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Kruger - How best to do it? Camps or Private Reserves?

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Sep 13th, 2005, 03:28 AM
  #1
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Kruger - How best to do it? Camps or Private Reserves?

We are trying to book a trip to SA - one week on a ranch in Waterburg and then Kruger for around 6 days. There seem to be 2 main types of accommodation ie self-catering camps or luxury lodges where its all laid on for you.
The question is this: Are we better off to stay somewhere like Londolozi (or one of the many others) where they provide guided game drives for us, or would we be better off hiring a car, staying in a camp and having the freedom to drive around ourselves? We are assuming that the game drives provided would be a better option (and also these places seem to be more luxurious) but we're very confused! Any help greatly appreciated.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 05:03 AM
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I have done both, unlike many others who will respond, and from purely a game viewing perspective, you are much better off self-driving within the national park, which is enormous and which you can explore for an entire day, than the much smaller Sabi Sands, where game drives are limited to several hours in the morning and late afternoon, leaving the entire mid-day section at the lodge.

The self-catering camps are much, much less luxurious, but they are comfortable and well-situated, and you could stay at a self-catering rondavel for six nights for the same price at one night at Londolozi.

With six nights, you could stay at three different camps for two nights each and work your way through a large portion of the park, using two different airports.

Or you an do what we did on our visit. We stayed in Kruger for four days and then Sabi Sands for two. Sure, we went offroad in Sabi Sands and got very close to animals, but the Sabi Sands is much, much smaller than Kruger.

Since my trip to Kruger in 2000, I have been on three more safaris, mostly at high end lodges because most national parks are not well suited for self-drive, but for our next safari (next July) we will be doing a self-drive in Hluhluwe and Kgalagadi, two other parks in South Africa. I much prefer to spend 12 days per day on safari than the much fewer at a private reserve. We'll also be in control and if I want to bring a book and spend three hours at a waterhole, I can -- you won't have this freedom in the Sabi Sands.

Let's see what others think.

Michael
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Sep 13th, 2005, 06:05 AM
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I have stayed at a medium price private lodge on the outskirts of Umfolozi, and a medium price private lodge on the outskirts of Etosha. In Kruger and Addo, I've stayed at the self-catering accommodations and once in a luxury guest house in Addo. I haven't ever stayed at the private high-end places like Londolozi.

I think the ranger-led game drives and the guiding in the national/provincial parks is as good as at the private places I've been, and sometimes better. As Michael says, you can spend more time game viewing when you're on your own; and in Kruger you can do both your own drives, and ranger-led ones.

You don't have to self-cater in Kruger. All the main camps have restaurants with pretty good food and moderate prices.

My husband I go to southern Africa every couple of years, and there's no way we could pay the breathtakingly high prices of the private luxury lodges that often. Sometimes I look at their specials and think "maybe...it sure would be fun to have all that luxury of a private plunge pool and indoor-outdoor shower and all the rest", but then I look at the budget and say "no, not if we want to go to Italy or France next year too."

I'm sure you'd have a wonderful time at the private lodges, as the frequenters of this forum will attest. But I'm equally sure you'd have a wonderful time staying in Kruger, driving yourself, and also booking some ranger-led drives, especially the night drives.

There is a range of accommodation in the park; you don't have to rough it unless you want to. Look at www.sanparks.org for descriptions of the various options and their prices.

Celia
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Sep 13th, 2005, 07:00 AM
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Celia, can you recommend a private lodge just outside Umfolozi. I'm not able to get into the park for three consecutive nights and likely will need to stay outside the park for the middle night, and I'm looking for recommendations. I have one for the Hluhuwe side, but maybe something is more appealing on the Umfolozi side.

Thanks, Michael
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Sep 13th, 2005, 07:17 AM
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I have done both, and recommend both! We did 3 nights at Olifants in Kruger (self-drive) and then 3 nights at Chitwa Chitwa in Sabi Sands. We loved the freedom of driving ourselves in Kruger, and I loved the guided walk I went on with two rangers in Kruger. But we loved the night game drives at Chitwa Chitwa, where we were able to see a leopard eating a kill one night and on another night, leopards mating. We could not have seen that on our own in Kruger, because they do not allow self-drives at night, and the guided night game drives they do allow in Kruger are with a large group where you are unlikely to see much (we did one guided evening game drive in Kruger and didn't see any of the big cats). Obviously food and accommodations are better in the luxury lodges than in Kruger, although our bungalow at Kruger was comfortable and we did get one with ensuite bath and also had a river view which was nice. But they are pretty basic. One other major difference is that in Kruger you must stay on road whereas in the private lodges in Sabi Sands they go wherever the Rovers can manage, which means pretty much anyplace. We saw lots of game ourselves in Kruger though, and it was thrilling (in fact, saw 4 of the big five on our own -- just didn't see leopard until we went to Chitwa Chitwa). The herds of ellies in Kruger were massive. Bottom line: I would not have missed either experience. Consider doing 3 nights of each -- I recommend it.

If you do a search using the word "Chitwa" or "Olifants" you should bring up my trip report from a couple of years ago -- I think it has the words "wow wow wow" in the title.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 08:09 AM
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Hi Michael,

We just got back from our SA trip and stayed at the Hluhluwe River Lodge. It was very nice but 30 minutes from the park. You might also try looking into the Zululand Tree Lodge/Safari Lodge, it was much closer to Memorial Gate, maybe only 10 minutes? I hope this helps!
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Sep 13th, 2005, 09:36 AM
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Thanks all, that's really helped. Having never been before we didn't really understand how it all works and reading your replies (and other threads on here) has made it much clearer.
Lisa I think we will probably opt for what you did, ie 3 nights of each. As well as saving on pennies not staying at a luxury lodge for the whole time we will have a chance to both do our own thing for a bit and to live in the lap of luxury for a bit. I will dig out your report, thanks.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 10:22 AM
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Michael, we stayed at Zululand Tree Lodge several years ago. It was particularly thrilling to walk so close to rhinos! We thought the lodge was elegant, and the food very good. However, I think it may have changed ownership since we were there, so others may have more current information.

I disagree with Lisa about whether you see much on a night drive at Kruger. It depends on luck, not on the size of the group doing the looking. We've seen lions hunting on a night drive at Kruger, and usually smaller cats too. We haven't seen leopards there, but have talked to people who told us we missed one by a couple of minutes.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 10:40 AM
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Thanks, someone else (Kavey, I think) also recommended Zululand Tree Lodge, and I may try that since its closer than Hluhluwe River Lodge (which, according to their website, is full when I'll be there). Thanks

Also, we saw plenty on our Kruger night drive, including an enormous herd of buffalo. That being said, night drives, whether in Kruger or a private reserve, are, in my opinion, vastly overrated -- lots of eyeglow, some genets, scrub hare, and maybe some lions, leopard, but you can't photograph them. I'd trade the night drive in the private reserve for extra daylight safari in Kruger any day.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 12:17 PM
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if you are planning to do a few nights in one of the private reserves, I cannot recommend Elephant Plains in Sabi Sands highly enough. I really wanted to stay in Sabi Sands after reading several reports about the wonderful game viewing there and the high probability of seeing cheetah and leopards. But the cost of many of the camps there looked like it might be a problem. Our travel agent suggested Elephant Plains and it was incredible. We saw a mother cheetah and her two boys within the first hour of our first game drive. We saw at least 8 different leopards, including watching one drag her impala back up the tree. If you stay there and are lucky enough to get Gideon and Prince as your guide/tracker team I can guarantee you will have an unforgettable experience. My only problem is that it spoiled me for some of our later parks where we didn't see quite as much. And the opportunity to do the night drives was well worth staying in the private reserves.
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Sep 13th, 2005, 10:53 PM
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Hello Julbod

