We have just returned from a trip through six private game reserves in South Africa. All are luxurious camps and rich in game, but each has its own special charm and appeal for different kinds of people...
|Stalking past our Landrover in Sabi Sand Game Reserve|
See near the end of this blog. Why you must book very early in South Africa, and other tips...
6 PRIVATE GAME RESERVESThese private reserves all open to that vast reservoir of game, the Kruger National Park. They offer exhilarating offroad driving when conditions are right and passionate, knowledgeable rangers. In the picturesque camps enjoy five star facilities, delicious and plentiful food (included along with wine), friendly service and much more. Some take no children under 16 while others accept little humans of all ages...
LONDOLOZI TREE CAMP - HONEYMOONERS
To die for or get married for. Perfect for honeymooners, the camp radiates breathtaking designer chic and a fresh living feel of Africa. Spacious suites with plunge pools sparkling like jewels are wrapped in bush and birdsong. Known for leopard sightings, food (Relais & Chateaux) and elevated views from lounging and dining decks perched in the trees. Open camp with wild animal visitors so staff wait in the evenings to escort you to your suite.
|Heading into the sunset on an afternoon into evening drive with ranger and tracker|
|Dining platform cradled in trees with views out over the bush and distant Sand River|
|Suite 3 with safari chic decor mixing rich brown with pale creams for a more contemporary and fresh feel|
|A common lounge area at Tree Camp full of African artifacts artfully presented with attractive scatter cushions on plentiful sofas|
|Early morning view out to the plunge pool from the bathtub in suite 3 - the bowl standing here is full of salt crystals. Some suites offer views of the Sand River|
See also Select Collection.
- FACTS: Londolozi Tree Camp is an adult camp: no kids under 16 unless taken for sole use. Only 6 suites 71 sqm, boma for atmospheric firelit dinners with enthusiastic staff singing and dancing, sequestered freeform pool for shared use, chic elevated dining and lounging cradled in the trees. Use of main camp Varty facilities – spa, advanced gym etc. For children book camp for sole use, or go for one the other Londolozi camps like Pioneer.
- REMARKS: More about the other Londolozi camps below.
ANDBEYOND NGALA SAFARI LODGE - TRENDY COUPLES & FAMILIES
Newly renovated, fresh and stylish with 20 suites spaced out in beautiful wild bush joined by graceful curving walkways. Loungers spill out from the contemporary safari-chic lounge onto a terrace facing a waterhole enjoyed by wild life. Afternoon tea is a real event here. Later, lantern lit dining brings a magical mood. Treats are in store for honeymooners and this camp is also great for children with 2 kids pools and kids 6+ on safari. Open camp, so you are escorted to your room after dark.
|A very full tummy makes this cheetah a little nonchalant of our close presence as he relaxes on the floor of the seasonal (dry) Timbavati river|
|Suite 6. AndBeyond's newest renovation has created a really chic style with bespoke furniture and lamps, well placed pictures, garden bathrooms and a veranda for game watching|
|The atmospheric lounge spills out onto comfy sofas on terraces overlooking a waterhole, where we saw a warthog mum with her young and their cute erect tails|
|Safari style lounge with soaring thatch and art to fit the theme of nature and conservation...|
- FACTS: 20 stylish rooms with indoor and outdoor showers and bath with a view; Three family cottages each have 2 interleading rooms, there is 1 triple, and 1 family suite which enjoys its own safari vehicle, 2 bedrooms en suite, master bathroom with view, dining room & private pool. The lodge has beautifully decorated shared lounge, extensive outdoor lounging area by the waterhole. Spa with view, attractive pool with drinking trough for elephants (to reduce elephant dirt) and 2 kid’s pools adjoining, another nice lounging area by the pool.
- REMARK: Wake up call is not much later in winter at this lodge.
|We saw a couple of honeymooners bathing and lounging comfortably beside the sparkling pool. There are two kid's pools, and a trough for elephants. Meanwhile warthogs grazed and toddled off to drink in the waterhole by the Ngala Safari Lodge lounge.|
ANDBEYOND NGALA TENTED CAMP - NATURE LOVERS
Intimate and friendly bush hideaway. Only 9 tents, in earthy colours, but smartly equipped like a hotel room. Dining and lounging areas in dark wood are raised in the bush facing the sandy Timbavati riverbed. It’s all about the bush and expert guiding – and pool recreation under the trees “peopled” with monkeys and the occasional elephant treating the pool as a roadside bar. Of course guards escort you to your tent after dark.
|This baby monkey stuck his head in the sugar bowl when I vacated my place after a totally foamy and delicious cappuccino. Afterwards his mother licked his head to clean off the sugar|
|A rustic casual style lounge with dark wooden floors and a veranda overlooking the Timbavati river|
While we were there a leopard roamed around the camp during the night. We also heard about an exciting leopard sighting from a spa therapist who saw it right by the window of the spa.
- FACTS: 9 tents with 5 star facilities (*no coffee & tea making but a horn to blow in case of alarm). Communal pool, spa tent with riverbed view. No kids under 12. Magical pamperings for honeymooners - when we were there a lantern lit riverside table was set up for a man who planned to propose.
- REMARK: A 16 year old girl staying in own tent near parents seemed to be a little afraid of her aloneness. Her family moved there from the fab 2-bedroom suite at Ngala Safari Lodge and were nostalgic about it.
For more about Ngala Tented Camp see also Select Collection.
ANDBEYOND KIRKMANS KAMP - SOCIABLE COUPLES & FAMILIES, PIONEER HISTORY
Like being a guest in a beautiful pioneer homestead with a party every night, and carafes of brandy to help yourself. Original family items include a lion-shooting gun of Harry Kirkman’s on display. The camp is sociable and child-friendly – with views down to the Sand River from traditional cottages. Great game viewing with AndBeyond rangers and Jan-Mar visits by elephants to eat marula fruit while you lunch/breakfast on the veranda. Good value luxury camp.
|Lion with her kill by the roadside watched over by a tree full of vultures - and a couple of Landcruisers from Kirkman's.|
|Kirkman's lounge in the original 1920s homestead with old items mixed pleasantly with new.|
|Harry Kirkman's rifle that shot a lion that attacked him almost a centuy ago.|
|Nostalgia is the word with this array of old photos above the comfortable five star bed in the iron roofed traditional cottage. The bedroom opens onto a veranda with 2 comfy armchairs and a view of the Sand River. (Cottages 10-14 have good views)|
|A pitstop in the evening with AndBeyond ranger Ricus under a spreading Ficus Sycamore|
|Kirkman's lounge ready for a sociable evening as guests drift through from the bar and their stories of the day's encounters|
The veranda of your traditional cottage is a lovely place to lounge and we saw the Sand River increase its flow after a day of rain when no guests could arrive or leave over the causeway. Rain poured down on our safari vehicle with us tucked elatedly (fresh and almost dry) inside green plastic hoods - but the rain didn't stop an elephant visiting us in the camp. Another highlight was a visit to a hyena den nearby where the little fluffy ones did everything cute to fix up the bad PR hyenas suffer.
See the Select Collection website.
|This elephant came in through the rain to lunch on marula fruits as we ate on the veranda at Kirkman's - here he tries a few other leaves for good measure|
One of many inquisitive giraffe we saw at Kirkman’s and elsewhere
– the darling of the bushveld. Giraffe always stare and are the most popular animals –
when asked “what do you want to see on your first safari?” most answer “giraffe”.
See the Select Collection website.
- FACTS: 18 rooms in cottages with traditional iron roofs and verandas with armchairs, best views from numbers 10 to 14. Spa, infinity pool, gracious lounges and bar, dining room, veranda and deck dining. Open camp. Guards see you to the room at night along an unpaved (sometimes muddy) path. Kids 6-12 can join game drives at manager’s discretion (i.e. if they can behave in civilized fashion and/or you rent a vehicle for sole use) . Babysitters can take care of the little ones while you are on a game drive.
- REMARKS: Very charming. No dressing room, no outdoor shower and no kettle/tea and coffee making – but we persuaded our butler Simon to bring us the wherewithal.
- HISTORY: Kirkman, like all the old pioneers, tried to farm and found himself in war against the lions and disease. He sold to the famous Rattray family (who started Mala Mala) and the farm’s era of conservation started in the next generation. Later Kirkman’s was bought by Stephen Saad – who recently bought Mala Mala too so they are back in the same “camp”.
