Outstanding Big Five and wild dog game viewing made it memorable.

Overall Impression This lodge, named for two lions from the Swahili word Simba for lion and Mbili for two, offered extraordinary Big Five game viewing during our stay. The lodge, situated on the banks of the Manyeleti River facing the Manyeleti Plains, was named for a Bremen, Germany adventurer of legend who was purportedly attacked by two lions on his first night in the bush.

During our three night stay we saw the famed Big Five (elephant, leopard, lion, rhinoceros, and buffalo) as well as leopards and wild dogs on almost every drive. We saw female, male and cub leopards, male and female lions, saddlebilled storks and wild dogs mating. Although we did not see it the tracker and ranger saw a honey badger cross the road as we were driving one morning.

Comfortable and spacious rooms with amenities, private decks and plunge pools, filling bush style meals served by an attentive waiter in a pretty bush setting made our stay pleasant. Outstanding Big Five and wild dog game viewing made it memorable.

Children Families with children aged 12 and older were welcome when the property was shared with other guests. If the entire lodge was booked for exclusive use children younger than 12 were welcome and children six years of age and older were able to participate in game drives.

Class Of Accommodation Luxury Five Star safari lodge

Connectivity There was little to no internet access for guests. Although on request the staff allowed guests use of a computer in the lodge office (20 rand for 15 minutes) when we tried it it was slow and they explained that internet access was very limited. The lodge had signed up for a satellite account with a finite amount of data (4 gigabytes) per month. We were only able to check emails on a web browser (instead of downloading them). Social networking sites like Facebook and large file downloads were not allowed.

General Managers Grant and Melanie Parker (they were promoted to Thornybush, a sister property, following our visit). The new manager was Alsion Rainer.

Handicapped Access There were steps between the entrance and the dining and bar areas. Wheelchair bound guests could be accommodated at the property and two of the rooms at the lodge were wheelchair friendly, according to management.

Length Of Stay Three nights

Location In the Simbambili Reserve in the northern Sabi Sand Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa. The nearest entrance was through the Gowrie Gate. The lodge was about three hours by car from the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The global positioning system coordinates were S24.46.389 E31.28.590.

Owned-Managed Inzalo Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd.

Pets Allowed No

Size The Simambili Reserve was 600 hectares in size and had traversing access to 4,500 hectares. The lodge had eight guest rooms and an additional room for a pilot or guide. Based on the staff we saw we estimate there were 25 employees.

Year Opened-Renovated The lodge first opened for guests November 1997 and in 2000 was incorporated into the Thornybush Collection. Following a year of construction during which the property was completely redone it reopened December 2001. In late 2005 there were renovations. The most recent soft refurbishing work took place in 2007.

Lobby And Common Areas The décor was defined by the management as “Classic thatched decor with open ceilings.” The entrance building housed the lodge office (where the guest computer was) on the left, and a gift shop on the right branded clothing, housewares and costume jewelry. Past the open entrance a hallway led down several steps and a path to the dining room, bar and open deck facing the bush and a watering hole which was lit at night for optimum game viewing. From the comfort of our tables we saw buffalo, waterbuck, dwarf mongoose; during dinner in the boma (enclosed area) we saw eagle owl and rhino one night. A few steps down and to the right, near the entrance building, there were two lodge bathrooms. This was convenient in case we needed to visit the facilities anytime we were in the main area.

The guest rooms were spread out facing the bush to the right of the main and dining buildings. The gym and spa were between rooms 4 and 5. The gym had a multiple feature machine and a treadmill (the treadmill had an out of order sign on it the day we arrived). Down the hall from the gym in the same building there were men’s and women’s bathrooms. Across from the bathrooms there was a room that looked like a kitchen for catering events. There was an air conditioned room a little further back that housed a sitting area, a few books, a large television and DVD player. A sliding glass door led onto a bush facing covered deck. A wood walkway to the right of the deck led to the Amani Spa, a two-room bush facing spa.

Bathroom Double wood doors and a partial wall led to the bathroom on one side of the room with a bathtub and a doorless shower. On a built-in shelf there were khaki colored clean smelling bath linen (bath sheets, hand towels, floor mats and face cloths) and pool towels. There was a water conservation message inviting guests to shower instead of bathing and reuse their towels. On one side there were twin oval concrete sinks set on a concrete counter below twin wood framed rectangular mirrors. Next to the mirrors there was a water closet. To one side of the entrance there was a large concrete bathtub and across from it a doorless shower. Curtainless wood and glass doors like the ones in the bedroom led to the open deck.

