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“First (and best) stop in South Africa”

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Garonga Safari Camp
Certificate of Excellence
Philadelphia
Level 1 Contributor
3 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
“First (and best) stop in South Africa”
Reviewed September 30, 2012

My wife and I stayed here for 2 nights at the start of our 3-week honeymoon in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Victoria Falls. Thank goodness we did, because this was the only place where we saw the big cats - leopard, cheetah, and lion. And not only did we see them, but we saw them UP CLOSE, about 15-20 ft away. Although Garonga and other private game reserves now "share" their animals in a giant, fenced-in area (instead of each reserved having its own smaller, fenced-in plot of land), the area is still tiny when compared to the vast neighboring Kruger National Park. Thus, the likelihood of seeing anything is much higher at Garonga. [Except for elephants - those guys are everywhere at Kruger!]

CJ, our guide, was great. He's laid back and very calm. He's been doing this for a long time so he knows where the animals like and what signs to look for in order to find them. Case in point, we found a family of rhinos because CJ recognized the birds flying overhead that typically clean the rhinos' skin of bugs.

The food was very tasty, the lodging luxurious, and the staff friendly and accommodating.

A note about the Safari Camp v. Little Garonga. I was a bit confused about these separate camps when I was making the reservation, but there's really little difference. The Safari Camp was the "original" Garonga, and is a series of permanent and very luxurious tents located around a dried out riverbed. There's a central lodge where meals are served, with a pool and a bar. A two minute walk from the Safari Camp is the newer Little Garonga, which consists of its own smaller lodge (with its own pool and liquor cabinet) and surrounding permanent rooms. We stayed in the Chiltern & Buckingham Suite, which is definitely enough for two people. I think the only reason you would stay in the more expensive Hambleden is if traveling with children or if four adults wanted to share. One could argue that Little Garonga is a tad more private, but I don't think it makes a huge difference. Those who stay at the Safari Camp do their game drives in one group, and those who stay at Little Garonga do their game drives in another group.

I do have two pieces of constructive criticism for the management:
1. Make the wi-fi free: It seemed a little odd that after paying a fairly large amount of money to stay at a fantastic lodge where everything - including alcohol - is included, why charge a tiny per day fee for the internet?

2. Improve the directions: While many guests probably arrange their travel with a tour company, we elected to drive ourselves through most of our 3-week trip. We used a Garmin GPS from the States (loaded with a $99 Southern Africa upgrade from Garmin's website) in combination with maps from our rental agency and the print-out directions from the website to get from Johannesburg Airport to Garonga. We got there without too much trouble, but in the age of Googlemaps and GPS and digital photos, I think it would be fairly easy for a staff member to drive the route, taking digital photos along the way, and post it online. Seems like one day's work and it would decrease the anxiety level greatly.

  • Stayed August 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
1 Thank nightpie
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BERNARDO S, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, October 1, 2012
Thanks indeed for your feedback, and glad you had a great stay at Little Garonga with CJ and his team.
For Wireless, when planning our rates, the wireless was not available to Guests, and so I had to take out a contract with the local Company who obviously has charged for this, and so until we renew our rates unfortunately we will be charging this very small sum.
In reply to your suggestion about GPS, this sytem is pretty ineffective in rural areas, as it takes shortest or direct routes, but these routes go through private farms with gates locked etc. GPS does not recognise these. Once you get away from the nearest towns to Garonga read the instructions taken from our website.
Thanks again.
Bernie
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English first
New York City, New York
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
Reviewed September 23, 2012

We chose Garonga to start our honeymoon, and after a very tiring journey from New York we were met on arrival by Bernie the owner - and immediately made at home.

Everything about Garonga was amazing and the owner and staff are fully prepared for every need - we were completely unprepared for the trip (having got married a day prior to leaving) so left for the South African winter with a New York summer wardrobe - so Bernie immidately pointed us in the direction of the shop so I was able to buy a fleece - and my husband, who said he would be OK Bernie loaned a jacket 'just in case'.

The food was amazing (wedding diet goes out of the window at Garonga) - with the evening meals being the highlight - and they were very considerate for dietry needs.

The game drives were really good, with our guide Jeff and 'tracker' Revel being very knowledgeable about the animals. They were also very friendly and over the course of our stay we were able to get to know them, and them us.

I would recommend Garonga to anyone!

We booked our trip through imagineafrica.co.uk - Ben was very helpful in putting together an itinerary - and made the entire process an enjoyable experience.

