Friday, July 15, 2011

Garonga Safari Camp, Makalali Reserve

From Vuyatela it was a drive north past Hoedspruit and Mica and into the Limpopo Province to our last game lodge that we were to visit, the Garonga Safari Camp, which is set in the Makalali Reserve. The Garonga Safari Camp is fairly easy to get to, one has a good paved road, and when you leave this road, a drive on a very good dirt road to the lodge. We parked our vehicle at a “reasonably” safe car park at the lodge. Why I say "reasonably safe, is that on the day of our departure, there were fresh lion tracks in the camp, and specificall about five metres from my car - which was perfectly okay, just as I had left it!
The lodge itself was somewhat unusual – completely different to any of the lodges that I had been to before, something along the lines of The Flintstones' homes, but in a nice way! Our accommodation was not quite a tent, not quite a suite and not really a room. For this large unit, there were brick walls under a canvas roof, a wooden deck overlooking a dry river bed, a hammock for lazing away some spare time, a large double bed, electricity, overhead fan, inside and outside shower, his and hers basins and lots of space.

The communal areas consisted of a large, thatched lounge and dining room, a large deck, also overlooking the river, a self-service bar (all drinks here are included in the tariff) and a pool. From our deck on our arrival we watched quite a large male elephant make his way down the dry riverbed to eventually disappear into the bush.

The staff here was great and the food was good. However, the game drives did not produce as many exciting sightings as had been seen before, but remember, this was not the Sabi Sands, so I was not expecting to see the vast numbers of predators that I had seen the previous few days. It would also not be fair to compare the Sabi Sands to Makalali – the Sabi Sands has been in existence in its present form for many, many years, and most of the animals in the Sabi Sands had become habituated to motor vehicles, this was still to happen in the Makalali Reserve.
Our guide was Jaffeth and our tracker Rebel, both very nice chaps, and obviously keen to do their best. That afternoon the usual impala, kudu, zebra, steenbuck, black-backed jackal and giraffe were seen. Whilst we were stopped for our sundowner drinks, I noticed some movement off in the distance. As it was dusk, I could not quite make out what these animals were, so Jaffeth had a look through his binoculars – lions! We finished our sun-downers and then made our way to the lions. It turned out to be three adult lionesses with three cubs. We followed them, but it was by this time dark, and they took us into some very thick bush (most of this reserve seems to consist of thick bush), so after a while we left them alone. We also heard hyaena calling, but failed to find them.

That evening dinner was out under the stars, and was a good South African braai, with three types of meat, soups, starters and desserts. This braai was hosted by Jaffeth, who told us some funny stories and quite a bit about his experiences as a wildlife guide. He really is an entertaining character.
The following morning we set out to follow fresh lion tracks, and ended up in the course of the morning to follow two different sets of tracks, but came up short – no lions were found, they were making themselves very scarce in the thick bush, so we settled for the usual suspects, plains game, giraffe, warthog and baboons. We also saw a group of Dwarf Mongoose, very entertaining little carnivores these. A nice surprise was during the morning we came upon a dry river bed, and here a full breakfast was set up. Tables, chairs, food, fruit juices, hot coffee, breads, cereals, cheese, biscuits, yoghurts and more were set out for our comfort.

The afternoon drive produced the usual animals, plus the three adult lionesses from the previous day, as well as two white rhino. Dinner that night was a surprise. What the staff had done, as there were only six guests at the lodge, was to have a private dinner for each couple. They had set out tables at different areas of the main lodge and served each table individually. Each table was out of sight and earshot of the other – a nice touch.

Garonga Safari Camp
is a very nice lodge, but I would be hesitant to send first time guests here purely for the reason that game is not too plentiful However, if you want a superb lodge with all the trimmings, the Garonga Safari Lodge fits this bill perfectly. Activities here include game drives, wilderness walks, sleep-outs, outdoor bush-baths and aromatherapy and reflexology sessions. Janice and I did not do the “bush bath”, but two of the other guests who had done this were thoroughly happy that they had done so, and the other two guests were going to do a “sleep-out” on the following night. The sleep out is on your own on a deck with stunning views overlooking the veldt. A mouth-watering picnic hamper, a drinks box, and hot drinks are left for you at the deck and you are left with a radio. A wash basin and toilet close by are provided. This surely rates as an exceptional lodge if one wants to spend some time here to relax and be pampered, and who knows, maybe I was just visiting at one of those times when the animals were not too keen on being seen – it happens.

Report from the camp sightings log show that for this week, cheetah, lion, elephant and white rhino were all see - herewith a note from Bernie at Garonga
Out of 10 I give the Game Viewing 7. I think the experience to be much more of a Wilderness/natural experience with “very Good” Game Viewing.

90% of our Guests are first timers and it is VERY rare that we have any “Complaint” about poor Game Viewing. Our average stay is 4 nights.

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