TUCKED away in an ancient Bushman’s shelter abutting the enormous Unesco World Heritage Site of Matobos National Park, south of Bulawayo, Camp Amalinda’s charm will leave an indelible impression on every visitor.
I visited the 300 hectare Amalinda spread in June, at the height of Central Africa’s winter and found the days warm — hot even — with only the odd powder puff cloud visible in a cornflower blue sky and was show around by general manager Billy Daly, who runs the place with his wife, Priscilla and Paul Hubbard, a genial group guide for all the Amalinda Collection operations, whose degrees are in archeology, but he’s doing a PhD on the Ndebele up to 1897.
The air was like the finest vintage champagne as we drank in some of the most majestic granite scenery in the world, which is found in the Matobo Hills, parched dry in mid-winter, several months after last season’s sparse rains ended.
It’s here that the hopes, trials and tribulations of San Bushmen are recorded in the ancient rock art. Mammal and bird species are prolific and include the highest concentration of leopard and black (now called Verreaux’s) eagle in the world.
Rated one of Africa’s Top 10 boutique lodges by prestigious Conde Nast Traveller in 1998, Camp Amalinda comprises nine individually thatched rooms including two romantic honeymoon suites.
You notice when entering your cave-like suite, the stark contrast between rough granite and uncompromisingly high levels of comfort, style and class — all in keeping with its surrounds.
Each suite was individually designed around great boulders and each differs in ambience in order to create a romantic feel without losing the vital soul of Africa herself.
The exclusive honeymoon suites pay tribute to two great men — CJ Rhodes and King Lobengula — both suites are decorated with a mixture of traditional, historic and nostalgic memorabilia.
The lounge and entertainment area is tucked away into a bushman shelter with a panoramic view of the Matobo Hills. Delicious meals are served on a massive teak table in the open air dining room. Billy was down with flu, but Paul and I attacked wonderful grilled entrecote steaks, washed down with a lager or two, at lunch there, perched eyrie-like above rolling, rugged outcrops.
A cosy library contains some Africana classics, whilst a secluded chess room, located amongst the tree tops guarantees peace and tranquility.
For the wine lover, I recommend a visit to the natural cave wine cellar. At the base of the camp is Amalinda’s famous rock swimming pool — naturally shaped and carved over centuries by rain and wind erosion from a massive granite dome. It is here where African memories are made.
Safari Spa — amongst this miraculous granite backdrop — is an irresistible treasure worth experiencing…drift away on crisp linen, whilst the scents of ancient African aromas swirl under a canopy of thatch and rock.
Drops of aromatherapy oils are added to generous amounts of carrot and nut oils for that exclusive, private massage; sauna is also available. Camp Amalinda is a spiritual sanctuary which incorporates the sensitive beauty of the magnificent Matobo Hills and Africa’s wide-open spaces.
Personally, I could just lounge by the attractive swimming pool for several days, stirring myself at meal and snack times, a cooling drink within yelling distance, a couple of good books at my side, MP3 player switched to 1960s-90s pop (or classical stuff or some of the better known operatic tenors), camera and high-powered field glasses to hand.
I’d need those because within viewing distance are many of the more than 60 types of tree to be seen in the Matobos. These include the red paper bark tree, snot apple, white sneeze bush, fried-egg pod mukwa, wait-a-bit bush, baboon’s breakfast, square-stemmed donkey berry, lavender-scented croton and Jewish candle euphorbia.
Overhead, majestic eagles and other raptors — especially the magnificent and locally prolific black eagle — quarter the park for prey (dassie are a favourite dish). Around 200 avian species are named in the Camp Amalinda check list, but Paul says more than 420 different species have been positively identified and, as a very amateur “twitcher” I tend to believe him.
Among some of the more dramatic birds are the eagles: black, tawny, Wahlberg’s, African hawk eagle, long crested, martial, crowned and bataleur; brown and black-breasted snake eagles, the African fish eagle with its haunting melancholic cry and hawks: little sparrow hawk, Gabar goshawk, pale chanting goshawk and the gymogene, with which it is often confused.
Mammals vary between tiny bushbabies and stately giraffe, with leopard and many other cats, white rhino, most of the antelope featuring among 55 species named in the checklist.
Lay down the reading material and stir yourself into going on one of Camp Amalinda’s several bush activities including abseiling; fishing for large-mouth bass, bream and barbel; game- and bird-spotting on foot, by bicycle, safari bakkie or on horseback; rock art viewing; cultural visits to the battlefields of 1893 and 1896 and to local kraals.
In the high season (April-October, plus December) Amalinda’s rates are US$390 per day, per person sharing and there’s a US$90 single occupancy surcharge. For that you get three meals a day, all local alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, laundry and two bush activities per day. This drops to US$295, with no single surcharge in the low season of January-March, plus May and November. Or you can opt for another package in which drinks and activities are payable separately and meals and accommodation costs from US$160 per day.
The Amalinda Collection comprises Camp Amalinda, the Bulawayo Club and Ivory Lodge in Hwange. Bookings through Central Reservations 09 64868/9; firstname.lastname@example.org