It’s just after sunrise when I open my eyes at Matamba Bush Camp. A golden glow bathes the landscape of grasses, trees and shrubs. And a giraffe nibbles the last of summer’s green leaves on the trees at the edge of our campsite.
We’re camping on one of four unfenced campsites at Tau Camp in the open woodlands of Matamba Bush Camp in South Africa’s Waterberg biosphere. Each site is tucked away in its own small private bushveld clearing, giving us a sense of absolute privacy.
Well, almost absolute privacy! Except for the giraffe, nyala, eland and impala who come and go past our camp throughout the day.
I snuggle back under the sleep warmed duvet and watch the early morning light slide down the giraffe’s enormous sleek body. His hide is marked with uneven dark brown geometric shapes outlined with tawny golden tan lines fading to a pale cream at his knees.
It’s a moment or two of wordless bliss, of utter contentment, that becomes perfection when my husband hands me a steaming cup of coffee. This is the perfect way to start the day.
Matamba Bush Camp, a Place of Walking
Unlike our ‘no walking’ river cottage in the Big 5 wilderness of the Greater Kruger National Park, Matamba Bush Camp is a place of walking. There is no driving allowed here. Once you arrive, you park your car at your campsite, and the next time you use it will be when you leave this beautiful 400-hectare private game farm.
Of course, the absence of the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) doesn’t mean Matamba is without risk. It is still a wildlife sanctuary. If threatened, the sable or the kudu could skewer you like a giant kebab with a toss of their mighty horns, and my friend, the giraffe, could kill you with a kick of its front legs.
But these are highly improbable scenarios, and you run a greater risk of getting sunstroke here.
Hike to the Kibi Hide
The giraffe moves off, and I drag my lazy self out of bed. It’s a beautiful balmy African winter’s morning—perfect weather for a morning stroll and a picnic brunch at the Kibi Hide a kilometre or two away from our campsite.
We set out under the perfect blue dome of a winter sky. Beneath our feet, surprisingly thick sand, almost like dry beach sand, turns our stroll into a hard slog in places.
Around us, the African bush wears a splendid winter colour palette of gold, silver, red and every imaginable shade of brown interspersed with sporadic patches of green.
Although we try to walk without making a sound, we disturb a small herd of grazing impala. With a snort of alarm, they leap effortlessly across the dirt track ahead of us. The sandy earth beneath their tiny hooves a personal springboard that gives each leap a graceful arc and height.
We pause to watch a dung beetle meticulously rolling its ball of dung.
Admire the intricate beauty of a spider’s web glistening in the sunlight.
And listen to the light breeze rustling through the dry bushwillow seed pods hanging from the treetops.
After a while, it could have been half an hour or two hours, time has lost all meaning. We emerge from the thick bush into a clearing as a large eland bull casually walks away from the waterhole.
High in the branches of a wild syringa tree, we spot the Kibi hide. It’s the ideal spot for our picnic brunch.
The Perfect Brunch Spot
While we feast on our picnic brunch, a wood dove serenades us with a mournful cooing song that rises in volume as it runs up the scale and then diminishes as it descends until it’s barely audible.
A zebra family peer up at us from the safety of the bush lining the clearing. After a while, they step out into the open for a drink of water. But one of them always keeps a beady eye on us in our syringa tree eyrie.
Utterly content, we while away an hour or two at the hide before hiking back to our campsite.
The Roaming Fox and Sable of Matamba Bush Camp
Much to my surprise and delight, our host for the weekend is none other than my favourite South African travel blogger, Alma from Roaming Fox. She is house-sitting Matamba Bush Camp for the owners. I can’t begin to describe how envious I am of her house sitting in this beautiful wild place. Read about her Matamba house sitting adventures, and I’m sure you’ll understand why.
Alma’s many house-sitting duties include welcoming and orientating campers when they arrive. She mentioned that they feed the sable a bush muesli concoction every afternoon during the winter to keep them in tip-top condition. So, we decide to hike to the nearby Sable Rock in the hopes of catching a glimpse of these magnificent antelope.
We haven’t hiked far when we come across a majestic sable standing on the grassy verge lining the dirt road. His glossy brownish black coat gleams in the late afternoon light. Surprisingly, he is unconcerned by our presence and doesn’t bolt into the bush.
We take a step nearer. He stands his ground. We take another step closer, and still, he stands his ground but gives us a warning toss of his mighty scimitar-shaped horns – don’t come any closer!
Muesli Wars on the Sable Rock Hike
And then, the afternoon stillness is broken by the chug-chug whine of a quad bike in the distance. The sable steps out into the road, focusing on the approaching quad. As the quad bike ridden by Alma draws nearer, he turns and leads the way to the bush muesli feeding trough where two other sables wait patiently.
But the scent of delicious bush muesli has drawn other antelope out of the bush. A kudu doe and her young buck son step out of the thick bush, followed by a shaggy nyala. They, too, are a little wary of our presence and keep a safe distance. But what I imagine is a tantalising aroma of bush muesli, if you’re an antelope, wins out, and they dart across the dirt track to where the sables are feasting.
With a snort of annoyance, one of the sables chases the intruders off in a cloud of dust.
The trio backs off for a moment or two before trying another approach.
But the sable doesn’t want to share. He charges again. This time, the trio separates, circling the sable as they try to get to his muesli.
And Alma relents, giving the trio their own bowl a distance away from the sables, which they scoff down in seconds returning to harass the sables leisurely eating their snack.
