Giada’s Greater Kruger Safari Vacation

Giada’s Greater Kruger Safari Vacation

Africa Safari Expert Giada Claasens recently traveled to the greater Kruger Park to experience a few of our top selling game lodges firsthand. With our clients best interests in mind, we strongly believe that our experts should travel on a regular basis in order for us to correctly promote lodges based on their level of comfort, service and range of experiences offered to guests.

Giada has been working in travel for 19 years, of which 14 years have been spent selling trips to Africa. She is one of Safari.com’s top sellers and is very well traveled.

“The most rewarding part of my job is getting that phone call, WhatsApp or email from my client thanking me for making their dream come true. The experience is unforgettable and they are always so grateful for the memories they made; their piece of treasure to take home with them. I try and meet most of my clients who book a stay in Cape Town which is always so rewarding for me as I get the opportunity to listen to their remarkable stories. I love making friends from all over the world…”

Here’s how Giada’s five days went in the greater Kruger Park.  

 

Day 1 in the Greater Kruger: My arrival at KMIA

Sighting of a group of Springbok
A sighting of South Africa’s national animal – The Springbok

I departed Cape Town International Airport at 10:00 on an Airlink flight to Kruger Mpumalanga Airport (KMIA) and landed at 12:35. The airport hadn’t changed much since I was last there. It’s the biggest airport of the four used to access the Kruger (Skukuza/Hoedspruit/Phalaborwa/KMIA). The airport facilities were adequate with all the major car rental companies, Federal air lounge, luggage storage & baggage wrapping, restaurants, retail outlets, and complimentary WI-FI access (vouchers available at the information desk).

Once I collected my luggage I met with my driver who transferred me to Savanna Game Lodge which wasn’t far from Newington Gate in the Sabi Sands. The transfer took one hour and twenty minutes. On my arrival, I checked into my room and then went on a site inspection. I felt that although the luxury rooms offer a unique tented experience, they are relatively small and I would rather recommend staying in an executive room or the Savanna suite which are much bigger and have the added benefit of a private plunge pool and view over a waterhole.

During my stay, I managed to go out on an early morning and evening game drive within the private Savanna Game Reserve. The game drives were conducted in open safari vehicles and we had a very knowledgeable ranger and tracker. We managed to spot waterbuck, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, leopard, rhino, a lion with cubs, hyena and even an ostrich which is very unusual. I also saw a Genet outside my room.

The food and service at the lodge were good. The breakfast menu offered a good selection of warm and cold options and lunch was a buffet of cold meats and salads. Dinner was a really a nice surprise as it was done on an old vintage train carriage. Savanna has the old Newington Railway station running through the property and I thought that was rather cool. I have never experienced that before – dinner in the bush on a vintage train carriage. It was a rather nice touch and perfect for the winter evenings.

Overall I would recommend Savanna Game Lodge as a good four-star lodge option when looking to book a safari in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.  

Day 2 in the Greater Kruger: Dulini River Lodge, Sabi Sands Game Reserve

After breakfast, I bid farewell to Savanna as I traveled by road to Dulini River Lodge. It was a really nice thirty-minute journey as I got to see giraffe and elephants along the way.

A beautiful sighting of an individual elephant
“The Giants of Africa” – a spectacular up-close sighting of an elephant en-route to Dulini River Lodge

Once we arrived, I must admit that I was blown away by the transformation of the lodge. I was very fortunate to have seen the lodge a few years ago and could hardly recognize it! The main areas had been completely gutted and transformed to be more stylish and tasteful. The main areas now blend seemingly with the surrounding bushveld.

The rooms at Dulini River Lodge are massive with large bathrooms, spacious bedrooms and deck. I felt an instant awe of relaxation once I stepped into my room. I took my shoes off and sat in my heated plunge pool with a G&T for 2 hours before we were called upon for lunch.

My lunch experience was amazing. We dined under the trees with a view of the surrounding bush and the food was out of this world.

We headed out on an afternoon game drive and I was blown away by the game viewing. The bush was much denser than I had seen at Savanna and the lodge’s location on the Sabi River attracted an abundance of wildlife. The Sabi Sands is renowned for big cat sightings so the ranger did focus on finding them for us.