ROYAL MALEWANE - LOVERS OF INTIMACY, INDULGENCE & OPULENCE
Upper crust and celeb clientele enjoy this exclusive lodge with opulent décor, attentive staff, and good food. Ideal if one of the party prefers to skip safaris for an appealing spa, gym and 25m lap pool, or hide away in an artful thatched cottage with plunge pool and gazebo. Despite the exclusivity the lodge is warm and relaxing – and you could dress down or up. Good leopard, lion and elephant viewing.
|Sleepy leopard hunted down with a bumpy ride through the undergrowth|
|A herd of African buffalo cooling down happily. Last year there was a drought and the buffalo were so weak that the lions just killed for sport, leaving lots for the other predators to eat|
|Vast deck and private pool of a 2-bedroom "Royal" suite - you get your own safari vehicle and ranger too|
|Vast artfully, joyfully and eclectically decorated lounge as well as a dining area in one of the 2-bedroom suites|
|Africa House villa-style exclusive accommodation in the bush with loads of features|
|Own pool with a view of the bush and passing wild life, and peaceful ambience for your private party of 12|
Our ranger Nicola was great on animal behaviour and knew many of the territorial predators intimately (lions and leopards), knowing which were friends with who and who were good mothers or not. We were beautifully surprised after a game drive to arrive at the firelit scene of a magnificent bush dinner laid out elegantly in a large tent.
- FACTS: 6 luxury pool suites reached by raised boardwalks through the trees, 2 two-bedroom pool suites with massive arty lounges and sole-use safari vehicle, Africa House with vast art studded lounges, 6 quirky artful bedrooms with extravagant bathrooms, nice pool with view into the bush, and sole use vehicle. Attractive spa with 3 treatment rooms (1 for couples), appealing cabanas, gym, 25m lap pool. No children under 10 in the luxury suites - no restrictions for 2-bedroom suites & Africa House.
- REMARK: Royal Malewane lies in Thornybush Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park area. Cheetahs and elephants are not territorial and come and go from the vast Kruger Park so they are not as well known as individuals.
For more about Royal Malewane see Select Collection HERE.
RATTRAY'S AT MALA MALA - PRIVATE SOULS & SAFARI ENTHUSIASTS
Classy colonial elegance, suiting very private individuals in vast suites (size of houses) with two complete his and her bathrooms with own dressing rooms. Private plunge pools, facing the Sand River. Fabulous game viewing, arguably the best in South Africa, with educated ranger hosts who also dine with you and keep your wine glass full. Fenced camp so no need to be walked to your room at night. No children under 16.
|Leopard shows his woody camouflage as he surveys his kingdom - threatened of course as ever by lions|
|Hippo chances to thunder out of the water and cross the sands of the Sand River|
|Adorable juvenile elephant caressing his mama|
|iPhone snap of a close passing leopard|
|Nikon view of same leopard|
- FACTS: 8 spacious river view suites. Simple spa, pool, gym, access to Mala Mala main camp facilities (though Mala Mala main camp guests not allowed here). No bush dinners – but bush breakfasts round a fire in winter. Civilized feature: can skip early rising for game drives in winter and head out at 10am if you choose.
- REMARK: Some staff seemed to be new. The ranger filled in the gaps smoothly.
MALA MALA MAIN CAMP & SABLE CAMP - RESORT LIVING & SAFARI NOSTALGIA, FAMILIES
Very loved camp that became a benchmark for the luxury South African photo safari. The main lounge and bar are full of atmosphere, festooned with memories of a hunting past. It is an open camp with animal visitors. Sociable, more resort style living than the exclusive Rattrays and child friendly. Now that Stephen Saad owner of Kirkman's has bought Mala Mala a facelift will start in 2018, Sable Camp first to uplift. Mala Mala is famous for its excellent game spotting.
|Lion hunting passes close by our Landrover|
|A suite with an extra bedroom ä typical tall thatched roofs in traditional African ronadvel style|
|Safari style bars and lounges full of tradition and hunting memories|
Like most camps in Sabi Sands the farms started with cattle farming which failed because of lions and disease, and became hunting concessions. When the son took over Rattrays, he changed to conservation and photo safaris – which are taken to an advanced level with cameras for hire and technical advice.
