Rhulani Safari Lodge – Review

Why Rhulani Safari Lodge?

It has been a very long time since we have visited Madikwe and this is by far one of our favourite locations to visit, so a return visit was long overdue.

Previously we have stayed on the eastern side of the reserve at Thakadu River Camp and Madikwe River Lodge, so it was time to move west and see if that side of the reserve, and it’s lodges, live up to our expectations for this spectacular part of the world.

The Lodge

Access to Rhulani Safari Lodge is easy and a mere 4-4,5 hours from Johannesburg. The access roads are good and once in the reserve, just a few minutes drive will have you at Rhulani where staff with beaming smiles wave you in.

The lodge location is beautiful and the communal areas overlook a waterhole. The layout of the lodge is excellent and the rooms offer privacy unrivaled by any lodge we have visited before this.

There are some minor maintenance tasks that are required; minor wood rot on the doors around the dining area for example, but nothing major at all.

Rhulani Plunge Pool

Private Plunge Pool

Rhulani Rooms

The rooms are comfortable and as mentioned above, incredibly private. The only sign of any other nearby rooms are the lightning conductors sticking up above the bush.

The decor is a bit dated and amenities could be improved, especially by five star lodge standards. For example, the kettle was a horrible, cheap white thing that we had no intention of using.

The rooms offer ample light and the deck is spacious with your own private plunge pool. This pool received good use from us and even I, with my height of 195cm, was able to stand in it and have my shoulders covered.

The outside shower is excellent, however the layout of the bathroom could be a little more comfortable; the toilet, for example, was cramped.

Rhulani has big game fencing around the lodge to prevent elephants and the likes from entering the premesis, however, predators can access the lodge and as such, after dark, you need an escort to your room.

Rhulani Dining

Private dinner on our deck

Cuisine

The food at Rhulani Safari Lodge was excellent. The meals are delicious and well presented. They took great care to comply with dietary requests and when something was prepared that did not conform, they would prepare a separate portion specifically for that person.

One night we requested a private meal at our room and it was a real treat. The tables were laid out on the deck looking into the bush and even though our room was the furthest one at Rhulani, the food arrived promptly and was piping hot.

My only fault with the food is no matter how you order your eggs, they will arrive overcooked. This was true for poached, scrambled and fried eggs in our case.

The self-service section of the breakfast hall was not up to the standards we expect for this kind of lodge. That portion of the room needs to be overhauled completely.

Staff and Activities at Rhulani

Staff at Rhulani Safari Lodge are excellent, they are incredibly friendly and you never need to look for anyone as there is always someone around.

The game drives with Riaan were fantastic. Even when sightings were slow (perfectly normal after the abundance of rain recently) there was always something to look at, talk about or track. Riaan was very attentive to the guests and their needs and without making it obvious, he would go out of his way to try and find a sighting that satisfied everyone on the vehicle.

Conclusion

We had a wonderful time at Rhulani and even extended our stay by a night. We have very little to complain about and the remarks we have are minor and in no way impacted our overall stay.

We will definitely be back and we are so happy to say that the western part of the reserve, and Rhulani, met our expectations for the quality of service we have received from the other lodges.

You can read more about Rhulani Safari Lodge Here

Have you been to Rhulani Safari Lodge before? Let us know in the comments how your stay compared to ours.

Rhulani sunset

Sunset at Madikwe




Madikwe River Lodge – The Lodge

This year for our luxury holiday we changed things up a bit a visited Madikwe River Lodge, a three star luxury lodge located in the Madikwe Game Reserve in North-Western South Africa, which is renowned for it’s big five sightings.

Madikwe Cheetah

Getting to Madikwe River Lodge

There are a few routes you can use to get to the lodge and we allowed a full morning to get there by first visiting the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve for breakfast and a short drive before making our way towards the Molatedi Dam. From there we drove towards the Derdepoort border post between South Africa and Botswana and entered Madikwe via the Derdepoort gate.

This turned out to be a terrible choice. As soon as we crossed the provincial border from North West into Limpopo the road condition took a turn for the worst and the remainder of that drive was atrocious.

I would highly recommend entering Madikwe through the Molatedi gate and following the main road until you reach Madikwe River Lodge. This will give you a short self-drive through an amazing reserve and save you from losing body parts due to the rattling along a poorly maintained dirt road.

Madikwe River Lodge Facilities

Arrival at the lodge was pleasant, we were met by porters who carried our luggage to the rooms and were provided with face cloths to wash our hands and faces. This was, however, the last time we were greeted with face cloths.

Check-in was relatively painless although getting information about the daily program was not unlike pulling teeth.

The communal area of the lodge (dining room, lounge and pool) was spacious and care had been paid to the decor, however, more care should have been paid to the upkeep of the area. For example, the thatching was visibly neglected and falling apart.

We saw Madikwe River Lodge had a boma and went to have a look. Now, I’m not sure when last it was used, but this was 15:00 in the afternoon and there was tinfoil and mess scattered around the place. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

Our room was beautiful. We had a good view over the river, although Jason and Mandy weren’t as lucky. The room was spacious, clean and well decorated. We did notice a lack of plug points for charging camera equipment.

We had two lights in our room that didn’t work and after numerous requests and complaints, left the lodge four days later with those lights still not working.

The room had air conditioning which turned out to be a life saver as some evenings the temperature plummeted and we may have frozen to death without it.

Cuisine

The food was very good to say the least. They had a goods delivery that ran late during our stay and they ran out of a few key ingredients, yet the chefs at Madikwe River Lodge did a good job doing what they could with what they had.

At dinner we made a request regarding dietary requirements and they did a very good job in accommodating us.

You can expect three meals a day at Madikwe River Lodge:

  • Brunch after your morning game drive consisting of a buffet of continental breakfast, English breakfast with eggs to order, and a lunch type of dish, for example, chicken curry and rice or ribs and chips.
  • High Tea before your afternoon drive which was usually an assortment of finger snacks ranging from quiches and spring rolls to muffins, and breads.
  • Dinner after your game drive. We had a set meal, a buffet dinner and a boma dinner around the fire on our last night.

We had one main mishap at meal time and it may have had something to do with the late delivery. One of our desserts was a chocolate mousse which we were all very much looking forward to. Unfortunately it was terrible, best described as a poorly made mousse-from-a-packet.

Madikwe River Lodge Staff

Overall, the staff at Madikwe River Lodge were average at best. We had a very good waiter who was a pleasure to be around and on our final morning we met our house keeper who was also charming and polite.

As for everyone else, everything seemed to be a chore for the staff. Requests we had seemed to get in their way and I feel there was no communication between the reception staff at all as on three occasions across two days we asked them to fix our lights in the room and, as I mentioned earlier in this post, we left after three nights with them still not being taken care of. Jason also had to complain about their coffee supplies in the room not being replaced in the morning.

On our first full day we decided to spend some time in the lounge and have a drink or two. This turned into only one drink as the rest of the time was spent trying to find someone to help us. There is no bar at Madikwe River Lodge so staff availability has a large role to play.

Final Thoughts

Knowing that Madikwe River Lodge is only a three star lodge when we usually visit higher rated lodges adjusted our expectations slightly and I would happily say that we had a three star experience. The part of this that leaves a sour taste in my mouth is that we have stayed at five star lodges and paid less per person per night. No, we did not get value for money.

The flip side of that coin is that we still had a fantastic stay, but this was made up during our game drives and by our field guide. I cover our game drives in depth in part two of this series.




Marakele National Park Accommodation

Marakele National Park

Marakele – The Reserve

Marakele National Park is a Big 5 national park located just outside of Thabazimbi in the North West Province, South Africa (about three hours drive from Johannesburg).

Marakele offers stunning scenery and some beautiful views from the top of one of the highest mountains in the area which is home to over 800 breeding pairs of vultures.

Activities at Marakele include game drives, a 4×4 Eco Trail as well as a few self-drive 4×4 routes.

Access to the reserve is easy as it is located right off the main road out of Thabazimbi. The roads in the park are good enough to allow access to all types of vehicles and the 4×4 trails are not extremely difficult.

Marakele is split into two sections, a small 4,000 hectare bottom ‘camp’ which has ample game and offers some beautiful sightings. The northern camp is very large with few roads so you can expect to drive around without spotting much, however, the scenery in that part of the reserve more than makes up for it.

Tlopi Camp

Tlopi Camp is located in the northern part of Marakele and is fairly easy to access, although you do need to be prepared to climb a rather steep hill in your vehicle.

The camp consists of self-catering tents on raised decks located on the banks of the central dam and is un-fenced. The view is stunning and in the mornings and evenings, game can be seen visiting the dam for something to drink.

The tented units are well maintained and consist of all the amenities one might expect from a tented camp, including a seperate kitchen and deck to sit on and enjoy the wondering sights and sounds around you.

Allow at least an hour to reach Tlopi Camp from the main gate.

Bontle Camp Site

Bontle Camp site in Marakele National Park is a powered campsite about a kilometer from the main gate which allows quick and easy access should you decide to visit Marakele for a weekend.

The campsite has a visible waterhole which is frequented by all types of game and because the site has no fence, the game wonder freely among the tents. It is not uncommon to have a herd of Wildebeest spending the night next to your tent once you turn in the for night.

There are enough ablution facilities to accommodate all the campsites and each site has its own braai and power connections.

 




Thanda Tented Camp – Review

 

Thanda Tented Camp

Thanda Pool Area

Thanda Tented Camp

Introduction

Our review, or trip report, of Thanda Tented Camp is different to the long-winded reports we usually write and we’re going to try something new.

Thanks to all our readers who suggested destinations for us to visit, in the end we decided on Thanda Private Game Reserve in KZN and all things considered, we had a magic week.

Below you can see the highs and lows of our visit. As soon as the new AfriShots Reviews site is ready, we’ll link to our detailed review showing you all the criteria we assessed the lodge on.

Thanda Tented Camp – Highlights

  • Very warm welcome by our guide and the lodge manager
  • Comfortable drive and easy access to the reserve
  • Beautiful lodge, modern yet rustic
  • For the most part, the staff was friendly and accommodating and added to the relaxed vibe of the lodge
  • Every evening was accompanied by an enormous bonfire in the communal area.
  • The view from most places at the lodge was beautiful to say the least.
  • They were very accommodating with our extra requests: chairs (see below), guided walk and elephant interaction
  • The game activities were excellent. The field guides are all very knowledgable and approachable. The game drives were the highlight of our visit.

