Timbavati - A place for cats!

Timbavati – A place for cats!


Cost of the Trip: $4,827 per person based on double occupancy

Dates of Trip:  In Africa from June 15 – June 24

All Meals, lodging and flights within Africa included (see below for more details)

This will be the third year in a row we have featured a safari to Timbavati Private Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park System.  There is a good reason for this.  Timbavati has been extremely dependable for us on seeing leopards and lions, hence the safari nickname “Big Cats”.  While this is not a zoo, we often see both leopards and lions on a daily basis in Timbavati.  Please don’t be misled, this destination is a lot more than leopards and lions.  We expect to get great sightings of the other members of the Big 5: elephant, buffalo, rhino.  We also know this region has other predators including hyena, wild dog, cheetah.  In addition, we see impala, waterbuck, kudu, steenbuck, nyala, giraffe, zebra and many other big game.  We also always have some amazing sightings of birds as the area has lilac breasted rollers, fish eagles, tawn eagles, pied kingfisher, Malachite kingfishers, saddle billed storks and many other beautiful species.

There have been a few minor changes versus last years trip plan.  Here is what is different: We’ve increased the amount of time at the lodges from 7 nights to 8 nights.  We have also added one night at the beginning in Johannesburg as we’ve found many people arriving from the U.S. appreciate some time before the safari to adjust to the time change and get recharged from the long flight.

The goals of this safari are:

  • To provide a trip you will remember fondly for a lifetime
  • To maximize the chance of sightings of all of the major wildlife of southern Africa including but not limited to lions, leopards, cheetah, wild dog, rhino, elephants, giraffe and zebra.  Specific planning emphasis has been placed on locations where great photos of the big cats are possible.
  • To take your photography skills to the next level via coaching in the field as well as lectures/demonstrations at the lodges

Prior to looking at options, I surveyed several travelers from prior years that would like to join me again in 2015.  A few points they made which influenced my plan included:

  • The preference to travel in later June/early July and to bridge the 4th of July weekend to minimize work days lost
  • The desire to get excellent viewing of big cats (lions/leopard/cheetah)
  • The desire to visit lodges allowing off road tracking of the ‘Big Five’ so they could get the best views and also see the animals hunt.

Of course, I personally also require that we select locations that are clean, have a good safety reputation, quality guides and are known for excellent service.

Leopard and Timbavati Private Reserve - A great combination
Leopard and Timbavati Private Reserve – A great combination

With these guidelines, I developed a recommended plan that includes a total of three lodges.  I will elaborate on each lodge and why it was selected:

Kambaku Safari Lodge, Eastern Timbavati Private Reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – I’ve selected Kambaku for two main points:

  • Timbavati is world famous for the ‘White Lions of Timbavati’.  The white lion are not albino, but are a rare color mutation. Regarded as divine by locals, white lions first came to public attention in the 1970s in Chris McBride’s book “The White Lions of Timbavati”.   More specifically, the ‘Giraffe Pride’ of lions in eastern Timbavati currently has several members that are white lions.  While we are not guaranteed that we will see them, most of the sightings over the last few years have been in and around the Kambaku game drive area.
  • The terrain in this part of Timbavati is relatively flat and more open.  This environment is conducive to cheetah and, indeed, they are often spotted on game drives out of Kambaku.

While these were the leading factors on selecting Kambaku Safari Lodge it’s important to also note that this lodge is known for an extremely friendly and helpful staff and quality guides.  Regarding other game, this terrain is excellent for zebra and giraffe.  Wild dog, rhino and leopard are also commonly spotted on game drives.  The lodge is located at a water hole and game can often be spotted in the evenings and when we take our mid-day break.

