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Yet another Kruger private reserve budget lodge post + Blyde Canyon

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Feb 25th, 2014, 05:36 PM
  #1
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Yet another Kruger private reserve budget lodge post + Blyde Canyon

I probably sound like all the rest of the posts.....

I won't know until April whether I am going to J'burg, SA on business for 2 weeks in late May and/or early June. I visited 2 years ago, but couldn't take any vacation time. This time I want to be ready with up to a week of plans that I could quickly book if the trip becomes reality, so I am making choices and backups.

I am an active female 50+ traveling solo. I do not like to drive in foreign countries. Nature is the emphasis of the vacation time. I enjoy both birds and mammals. I like clean, simple, comfortable accommodations and healthy food, no alcohol. Budget to moderate price. It will be early winter, so warmth more important than a/c or pool. I expect to fly to HDS and take a ground transfer at least one way.

So, everywhere I read that Sabi Sands has the greatest concentration of wildlife, so it seems a no brainer to be my top choice for viewing but also may be crowded.
Elephant Plains, if available. Is the lack of a flowing river by the lodge a negative in the dry season because animals would not gather nearby?
Umkumbe reportedly has small game drive area. Maybe Arathusa for $100 more per night.

Timbavati seems to be a cheaper alternative with smaller crowds and many people citing their leopard sightings. However, I read that there are fewer rhinos in this area? Is that true?
Kambaku has only a small watering hole, so question about whether that is a negative.
Shindzela Tent Camp -- has anyone taken their walking safaris? Is it more than the bush walks given at other lodges? I walk 5 miles a day at home and hike, so walking is attractiveif you get to see much, but drives may be more practical for covering ground. I have no clue.

Klaserie and Gomo Gomo lodge looks further from Kruger, which I know is not good.

A lot of people move and stay at more than one camp. I don't know if the range of animals that inhabit Sabi Sands area is very different from Timbavati. Or is it just the idea of scouting two different areas because of how it is chance where one might find the animals each day, so better to look in two different places. I read that the ecosystems are different--but how different--heavy bush on hilly terrain versus short grass on flat plains between those two areas?

I am considering instead of two lodges and more game drives after about 3 nights, I'd find a day tour to the Blyde Canyon or a way of transferring by land back to Johannesburg to take the Panorama Route. Any good ideas in this direction?

Now I just have to get the business part of the trip approved!
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Feb 25th, 2014, 06:08 PM
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We've stayed at Elephant Plains, Nkhoro and Chitwa Chitwa in the SSGR, and frankly Elephant Plains was our favorite, as well as being the cheapest. At Chitwa Chitwa our rondavel looked out on the pond/dam at the camp, and it was great, but would I pay extra for that? Not really; by the time the evening game drive's over it's too dark to see anything, and still dark (in June especially) when you get up for the morning drive.

As for the Panoramic Route, we've always driven ourselves so I can't speak to day tours, although I'm sure they exist.
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Feb 25th, 2014, 11:53 PM
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You don't say how many days you want to be on safari?

I've been to both Timbavati and Sabi Sand and over last 7 years, about 35 safari nights in Timbavati all at Kings Camp (yes, I really like Kings Camp). And about 25 safari nights in Sabi Sand at camps Leopard Hills, Kirkmans Kamp, and MalaMala. Of all those camps MalaMala has had the best game viewing. If you have only 3-4-5 safari nights, spend all at MalaMala. No camp has more leopards than MalaMala if that is what you are keen on.

The terrain in Timbavati and Sabi Sand is very similar, low bushveld.

As for Blyde Canyon and Panoramic Route, pretty country - but - if you've seen the western USA, Arizona, Utah, etc., you might find BC and PR at bit of "just nice".

regards - tom
ps - many people refer to walks at safari camps as a "plant and poop" walks. I've been on a few and either the animals run when they see you on foot or the guides avoid the big five. However, others have had more exciting walks.
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Feb 26th, 2014, 04:10 AM
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Thanks for the help.
MalaMala is too pricey for me. I am not paying $1000+ per day if there are acceptable alternatives at one-third the cost.

I understand the comparison of the Canyon to Western US. It sounds like how people suggest the Blue Mtns in Australia are beautiful and when we got there, we said, well this is "nice", but....

I didn't expect much from the bush walks taken after the morning drives, so I wondered how different the 2-2.5 hr walks Shindzela Tent Camp offers in lieu of the drive are.
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Feb 26th, 2014, 11:54 AM
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Then best camp in Timbavati is Kings Camp. They will meet you at HDS (for a fee).
http://tinyurl.com/m5w3geg
5,800 ZAR, $534 USD. Used to be no single supplement charge (2012) probably still true.