- FACTS: Main Camp: Kids of all ages accepted. No kids under 4 in the boma dinners or on game drives unless parents book own vehicle. Babysitting. 19 rooms 40-85 sqm with decks 15-20 sqm, his & hers bathrooms. Pool, gym with a few machines, massages.
- Sable Camp: No kids under 12. 5 suites 85 sqm with his and hers bathrooms, and 2 bedroom Lion’s Den suite with central lounge. Decks 15-20 sqm. Use of main camp facilities.
- REMARK: The camp is beautiful with trees, greenery and views of the Sand River, but there are signs of noble age with thinning thatch here and there. In the renovations set for 2018 the his and hers bathrooms will become bigger modern bathrooms
OTHER LONDOLOZI CAMPS - FROM FAMILY SAFARIS TO ULTIMATE INDULGENCE
|Varty Camp - an arty and creative clutter of Africa inspired items|
|View of the Sand River|
|Breathtaking private pool for each of the Granite suites nestled into the granite rocks beside the Sand River|
|Lounging area at the main camp Varty - in contemporary mood the animal heads are models, not the real dead thing|
|Picture windows at Pioneer Camp - one of 3 extensive suites. The camp is popular for sole use.|
- The camps stretch out in a line alongside the Sand River among beautiful trees in this order Tree Camp, Varty, Granite, Founders, Pioneer and you can wander along a shady path between them for a good stroll passing the odd nyala, monkey or tortoise. All camps have private plunge pools.
- Most exclusive are Granite Private Suites (adults only) – with vast accommodations, stunning pools nested in the riverside granite and outdoor bathtubs viewing the river (Relais & Chateaux/R&C). No visitors from other camps may visit Granite.
- Pioneer Camp (3 suites at 138 sqm) is marked by nostalgic photographs, memorabilia and chic feel, also noted for food - R&C. Children accepted – two of the suites connect by glass walkway. Camp popular for sole use.
- Main camp Varty has a chic dining and bar area as well as gym, spa, kids club, meandering pool, and sophisticated photography studio visited by all the camps. Founders has a peaceful tuned-in elevated yoga platform with reclining Buddha, arching trees – yoga included for all camps with or without animal visitors. Varty and Founders, each with 10 suites, are not R&C and welcome children over 6.
Important tip – book as early as possible as South Africa has become incredibly popular…A second tip – book even earlier if you want a sole use safari vehicle so its easier for the children (usually 6 and over) to go on safari with you - and so you can pursue your own interests in say bird photography and not find yourself on a "Ferrari Safari" to see the Big Five in one ride (or some other passion). It also allows you to start later in the morning if you choose and also to avoid the need for "pit stops" with strangers (though they can be a lot of fun).
For a 3G family consider the bliss of taking a big bush villa, 2-bedroom suite or an entire exclusive camp so three generations can share the pleasure of meeting animals in the wild. Many of these more luxurious family accommodations automatically include a vehicle with ranger for sole use. The kids will remember the rangers as their heroes forever.
Another tip - book a longer stay so you can have quality time to enjoy your accommodation, swim, and enjoy the spa. Try to stay at least 4 nights - and consider having your own pool in summer for magical cooling hours on your deck.
Also a good idea, book a lodge with an advanced gym and lap pool (as at Royal Malewane) to ensure some exercise. With safari holidays come hours sitting and meals and more meals. Five meals a day are usual including two breakfasts, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, apart from snacks and drinks while out in the bush. Your rate usually includes all these meals along with local drinks - and at some premium drinks (barring French champagne).
Final tip: other excellent Lodges in South Africa include AndBeyond Phinda, known for its ecological diversity. Vlei Lodge at Phinda has only 6 chic suites, with private pools and views over a wide grassland clearing in the bush, teeming with game much of the day. In addition to the Big Five Phinda offers magical cheetah spotting...
Select Collection has many more suggestions on where to enjoy luxury safaris in Botswana, Tanzania.and elsewhere.
|Phinda is brilliant for cheetah spotting. You can get great pictures as cheetah hunt in the daytime|