Thanda Tented Camp – Needs Work

  • Aside from our arrival at the lodge, there was never again a greeting with towels to wipe our faces
  • If we wanted to sit at the tent, we had to sit on the bed as there were no chairs. They did bring us deck chairs once we’d asked for them.
  • Given the price per person per night, the food was appalling.  Dietary requirements were not taken in to account. The quality of the food varied from day to day and they catered strictly per head. Should they run out of bacon, as they did on one particular day, that was it. If you hadn’t had any, you’d have to fill yourself up on something else. The high tea, on a few occasions, was a weak attempt at recycling any leftovers from breakfast.
  • Staff were hard to come by. At night you may not walk around unsupervised due to the potential for wildlife encounters, however, trying to find a porter to escort you to your tent, or a waiter to order a drink, was an exercise in patience.
  • Staff has no control over individuals who made things difficult, or uncomfortable, for the rest of the guest population. The situation was left to sort itself out.
  • Our room wasn’t prepared before our arrival. We arrived early, by arrangement, and were told we’d have to wait in the lounge until 14:00. When we got to camp we were checked straight in and taken to our tent. No bath mats, no face cloths.
  • We had mixed signals when we arrived regarding electricity at the camp. On the first day it turned out that there was electricity, and with it, lights, that operated on a solar system. Unfortunately, and only for the first night, that meant that when the sun went down, there were no lights. Other than a few candles we had no other light source at the tent. This was rectified later by a porter who provided us with a torch and the rest of the trip we did actually have lights every night.
  • It is/was advertised that hot water bottles are provided on the game drives, yet we never once saw any sign of this. Not on our vehicle, nor the other vehicles. The quantity of snacks on the drive did not increase with the number of guests on the drive, again bringing us to the frame of mind of being rationed food.
  • Our last day we felt very rushed, almost as if they wanted us out as soon as possible so the next guests could arrive. This includes the end of the game drive, breakfast and packing up to head off to the elephant interaction.
  • We stayed in tent #7, which is the closest to the kitchen and the communal area. Every morning, afternoon and evening we were disturbed by loud laughter and raucus behaviour as the staff prepared the meals and snacks. Dont get me wrong, I know full well the noise levels involved in a kitchen, however, it is not for the guests to hear, and again I’ll mention, not for the price Thanda is asking.

Thanda Tented Camp – Our Conclusion

We had a wonderful stay at Thanda Tented Camp. Our expectations were based on other lodges we’ve visited in the same category, however, who charged a fair amount less per person per night and it’s with that in mind that we left feeling cheated.

Our visit was nothing like when we visited Black Rhino Game Lodge in Pilanesberg, there are just things that Thanda should consider working on in order to compete with lodges out there such as Thakadu River Lodge and Nambiti Plains.

 




Black Rhino Game Lodge

Overall Rating: 67.00%

Introduction

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 Process

Booking was done via BushBreaks and we never have a problem with them.

Accessibility
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.

Staff
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.

Cuisine

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.

Lodge Facilities

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.

The Room/Unit

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.

General

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.

Accessibility

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.

Lodge Facilities

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.

Room/Unit

Black Rhino Game Lodge

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.

Game Drives

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.

Conclusion

Nare Walking Safaris

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.

Feedback

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?




Mokala National Park

Roan Antelope

We had a few days off in a row and decided that, as usual, we wanted to spend them in the bush. As the destination finder extraordinaire for Afrishots, it was my responsibility to decide on a destination. We are trying to get to as many parks/reserves in and around South Africa as possible, hence this trip had to be to somewhere we hadn’t been before. After many hours of researching, I decided on Mokala National Park. Daryl approved – as usual.

Mokala National Park is part of SANParks and is situated in the Northern Cape, 80km SW of Kimberley, South Africa.

The Drive

After asking around, we decided not to travel on the N12 (Potchefstroom) route as there were road works in progress with many Stop&Go’s. We left at about 4am and head for the N1 Bloemfontein. At Bloem, we joined the N8 and decided not to continue on it for too long but to go the back way (R48, R705 – the roads were in excellent condition) – and I’m so glad we did.

It turns out, there is life in the middle of nowhere. We were running slightly low on fuel and weren’t sure where we’d find any near the park so we decided to search for a ‘dorpie’ (translated to ‘small town’) with a petrol station. Luck was definitely on our side that day (not stopping for long at the stop and go’s, very little traffic) and soon after our search began, it ended: Jacobsdal. It is the epitome of a small town – Church in the town centre on the main street, a post office, a park, one Spar, the ever-reliable Petrol Station (actually just a pump or two) , and not much else. We filled up the tank, luckily, as there were no more petrol stations along the way and were in Mokala in less than an hour. The one person we did see in Jacobsdal was very friendly (petrol attendant), if there are any other inhabitants – I’m sure they are too.

The Park

Mokala National Park

On arrival at the park gate (about 11am), you speak to reception through an intercom providing them with your details. The gate is opened remotely and there is a 6km drive to the reception (we entered at the Southern gate – best if you’re staying in Mosu Lodge).

At reception we were given the usual brief, signed documents and advised when the game drives were. We then went to our rooms with all our luggage on a luggage cart, which was a huge relief for us, with all our photographic equipment as well as all our goods for the self-catering getaway.

The Room

We were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the ‘Luxury Bungalow’. The open plan room was large and spacious and included a kitchen, bedroom, lounge (with fireplace) as well as a dressing table, wardrobe, full length mirror and LCD TV (which we did not use). The kitchen was fully stocked with everything we needed (only thing they didn’t give us was food), including a built in oven & hob. The bathroom was full ensuite with a huge shower! Very impressive indeed.

The outside of the bungalow was where we spent most of our time (when not driving around the park) as it over looked a very active watering hole (which is lit at night). There is a thatched gazebo outside the bungalow with a table and chairs and a fixed braai stand. We definitely had golden tickets to the waterhole, fantastic spot!

