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Simbavati River Lodge Review

The magic of Simbavati is that you are living in an oasis of pampered safety, within a ferocious bush where animals aren't more than a lion's bite from death. There are no gates or fences at Simbavati, and the wildlife roam literally up to your doorstep. At dark you are warned not to go to your chalet without a guide, and are equipped with a whistle to blow in the case of an emergency. With 2 young children in tow, we were happy to get the chalet closest to the lodge!

view from the deck of the Simbavati River Lodge

Contact details



+27 (0)21 945 3751/ 0861 116 054


+27 (0) 21 945 1719/ 086 651 9017


Postal Address

Simbavati River Lodge, PO Box 456, Hoedspruit, 1380



27(0)?15 793 9051/3?


+27 (0) 15 793 9052

E-mail or

Postal Address

Simbavati River Lodge, PO Box 456, Hoedspruit, 1380

The lodge and chalets

Simbavati is situated on the northern part of the Timbavati Nature Reserve. There are 3 chalets, which are situated closer to the lodge than the 8 luxury tents. All the chalets and 4 of the tents have decks overlooking the Nhlaralumi river where there are regular sightings of wildlife.

front of chalet at Simbavati River Lodge

We stayed in the smallest chalet, called Buffalo, which had ample space - 4 generously sized single beds (if you're looking for a king size bed then choose the "Elephant" chalet), a massive bath and a shower. Whilst Buffalo is smallest, I liked the fact that it's closest to the lodge (but if you don't share my fear of wild animals it may not be an issue to you) . There's an elevated deck from which you can sit and watch the river and the game passing through.

bed in a lodge at Simbavati

The lodge has a viewing deck overlooking the wide river, from which plenty of wildlife can be seen (although some patience is required - it doesn't all happen at once in the bush). From the deck we saw a troop of 10 baboons, wild dogs, waterbuck, crocodiles and hippos. The lawn in front of the lodge is mown down for safety, and it looks like you could prance over and relax on the lawn...but is obviuosly not safe to do so.

view from chalet at Simbavati River Lodge

The tents are furthest from the lodge, and are deeper in the bush.

Simbavati River Lodge luxury tent


There are game drives in the evening and morning, giving an opportunity to see what's happening in the wild. This is a game of patience, there are times when you will see very little, and should prepare to relax and suck in the bush air.

game drive at Simbavati coffee break during the game drive
Elephants mourning

I didn't realise that elephants mourn their dead, until I saw these elephants gathering around a spot where one of their comrades had died 2 months previously, and were pushing around his/her bones:

Timbavati elephant

It was scary excitingto see a lion get up close and personal during a night drive:


As we got close to Simbavati River Lodge, we saw these turtles basking on a rock.

turtles basking in the sun

Cape Buffalo

As we turned from the first bend at Simbavati we spotted a Cape Buffalo ( Syncerus caffer) sitting in a mud bath. Don't be fooled by its placid appearance, Cape Buffalos kill more people than any other members of the Big Five (over 200 per year).

Cape Buffalo

Here's a rhino marking its territory:

My first sighting of wild dogs:

wild dog

Here's a hippo surfacing:

hippo surfacing at Timbavati Nature Reserve

Impala & giraffe

Being grazing animals, impala and giraffes don't mind hanging near each other. Here's a photo of giraffes eating the tall trees in the background, and impala munching on the grass (well, at least those who weren't startled by the car).

impala and giraffe

Blacksmith Plover

There were a lot of birds to be seen at Simbavati, but they didn't want to come close and pose for my camera! Except for this Blacksmith Plover (or Blacksmith Lapwing, Vanellus armatus), which gets its name from the metallic "tink tink tink" sound it makes, which sounds like a blacksmith's hammer hitting an anvil.

Blacksmith Plover

Baby giraffe

The beautiful innocence of a baby giraffe - our guide estimated it to be about a week old. Its mother was close-by.

baby giraffe


Spider near Simbavati River Lodge (anybody know what species?).

spider near Simbavati River Lodge


Most of the guests are foreigners. During our stay there was a group of Australians who were in Africa for the first time and "loving it" (later we saw them at Nelspruit Airport catching a Fedair flight to Vilanculous in Mozambique), a group of Germans, some of Charlie's family and one of the owners and his family.

Some background

The land on which Simbavati lies has been owned by the Wilkins family for some 50 years, and the property is leased to a group of shareholders who own Simbavati, which is run by Charlie and Elmarie. In June 2009 they started rebuilding the existing structures into the Simbavati River Lodge, and the first guests stayed at Simbavati in April 2009.

