Overall Rating: 67.00%
I’m doing this trip report/review slightly differently. Usually we’ll make our report in a chronological order, however, this time for no other reason than to be different, I’m going to break down our lodge report to give you a better insight into what we look for in lodges in the luxury category.
It’s camping season again so this was one of the last luxury lodges we’ll be visiting for the year and we’re looking forward to finding new and exciting camp sites to tell you all about.
Black Rhino Game Lodge is a private lodge located on a private concession in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. You may have noticed from some of our other posts that we are not the biggest fans of Pilanesberg, however, we decided we’d give a luxury lodge a go to see how it differs.
We stayed at Black Rhino for three nights, and one of the days happened to be my birthday so we were curious to see how it would pan out. Below is a detailed breakdown of what we look for and what we received.
Black Rhino – The Good
Booking was done via BushBreaks and we never have a problem with them.
From Johannesburg the lodge is easy to find and a little over two hours drive. The roads are tarred all the way to the reserve gate.
There are good directions and instructions given to you at the gate for finding and getting into the lodge.
The staff were very good. We look at aspects such as uniforms, friendliness, competency, availability and how much personal attention is offered. We’d heard that there was a company offering guided walks in the area and when we made the request, the lodge organised this for us quickly and easily.
Here we look at what meals are offered, the size of the portions, the quality of the meals and how much attention is paid to dietary requirements. Black Rhino did very well here. Jenece had a soup starter with the first meal which was very bland, however, the rest of the meals were excellent. There were always options for every meal and a bonus for me, the portion sizes were large yet not over-baring.
We look at the overall lodge in this section. Size, appeal and condition of reception, the bar, the dining area, the lounge, pool area and curios. This section had both good and bad points, here are the good: The lodge is beautiful, large and well decorated. There is a library which you can help yourself to as well as bush-related board games. There is always tea and coffee available (at no charge). Every evening there was a bonfire going should you wish to sit by it after dinner. The weather was great so every meal was eaten on the deck overlooking a waterhole.
We didn’t ask for, or look at, curios so we don’t know if they were available and as a result this was not included in the rating for the lodge.
Again there were good and bad aspects to this category. We look at things such as: size, décor, condition, cleanliness, corporate branding, ablutions, view, air conditioning, beverages, special occasion consideration and turn-down service.
The room was spacious and had everything we expected from a luxury lodge. The deck out front had place to sit, with a table, and a lovely view. The bush is quite dense, yet you could see very far into it. Each unit is situated on the perimeter and the electric fence does not distract you from the bush around you. The unit has both inside and outside showers and a large, beautiful bath. The king-sized bed was very comfortable. There is a tv in the room and it’s not often we see this in a luxury bush lodge.
Black Rhino – The Bad
Now for the ugly part of our report.
The lodge is very commercial. By that I mean that, as a guest, you can see that it is run as a business and they are there to make money. The do go out of their way to accommodate you and make you both happy and comfortable, yet the feeling is there that it is a means to an end. Constant reminders of what is and is not included in your bill is just one example.
You have a mini-bar in the room which they will stock with whatever you want and yes, I do expect that to be added to the bill. What I did not expect is for you to have to pay for drinking water. Arriving at the room your mini-bar is stocked with two 500ml bottles of water and some milk for your morning coffee. That’s all you get. There are no jugs of water refilled each day, in the rooms or at reception. Any water you get is bottled and charged for.
This is the first lodge we’ve been to where they don’t bake their own cookies and rusks. It is such a simple thing to do yet adds such a nice touch, especially on game drives.
While the roads are tarred to the reserve gate, the last few kilometres have incredible potholes. Driving more than a few km/h puts both you, and your vehicle, at risk. This is usually not something we will hold a lodge accountable for as it is a municipal road, however, the directions we received boasts that the road is tarred the whole way and no mention is made of the poor condition of the road. This is a minor point that should be reconsidered.
As mentioned above, the lack of water is a very big concern. There is a drinks station at reception where you can help yourself to tea and coffee at no charge, yet there is nothing cold to drink. One morning only we got fruit juice with our breakfast.