A famed 'white lion of Timbavati' shares a drink with her sister
A famed ‘white lion of Timbavati’ shares a drink with her sister

Simbavati River Lodge, Western Timbavati Private Reserve within the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – I’ve been going to this part of Timbavati for years.  In this region, the terrain is hilly with numerous Marula and Mopani forests.  These leaves are the favorite food of elephants.  Also this semi-deciduous tree provides excellent cover for kudu and large herds of impala and Cape buffalo.  The leadwood and acacia trees also provide excellent safe havens for leopards.  As a result, this region is unusually dense in leopards and has many elephants and Cape buffalo.  Of course, when you have a lot of buffalo, you also commonly have a number of lion prides and that’s definitely true for this area.  We commonly see the Jacaranda Pride, the Machadon Pride as well as other lions of the area.  In addition to the predators, there are a large number of antelope in this region also including kudu, Nyala, waterbuck, impala and Steenbuck.

Last year, my group loved the special attention the management and staff gave to us at Simbavati River Lodge.  The food was simply amazing.  The guides, who I’ve known for several years understand the needs of photographers.  Also, Simbavati lodge is located on the banks of a sandy riverbed that teems with bushbuck, waterbuck and other game during the mid-day relaxation break.

Timbavati Private Reserve offers the chance to view and photograph big cats from up close.
Timbavati Private Reserve offers the chance to view and photograph big cats from up close.

Cost of the Trip: $4,827 per person based on double occupancy.  There is a supplemental charge for singles not willing to share a room.  If you are a single and willing to share a room, contact me and I will make best efforts to pair you up with an appropriate roommate.

Group Size – Maximum group size is 12 (6 per safari vehicle)

Deposit Due Date:  A nonrefundable deposit of 30% ($1,450) will be required to secure your spot(s), and a second payment of $1,000 will be due by February 27, 2014. The remainder will be due by April 1, 2015.

Cancellation Policy: If you need to cancel, Magnum Excursions will refund your monies only after we are able to market and re-fill your spots, less the nonrefundable fee of $400. We will make every possible attempt to refill your spots. We must receive written notification of your cancellation, at which time the following fees apply:

  • 151 days or more before departure: 100% of payments less the nonrefundable deposit
  • 150 to 91 days before departure: 50% of trip fee
  • 90 or fewer days before departure: 100% of trip fee will be forfeited

To minimize your risk related to this cancellation policy, we recommend that you purchase cancellation insurance as this policy is strongly adhered to. Depending on coverage selected, purchased  travel insurance can covering baggage, accident/life and trip.  Magnum Excursions, LLC reserves the right to cancel the planned group safari due to insufficient registration. In the event of such cancellation, those with reservations shall be notified as soon as possible and a full refund of trip payment will be given.

Dates of Trip:

  • June 15 – we will all meet up on Johannesburg on June 15.  We will fly into Timbavati early the morning of June 16 for transfer to Kambaku Safari Lodge
  • June 20 – After the morning game drive and breakfast, we will transfer to Simbavati River Lodge
  • June 24 – After our morning game drive, we will be transferred to the airport for our flight to Johannesburg, where you can easily make connections back home on this day (June 24).

What is included:

  • All meals at the lodges
  • Two game drives per day plus night drives after ‘sundowners’ (remote evening snack and drink) at both Timbavati resorts
  • Maximum two people per row (versus standard 3 per row on safari vehicles)
  • All park gate and conservation fees
  • Round-trip airfare to Timbavati
  • All ground transfers to lodges and between lodges
  • 4 nights (5 days) at Kambaku
  • 4 nights (3 1/3 days) at Simbavati
  • 1 night (arrival day) in Johannesburg
  • Night Sky Photo Workshop (moon phase/cloud cover permitting)
  • Daily image review and workshop talks on improving photography

What is not included:

  • Visa or passport fees (no visa required for U.S. citizens)
  • Laundry (available at all lodges for slight fee)
  • Tips for guides
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Flights from the U.S. to Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Any optional extra travel nights in South Africa

Trip Advisor Reviews of Destinations:

Cats may be a focus, but Timbavati is a lot more that cats


Frequently Asked Questions:

