As the sun began to descend behind the mountains, we drifted along the river, surrounded by ancient mountains and valleys…

Anxious waterbuck scrambled behind the trees, and lazy hippos bobbed up and down over the water surface. Content and relaxed, I pondered the meaning of the word Tintswalo. In the Shangaan language, it means ‘the intangible feeling of love, gratitude and peace that you bestow upon someone who has given you a meaningful and worthy gift’. This aptly describes what you will feel when staying at Tintswalo at Lapalala.

One of the latest additions to the Tintswalo family, Tintswalo at Lapalala was opened a year ago

Just 300 km from Johannesburg, it is located in the malaria-free Lapalala Reserve, in the two-billion year old UNESCO-declared Waterberg biosphere. It is one of only two commercial lodges there, so you have this unspoilt wilderness almost all to yourself.

The Lapalala reserve was founded in 1981 by conservationists Clive Walker and the late Dale Parker, who gradually built it up from the initial 5 000-hectare purchase to the magnificent 44 500-hectare reserve it is today. The reserve runs successful breeding programmes with endangered roan antelope and disease-free Cape Buffalo.

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It is also home to the renowned Lapalala Wilderness School which has made outstanding contributions to environmental education in South Africa.

Animals are slowly being introduced to the area

Although it is not teeming with wildlife – yet – they are constantly being brought in from other places in Southern Africa.

During our game drives we saw lions and cheetahs with fresh kills, buffalos, rhinos and several types of plains game. Other activities here include going on guided bush walks or sundowner cruises, star-gazing, fishing in the river, seeing ancient Bushman rock art or hiking to an Iron Age site. You can also visit the Lapalala Wilderness School, enjoy a spa treatment, or spend the night on the sleep-out deck.

Outdoor Lounge

Lodge situated in front of waterhole

The main lodge has dining and lounging areas, a curio shop, a swimming pool and a sprawling deck with a towering tree as its centrepiece. There is a small waterhole in front of the lodge where wildlife come to drink. The lodge is off the grid, so you can be comfortable that you are having a truly sustainable safari experience. Reducing the lodge’s carbon footprint is taken seriously. It runs off solar power and reusable items are used in place of disposable materials.

Expansive luxury tents!

There are seven luxury tents – including two family tents – and a two-bedroomed family suite, connected by elevated wooden walkways. Each tent has a private plunge pool overlooking the wilderness. Some of them have outdoor showers and bathtubs.

The attractive suites are named after great African tribes like the Maasai, the Venda and the Tuareg and reflect symbols and portraits of the tribe. We stayed in the Xhosa suite – a spacious suite with two huge en-suite bedrooms from where you could watch the game passing by. The suites had seating and working areas with a fireplace. Plush gowns and slippers were provided as well as a fully stocked mini-bar and snacks. After dinner, we would return to our rooms to find creative towel animals with our sweet treats.

The lodge is family-friendly and we saw kids of all ages having fun there, including ours

Younger children are provided with welcome packs, and activities can be arranged to entertain them. For older children, there are board games and bush activities. My children loved their rooms, the delicious food, and the game drives.

Rates include breakfast, lunch and dinner and most of our meals were served al-fresco – some in the bush. The talented chefs spoilt us with their culinary creations and we left feeling heavier. The staff are friendly, and the hospitality is so genuine that you will certainly get that warm, fuzzy feeling. Tintswalo at Lapalala is one of South Africa’s undiscovered safari gems and it’s time that more people experienced this unforgettable wilderness adventure.

For more information, visit Tintswalo at Lapalala.