I've been to KC 5 (or 6?) times, last time was May of 2012, stayed all my safari time there, 19 nights. Ask for Morne or Patrick as your range/guide.

regards - tom
ps - FWIW here is link to my Fodors report of my 2012 safari - http://www.fodors.com/community/afri...frica-2012.cfm
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Feb 27th, 2014, 06:47 PM
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I don't go high end any more - I'd rather go more often than spend lots of money on luxuries I don't need. Look into Arathusa - we loved it and it has been upgraded since we've been. The waterhole is great to just watch from your private deck all day long between game drives. Highly recommended. Also went to Shindzela, but it changed hands and tents (more guests) have been added since we were there. It was such a great atmosphere, but now I have no idea. Look into Africa on Foot and its sister camps - I've seen great reviews from reliable sources. You can fly to Sabi Sands for R6700 return, the pick up from HDS or KMIA airports is R2060 or R2350 (I found these on the Elephant Plains website for my own reference a few weeks ago). I'd fly. I would also look into Cheetah Plains and Nkorho for other Sabi Sands affordable options. We are thinking Gomo Gomo and nDzuti for inexpensive options someday.

For alternatives, check out Sun Safaris - they do inexpensive trips to Kruger from Joberg. They look like fun.

Other options could be Mashatu Tented - my very favorite camp. They don't have rhinos or buffalo, but it was great! It's in SE Botswana, and easy to get to from Joberg. Check the website for flight/drive transfers.

We were also very pleasantly surprised by Zululand Rhino Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park. Very reasonable options in KwaZulu Natal. Fly to Durban or Richards Bay and get a transfer through the camp.

Whatever you do, you'll love it. You'll be back, so do something fun and then try something else next time. There will be a next time!!
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Mar 1st, 2014, 11:41 AM
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Mala Mala has one room that is a single where a supplement is not charged. It overlooks the river, is huge but you need to book it early. The wildlife there is outstanding and the setting along the Sand River wonderful!

I loved the rustic side of Mashatu which is by far my favourite camp with amazing wildlife viewings however it's difficult & expensive to get to as as solo traveler unless you self drive to the border.

Keep in mind May/June nights will be cold & if doing night drives in an open vehicle you'll need to dress like my profile photo! lol

You will be back for sure so don't try to pack too much into your week.
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Mar 6th, 2014, 05:23 AM
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Hey Kay2,

I've stayed at all places you mentioned, and many more. In fact, I'm just back from a safari (by coincidence; last camp was Shindzela). I'm also an FGASA lvl 1 field guide, having done my practical on Sabi Sabi plot in Sabi Sands. Here's my 2 cents;

It all depends on what you're looking for.

One end of the spectrum is the "speed dating safari" type, where you get lots of vehicles sharing sightings. So you see a lot, but may need to make room after 15 minutes, for another vehicle pulling in (the reserves impose a maximum of 2 or 3 cars per sighting).

Important; note that a lot of sharing may be because there's a lot of lodges on small(er) plots that work together, but it may also be because one plot has several lodges on it - branded under a single name - and they all have multiple vehicles out.
I mention this because on this board people seem to think lots of different lodge names means lots of sharing and one single lodge name means no sharing. It's not as simple as that.

Another end of the spectrum is the lodges that offer more intimate experiences with wildlife. Through walking safaris (not just a quick 30min walk after dinner, but typically a 2,5hr walk in the morning). Or by staying longer at sightings.

I know I'll probably get flamed for this but imho the latter lodges aim more for the real nature enthusiast, while the former typically cater for first timers (people who do a safari once, want to see as much as possible, but will probably choose something else - like a cruise - for their next holiday.

Of course we don't need to focus on these two extremes of the spectrum: there's plenty of grey area in between.

Having said all that; as a customer (!) I prefer the camps that are more catering towards nature enthusiasts. If I want to see the big 5 in one day, I may as well go to the zoo.
Here's a fun fact for you; I know there's camps in Sabi Sands where guides are not allowed to offer the big 5 in one day. So they deliberately pass up on sightings handed to them by radio. This is to prevent a too quick burn out of their customers. After all; what thrilling sighting can you offer a customer who has already seen everything on day one?
Another reason why I don't like speed-dating animals is because an animal only relaxes and goes back to it's normal behavior 10-15 minutes after the last (human) disturbance it encountered.

