Travel Guide: Timbavati Game Reserve

The Timbavati Game Reserve, also known as Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, is a heaven on Earth for nature lovers and admirers of the unique species native to the African plains.

Travel Guide
A portrait shot of a Blue Wildebeest from the Kruger National Park, which borders the Timbavati Game Reserve. This blue wildebeest (a large antelope with powerful curved horns; grazers) is set against a green background with the match on its face.

Timbavati is the Tsonga word for 'the place where something sacred came down to earth', referring to the region's remarkable and equally elusive white lion. These beautiful creatures, as well as the other large mammals of the African big five: African buffalo, African elephants, black rhinoceros and African leopards, roam these lands freely. The reserve is also home to over 40 mammal species, over 75 reptile species, nearly 50 fish species, 85 different types of trees, and an astounding 360 documented species of birds.

Two white lions, which are native to the Timbavati region of South Africa, are side by side. Their fur is very light and reflects a rare colour mutation. A resting white lion with a relaxed expression lies next to a standing white lion with its mouth open.


Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is located on 53,392 hectares between Hoedspruit (Limpopo) and Acornhoek (Mpumalanga) and shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park in South Africa.

History of the Timbavati Game Reserve and strength in numbers

Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is composed of 50 privately owned farms, whose owners (all belonging to the Timbavati Association), decided to combine their land in 1956 to create a singular space dedicated to land and species conservation.

The history of portions of this land is common across Southern Africa: once technology allowed access to deep water reservoirs, human populations settled and began to use the land for monoculture farming and raising livestock. The effects were detrimental to the soil, native plants, and animal species that once roamed the land. Dams were created to redirect natural water sources, and the once wild and pristine landscape was vastly transformed. Luckily, the harmful impact of livestock and monoculture practices was limited to specific areas of this region, and the large majority was left relatively untouched by man throughout history.

This aerial view shows a large herd of African buffalo (large, black horned bearers from the steppe in eastern and southern Africa) from a long distance. The dry, sandy soil is kicking up dust. The semi-arid scrubland where the herbivores are on the move shows scattered, sparse trees and shrubs.

The founding of the Timbavati Association was driven by the movement to reclaim land to protect beautiful wild habitats for generations to come and to avoid the harmful impact of farming and domesticated livestock. A huge milestone in their efforts to create a wildlife haven occurred in 1993 when neighbouring Kruger National Park decided to remove its bordering fences to encourage species to migrate naturally. Additionally, the private nature reserves of Klaserie, Umbabat (now Balule) and Thornybush were also opened up, adding a whopping 198,500 hectares of protected land to the Greater Kruger National Park.

Conservation Activities in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Many activities are continuously conducted with Timbavati Reserve to promote long-term sustainable conservation of the land. This includes vegetation management in the form of plant and soil sampling and analysis, and fire management to simulate the natural occurrence of periodic bushfires to regenerate plant growth and promote the diversity of species. Invasive plant species are regularly identified and removed to promote the growth and spread of native species. Additionally, researchers conduct an annual aerial census of animal populations. Their data analysis supports the management of these species’ population in a sustainable way.

An African elephant (the largest land mammal in the world) with distinctive tusks stands at a waterhole in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. This reserve borders the Timbavati Game Reserve in South Africa. The photograph shows a bird's eye view of the elephant with its trunk pointing towards its mouth.

Best time to travel

Timbavati Game Reserve has a comfortable climate all year-round. The summer months (October - March) reach around 32 °C during the day and lower to around 23 °C at night. April to September, the South African winter, brings about temperatures capping off at 26 °C and cooling down to 12 °C. The highest amounts of rainfall occur between the months of November and March. This region receives around 550-600mm/year of rain.

There is never a bad time to visit Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. However, a popular time among eco-tourists and travellers is during South African winter. During this time, temperatures are cool and comfortable, the climate is dry, and the reduction of blooming vegetation is conducive to better wildlife spotting. In these dry months, you can watch the landscape come alive and observe the behaviour as animals gather at the river’s edge and at watering holes.

For travellers who choose to visit during the wet summer months, a whole different landscape awaits you. All different shades of green dot the horizon, and if you are lucky, you may witness newborn animals following close behind their adult parents. Migratory birds are an incredible sight during this time period.

This drone shot shows an aerial view from the Timabavati Game Reserve in South Africa. It shows a single elephant, pursued by its large shadow, wandering on the sandy ground through sparse, isolated shrubs, bushes and trees.

The Uniqueness of Timbavati Game Reserve

Timbavati is home to an impressive array of unique species. Black and white rhinoceros, southern ground hornbills, pangolins and saddle-billed storks are a few of the endangered species that are slowly reaching sustainable population sizes, thanks to the Reserve’s conservation efforts.

Within Timbavati Nature Reserve, you can find 18 all-inclusive lodges in addition to four self-catering camps, all directed towards local and international tourists and supplying a healthy amount of employment opportunities to local and surrounding communities. Timbavati does its best to give back to the community in more ways than one: by supporting the Reserve, you are supporting environmental awareness educational programs, sustainable shaded vegetable farms and the creation of boreholes for water supply in addition, of course, to ongoing land and species conservation.


Dyer, S.M. (2012) Population size, demography and spatial ecology of Cheetahs in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, South Africa. Master of Science of Rhodes University. thesis.

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