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A perfect first time affordable safari itinerary (though it was our 3rd and we loved every minute of it ;-) )


martywilddog
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Hello again everyone,

 

We just returned from our last safari, and though it is not on par with many many many reports I get to read here, I nonetheless wanted to post this (semi) trip report and give a bit of background/feedback on the most affordable Kruger private game reserve camps out there.

 

I think most of you will agree that if you are on a budget, your best bet for safari is South Africa. The exchange rate is still very favourable to our EUR/USD/GBP and aside from that it is simply a much more affordable safari destination than most others. So for exactly that reason we decided to return to SA.

 

In terms of private game reserves near Kruger you can not go cheaper than Shindzela and Africa on foot (if anyone disagrees please please let me know because I would be very interested to know!). I hate to throw numbers around in these public reports but if anyone is interested, feel free to send me a PM and I will be happy to share our quote (all these camps also publicise their rack rates online, by the way, so very easy to check!).

 

So first things first, our itinerary:

 

March 5-7: Africa on foot (AoF)

March 7-9: Nthambo tree camp (Nthambo)

March 9-14: Shindzela

March 14-18: Umembeza

 

We went in green season and we did very much feel the difference. So I won't go into a day by day trip report, but I will give you guys a review of all the lodges and will then post a gallery of pictures per lodge.

To let you in on a public secret, we loved all the camps and lodges :wub: !

Before we left we had sent some friends of ours to AoF for 1n based on our research. And after their return they let us know they actually really didn't like the place :( So I slightly panicked! And so we asked if we could change our booking a bit, since at that time we had booked 3n in AoF and 1n in Nthambo (just because AoF couldn't accommodate the last night - we hadn't planned to go to Nthambo since there was a bit of a price difference). We had booked with sun safaris in SA (they partly own AoF and Nthambo) and we had already fully paid up our trip so I was a bit worried asking them, but they were really very flexible and had no problem accommodating my request to change our booking to 2-2 with 1n in the AoF tree house (that was only the first time of two where they proved to be really flexible and accommodating).
Were our worries about AoF founded? No. Absolutely not, we loved AoF. Was Nthambo maybe better? Yes, in terms of accommodation it was no doubt better. It also cost more, so what do you expect ;-)
​But lets go step by step.
The rooms at AOF were indeed a bit rustic, and the setting of the camp is slightly cramped (not any view from anywhere - especially the view from the pool is rather poor, you look right onto a water tower). Two of the rooms look out onto the car park, so not ideal if you are expecting something of a view, but please do check and keep in mind their rates, you will see that they are amazingly good value for money and so the expectations should be set accordingly :)
The tree house on the other hand has an amazing view over the area and is accessible to anyone during the day. Loved that view! We had booked in advance to spend the night in there and I highly recommend it! Remember to book or you will most likely miss out (it's very popular!) Unfortunately we seem to be slightly unlucky with our tree house experiences because it was our second one and for two times in a row we got a thunderstorm overnight! (and both times it was the only storm we experienced on the whole trip). I have to admit I'm a complete chicken shit and especially this time I was quite afraid. The storm was really on top of us, the lighting was all around us, the thunder super loud, I cowered under the sheets :unsure: Was that necessary? Of course not :rolleyes: You have a horn to sound in case you want them to come and get you and they say in advance that they will come and get you if it gets to be too bad (though I wouldn't trust that too much, the idea of what experienced rangers consider to be too bad and what us wussies though is really not the same ;-) ) Did we see anything? No, because as I said I was too busy cowering under the sheets! But I'm sure there is that potential! also important to note is that it is super close to the camp itself (2min walk) and that you are not missing out on any of the game drive, you are just accompanied there by your guide after dinner.
​Should you go to AoF? Yes! Should you stay in the tree house? Absolutely yes!!!
The meals, the meals were divine! We had the best dinners at AOF! And we loved the breakfast and the lunches were also great. AOF gets the top marks on the food.
Sightings? Amazing! I will add pictures in separate posts below, so you can judge for yourselves (you'll just need to be a bit patient ;-) ). But I can tell you already about my favourite sighting because unfortunately, my camera was not up to the nighttime task :-(
My favourite sighting at AOF was of a female leopard at night after dinner! We had asked Greg, the guide on dinner duty, to mimic a few animal calls before dinner and one of them was that of a leopard. We had just finished dinner and were all about ready to retire when we heard exactly the leopard sound right next to us. It was so close, we all got goosebumps. There was no hesitation, no questions asked, all 10 of us around the dinner table got up at the same time and ran to the vehicle! I absolutely looooooooved that! It was late (9h30ish... so in safari terms very late :) ) but we were all super excited and high on adrenaline. So off we went!
And there she was, just a couple of meters out of camp, calling for her cubs and posing on a small termite mound for us. And we got to stay with her and follow her for quite a while, just us. We were all in awe :) This was an amazing experience!
And I must say I greatly appreciated that Greg immediately said: "let's go!", there was no question in his mind that we would get into the vehicle and have a try at finding that leopard. He could have reacted to the leopard call very differently, and even though his job for the day had been over, he took us all out with great enthusiasm! That is what I am looking for in a camp, not the xx thread cotton sheets, the copper fittings and the 7 course meals, I want to hear a leopard at dinner and be invited immediately to go find it! This was an experience that we will remember forever!

 

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Next up was Nthambo!

 

Nthambo was in terms of luxury of the rooms and common areas and especially view (of the pool and the room) a much bigger step up from AOF than I had expected from the price difference. The rooms really are as gorgeous as they look on the pictures! As are the common areas! Anywhere else in africa this camp would cost 5 times as much in terms of looks! We were of the opinion it was definitely worth it. As I said above, AOF won out on the food, but in terms of the camp it was no contest.

 

Though in terms of sightings, they share traverse, so they are pretty much the same.

 

Except for the fact of course that you walk in the morning at AoF, sorry, rather a big point that I missed to mention! They do offer flexibility though, if you prefer to drive they will accommodate. Or they will drive in part - to a spot or some area - from which you can walk. Unfortunately they might also not be able to walk even if you want to if the weather is unfavourable (like our first morning after the big thunder storm when there was still too much wind).

 

At Nthambo we had an amazing lion encounter. We knew that the male lone lion Duma was in the area because we had all seen him the day before, but on our way to finding him we came across a huge herd of buffalo. And I'm not all that big of a fan of buffalo, they're mean looking (and grumpy). But when they are in a huge herd like that, you cannot but be awed and respect them and it was an amazing sight to behold, just at sunrise. So instead of going out to find Duma immediately, we stayed with the herd for the better first half of an hour. There was an adorable youngster among them, still wobbly on it's legs. At some point our guide did ask whether we were happy and suggested we go look for Duma. He turned to us in the vehicle when he said that and he sort of stopped midway: "well, I guess we found him". And we all looked back at the same time and saw Duma's head peeking out of the grass - who by the way is the most gorgeous male lion I have ever seen. We were all stunned to silence. All of us had been so focused on the buffalo herd in front of us for half an hour and not one of us had realised there was this lion sitting about 10 meters from our vehicle!!! But he had seen the little youngster just as we had. And though we weren't lucky enough to see him make an attempt, we did get to see him get up in all his glory and slowly stalk forward. There is nothing as awe inspiring in life as watching a lion in his prime stalking a prey. He resonated power. And that look in his made me double check that my legs and arms were at all time well in the vehicle :)

 

​At both camps we had amazing sightings. We saw everything and more: lions, leopards (in a tree! my 1 wish for this trip), wild dogs (twice! ok maybe that was my second wish for this trip :) ! ) , rhino (they even joined us for sundowners!), big herds of buffalo's, lots of general game, etc

 

So as you can imagine we left both camps after 4 nights as very happy guests!

 

I will post pictures soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our favourite pictures of our first 4 nights! (more to follow)

 

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Edited by martywilddog
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A good write up. Nice pics, i like the leopard image and a handsome lion.

Edited by Geoff
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As I mentioned before, we really loved our stay at both camps, and we felt extremely happy with our experience. Of course you do have to keep in mind that these lodges are not marketed as and do not purport to be 5 star lodges. And this is not what we are looking for so we really don't mind. But I want to be completely frank and upfront with you guys, so I do have just a tiny few pieces of, I won't even say criticism, but lets call it useful bits of information (because you can't expect certain things when you pay so much less, just keep that in mind).

