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Need Help with Safari Lodges for 3 week SA trip in '15

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Apr 3rd, 2014, 06:58 PM
  #1
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Need Help with Safari Lodges for 3 week SA trip in '15

Background

We’ve had the good fortune to have gone on safari in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana. Here are examples of experiences I liked and didn’t, so you get to know my tastes and quirks: *Enjoyed tented camp Tena Tena in Zambia, it overlooked a river, game rich drives, good guides, real bush atmosphere, convivial, repeat campers.
*back in 1984, when there was a lion kill in the Mara (Kenya) so many vans instantly materialized it was like the parking lot of Macy’s in LA the day after Christmas, a Disneylandesque atmosphere, not good.
*Mombo Lodge in the Okavango Delta of Botswana was a splurge beyond compare,what’s not to like?; the guides were superb, only four guests per vehicle, food and wine great, accommodations fabulous, gazing out from our veranda, an endless wonder.
*Our five day private mobile tented safari (with another couple) in the Serengeti (as part of a 3 week Tanzania safari) was superb. Every moment an adventure, formal dining under the stars was magnificent.
*I did not like our two night stay at Ngorogoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. The lodge was just too precious for me. Again, as soon as we saw a nursery school pick up (6 lionesses were escorting about 3-6 cubs each across the road) 6-8 vans materialized and the quiet ambience of the crater flood disappeared.

The Question
DH and I are youthfully 69 and 76, and have more in common with travelers over 50. We want our safari experience to be filled with great (and up close) game viewing. We do not have a list to be checked off of either mammals or birds. We enjoy learning all we can about our fellow creatures and enjoy knowledgeable guides with a good senses of humor and fun. We like the idea of a private reserve/concession without fences and with unopposed traversing rights. We prefer 4 guests to a jeep rather than 6 but not a deal breaker. We like an area with a diversity of terrain, we especially like woodlands and river scenery. We want day and night off road game drives and walking opportunities.
We like a lodge to have a warm, welcoming atmosphere with a place to congregate and mingle with other guests or some group meals. We do not like stiff, ultra “professional”, servile service.

As to lodge accommodations, we like upscale digs: traditional African or colonial decor to blend with the environment, veranda with scenic view a real plus, spacious room and bathroom, no more than 10 units, sense of privacy between units. We can do without things like: plunge pools (unless heated, still very optional), spas, outdoor showers, in room jacuzzis, private butler, crystal touches that are over the top and out of character with environment. We enjoy fine food and wine but the chef need not be Paris trained or have other impressive credentials. This would be our big splurge lodge for 3 nights.

I am leaning toward Mala Mala Rattray’s Camp. Don’t know if not having a tracker in jeep is a significant drawback. Willing to consider Lion Sands River or Ivory. Londolosi seems to have lots of lodges and less terrain than Mala Mala. Royal Malawani and Exeter River Lodge somehow strike me as elitist or is that me being elitist??

As another 2 day experience I might like to try tenting it at dThambo Tree Camp. Any comments about the terrain, accommodations, etc.?

As a third camp in KZN I am considering Elephant Rock Pv. Safari Lodge, Nambiti Hills Pvt Game Lodge or Leopard Mtn Game Lodge - here we are looking for wonderful views from lodge units, can be rustic, romantic, good game viewing. We’d stay 3 nights and continue on to explore Durban. DH says all are fine with him

I am eager for all feedback. Many thanks.
Robbietravels is offline  
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Apr 3rd, 2014, 07:43 PM
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I love MalaMala. Been there three times, 2005, 2007, 2009. Each time was in Sable camp. Booked Main camp but they put us in Sable. Good deal. Also been in the Timbavati reserve bordering north MalaMala and Kruger. That is, four times to Kings Camp. The decor at Kings is British Colonial, very nice. http://tinyurl.com/l7ys4fk . If you go to Kings try and get Morne as your ranger/guide.

Have not been there but managed also by MalaMala is Mashuta Camp. Just over the SA border in Botswana. I've heard many guest reports that love it. More rustic than the camps above. Also since MalaMala and Mashuta are by same company they can make all travel between the camps for you. http://www.mashatu.com/camps.htm

regards - tom
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Apr 3rd, 2014, 08:04 PM
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Oh, also in Sabi Sand been to Leopard Hills, very nice, very plush, every room has a plunge pool. Which is "over the top" for me. Ngala Safari Lodge (part of &Beyond) which I did not like the game drives. Kirkmans Kamp (part of &Beyond) which I like a lot and would go back. Also FWIW been to camps in Botswana, Zambia (like you Tena Tena, and Nsefu), Tanzania and Kenya. Of all safari countries, South Africa is my favorite. And if I had to pick just one safari camp it would be MalaMala.

regards - tom
I have Fodors trip reports for each year's safari. Search or I can post the direct links if you wish.
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Apr 4th, 2014, 05:51 AM
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Londolozi has 5 small camps. The one we were in a few months ago (Pioneer) had 4 guests for part of our stay, 6 for the remainder, including us. You do not mingle with the guests in the other camps (unless you want to make a special arrangement to dine at one other than where you are lodged, or unless you use the small gym or visit the small gift shop) and you rarely see the other guests outside your own camp while on game drives.

The traverse area is one of the largest in Sabi Sands. I have been there, and to Lion Sands Ivory, and much preferred Londolozi. If it matters to you, Londo has better food. The feeling is more like being at someone's vast bush estate. The feeling at Lion Sands, to me, was a bit more hotel like. But in the end, both are fabulous, unforgettable experiences, as would be anything in Sabi Sands!

