Tomjachu Bush Retreat – where Zebras Rule
Situated in the middle of the Mpumalanga province, amongst the bush and mountains as its natural borders on a 550-hectare private reserve is the beautiful Tomjachu Bush Retreat. This lodge was visited first by me, then by my clients, and maybe it should be your next holiday getaway after reading this.
Tomjachu Bush Retreat and Muluwa Lodge 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 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) or giraffes (Muluwa) in their natural habitats.
To reach Tomjachu I travelled along the Panorama Route (a beautiful route which deserves a separate article). I checked into the lodge, which was in the middle of nowhere “almost in the bush” and I 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 cosy glow of the candlelight which almost immediately set the mood and it just got better from there on. 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 made 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 past 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. 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 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 cosy 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 a 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 among the three. It is located further away from the main part and has its 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 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 nice to spend time with the animals or relax 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 who love the outdoors, there is a fifteen-kilometre 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 everywhere and it is difficult not to notice them. The latter is quite an attraction, they stroll calmly 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 four-star 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;)
Additional information about the lodge:
Tomjachu is located about 3.5 hours from Johannesburg airport by car. Alternatively, you can fly to Nelspruit where the transfer to the hotel takes 20-30 minutes.
Prices at Tomjachu start from about USD80/per person in Homestead including breakfast and dinner.
You can order gluten-free meals. Please inform the hotel before arrival.