Mosu Lodge

Mosu Lodge is surrounded by a 0.5m electrified fence to protect guests from any dangerous game i.e. Buffalo and Rhino. The fence was a mere 10m from our braai area which adds to the feeling of being completely surrounded by the wild. We had buffalo grazing next to the fence on both nights of our stay. There is something truly scary/amazing about having this giant animal (prone to violent out bursts) just a few metres away from you on foot – I think exhilarating is the appropriate feeling.

Game Drives

As this is a self-drive park, you are allowed to spend the day driving around at your leisure , which is what we did for most of our stay. The park has 2 of the Big 5, namely Buffalo & Both species of Rhino, but this does not mean there isn’t anything to see. Mokala NP is used as a ‘breeding place’ for endangered species.

There is an abundance of wildlife in the park and we were very privileged to see some of the less popular and more endangered species such as Gemsbok (Oryx), Tsessebe and Roan Antelope.

We had a few first time sightings on this trip: Yellow Mongoose, Black & Copper Springbok, Meerkat (in the wild), Black Wildebeest & Roan Antelope.

On our last day in the park, we decided to exit the park via the Northern gate. On our drive we saw very little game and decided that we definitely prefer the Southern part of the park and would be staying at Mosu again on our return.

Overview

Mokala is a young National Park (opened in 2007) and has still got areas of improvement such as a slightly larger road network, however, it is well worth the visit. It is quite a long drive from Johannesburg for only 2 nights, but we felt it was worth the while. The accommodation was fantastic, the staff were all very friendly and we got some decent photographs out of the trip!




Thakadu River Camp – Madikwe

Introduction

Last week we had the honour of staying at the Thakadu River Camp in the Madikwe Game Reserve. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and finally had the chance to do just that.

The trip out there was bitter-sweet at first. Jenece spent eighteen months living near Pilanesberg so the drive from Johannesburg along that route brought back all the bad memories but they quickly vanished once we passed Sun City.

It was about this time that I realised I’d forgotten to buy cigarettes for our three days. Trying to work out where I could get some and keeping our eyes peeled in every village we went through for a petrol station we finally came up to Geenflippennaamfontein (roughly translated it means I don’t know what it was called) and they had an Engen! So we jumped out, bought smokes and one of the attendants offered to pump my tyres. By the time we left, I had my smokes, my tyres were all pumped, my windows washed as well as the hood of my car. The people were incredibly friendly and that kind of eased our jealousy about not being able to attend the Put Foot Rally.

The rest of the drive was pretty much a non-event, most of the way there the roads were in excellent condition. We did miss our turn as we were looking for the signs in the wrong place, if you’re travelling to Thakadu, the sign for the right turn is AFTER the village, not in it like the directions state.

You don’t need a  4×4 to get there, however, the condition of the dirt road leading up to the lodge is not great and I would highly recommend a vehicle with good terrain clearance.

The Lodge

Thakadu River Camp

We arrived at the gate to the reserve and filled out the paper work while the guard radioed ahead to make sure we were expected. We drove on to the lodge which is a couple of kilometres from the gate. They are long kilometres though as the road isn’t wide and there are many twists and turns.

Pulling up to the lodge we were greeted by huge smiles from the lodge staff and made to feel very welcome right away. We wiped ourselves off with the hot towels they had waiting for us, offloaded the car and were walked to the dining area of Thakadu River Camp. Absolutely beautiful! The look and feel of the lodge was perfect, we felt like we were right in the bush yet there was luxury all around us. While we were being welcomed and shown around, drinks were poured for us to sip at while we had a look around.

The dining area is on a deck with a Lead Wood in it’s midst that is easily a couple hundred years old. There are many couches in the open lounge area for guests to relax on when they’re not on a game drive. There are two bars, one in the dining/lounge area and another up the stairs by the pool.

The whole time we were looking around, staff members came up and introduced themselves, all with beaming smiles. We’re from Johannesburg, it’s just unnatural to see such friendly people!

The pool, also with it’s Lead Wood tree, overlooks a riverbed, at this time of year it’s dry…well, muddy which leads into the Marico River which the lodge is built on the banks of. At the time we had no idea how much game used that riverbed as a highway to the water.

Thakadu is a tented camp and if you’ve never stayed in one, this would be a perfect introduction for you, however, keep in mind it may spoil the experience of other tented camps you visit after it.

Our “tent” was massive. We had a lounge, king sized bed and a beautiful bathroom with his and hers basins, a bath and shower. We could have had a very nice view of the river, unfortunately our unit had quite dense trees growing in front.

The camp is surrounded by electric fence which is small enough not to be an eyesore yet big enough to keep you safe.

During daylight hours we were kept company by the ever-present observers that frequented the lodge. The Vervet Monkeys around Thakadu were not such a problem for us, although the lodge staff did shoo them off every chance they could. We’ve definitely seen much worse behaved primates.

Thakadu is a community run lodge, which means that the local village (where the sign was NOT inside but just after) have a lease to run it. All staff are from the village and the proceeds go to the village too. We think this has a lot to do with how friendly and happy everyone seemed.

Please take a look at the album below to see what the lodge looks like. There are way too many for me to put them all amongst my writing, yet I wouldn’t be doing the place any justice to leave them out.

The Drives

Thakadu Game Drive

Included in the price are two game drives a day. We arrived about 1pm so had two hours to kill before we had to be in the lounge for drinks before our drive. We took the opportunity to look around some more and unpack our camera equipment. I swear, we take more camera stuff than we do clothes, and setting everything up takes a bit of time. Once that was done, we were off to the pool and a much needed beer!