Anyway, here's some more info on the properties you're looking into;

1) Sabi Sands

a) Elephant Plains, Arathusa, and more; all those lodges in that northern block of the reserve share more or less the same plots. Real traverse showing on this map: http://www.sunsafaris.com/south-afri...abi-sands-map/ EP is the least expensive option, as they go for a max occupancy. This means their vehicles are regularly filled to the brim.
Personally, I didn't like the regular rooms at EP: they offer no view on the bush, which is a shame and also a bit strange, considering that the bush is all around the lodge, lol.
I find Arathusa to be the better option. Bit more expensive, but not as popular as EP (although that may change). Arathusa also has one of the best guides I ever had; Rein Kock (formerly Africa On Foot & nThambo).
Other lodges in that block are at tad to a lot more expensive, but whatever you choose in that block; expect some animal speed-dating, especially at popular sightings.

b) Umkumbe; not to be compared with the other lodges in the reserve. Their plot is only about 700Ha, but it is a very nice plot. It contains one of the areas that has the most plains game (in the rest of the reserve plains game is more difficult to find).
Plus it's got some mudholes that attract a number of rhino. In all but the wet season (read; when a rhino can get mud everywhere) an intimate date with rhino is practically guaranteed.
So Umkumbe offers a very intimate experience; cats can be a hit or miss - they're quickly on the plot next door - but you get to spend lots of quality time with the animals you DO see, rhino included.
Also, Umkumbe is the only camp I know of where they allow you to sit in the tracker seat (only in the afternoon).

c) The rest. While I think there's some lodges that allow magnificent game viewing; I think they're all out of your budget range.

2) Klaserie

Don't dismiss lodges like Africa On Foot, nThambo and Gomo Gomo just because they're a bit further from Kruger NP and more towards the fence line. The truth is that these lodges (together with Baobab Ridge, a lodge that caters for groups) sit in a very game rich area, and that leopards are much easier to find than in Timbavati (but still less easy than in Sabi Sands). These are not my words, but words of a guide who used to work at GG but now works at Shindzela (more on that later).
Together, these lodges operate on a small area of about 3Ha or so. But still; their number of vehicles (in total) is low, so you do not get any animal speed-dating. Plus, nothing is as it seems; they also share with Kambaku (formerly Royal Legend) in Timbavati, but on invitation only. On top of that, they also traverse with some other lodges/plots further east. It takes them a while to get there (via the tar road), but sometimes it's worth it.
Africa On Foot only drives in the morning if the weather does not permit walking. Walks are not aimed at big 5 encounters, obviously, but more on the "smaller stuff" and the plant life as well. Walks are great if you want to understand how all the cogs in the biome-machine work together. However, sometimes you do run into dangerous game. So yes, it's always a bit thrilling to do walks in big 5 country.

3) Timbavati

a) Shindzela. Dave sold his property someone who's name I forgot. But more important is that this person's two brothers were the managers at GG. So now they are managing Shindzela, and together with them Johan Adolf Smalman came over as well. Johan is an amazingly good guide as well.
The camp has improved a lot. The central area was enlarged. A swimming pool was built. The rooms were improved a bit. All while still keeping th
Their walks in the morning are not mandatory, so you may opt to go on drive as well.
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Mar 6th, 2014, 05:47 AM
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...oops sorry. Pressed Submit by accident.
Disregard last 2 sentences and read on plz

(also 3Ha should read 3000Ha, obviously)

The camp has improved a lot. The central area was enlarged. A swimming pool was built. The rooms were improved a bit. All while still keeping that intimate feeling. We liked the changes a lot.
Shindzela has no official traverse, but they are with maximum 2 vehicles on 3500Ha so that's a lot of ground to cover (in fact more than the previously mentioned lodges in Klaserie have, at least in their direct neighborhood). They traverse with Ngala on invitation. While we were there, wild dogs came from Ngala to Shindzela, and Johan invited them in so they could follow them as well.
Again; plenty of time at every sighting here. We had the dogs to ourselves for over an hour, and watched them hunt. This was a clear difference with the Ngala folks, who all left after 15 mins or so (not to be replaced by other vehicles of that lodge - I think it was simply time for breakfast).
So Shindzela is a great camp. Surely not less rhino than Klaserie or Sabi Sands. Don't know where that comes from. Leopards are more difficult though, probably because they're less accustomed to vehicles.
Their walks in the morning are not mandatory, so you may opt to go on drive as well.

