Jembisa: Palala River & Kingfisher Cottage

The Waterberg is a region north west of Johannesburg and consists of pristine bush and rugged mountains, which has made it a UNESCO biosphere. The best thing about is it is a relatively easy weekend getaway from Johannesburg. 

The two places that Kate and I like best are Palala River Cottages and Marakele National Park. 

The Palala River Cottages are in the Jembisa Private Reserve, which forms part of Lephalala Wilderness. This was the first weekend away Kate and I did when we moved up to Joburg from Cape Town 

It is a large bush estate with game but nothing that can eat you - so it is possible to hike throughout the 7000 ha unguided. Kate and I have been twice, both for birthday weekends. 

Whenever you go up north from Joburg and the M1/N1 for a weekend away it is important to leave work early. Early is way before 3pm.  

When we first went to Palala we left at 4.30pm and it took us 5 hours to get there and most of this time was spent fighting traffic to get out of Gauteng. It wasn't a great start to Kate's birthday weekend. 

Fortunately, we arrived at the cottage and the staff had left the lights on for us, making us feel welcome. The cottage is on its own in the bush and has its own entrance. It is set on the bank of the Palala River, away from prying eyes, apart from those of the crocs in the river. 

I always love waking up in a new place, which you arrived to the night before in the dark. The sound and smell of the bush in the morning is always breath-taking and at Jembisa it is even better because you are on your own and it feels like your own piece of heaven 

We spent the weekend exploring the reserve on foot, having picnics in the bush and just enjoying being outdoors. We saw Zebra, Wildebeest, Impala, Graffe, Warthog (plus many more) and variety of birds. You are also free to drive the reserve in your own vehicle, but a 4x4 is required.  

The cottage has one of the best braai spots I know, right on the bank of the river, where there is a resident crocodile (Kate: so there is something that can eat you!). More than enough wood was supplied so we could enjoy the clear sky and stars late into the night around a roaring fire.  

There is also a larger, three-bedroom cottage for rent at Jembisa, called Kingfisher Cottage. We returned a year later to Jembisa and stayed here with family and this time for my birthday.  

This cottage is at the other end of the reserve to the Palala Cottage, but is no less spectacular and even has its own pool. The braai spot is again in a brilliant set in a boma and shaded by enormous trees. 

We tried our luck fly-fishing in the river. Despite getting some tips from the farm manager we were unsuccessful. It may have had something to do with the hippo crashing in and out of the river in front of us. 

If you're looking for a good picnic spot ask the staff how to get to the big baobab tree in the reserve. We headed over one afternoon with sandwiches and beers and it was great. We were entertained by a large herd of wildebeest huffing and puffing at us about 300 metres away. 

Thank you to the team at Jembisa for a wonderful stay.  

More Information  

Cost: From R470 Per Person Per Night 


The route we took: