Our first safari and the part that I was looking forward to the most. I’d done a stack of research before booking and to be honest it became a minefield. Although the Eastern Cape reserves such as Addo Elephant park are malaria free (so good for kids), research suggested that the experiences weren’t as authentic with the smaller reserves resulting in it being more likely to see fences, roads etc. Therefore we decided to fly up to Hoedspruit on the edge of the Kruger National Park and stay at Ngala Safari Lodge.
The airport at Hoedspruit felt like we had landed in someones back garden which meant baggage claim was like a scrum!
Why we went with &Beyond
&Beyond are a luxury safari company and repeatedly came up as having exceptional guiding. We wanted to go all out for this part of the trip but actually seeing the animals in an ethical way was key. &Beyond were the front runners for us with their conservation and community model – care of the land, wildlife and people. &Beyond lease the land at Ngala and a portion of the profits goes back to the South African National Parks Trust. This beneficial deal resulted in Ngala becoming the first private game reserve to be incorporated into the Kruger National Park.
Ngala Safari Lodge
Ngala private game reserve is within the western boundary of the Kruger National Park. There’s a great diversity of animals including all of the big 5 which we were keen to see! All game viewing is in open top vehicles and with no more than 8 to a jeep, although we were lucky that there was never more than 6 of us.
The service was impeccable from the second we arrived (a nice lemonade and hot cloth) to the second we left (our guide came over from his personal downtime between drives to say goodbye). After a tour of the complex we were taken to our rooms, where we didn’t have a key but were told to keep the lock on because of the baboons. A very odd experience to leave your room and not lock the door. The room was huge, possibly bigger than our flat at home – with a humongous bed, bathroom with outdoor shower and veranda with seating.
We arrived just before lunch ended, so it was a quick bite to eat and a coffee before meeting Raul our guide. It was wonderful to hear that he was local and had been part of the team who had renovated Ngala before becoming a security guard and then onto the &beyond guiding program. He informed us that this is highly regarded within safari guiding and guides from other organisations have failed – part of the exam is to name 80 birds by sight or sound within 3 hours!
Every other evening you eat with your safari group and guide which was a lovely touch, you really do end up feeling like a little family 🙂 Our first night was spent in a gorgeous outdoor setting under the stars with lanterns dotted around. The food was exceptional, a huge array of salads to start, a bbq for a main and thousands of cakes for pudding. Breakfast and lunch were served under a huge weeping tree in an open air setting, with the closed off walled garden a pleasant surprise one evening for an intimate dinner. The daily safari coffee shop (on the morning drives) or bar (evening drive) was a massive hit – those G&Ts 🙂
The grounds of the Ngala lodge were truly relaxing, with a gorgeous outdoor pool that looked out onto the reserve. The massage I had was absolutely pure bliss, a wonderful setting looking over the tree tops of the Ngala park through the floor to ceiling glass wall. There was also a gym here, not that we ever went in – too busy with the eating! The bar and relaxing area was somewhat styled in a bygone Africa era with aspects of the safari landscape. We were big fans of the open fire with a G&T after dinner.
Out on safari
We were so fortunate that we saw all the animals we wanted to and more! Our guide Raul was incredible and we were lucky to see elephants, lions, giraffe, buffalo, rhinos, cheetahs, zebras, antelope, giant snail, hippos, vultures, crocodiles, hyenas, wild dogs and many more.
Top tips for safari
We spent a lot of time investigating what we would need without wanting to spend a small fortune. Below are my recommendations for your safari trip.
- Bug spray– Get the hard stuff with deet! Don’t forget to put this on for both your morning and evening game drives.
- Decent camera – biggest regret not taking one! It’s important to enjoy the experience whilst you’re on the game drives but would be nice to have snaps to enjoy now.
- The very attractive zip off trousers/shorts – yes they aren’t attractive but they are so practical! You’re going out at 5am in the morning when it’s pretty cold but it’s warming up by the time you head back in at 9.30am. The same when you go out later, hot in the afternoon and cooler when the sun goes down!
- Waterproof Jacket – the weather can change in an instant! Luckily our jeep had huge ponchos but it rained so much they soaked through! We were welcome of the extra waterproof layer we had.
- Hat – again not the most attractive but so useful! It gets hot and sunny and our jeep had no cover so very needed! Chris had his welded to his head the whole time!
As always, this is just my opinion!