Big Lion Pride – Kambaku Safari Lodge, Kruger Park, South Africa

The last morning at Imbali proved to be just as impressive as the first afternoon. Our ranger, Nicolas, was looking for lion and we were not long on the trail of winding dirt roads before there sat to our left, in the early morning 6AM sun, a large pride of lion, perhaps 15 strong.

Seeing these animals in the wild immediately gives the viewer the easy to arrive to conclusion that all the creatures in this setting should never be held captive in a zoo or the like.

Two full grown males, brothers, were equal partners in this family unit where two sets of cubs, one nine months old and one eight, were showing us that youth is where the energy lies. The rising sun was a welcome addition for this family interested in warming its bones after a cool night when temperatures can dip into the 40’s.

These as described weather patterns in winter are what makes this time of year the most productive for game viewing. Cooler temperatures push the animals out into the sun to warm up in the early morning and late afternoon. There are also fewer watering holes motivating the animals to move in search of the life sustaining liquid. Lions will especially need copious amounts of water after feeding as it helps in the digestion. Lastly, winter conditions result in fewer leaves on the trees and shorter grass offering better opportunities for game sightings.

This pride we managed to be lucky to find as they were stirring about, repositioning themselves slightly but not wanting to depart on a continued walk through the bush. We found them in a large opening so maneuvering between their movements was easy enough that we could maintain distances of only 10 – 15 feet. Often that space was lessened as the cubs’ curiosity brought them closer and closer to our vehicle. Unbeknownst to Nicolas, as I sat in the back seat one of the cubs walked right up to the rear tire. The little guy kept his eyes on mine and just kept on coming eventually sniffing the tire below our seat. Just hard to aptly describe that experience in words.

The two big males sat up on the hill a bit further away from the mothers and the cubs. After about 10 minutes one walked past our vehicle but 15 feet away. A couple of the cubs saw their father approaching and ran out to greet him. The master of the pride engaged his offspring in a short walk to a nearby bush for some cover from the sun that was now getting a bit higher in the sky. En route to his new temporary lair, the full-maned 500 pound master of the plains stopped, turned, and took a hard look at us in the vehicle. To have such an animal stare you down, even as we sat in the safety of the Land Rover, puts the feeling of vulnerability right into your spine.

Kambaku Game Lodge is owned and operated by native South African, Tanya Manning, and her husband, John, an American. Located in the Timbavati Private Game Reserve adjoining the Kruger Park, this lodge proved to offer something altogether different if only for the hosts.

Tanya and her first husband bought Kambaku in 2000. Only 4 months after it was purchased Tanya’s husband was killed in a helicopter crash. With two young daughters Tanya stayed on path and managed the lodge, eventually meeting John and marrying him a couple of years later.

I sat at dinner with Tanya and John. They proved to be interesting dinner companions. John in a Vietnam War veteran having served 3 years in a submarine. During the war, his duties included being set off from the sub in a rubber with the orders to bring back wounded soldiers. He would often do so at night, return to the sub, have the sub’s periscope break the surface when he would wrap a line around it and be towed out to sea where the sub could then resurface. He came to South Africa 20 years ago to help build a power plant and eventually went on to oversee the construction of the Nelspruit airport.

Tanya and her deceased husband were able to buy Kambaku and a seaview lot in Plettenberg Bay through the husband’s original purchase and subsequent sale of a seafront lot in Llanadudno in Cape Town in 1976. He bought the lot for Rand 26,000 ($30,000 at the time) and the real estate value between Kambaku and the lot in Plettenberg Bay sits at over $3 million today.

Kambaku is for sale for Rand 24million or about $3.25 million. If I were a rich man I’d buy it. The Timbavati Game Reserve is one of the more prolific in all of the Kruger Park area. The only way I would own and manage a facility in the hospitality industry would be in the game lodge business. Being a part of these animals’ everyday existence would be pleasing to me for many years to come.

As Tanya, John and I ate supper in the outdoor boma, we heard two lions roaring in the distance and one hyena calling – music to my ears.