Room Tip: All of the rooms are very nice
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  • Stayed September 2012, traveled as a couple
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1 Thank Jonathan F
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BERNARDO S, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, October 1, 2012
Thanks indeed for your very postive feedback. It was a pleasure ahving you to stay after your very recent wedding.
Your advice regarding clothing is important; I would certainly suggest Guests read up on our Information Folder on our site regarding clothing etc.
We hope to see you back.
best Regards
Bernie
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Reading, United Kingdom
Level 2 Contributor
5 reviews
3 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
Reviewed September 15, 2012

We stayed at Little Garonga for 4 nights for the middle part of our honeymoon.
We have been home for over a week and re-looking at our pictures and telling all our friends and family have brought back all the lovely times we had with CJ and the team!
Hambeldon Suite blew us away and we loved the little sand messgaes we got and enjoyed spending time watching the elephants drinking and the monkeys playing on our little veranda bit!
We were very lucky to see the whole herd of elephants several times and got very close to them, the cheetahs tried to hide from us but CJ tracked them down, so many giraffes that I don't think I would ever get bored of seeing them and our lion sighting was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities - although at the time watching it get more and more angry with us was a little scary!
We did the sleepout and really enjoyed the experience.
We can not fault anything! The team, the food, the accomodation were out of this world.
We will see you for our 10 year wedding renewal :-)

  • Stayed August 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
2 Thank sarahvh82
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BERNARDO S, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, October 1, 2012
Thanks very much indeed for your feedback which is always much valued. Indeed we do hope to see you back on an anniversary.
The sleep out is always remarked on by those who try it, although it's not for all.
best Regards
Bernie
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London
Level 2 Contributor
1 review
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 3 helpful votes
Reviewed September 12, 2012

We stayed at Garonga for 5 nights in July 2012 as the first stop on our honeymoon. The lodge was recommended by Hilary at Imagine Africa who were super super helpful in wading through the massive number of options to hand to pick something that was perfect for us both in terms of budget and experience! Garonga is a beautiful small camp. The tents were even better than the pictures suggest, food was fantastic, lodge beuatifully appointed and amazing trackers and staff! Particular highlights include the way in which Bernie the owner fully oversees the running of the lodge- this means that you feel that your every desire is catered for!! The views from the main building and from our tent overlooking groups of lions or giraffe coming to drink at the watering hole were amazing!! We thoroughly enjoyed the bush sleep out as well as other little honeymoon extras like the micro lite flight, bush massages and bush bath!! Don't hesitate, just go!!!!!!!!!!

Room Tip: Pick a room near the watering hole for the best views!!
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  • Stayed July 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank NeemaLondon
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BERNARDO S, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, October 1, 2012
Thanks indeed for your positive feedback; it was great having you over to stay. The Microlite flight is a great way to see the whole reserve for those who don't mind a little Aircraft.
Keep well and all the best
bernie
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kentucky
Level 6 Contributor
44 reviews
34 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 105 helpful votes
Reviewed September 7, 2012

Recently enjoyed 3 nts at Garonga Camp. Pre-paid transfers were fine and we were welcomed by Nicole. She is a very low-key professional--tending to so many aspects of hospitality. The staff at the camp is excellent. Our tracker, Patrick and ranger, Josia(h?) were a highlight of our stay. We had a few "wild rides" thru the bush which resulted in extra treats for game viewing. Their expertise and sense of humor kept us excited, educated and entertained. Our theme phrase from them was "siyafunda"--We Learn--in Zulu. Yes, we did--thanks so much for your lessons!

Regarding the camp--the tents were large and semi luxurious. The lack of AC made for poor napping midday. We disliked being "stranded" after dark--we could only go out with pre-arranged escort (no phone to call someone). Showers (indoor and out) were quite nice. We had almost no view of the waterholes---limited to partial view of the smaller one. I don't recommend unit #3 for that reason.

Regarding food--not sure, but I think maybe the regular chef was on leave? I had poorly cooked breakfasts--hard or raw eggs (I ordered medium) and flavors for dinners and tea snacks were pretty bland. I sadly had to let Nicole know that the food was substandard for a rather pricey lodge. I had more than one complaint about basic dishes. Overcooked/raw eggs, undercooked bacon and pastries. The sweet treats had nearly no sugar at all--dry and tasteless. Blah. Most of the food was repurposed--usually last night's veg became a creamed soup-or leftovers became simple but tough stew with little "sauce".
We did the sleepout, which was a highlight (despite the awful food they sent with us) Blech!
The camp engineer had just installed a rather clever flush toilet on a side walk from the living space. It was very much appreciated.
The staff was very gracious and so friendly.
We also disliked paying a premium for wire transfers and using a credit card. They do not accept American Express (ours has no conversion costs) but the camp charges 3% just to take a card for accommodations. (no charge for incidentals) I also overpaid on the wire transfer, based on the rates that day, and that was not applied to our incidentals bill at the end of our stay. I asked about it prior to arrival, but forgot to mention it on departure. Our loss, I guess.
All in all, it was a great safari, despite the negatives. Nearly all the staff makes an effort to please. I'm just sad about our food experience, since so many people rave about it. Ours was clearly not the same.

