North of Zululand, a short distance from Swaziland on the unnaturally straight Mozambique border lies Tembe game reserve. The area, formerly part of Tongaland now called Maputaland, was a key to the ivory route. One thing that has remained the same, amongst border changes and disputes is that the Tembe tribe is still playing a major role within the area.
In partnership with EKZN Wildlife they manage the camp within the 300 square kilometre reserve. Nestled amidst sand forest and bushveld the camp consists of luxury-tents with en-suite facilities, swimming pool, thatched boma and campfire area. This is a place to be pampered and relax. A tray of tea delivered to your tent is the early morning wake up call. Then a light breakfast is served before the first game drive of the day. Brunch follows and tea and coffee are on tap. A second game drive is included during the afternoon. In the evenings a four-course dinner is prepared before it is time to take up a comfy chair by the open fire under the stars.
The camp is special place and the local staff cannot be faulted. Without spoiling any surprises there is a traditional welcome and farewell. Dinner in the evening is announced with the beating of a drum and not just anyone beats the drum. This falls to Tom who is not only camp manager but also the King of Tongalands nephew.
The camp only covers a small area within the reserve and beyond its boundaries you will find the main attraction. Tembe’s herd of indigenous elephants, approximately two hundred, and reputedly the largest elephants in the world. They once roamed freely across into Mozambique until civil war there forced the building of a fence on the reserves northern boundary.
Within half an hour of our first game drive we came across our first elephant, a large old bull browsing amongst thick vegetation. Not long after a small herd with young wandered alongside us before crossing the sand track and disappearing into the bush. Philemon, our guide not only spotted the largest of creatures, he also somehow spotted one the areas smallest inhabitants. A suni antelope standing at no more than 50cm in height. I am still amazed at how he saw this whilst driving the open game viewing vehicle and talking to the passengers. His skills are not limited to his remarkable sight. He listened for birdcalls, spotted the bird and replied to it. We had great views of hornbills, pink-throated twin spot, pink and yellow throated long claw and woodland kingfishers. Raptors are plentiful in the area and our sightings included steppe buzzard, lizard buzzard, black kite and black breasted snake eagle.
Philemon, not only drove, called to birds and spotted game. He took us to viewpoints where in the evening he poured drinks of our choice and in the morning made tea, coffee and shared out rusks. He showed us lion and hippo spoor in the sand road. We followed the spoor of a white rhino in the sand road until there it was lying in front of us.
Tembe is an ideal place for a bush experience where you can allow yourself to be pampered. Sleep under canvas, albeit in a luxury tent. Dine on freshly prepared good food accompanied by fine wine. See elephants and if you are lucky the rest of the ‘Big 5’ just beyond the camp boundaries, whilst relaxing on the back an open top game viewing vehicle. If this sounds appealing put Tembe reserve on your list of must visit destinations.