At 3pm we were back at the pool where we had our choice of drinks and light snacks. We were the only guests at the lodge for the first night yet they spared no expense, I could have eaten myself full on the snacks alone. We met Thsepiso, our guide for the duration of our stay and again (I’m saying this a lot, I know), what a friendly fellow!

We hopped on the vehicle and after the introductions and the usual safety briefing he asked what we wanted to see. I’d heard recently about the Wild Dog (African Painted Dog) pups that had been born so mentioned that I’d love to see them. Other than that, we were very happy so see whatever we saw. I remember in Marekele spending twenty minutes watching dung beetles, so we’re easy to please.

Thsepiso is very knowledgeable about not only the area, but the inhabitants of the bush he calls his office. I have never seen such passion in a guide before!

By the end of our first drive, and on nearly every subsequent drive, we saw not only four of the Big 5, but four of the Baby 5 too. On the first drive we saw a massive herd of African Elephant by a waterhole; juveniles play-fighting with each other, running and chasing one another. It was dark by the time we got there and I must admit, there is something surreal about turning off the lights and engine and hearing all that going on around you.

From there we drove a few hundred metres down the road and came across a pride of lions all huddling together to keep warm. Jeez it was cold once that sun set!

The only one of the Big (and Baby) 5 we didn’t see was Leopard, however, we saw things we’d forgotten even existed. Polecat, Genner, African Wild Cat and Bush Baby. Those game drives will live on in our memories for as long as we live.

All the vehicles are in two-way contact via radio so the chances of seeing what you want to are pretty good. The guides have an intricate queuing system there so no sighting is ever crowded. This is not only good for the guests, but doesn’t put extra stress on the animals either.

On the second day we got to see the Wild Dog pups! All twelve of them were out of the den and playing with each other. We watched them for ages and Thsepiso kept positioning the vehicle for the best views possible. If you missed our Facebook post earlier this week, every time a pack member went back to the den, all the puppies would run, squealing, and go through an amazing and playful greeting ritual. It was incredible!

Morning drives all had a coffee stop, and the evening drives had a sundowner stop. The say the drives are between three and three-and-a-half hours yet I think we only had one drive that was that short. We had lots of time to talk to Thsepiso about his job and life at Thakadu and we both learned so much about the bush. Much more than we ever have in any one trip.

Blankets in the evenings and hot water bottles in the mornings made the Out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-cold manageable and we always got back to hot drinks waiting for us.

The Food

Thakadu Cuisine

I can only say the food was exceptional! Before we even got to the lodge, as part of the booking procedure, we were asked about our dietary requirements. After our Nambiti trip, NO OLIVES went down for me and for Jenece it was no onions. They confirmed this with us when we arrived and they held to that for the entire stay. The food was delicious! There is no breakfast or lunch, but rather brunch and high-tea.

After your morning drive you are welcomed to a buffet breakfast with both continental and English tastes. You order your egg, cooked the way you like it, which arrives shortly afterwards and you eat as much as you can…er, without pigging out that is, that would just be rude…right?

High-tea is a few snacks, each day we had Canapés and there were biscuits, rusks, one day had Tempura Prawns and again, enough there to fill you up nicely.

The big meals were in the evenings and I’ll say fine dining at it’s best. Good, tasty food that was enough to fill even me up.

On our second night was dinner by the bonfire in the boma and they couldn’t make it big enough…did I mention how cold it was after sunset?!

Our Special Occasion

Thakadu Occassions

On the second day, while celebrating our two year anniversary, I decided I wasn’t yet ready to have our last day. As discreetly as I could I organised for us to stay another night but the surprise was ruined slightly when I had to get Jenece to go through the booking agency to confirm everything.

Towards the end of our afternoon drive that day Thsepiso was very talkative on the lodge frequency and in Tswana. This was a first so we suspected they were up to something as they were aware of what we were celebrating. He asked us to please, after the drive, go back to our tent instead of going to the lounge. He said when we got there, to relax for a while, have a shower and then join them at the boma for dinner.

We figured they were setting something up at the boma, there was a lot of secrecy going on so we knew something was up…but not what…

When we got back to the tent, we put the camera equipment away and I went for a much needed bladder-pressure-reduction. When I walked into the bathroom I was dumbfounded! Candles everywhere, along the edge of a full bubble bath. Lead Wood seeds on the floor mat, lilies, leaves and all. A bottle of French Bubbly in an ice bucket with a beautiful note to use congratulating us and wishing us well for the future. I cant describe how everything looked, see the pictures!

We had a wonderful, scented, bath before making our way to the boma to join the new guests and to thank everyone. I’ll admit, I was humbled to the point of tears. They did a fantastic job of giving us the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Summary

This has been one of my longest posts yet so I’m going to end up here. There is a lot I have forgotten to include here, I could seriously write a full length novel on our four days at Thakadu. Thank you so much to the staff for making that a trip we’ll carry with us to the end of our days and we WILL be back!

Thakadu doesn’t have a star rating, however, based on our experiences we don’t think they’d have to do much in order to obtain a five star rating.

One of the things we’d love to see from them is use of the social networks to promote themselves and touch base with past and future guests. Thsepiso, maybe a tweet once a day about what was seen on the game drives?

If you want a truly unique and memorable experience, please go and visit Thakadu. It is roughly 3,5 hours from Johannesburg which is closer than Kruger Park and your experience will be ten times better!

