A Family South African Safari
1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5 – Safari Photos
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans
Overview: A rustic but comfortable safari camp
Strengths: Game, staff, food and beverage
Drawbacks: Accommodations weren’t perfect, some service lapses
While I had done a fair bit of research and spoken with friends who have undertaken similar trips, on a trip like this, until you’ve done it yourself, you never really know what it will be like.
While not everything was perfect, essentially everything is looked after during a stay like this and you really can relax knowing things will be taken care of. Once this reality settled in, I felt very comfortable at this property.
Tanda Tula is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, near Kruger National Park. Timbavati is shared by a number of different lodges, including those listed here: http://www.timbavati.co.za/tourism/timbavati-lodges/safari-lodges/ .
We stayed in Tanda Tula’s Safari Camp, which is Tanda Tula’s main camp. Tanda Tula also offer a Field Camp from March to October. The Field camp includes actual movable tents that are positioned around the reserve based on season and animal activity.
We reserved what was described as a “family tent.” I’d wager this was a regular tent, with an extra bed included. The sleeping area was within a large, permanent tent. The tent was positioned under a wooden roof, providing substantive protection from storms.
The tent had a front porch with some comfortable chairs and overlooked the dry riverbed.
The tent did not have air conditioning, but did have a large fan which kept the air flowing. It was quite hot during several of the days we were here, but the tent was never unbearable.
There was a mini-bar in the room which was also included at no extra charge. They even included a lime, ideal for the drinks I typically have. The local beers were also quite good.
The bathroom was a permanent structure to the back of the tent. The bathroom included a toilet, two sinks and a tub, all of reasonably good quality.
The room was quite spacious and the toilet (to the left of the sinks, not shown) could have easily been walled off into a smaller, separate WC. This would have been welcome and made the bathroom more usable for a family.
The shower was an outdoor shower and could best be described as semi-private. There were unobstructed views of the shower area from the room, and passers-by going to other rooms could probably catch a glimpse of a shower-taker if they looked in the right direction. We didn’t fuss about this, but for those with a very high desire for privacy, this could be a concern.
A typical day would play out something like this:
Each morning started with a wake up visit – including a tray of coffee (and hot chocolate for the kids), along with some small biscuits – at 5am. Knowing we only had one bathroom, I’d typically wake up at 4:45 and be ready when the “knock” came. The game drives began promptly at 5:30am.
Our guide, Jack, was with us each day for each ride. We appreciated the consistency of sticking with the same guide. Speaking with Jack, the guides work several weeks in a row, then take one week off – or double the work time and two weeks off. Depending on your schedule and theirs, you may end up with a shift change during your stay. As you end up building a relationship with your guide, the consistency was important.
Our first two days, we shared our Rover with a lovely young French couple from London. We had enough in common with them (and the lady worked at a firm that an old boss of mine is now CEO at) that we had plenty to talk about. They had arrived the same day as us. That couple left a day prior to us, and a new group of a mom and her two upper-teen children joined us. We felt a bit out of sync with our new co-passengers as the guide was seeking to show them locations we had already seen. While these were interesting sites, we definitely felt like old news during our last two drives. (Our second lodge offered a private Rover for each group of guests, avoiding this synchronization issue.)
Part way through each morning drive, you’d typically stop for coffee and another biscuit. It was nice to get out and stretch the legs.
You’d arrive for breakfast around 9am. Breakfast was served buffet-style at a remote location at the end of your morning game drive. The tables were set so that you would sit with all the occupants from your vehicle, including your guide and spotter. The food was very good, and the setup allowed for nice conversation. All of your meals are included in a trip like this.
You would typically be back to your tent by about 9:45am.
Mid-day provided for some quiet down-time. There was a pool (which we visited every day), but not that much else to do here. That was more than fine with us, and we took advantage of naps, time in the pool and time sitting by the pool.
Lunch was served each day around 1:30 in the restaurant in the main pavilion of the hotel. This was also served as a buffet, but there were more tables and you typically just sat with your family.
At about 4pm, you would head out again for an evening game drive. Importantly, before heading out, the guides would ask what you wanted to drink. They would have drinks and some tasty snacks that you could enjoy on a driving break, typically around sunset.
After everyone returned from the drives, guests gathered in the main pavilion for drinks and then dinner. The barman each night during our stay had a western name of Smiling. This name got a lot of attention from guests and was descriptive of the individual!
Our first night, clearly the new folks in the bar, we were greeted by several guests and welcomed to the lodge. This provided a nice, welcoming feeling.
Dinner, also from a buffet, was taken each night at a long, communal table. Everyone staying at the camp sat at one long table. A few guides joined each evening as well. Conversation – with wine and liquor flowing – typically was quite lively. Our kids usually fizzled out around 9pm, so we’d typically leave after the main course. I get the sense that many lingered easily another hour or more.
