Hats Off To Hoedspruit - Highlighted By Our Antares Bush Camp Experience

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Hats Off To Hoedspruit - Highlighted By Our Antares Bush Camp Experience

When we heard our friends from England, who lived in the New Forest, decided to pick up sticks and move, lock, stock ‘n barrel to South Africa, I was impressed, but when we heard Hoedspruit was their first choice to settle in, I had my doubts. More fool me.

A reasonably sized town surrounded by a few dozen large wildlife reserves, some of which border the Kruger National Park, forming what is known as The Greater Kruger. Many lodges, guesthouses and boutique hotels cater to tourists who prefer to stay beyond Kruger’s borders yet have easy access to the Park.

I still had not had my full dose of Christmas cake. My message to The Queen Of Tarts went something like this.”Hi QOT, I’ve had two slices of fruit cake, and I’m miserable and salivating thinking about yours. If you have a tiny morsel left, please wrap it in cling film and bring it for me?”

Tea was the first event on the agenda, and a Tupperware container was presented with a slab of delicious cake. Brandy filled the air as the lid was peeled back, exposing the white icing and marzipan. With a sense of entitlement, I eyed “my” cake and reluctantly offered a thin sliver to the other guests. This cake was delicious. The fruit was perfectly macerated, the balance of flavours on my tongue set my tastebuds alive, and the brandy nectar from the gods. Thank you, QOT. Just writing about that slice on my plate sets my pulse racing.

Being with our friends, who made this extraordinary, arduous journey to be with us for a week, is a testament to their absolute loyalty and commitment to always make time for their friends. In a world where friendships are often neglected and out of sight, out of mind is the way many people operate, we are undeservedly privileged to have kind, generous and authentic friends.

The week together was filled with much laughter and a few tears. Life balances the books with positive and negative happenings, making us appreciate the sunny days and work through the cloudy ones with tenacity.

Our itinerary included walks on the beautiful wildlife estate we were staying on. One morning we went off to explore on our bicycles with Dee, our guide and hostess. All along our route, wildlife was to be seen grazing lazily or waiting on traffic in the middle of the road. There are places where wild animals roam freely, those rumours are true.

On another day, we all piled into the Discovery and went to Khaya Ndlovu Safari Manor for breakfast on the veranda overlooking a watering hole. The splendid subtropical gardens were so reminiscent of my childhood where my mom, with green fingers and an unquenching passion for gardening, soon had lawns, trees and shrubbery covering acres of land on the hilltop where we lived.

We watched in awe as a giant crane deftly handled steel roof trusses to cover a new section of decking which would eventually be a cocktail bar.

With Dee leading the way, we admired the décor, the library and the study displaying horse racing rosettes and trophies depicting a previous life the owners enjoyed in Zimbabwe. The cool, thatched interior reminded me of a bygone age as we admired books, antique carpets, rare furnishings, and objet d’art.

There's nothing better than stopping for a milkshake and browse through a Trading Post while on a road trip, iron shavings can't resist the pull of a magnet I tell Butch every time we pass one. It's scientific. He stops. We order our milkshakes and then I explore  fascinated by the handicrafts, art, and condiments for sale. On touristy routes there are many options. This time one of Savanna Owtram's lovely headbands landed on my noggin'. Compliments rain on me whenever I wear it.



Antares is the brightest star in the constellation of Scorpius and is often referred to as “the heart of the scorpion”.



The highlight of our visit was undoubtedly the two-night stay at Antares Bush Camp.

We were treated to a stay on a farm, part of Grietjie which in turn is part of Buleli, part of the Greate Kruger National Park. We stayed at the private lodge called Antares Bush Camp, which was exclusively reserved for our group of six. There are five bedrooms for a maximum of eight guests. 

Antares might be the scorpion’s heart, but at the heart of this story is a passion for Africa, its wildlife, conservation and education.

When a woman puts her mind to something, things happen. When her young school friends asked Mel Owtram what she would do one day, she replied, “I’m going to live in Africa.” Her degree in Environmental Biology was a stepping stone in her career path. After graduating,  she started her professional career working as a Zoo keeper in the UK.