Rooms We stayed in rooms 3 and 4 of eight rooms a the property. We reached the rooms by walking down paved walkways from the main area of the lodge past rooms 1 and 2. An extension of main walkway reached the front door of each spacious room. To enter we inserted the key and pushed hard on an oversize wood entrance door. Our rooms were mirror images of each other in the interior layout. Each of our air conditioned rooms was in a stand alone building of about 600 square feet indoors with a back terrace, sala (covered outdoor deck) and private plunge pool.

One side was fenced in for privacy so that each room faced the bush and the next room’s fence. Inside, the rooms were shady and cool thanks to elevated air conditioners/heaters. There was a concrete table with twin lamps in the foyer and beyond it it was possible to glimpse the rest of the room and the outdoor deck through the mosquito netting that hung gathered above the queen bed (it was spread around the bed at night).

To the left of the entrance, there was a built-in concrete luggage wrack. To the right of the entrance there was a wood closet built into the wall. The right side of the closet was for hanging clothes and spare blankets; the left side had shelf space and an electronic safe as well as a laundry bag and some amenities (mosquito repellent, flash light, vanity kit). The bedroom could be reached through the left or right of the entrance.

The center of the room was occupied by a queen bed with matching night tables and lamps on either side. It had a duvet and feather pillows with the name and lion logo of the lodge embroidered on them. To the side of the bed, against the corner, there was a built in concrete cushioned day bed. Thick khaki suede curtains from the floor to the top of the wall covered wood and glass doors that opened on to a large wood deck. The doors had to be locked at all times to keep naughty monkeys (who would steal anything they could from the room we were warned by the staff) out of the room.

Decorative accents included wood and glass framed fabric pieces on one side and similarly framed drawings by Hardi; and wall inset shelf space that contained ceramic artifacts. On one side of the room there were three vertical “windows” with an amber color material in the center.

In the corner of the room, there was a built-in concrete table facing the wall, an armless wicker chair, and a rectangular window facing the bush. The table housed a telephone, a lamp, a vanity mirror, three Africa magazines, a folder with lodge information, a hot beverage tray (with coffee, hot water pitcher and beverages basket) and a second tray with glasses, a bottle of red wine, two bags of snacks, a cutting board with a knife, thongs and a lemon from the minibar. Below that tray, under the table and behind a wood and metal door that matched a similar designed metal piece set onto the concrete table at the entrance, there was a mini refrigerator filled with beverages for sale.

The floors were of polished concrete with brick accents around the edges. The walls had a rough finish and a color to match the floor. There was a thatched roof and a high ceiling.

The bush facing outer deck reached from one end of the room to the other. It was built around two small trees on the left side of the deck in my room. To the right of the tree there were matching cushion wood lounge chairs with rear wheels that allowed them to be repositioned. To the right of the chairs there was a square pool with murky water; my travel partner’s plunge pool water was clearer than mine. A few steps away there was a bush facing shady sala with a double cushioned day bed next to the privacy fence. The staff warned us not to sleep there at night.

From the room I could hear the sound of birds and animals. On my first morning at sunrise I heard, above the sound of the air conditioner, hyena and wild dogs.

The room was sprayed liberally with insecticide on a regular basis making mostly it insect free. At turn down the staff left a story about how the Serval Got Its Spots one night and the next night there was a piece of candy.

Meals The lodge served bush meals with “continental influences” to match our game drive times. Breakfast, served on our return from the morning game drive, was a cold buffet of cereals, two types of yogurt, fresh fruit (grapes, peeled tangerine and pineapple), seed break, hard cheese, two types of cold cuts and fruit juices. A special of the day hot breakfast was available as were made to order eggs and sides that could be ordered from our server. Lunch was served at 2 p.m. sharp.

Lunch the day of our arrival was a cold platter brought by the server to our table. It contained a green salad with olives, tomatoes and green beans; spring rolls, meat balls, a second salad with baby corn and shaved hard cheese. Dessert was a lemon frosted muffin.

Dinner our first night was served in a lodge boma (large outdoor circular enclosure set around an open fire). Just after we sat down the property manager asked guests to quiet down to listen to the chef who shared the night’s menu options. We sampled the two appetizers of spicy butternut soup and rocket salad with halumi cheese wrapped in prosciutto, and a kudu main course. For dessert there were three types of ice cream (including a home made berry ice cream), fruit, cheese and creme brulee. We tried the chocolate ice cream and the fruit plate (cantaloupe, kiwi, apple and mango). On the second night we had dinner with our rangers in another boma across the walkway from the library. For starters we were offered a salad bar selection or pepper soup. For mains there was a buffet from the grill of oxtail, lamb, chicken, vegetables, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, and milimeal (a local corn dish) with tomato sauce. Dessert was malva pudding.

Lunch the second day was from a menu with two selections for appetizers (Caesar salad and Asparagus pastry salad) and two mains (Rump steak and taggliatelli al pesto) and a fruit pavlova for dessert.