I wrote trip reports that cover both camps, so you can read if you would like more info.
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Apr 4th, 2014, 04:36 PM
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Thank you all for your help and aiding my confusion. Kings Camp gets very good comments on game drives/guides/trackers, not much commentary about the food. Leopard Hills looks good, many of them have these plunge pools so Tom I won't rule it out on that alone, if all else is tops.
So no one has stayed at Rattray's at Mala Mala, it is intended to compete with the Londolozi camps but I surely don't know. Now back to do more comparisons.
We can go in June, July or August. Will it be equally cold in each of these months?
I forgot to mention one camp I like in KZN, Mkuze Falls, anyone been there?
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Apr 4th, 2014, 07:45 PM
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Hi Robbietravels - My husband and I safaried at Rattray's last April and it was just fabulous! It was our third safari (having been to Kenya, Tanzania, Bots, Rwanda and Namibia) and in our experience was absolutely over-the-top in sheer wildlife numbers. Mala Mala is by far the largest of the Sabi Sand reserves, and with that 19 mile border with Kruger you absolutely do benefit from the ability of the animals to roam freely from the park to the reserve. Our days were so crowded with wildlife sightings (and only a couple of times did we share a sighting with another (lone) camp vehicle) that we laughingly accused our ranger of having trained them all to appear whenever they heard us approach.

Though there is indeed a limit of only 4 guests per vehicle at Rattray's, we did book a private guide and vehicle as we always do, so that there is continuity in our drives and we can go out all day if we choose. We also enjoy birding, not everyone's cup of tea, and love the freedom to do as we please. Our ranger was Matt Hobbs, without question one of the best guides we've ever had. His tracking skills were amazing, we didn't miss having a separate tracker at all. He made our time at Rattray's a complete joy. He is an expert birder, a font of knowledge regarding wildlife, animal behaviour, the environment, history of the area, and is also a throughly charming and entertaining host. The guides at Mala Mala are pretty amazing, highly educated and well trained. And just so much fun to be around!

The reserve is huge, and there is a variety of landscapes and terrains to explore, much of it truly breathtaking, with kopjes, forest, grassland, and that beautiful Sand river. We went out all day each day for four days, and each day brought new sights and landscape. We enjoyed some great night drives! - a female lion, her two cubs trailing, was stalking impala under the night sky, then approached us and used our vehicle as cover; a leopard under the stars, barely a metre from the dirt track, feasted noisily on his prey. The following morning, just minutes out of camp, we found him stretched out in the grass beside the road, sleeping it off.

Driving off road was just wonderful...one very early, brilliant-sky morning, Matt quietly parked us on the shore of the Sand River, as we watched a second magnificent leopard emerge from the grassy bank. He tentatively dabbed his huge paws into the water, glanced back at us over his shoulder in a picture-perfect pose, then strode regally across the shallow river to the opposite shore (followed by a graceful leap up to the bank in a glittering burst of water droplets.)

Loved the food. (The date square is " a little piece of heaven.") Loved the atmosphere - the vibe at Rattray's was warmly welcoming, low-key but very attentive. We felt thoroughly spoiled. The accomodation - the kayahs - are fairly unassuming on the outside, but the interiors blew our minds. They are gorgeous! I believe they are something like 1200 square feet each. The separate his and her bath/dressing room wings are simply beautiful. Stunning views from the lady's bath. The private shaded veranda is enormous!It looks out over the river, as does the entire rear wall of the kayah. There is wildlife! There is also complete privacy. The furnishings, accessories, fixtures are all exquisite and the housekeeping is meticulous. Dinner served in our room one evening was an event. Really, we were so happy there I cried when we had to leave!

Rattray's was special and has probably spoiled us for anywhere else. That seemed to be the general consensus amongst the guests we met during our stay. Rattray's is indeed a splurge but was well worth it! While the birds were not as prolific at Mala Mala, at least not for us at this time of year, as it was in the Delta, the sheer number and variety of mammals and reptiles was just fantastic. When we think back to our stay there we just look at each other and sigh. Can't wait to return...
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Apr 4th, 2014, 08:01 PM
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I was in Mala Mala Main Camp this last June, and the animal viewing there has probably spoiled me for any future safaris. So many leopards it was amazing and up close and personal to boot!

Never more than 3 vehicles at a sighting. Matt was my guide also and he's very passionate about his work and really knew his stuff.

Mashatu Tented is my all time favourite camp as I prefer my accommodation more on the rustic side to MalaMala. The tents were immaculate and I loved showering under the big blue sky even if in June it was pretty cold.
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Apr 4th, 2014, 09:14 PM
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Kings Camp food? Outstanding!
Here's snap of breakfast, buffet plus eggs, bacon, waffles cooked as you wish.
http://tinyurl.com/kdlfpeg
a desert - http://tinyurl.com/n95pnmh

Other meals even more delicious. All meals in a nice colonial style dinning room with fireplace and about 8 tables for your choosing. Also a Boma on occasion and an outside cookout, braaivleis in the bush, on occasion. Warren and wife Lisha wonderful hosts, always around happy to assist you. The whole staff there is great.

Again, if you can get Morne as your ranger, if not Patrick. In 2011 Morne was selected as one of eight finalist for SA top professional safari ranger. Real honor.

regards - tom
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Apr 6th, 2014, 09:28 AM
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I have been to Mkuze Falls. The food and accommodations are great. We had same guide for both times named Sipho. Remember it is a stocked game reserve. Good sightings first visit, not great the second. No leopards as lion kept eating them. Good cheetah and Ellie sightings. W drove and it is a long drive. From Durbs. I haven't been there in 10 years so things probably have changed
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