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




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.

 




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