b) Simbavati RL, Kings Camp, etc

These all share more or less the same area. Map showing real traverse here; http://www.sunsafaris.com/south-afri...timbavati-map/ (like with previous map; hover over it to see traverse). Sorry, the map is missing Kambaku right now. This lodge sits more to the west, so it's "as far from Kruger NP" than those lodges in Klaserie. But as I said; game richer area is closer to the fence.
In general, I'd say that the area these lodges share is about idem in game density as Sabi Sands. Leopards here are almost as tame as in Sabi Sands. Perhaps because there's more vehicles, although not nearly as many as in that northern block of Sabi Sands. As with Sabi Sands there's a bit of a lack in plains game.
I think Simbavati RL is the cheapest option here, and I think they ask a bit less because it's more difficult for them to get to every major sighting, as they sit on the edge of that big shared area (I do not take Motswari into account as they have plenty of plots where only themselves are allowed).


Bottom line; choose wisely. IMHO the best is to combine a few lodges. Not only because of small differences in habitat, but also because of the different things they offer. Whatever lodges you combine; if you combine two in Klaserie/Timbavati, you may save yourself quite a bit of transfer costs (most lodges transfer you to/from HDS airport for free).

Just as an example; start with a couple of nights near the Blyde River Canyon, to relax and get into the rhythm. No need for a car; the lodges can come and get you, and drop you back off at HDS airport. Make sure to do the Panorama route. I'm sure the lodges can organize that for you. Then 4 nights at nThambo, regular safari but the most lovely and intimate bush camp I ever had the pleasure staying at. Afterwards go to Shindzela for 4 nights; the walks will be a welcome break. Then Arathusa for another 4 nights, to end with a bang.

HTH,

J.
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Mar 6th, 2014, 06:05 PM
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Thanks everyone for the explanations and the personal experiences.
It especially helps to hear the comparisons of different places--not just that it is the best or a must, but what it is like.

I like the speed dating safari image.
I try not to be critical of one type of travel or another--just like everyone to find the right match.
As I said, I will only have about 1 week for this part of my trip which I know many think is too short, but it is take that time or nothing. So it will be an introduction to the area. Any experience will be new. I may leave Blythe Canyon to just if it works out.

I will consider two safari locations if I can find some variety in the offerings. It will also help keep me from feeling it is time to go home. (I tend to miss my husband and just want some of my home routine after 3 weeks on the road.)

One additional question:
I am assuming that 2 private reserves is still the way to go and not 1 private reserve and 1 stay "in town" with day trip into the park. I know that in the park vehicles stay on the roads and leave before dark. Are there any destinations within the park that make this option a better choice over a second private reserve?
Again, any safari will be a new experience (closest experiences I have had would be trips in Thailand national park, Yellowstone or Alaska). I am just thrilled by the idea of seeing animals in their natural habitat. I think the ones that interest me the most are hippos, giraffe, zebra, rhino, elephants, various antelope,and all the cats. Did I cover everything? I like bird watching too.
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Mar 6th, 2014, 10:36 PM
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Hey Kay2,

If you're only there for one week, I'd go for two camps in two reserves, but without losing gamedrive-time on transfers. For example; nThambo/Klaserie and Shindzela/Timbavati.

If you want to include Kruger NP itself; instead of adding a lodge outside borders, why not include a SANparks camp? They have multiple restcamps with all kinds of accomodation. These camps also offer drives, night drives, walks, etc. Just shop around on SANparks website.
Self-catering, yes. But you can pick a restcamp with a restaurant and just eat there + go to the shop to throw together a simple breakfast.

However, the problem with adding the National Park is again; transfer time. If you land at HDS, that's cool as it's right next to Timbavati/Klaserie gate. But to get to Kruger you have to drive all around Timbavati to get into the park via Orpen Gate, or drive all around Balule/Klaserie to get to Phalaborwa gate.

Ciao,

J.
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Apr 20th, 2014, 12:25 PM
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I haven't received the air ticket yet, but the trip seems to be a go and my husband is joining me for the holiday. Thus, my plans will shift somewhat.

With him along, self-drive becomes an option, so we are discussing the time/stress of driving vs. the cost of flying to HDS.
Possible new itinerary:

Day 1 Sunday: Leave JNB by 10am (don't want to commit to early start because husband arriving the evening before from US), drive to the Blyde Canyon area. A few hours to look around the canyon before sunset at 5:30pm. Where to stay? I saw one lodge (bad reviews) along the canyon toward the north end. Graskop seems to soon, else drive along canyons some and back before dark. I don't have a good feel for this area.

