Seven safari camps: 7 of the best in the greater Kruger National Park

May 28, 2019 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

Tags:

Big Cat with full tummy on the sands of the Sand River

This is a quick look at top lodges to help potential travellers decide where to safari. None are cheap – all are excellent…with rustic chic charm, wholesome food (seemingly endless mountains of it with some 6 or 7 meals and mini meals included in the rate from before sunrise to after sunset), along with expert rangers who will 99% sure be able to show you the Big Five due to their networks of rangers who report sightings to one another.

But each lodge has a different “flavour” I will try to capture….

(Six are my personal experience – one the report of a colleague and ultimate safari buff.)

Gillian Stanbridge

LONDOLOZI TREE CAMP

1 To die for. Breathtaking designer chic with fresh living feel of Africa. Vast suites with pools sparkling like jewels are wrapped in the spirit of the bush. Famous for leopard sightings, food (Relais & Chateaux) and elevated views of the Sand River. The common lounge areas are designer perfect juxtaposing animal inspired patterns and textures and the service is just perfect.

Our plunge pool at Tree Camp seen from the bath through wide glass windows
Arty, inviting, full of safari flavour and clutter – a lounge at Londolozi
Magical nights on a giant bed draped in netting – Londolozi Tree Camp

I walked round and round our suite lost in admiration – from the giant bed wrapped in netting, to the lounge with generous bar and walls decorated with animal skins, to its veranda and pool deck looking out over acacias, and a bath and shower (indoor and outdoor) with a bushy view – plus a sala where you could get lost in silence and the sound of crickets and birds.

Some look over the Sand River.

LONDOLOZI TREE CAMP

Adult camp: no kids under 16 unless taken for sole use. 6 suites 71 sqm, boma, freeform pool, chic elevated dining and lounging under the trees. Use of main camp Varty facilities – spa, massive gym etc.

Other Londolozi camps

The camps stretch out in a line alongside the Sand River 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. 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 other camps may visit Granite.

A private pool for the truly fortunate at Granite Camp

Same starting price/standard as Tree Camp is Pioneer Camp (3 suites) with nostalgic images, memorabilia and chic feel, not quite as breathtaking as Tree but also noted for food – R&C. Children accepted – two of the suites connect by glass walkway.  Camp popular for sole use.

Varty and Founders have lower starting prices and are not R&C – they are family friendly and welcome children over 6. Varty has 10 suites, including 2 superior suites (interleading) and very chic dining and bar area used by all the camps. Gym, spa, kids club, meandering pool, photography studio serving all the camps. Founders has 10 chalets – 3 suites with a room convertible for children. Camp common areas display lots of nostalgic photographs (not R&C) and has a peaceful tuned-in elevated yoga platform with reclining Buddha, arching trees – yoga included for all camps with or without animal visitors.

MALA MALA RATTRAYS

2 Classy colonial elegance, suiting very private individuals in vast suites (the size of houses) with two complete his and her bathrooms with own dressing rooms. I felt I never wanted to share a bathroom ever again in the solitary joy of ablutions and dressing. There is a gracious symmetry and sense of solid history in the cottages at Rattrays with classy hardwood furniture and expensive satiny textiles. Each has a private pool facing the Sand River – though ours was somewhat mossy it was great to watch elephants file by as you cooled down.

Gracious elegance in our traditional cottage at Rattray’s

There is fabulous game viewing here with educated ranger hosts who also dine with you and keep your wine glass full. The camp is fenced so you can walk home from dinner without a guard – but you may hear the lions roaring just outside. At night a banging on your traditional tin roof might mean monkeys are playing.

This leopard looked up at me as he slunk past our Landrover on safari from Rattray’s
Hunting lions came like ghostly shapes out of the dark as we returned to our camp at Rattray’s

FACTS.: 8 river view suites. Simple spa, pool, gym, access to Mala Mala main camp facilities (though Mala Mala main camp guests not welcome 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.

COMMENT: Service quite bush happy – African staff seemed to be new, or not well trained. Our ranger (white Afrikaner) filled in the gaps. Our elite table companion at a special dinner was exasperated by their lack of style in removing and placing plates and sighed and shrugged (the lady grew up in a house “bigger than Downton Abbey” explained her husband humerously). 

As at every other safari lodge the staff perform with singing and dancing 
at a special dinner every two nights or so and huge energy was emitted
from this enthusiastic bunch of staff.

TENGILE RIVER LODGE

3 Brand new lodge by AndBeyond – and the very best in South Africa.*
It has an artful safari style decor and cosy relaxing ambience but offers all the essential five star luxuries from beautiful spa to a (small) gym, and excellent food. The bars and lounges are SOCIABLE in the spirit of its party-loving sister/neighbor AndBeyond Kirkmans (see below), with the rangers taking a personal interest and joining you at the bar. The whole mood at Tengile is of a Big Happy Family, AndBeyond at its best. Safari guides are top quality as at all AndBeyond lodges and the views at Tengile are brilliant, down to the Sand River, which is like a highway for animals along its pool dotted sands that sometimes surge and gurgle to life after rain.

  • The above is the irreproachable opinion of the most knowledgeable safari enthusiast I know, who spends every holiday taking Scandinavian friends around the South African wilds and winelands. He calls it AndBeyond’s answer to Singita, due to its chic safari style and quality. He is nevertheless aware it may not be the answer for safari novices looking for a fancy five star hotel where they can make a dazzling entrance, and see and be seen in high heels or the like – it is saturated in the safari experience.
  • I quote him instead of myself – though I have stayed at all the other lodges I have not yet seen the final Tengile.

Note: no guests under 12.