 

One thing I did initially have an issue with was that at both camps at pretty much all times the cars were filled up to 12 people: 10 guests, a guide driver and a tracker. That really is filling them to the utter brim (including a guest next to the driver guide). Especially at Nthambo I did feel that was pushing things given how that camp is marketed. I know you can't expect a car to yourself, but this is the very first time ever for us on safari where a car was this packed up and I can't say I loved it. In their defence, the jeeps were very new (a few weeks old) and comfortable with your own cup seat (as opposed to 1 bench) so that did add to the comfort. And we always somehow had a really nice group so it really wasn't any bother, but I could see it going wrong when you don't only have easy going people (though in all fairness, these types of camps seem to attract easy going youngsters who really don't complain and who are very unfussy as to the seating arrangements - and just to be clear, i mean that in a very positive way! :) )

Also, I personally really disliked the continuous smoking by the guides. Every stop they would light up. It just didn't sit right given the setting. And they would also leave their buds in the bush. I can imagine it's biodegradable but still. I can imagine this not bothering others though, I just thought it felt off.
We at times did feel that the sightings were a bit rushed. A lot of the camps share traverse (which is great because you don't have to worry that the animals have crossed over into the neighbouring property and you just missed it!) and there is a 2 car policy (also great!), but that did mean at times we could only stay with a sighting for about 5-10min. And if you love photography, it takes a while to set up a great shot so it was difficult and there was no more chance to also enjoy the moment for a bit. Though when we were lucky to be first "on scene" then we could stay a longer time (like with the buffalo-lion experience! :wub: ).
At AOF we were a tiny bit surprised no one ever walked us to or from our rooms when it was dark, after we had just had a safety briefing from Jen (the manager) never to walk alone in the dark. I never felt unsafe at AOF due to the build of the camp (everything is really very close together - before referred to as slightly cramped), but it was a bit strange to first be told the one thing but then it was never actually done. I could imagine first time safari goers being anxious about this. We didn't really mind, we were just a bit surprised (and I think aside from our rondavel, which was the most remote, it really doesn't matter).
Both Jen (manager at AoF) and Nadia (Nthambo) were great! Nadia was more present around camp, but I couldn't fault Jen for anything. I would say Nadia made a bigger effort, but then again, that makes sense, Nthambo being the more upscale option.
Oh and as a totally off topic bit, if you wanted to get yourself a little souvenir, or if you needed something for someone else, I loved both their caps! They are good quality, not expensive and really nice looking! I had actually met someone in Zambia wearing an AoF cap (which is how we got to talking about the camp and how I got to booking it for this trip) so I knew I wanted one and I love it! As does the husband because in Nthambo he decided he wanted one too :) They look great, they are not overly expensive (around 11 euro) and are a nice memento. I'm mentioning it because at the end of our trip (when we usually start thinking of souvenirs...) I was really sad I hadn't gotten one for my dad and my brother in law (they both dog sit when we are away; and especially my dad wears caps all the time!).
Edited by martywilddog
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Duma is so handsome! And I love the photo of the yawning wild dog and of the leopard. Thanks for sharing!

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Words "affordable safari" always get my attention :) ! Photos are great, font is, unfortunately, too small for my eyes :blink: .

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I also noticed the font is super small @@xelas! I don't know how that happened. And I'm out of the editing window now.

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I also noticed the font is super small @@xelas! I don't know how that happened. And I'm out of the editing window now.

 

Did you copy and paste across from another document? If yes you probably copied the font size and style across. To avoid this right click and press 'Paste as plain text' when pasting into the window.

 

Anyone that is having trouble reading the text can press control and move the mouse wheel at the same to time to increase/decrease the font size.

Edited by Csaba
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Wow you had some great sightings for sure. I am wondering though, were you told of the possibility of 12 people to a vehicle? Did you know that before you arrived?

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@@martywilddog very informative report thanks- that male lion is a good looking guy.

I will follow along keenly.

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No, we weren't told about the pax to a car but I did expect it to a certain extent @@amybatt. We definitely knew they didn't have a max 6 to a car policy. And it was all fine in the end with the nice group. But I do prefer to be with max 6 ;-) And you can also just be lucky that the camp isn't very full, but both AoF and Nthambo were full full when we were there (and I honestly don't think that it actually happens very often that a camp is at capacity - we have never had that before).

 

Yes indeed @@Csaba, copied from an e-mail to the family, must be it!

 

Thanks a lot @@Hads, more to come! :)

Edited by martywilddog
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Lion, Leopard and Wild Dogs - who could ask for more? You really had great sightings, and another report that is proof that Kruger really is great value for money. The smoking thing, though, would have bothered me as well, quite a bit, and I say that as a former (heavy) smoker. Just does not seem right.

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