The chef, Ryan, was a charming fellow, probably in his mid-30s. Each day at lunch he stopped by to see what our kids would like for dinner and lunch the next day. He made special, simple meals for the kids for each meal. Our kids are on the fussy side, and we appreciated his attentiveness.
Overall, we found the service to be very friendly. Many of the staff members had worked at the property for over ten years and everyone showed real pride in their work. It is rare to see this in hospitality today. We found each day, except perhaps our last, offered a nice mix of adventure, good food and down time.
Laundry service is also complimentary. You are limited to the amount of luggage you can bring into the camps (due to the size of the planes), so Tanda Tula (and Londolozi, and I suspect most camps) provide on-demand laundry service. Clothes were typically returned in just a few hours. Particularly considering my son didn’t have his suitcase for half the visit, this was very valuable. Even had his bag arrived with us, we only packed clothes for about three days, so we definitely took advantage of the service.
One of the rules at all of these camps is that you need to be escorted to and from your tent after dark. We were in Tent #4, which was very close to the main pavilion (but not so close as to be bothered by the main pavilion), and we were told it would be fine for us to move to and fro without an escort. (This seemed reasonable as it was quite close.) Tent #5, on the other side, also had similar privileges. One guest (not staying in Tents 4 or 5) said to me at the bar that they spent 15 minutes calling on the radio (there are no phones) for night escort but got no answer – and that they eventually just walked themselves to the pavilion in the dark through the woods.
Another guest told me that they had called on radio for assistance with a group of particularly large spiders in their room but also got no answer. The husband said the property was officially down one towel once he took care of the situation.
Considering the surroundings, I would have thought the property would better monitor the guest radios. I would have been very frustrated if we needed to rely on a radio call system that went unanswered to come and go from our room after dark.
I doubt that staff heard these calls and ignored them – rather I suspect that everyone was busy assisting others and these requests fell through the cracks. Either case is not acceptable, but considering there are ten tents and we were here for three nights, hearing only two grievances might not be terrible. (There was also an air-horn in each tent. We were told this was only for use in animal emergencies and we were told that the guides would come to our tent armed if we sounded it.)
Some of the other lapses at the property included:
- Towels at the pool were not replenished throughout the day. I understand the laundry challenges in remote locations, but there were typically fewer towels than chairs, and certainly fewer towels than guests. By lunch time, all of the towels at the pool were consistently gone. Tending to the pool once every two hours would be a reasonable protocol to add.
- One morning, our game spotter was not really paying attention and seemed unengaged. Guests “spotted” the majority of the animals, calling for the truck to stop. This was the exception, but should never happen.One guest reported their tent zipper was broken on arrival and that the camp said they couldn’t fix it. Considering the stern warning we got about always keeping your tent zipped (due to monkeys and bugs), this situation seemed a bit alarming.
- The hotel offered wifi service, though it was quite slow. Due to my ongoing baggage dramas with Air France, I spent a bit of time each day in the camp’s office. There, they had wired internet access at blazing fast speeds. Perhaps it is time for a new wireless router? If you’re going to offer wifi service, you should do it well! The wifi kept me a bit more connected to the office than I had hoped. I also found my mobile phone had service a fair bit of the time, though my only one call was to Air France to help sort the mis-routed bags.
- Most (all?) of the Range Rovers in their fleet looked a little tired. These vehicles clearly take a beating, driving around in the bush for seven+ hours each day. The fleet could use a little freshening. One other thing not offered during our stay were camera mounts. Londolozi, and several camps that share the reserve with Tanda Tula, had large, circular bean bags that mounted on the Rovers which provided a stable base to position your camera. I was working with a 150-600mm zoom lens, which, lacking a resting spot, required me to use a monopod at all times. Using a mounted bean bag on our subsequent stay at Londolozi really highlighted what I was missing.
- The tents all have carabiner clips on the outside to help prevent monkeys from entering. Apparently, the monkeys know how to unzip the zippers. Without extra carabiners in the tent, however, there was no way to “lock” the tent from the inside. Several guests reported monkeys trying to enter while they were there in their tents. We didn’t face this problem, but even before I heard of others experiencing it, the problem itself came to mind as a possibility as the monkeys kept a watchful eye on the tents.
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Our onward flight provided some lovely aerial views of the vast area that we were in.
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While there were definitely some points for improvement noted, for someone looking for a rustic, more relaxed, safari experience, this property is worth considering. The property isn’t perfect by any stretch, but having staff that really seems to care really goes a long way towards making guests’ experience a good one. Had we not had the uninterested spotter one morning and I not learned of the two ignored radio calls of two other guests, this likely would have been a more glowing review. (These are non-trivial issues.) I highlight that overall, our stay was a positive experience.
The report continues here.