KIRKMANS CAMP

4 Like being a guest in a beautiful Colonial home with original family items  – and a party every night. Kirkmans is warm, sociable, child-friendly – and has views down to the Sand River from charming traditional cottages, best views from numbers 10 to 14.

Elephant visitor at a rainy breakfast – seen from a sheltered veranda. The marula trees were the reason for the visit – and were shaken mightily to create a rain of ripe fruit. Not true the elephants get drunk said our rangers.

Great game viewing with AndBeyond rangers and Jan-Mar visits by elephants to eat marula fruit while you lunch/breakfast on the veranda. There is a youthful feel at Kirkmans with younger guests and a few families, and cut glass decanters of whisky stand around on help-yourself basis while the gun used by the pioneer owner Harry Kirkman decorates the wall and oozes atmosphere (he used the gun to shoot lions that ate his livestock before he gave up farming and embraced safari) .

Your ranger is likely to herd his guests together as the host of a fun evening, with story swapping. The pool lies tucked away with bushveldt view by the spa.

A truly decadent afternoon tea on the veranda at Kirkmans
Lion with kill by the road at Kirkman’s. No said the ranger, they had not given the lion free meat.

FACTS: 18 rooms in cottages with traditional iron roofs and verandas.  Spa, 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. 2 interlead for families.

REMARKS: Trad farm cottage feel. Room large enough but felt small after Rattrays, and we missed the dressing rooms and 2 bathrooms. The veranda was 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. No kettle/tea and coffee making – but I persuaded our butler Simon to bring me the wherewithal.

Meat was apparently tender and grilled to perfection. There was a new chef who produced a raw vegetarian dish for me and was stricken over my discovery of a piece of thin wire used for wrapping vegetables in my stew.

NGALA SAFARI LODGE

5 A charming AndBeyond makeover, fresh and chic with 22 suites spaced out in beautiful wild bush joined by graceful curving walkways. Afternoon tea is a succulent and interesting experience on the terrace by a waterhole frequented by warthogs and other game.

Comfortable outdoor lounging with view of a waterhole at Ngala Safari Camp

Dinner had a romantic feel with candlelight and small tables (though a recent report from a colleague found the food lacking something). The lodge lays on lots of treats for honeymooners, who enjoy the sparkling pool with a view over the bush; its also also great for children with 2 kids pools and kids 6+ allowed on safari.

Pool flowing into the bush at Ngala Safari Lodge. Sparkling clean as there is a lower trough for passing elephants so they don’t mess up the water – a honeymoon couple mooned about here – pools at safari lodges are usually deserted as everyone is out on safari, eating or recovering from early early mornings.
Some Colonial nostalgia in the self standing suite at Ngala Safari Lodge
Ngala Safari Lodge. The room with its elegant furniture seems somwhat crowded – the place to relax is the veranda with a view of all sorts of animals and birds doing their thing
On Safari at Ngala

22 rooms of which 6 interleading, 1 triple, family suite with 2 bedrooms, dining room & pool. Snappily decorated lounge, outdoor lounging area by a waterhole which attacts wild life. Spa with view, attractive pool with drinking trough for elephants (to reduce elephant dirt) and 2 kid’s pools adjoining, nice lounging area by pool. Lantern lit dining courtyard with magical mood. 

NGALA TENTED CAMP

6 Intimate and friendly bush hideaway. Only 9 tents, in earthy colours, but smartly equipped. Dining and lounging areas in dark wood are raised in the bush facing the sandy Timbavati River.  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.

Naughty visitors at Ngala Tented Camp

We enjoyed the sight of naughty monkeys – mother and child – raiding a tea tray and dipping their hands in the sugar bowl. Meals were sociable group experiences with rangers and other guests, but the lounging area was not conducive to lingering. As it is an open camp we were escorted up the path to our tent by a guard and communed with the night on our veranda – as usual in safari country, tired because of so many early risings.

Tent at Ngala equipped like a hotel room – from double vanities to bath

9 tents, pool, spa. 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.

ITS POPULAR TO COMBINE THESE TWO CAMPS FOR A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE. You have a nice long safari transfer between them through Ngala Game Reserve

ROYAL MALEWANE

7 Upper crust & celeb clientele gravitate here to enjoy eclectic arty décor, attentive staff, good food. Perfect 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 all the art and antiques Royal Malewane is quite laid back – you feel very relaxed.

Food was excellent. At breakfast we were given our own private smorgåsbord on a tray. Staff were very attentive – in one case possibly a bit too chatty, and let on he had looked after many celebrities.

Our ranger 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… Cheetahs and elephants are not territorial and come and go from the vast Kruger Park.

A lazy leopard at Royal Malewane
The gracious artful clutter in the spacious 2 bedroom suite at Royal Malewane
Bright, cheerful, artfully eclectic bedroom at Africa House

6 luxury pool suites, 2 two-bedroom pool suites with massive arty lounges and sole-use safari vehicle, Africa House with vast art studded lounges, 3 artful bedrooms with extravagant bathrooms, big pool with view into the bush, and sole use vehicle. Now a new lodge (opening date June 2019) 12 mins drive away called The Farmstead.

We saw gentle, gracious signs of age in the main lodge but now it is newly renovated.

There is also: Attractive spa with 3 treatment rooms (1 for couples), cabanas, gym, 25m lap pool. Magnificent bush dinners with large tent and civilized WC with all the accompanying toiletries and towels behind a bamboo structure.

REMARK: We were told that Royal Malewane find themselves competing with Singita in the top bracket but find that clients who stay at both like either Singita or Royal Malewane, never both. Singita, goes their analysis, pleases hotel fetishists with its perfection and contemporary style but others prefer the warmth and colour of traditional style.


Leave a Reply