I have been to Kruger many times before and have been lucky enough to stay at a number of the Private Lodges in the Sabi Sands - no doubt about it, if I were you, I would do 3 nights at one of the following camps in Kruger: Skukuza, Lower Sabie, Satara, and then 3 nights at one of the lodges in the Sabi Sands - all of them are wonderful, but my favourites have been Exeter's Dulini Lodge and Leadwood Lodge, Ulusaba Rock Lodge and Lion Sands River Lodge. Hope this helps in some way.
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Sep 14th, 2005, 01:50 AM
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I would split it 4 days in Kruger and 2 days in a private camp. Definitely book a night drive - we were lucky enough to see (and were in the middle of) over a thousand buffalo, 2 seperate sightings of lions, and hippo with its calf on the road on our last night drive. We were also charged by a black rhino but luckily were able to out-drive it in our vehicle.
The bushveld camps are superb if you are prepared to BBQue as there are no shops there - you purchase your food at the main camps and take it with you to the bushveld camps. These are the best bush experiences in Kruger.
If you book at Skukuza try to get the rondavels on the river. The same applies at Lower Sabie and Oliphants camps.
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Sep 14th, 2005, 02:14 AM
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Can I travel through western zambia in january? I would really lke to go to Mongu and possibly visit Barotseland?
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Sep 14th, 2005, 02:14 AM
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sorry, wrong section
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Sep 14th, 2005, 11:11 AM
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Once again thanks for all your advice. This forum has really helped to plan our trip as we are complete beginners when it comes to safari!
We have pretty much decided to split our trip into 3 nights Kruger, 3 nights Sabi Sands.
Bushmad - thanks for the tips on the places to stay in Kruger. I'm interested in your SS recommendations - you don't mention Exeter River Lodge. Any reason why? Its just that we can get a really good deal there and some of the others seem so expensive. I have searched on here but can't find much feedback on it.

I'm also interested to know if anyone's been to the ranch we're going to (Triple B/Horizon) but I suppose that's for another thread.....!!
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Sep 15th, 2005, 12:00 AM
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Hi Julbod

Exeter River lodge is a really nice lodge, still very exclusive yet slightly larger than Dulini and Leadwood - although we did not stay at River Lodge, we did manage to go and have a look at it. The rooms are lovely with great views over the river and beautiful plunge pools - if the staff and food at the other 2 lodges are anything to go by, then they will be absolutely fabulous - game viewing is the same area so superb is all that it can be classified as. I would say that if Dulini is slightly out of your range and River Lodge are giving you a good deal then go for it - you certainly won't be disappointed. Hope this helps somewhat...
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Sep 15th, 2005, 10:16 PM
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Hi Bushmad, thanks for that.
Exeter were able to do us an excellent deal on any of their lodges but as we are booking at such short notice, Leadwood and Dulini are already full for part of the 3 nights we are staying. River Lodge was the only one they had availability for when we wanted otherwise Leadwood would have been our first choice. As you say, they all look amazing so I'm sure we won't be disappointed either way!
Thanks again for your help and advice.
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Sep 16th, 2005, 06:18 PM
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Thanks, jcasale, for the Elephant Plains comments. I got a recommendation to go there and wanted to know what others experienced there.
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Sep 17th, 2005, 02:00 AM
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Michael, yes it was me - we didn't do any viewing in the Ubizane reserve area - we stayed there overnight but did our game viewing in Hluhluwe - and we stayed in the self-catering chalets rather than the lodge bit. Food was perfectly nice - a buffet on similar lines to WS stuff but a much larger choice (since catering for more people).

Julbod, I see you're all set - I just want to add that self-driving is a real thrill and quite distinctly different from being driven around by a guide - it's wonderful to split your time between both - it's a perfect balance!
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Sep 19th, 2005, 04:36 AM
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Hi there

Seems like you have kind of made up your mind. I have never been to the luxury lodges, there is just no way I could afford it!! Have however travelled extensively in Kruger. Game viewing depends on so many things that it could be great or you could see nothing. The wind plays a role, whether or not they had good rains etc. So just because I saw a lot of game two years ago close to Satara does not mean that you would.
Kruger has some great ranger led excursions as well - game drives (night and day), hikes with armed rangers etc. These depend a bit on the camp you are staying in as not all offer these. Some camps have rivers and waterholes and it is great to sit in the camp and watch the river below. We once saw a leopard and crocodile fight over a buck in the river below the camp. We just stopped at the camp to buy a cold drink and saw this. Amazing.
There are also some camps in Kruger that are more exclusive (and expensive) than others. I have forgotten their names, but they are called something like bush camps. The lodges are slightly more luxurious than other camps and they are small and exclusive. This also means there are no shops. We saw some elephant coming up to the fence at night almost 5 metres from our front door in one of these.
Some of the camps in Kruger could be very boring and others are amazing. So just choose Kruger correctly.
By the way, we have seen the big five almost always on every trip to Kruger (leopards were usually the reason if we did not see all 5).
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