A version of this article appeared in Skyways inflight magazine in May 2017
“The Cicada sing an endless song in the long grass, smells run along the earth and falling stars run over the sky, like tears over a cheek – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa
Mpumalanga – one of the most profoundly beautiful parts of eastern South Africa. Translated from Zulu as ‘the place where the sun rises’, the area was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal and is widely believed to be the most geographically diverse and visually spectacular province of the Beloved Country.
Bordering Swaziland and Mozambique, the temperate interior is divided into the grasslands of the Highveld and the undulating plains of the Lowveld. It is Africa and it is glorious. Mpumalanga is renowned for it’s Big 5 offering. Seeing the spectacular quintet in their natural habitat is undoubtedly a bucket-list moment, but running a close second is being able to walk in the wild without stumbling over a pride of lions or coming face to face with the flapping ears of a tetchy elephant. (At Tomjachu you won’t see the 5 but because of the estate’s proximity to other reserves, arranging a tour to any number of them is easily done).
Tomjachu & sustainability
Fifteen minutes from Nelspruit is where you’ll find Tomjachu, a multi award winning owner-managed 1300 acre retreat complete with a number of biomes, high rocky peaks, wetlands, dams and ravines within an unspoilt Conservancy that overlooks the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park and the great Crocodile River Valley.
Driving away from the city, the tar road becomes a bumpy gravel track and urban life gives way to lush landscapes. Once a tobacco farm and courgette plantation, Tomjachu was established by the late Gordon Fillery, and his three grandsons Tom, Jack and Hugo after whom the retreat is named, are equally as passionate about the land and its people, and remain committed to conservation and the preservation and regeneration of the indigenous natural environment. Says co-owner Jack Fillery, who is a superb host I might add, “Tomjachu is primarily a conservation project, and the hospitality operation is what enables us to continue to improve and expand towards our goals”. He continued to explain that the delicate eco system is managed through controlled burning, synthesised migration and breeding programs, with new structures being built using as much locally sourced and renewable materials as possible. All water is reused at every opportunity and up to 60% of all waste generated is recycled. My favourite kind of place and my best kind of people – treading lightly on the earth!
Perfect G&T moments all day long & dinner under the stars
The valley enjoys a sub tropical climate with warm, dry winters and hot summer days that taper off with balmy evenings best savoured with a glass of chilled wine on the villa stoep. Panoramic views over the blue-tinged Bekker Mountains stretch towards a dramatic horizon where billowing dark clouds and the crack of thunder announces a sudden summer downpour.
Hiking, game drives and other activities
The scent of damp earth in the early morning pervades as you walk through the grassland, your footsteps the only sound in the stillness of the hour. It is a special time of the day and feels almost sacred. As the sun breaks through the mist, the veld comes to life and a specialist field guide unpacks the history of the area and points out many plants and trees with medicinal properties that make up the pharmacy of the wild. And all the while, the resident fauna casts an inquisitive eye over the small line of people quietly traversing their territory. There are about 250 bird species at Tomjachu and from June 2018 a new bird hide will give guests the opportunity to get a little closer to the feathered action.
On a late afternoon game drive we saw giraffe loping between wildebeest, kudu, and several other buck species and an ostrich called Scruffy making a mad dash between the acacias. G&T’s on Zebra Heights Peak, a 360 degree vista spread out before us, completed the magical experience.
Dinner under the stars
As night fell, we sat down to lantern lit dinner, a lapa braai, at a long table set up on a the edge of a granite boulder, a crackling fire nearby. The inky sky was carpeted with a million stars and the night sounds of the African bush provided a soundtrack like none other.
Tomjachu is a luxurious yet unpretentious lodge, with several accommodation options– the Homestead, cottages and Valbonne Villa where I spent three glorious nights. The decor is Euro African chic and the antiques, paintings and memorabilia give a peek into the Fillery family’s European history. My suite, one flight up, was beautifully appointed, and overlooked the infinity pool and spectacular surrounding views. The villa, with discreet staff and a private chef, can accommodate 6 couples. On any given day you might happen across a zebra strolling across the lawn or a spy monkey peering back at you in through your bedroom window.
Experiencing Tomjachu and the Mpumalanga Lowveld is one of life’s true luxuries and experiencing the African bush will forever change you . www.tomjachu.co.za
PS- I’m looking forward to a spot of birdwatching soon.Watch this space.