Nestled in the heart of the famed 5,400 square kilometer (210 square mile) Timbavati Nature Reserve, one of the oldest and most pristine in South Africa, and with an unfenced border to the western boundary of the legendary Kruger National Park, Motswari Private Game Reserve is a safari-goers’ dream. It is teaming with the iconic Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino) and a supporting cast of over 140 other mammals and 500 varieties of birds.
To Conserve and Protect
In the local Tswana language, Motswari means “to conserve and protect.” Motswari Private Game Reserve has been living up to its name since the Geiger family acquired the property in 1992.
From the onset, the original owner, the late Paul Geiger, focused on wildlife conservation, environmental management, and the creation of meaningful employment and growth opportunities for the local communities.
On the public stage, this has earned Motswari an impressive number of prestigious accolades, including its on-going accreditation by Fair Trade in Tourism, South Africa (FTTSA), a distinction the property first earned in 2008. Motswari also achieved Gold Class status in 2013 on the Heritage Environmental Certification Program (based on internationally recognized sustainability and responsible business initiatives), making it the only environmentally certified lodge in Timbavati.
What does this mean to me, the tourist? A lot actually. Beyond the personal satisfaction of knowing that my visit contributes in a small way to supporting a shared environmental and social ethos, choosing Motswari has a considerable positive impact on the quality of my safari experience.
A Family Country Estate
The first thing I notice as I settle in is the relaxed atmosphere of the property. The décor, an unpretentious mix of comfortable rustic furniture, local safari antiques, crafts and random personal mementos, has the charm of a family country estate that has developed organically over time. The lounge and dining area open onto a free-form swimming pool overlooking the river and the bush beyond. There, as in the nearby library, intimate seating arrangements invite to settle in, chill out and enjoy the view.
My own bungalow is a light-filled circular space with large French doors that open onto a private terrace overlooking the dry riverbed. It is furnished in an uncluttered, retro-style mix of rustic wood and rattan furniture, with a sumptuously comfortable king-size bed swathed in mosquito netting taking pride of place. But nothing retro about the vast en-suite bathroom with its deep built-in bathtub and separate walk-in shower with rain showerhead and great water pressure. Or in the thoughtful details at my fingertips to ensure a comfortable stay, from quality biodegradable toiletries to electrical outlets conveniently fitted with universal adapters to accommodate North American and European plugs.
Another detail that enhances the enjoyment of my safari is what is not found at Motswari. (Spoiler alert – here comes one of my pet peeves). There had been a trend in recent years for upscale properties to include such sophisticated urban amenities as elite spas, painstakingly curated antique artifacts boutiques or haute cuisine restaurants with pre-dinner visits to in-house wine cellars.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the occasional bit of over-the-top pampering, in its own time and place. In the bush, however, I find it an unwelcome distraction from my wilderness experience. On behalf of safari purists everywhere, thank you Motswari for keeping it authentic.
The People Factor
In incorporating responsible tourism as a key principle in its operating philosophy since its inception, the property has created a close-knit community where some employees have been with the lodge all of their working life and others are now second generation staff members. All are regarded as members of the extended Motswari family and feel enormous pride in their lodge. This is reflected in the positive way staff and management interact with each other and with the guests. I take with me warm memories of the genuine friendliness and concerted attention to details from the entire team to ensure that I enjoyed a memorable visit.
The people factor is not just about superior service. It is inscribed in the success stories of staff members who, with management support, were inspired to follow their passion, and went on to raise the bar in their chosen field to deliver outstanding experiences for the guests. People like Godfrey Mathebula, the now Assistant General Manager, Motswari Private Game Reserve, who grew up on Java, Paul Geiger’s original property, where is parents were caretakers.
The Geiger family supported him through school, then gave him a job in the maintenance workshop before his passion for the bush led him to the guiding field. After passing with a near perfect score the first level certification of the prestigious Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGSAS), he began guiding, went on to pass every level of certification available, become Motswari’s lead guide, and set a very high standard for every guide that followed.