Up-close encounter with a leopard in the Greater Kruger Park
An up-close encounter with an elusive leopard in the Greater Kruger Park

The dining experience at Dulini River Lodge was outstanding and the Amarula coffee was a special touch.

The extra touches of binoculars and heated plunge pools are what you would expect of a five-star property and I would overall rate Dulini River Lodge as an exceptional five-star lodge in the greater Kruger Park.

Day 3 in the Greater Kruger: Olivers Restaurant & Lodge, White River

After a final morning game drive and delightful breakfast at Dulini River Lodge, I was picked up by Sable Tours and transferred to White River via Newington Gate. It was a pleasant one and a half hour drive and my early arrival at Olivers Lodge meant I had some time for relaxation.

I have stayed at Olivers about twenty times over the years and haven’t seen much change other than the table clothes in the dining room which are no longer red and white check but crisp white.

The only other significant change is the location of the spa. The view of the 18-hole Championship White River Golf Course remains spectacular.

It was great to see Rina again who has been at the lodge for the last 17 years. She runs the place like a well oiled machine.

It was my first time staying in a loft room and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t hear any noise even though these rooms look onto the main road. All of the rooms are individually decorated and feature en-suite bathrooms complete with heated towel rails and luxury bathroom amenities, satellite tv, minibar, air-conditioning, heating, coffee and tea making facilities, in-room safes, hairdryers and plush bathrobes.

The menu for dinner and breakfast was exactly how I remembered it on my previous visits. Even the plating of fruit and cold meats is exactly the same. Overall the food served at Oliver’s was really good.

The lodge is graded three-star but the level of service and accommodation would suggest that Olivers be placed in the four-star category.

 

A beautifully appointed luxury room at Olivers Lodge
A beautifully appointed luxury room at Olivers Lodge

Day 4 in the Greater Kruger: Garonga Safari Camp, Makalali Conservancy

Giada standing ready to board her CessZani flight to Garonga Safari Lodge
Giada standing ready to board her CessZani flight to Garonga Safari Lodge

After a lovely breakfast at Oliver’s, my driver arrived at the lodge to transfer me to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. This transfer was a short fifteen minutes. On my arrival at the airport, I checked in with CessZani Aviation for my scheduled forty-five-minute flight to Garonga Safari Camp.

CessZani Aviation is an owner operated air charter company based in Nelspruit and operates lodge transfers between Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport and Eastgate Airport to lodges in the Sabi Sands, Manyeleti and Timbavati.

The Makalali reserve was the one reserve that completely blew me away. Although it’s not considered to be Big Five, the reserve reminded me of my first time on safari – an unforgettable experience in a rugged, untamed wilderness. Encompassing dense bushveld and rocky roads that you can see haven’t been used often, Makalali offers a private safari experience with only two distinct lodge groups occupying the reserve – Makalali AHA lodges and Garonga (Safari and Little Garonga Camps). The reserve is accessible from KMIA and Eastgate, but the easiest is from Phalaborwa Airport which is approximately one and a half hours away by car.

I stayed at Garonga Safari Camp in the tents and it was really an awesome experience. Each tent is spacious and features en-suite bathrooms with both indoor and outdoor showers, a wooden deck complete with hammock and spectacular views of the dry riverbed.

I was blown away by the kind of game that we saw and how much it compared to that of the Sabi Sands. The rangers and trackers were exceptional, some of the best I have ever seen. The connection that the ranger and tracker made with us on the vehicle is what made the experience.  You cannot buy that kind of chemistry and passion for the bush. In a way, this reserve reminded me so much of Zambia – the untouched wilderness in Hwange.

The highlight for me was the walking trails. The one and a half to two-hour walk allowed you to immerse with the bush – no mobile phones, no talking, just complete silence. We even did some meditation on a rock!

The lodge manager Bernie is a drill sergeant from hell but he runs the place so well. Garonga would be my ideal choice for clients wanting a truly authentic safari experience.

Meals served at the lodge were tasty – a selection of good wholesome food that was perfectly proportioned. Breakfast presented several options to suit everyone’s palette and served in glass jars.

Garonga is graded as a four-star lodge but well exceeded my expectations! A great choice for a Greater Kruger Park Safari.

A luxury tented suite at Garonga Safari Camp
A beautifully appointed tented suite at Garonga Safari Camp

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