Many years ago when my family first started camping we visited a game reserve with our little dome tent, a few friends in their fully kitted out caravan and set about creating years worth of memories.
Recently Jenece and I decided to pay that same game reserve a visit and I must admit, after 20 years it has hardly changed at all. We hopped online and visited their website to gather what information we could. While the site is neat and informative, it could do with a bit of improvement. The home page pictures are very low quality, although the gallery pictures are slightly better, and it would be nice to have access to a map of the park. This aside, making our booking was quick and simple and had a fairly quick response time.
On Tuesday, 15 November, we left the Pilanesburg area for the 134km drive to Borakalalo. I’m not sure how the route via Bela Bela (Warmbaths) is, but we had a very interesting trip. For the most part, the roads were much better than expected with the exception of about 5km of very severe potholes. There is a stretch of about 25km of dirt road which is well maintained, you just need to be on the lookout for game and cattle as in some parts there is no fencing. The drive, and the area Borakalalo is located in, is very beautiful; lots of game parks around and stunning scenery.
Arriving at the gate it was exactly what I expected from a game park, even if my 20 year old memory didn’t prepare me for it: large entrance, thatch roofs, enough parking and the typical game park vibe in my opinion. The staff were very friendly, informative and booking in was a breeze. Our one night stay was R550 in the Phudufudu tented camp and we had to pay R80 entrance for the 2 of us and the car.
We arrived very early compared to the 14:00 check-in time however they had no problem with us going to the camp and leaving our stuff in the tent as it was unoccupied. The camp site itself was very tidy and the tents themselves much better than I expected having never stayed in a tented camp before. As we pulled up, the grounds keeper came up, politely informed us we’d taken the wrong road and showed us where to go to park right next to our tent.
He greeted us again, showed us where we’d be staying and handed over the keys. After some small talk he disappeared and we didn’t see or hear from him again until later that night (granted we did spend the next 8 hours driving around game spotting, but more on that in a moment).
We were lucky enough to have one of the tents on an elevated deck and we loved it right from the word go. Another staff member came over and showed us around our tent and warned us about monkeys raiding the site. She showed us where they get through and asked us not to leave anything lying around, especially not on the fridge.
The canvas tent is locked via padlock everytime you go out, due to the primate raiders and has a mosquito net flap at the entrance too. The tent is split into two sections, with a fixed kitchenette outside. The bedroom part of the tent is massive, especially for two people, with a double bed, closet, fridge and microwave. There are two flaps inside which can be tied back or left to hang and these lead to the bathroom with a bath, toilet and basin.
The tents have full plumbing and electricity with lights in the bathroom, bedroom and outside on the deck.
The first day’s game spotting was very disappointing, we really didn’t see much at all. We drove on all the routes and with our few stops were on the road for about eight hours. The lack of game was probably due to the heat (we averaged 34°C on both days) however it’s still disheartening to drive for hours and see so little. I was really hoping to get good photos of both white rhino and wildebeest, however, although we did see wildebeest, they didn’t care for my photographic desires and bolted as soon as we came anywhere near them. The following day we spoke to one of the rangers and discovered we’d missed our rhino sighting by only an hour.
The giraffe of the park didn’t really care about us, we saw quite a few on the first day and they were the only things that gave us decent photo ops. We did come across a giraffe carcass which was both unexpected and interesting, and later in the day we found a donkey that we assume had wondered into the park accidentally and met an untimely end.
We stopped off at the day visitors area for a picnic lunch and with baboons barking in the distance realised how eery the place was when no-one else is around. Tree branches creaking overhead, bugs buzzing in our ears and not a soul in sight.
I cant put my finger on what exactly the reason was but the dam water had a very chemical sort of smell to it. From my time camping there in the past I remember the dam being filled with hippos and crocodiles, yet on this trip we didn’t encounter any. Everytime we were near the water, there was that smell, almost like chlorine. I’m not sure if that was the reason for the lack of aquatic sightings or if it was just down to bad luck.
We saw quite a few fish eagles and seldom went for more than 20 minutes without hearing their calls.
The rest of the day’s game spotting was largely uneventful although we did spot a large giraffe not too far away from the camp site on our way back. We parked the car, packed the camera equipment and remaining refreshments into the tent and went for a walk to see if we could spot the giraffe while on foot. By the time we got back to where we saw him he was long gone and we spent the rest of our walk examining the many different types of tracks in the soft sand on the road.
Back at the camp we lit the fire for our braai and sat there listening to the sounds of the african bush. There is no better moment, in my opinion, that sitting out there with the sun setting, the fire going and hearing the change in sounds as the diurnal critters head to bed and the nocturnal ones wake up for a night of singing and calling.
The grounds keeper of the camp went around and turned lights on at all the unoccupied tents and I couldn’t help but think this was a little odd. Until darkness came and with it, swarms of giant bugs! It was then, and especially after I was assaulted by an over zealous, enormous praying mantis, that we decided to sit in utter darkness and let the bugs bother the walls and tent sides of the lit areas.
We were one of three couples staying in the camp so it was mostly deserted however, of the other couples, the tents were set out in such away that no one interfered with anyone else.
Because of the heat of the day we decided to sleep with all the window flaps open and this gave us the added advantage of being woke up in the middle of the night by the calls of jackals not too far away. That for me is one of the most soothing sounds when out in the bush and I was so happy to have been able to experience it once again.
The following morning we had our coffee on the deck before heading out early for our last drive of the trip. We needed to be out of the tent by 10:00 so set off at about 06:00. Within minutes we spotted a herd of Kudu walking along the base of a hill and followed them for about 30min, watching and taking photos. It wasn’t long after that we spotted another giraffe and for the next ninety minutes we were very busy with countless spottings of all types of game from little bee-eaters to the elusive zebra. We came across a troop of vervet monkeys, countless herds of Nyala including a baby that was only weeks old at most. We had a herd of Wildebeest, with a small baby, stampede across the road in front of us and we really got the chance to catch up on our spotting.
From 07:30 the temperature rose quickly and the sightings got less and less frequent, however, it was a very successful morning and we got some lovely photos.
We left the camp site just before 10:00 and spent some time watching the herd of Kudu and Wildebeest that weren’t far away before starting the 90min drive back to Pilanesburg.
On the whole this trip was the perfect getaway for our one night stop. Not too far away, yet nestled nicely in the middle of nowhere. I really do look forward to going back again and on our next trip, we’ll camp the good old fashioned way, with a normal tent at one of the other camp sites.
I would like to say thank you to the staff of Borakalalo for the well maintained camp site and amenities and for their friendly approach to their jobs. We both look forward to returning.