Klaserie River Sands

What defines a luxury safari?

So there I was, flat on my back, staring at the bright full moon and Milky Way, and thinking, “Surely a safari can’t get any better than this?”

A romantic bush dinner at sunset.

A romantic bush dinner at sunset. © Tanda Tula

I was on a brief sojourn in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve bordering the Kruger National Park and had accepted a last minute offer to spend the second night somewhere out there on a wooden platform (star bed) next to a large leadwood tree – with only a mosquito net to keep the wolves at bay. And to my surprise the love of my life chose to accompany me – this being a big thing because she was swept away by the food and pampering we enjoyed during the first night, at Tanda Tula’s wonderful lodge.

OK, so our star bed also involved an exquisitely comfortable bed, thick luxurious bedding and a picnic basket stuffed with a delicious three course meal and our choice of wines. But it was still pretty minimalist, as far as “luxury safaris” go, right?

My dearest on the Star Bed.

My dearest on the star bed. © Simon Espley

Back to my musings, how do we define luxury? Is it rim flow pools and vast personal suites? Or Cordon Bleu chefs, personal butlers and wines dating back to the days when I had a six-pack? Or is luxury just about having that moment to yourself and a chosen few? I have one friend who seems to feel that the more you pay, the more luxury the holiday, so perhaps a high price is the best rule of thumb.

Tanda Tula common area

Tanda Tula common area. © Tanda Tula

I have to say that I pursue memorable experiences as the ultimate luxury. I am generally happy in the bush with companions who can teach me things and share their genuine passion for Africa. I suspected that my dearest would add a few things to this list, and so I asked for her ‘luxury Big 5’ thoughts, specifically related to this short stay at Tanda Tula, to which she replied:

1. Food: I thought the food was delicious and the executive chef’s obvious enthusiasm and love for his craft was extremely charming.

tanda tula

© Tanda Tula

tanda tula food

© Tanda Tula

2.Tented lodge, our room: extremely high quality and comfortable bedding, plus the classy fittings – lamps, carpets, tables and knickknacks. Well stocked mini bar for that lazy afternoon on our private deck overlooking the river.

Tanda Tula safari tents

Tanda Tula safari tents. © Tanda Tula

3. Bathrooms: Fluffy towels, luxurious soaps and gowns, slippers.

4. Staff and the owners: very friendly and warm. This is a genuinely happy and passionate team and I felt comfortable with them. One fun evening spent singing and dancing in the boma with the entire team was a particular highlight.

5. Star bed: loved the picnic and that comfy, classy bed.

Sleeping under the night's sky in Tanda Tula's star bed.

Sleeping under the night’s sky in Tanda Tula’s star bed. © Tanda Tula

Each morning we chose to enjoy breakfast away from the lodge, at a site on the river bank. That heady mix of freshly-brewed coffee, wood smoke and sizzling country breakfast combined with the stunning location was awesome, and one for the memory bank.

Breakfast is served...

Breakfast is served… © Simon Espley

Bush breakfast, Tanda Tula style

Bush breakfast, Tanda Tula style. © Simon Espley

A yellow-billed hornbill joins us for breakfast.  © Sarah Mcgarghan

A yellow-billed hornbill joins us for breakfast. © Sarah Mcgarghan

So why do star beds and bush breakfasts make my day? Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE lodges – very seductive and, lets face it, it’s tough to leave after a few days of pampering, awesome game viewing (we saw the Big Five every day – always special but in my case not necessary) and the best service in the world.

I ask because when I think back over my quarter century plus of safaris in so many wonderful places on this great continent I call home, my most hard-coded recollections are of awesome experiences shared with special friends and awesome guides. One moment I can add is that night with my wife Lizz, high up on a wooden platform somewhere out there in the Timbavati – serenaded by lions, hyenas, Vereaux eagle owls and ground hornbills.

Tanda Tula

The Timbavati after the rains © Christian Boix



Simon Espley

I am a proud African, of the digital tribe, and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. I live in Cape Town with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered account, but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter.

Africa Geographic