I’ll never forget the very first time that I went camping. I was about nine or ten at the time and I had just joined the scouts (there were no ‘cubs’ back then). I had seen the large canvas bell tents erected and in my childish naivety, I had just assumed that we would sharing two to a tent, on collapsible beds with mattresses and all the trimmings. Imagine my shock on that first night when I discovered that there would be 8-10 of us all lying on ground-sheets around a central pole with nothing to cushion my body from the hard, cold ground but the relative softness and warmth of my synthetically filled sleeping bag. As it turned out, I loved the scouts and everything about them. It taught me a lot of things and they still represent some of the happiest days of my childhood.
Things have come on a lot since then — particularly for us adults. As far as I can determine (and I stand to be corrected on this!) the term ‘glamping’ — a portmanteau word for glamorous camping — was first used as far back as 2007 and shares about as much with actual camping as does an S-class Mercedes with a Trabant. Yes, you do sleep in a tent, but there all similarities end! I recently had the inestimable pleasure of spending two nights ‘glamping’ at the Thakkadu River Camp which is located within the Madikwe Private Game Reserve on the South African/Botswana border just 20 kilometres from Gabarone. Madikwe is the 5th largest game reserve in South Africa at 750 square kilometres and one of the least known but, paradoxically, offers one of the best ‘game’ experiences imaginable as indeed my experience recently gave testimony to! During the course of just 48 unforgettable hours, I managed to see not only the ‘Big Five’ (Elephant, Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Lion and Leopard) but also multiple sightings of giraffes, zebras, impalas, Kudu, Springbok, wild dogs (quite rare), hyenas, jackels, baboons, monkeys and innumerable different bird species. Clearly, the wildlife was abundant but I also suspect that it had a lot to do with our driver/guide Thulu (whose name I hope that I spelt correctly). All in all, it was a magical experience and I know this because I had something to compare it against as I had previously undertaken a safari at another private game reserve located within the Kruger national park some six years previously. OK, two safaris in six years does not exactly make me an expert but I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that Thakkadu River camp (the camp is located between the Marico river and one of its tributaries), is one of the better wildlife experiences you’ll have in Africa — not least because the area is completely malaria free.
Anyway, back to this whole ‘glamping’ thing. My ‘tent’ consisted of a huge canvas stretched over an underlying structure that provided me a wraparound balcony where I could sit outside to view the wildlife or sip on a cool glass of wine. This balcony was separated from the rest of the room by huge double-glazed sliding doors to reveal a large bedroom, dominated by probably the largest four poster bed that I have ever slept in — easily seven or eight feet wide! The bed also boasted twin electric blankets — a welcome luxury to cope with the near freezing temperatures that one must contend with out in the bush at this time of year. The bedroom (which also contained a desk and chair with tea/coffee-making facilities and a comfortable couch was separated from the rear of the room by a large, wide partition, at the back of which was an open plan bathroom area boasting a separate WC and long marble counter with dual copper basins and a shower area. Such was the size and comfort of the large living space that you quickly forgot about the fact that you were actually living in a tent with wooden floors but canvas walls. The accommodation also had its own phone (for those early morning wake-up calls to go out on game drives) and all illumination was by electric light, not gas.
All in all, my brief introduction to the world of glamping was a wonderful experience that I would be more than happy to repeat again and again. The food at Thakkadu was excellent; the service impeccable and the staff were so welcoming that you actually almost had the sense of being a guest in someone’s home. With just 12 tented suites, Thakkadu is small, intimate and exclusive without necessarily being out of reach of most people’s budgets. If you have a special occasion or milestone event in your life coming up anytime soon — e.g. a wedding anniversary, retirement, significant birthday etc., then you could tick a lot of items off that bucket list of yours by getting yourself and your loved ones out to this little piece of heaven tucked away in this corner of Africa. Thakkadu is located about 350 kms northwest of Johannesburg, roughly a 4.5 hour drive from the airport. The uber-professional Hanlie Lombard is the general manager there. Tell her I sent you!