If you’ve been there, are thinking of going or have any questions, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here or on Facebook




Nambiti Plains Game Lodge

Background

When we made the decision to treat ourselves to a luxury bush holiday, we were incredibly nervous about what to expect. The nerves lasted right up until we arrived at the gate in fact.

We cam across Nambiti Private Game Reserve just outside Ladysmith and in particular, Nambiti Plains Private Lodge and after much discussion about which particular Nambiti lodge we’d stay at, made up our mind.

The Lodge

One of the things we were uncertain about was what to expect given the price. You can expect to pay well over R3,000 pppn at some five star lodges yet the mid-week special at Nambiti Plains was only R1,850 compared to their usual, slightly over, R2,000 price.

This fit our list of requirements for our 3 day getaway as it was affordable, especially for our first five star holiday, and the lodge and reserve had everything we wanted, or so we thought. In actuality, they far exceeded our expectations in every regard.

We were directed to the northern gate as this is the closest to our lodge (I believe there are 10 lodges in Nambiti’s 10,000 ha but more on that in a moment). Geoff, the lodge guide, met us at the gate and escorted us to the visitor parking. Nambiti is not a self-drive reserve.

We had covered parking to leave the car for our stay, transferred our luggage to the converted Land Rover Defender and were driven the couple kilometres to the lodge.

Arriving at the lodge we were met by Brent, the lodge manager, who welcomed us, showed us around and took us to our room. I can’t call it a room and chalet is a gross understatement. That thing was huge!

Nambiti Plains Game Lodge

Everything was build just right, far enough away to give you all the privacy you need, yet close enough that you don’t need hiking boots to get from A to B. King-sized bed, bath, indoor and outdoor showers, large windows on three sides with views into the surrounding bush and the hills and plains in the distance and scattered with nice little touches such as an umbrella stand…with umbrellas!

We had a large wooden deck with a great view, deck chairs and a table where we could have private meals if we chose to arrange them.

For winter, the “room” has under-floor heating and while we were there in summer, there are many doors that open up and allow fresh air to move through.

I had just worked a night shift and then we’d driven down so was exhausted, but didn’t have time for a nap. We lounged around the “room” for a bit and then made our way to the main part of the lodge.

The interior design of the place was superb; neat and befitting a lodge in the middle of the bush. A nice touch we noticed was instead of actual animal heads on the walls, there was a nice combination of carved heads, rough yet just right.

You walk past the lounge on your left, dining room on your right, out on to the deck. Large an very spacious. If the lodge is full to capacity (10 people I believe), you can all be on the deck without getting in each other’s way. Couches under large umbrellas, a few tables and chairs (this is where breakfast is served) and a very nice swimming pool surrounded by deck chairs and under a large tree. Sorry Brent, I forgot what tree!

Nambiti Plains

This all over looks a small watering hole and when we arrived, there were herds of Nyala and Zebra lounging around. The pool is frequented by elephant who, as it was explained, think the pool water (salted not chlorinated) is like Valpre compared to the reserve water. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any at the pool but heard all about it.

Drinks are not included in the price however they don’t cost an arm and a leg as I expected. They will be brought to you while you lounge around or you can go to the bar and order them from there.

Nambiti Plains Food

Shew, where do I start with the food?

This was our first experience with fine dining so all we had to base our expectations on was what we’d seen on TV.

The meals were exceptional!

Wonder, the executive chef, would come to each table once we were seated and explain what the various courses were and answer any questions we may have. I am no food critic, I’ll eat pretty much whatever you put in front of me, yet I thoroughly enjoyed every meal. Even those with ingredients I don’t eat!

While the food, and dining experience were fantastic, both Jenece and I agree on one short fall with the food: the lack of variety.

What I mean by that is, I don’t eat olives…vile things! Our meals on the first day both had olives in them. Olives in the Cajun Chicken Salad for lunch and an Olive Risotto with the duck for dinner. It would have been nice to be able to choose an alternative.

There were a few negative comments about the portion size of the first dinner regarding there being too much. I wasn’t kidding when I said I’ll eat just about anything, and I’ll eat it all. I devoured what was in front of me, and helped Jenece finish hers…Olive Risotto and all! Thanks Wonder, maybe next time you’ll be the first person to get me to eat, and enjoy, spinach?

Breakfast was a mini buffet, each table got a large tray with cold meats, fruit, yoghurt and home-made muesli. Afterwards you could choose your hot meal which was either your preference of English Breakfast or the day’s special: Omelette on the first day and Salmon on Scrambled Egg the second day.

Game Drives

Nambiti Plains Game Drive

Included in the price are two game drives per day, morning and evening.

We have been very lucky lately in that nearly every time we have been on a game drive, even at national parks, it has just been the two of us. This has a lot to do with us preferring to go places out of season and during the week.

When we have had other people with us (yes with us, not us with them, we’re that self-important!), the drives have been cramped and difficult to get pictures from both sides of the vehicle.

That was not the case at Nambiti. The game-drive vehicle was by far the best we’ve been on. Arm-rests, blankets, flasks with ice-cold water and Geoff, our guide, was very knowledgeable, friendly and accommodating.

Each drive was two to three hours, depending on what sightings we had (we even ran late for breakfast on the last day due to tracking a lioness and her cubs, sadly we never saw them).

The reserve is truly beautiful with rolling hills, dense bush areas as well as open plains. It is a Big 5 reserve and we saw all except leopard.

