12 October 2016
We signed up for a full board experience. Rooms, meals, game drives and parking are all included in the price. Getting there takes a bit of navigating - you must follow the GPS co-ordinates indicated on their site. I pre-saved it on Google Maps, but Doug kindly met me near the Orpen gate to lead me into camp so it was easier. It takes an hour to drive along sandy paths from the Manyeleti gate to the tents. We had no problems getting out with a phone and google maps by ourselves. However, do watch the weather and plan for getting in and out. Heavy rain may cause issues for driving, particularly if you are using a rented car and want to avoid getting stuck in mud.
The people who manage the camp are actually civil engineers who were asked to help the Mpumalanga government make it better. Currently, the camp is still under handover from the Limpopo town to Mpumalanga. This experience comes at a fraction of the price you pay for a Sabi sands resort or luxury safari experience in other nearby camps. You won't get a receptionist or pool, but you will experience the nature there as it is and support job creation for the local community. You have a charging station powered by a generator - shared by all guests so you can charge your camera / phone. Toilets are lit by solar powered lamps (we loved it so much we bought one home). Rooms are cleaned everyday, but do expect some friends to visit you - its the african bush so some insects and frogs do visit. Its a tent with zips for doors. If you can't handle stuff like this, you may prefer to holiday in Camps bay and oil yourself up for a tan on the beach or choose a luxury safari option.
On our return from the game drives on 2 evenings, we spotted lions and a leopard wandering near our camp. Due to climate change, the bush was bare and dry. To help the animals, Doug pumped ground water from a generator to a pool around 150m away from the tents. You can observe magic just from the balcony of your tent. I shot families of elephants drinking together. Zebras, buffaloes, impalas, giraffes strolled along and took turns to drink. In the evening, we saw the leopard heading there too. You do get a few nervous comments from the guests and some awkward silence over dinner, knowing that we are in the wild with no fences. Still, the night always ends in laughter and we had the fortune of meeting great company during our stay.
You wake up for game drive at 5am - with a tea break during the 3 hour drive. Once back, breakfast will be served at 830am. Lunch at 130pm. Game drive at 330pm and dinner is served on your return from the evening drive. Food was decent for us. My wife is buddhist so they catered for her diet too on our request. Braai was prepared on firewood in the open communal area for dinner every night.
Now, here's the best part. Our guide cum driver cum tracker is called Louis. In 3 days, he managed to show us the big 5 on separate game drives. He doesn't count his hours. Despite having drives allocated 3 hour slots, he drove an extra hour on one evening to bring us to see the leopard upon hearing the sighting on radio. Louis shares tips with the guides from the other lodges in the Reserve and they collaborate to share sightings. In a way, that increases your chances to see the animals. We came as close as 5m to a pair of lions who took down a buffalo. I captured amazing photos - even had selfies of us on the 4x4 and the leopard in the background. This is only possible with an experienced guide, with superman's eyesight.
At the end of our stay, we returned home feeling humbled by mother nature and enjoyed the Buffelshoek camp's unpretentious offering, knowing that there was a local community that is being helped by our stay. We also gave our guide a tip before we left.
Manyeleti means the place of the stars.
Mpumalanga is the place where the sun rises.
Buffelshoek provides you clean sheets, flushing toilets, hot water and strong coffee to wake you up in the morning. The rest is what you make of it.