What we were looking for: A bush camping experience with flair. We didn't find it...
First the good things: Our email correspondence with the staff was 110%. Prompt and friendly replies. The same went for check-in on arrival. Big smiles and a lovely welcome.
Thats pretty much where the good stuff ended and the mundane began. The area surrounding the main lodge area is pretty tatty, the Lalapanzi camp looks quite run down, and the bar area is equipped with 70's furniture and needs a good sweep.
Down to the camp, past endless staff accommodation, we were in campsite 1 (we weren't given a choice despite being the only ones there). We were lucky that there weren't any other people, as the braai areas are all lumped together, and really, we don't like sitting with strangers on holiday unless by choice. It would be better that every camp has its own braai facility. Good for groups though. If you are on your own, ask for site 5 or 6 - thats the only way you are guaranteed privacy.
The thing one expects from a private resort with regards to camping is a degree of creativity - possibly a bush shower, open loos, a lookout to a view or waterhole, but this camp has none of that. Just a clearing in the bush with a bog standard ablution block that is badly tiled (and therefore difficult to clean), unfunctioning windows and not even a bench in the shower to place your clothes and other goodies. Water pressure was good and there was plenty of hot water (there were only 2 of us) and there is electricity at every site as promised. One thing that bothered me is that none of the cleaning staff wear proper uniforms and arrived at camp carrying nothing to clean with... the bathroom was just wiped down with an old rag and the tiles were smeared with bits of bugs. This is no fault of the staff, in my opinion the management is at fault. Not once did I see management checking anything.
As far as the game goes, well, I would like to see proof of the so-called 4 of the big 5 that the staff at reception emphatically said that they had there. Usually when there are rhino, elephant AND buffalo in a reserve (and its a small reserve), you will find lots of evidence by way of dung, especially on the roadways. Not once did we see fresh dung, and we traversed the whole of the park during our 3 days there.
On night one, we were kept awake from parties in the staff accommodation - drumming till late. On night two, it was a domestic dog consistently barking. Night 3 we heard a lone hyena quite close to camp. This was blissful. At last!
The hides that we visited are in good condition and nice to take a picnic lunch to. The birdlife is very good.
As a further note, if you are going to tell guests they can self-drive the park, please, check the roads to make sure they are open. We had to turn back due to a fallen tree (not a recent fall either) and we scratched our car quite a lot anywhere off the main thoroughfare as the roads weren't cleared on the sides at all (not really acceptable guys - the reserve is tiny, check it once a week at least).
Would we come back? Not unless something changes to up THEIR game (or THE game). Did we hate it? No, not at all - it was pleasant enough, just really nothing special. I certainly wouldn't stay in the tree houses - we had a peek and they look awful and stuck in 1982.
This review does seem picky I am aware of this, but I really did expect better from this place, because the website promises all sorts of lovely things, but fails to deliver. And without someone telling you exactly how it is, well, you will never know. I was going to tell the staff on checkout my complaints, but they didn't ask how my stay was.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Bonamanzi Game Reserve, a Big 4 Reserve, is a Natural Heritage Site bordered by the spectacular Lake St. Lucia Isimangaliso Wetlands - a World Heritage Site - and the magnificent Hluhluwe River.This privately owned game reserve and safari lodge is widely recognised as one of the best birding destinations in Southern Africa. Lake St Lucia and the Hluhluwe River give Bonamanzi its Zulu name, meaning "Look, Water!". Its almost 4000 ha teams with game, and one of Bonamanzi's special features is that it provides a safe and interactive bush experience in which you can do walks or drive, with or without the company of a trained field guide. To see the Big Five animals, the famous Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is a short 20 minute drive away or join us on one of our Game Drives.A wonderful climate prevails all year long with splendid summers and warm winter days. Set your own pace as you absorb the peaceful sounds and spectacles of three adjoining eco-systems: coastal grassland, tropical forest, and woodland. Comfortable Accommodation and every facility is available to ensure that your stay is a pleasant one, be it a peaceful getaway for couples or families, or Conference and Events or Weddings parties. And there are plenty of Activities from Boat Cruises, Bird Safari and Game Drives to relaxing at the pool at Lalapanzi Camp to ensure that your every whim is catered for.Bonamanzi Game Reserve is easily accessible, being just a few hours drive from the Durban airport as well as the Golela border post with Swaziland, and perfectly situated to explore the splendour of this heavenly part of the world. Come, and experience Zululand's warm and friendly hospitality at its finest - we'd love to share it with you ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Bonamanzi Game Park Tree House Hotel Hluhluwe