A day on safari – RockFig, Timbavati

South Africa safari

A day on safari – RockFig, Timbavati

South Africa safari

You’ve booked your (perhaps first ever) safari and are raring to go and spot the famous Big Five – but might still be wondering what actually happens during a ‘typical’ day in a game reserve. It’s fair to say that most game lodges adhere to certain itineraries when it comes to safari schedules and the best time to observe wildlife – which is not to say however that they’re all the same, far from it. Levalux Founder Bibiana Smith recently stayed at two wildly different but equally riveting game lodges, RockFig in the Timbavati and Ulusaba in Sabi Sand, and shares a first-hand account of her experiences at both. Here’s what to expect at RockFig – for her account of Ulusaba, click here.

South Africa safari

RockFig, located within the 530-square-kilometre Timbavati Private Nature Reserve on Kruger Park’s western edge, is a relatively new lodge – conceived over two decades, it’s a lovingly conceptualized private property, owned by the South African Jenkins family. My husband and I had heard great things about it and were keen to experience this highly intimate and personal lodge during a two-night stay.

We flew into Hoedspruit from Cape Town and were then driven to RockFig, about 30 minutes from the airport. The design fiend in me was immediately impressed. The lodge is bright and airy and features open, interconnecting spaces that are designed and constructed in a modern, eco-friendly way that incorporates a lot of indigenous material. Named after a female leopard, RockFig has six spacious, contemporary chalet-type suites, turning a stay here into a personalised bush experience that is perfect for exclusive-use bookings for families or groups of friends. There’s the obligatory outside shower of course, plus sliding bathroom doors so you can gaze out into the wilderness from the comfort of a bubble bath. It’s all too easy to get comfortable and never leave your suite – but that would mean to miss out on a stellar safari experience.

So, what happens during a typical day at RockFig?

( Very early) morning

You might not be impressed by the 5am summer/5.30am winter wakeup call (unless you have children, that is), but believe me when I say that getting up at the crack of dawn is well worth the effort. The rangers sweeten the deal by waiting in the lounge for you with just brewed coffee, a selection of teas, fresh fruit and different types of homemade cookies, rusks and muffins. If you’re convinced that you can’t eat at 6am, think again – the food at RockFig is irresistible (more on that later).


By the time we hopped into our open game drive vehicle (which takes a maximum of just four guests) anticipation was high. There’s something truly magical about watching the sunrise in the African bush – the sun somehow seems more majestic, a vivid, burning orange illuminating the sky, the crisp morning air filled with the promise of what lies ahead. 

“There’s something truly magical about watching the sunrise in the African bush – the sun somehow seems more majestic, a vivid, burning orange illuminating the sky, …”

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Animals are at their most active in the early morning hours, before the searing heat of the day sets in, so chances of spotting wildlife are high. Your personal guide and tracker are often the ones to really make a game drive stand out. The passion and commitment of our immensely knowledgeable guide Almiro and tracker Isaac showed – they got as excited by tracks and sightings as we did and went out of their way to make sure we had the most thrilling experience possible. When I asked to see hyenas for example, they managed to track down a hyena feeding her cubs in the middle of the road.

South Africa safari

“I was extremely lucky on our first morning drive, as Isaac allowed me to take his tracker’s seat right at the front of a vehicle – meaning that I was in prime position to spot the tower of giraffes staring at us from the side of the road.”

Another spectacular sighting, on our last morning drive, was a lion crossing the road – we followed him into the bush where we found a pride of lions, three lionesses resting in the sun with full stomachs after feeding on their night prey and two lions still feeding on a zebra. It was a raw, primal and unforgettable sight that will forever be etched in my memory. Interesting fact about lionesses – they are the hunters, expected to provide food for the pride, while the male lions’ main responsibility is to protect the pride.

South Africa safari

During our drive we also stopped at a dam where we were privy to a confusion of wildebeest, yawning hippos lazing in the water and buffalos staring at us from across the dam – the perfect photo opportunity.

After so much excitement, the typical scenic morning stop in the African bushveld came as a welcome opportunity to digest (no pun intended) what we had seen. A vital component of any morning game drive, it entails aromatic coffee, made more potent with a dash of Amarula (a famous South African cream liqueur) and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. They were so utterly moreish that I had to ask for the recipe back at the lodge!

And talking of food, as we returned from our four-hour drive we were welcomed back at the lodge with a delicious breakfast, consisting of a big platter of fresh fruit, pancakes, yoghurt, cereal, various cheeses, and a charcuterie board. We shared our food with Zazu the famous Lion King’s hornbillbecause on safari you’re always surrounded by wildlife, no matter where you are! 

Daytime

By mid-morning it was time to shrug off our winter jackets (winter mornings in the bush are chilly – definitely pack layers and warmer clothes) and relax by the pool, where we caught up on our reading and chatted with other guests. Then it was time for lunch – after an ample breakfast, you might be thinking about forgoing further mealtimes until dinner, but the light salads and freshly prepared chicken wraps are hard to resist!

This was followed by yet more food in the afternoon, which kicked off with a delectable selection of snacks (although we were too full at this point to try them!) before we headed back into the bush for our second game drive of the day. Highlights on our afternoon adventures included a sleeping cheetah, white rhinos, hippos in the water, and a herd of elephants.

Evening

The holy ritual of sundowners in the bush must surely be one of life’s greatest pleasures – and it’s fair to say that a G&T never tastes better than served from a safari-vehicle-turned-pop-up-bar. In our case we also had an unexpected visitor in the form of a rather curious hyena, who made a beeline for us – feeling slightly nervous as she was suddenly only about 5m away, we were reassured by our ranger Almiro that she was only coming to check us out and say hi. Our game drive then extended into the evening – a great time to search for unusual nocturnal species and marvel at the brilliant night sky.

South Africa safari

As we returned back to the lodge, the boma (a traditional outside gathering place at lodges) was aglow with a warming fire and we all sat down in a circle to enjoy a drink before dinner – a great opportunity to reminisce about the day’s adventures, get to know the other guests and listen to the riveting stories of our rangers. This was followed by an incredible three-course à la carte dinner – the choice was tough as everything was amazing. On our second night we got to enjoy a traditional South African braai (BBQ), which is an experience not to be missed! 

Even though the outside temperature dropped from 30C to 12C, our suite was pleasantly warm at night and cool during the day thanks to the thoughtful eco-friendly design. We went to bed early on both nights, with only the cackles of hyenas keeping us company as we drifted off to sleep – in preparation for another exhilarating adventure the following day.

What we loved about RockFig:

Small and privately owned, RockFig offers an intimate, incredibly charming stay with a personal touch – I could see myself coming back with my whole family or a group of friends and take over the entire lodge.

I was really impressed by the contemporary design and eco-friendly design.

The Timbavati is Big Five territory, so spectacular wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed.

The dining experience is outstanding and no two meals are ever the same. From a private verandah rendezvous with your other half, to a boma experience, observing the chefs at work through the open kitchen, or entertaining long table evenings with your fellow guests, not to mention surprise dinners in secret locations in the bush, staff will keep you and your palate on your toes – while listening intently to your wishes and preferences.

The beauty of this game lodge is that no day is ever really the same; staff kept us in excited anticipation and spoiled us with surprises.

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