One of the things we liked very much about how the guides conduct their drives is no sighting was crowded. All guides are in contact via radio (which is kept to such a low volume that as guests you hardly know they’re using them) and other vehicles will stay clear of a sighting until you have moved off. I don’t think we had more than one other vehicle at a sighting at any one time. One exception being the lion sighting on our last night, where all the vehicles wanted to have a look. As air traffic controllers we appreciated the sequencing and holding of traffic. No more than two vehicles near the lions, while others stacked up a few hundred metres apart in trail. When one moved away he’d give the all clear, and the sequence would move along nicely.

Side note to pilots: No, we will NOT let you do this!

When one vehicle approached another at night, headlights went off so as not to dazzle drivers and guests. This was a very nice touch I thought and not something I’ve seen before.

The catch-phrase our group used a LOT during our visit was “Jeep Jockeys”. I don’t think I was paying attention when it was first used so I can’t tell you the story behind it, but it was used to describe certain other guides that some of us had experienced in parks, and a couple we saw from other Nambiti lodges. If you read my Game Viewing Guidelines article, you will know exactly what I mean by Jeep Jockeys.

We didn’t have many encounters with them in Nambiti, however, we were very happy with Geoff. His knowledge of animal behaviour and experience in the industry showed through in everything he did.

Each drive stopped halfway through for sundowners in the evening, or coffee and biscuits in the morning.

During lunch Geoff would come round and ask everyone what their preferences were for the evening drinks. On the drive, he’d open the back of the Landy, lay out a table cloth and then pull out the snacks and serve the drinks. We only had to tell him once what we wanted and every drive after that, you’d get exactly the right drink served with a smile.

Jenece converted everyone in our group on the first morning drive. From then on, everyone had Choffee, our catch phrase for coffee with just the right amount of hot chocolate.

Nambiti Plains Atmosphere

The set up of the lodge, drives and, well, everything makes for a truly stunning holiday. We thought we’d have lots of down time to relax, but with just two nights and choosing to go on every drive, we were actually quite busy. A three night stay will be perfect to make the most out of everything.

We ended up on very good terms with the other guests and spent all our time enjoying the sightings and drinks on the drives, having fat chats around the lodge and even got to share in an 80th birthday where the lodge staff baked a cake and provided a nice bottle of bubbly for all of us to toast.

This, I think, is the perfect time to mention that two of the “guests” staying with us were in fact the lodge owners who’d come up for their monthly visit. Wally and Debbie, to you we’d like to say thank you for an amazing time! Jenece and I have often sat and spoken about having our own lodge one day and what you have with Nambiti Plains is spot on perfect as if you’d picked it right out of our imaginations.

Our conversations were always animated and filled with good humour. Wally, still no serval though! Next time…

Nambiti Staff

The staff at Nambiti Plains were all exceptional!

Wonder, the chef, was both very skilled and friendly. I can’t wait to try more of his food…remember I’ll be happy to help “take care of” any leftovers.

Brent, the lodge manager, is a real stand up guy. Incredibly experienced in the reserve industry and doing a very good job with the lodge.  If you give him a ladder, you can even see eye-to eye!

Geoff, field guide extraordinaire! Your knowledge and experience shows through. There was never a dull moment with you on drives nor around the lodge.




Fahad Private Game Farm

Fahad Private Game Farm

Last week we spent 3 days in the Fahad Private Game Farm on the South Africa/Botswana border north of Lephalale (Ellisras). We had no idea what to expect from our trip as we could find very little information about the place apart from what can be found on their website.

The reservation procedure was a little sloppy as on our day of arrival we still did not have a correct booking confirmation. We received one fairly quickly, however, it had the wrong dates on it. We did phone and confirm and they said we were in fact booked in on the correct dates. It was not the easiest to get hold of them via the phone, however, they did return calls fairly promptly.

Fahad boasts exclusivity in that when you book in to one of their lodges, you are the only guests there. Our lodge, Twin Rivers, could sleep 10 people and at only ZAR420.00 per person per night (self-catering), we couldn’t understand how much money could be made on their part.

We called before to ask about arriving early, we hadn’t seen anything about check-in/out times and wanted to get there between 08:00 and 09:00 on Thursday morning. They had no problem with this at all so early Thursday morning we left for our three and a half hour drive. Once we reached Lephalale we had cellphone signal for the first time in a while and Jenece saw Julius, our contact person at Fahad, had tried to call. She called back and after speaking to him had new directions for us to get there, and he was just asking what our ETA was so he could meet us at the gate.

We followed his directions which included roughly 20km of well-maintained dirt road to arrive at a large gate in what I’d call the middle of nowhere to find him waiting for us. After brief and very warm introductions Julius let us in and escorted us to the Twin Rivers Lodge. The drive was short but we got to see the dam on the Mogolo River which turned out to be  300 meters from our Lodge. Still with no idea what to expect, we were a little nervous.

Fahad Game Farm

Arriving at the lodge saw our spirits lifted high. Very well maintained grounds and larger than we expected, with beautiful bush decor, we were now very happy to be there. We parked under the wattle carport reserved for guests and Julius showed us around the camp. Dining area and lounge on an elevated wooden deck with superb furniture. Soft leather couches, side tables, TV with full DSTV bouquet, large dark wood dining table and probably the biggest fireplace I have ever seen.

Outside the dining area was a small swimming pool which we were very happy to see as, that early in the morning, the temperature was already climbing steeply. On the grass were two of the most comfortable garden chairs…in the world! The arm rests would swing out so you can rest your feet, lying back and reading in the shade of an Acacia and overlooking the pool.

Fahad Twin River

From there he took us to Chalet 1 which they had prepared for us due to the accessibility of all the amenities. It was a twin sleeper with the two single beds pushed together for us as a couple. The aircon was pumping cold air into the room to keep it well below the thirty plus degree temperature outside. Bushveld décor scattered around the room was very pleasing to the eye and not over the top. The room was spacious and had everything we’d need, a dressing table with mirror, side chair, end tables with lamps and drawers, wardrobe and jacket stand. The en-suite bathroom had a shower, toilet and wash basin and all with good water pressure and again, bush-veld trinkets scattered around nicely.

From there we were led to the communal bar, kitchen and braai area. Not only did the area look stunning but to say it was fully equipped was a gross understatement. The kitchen had utensils I never knew existed, never mind how to use. Six plate gas stove with oven, microwave, kettle, toaster, two bar fridges and many cupboards all packed with useful things. This was open to the outdoors, overlooking the pool and braai area however with a roof that would not allow the rain to get anywhere near us. Behind a closed door was a large freezer, fridge, ice maker, washup area, walk-in fridge and pantry (which was fully stocked with yet more cooking utensils including potjie pots).

We signed the registration form and we were asked please not to drive around the park, we were welcome to walk wherever we wanted but to please take the camp two-way radio with us when we did. We arranged for a game drive that evening and Julius was on his way.

We went for a walk along one of the park roads which took us adjacent to the Limpopo River and headed back for a much needed swim. When we came out of the chalet, two towels each had been put on the deck chairs overlooking the pool for us to use. A very nice and unexpected touch. We spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the pool (both in and out of the water) until it was time for our game drive.

Julius arrived around 17:00, gave us the safety briefing and we were off. It was a pleasant drive, around two hours long, and we barely covered a fraction of the park. We stopped off at the Tree House, somewhere they are refurbishing and hope to open for reservations again. It is located in a nearly 1,000 year old Leadwood Tree and has three areas. On the ground is the kitchen and firepit, next level is the bathroom and on top, a deck with a bedroom. The deck overlooks the Limpopo River and into Botswana while the bedroom has floor to ceiling windows all around. The vegetation is quite thick at this time of year but the view was still amazing and I can imagine it is even better in winter. There were no furnishings when we went due to the refurbishment.

Returning from our drive, we discovered the grounds keeper had not only stacked more wood than we’ll ever use but also lit a fire for us in the pit. The evening was very pleasant, we had a braai next to the firepit, worked out how to use all the lights around the area so as to see any bugs sneaking up on us and even got to see a Lesser-Spotted Genet walking along the edge of the camp.

The following day was an active one for us, early game drive, 2 hours on quad bikes, another walk and we were supposed to do a cruise down the Limpopo but sadly that was rained off. We did it the next morning instead.

Fahad Wildlife

On that morning drive we had an inkling as to just how big Fahad really is. We drove for over an hour to get onto the one hill in the whole area and the view was breathtaking. We could see for miles and miles in all directions. We stopped for a break, chat and photos and then took a different route back to camp where we spotted a large chameleon and more Gemsbok (Oryx) than I’ve ever seen in one place.

Fahad has a Sable Antelope breeding project but unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to enter any of the camps.

The two hours on the quads were amazing. 330cc bikes and many kilometres of game roads to travel. We were dropped off at reception, given the bikes and a suggested route to take along the Limpopo to get back to our camp where we could leave the quads for pick-up. Unfortunately this didn’t go according to plan as the suggested route was laden with puddles and mud. The quad I was given was a 4×4 and made short work of most things, however Jenece’s 4×2, after getting stuck and taking about 20 minutes to get out (in the pouring rain) ensured we took another route.

The following morning, Julius was there to meet us for the cruise and off we went. The cruise only took an hour but what a pleasant trip. We saw so many birds but unfortunately none of the resident crocs or hippos. We did have a rare sighting of the Red-Headed Weaver which was a treat.

Back at camp we packed and waited for Julius to arrive and escort us out. We paid for our extra activities (which are not included in the accommodation price) and were on our way to Marakele for a night of camping before heading home.

In total we had three game drives, 2 hours on the quad bikes and a river cruise and that totalled ZAR800.00 for the both of us. An amount hardly worth mentioning.

I could write for hours on our trip to Fahad, in this article I have barely scratched the surface. It was an incredible experience for both of us and we cant wait to get back there. Game spotting was a little scarce, however this is again due to the time of year and all the standing water spreading the game out. Having said that, we did see quite a bit, including rare sightings (for us anyway). The Genet, Gemsbok, Red-Headed Weaver on our cruise, chameleon, Monitor Lizard and others I cant quite think of off the top of my head. Fahad does have resident Cheetah and Brown Hyena but we weren’t lucky enough to see them.

The staff were all very friendly and knowledgeable and would accommodate us, whatever we wanted. The farm is beautiful and remote (a good thing in my books) and while we were there, the only other vehicle we saw was the bakkie dropping off our firewood and the guests in another lodge when we took a wrong turn on the quads. The housekeeping and grounds staff were always doing things in the background so you hardly knew they were there. An example being turning my back after breakfast one morning to discover they’d cleaned my skottle for me, and washed my car mere minutes before we departed.

To the staff of Fahad, and especially to Julius, I would like to say thank you for an amazing and memorable experience. We will certainly be back and cant wait until then. Thank you for your attention to customer relations and satisfaction, we really appreciate it.




Borakalalo – November 2011

 

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).

Borakalalo Tented Camp

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.

Borakalalo

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.