Ian, her husband, was born in Malawi and later lived in Zimbabwe before moving to the UK. He also worked as a zoo keeper at several wildlife centres but primarily at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park for five years.

That their paths would cross was written in the stars. They met and fell in love, and their dreams of settling in South Africa, where Ian had begun his training school for wildlife guides on Antares, became a reality. Soon two became four.

During the Covid pandemic, they decided to upgrade the manor house. The elegant décor is minimalistic yet casual with a dash of rustic simplicity. I must give a special mention to the showers. Brilliant! Open-air showers are just the best. The en-suite showers are an extention to the bathrooms so there's no walking out of doors yet you're showering under the stars. I loved it. Bedrooms are well thought out spaces, minimalistic, yet equipped with everything a guest might need. Private, which allows guests the opportunity to slip away from a group when one needs some "me time."


Guests are invited and encouraged to shrug off their busy lives and pack their troubles into empty suitcases to be picked up on their way out at the end of their stay. A jolly good idea too.


When we’re with Tozer’s Tours (The Queen of Tarts and our Inspirati), we prefer self-catering, but guests who would like a treat can bring their chef. With cool boxes loaded with delicious fresh fruit, meats and saladings, we filled the fridges with our supplies and headed outside to enjoy tea and cake (the fruit cake was long gone by then) on the deck.

The slight rustle of Mopani leaves was all it took to alert Dee. She’s an old hand and a very intuitive guide. We needed to hurry down to the hide, she said. The elephants were on their way to the Umgedi Hide.

We grabbed our beanbags, cameras, and long lenses, charged our glasses and rushed quietly down to our exclusive underground hide.


Butch and I have, on a few occasions, been tempted to pull out all the stops and make reservations to spend a night (only one) at one of the very exclusive game parks or lodges that offer guests an opportunity to photograph animals at eye level.

We shrug and close the file whenever we see the price, whether there’s a special rate or not. We can’t afford it. Besides this, guests only have allotted time slots to use such hides and then have to vacate when their time is up—no matter the sightings. These hides, I believe, are situated away from the camps too.

At Antares bush camp, guests may enjoy the hide at the watering hole; it’s part of the experience and irresistible. House guests have exclusive rights to enjoy the hide as often and for as long as they choose while staying there. The hide is sunken, like a bunker, and the open viewing “window” is at eye level with the watering hole.

A fridge, kettle, crockery, glasses and throws are available for guests to use during a prolonged stay.

This is a photographer’s dream come true. Ian and Mel have ensured guests can capture their perfect shot by supplying bean bags and Gimble camera pods. Luxury coaster chairs allow guests to move around to get the best shot. There are six chairs available for photographers and ample room to manoeuvre.

There we were sitting, cameras ready to capture a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A breeding herd of cows with calves coming down to drink, bathe, and play in the water. Our eyes were on their feet, and we could touch the nearest elephant at a stretch. (but wouldn’t dare.)

Before me, the pond is covered in flowering water lilies in French blue. My favourite colour. When things quieten down, birds return to sip water. In a tree, our ever-present companion, the little blue Woodland kingfisher with his red and black beak was chip-cherrrrrrring away.

After our initial frenzy to capture as many shots of the elephant as possible, we settled and eventually saw them as individuals with personalities. Playful calves were learning to use their trunks, some copying the adults and dunking themselves headfirst into the water.

Some even smiled, showing off their prowess. We were sprayed at, glared at and ignored. Females guard their young, who, like children, either stay right up close to Mum or step away – a little, to show how brave they are.


Being intimately close to the animals allows viewers to engage all their senses to observe, learn and integrate —their scent wafts when the air moves in the right direction. We could smell the mud and dust vividly, and even the dung had a distinctive grassy odour and was not unpleasant. Soon butterflies arrive and later mushrooms pop up spawned in the rich mulch. Take the time to observe nature, and see a wonderous world open up. Every living organism is a vital part of the food pyramid. Destroy the platform its built on and soon the top dog will starve.

If the light was right, one could count the soft downy hairs on the babies’ trunk and forehead. At such close quarters and looking up at a matriarch, her size is formidable, and the calf’s vulnerability comes to the fore.