We abandon our hike in favour of watching the graceful sables and the antics of the greedy young kudu buck and his sneaky accomplice, the nyala, while mama kudu watches on.
It’s a moment of rare privilege to be on foot, 20 or 30 meters away from three of the most magnificent antelope species on the African plains.
A Bench with a View on Matamba Plains.
There are benches dotted around the game farm. Each bench’s location feels as if the owners have spent time on the site contemplating the views before choosing a final placement for the bench.
Our favourite bench is under a tree at the top of a gentle slope on the edge of Matamba Plains. The bench overlooks a long narrow strip of open grassland hemmed in by a sea of trees dressed in their golden-brown winter finery. The view from here stretches across the plateau to the blue Waterberg Mountains in the distance.
Each morning we throw our winter jackets on over our pyjamas and stroll down to the bench to drink our early morning coffee. Steam rising from our coffee mugs warms our chilly faces as we watch the early morning light wash over the landscape.
Sometimes the plain is deserted, but usually, it is a mini-Serengeti of impala, zebras, giraffes, elands, sables and wildebeest.
We return in the late afternoons, fully clothed this time, with an ice-cold beer in hand to watch glorious orange sunsets and the light waning over the Waterberg landscape. Often only leaving our bench when the first star glimmers in the short African twilight sky.
On Foot at Matamba Bush Camp
After our first day, we settle into a daily rhythm dictated by the sunrise and the sunsets.
Each day begins with early morning coffee on the bench. Walks along the many trails to the hides and waterholes. We spend our afternoons observing and providing commentary on the muesli wars, followed by sundowners on our bench. And in the evening, we sit around our campfire mesmerised by the flames or the many satellites and shooting stars racing across a bejewelled night sky.
And it occurs to me that driving through a landscape at 120 kilometres an hour is no way to experience it.
We hear the breeze rustling through the treetops long before we feel its cool gentle caress on our faces.
We smell the dusty scent of the African bush in winter. A mixture of dry earth and plant matter combined with the not entirely unpleasant smell of fresh antelope droppings.
We notice the small pawprints of a genet or wild cat on the sandy track ahead of us.
We have the freedom to be a part of this remarkable wild place. To observe and begin to understand the rituals and habits of each animal we encounter here.
And then there is the beauty of the African bush in winter. An ever-changing play of light changes the russet red leaves to soft brown and silvery grass to golden splendour.
And I realise, on foot, exploring the wilds of the African woodlands of Matamba Bush Camp is precisely where I want to be.
Matamba Bush Camp Good to Know:
Where is Matamba Bush Camp?
The farm is situated 25 kilometres from the town of Vaalwater in the heart of the Waterberg Biosphere in the Limpopo province of South Africa. It is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg, the last part of which is a pretty drive through the Waterberg Mountains and up onto the plateau.
Tau Camp – Built for Campers by Campers.
From the moment that you arrive to set up your camp at Tau Camp, it is clear the owners are campers themselves. The grass on each of the four unfenced and spacious campsites has been cleared, but all the trees have been left intact, ensuring minimal impact on the environment. And of course, the sites have amenities like water, power and a safe braai (barbecue) area.
There is plenty of space between each site which gives you a sense of seclusion. Although Matamba was fully booked when we visited, we were seldom aware of our neighbours despite the shared washing-up area and bathroom facilities. Occasionally we would hear their voices drifting down to our campsite on the breeze or spot a flash of colour as they moved along the winding pathways.
Natural materials have been used wherever possible, so the facilities blend beautifully with the environment. There are three bathrooms with showers, an outdoor toilet and a washing up area spread out over Tau Camp. Two of the bathrooms are outdoors built beneath the spreading branches of wild syringa trees. There is nothing better than showering under the African night sky.
What is There to Do at Matamba?
Matamba is for nature lovers. Set on 400-hectares of unspoilt Waterberg plateau woodlands, Matamba Bush Camp offers a secluded yet sophisticated and seemingly off-the-grid camping experience with almost 60 kilometres of sandy tracks to explore on foot. There is a choice of two hides to watch the game from, plenty of waterholes and thoughtfully placed benches dotted around the farm to rest your weary body upon. And a splash pool to cool off in after a long sweaty hike.
Click on this link for Matamba Bush Camp to find out more and book.
Final Thoughts on Matamba Bush Camp
According to the owners, loosely translated Matamba means out of the Earth.
And that is precisely what you get here – an intimate natural experience in harmony with mother nature and the bounty of the earth.
DISCLAIMER: I have no commercial relationship with Matamba Bush Camp or any of their affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.
Loved reading this! Your descriptions and narration makes me feel as if I am back in the bush. It was an honour to meet you and thanks for mentioning me in your article.
So glad you enjoyed my postcard, Alma. And, you are most welcome.
What a lovely article on Matamba Bush Campsite and you have described it perfectly, just as many other have experienced the wonderful campsite and game farm.
What a lovely read – I almost felt I had been myself. I have been on a walking safari before and thoroughly enjoyed it – it’s lovely to be able to see the animals and bush on foot.
What an amazing experience to be surrounded by so much wildlife. And watching the sunset over the plains would be lovely!
What an amazing experience! I loved your narrative; your descriptions are so vivid, made me feel like I was experiencing nature and wildlife there, with you. In absence of a giraffe, reading your post was a great way to start my day – and start planning a trip to Africa…
Beautifully written and evocative. I long to return to explore more of Africa. So many glorious posts to read to help me decide where to go!