The room lacked some of the finer touches we’ve come to expect from lodges in this category. While it had almost everything we wanted and needed, they could invest in more modern and visually appealing air conditioners. There were spider webs on the overhead lights and dust on the mirror frame.
Walking into the bathroom there is a lovely large window before you get into the area itself and this had a massive crack, presumably from someone walking into it. This should be fixed right away, or failing that, leave the room vacant until it’s repaired. The lodge was not full and therefore we could have been assigned a different unit. The same goes for the dripping toilet. This is something the cleaning staff should report on as they are there every day.
The bathroom has no counter, none, zero, zip! Where are we supposed to put our toothbrush, toiletries, etc? There are two tiny, and very low down, towel rails for hand towels. Where do we hang our bath towels?
Privacy isn’t great. The units are nicely spaced, however, on the deck you can see people in the neighbouring units sitting outside too. In some cases, from the deck you can even view into some of the rooms. This is something easily solved with a few wattle fences.
We didn’t know there was a pool until our second or third day and when there are other guests around, the pool area can be a little awkward as two rooms, and their decks, open up onto the pool area.
This was our biggest problem with our stay, and very nearly caused us to end our trip early.
We had a likeable guide but on a drive, there was a lot wrong. On a number of occasions we exceeded the reserve speed limit. This was for a few reasons and always accompanied by an excuse. The reserve speed limit is 40km/h and a game drive at that speed, which we did often, is unpleasant, let alone when you exceed that speed.
We were given no safety briefing until our third drive. Yes, we’ve had them many times and know what to do and what not to do, but the guide doesn’t know that. This is the time when you get to know your guide and he gets to know what you’re looking for on a drive. Our first impression was a bad one. We weren’t asked anything and as a result, spent all our drives chasing (quite literally) Big 5 sightings which is NOT what we were there for. On a number of occasions we rounded a corner and nearly took out a crush of rhino.
With the exception of the first drive, our drives consisted of half the drive doing very rapid game spotting while driving to a point too far to get out of the vehicle for sundowners then racing back, without even a spot light in the dark or the pretence of looking for game, so we could be back in the private concession before the curfew.
Passenger comfort with regard to bumps, thorn bushes and expensive camera equipment was not once taken into consideration. When asked to reposition the vehicle for a better shot of a large herd of buffalo we were ignored. I have no problem with a guide taking photos on a drive, but not at the expense of your guests experience.
When sightings were sped past and we had to yell to stop, this was met with an excuse each time.
The one morning drive we did, had a dismal excuse for a drinks stop. A box of commercial biscuits, packaged long-life milk and no spoon. This was the first time we’ve had to prepare our own drinks. While this isn’t a major point, it just added to the half-hearted attempt at check box management and cost cutting. I don’t put the blame of this squarely on the guide’s shoulders, this is an issue with the lodge itself.
There were blankets on the vehicle for us, yet they were not worth mentioning. They were noticeably cheap and hardly comfortable. I wouldn’t even expect those from a SANParks drive, let alone from a luxury lodge.
We left Black Rhino Game Lodge with bitter-sweet feelings. We didn’t have a bad stay and for the most part did enjoy ourselves. The walks with Nare Walking Safaris definitely made up for a lot and we’ll leave a review of those for when we stay with that particular lodge.
Hannes and Keith were very helpful and good sources of conversation and bush knowledge as well as helping us out with our requests. It would have been nice for one of them to be around when we left though. The comment forms the lodges gives at the end of the visit could be expanded upon.
At this stage we’re unsure if we’ll ever visit Black Rhino again. The good points of our stay were heavily overshadowed by the bad. Maybe one day we’ll send undercover visitors to see if anything has changed.
This review, as well as our report, have been sent and made available to the lodge for review and comment. This is the first negative review we’ve ever had to write and it does leave a sad feeling in the stomach.
Have you been to Black Rhino? Please leave us a comment below and let us know what your stay was like.
If not, let us know what you think of our assessment criteria. Are we too hard on the lodges, or are there things you feel we should also be assessing?