Outstanding Game Viewing
With the property’s privileged location at the unfenced edge of Kruger National Park, its 150 square kilometer (60 square mile) swath of traversing right within the game-rich Timbavati Nature and its long established wildlife conservation efforts, my guide could have ensured daily Big Five sighting with relatively little effort. But that’s not the Motswari way. Less than an hour into my first drive I am reminded that regardless of the abundance of game and birdlife, it is the guiding team that ultimately makes the difference between routine game viewing and an unforgettable experience.
My guide and tracker are among the best I have come across anywhere. With them every drive is a front row seat to the ever-unfolding drama of the African wilderness. We track through dense bush a leopard stealthily returning to the tree where it has concealed its fresh impala kill. We witness a territorial dust off between two males leopards, so sudden that the pursued has literally propelled itself to the top of a 20 meter (65 foot) yellow acacia by the time we spot its discomfited pursuer.
We observe at close range the dynamics between two male lions feeding on the carcass of a young buffalo, and lionesses and cubs from a resident pride grooming off each other the traces of a recent kill. Then there are elephants, large breeding herds of them on the move with their nursing calves, mud-encrusted rhinos crashing their way out of a waterhole, and cheetahs on the prowl.
When we eventually return to the lodge, still buzzing from the experiences of the past few hours, it is to sumptuous brunches cooked to order or to formally served dinner or braai (South African barbecue) around the boma’s central fire pit.
Meals are a never-ending feast here. And another Motswari people success story. Young Grace Mnisi discovered her passion for cooking when she joined the kitchen staff as a kitchen assistant right after school in 1996. She steadily worked her way through the ranks to pastry chef and sous-chef and finally head chef in 2004. Along the way she has ranked for Best Food among the top lodges in the country in national Bush Banquets competition and even found the time to earn herself a Professional Chef college certification. Today, Amazing Grace, as Chef Mnisi is often called, and her kitchen team treat the guests throughout the day to imaginative meals beautifully prepared from fresh local products. Her cuisine focuses on South African specialties with subtle international accents.
Dinner is always a delicious three-course course affair, served plated at candle-lit tables under the stars. But I have a special fondness for the teatime ritual. Served in the lounge just prior to the departure of the afternoon game drive, it is announced by the sound of female voices singing in the close-harmony style for which South Africa is famous. The voices belong to the kitchen staff who regally walk in bearing large trays and bowls of delicious salads, relishes, meats and savory and sweet pastries that are promptly arranged onto a long buffet table
A Better Place to Be
For three decades now the owners of Motswari have managed the property according to principles that would later be summarized in the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism as caring for the wildlife, the land and the local community to “create better places to live in and to visit”. Thank you to everyone in the extended Motswari family for making it one of my best safari experiences ever.
Good to Know
- Motswari has been owned by the Geiger family for two generations. Current owner is Marion Geiger. The property is managed by Newmark Hotels, Reserves and Lodges. Motswari Private Game Reserve. motswari.co.za e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Or call: + 27 (0) 21 427 5900.
- It is a six-hour drive from Johannesburg or 75 minutes from Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport .
- Accommodations consist of 15 bungalows that can welcome a total of 30 guests.
- Complimentary WiFi service is available throughout the day and evening in the public areas.
- First designated as a protected area in 1898, Kruger National Park became South Africa’s first national park in 1926. It is also one of the largest, covering an area of 19,485 square kilometers (7,523 square miles) in the northeastern corner of the country. Two dozen private reserves that share an open border with the western boundary of the park contribute an added 18,000 square kilometers (700 square miles) of unfenced land dedicated to conservation where the rich game population of the overall Kruger area can roam at will.
- Collectively known as the Greater Kruger National Park, these private reserves are home to a number of upscale lodges ruled by charters that strictly limit the number of guests and game viewing vehicles allowed on their land to ensure that their guests enjoy an optimum game viewing experience as well as activities such as nature walks as well as off-road and night drives that are not allowed within the boundaries of the Kruger National Park.