, and to spend time sitting
and watching the animals.

are six Lodges in the Thornybush Conservancy, all separately and privately
owned, but the rangers are in radio contact during the drives to alert other
guides of game sightings. They follow a
system allowing only two vehicles at a sighting at any one time.

animals are familiar with the vehicles, so it is possible to get very close as
long as you don’t stand up or get out of the vehicle. It is impossible to describe the thrill of
seeing the animals in their natural environment. On several occasions we were amongst a herd
of elephants and their young calves. It was incredible to see them in their
family group at such close quarters.

Reserve has two resident lion prides.
They tolerated our close presence, as they had killed the previous night
and were more intent on sleeping.
However, we were reminded that these big cats lolling on the dam bank in
the sun were actually an extremely effective killing machine and had a watchful
eye and ear turned towards us.

Ingwe, the Leopard

Ingwe, the Leopard

our last morning we finally saw him – Ingwe, the elusive leopard – a
15-month-old male. As we approached, he
climbed into the low fork of a tree and lay staring at us with his green eyes,
his perfectly spotted coat glistening in the early morning sunlight. The thrill of seeing him completed an already
spectacular week. 

says it is important to understand that although the Reserve is fenced and the
animals are used to vehicles, they are still wild animals in a natural
environment. “This is an area for the
animals, it belongs to them, and we are visiting their area. So you’ve got to make sure you are keeping
the people safe, but at the same time you are not hampering the animal in any
way, or endangering its life.”

describes working at Jackalberry as “a definite privilege, every morning when
you wake up, and you see giraffes outside, it’s just amazing, what a wonderful
way to spend your life”. Grant agrees,
“the quiet times here, and the stars in the evening, all add to it. She sums up Jackalberry as “a touch of luxury, but not too much, a feeling like home, simplicity,
close to nature.”

concludes, “It would be fantastic to have people coming back, because you’d
know you’d given them such a wonderful experience, they had to return.”

had dreamed of going to Africa all my life.
Jackalberry was everything I had dreamed and more. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone
wanting to experience Africa, but with home comforts and a touch of

For more information on the reserve, take a look at this link.