Safaris & stories
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
Shenton Safaris

Written by: Kelly Robertson

“But won’t any of the wild animals get into the treehouse while we’re sleeping in there?”

It’s the inevitable and common question thrown to the Umlani Bushcamp staff members by adventurous, but cautious guests. The allure of the optional excursion of sleeping out in the Timbavati wilderness, in a private treehouse, right over a waterhole is too much of a temptation for some to decline. However, the excited wide-eyed guests who want to take the opportunity to spend the night like Tarzan and Jane up in the branches all have that niggling thought in the back of their minds.


“What if something wild comes in and eats us?”

It’s a fair question and one that Umlani managers answer with practiced confidence. “You’ll be safe up there. The animals won’t come in. They can smell humans and won’t come near. They will respect your space if you respect theirs”

That’s not to say that treehouse dwellers won’t be close to the wildlife though. A night in the tree brings with it the appeal of immersing its residents in the wilderness and dubbing them a creature of the night in the bushveld setting too. It’s not for everyone, but those with adventurous hearts that choose to experience it will collect the memories of the night sounds and sights experienced and cherish them.

A picture taken of a certain inquisitive leopard hints at the idea that some wildlife could be even closer than any snoring Tarzan and Jane would know. What a captivating thought.

A leopard scouting out the treehouse real estate

Umlani guide, Sinhle Mathebula, captured a very rare moment on camera whilst on a game drive recently. He had stopped at Marco’s dam, which is the waterhole that the Umlani treehouse looks down upon. There in a nearby tree, peering over, interestedly at the treehouse was a young female leopard.

© Sinhle Mathebula

Sinhle confirmed it was the cub of well-known resident leopard, Rock Fig Junior, and she was very close to the empty treehouse indeed.

He said: “The cub did think about jumping across but did not take the chance. One guest in the vehicle was booked to do the sleep out in that treehouse that night but opted to rather stay in his comfortable room this time instead.”

 © Sinhle Mathebula
© Sinhle Mathebula

As safe as houses that treehouse is

Although it was a fascinating sighting for the game drive guests to see, the Umlani guides reiterate that if there were people in that treehouse, the leopard would probably not have been so brave. The wildlife tend to steer clear of any humans.

Safari-loving guests who sleep out in the treehouse are quite safe from all things that growl in the night, and if the prospect of being out there in the dark bush gets a little too much for the nerves, the Umlani staff are on standby to collect any Tarzan and Jane and bring them back to camp. A hand held radio with direct contact to the camp is left with overnight guests, just in case they change their minds about seeing through the sleep out. And the staff promise not to tell any other guests about the late night collection at the breakfast table the next morning either.

Treehouse etiquette

Here are a few guidelines from Umlani owner Marco about safe behaviour guests should adopt when sleeping out in a treehouse in the wild:

1. Make sure to get into and out of the treehouse safely. When climbing the ladder, do this mindfully holding on and taking care as you climb. Staff will assist you getting your gear in and out of the treehouse. Do not climb with anything in your hands use both hands to climb up or descend.

2. As you fall asleep, give yourself a pep talk to insist you wake up and get up upon hearing any nearby noises. Your internal intuitive self will wake you should something visit the waterhole and you won’t miss out on the fantastic sightings you’re bound to see.

3. Always respect any wild animals. The three golden rules of wilderness survival are respect, respect and respect.

Do not climb down from the treehouse while any wild animal is in close proximity to the treehouse, especially any of the potential dangerous animals like any of the big five, hippo or crocodile.

4. When nature calls, be careful. We encourage guests to go to bathroom before leaving camp, if you need to go at night we provide a bucket toilet to use for those who cannot leave treehouse or are too fearful to climb down and go behind a bush. Personally, I climb down when it is safe to do so, first checking if “the coast is clear” by shining the spot light into the bush.

5. Don’t drink before you become Tarzan. Intoxicated guest will not be allowed to use the treehouse. Ranger or management discretion will be applied to this as the safety of guests is our priority.

© Morné Hamlyn
© Morné Hamlyn

Some previous Umlani guests share their treehouse sleep out experiences:

Emma and Dave from Ireland:

“The treehouse is a magical experience where the bush comes to life with the sounds of animals! The treehouse is located just above a watering hole where a crocodile lives and you can watch him with a spotlight that is provided for you.”

Kay from Texas:

“We recommend a night in the treehouse – surrounded by hyenas all night and we could hear the lions roar in the distance.”

Marc from California:
“We spent one wild full moon night in the “treehouse” about a mile away from the main camp even though the wind suddenly came up and nearly blew us away. The hyena was waiting for us as the sun came up.”

Spending the night out in the African bush, feeling one with the environment the wild things call home, is always a good idea and an incredible experience. Just keep an eye out for young leopards that are up for a little “Tarzan and Jane spotting” as their own safari activity.

Umlani Bushcamp

Umlani Bushcamp is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. This is true Big 5 territory and guests have an opportunity to see lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino on safe, expertly guided game drives and bush walks.