Amenities There were two white cotton bathrobes hanging in the shower and two sets of slippers, a hot beverage service, a mini bar with items for sale including white and red wine and other alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages, three packages of The Treat Company snacks (Health Seed Rusks, dried mango, and Butterscotch Brittle all with expiration dates). There was a price list in the room folder. There was a game and bird identification list for guest use, two Africa Geographic and one each of Birds and Birding magazines. In the closet, there was an electronic safe as well as mosquito repellent, a flashlight, a candle and a hairdryer. In the bathroom, there were glass bottles of house brand toiletries by the shower and on the rim of the bathtub (shampoo, conditioner, body gel, a bar of soap and body lotion).

Facilities There was dining area and bar with open deck, spa, fitness room, library two bomas and gift shop.

Fitness Center And Spa There was an indoor work out space half way between the line of rooms and past it, in the back, there was a two-room spa.

Game Viewing At Simbambili field and lodge staff had training qualifications and standards that “meet or exceed legislated” Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) regulations and some were licensed for walking trails.

Our new looking Toyota 4 X 4 vehicle with silent radio had space for 10 guests, three in each of three rows and one seated next to the ranger although the lodge guidelines allowed a maximum of eight. The tracker sat in a jump seat on the left front of the vehicle.

Grant, who had 15 years of bush experience, and Mumps were our ranger and tracker. There were two game viewing vehicles for the eight rooms and 16 guests. The number of guests on our vehicle varied from six to eight during the twice daily game drives. A maximum of three vehicles per sighting was allowed during our stay.

In the morning we would be woken up by a knock on the door at 5:15 a.m., have a hot beverage in the main terrace and depart at 6 a.m. returning at around 9 a.m. to enjoy breakfast in the shady dining room or on the adjacent open deck.

Our ranger stopped mostly for the Big Five and other notable animals during the early morning and late afternoon drives. The open top vehicle was often positioned for optimal viewing on his side. The staff seldom pointed out birds or small animals. When the staff decided to leave a sighting they would just start the car and leave regardless of whether guests were taking photos or watching the animals with binoculars.

More than once I ended up in the last row of the vehicle and found the game viewing highly diminished because I could not see past the heads of the guests in front of me to where the animals were situated. In case of rain guests wishing to return to the lodge would have to “tough it out” we were told as the drive would continue unless all guests insisted on returning.

Game we saw: Cape buffalo, bushbuck, duiker, impala, greater kudu, nyala, waterbuck, blue wildebeest, wild dogs (mating), chacma baboon, elephant, Burchell’s zebra, leopard (male, female, cubs), lion (male, female), giraffe, hippopotamus, spotted hyena, honey badger, white rhinoceros, tree squirrel, warthog, banded mongoose, dwarf mongoose, slender mongoose, white tailed mongoose, flap-necked chameleon, and stick insect.

Birds we saw or heard: lizzard buzzard, Cape turtle dove, fork-tailed drongo, comb duck, African fish eagle, bateleur, tawny eagle, Wahlber’s eagle, brown snake eagle, spotted eagle owl, crested francolin, Natal francolin, Egyptian goose, helmeted guinea-fowl, red-billed hornbill, woodland kingfisher, red-crested korhaan, black-headed eastern oriole, European roller, lilac-breasted roller, Swainson’s spurfowl, Burchell’s starling, Cape glossy starling, saddled-billed stork, woolly-necked stork, and lappet-faced vulture.

Other There was no fence around the property. At night we had to be escorted to and from our rooms to the lodge for meals. There was a 1,200 meter gravel landing strip near the lodge. My laundry was delivered folded and clean the afternoon of the same day I sent it out (although the room folder said 24 hours were required for laundry).

Cleanliness Very good

Date Of Review March 2011

Reviewers Article by Elena del Valle

Photographs by Gary Cox

Service Anton at reception showed us to our rooms and ensured we signed the indemnity forms when we arrived. Our rooms were serviced twice daily during our game drives. Reinas, our assigned server, was helpful and thoughtful. When he heard one of us was not feeling well he immediately offered ginger tea and quickly brought it to the breakfast table.

In the evening on our return from the game drives at around 7:30 p.m. a staff member would hand out moist towels and offer us a pre dinner drink of sherry. Then a staff member would escort us to our rooms. The first night the young man left without us. It was only after they had started walking and we called out that he stopped.

Would You Stay There Again? Yes

Contact Information

  • Address:
    • Thornybush Nature Reserve
    • C/O The Thornybush
    • Collection
    • P O Box 1672
    • Rivonia, 2128
    • South Africa
  • Reservations:
    • +27 011 253 6500
  • Lodge:
    • +27 013 735 5839
  • Fax:
    • 27 011 803 7350
  • Website:
  • Email: