Recently, we were lucky enough to spend two nights on safari at Garonga Safari Camp. And what an experience those two nights turned out to be…
The wildlife at Garonga
Garonga Safari Camp is set within the 22’000 ha Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve west of the Kruger National Park, South Africa. The area used to be made up of hunting and farming land, with owners now coming together to restore the land to its former glory, offering premier photographic experiences. With a smaller area to traverse and less carrying capacity than some of the bigger private reserves in this area, wildlife numbers are fewer, although individual sightings were still very good.
We saw four of the big five during our stay with a disease-free buffalo population kept in a separate quarantine area – although due to be released soon. With guides from the various properties in constant contact with one another, sightings were almost be guaranteed and indeed guests that had been there longer had already had amazing encounters with elephant, hippo, lions, leopards, hyena and cheetah.
However, our most treasured moments were spent with a lone one-tusk elephant and a passionate female guide from Australia (of all places!) and seeing a giraffe up close on a leisurely bushwalk. In fact, the walking safari was one of the highlights of the Garonga experience, and while we didn’t see much wildlife, apart from said giraffe, learning about the different plants, tracks and scat with our guide provided a different dimension to the experience. Ultimately, there’s something to appeal to everyone here – from the newbie wanting to see it all, to the seasoned safari-goer keen to take it at a slower pace and appreciate the smaller things.
Experiences at Garonga
Ultimately we found it this ability to provide something for everyone, while offering a personalised, boutique experience, to be the real appeal of Garonga. The lodge’s rates include game drives or bush walks, so you can take your pick at what appeals to you, and also included is a sleep-out experience and a bush bath. The bush bath offered a romantic evening under the stars, where we could just relax as darkness took hold on the African bush, while the sleep-out experience will remain the highlight of the trip.
On the night of our sleep-out, we enjoyed a short game drive to a large wooden deck up in the trees, overlooking a waterhole. Here a 4 poster bed with plush bedding and mosquito netting provided the only barrier between us and the elements for the evening. A pre-cooked dinner and enough booze to dull the nerves were already waiting for us and we enjoyed the romantic meal for two as the sun set over the reserve. Stargazing was the activity for the night and thanks to a handy guide left for us, we enjoyed picking out the constellations overhead. Eventually, and reluctantly, we retired for the night, only to wake to rusks, hot chocolate and the African bush all to ourselves – what bliss!
The accommodation at Garonga
Arriving at Garonga with about 15 minutes to spare before our afternoon game drive, we didn’t get to fully appreciate the accommodation on our first night and wish we had spent longer than just two nights to really enjoy everything that was on offer.
When we weren’t sleeping out in the bush, we were relaxing in luxury at Garonga Safari Camp. The Garonga main lodge and welcome area immediately opens up onto a large wooden deck with views over the dry riverbed and a sparkling rock pool which looked very inviting despite the chilly weather. From there just six safari tents make up the Safari Camp and branch out along their own wooden walkways, affording an intimate experience. As the entire camp is unfenced, the wildlife can and does just wander through, as evidenced by the female bushbuck that had made herself at home outside our tent when we arrived, and it is required to walk with a guide when returning after dinner. The tents were probably bigger than some flats we have lived in in Cape Town, with a magnificent four-poster bed set centre stage, and a huge bathroom with both indoor and outdoor showers. A huge jackalberry tree in front of our tent provided a playground for vervet monkeys while a hammock was a great place to sit and watch the birds and butterflies as they flew around our tent.
Getting to Garonga
Getting to Garonga couldn’t have been easier. We enjoyed a direct flight from Cape Town to Hoedspruit, courtesy of Airlink. Departing Cape Town at 10:50, the flight to Hoedspruit took a little over two hours, and a larger plane was used than that normally offered on many of Airlink’s routes, providing a level of comfort that we would expect from a longer flight. Seats are spacious and a choice of meals was available, as well as a G&T to set the safari mood. Flying in the middle of the day also meant we could appreciate the fantastic views when departing Cape Town over Table Mountain and landing in Hoedspruit as the plane passed over Blyde River Canyon. Touching down in Hoedspruit is always a special experience. As one of our favourite airports anywhere, the cute thatched buildings and monkeys playing in the trees, immediately gave me the feeling that I was on safari.
From Hoedspruit airport, it is an hour and a half drive to Garonga Safari Lodge. We decided to tackle the road in a small rental vehicle but with 50 minutes of bumpy and rocky dirt road to the lodge, it would have been better done in a 4×4 or through the lodge’s transfer service. I am just glad we didn’t encounter any grumpy ellies en route!
It was all over too soon but had us longing to return. If you’re dreaming of your next safari getaway, why not visit Garonga? You won’t regret it!