If you have never been on safari then this might well please you. It's modestly well done for what it is, an artificial 'farmed' reserve. You do get to pay £300-400 /couple/day.
The two (duplicated) previous reviews are accurate, if a tad overgenerous. The elephants are radio tagged as are the (two male and two female) lions, so you are guaranteed to see them and (apart from hippo) pretty well everything else. The Serengetti or masai mara, though, it ain't. The group after ours (we stayed an extra day for walking) saw everything (including hippo) in one day, easy (some were only there for the one day).
Its unique claim, though, is "safe walking with the animals" (but see below).
The hotel management is really excellent, as are the rooms and facilities. Its rated as 4-star but its managed at (and IMHO achieves) 5-star plus. Immaculate rooms well appointed (e.g. has hi-fi you can plug your ipod/memory card into) with dressing robe and slippers included and that HUGE bed! Plunge pool could be a tad warmer (hotel pool is COLD). Its all-inclusive so you can take wine/beer to your room (to stocked fridge provided FOC) and probably snacks too. The staff are very helpful and well trained. Someone manages this end with a sharp, knowledgeable and critical eye.
The game drives are a well managed sham. The guides will be with you for breakfast and dinner, please do not forget their tip. You can have up to 10 tourists in a truck (grossly excessive in my opinion) and the guides are pretty good if you know little about wildlife (they made several basic errors which I generally avoided mentioning). To be honest there isn't that much wildlife other than what they paid for and brought in, which surprises me given they could have done a much better job managing the reserve. You can see more birds at an ostrich farm!
Note that the wide views from the verandas (see their website) are being steadily obstructed (often almost completely) by the ever-growing vegetation. They give a whole lot of reasons why they cannot cut this down, all of which are clearly nonsense (if apparently plausible) but really boils down to 'can't be bothered'. I could have made my view (No5) excellent (from obstructed) in 30mins given loppers and a small bowsaw.
Much the same attitude apples to the walks. They are indeed there, but you will be given loads of reasons why you can't use any but the 'blue duiker'. We know for a fact that we were told lies as to the location of 'dangerous animals' (rhino and buffalo) in order to prevent us from walking any of the others. We did do one of the others (with our guide's authority) but he was told off afterwards. The reason (we concluded) is almost certainly that some people were being careless and getting lost. I can readily see that finding them would be hugely disruptive to the guides and thus other guests. This was never stated though, and could be overcome with a little thought. The blue duiker is little more than a tunnel through scrubby trees, you see little but can't get lost.
Safety: Now all of the above comment about not walking within 1 mile of a dangerous animal would be convincing were it not for the fact that of the 12 walks between room and restaurant we had to walk through buffalo on the paths on seven occasions . Now I was a farmer and used to dealing with large animals (which can and do kill people) so I was pretty relaxed (given their behaviour) but still avoided them. Some were quite scared and others overcasual (potentially fatal). However it would have been inconvenient for the guides to have ushered everyone to the restaurant, so of course they didn't.
The general lack of professionalism with the game management side meant that the experience was clearly much less than it could and should have been.
This place could go either way.
1) The 'hotel' side sets really high standards. Nobody notices, which is how it should be.
2) The guide side, despite believing they are gods, is pretty ordinary in both training and knowledge. They will make sure you know how many exams they pass, they can't be that hard.
3) The land management seems to be largely based on doing nothing rather than maximising wildlife for both wildlife and for the tourists. Their abysmal breeding success (failure) says it all really. Heck, they can't even breed ostrich!
4) The overall management seems to have forgotten that they are farming wildlife, and the thing that pays for it all is farming tourists. Farming is not the same as exploiting, very far from it. It is fully meeting the needs of the tourist that will determine the long-term success of this sort of enterprise.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Kariega Ukhozi Lodge truly captures the romance and intimacy of Africa. Nestled in the bush you will discover 10 superbly appointed air-conditioned luxury suites crafted from log, each with a private plunge pool and deck offering panoramic views of the valley. The Lodge boasts unique African-style lounges, restaurant and boma with an outdoor pool. Located in the 10,000 hectare private game reserve with close-up viewing of rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo, zebra, giraffe, hippo and other incredible African wildlife. Bird lovers will enjoy sighings of some of the 280 species recorded on the reserve. The safari experience includes twice daily safari drives with qualified guides, guided walks and a river trip as well as all meals, local beverages and accommodation. ... more less
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