Day 2: Finish walks and views of canyon, then drive to Shindzela arriving by 2pm to checkin for evening game drive. Spend 2 nights in what looks like just above camping--fun, but maybe cold, an adventure.

Day 4: After morning game drive, drive ourselves to our second resort for 2 nights. Still undecided. Want chance for different animals and viewing area. Still on a budget. Considering nThambo, but if want something nicer, waiting to hear from Arathusa. Decided to skip GomoGomo, Elephant Plains, and a couple of others because they allow small children to go on the game drives. Still open to suggestions for around 3500Rand pp or less per night.

Day 6: After morning game drive, drive back to JNB, drop off car and overnight, spending our last day up until evening flight with friends in Jo'berg.

We are comparing this itinerary to flying to HDS on Day 1, transferring to resorts 1 and 2, then on Day 5, transferring the HDS and renting a car to drive back to JNB overnight via Panoramic Route.

Final option is combine flying and/or Aston's Shuttle service, cut the canyon and stay 5 nights at resorts.

So, you can see we are still undecided.
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Apr 20th, 2014, 01:35 PM
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We stay in Graskop at the artsy and very comfortable (also affordable) Graskop Hotel - http://www.graskophotel.co.za/ which also has the distinct advantage of being a few steps from Harrie's Pancakes. It's not far to various view/walking areas like the Three Rondavels, God's Window etc. You're probably 2 1/2 hours tops from Timbavati.
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Apr 20th, 2014, 08:20 PM
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If you are still thinking about Kruger for part of your safari time read our Blog. We did a combination of Kirkmanns and a self driver in Kruger as our first safari experience and had a ball. We had great animal viewing in Kruger and found the accommodations very good and very cheap! I did all the arranging on line.

www.aroundtheworldin132days.blogspot.com
Go to the blog archive on the right hand side, click on April, then click on Saturday, March 28 and work though the newer post. We when from J'burg through the beautiful countryside to Kirimanns. Did two very nice game drives and then drove into the park for three days of wonderful game viewing at our own pace. We only had four nights, but it was worth it.

Later in the trip we did a private safari in the Seringeti that was wonderful also. But the Kruger experience was as good if not better.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 05:09 AM
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Playing with the idea of driving to KNP the first night instead of Graskop to do a little driving around afternoon/morn before transferring to the private reserves, but being warned that one night in-park doesn't allow one to experience it properly. Would you cut nights from the private reserves to spend leisurely wandering in the park itself self drive-maybe less game viewing up close, but interesting?

Or should we just focus on the private reserves like so many people do? It just seems so out of character to us to go somewhere that is all group activity with so much structure. I understand the timing of the game drives and the practicality, but unsure if we will feel constrained doing it for 4 days/nights.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 06:00 AM
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We've done both, and while KNP is a treasure, the distances are great and the speed limits slow. I also fear you're underestimating how long it takes to drive to the region from Joburg, particularly when the days are pretty short and twilight isn't that long. IMO the real advantage the private reserves possess is that you can go off-road, which hugely expands the game and bird viewing options.

We like the Graskop stop because the landscapes are so different from the bushveld around KNP - e.g. http://gardyloo.us/africa10J%20027as.jpg
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 07:51 PM
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The gates close in Kruger at 6 pm during that season. It's difficult to make the drive in one day unless you leave very early. But Kruger is great fun!! Planning a return in June, also. Stay in camps with a restaurant unless you are prepared to bring and cook!! I would not do it for just one night. When you are planning your next trip (likely before your plane lands at home!!) you can visit Kruger.

Safari may be structured, but it is an adventure. Your expectations will be exceeded.
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Apr 23rd, 2014, 07:25 PM
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Apr 24th, 2014, 06:44 PM
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I played with the itinerary and worked it so we could arrive early enough and spend 2 nights in KNP as trade off with some nights at private reserve, but my husband saw the video of the elephant flipping the car in December and decided that the structured private reserves are the way to go.

So, we are back to considering drive to Graskop first day, on to Shindzela Spend 2 nights in what looks like just above camping.

Day 4: After morning game drive, drive ourselves to our second resort for 2 nights. Still undecided. Want chance for different animals and viewing area. Still on a budget. Recommendations?

Day 6: After morning game drive, either drive to HDS and fly or drive back to JNB.

It is cheaper to keep a car than drop it at HDS and use transfers among the lodges. Good idea?
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Apr 24th, 2014, 06:47 PM
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Forgot to mention--looking at Nkorho, but need to check minimum age children on drive. Not thrilled by open bed/bathroom suite. Sometimes like a little privacy.
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