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Tibetan for 'paradise on earth', we speak to the men in charge of Shambala Private Game Reserve to find out what makes it such a magical place.
As well as covering almost 10,000 hectares in the malaria-free Waterberg mountains of the Limpopo Province, Shambala is home to Zulu Camp: 8 luxurious chalets, an intimate spa and a team of dedicated chefs, game rangers and private butlers. We chat to Tinus Nel who heads up the reserve over a breakfast cruise.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to be at Shambala? Tinus: I’m Tinus Nel, I’m currently the general manager of the farm. I’ve been on the farm since 2008, initially as security manager. As a little boy I always wanted to be on a farm, but I also had a big passion for policing, so I have the best of both worlds here. A lot of people say you must be so used to your environment now, but actually each day you learn something new. It’s an honour to be at a place like this.
How would you explain the difference between Shambala and Kruger to someone new to safari? - "Here, we keep it as exclusive as possible" -Tinus: We customise the experience to the guest and their expectations. Here, we keep it as exclusive as possible - if you go on a game drive, you won’t see other vehicles with you. And, we’re a malaria free area.
Tell us about how you protect the wild animals on the reserve? Tinus: We don’t hunt at all on the farm. It’s an open circle, so nature takes its course, but there’s no hunting here. That’s why guests could literally come 2 -3 metres from an animal on a vehicle - they are not scared. They’re used to the vehicles and know they’re not being hunted.
And the conservation work? Tinus: We have our own anti-poaching team here for the rhino – they’re out 24 hours a day, spending time with the rhinos. On the conservation part, we’ve got a breeding programme for east African buffalo, sable antelope, tsessebe, black impala and black rhino. And another area of our conservation work is introducing domesticated elephants back into the wild - elephants that were used for elephant-back safaris. The programme has been running for just over a year, and it’s been very successful so far; the elephants are happy and relaxed. We’re doing a lot of research on it - we’ve had doctors and an elephant expert involved.
What’s your favourite activity on the reserve? Tinus: You can’t choose. It’s like asking a mother to choose between her kids! You can do a bush walk, go out on the quad bikes, spend time on the shooting range, just go out on a game drive with no expectations and drive into a leopard sighting… But, if I had to choose, I’d say going out on our smaller boat and catching largemouth bass – that’s an opportunity I really enjoy. - "For me, it’s helping to build lifelong memories for guests" -
Any up close encounters with the wildlife? Tinus: Where do you start! It was probably a lion encounter I had. We were walking around the dam, doing some fish surveys, and we encountered the lion females, completely unexpectedly. We screamed ourselves out of it - making a noise, sticking together. That was definitely one of my most memorable encounters.
Are guests able to get involved with conservation activities? Tinus: Yes, there’s a programme where guests can get involved with the breeding herds, where guests can go with the wildlife manager when he feeds the herds and learn why they’re being fed this, what he looks out for. With the elephants, guests can learn about the rehabilitation process - what we’re doing, what behaviours we’re looking for, it's all part of the monitoring process.
What are your tips to get the best safari experience? Tinus: I would spend as much time as possible out on drives. And take the advice given by the guides. They are walking encyclopaedias - they’ve got so much knowledge.
Finally, three words to describe Shambala? Tinus: Paradise on earth.
Shambala Private Game Reserve and Zulu Camp is the sister property of the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa in Johannesburg. Shambala Private Game Reserve can organise transfers to Johannesburg by car (journey length 2 ½ hours) or by helicopter (journey length 55 minutes).