Tomjachu Bush Retreat and Muluwa Lodge (which you can read about here) were the first safari lodges I visited in South Africa. The hotels that I usually check for my clients, as well as those I stay at on vacation, are always usually either by the ocean or very close to it. Maybe that's why I couldn't imagine being on holiday any other way. Seeing these two places changed my mind. My fascination and love for animals had a lot to do with this because in both of these lodges you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with either zebras (Tomjachu) and giraffes (Muluwa) in their natural habitats.
Together with my travel companion, Lidia, we travelled along the Panorama Route (I will write about my fun and experiences on that soon). We checked into the lodge, which was in the middle of nowhere "almost in the bush" and we headed to the so-called “homestead” (main building) for dinner. The first thing that struck us was the incredible scent of freshly cooked home food and the cozy glow of the candlelight which almost immediately set the mood and it just got better from thereon. There was a three-course steak dinner as the main course which was delicious and could easily be served in a 5-star restaurant. All of the ingredients are sourced from the local surrounding farms. Besides that, there is a large selection of South African wines to choose from and the service was delightful that makes one feel right at home.
After learning the history of the hotel, this friendly, warm atmosphere makes more sense. In the past, it was a tobacco farm, bought in 1985 by Gordon and Vikki Fillery, the grandparents of the current owners and passed down from generation to generation. Initially, it was supposed to be their home, which they called ‘Valbonne’, or beautiful valley. After Gordon's death, his son Brian and his wife Sarah continued to work the farm. They renovated the Homestead and built more houses which they converted to lodges. Currently, the lodge is cared for by their three sons, Tom, Jack, and Hugo. The name Tomjachu was formed from the first letters of their names. We met Jack, who puts his whole heart into this place and is proud to show it off to both local and international guests.
Their family house, the beautifully situated ‘Valbonne villa’, can be rented exclusively. It accommodates six to twelve people. You could get lost in it, it's so big! The house is full of art and memorabilia from numerous family journeys. Some of these are really unique such as the wooden, life-size ostrich sculpture
Besides the villa, there are three rooms in the main building (where the restaurant is) and three cozy cottages which are, the Rock House, Keeper's cottage, and the Bush Cottage. The first one is a perfect romantic getaway for couples equipped with a small swimming pool, a spot for a traditional South African braai (the equivalent to our BBQ), a kitchen, and a fairly spacious bathroom. The Keeper's cottage is where we stayed in. It is similarly equipped to the Rock House, except it has a lounge with a fireplace and does not have its own swimming pool. You can, however, use the main swimming pool at the Homestead which is close by. Bush Cottage is a great option for four people and is one of my favourites amongst the three. It is located further away from the main part, has its own swimming pool, living room and kitchen, two bedrooms, and bathrooms.
If you book a room in the main part of the hotel, the prices include breakfast and a 3-course dinner. Self-catering is available in the cottages and villas in case guests wish to make their own meals with breathtaking views. It is of course possible to order breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even with an option to deliver directly to your cottage.
You can easily stay here for a few days, not only because it is really nice to spend time among the animals, or relaxing by the swimming pool surrounded by a panoramic view of the mountains. It is a great starting point for many nearby attractions such as: the Kruger Park, the Kingdom of Swaziland, Panorama Route, Sudwala Caves (one of the oldest caves in the world), or the capital of Mozambique, Maputo. Just being at the lodge itself makes you feel as if you're on a mini safari (no predators 😉). For those that love the outdoors there is a fifteen kilometres hiking path on the reserve. Fancy a walk? You can either go on your own or with a qualified guide, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled. You will encounter ostriches, giraffes, antelopes, and zebras are everywhere and it is difficult not to notice them. The latter is quite an attraction, they stroll calmy by the entrance to the hotel which is a real treat. They feel so at home that when you're lazing in the pool you can expect that a zebra will stop by for a drink of water!
But that's not all, the hotel offers many attractions (at an additional cost) such as sunset tours or night safaris complete with stargazing through a professional Meade GPS telescope. Bike lovers can rent a bike and go for a ride. I recommend ordering a picnic basket beforehand. A romantic dinner under the stars in the bush is also a great option.
It is also worth mentioning that this is a lodge that has received many awards, including one for promoting sustainable tourism. Natural materials used to build the houses which makes them eco-friendly, a water-saving system, educating employees and guests, recycling and caring for animal habitats are just a few of the important initiatives undertaken at Tomjachu Lodge.
I recommend Tomjachu to anyone looking for a good place to stay in the Kruger Park area. The lodges, which are located in Kruger Park itself, as I mentioned, are much more expensive. Tomjachu gives you that safari vibe at a reasonable price, and you can hang out with the zebras at no additional cost 😍.