After spending the first week in Kruger National Park, for the second part of my trip I got to see what life is like in the private reserves- something I have not done before, mainly due to the difference in price compared to self-driving. I stayed at Shindzela Tented Camp in the Timbavati Private Reserve and Sausage Tree Camp in Balule Nature Reserve. Both these areas are part of the Greater Kruger National Park, meaning there are no fences where the reserves meet the National Park itself and the game is free to come and go naturally. The two lodges and reserves were quite different (I’ll take about that another time) but the daily schedule in the two was pretty similar.
A typical day looks something like this:
Sunrise: Wake up call by the guide and then assemble at the main lodge for tea, coffee and rusks.
Morning Drive: Head out into the reserve for a 3.5hr drive with a break halfway through for comfort breaks and coffee.
Breakfast: Normally served shortly after return to camp at about 9am. Mixture of buffet and hot options.
In Camp: After breakfast you normally have a chunk of time (10am to 2pm) to nap, swim etc.
Lunch: Normally served around 2.30pm,
Afternoon/Evening Drive: Depart around 4pm, with a break for sundowners (alcoholic drinks watching the sunset) a couple of hours into the drive. The last hour is normally in the dark using spotlights to find nocturnal wildlife.
Dinner: After arrival from the evening drive you normally have a short time to freshen up (or go straight to the bar like me) and then a three course meal is served around a campfire or under cover depending on weather.
Bed: After all the food and fresh air you are normally ready for an early night.
Accommodation: The accommodation was very good, comprising permanent tents with adjoining fixed bathrooms. Large, comfortable double beds, excellent maid services and electricity makes you feel you are in a hotel rather than camping. The camps are generally quite small with Shindzela having 8 permanent tents and Sausage tree only have 5. Based on two people sharing this is only 16 and 10 guests in each camp respectively. As a result it is normally pretty quiet and you feel like you are in the bush. The communal areas are also nice, with a comfortable central lodge area and a small pool for when it gets too hot.
Food & Drink: I found the food to be of a good standard and especially enjoyed the breakfasts and lunches. The evening meals were normally a soup starter followed by traditional South African roasted meat and vegetable dishes and these could be a bit heavy on a hot summer evening. Portions are ‘hearty’ and the desserts were usually very nice- you certainly won’t go hungry. Beer and wine is very good, reasonably priced and the only thing to pay for during your stay.
The Reserves: One of the things to consider when booking a private safari lodge is what areas they are able to traverse. For instance while on game drives out of Shindzela camp, we were only able to explore a small part of the Timbavati reserve. These private reserves are often split into many smaller areas based on original land ownership and as a result after a few drives it seemed that we were revisiting the same areas again. It was the same in Balule and meant that although we found a group of three male lions we were unable to follow them as they headed into an area that the lodge could not traverse. The upside of these boundaries is that you rarely see any other vehicles.
Game Drives: These are conducted on open safari vehicles with up to 10 people at a time. Normally you have a guide/driver and a tracker sitting on the front. The vehicles also have radios to communicate with other guides and lodges which can help to find good sightings. Being in an open vehicle also brings you (literally) closer to the animals with sometimes only a few feet of nothing separating you from a lion or elephant which can be very exhilarating!
Having a guide also helps you to learn new things about the bush and the creatures within it and I really enjoyed learning more about the trees, tracks and droppings as well as the birds and animals.
We were able to drive off-road (also known as bundu-bashing) when there was something special and enjoyed good sightings of lions and leopards that we would not have seen otherwise.
Getting out of the vehicle for a gin and tonic and to watch the sunset is a very civilised way to end the day and reminds you that you are on holiday and being treated as a guest by someone else. Driving back through the reserve after dark is also something that gives a different perspective on being in the bush and a chance to see some of the nocturnal creatures (we saw leopards, lions, civets, genets, bush-babies, snakes, owls and a honey badger during the darkness hours).
So does this mean an end to my budget, self-drive safaris staying in basic accommodation and self catering?
In a word, no. Although I really enjoyed my stays at Shindzela and Sausage Tree Camps I still like to be able to do things independently. I think both approaches provide something unique and a mixture of both is probably what I will do more of in the future.