Planning a safari in South Africa can be daunting. While it’s true that the game-packed Kruger Park is without doubt one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. And, for thrilling up-close sightings combined with luxurious lodge accommodation, you really can’t do better than a Private Kruger Reserve. There are so many private reserves and lodges to choose from. Which one is best for you?
What you need is the expert advice of someone who’s been there; someone who understands exactly what you want and can transform it into that once-in-a-lifetime trip. That’s where we come in. Our safari experts visit the destinations we sell; we stay in the lodges, experience the activities, and return with first-hand knowledge and insider tips. Want to know which room is closest to the waterhole or which guides really know their stuff? Ask us, we know.
Which is why last month Monique Dean, one of our most experienced and well-travelled consultants, jetted off to revisit a few of our favourite Kruger lodges. She stayed in both the Sabi Sands and another Private Kruger Reserve, where she was treated to exceptional wildlife sightings and sumptuous suites (hey, I didn’t say it was all hard work).
I’ll let Monique talk you through her reviews and recommendations from last month’s Kruger safari.
Monique hard at work assessing the quality of the game viewing from her private deck at Savanna.
Garonga Safari camp, Makalali Private Reserve
Garonga Safari Camp is a small tented camp in the 22,000 hectare Makalali Conservancy, a Private Kruger Reserve. Like all of the lodges that I visited on this trip, Garonga is owner-run and managed. This makes a huge difference, as having the owner on board means personal service and fantastic attention to detail. Garonga is no exception with Bernie, the owner, being very hands on and a wonderful host.
As for the accommodation you have a choice between two separate camps. The main camp, Garonga Safari Camp, has six tents each opening onto a wooden deck with an inviting hammock. The smaller camp, Little Garonga, has just three thatched suites including a 2-bedroom suite for families. This small, tucked-away camp is really private and a top choice for a group of friends travelling together, as you could hire it out for your own exclusive safari experience.
Tent interior at Garonga Safari Camp.
We went on an afternoon game drive, and I couldn’t help but notice the new vehicles which were extremely comfortable (great for rugged off-road driving). The Makalali Private Reserve is known for its plains games and our sightings included cheetah and a close-up view of a pack of spotted hyena. That evening we joined Bernie and the other guests for dinner at a communal table. It was wonderfully social with delicious food and interesting dinnertime chats.
What really stood out for me: along with game drives and wilderness walks, Garonga offers a wide range of unique experiences. Sleep out under the stars in a comfortable bed high on a platform overlooking a waterhole, have a picnic lunch in a tree house, or relax into a romantic bush bath complete with candles, bath salts and your favourite bottle of wine.
Romantic bush bath at Garonga Private Reserve.
Dulini Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sands
Dulini is a truly luxurious property. Six thatched bungalows sit right on the riverbank, each beautifully decorated with plenty of indoor space, and a private deck and heated plunge pool shaded by ebony trees. I spent a blissfully relaxing afternoon out on my deck, watching antelope come and go as my personal butler brought me an ice-cold G&T made just the way I like it.
The game viewing in the Sabi Sands is world renowned, and Dulini Private Reserve certainly lived up to my high expectations. A couple of safari highlights included a leopard with her cubs, and a pack of wild dogs with pups. It’s such a treat to see wild dogs: we watched the puppies at play and drove next to the pack as they ran, listening to their high pitched yapping.
Plunge pool and deck at Dulini Private Reserve.
Dulini’s bungalows are perfect for a honeymoon hideaway, although I’d highly recommend this lodge for families too. Dulini is run by a husband-and-wife team who have two daughters of their own (aged 11 and 13) and know how to make kids feel welcome. I’ve brought my daughter here before and the ranger really included her in the safari experience – she had an absolutely blast!
What really stood out for me: there’s a fantastic relationship between the guides and trackers at Dulini. Firstly they’re excellent at finding wildlife and sharing their extensive knowledge, but more than that it’s their friendly banter and amusing anecdotes of life out in the African bush. They really let you into their world so your game drives are not only thrilling but highly entertaining too.
Sabi Sands game drive past a pride of lion in a riverbed.
Savanna Private Reserve, Sabi Sands
Savanna Private Reserve is another wonderfully luxurious Sabi Sands property. Staying here you have the choice between the smaller Luxury Suites (which don’t have private plunge pools) and the larger Executive Suites (which do). There are seven suites in total, as well as a two-bedroom villa which is great for families with kids (Savanna accepts children aged eight and older) or couples travelling together.
Once again the Sabi Sands didn’t disappoint and our game drives included sightings of elephant, giraffe, lion, hippo, buffalo, wildebeest and a whole range of antelope. Our guide and tracker also located the pack of wild dogs that we’d seen in next-door Dulini, and we watched as the three puppies played with the fluffy tail from a recent kill – none of them wanting to give it up!
The main thatched lodge at Savanna Private Reserve.
For me a real highlight of staying at Savanna is the wonderful staff and the little treats around every turn. You may come back from your game drive to find a hot bath waiting for you, or a couple of glasses of warming sherry. With its consistently good game viewing and excellent staff, it’s hardly surprising that Savanna often has guests coming back year after year.
What really stood out for me: the rangers at Savanna are keen photographers and they go out of their way to ensure that angle of the vehicle is just right and that the lighting is the best it can be for your photographs. You don’t have to be an experienced photographer either, in fact if you’re not familiar with your camera then the guides will teach you how to get the best out of it.
The wild dog pups playing with a fluffy antelope tail.
These are just a few of the lodges we offer in the Private Kruger Reserves. For more options take a look at our Sabi Sands accommodation or contact Monique and she can put together an itinerary including the perfect safari lodge, flights and maybe even a few days on a beach.