The tenderness, playfulness and camaraderie within the herd impressed me. A female who is never aggressive with the young gently coaxes and teaches the calf instinctively.

As Butch often says "Maricha likes photographing the little things" I did just that. The birds and bees, flowers and the trees. Later these make up my memories and the terapin (I'm not particularly fond of them) and the dragonflies copulating become some of my fondest memories. While we waited for the big things to appear I could, undisturbed, enjoy the little things that make a fascinating impact. As Annie Liebowitz suggests "Photograph everything. You'll regret it if you don't. They don't have to be pin sharp either." I take note and agree. 


Ian took us on two game drives, one before sunrise and the other a late afternoon and evening drive. His knowledge is endless, telling us many stories of past experiences, clever anecdotes, and tips about animal behaviour. I especially enjoyed how we’d stop and wait patiently for the animals on the road to move off at their own pace—giving him time to chat and teach us something new.

Looking back, it seems almost surreal that we enjoyed this unbelievably special time with our friends.

We agreed this was the perfect venue for a small family reunion. It is the ideal spot for birders, photographers, and families who would like to introduce their young children to a unique wildlife experience without the crowds in a safe environment. Bird and photographic courses could be hosted in small groups and clubs where like-minded members would enjoy an exceptional experience.


Meals were a social occasion where we met around the campfire, rehashing some old or new tale. Butch braaied one evening, and over his shoulder, a herd of elephants, unperturbed, silently gathered around the watering hole and drank, bathed and vanished silently.

Dining outside on the veranda was a special treat especially for those coming out of a cold European winter. What's more there were no bugs around to drive us indoors. Ian joined us for supper after our game drive and regaled us with tall stories and bush lore. We'd drift off to bed as our eyes started drooping after our exciting day. Some enthusiasts would return to the hide in anticipation of a nocturnal visitor. We didn't.

Move over Ina Paarman, Michael's bobotie was a hit. Cor blimey, it was good, as only an Englishman can do it.

QOT’s puddings, cakes, salads and breakfast fruit salads are always winners. I’ll never know how she does it without looking flustered or hurried. One minute she’s reading her book, at three hundred words a minute, and the next, she’s cool as a cucumber serving lunch or riding shotgun in an open land cruiser.


Thank you, Tozer’s Tours, for another smashing get-together. You are friends of our hearts, and you’re seated right next to me everywhere we go. I know we’ll meet again in Nairobi, Casablanca or Timbuktu!

Mel and Ian, from the minute we met you at the lodge, we stopped being guests and felt like friends visiting. You opened your hearts, and your “home” to us as only excellent hosts do. Your passion and zeal for Antares Bush Camp and Umgedi Hide is a testament to your commitment to serving your guests and community while preserving our precious wildlife. Thank you. We departed simultaneously enriched, inspired and sad, but with stories to tell!

Michael and Dee a special thanks to you for hosting us, for taking us around the estate Dee, for being so enthralled with Hoedspruit that you bubble over with enthusiasm to show your guests around. Michael you're an excellent host and cook. Every meal from your kitchen was scrumptious. Dee you're always positive. Your energy is infectous and I love how you've settled into an eventful life in Hoedpruit, becoming involved with so many projects and how passionately you support your friends in all their endeavours. I will remember our lovely chats while we dipped our feet into your pool.


Please note: there are direct flights from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, where I’m sure you’ll be met and whisked off to Antares Bush Camp for a wild life experience bar none.

Address: Grietjie Private Nature Reserve, 39 Scorpion Rd, Phalaborwa, 1390, South Africa
Phone: +27 83 286 8281

Fun Facts:
Mosquito repellent.

Elephant dung is a natural, non-polluting alternative! It works by lighting a piece of dung on fire, and the resulting smoke keeps mosquitoes away. People even use this smoke to heal headaches, toothaches, and other similar mild pains.


Elephant dung is commonly used as a traditional medicine to ward off evil spirits and treat ailments such as nose bleeds, headaches, toothaches and other types of pains. It is also said to clear sinuses. (Bring it a clump near me and I'll be right as rain too.)