Room Tip: Best view of main waterhole is #1. I believe #4 has a good view, as well. Avoid # 3.
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  • Stayed August 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
Thank kyshel
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BernieHoedspruit, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, September 9, 2012
I am sorry about your food experience, as guests staying at the same time all stated "Excellent" for their food. Leftovers in many places are not thrown away if they can be used for alternative dishes. Our fully inclusive rate is regarded as one of the most competitive in the Industry; not me saying this, but the Industry.
Regarding the payment plan; this is done according to the exchange rate on the day. We charge for Accommodation if paying with CC a 3% Surcharge as this is an extra charge that we get from the CC Companies.
However I am happy that you were well looked after despite the "negatives", and hopefully see you back.
Regards
Bernie
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Whitby, Canada
Level 1 Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 3 helpful votes
Reviewed August 30, 2012

My fiance and I stayed at Garonga Safari Camp for 5 nights for ou honeymoon. It was by far the best time of our two week trip to South Africa. The tents are absolutely amazing, and the service is incredible! Every single meal was delicious as well. We were there in the middle of August and had unbelievable weather the entire time. On our first 4 game drives we had seen a leopard, lions, rhinos, elephants, hyenna's, giraffe's, and many more animals. Our driver Josia, and tracker Patrick were the best... so fun. I would highly recommend Garonga to anyone. This was a great way to end our honeymoon and look forward to returning sometime in the future.

  • Stayed August 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank stinson1313
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BernieHoedspruit, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, September 9, 2012
Thanks indeed for your very positive feedback. The "A" team certainly perforemed for you with the Game Sightings.
I hope we will see you back one day.
Regards
Bernie
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Glasgow
Level 3 Contributor
17 reviews
7 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
Reviewed August 26, 2012

Wow! This is the first review we have ever wrote where we are actually speechless. It's taken me some time to think about this review as I was even in tears on our departure day.

My husband and I stayed at Little Garonga for 5 nights on our honeymoon, and we could not have dreamt up a more beautiful, relaxing setting. There really are no words to describe the atmosphere at Garonga. It truly is a refreshing, renewing experience (something my husband and I both needed after the chaos of wedding planning).

Josia and Patrick, our game drive guides, absolutely made our trip. You could not catch these two without great big smiles and an infectious enthusiasm before each and every game drive, as though they were just as excited to go as we were! Such a welcoming change from the burnt-out staff at other resorts! They were also extremely polite, and keen to make sure we saw as much game as we could at our time at Garonga - very much appreciated! We already miss these guys.

Aside from the safari staff, the housekeeping and wait staff were also exceptional. Hafrik (spelling) and Maria at Little Garonga made us feel at home from the moment we arrived. The whole team was so welcoming, and simply could not do enough to ensure your comfort and satisfaction.

The food was simply some of the best we have ever had (including our non-all inclusive stays). All-inclusive resorts tend to be redundant, and mass produced, but this is so far from the case at Garonga. Each dish at Little Garonga was prepared individually for us, and amendments or changes to dishes were always accommodated. The food and drink selections at Little Garonga are drastically out of any league of any other "all-inclusive" place we have ever stayed at. We even were able to enjoy four out of five of the "tasty five" while we were there!

We really could go on forever about our experience at Little Garonga, but there aren't enough positive adjectives in the dictionary to describe this oasis, you truly must go experience it yourself.

Advice: do the "sleep-out", don't forget binoculars, bring warmer clothes for the game drives than you think you'll need (hats, mitts, sweaters, fleeces, windbreakers) if you're travelling in the winter months (Apr-Aug), try the eggs Benedict, don't miss any game drives (they're once-in-a-lifetime experiences), and lastly, don't put off your trip to Garonga. You'll not regret this one.

Room Tip: As for rooms, we stayed in the Buckingham suite, I believe, at Little Garonga. We were there on our...
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  • Stayed August 2012, traveled as a couple
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Helpful?
3 Thank CanadianAdventurists
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
BernieHoedspruit, Owner at Garonga Safari Camp, responded to this review, September 9, 2012
Thanks indeed for your very positive feedback! It was a pleasure hosting you at Little Garonga, and so chuffed that the team up there looked after you so well.
best Regards
Bernie
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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Garonga Safari Camp

Property: Garonga Safari Camp
Address: Selati Portion 12, KT 143, Phalaborwa, 1390, Makalali Private Game Reserve 1380, South Africa
Location: South Africa > Limpopo Province > Makalali Private Game Reserve
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Restaurant Spa Suites Swimming Pool Airport Transportation
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Makalali Private Game Reserve
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $$$
Hotel Class:4 star — Garonga Safari Camp 4*
Number of rooms: 9
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Also Known As:
Garonga Safari Camp Hotel Makalali Private Game Reserve
Garonga Safari Camp South Africa/Makalali Private Game Reserve

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