FORGET KRUGER – KARONGWE IS THE PLACE TO VISIT
(Posted 05th July 2018)
Recent visits to South Africa brought back memories, of exploring the #GardenRoute, strolling around #Knysna, walking the famous golf courses of #Fancourt and finally of a visit to #Karongwe, a private game reserve not far from the boundaries of the Kruger National Park and close to the town of #Hoedspruit and its ‘Eastgate‘ airport which I used to fly in.
I recall the negative publicity Krueger got, poaching, overcrowding and more, and yet, nearby, exist private conservancies which offer everything in terms of birds and game Krueger does and then some more. More you might ask? Yes, more, a sense of exclusivity, a sense of having the place to oneself, a sense of banding together with others smart enough to book themselves here, and not there, to avoid large crowds, tarmac roads while on a game drive and as I said, then some.
When I was at the end of my visit one of my hosts asked, what made my stay at the just opened Becks’ Safari Lodge so special. I remember I was struggling for words before I eventually came up with “Becks, where the classic safari style meets the contemporary”.
I heard of Becks several months before I traveled to Cape Town and timed my visit to South Africa to coincide with the opening date. As the first guest checked in I was made feel extra special with the entire team lined up on my arrival, greeted and welcomed like a long lost friend!
A scented towel was offered as was freshly made juice before completing the check in procedure, easy because they had all the data from my booking on record already.
As is mandatory did I get a brief on the do’s and don’ts at Becks and was then whisked into my suite, as the room can only be described as such. I was placed in cottage one but all others are exactly of the same layout and furnished the same way.
The 11 cottages, some face the river Makhutswi and others the water hole, offer all creature comforts and I mean all.
From mini bar – stocked on request – to tea and coffee making facilities including biscuits to a bathroom with both shower and tub, besides twin basins, there was nothing I found lacking. Two baggage racks – outdoing other more established and perhaps more fancied places – a well sized wardrobe with enough hangers and an electronic in room safe, a comfortable in room sitting arrangement facing the outdoor terrace where deck chairs invited to watch game stroll by to a four poster bed with an excellent mattress and more important, soft embracing pillows and a super light and super warm duvet, it was all there.
A wide outside veranda sported deck chairs to sit down and watch game coming to the river and congregating along the river flats and those who do not wish to miss even a minute, the shower has a door opening to the outside allowing unrestricted views of the wilderness across the river.
Time was short before the afternoon game drive – something absolutely not to be missed – and lunch was therefore a quick casual outdoors affair on the terrace with finger food, bitings, cheese and fruits, enough to last until dinner time.
About not missing a game drive, in the space of six hours, spread over two drives, afternoon and early morning, I saw all of the big five and several cheetahs so Karongwe and Becks has to be on everyone’s bucket list. Of course is the core conservancy some 9.000 hectares large and through cooperation of several adjoining conservancies – though some tracks are off limits for guests from neighbouring lodges – is the space in fact much larger. Three permanent rivers traverse the conservancy, providing a lifeline for game and birds during the dry season and make sure the entire area is having an evergreen appearance alongside ponds and little lakes, water holes and of course the rivers themselves.
Towards the end of the drive did my guide Keenan Houareau and the arguably best tracker on the conservancy, Obvious Sentsho, serve tea and biscuits though for the sun downer proper are beers, wines and G&T’s available for guests who prefer something stronger. If one wishes to have something special, just let the staff at Becks know before setting out and it will be there.
Keenan in fact joined me for dinner as I was still the only guest in the lodge. The set menu offered to me by Chef Peter Damose offered two choices for all courses and I settled for Impala Carpaccio – exquisitely seasoned – and then a Fillet of Beef with Sauce Bearnaise, which was the best I had in many a year. Perfectly done to my medium specification, difficult to accomplish for such a large piece of meat as it was served to me, was it accompanied by mashed potatoes and al dente vegetables, filling every last space in my stomach leaving not a square inch for dessert.
The night was rather cool but the duvets did the job without having to get the extra blanket out of the wardrobe. Notably for the hot season are all cottages air conditioned as is the main building’s lounge, bar and dining room.
Breakfast the next morning was served after the game drive which set out at 6 am sharp and we returned elated after great game sightings around 09.30.
The lodge serves both a continental breakfast with croissants, pastries and toast besides cheese and sausage cuts but they also make a mean Egg Benedict, if someone fancies something special to start the day – which needless to say I did.
Around lunch time did more guests arrive filling up the lodge to capacity and we all enjoyed a Brai, the South African word for a BBQ and buffet in the Boma of the hotel under the stars with candle light, lanterns and wood fires plus blankets to stay warm.
Again, compliments to Chef Hellen Maake and her team for a job well done!
My two days were up all too soon, leaving me full of regrets not having stayed longer and again did the entire team line up to see me off, from Millie the receptionist to Keenan, Obvious, Matome who was duty manager on the day to Armand du Toit the General Manager and Tammy Nolting his assistant. Even Zirk Comerma, who is the man overall responsible for the operation of the various lodges at Karongwe, was at hand showing what hospitality at its best really means.
This is a new lodge, where as I said in my word play, the contemporary meets the classic safari look. The lodge design and furnishings are more of a fashion statement than anything else, deliberately different and provoking thoughts of both a lifestyle experience and the safari experience guests come to find.
BUT, that is not all there is at Karongwe.
Game and birds galore are seen every time one sets out for game drives, of course in open top 4x4s to give an elevated view when game comes into sight.
Also called The Karongwe5 is there a reason for it and that reason are four sister properties on different parts of the conservancy and, for all intent and purpose, catering to different market segments.
There is the Karongwe River Lodge, the Chisomo Safari Camp, the Shiduli Game Lodge – ably managed by my long time friend Andrew Molyneaux – and last but not least also the Kuname Lodge & Manor House, probably my own choice for a getaway, so intimate did this place come across to me when I paid them a flying visit to check it out – that is the kind of place where I might not connect to the web and take to writing a few more chapters in my book, indulge in food and drink – yes more than just my regular tea – and otherwise forget which day of the week it is.
Check out all their properties via https://www.karongweportfolio.com to understand what I am going on about and why Karongwe memories are so firmly rooted in my mind.
It grew on me as I stayed and now that I am back home, despite the many safari adventures I enjoyed since, I miss the place and its looks and feel. Perhaps time to scheme up a return to Karongwe next time I am back in South Africa.
And of course my preferred flight to Johannesburg – and Cape Town for that matter – is with RwandAir which flies daily between Kigali and Johannesburg and has excellent connections from the entire Eastern African region for that service besides their link from their intercontinental flights connecting in Kigali.