Hang up your hat, kick off your shoes. You have arrived in bush bliss. Simbavati Hilltop Lodge is quite simply ‘wow’. It’s as if every bush god colluded in its construction and every whim was thought of. It’s thoroughly enchanting, with eagle’s nest views and gracious, understated elegance. Everything is somehow just right, just enough.
The lodge and suites are on a hilltop on a bend in the Nhlaralumi River in coveted Timbavati Private Game Reserve. Arguably, Hilltop has the finest views in the entire reserve. Not just over the ever-present water and the myriad wildlife that frequents it, but over the pristine reserve all the way to the Drakensberg foothills in the distance. There’s a sense of space on a very grand scale. It feels distinctly like you are in your own private villa in the bush, just you and your favourite person. Cocooned, yet expansive at the same time.
Built to tread very lightly on the environment and leave no human trace, Hilltop is tented and stands on wooden decks connected by walkways. Wood, canvas, space and romance epitomise this magnificent property. So the contemporary, but muted, décor of the interiors is unexpected. It remains close to nature in colour and texture, but with occasional splashes of colour – call it functional contemporary, stylish and understated. Definitely sumptuous.
To sit and stare into the far distance and let you mind wander freely is a treat, to do this while lazing in your double daybed in your private pavilion sala on your deck… well, that’s divine. An in-suite spa treatment may just take you all the way to nirvana. Life is that good, without even leaving your suite. And of course you’ll see wildlife along the river too.
But do go on a game drive, because wildlife is prolific and all big five are at home here. On the afternoon drive, you’ll return at dusk and see some nocturnal wildlife action too. It’s a completely different bush experience, and quite captivating. Dinner will be waiting for you, possibly fireside in the boma under the stars, maybe on the deck, but always with the river nearby. With it the night sounds. Roaring lions, jackals calling, monkeys squealing – the playlist is ever changing and ever appealing.
Reviewed by Keri Harvey
What we love:
• the alluring sala pavilion that’s all yours – what’s not to love
• ever excellent service and cuisine
• lazy evenings around the fire in the conversation pit
• extraordinary bush and river views from anywhere in the lodge – and from the infinity pool
• the outside double rain shower with expansive bush views
• that you can book a night or two at nearby Simbavati Trails Camp for bush walks, star-gazing and excellent birding. Trails camp has only four tents, with en-suite bathrooms boasting bucket-showers. Rustic luxury at its best!
Need to know:
• the lodge is unfenced
• children older than 12 are most welcome. With exclusive use, children of all ages are accommodated
• malaria precautions are advised
• not wheelchair friendly or suitable for unfit or elderly guests as suits are well spaced and on steep inclines
• A sleep-out at Simbavati Trails Camp can be booked as an optional extra activity, or as an extension in combination with a stay at Simbavati Hilltop Lodge
• Getting there: Both Airlink and Cemair fly daily from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Hoedspruit’s East Gate Airport.. A Federal Air charter flight from Johannesburg takes you directly to a landing strip nearby. Or it’s a 6-7 hour drive from Johannesburg.