A place of giants – Tembe Game Reserve

Tembe was my first ‘tourist’ experience of a game park i have had since i hit the road two years ago and as guests of the community run lodge at Tembe Elephant reserve, we were fed, watered and entertained for two days by our guide Tom. It left me feeling all kind of ambivalent, despite the magnificence of the park and the lodge i couldn’t help shake the controlled feeling of the experience.

Krust off ... Stu vs Elephant.

Krust off … Stu vs Elephant.

The park is only available to day visitors if you are not staying at the lodge within the reserve and I have heard quite a few grumbles from locals about this way of operating as being exclusionary, but at the same time accommodation at Kruger will set you back R700 for a bed and private john for a night, at Tembe for twice that price you will get fed four times a day, a really comfortable safari tent (Its a lot more than a tent) and two game drives daily. Personally i think the value at Tembe is better. Its personalized. Its smooth, its community based and it’s a big five reserve.

Driven ... or self drive?

Driven … or self drive?

At the outset i was quite excited by the prospect of not being the driver in a game park for the first time, i liked the idea of being driven around, being free to focus on enjoying the experience and grabbing some great frames from the freedom of an open back vehicle.

Get my good side ...

Get my good side …

The flip side of this was being at the mercy of everyone in the van, i.e. sharing the experience – as our companions chanted ‘Big Five Big Five’ like a mantra, we were whipped around in an effort to get all their sightings in, which is i guess is the point, but this was my first run in with the control aspect.

With close to 45 breeding pairs ... it could be a Lion park

With close to 45 breeding pairs … it could be a Lion park

Despite being the driver, photographer food maker on my travels – it’s the free aspect i missed the most. That choice to just sit and stare a little bit longer without being hustled off to another sighting. It’s not really a complaint – just an observation. The game drives were fantastic, Tom was a classic guide and the beers were cold when we stopped … but it wasn’t my agenda, it was collective.

So much, so little.

So much, so little.

It also had the effect of keeping us relatively close to the camp, and not really delving into the depths of the park … freedom that would have come from being self driven.

Sleepy head

Sleepy head

That said, the ability of the drivers of the various vehicles to communicate had us moving smoothly between sightings. Lion, Suni and what i really came for … the Elephants of Tembe, described by Tom as the most well behaved and the worst behaved of Elephants in South Africa.

More tusk

More tusk

They reminded me of the Ent’s in Lord of the Rings, aged, wizened and oblivious to all who came to stare, but if crossed feisty and willing to throw themselves around, as was the ample evidence of uprooted trees and clear highways through the bush made by these ancient behemoths.

Well, it's what i came to see

Well, it’s what i came to see

I have seen plenty of elephants on my travels in South Africa, but none like these. Truly remarkable creatures and so different from the ones i had crossed paths with before. Real Tuskers, and i was assured we hadn’t seen any of the really old Bulls of the park.

Blessed with a mating ritual

Blessed with a mating ritual

So i left Tembe feeling that i had experienced what i came to, was blown away by the hospitality of the people and the beauty of the lodge but couldn’t help but feel the precision with which you experience these landscapes needs to be freer. Not controlled.

Thanks to Tom and the folks at Tembe Elephant reserve who allowed us to visit their patch of paradise. I am truly jealous.

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