Enter your search keyword or phrase and press enter.

October 8, 2022

Nambiti Hills Private Game Reserve

The pop of the champagne cork bursts the chilly air, and we relax in comfortable silence. Above the chirp of crickets, I hear a noise; my first instinct is to sit forward in my chair, squinting into the nothingness while my eyes adjust. From our deck, it’s only a few paces before the grass area surrounding our suite slips into thick unfenced wilderness. I look at my husband to gauge his reaction, remembering I closed the door behind us to steer away anything with eight legs. But under the glow of the heavy full moon, branches move gently before a deep low rumble echoes in the still air. I set my glass down gently as a small herd of elephants emerge cautiously from the thicket. We sit entranced for what seems like hours as dark grey giants move gracefully and then disappear into the night.

We travelled by road from Durban just that morning to spend three days in the bushveld. Over the hum of the diesel engine, we chat with our guide, Joe, as he navigates the narrowing dirt road through the bush towards our lodge. The wintery midday sun here feels deeply nostalgic, embracing us in its warmth as the tyre tracks whip up a cloud of dust in our wake. I take a deep breath in and inhale the smell of the bushveld.

Nambiti Private Game Reserve lies just outside Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, sprawled across unspoilt bushveld, where guests can spend endless days reconnecting with nature and discovering South Africa’s enamoured wildlife.

Known for its diversity, Nambiti Private Game Reserve boasts over 40 species of game and a plethora of birdlife, many of which were introduced by Founder Rob Le Sueur nearly two decades ago. Originally cattle farms, Le Sueur transformed 23,000 acres of overgrazed land into a viable preservation area. Through intensive ecological research projects and community outreach programs, Le Sueur and his team carefully regenerated the reserve into the thriving and healthy ecosystem that exists today.

As we bounce along towards camp, the radio crackles with a muffled message—we know what this means. We quit the chatter and quietly steady our binoculars as Joe motions into the shrubs. As we’ve done countless times before, I reach for my notebook, ready to scribble our day’s sightings in the now ageing spine—buffalos, giraffes, a pair of secretary birds, and an ostrich, and it’s only midday.

We willingly lose track of time as we’re lulled into the sweet unhurried pace of life in the bush. We slow down for a perching lilac-breasted roller and a small dazzle of zebras, tails swishing as they stroll over flattened grass tracks. Joe has been at Nambiti Private Game Reserve for years and effortlessly crosses the rugged terrain without missing an eye or a twitch of an ear.

In the distance, a thatched roof appears on a hilly outcrop, camouflaged by acacias and golden grass. As we meander closer, we glimpse Namibiti Hills for the first time since leaving the road, one of ten exclusive and privately-owned lodges scattered within Nambiti Private Game Reserve.

Our arrival is met with big smiles and a chilled drink. While sipping fresh juice, we’re led from the Landy towards the main lodge, where sweeping view ripple in the midday sun. A circling martial eagle calls in the enormous blue expanse somewhere high above us, and I wonder what it can see that we can’t.

The wooden structure opens onto a stilted deck high above the bushveld, which drops down to a sunken fire pit surrounded by comfortable lounges and a sparkling pool below. Inside, thatch ceilings, beautiful African textiles and neutral colours echo the veld landscape that seems to creep inside through the wide-open lodge.

At this time of year, cornflower blue skies, chilly mornings and mild sunny days promise idyllic scenes for a comfortable winter escape, while dramatic thunderstorms denote late afternoons in summer before clearing for spectacular sunset vistas.

Just to the right of the main lodge, a small sandy path winds down to eight free-standing luxury suites scattered for leisure and privacy. To the left, a large honeymoon suite is set some distance away. Each suite reveals a king-sized four-post bed draped softly with soft mosquito nets and a deep stone bath overlooking the wilderness through giant glass doors and a private sun-dappled deck where two comfortable chairs entice guests to spot passing wildlife with a drink.

Unlike many lodges, activities at Nambiti Hills are effortless; there’s no rush—you’re free to slip into a slow bush rhythm as you like.

Later as the sun melts, we make our way across the reserve deliberately, searching. The air is still warm, and it isn’t long before we spot an elephant between trees. Joe cuts the engine and quietly tells us about the herd on the reserve—his knowledge is remarkable. We hear a rustle in the thicket as one shy calf steps into view, barely visible between his mother’s legs. We keep our distance so as not to disturb these serene creatures. There is no chatter now; instead, we tune our ears into the sound of branches snapping and the gentle flapping of the elephant’s ears. Growing to nearly 13 feet tall, elephants can traverse through the bush almost silently, browsing for juicy apple-leaf branches. After admiring the mother and her calf from a distance, we push on, edging further up the two-tyre track just as the trees seem to clear, revealing the rest of the breeding herd. We sit in awe as the afternoon seems to slow without notice. We take turns peering through our old-faithful binoculars to see the elephant’s textured skin, aged with the sun and thick with dust. I wonder if they feel as peaceful in our presence as we do in theirs.

We leave the elephants in peace and continue our drive, spotting nyala and a flock of guinea fowl chirping in the glowing dusk light. There are rumours of a lioness, but she evades us. We drive slowly, stopping and starting for a couple of giraffes and impalas to cross in front of us in the usual bush traffic ramble.

We park overlooking a large waterhole, where antelope soon gather to hydrate—we jump out of the Landy to do the same. In the three days we spend at Nambiti Hills, we come to know Joe well. His joy is infectious, and his broad smile makes us feel like old friends. As he unpacks a cooler box and shakes out a small tablecloth, we stretch our legs and settle in for sundowners, my favourite safari tradition. The sky is washed in fading colours of pink and orange, reflecting off the water, which is still save from a few ripples from a thirsty buck. We toast to the bush as red-eyed doves coo and welcome the rising moon.

We wrap ourselves in warm woollen blankets as the temperature dips. It will be dark soon, and the promise of a cozy fire awaits our return to camp. We spot the dim lights of the lodge sparkling in the distance as we retrace our tracks back through the reserve. We occasionally stop to catch a glimpse of small nocturnal creatures emerging in the last light of day. Before long, night descends, and we use a spotlight to scan the darkness for owls and glowing eyes darting along the ground. Back at camp, after a wholesome meal, we sleep soundly to a peaceful bush lullaby.

The next morning at dawn, after a buttermilk rusk and a steaming cup of rooibos, we set out across the reserve in search of a male lion whose heart-thumping calls resounded throughout camp the night before. The first out on the road, we search for fresh spoor in the sand as we cruise passed long grass, heavy with dew. And then, as if by instinct, Joe slows, cutting the engine. Listening for a while, he scans the valley ahead before pointing east. Shuffling in our seats, we turn and follow his gaze. There, cresting a hill, a handsome male lion saunters towards us with a fixed stare. His huge paws pattern the damp sand before skirting the edge of the Land Cruiser and disappearing into the blonde grass.

A:  Nambiti Hills Private Game Reserve, Ladysmith, 3370, South Africa
W: Nambiti Hills
T: +27 31 333 6723

Photography credited to Chanel Bergsma
Follow on Instagram @chanelbergsmaphotography

Written by Amber Hunter for Luxury Safari Magazine

Instagram / @luxurysafarimagazine

Join our exclusive Mailing list

Subscribe to Luxury Safari Magazine to receive our regular newsletters and a front row seat to the African Safari and its associated Luxury Lifestyle industry.

I'm interested in: