Kaingo: Where Time Stands Still

Time doesn’t seem to exist here.

Out here in the bush, in the middle of the remote African wilderness, time seems to melt away. The wall clocks and wristwatches and phone screens that we use to chart our every activity become irrelevant. The sun’s movement across the sky becomes the gauge with which to measure time- the way nature intended.

Things move more slowly, more purposefully in the bush- time is stretched, somehow. Perhaps it’s the absence of tall buildings, of traffic, of crowds, of unpleasant smells, of rubbish strewn everywhere, of the endless tooting of car horns…

In the bush, you notice things you simply wouldn’t elsewhere. You feel the relentless beating down of the midday sun, you welcome the cooling breath of a breeze, you hear every strange call of birds and animals to each other. There’s no chaos, or rush, no inexplicable “go, go, go” mindset you always seem to find yourself in in a city. Here, you can relax. And the Kaingo team makes sure that you do just that.

Kaingo Game Reserve is located in South Africa’s Limpopo province, within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. This is a stunningly beautiful part of the country, made up of rolling hills, open plains, vegetated valleys, and montane grasslands. Kaingo is approximately 9000 hectares in size, and features massive cliffs, sandy beaches, natural causeways, and potholes and waterfalls. Over 50 mammal species call the reserve home, including 4 of the iconic African Big 5, as well as over 300 species of birds. Kaingo employs a genuine conservation-focused philosophy, and bases its management and operations on this ethos.

There is just one safari lodge found inside Kaingo Reserve. Elephant Lodge is designed in a style that is reminiscent of a traditional African safari camp, while still offering complete luxury and comfort. The lodge is built from natural stone with thatched roofs, with nature-inspired décor. Only 28 guests are accommodated at Elephant Lodge, ensuring personal attention and superb service.

The staff at Kaingo are incredible. It sounds clichéd, when describing a luxury establishment, but they genuinely go out of their way to make sure that you have everything you need. From the minute you step out of your car at reception to the minute that you leave, they are ready to pamper and spoil you. The chef will change her menu to suit your dietary requirements. The lodge manager will welcome and greet you personally. The reservations manager will show you around, make sure you have everything you need, and even accompany you on the game drive. And the guides and rangers are the stars of the show. Their knowledge of the bush and passion for what they do truly shines through.

The Safari Index team arrived at Elephant Lodge in the early afternoon. After a warm welcome, a refreshing dip in the pool after the long and dusty drive, and a refueling bite for lunch, we headed out for the afternoon game drive.

Don’t expect a typical safari experience when you go on a game drive at Kaingo. The reserve’s unique conservation policy means that the emphasis is on experiencing things as they are, instead of heading out on a crazy high-speed search mission to tick the Big 5 off a list. Instead, you drive through the reserve at a leisurely pace, stopping to appreciate whatever happens to cross your path. Andre, our guide, stopped frequently to point out interesting or unusual trees, take note of a rare bird-call, and relate stories about the animals we encountered. Since there are no other lodges in the reserve, you encounter no other vehicles when out on safari. This is a major plus- it’s something that is a rather frustrating problem in many other safari areas.

Andre drove expertly through the reserve’s maze of roads, appearing to know exactly where he was going, even though there wasn’t a single signpost in sight. At this point, the sun was sinking rapidly, and the bushveld was suffused with the magical light of “golden hour”.  We saw impalas and kudus aplenty as we drove- but it was as we arrived at a clearing that the most delightful sight greeted us- a baby giraffe and its mother! Andre moved the vehicle as close as was possible, warning that the protective mama giraffe could possibly charge if it detected any potential danger. We learnt with delight that the little one was just a week old, and spent some time watching as it went from tree to tree, stopping now and then to observe us curiously.

After spending a while with the baby giraffe, we headed on. We moved further downwards into a valley, towards the Mokolo River. Sunset had arrived as we stopped on the most beautiful spot on the riverbank. Andre set out the sundowner drinks and snacks, and we enjoyed them in the most magical setting imaginable: the myriad colours of the sunset sky and clouds reflected in the river, slowly darkening as the sounds of nocturnal creatures started to amplify.

It was fully dark by the time we started to head back to the lodge- so were treated to a nighttime safari en-route! Andre cast an enormous flashlight into the surrounding blackness as he drove, now and then catching the glowing eyes of various creatures in the beam. Back at Elephant Lodge, a delicious three-course dinner was waiting for us. The first course included warm bread baked in the shape of a crocodile- another quirky little touch!

After dinner, we enjoyed some time around the campfire. The campfire deck is wonderful place to sit and swap stories of the bush, out under a multitude of stars, which shine much more brightly without a harsh city glare to diminish them. We then retired gratefully to our luxurious rooms, where amenities like tea-and-coffee stations, bathtubs, and soft beds (with little chocolates on the pillow!) were most welcome after a thrilling day.

We were woken early the next day. Early mornings are one of the best times for going out on a game drive. The unpleasantness of an early morning is almost unnoticeable in a place like this- sunrise in the African bush is definitely something worth waking up for.

After tea/coffee and biscuits, we set out on safari once again.

An unexpected and wonderfully special treat awaited us on our safari today. After driving for a while, Andre stopped the vehicle in a small clearing. We were then asked to disembark. With excitement (and a little trepidation), we followed him along a path. He stopped to point out interesting plants and trees, and, thrillingly, some lion prints! A short way away, a spectacular view over a dry riverbed greeted us. We followed Andre down the path into the ravine, where, under an overhang, we came to a rock art site.

Many times, when you visit a famous or important historical place, the experience can sometimes be diminished by the presence of newer, more modern developments that have appeared or been built around it. This isn’t true of the rock art sites in Kaingo Reserve. Out here in the wilderness, surrounded by the pristine bushveld that has remained unchanged for thousands of years, you are easily transported back in time. You can see the Bushmen painting the art without even closing your eyes. You can imagine the Khoisan standing right in front of you, conducting a religious ritual.

We spent a long while at the site, Andre explaining the various stories and meanings behind the incredible artwork. We visited two beautiful sites on our drive, but Andre informed that us that these were just two of many on the reserve. Kaingo can arrange specialised rock art safari packages for anyone who is interested in this fascinating subject.

The second notable experience on our morning safari was seeing a large herd of sable antelope. These are stunningly graceful creatures, with rich black-and-brown coats and formidable horns. They are also endangered, and it’s a special privilege to be able to see them in the flesh. We were introduced to Prince, the patriarch of the herd, whose distinctly large horns and unmistakably self-important expression showed that he knew exactly who the boss was.

Much to our delight, a giraffe ambled over into the midst of the antelope, who were supremely unconcerned by the arrival of their tall visitor. As we sat in the vehicle with this extraordinary scene in front of us, it felt as though we were sitting at a drive-in theater watching a National Geographic documentary- with the smells of the bush as a bonus!

We returned to the lodge in time for a hearty breakfast out on the deck, before getting ready for a reluctant departure. The end of our stay had arrived all too quickly. Our bags were packed, our car was waiting. But Kaingo had one last parting gift for us. Just as we made our way through the garden to reception, our farewell party arrived: two enormous elephants, with a young bull in tow! The magnificent creatures had come right up to the lodge’s perimeter fence. We were able to stand just metres away from them as they munched away on the grass, completely oblivious to the awestruck humans ogling them. We were utterly delighted; there is nothing quite as breathtaking as being so close to such majestic animals. A truly wonderful send-off!

They say it’s the little things that make a big difference- and this is certainly true at Kaingo. From the fresh warm towels waiting for us when we arrived or returned from a game drive, to the personalized water flasks that we were allowed to keep, to the welcoming postcards with our names added by hand, to the adorable elephant-shaped towels on the beds- it was these original and personal touches that put the cherry on top of an already incredible experience.

As we got ready to start our journey back home, the sense of time being warped was palpable again. We had only arrived at Kaingo the previous day, but in less than 24 hours, we had been treated to a wealth of sights and experiences. And while it felt like we’d been there for ages, it also didn’t feel like enough.

Visit Kaingo. You won’t regret it.

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