Because they are modest they wouldn't like me saying this, but the staff led by Charlie and Elmarie, the managers of the lodge, are the life and soul of Simbavati. Their amicable, down to earth attitude makes one feel welcome and at home. The staff, introduce themselves, remember your name and call you by it throughout your stay. After saying hello, Elmarie told us us the ins and outs of life in the wild - don't walk down to the river, it looks safe but it isn't...they've had buffalo, hyena and leopard walking right up to the chalets before.

Charlie and Elmarie took over the running of Simbavati River Lodge about 2 years ago. Charlie grew up in Vereeniging, and became a Minister in Cape Town, before moving to looking after street children and then leaped at the opportunity to manage Simbavati. Elmarie was a social worker at the Conradie hospital in Cape Town. Charlie is afraid of nothing, including snakes, as he demonstrated whilst clearing out a blind mole snake. He has run 8 Comrades Marathons and keeps fit by running in the bush, which has lead to some close encounters (including one with a leopard).

Supper & snake

We had a festive supper in a boma, where meat was braaied, and we were seated next to those people we had been on the game drive with. During supper a snake interrupted one dinner table, but the management quickly picked it up, pointed out it was a blind mole snake and threw it back into the bush (which was just a couple of metres from where we were sitting) saying "poor blind mole snake".


These rates were valid when this article was written, and may have changed. Contact to make a booking.

Room Type

Rate Type

Valid 1 May - 31 Aug '12

Valid 1 Sep '11 - 30 Apr '12 &
1 - 30 Sep '12

Luxury Safari Tent




Luxury Safari Tent




Family Suite




3rd & 4th Person Sharing (Family Unit)




Children Under 12




Incl:?Big 5-safari accomm * Brunch, Afternoon high tea & dinner p/day * Tea & coffee * daily game drives * VAT?Excl:?Trnsf? * Timbavati conservation levy R160 p/p * Timbavati vehicle entrance fee R120 * Gratuities for safari guides & lodge staff

Rates exclude:

  • - Transfer to/from local airports/other lodges

  • - Timbavati conservation levy ZAR 150 per person (subject to change)

  • - Timbavati vehicle entrance fee ZAR 120 (subject to change)

  • - Drinks at the lodge

  • - Items from the curio shop

  • - Gratuities for safari guides and lodge staff

Timbavati area

The Simbavati River Lodge is set within the Timbavati reserve, which is connected to the Kruger National Park (wildlife can roam freely between the Kruger and Timbavati), but the Lodge doesn't have traversing rights to go into the Kruger, which means that when on game drives you'll stick to the Timbavati area. Parts of Timbavati are owned by different people, and there are limited traversing rights between the different sections, which means that when on game drives you can only enter some of the areas with permission (we sought and got permission to go view lions which had wandered across into somebody else's area).


There is no Vodacom reception, and a limited MTN reception if you stand in certain places (e.g. by the tree next to the breakfast table).

Family friendly

It's family friendly, offering "a babysitting service for the kids at R40 per hour while you and your wife are on the game drive. Kids under 6 are not allowed on a game drive, however, a private game drive can be arranged if you would like your 4 year old to join you (at an additional cost).

Directions to Simbavati

Simbavati is situated in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, next to the Kruger National Park. We first flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg with Velvet Sky, spent a night in Johannesburg, then flew with BA to Nelspruit (first time we've flown with British Airways on this route - they only started flying it in May 2010). However, Hoedspruit is even closer to Simbavati, so we'd recommend flying there.

map of Simbavati and surroundings

Entrance to Timbavati Nature Reserve

Keep to a 50km/h speed limit

entrance to Timbavati Nature Reserve

speed limit at Timbavati Nature Reserve

Entrance to Simbavati Nature Reserve

You're on the right track if you pass this gate

path to Simbavati River Lodge

gate to Simbavati

Follow the paw prints to get to Simbavati Lodge

Entrance to Simbavati River Lodge

paw print marks to Simbavati

entrance to Simbavati River Lodge

Saying goodbye

We carried out this review of Simbavati River Lodge on the 26th April 2011. When we said our goodbyes, we were impressed that Simbavati staff had washed our rental car, leaving another reason for us to leave with smiles. We'll be back!

This review of Simbavati was carried out on 26 Apr 2011 by

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