  • I’m not a photographer.  Is this trip for me?
    • If you love nature and wildlife, this trip is for you.  Yes, it’s a photo workshop, but on game drives, what that really means is that you will have more room and a better view.  Furthermore, you want be as rushed to get to the next sighting.  In the evenings, you’ll have the option of see some of the photos taken by others during the trip.  Additionally, beyond the wildlife, the lodges have swimming pools and often have spa options.  From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day there is plenty of time to go on a walking safari, read a book or just enjoy the sounds around you.
  • I’d like to bring my spouse who is not a photographer.  Will she enjoy the lodge activities?
    • At least a third of those traveling on safari with me in the past have traveled with a non-photography spouse.  I believe all of these non-photographers have had a great time seeing wildlife.  Beyond the wildlife, the lodges have swimming pools and often have spa options.
  • I’m traveling alone; can you help me find a roommate for the trip?
    • If you are traveling alone and want to avoid the supplemental fees charged for non-sharing rooms, we will make our best efforts to pair you with other singles.
  • How large of lens is required to get good shots?
    • On this safari, we will be able to track wildlife off road.  This allows us to get very close.  A zoom of up to 400mm equivalent on a full frame camera is plenty of lens for all of the major animals.  Those that are seriously into birding may want to have more lens capability.  This is a broad subject and hard to cover in a brief note.  I will send more info on this prior to the trip; however, feel free to contact me via email (Buddy@MagnumExcursions.com) or by phone [(610) 751-7259] to further discuss your specific photo goals.
  • Will we be advised on what photo equipment to bring? Will you advise us on what to pack regarding clothing, medications, etc.?
    • Yes, regarding photo equipment as well as general packing.  We always get excellent feedback on our pre-trip preparation materials.  We have checklists we will provide with key items highlighted.
  • What’s a typical day like?
    • A typical day on safari :
      • Begins with departure on the day’s first game drive at sunrise, which is around 6 a.m.  Prior to boarding our vehicle, there will be coffee, tea and rusks/shacks available.  The game drive will last until around 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. with a short break during the safari for snacks.
      • Upon returning to the lodge, we will have breakfast waiting and then there will be free time until around 2 p.m.  During the free time, we often get with the photographers in the group to have tutorials on camera settings and composition.
      • At 2 p.m. we will have lunch and begin preparing for the afternoon game drive.
      • The afternoon game drive begins around 3 p.m and runs until sunset, which is around 6 p.m.  As sunset approaches, the guides will locate a safe position to stop for ‘sundowners’ (evening drinks and snacks) as we watch the sun set.  Magnum Excursions will work with the guides to select locations that will also allow us to capture beautiful sunset landscapes.
      • Following sundowners, we will have a night time game drive which lasts 30 minute to an hour looking for night predators like leopards/lions.
      • Upon return to the lodge, we will have time to freshen up and then be served dinner.
      • (Optional) Following dinner, we have time to view and critique two or three images from the photos taken with the group during the day.
      • While there is no ‘bed time’, it’s a long day so many are off to their beds by 10 p.m. each evening.
  • How is the weather?  Are there bugs?
    • A large reason we go at this time of the year is related to the weather and insects.  June/July is winter and the dry season in the southern hemisphere.  The last rains fell in April and it is very dry.  This leads more game to the water holes for excellent viewing.  This cooler weather and dry conditions also leads to a bug free time to be on safari.  Mornings are quite cool (mid-40’s to mid-50’s at sunrise) but heat up fast with expected weather in the high 70’s or the 80’s by 10 a.m.  The key is to dress in layers which one can shed as the day warms.
  • This trips for me, what do I do next?
    • Get that deposit in!  We accept check or bank transfer.   We also can accept major credit cards, but charge an additional 2% handling fee if paying with a credit card.
    • Contact Buddy to let him know your personal goals for the trip so we can better plan to make this the trip of a lifetime for you!
    • Buddy can be reached at (610) 751-7259 or via email at buddy@MagnumExcursions.com.

A lilac breasted Roller checks out our safari group as it dashed away.

Cape Buffalo drinking at a water hole near Kambaku on our 2015 safari

Cape Buffalo drinking at a water hole near Kambaku on our 2015 safari

Elephants drink as a waterhole while we enjoy our mid-morning coffee/tea during the 2015 safari



Last modified: August 16, 2015


Write a Reply or Comment