A Thousand Moments with
Upon arriving into Hoedspruit airport, it was a stark contrast from the springtime weather I experienced in Cape Town: it was HOT and dryer than anywhere I’d seen on earth. There was not a sight of green vegetation just yet; it was the end of the dry season and everyone in this part of the country was desperately anticipating the arrival of the rainy season. The vegetation was crisp dry and dusty, with hints of green scattered across the landscape; signs of river beds and underground water.
I was met at the “arrivals hall” by a smiling and friendly team member from the Karongwe Portfolio group, holding a sign with my name on it. As we were waiting around for a few people, I took the chance to walk around a little. Aside from Bimini in The Bahamas and a landing strip in the Yasawa’s of Fiji, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a small airport. Hoedspruit airport is tiny! It has a “safari” feel to it, or a log cabin that you would expect to find somewhere in “Out of Africa”! Super cozy and friendly, there aren’t many flights that arrive there, so when the flights do come in with arriving tourists, a plethora of nearby game reserves staff all gather to pick up their guests.
Upon collecting the other guests shortly after my arrival, we were transported through the Hoedspruit area and onto the Karongwe Game Reserve.
First Night: River Lodge
My first night was spent at The River Lodge, and was met by the general manager and his team, along with a refreshing drink! Once checked in, I was escorted to my cabin, and I was privileged enough to get one of the two Presidential Suites! With two queen beds, a HUGE bathroom with a stand alone bathtub, a living area and views of nature with windows all around the cabin – including a private plunge pool on the outside deck – needless to say it was a delicious dream!
With only 11 suites spread out throughout the property, it is indeed a quiet and intimate setting. The suites are all African bush style, with a very cozy wood cabin feel! There are designated pathways to get to the cabins, and the grounds are surrounded by nature, with a thin electrical fence to keep the big game (mostly elephants) away! Smaller animals are still able to get through though, and many antelopes roam the grounds freely and are quite friendly. At night, the security staff will walk guests to and from their cabins, as a protection and lookout for “dangerous” nearby nocturnal animals. Good to keep in mind that these lodges are within a big game reserve, so the “Big Five” or even “Big Seven” animals roam around at their will.
At River Lodge, there is a nice outdoor Boma (an area where they have outdoor seating and cook a meal around a bond fire, true African style!), and the main dining area where all meals are served when there is no dinner Boma happening. There’s also a common swimming pool with outdoor lounge area for those hot days in between game drives!
2nd and 3rd Night: Beck’s Safari Lodge
On my second and third night, I was transferred to Beck’s Lodge, the newest addition to the Karongwe Portfolio lodges! This place has a completely different feel than River Lodge, but equally magnificent! It is the most “modern” of the 5 lodges, but still keeping the African wilderness as a part of the experience, as well as the quality of service! There are only 10 suites at this property and caters to those who are looking for a more modern feel to their stay, all while keeping the intimate and cozy decor. African art is displayed throughout the property, with two lovely seating areas: one indoors and the other outdoors overlooking the riverbed. All amenities are in one area which makes it convenient to get to, including the lovely infinity pool, and there’s no getting lost or wondering where you need to go. The meals are all served in the main dining area. Breakfast is a mix of continental and made-to-order, lunch mainly buffet style, and dinner is full service! All were exquisite and I have absolutely no complaints as I ate like a Queen at both properties!
The suites are permanent structures along an elevated pathway, and all independent from one another. Each have their own balcony looking out into the African bush, it is cozy and intimate at the same time! The shower opens up to the private terrace if an outdoor shower is what you crave… the rest of the room is set up with lovely African decor in a modern style, comfortable bed, desk with international outlets (a HUGE plus!), and just an all around comfortable and quiet living space!
Game Drives & Wildlife
One of the major highlights, and why people visit, is for the game drives and wildlife experience! Let me say, these guys did not disappoint in any way, shape or form! The guides and trackers are absolutely exquisite in their drives and providing the ultimate luxury safari experience for all guests!
Karongwe Game Reserve is just under 10,000 hectares, so it’s quite large, but not too big! The roads are bumpy and curvy, which gives you a great bush experience. At the time of the year when I was there, in October, it was still the dry season, and it was indeed dry! The locals were impatiently awaiting the arrival of the rain, which usually starts in October. I have to say, I had beautiful weather, hot and dry just the way I like it. The dryness could be seen throughout the reserve, with bare trees and thicket… it was definitely easier to spot the animals! However, like anything on this planet, water is essential to all life, so it was definitely welcomed and anticipated.
With wildlife conservation in mind, Karongwe Game Reserve acts to eliminate the poaching industry by having their own anti-poaching unit on site and guards who roam the area during the night hours. The entire perimeter of the reserve also has electric fences. There is also a conservation levy to help support these efforts that is compulsory for any guests staying within the reserve. This area is the Limpopo province of South Africa, and situated about 45 minutes from Kruger national park. The backdrop is always stunning with the famous Drakensberg mountain rain in the distance!
There were two drives per day: a morning one that started at 5:30am (yep! you read that right!). Wake up calls would involve a member of the staff coming to my door at 5am and knocking gently with a “Julie, wake up call”! Since there are no phones in the rooms or cabins, this is definitely a nice way to get woken up! Just before the 5:30am departure, tea, coffee and cookies are served in the main lodge area where guests meet with their guide. I was lucky enough to have the same guide throughout my whole 3 day stay, which was nice because if we didn’t get to see a certain animal on the previous drive, then they would try their best to find them on the next. The morning drives last until about 8:30-9am, where they bring us back for a nice, sumptuous breakfast!
The rest of the day is spent at your leisure, having lunch, lounging by the pool… until thelate afternoon departure for some more wildlife viewing!
The evening game drives took place at around 3:30-4pm, and lasted for about 3 hours or so. Of course, this is always due to animal sightings, and the guides do their very best to get their guests awesome viewings, even if it means it’s late and dark out.
Here are some of the best images I captured while there! The animals are always so impressive and magical to see in their natural habitat! I was fortunate to see all the Big Five and more!!
The images here will speak for themselves!
In case you’re wondering, Karongwe portfolio owns 5 Lodges within the reserve: River Lodge and Beck’s (as described above and where I personally stayed), and 3 others: Shiduli, Kuname, and Chisomo! I had the great privilege to be shown around the other 3 lodges so I can get an idea of what they are like! I can tell you that they are all amazing and wonderful, yet different from one another!
Shiduli Private Game Lodge is the oldest and largest of the lodges on site, really convenient for large groups. very family oriented with a common pool area and a kids area as well. They offer 24 suites at their property, in multiple building structures.
Chisomo Safari Camp is very African tent and bush-like style! Their suites are all permanent tent structures with open air on all 3 sides. A “glamping” style if you must! Their entrance lounge is lovely with draped fabric at the roof, which makes it so inviting and natural! They have 24 suites so it is also another large lodge, yet with a more intimate feel.
Kuname Lodge is the most intimate of all the lodge, with only 5 chalets at the property, and no children under the age of 16 allowed (unless the whole place is rented out by one family alone). It has some of the best views of all lodges, with an elevated pool overlooking the riverbed below! It is actually quite stunning!
Needless to say, that there is a lodge for every taste and desired experience here at Karongwe! I encourage anyone to take a look at their website and browse through to see what fits best for you! Either way, I highly recommend any of these lodges as they were all stunning with impeccable service!
Thank you to Karongwe Portfolio for hosting me for those very lovely 3 nights! It was an experience to remember!
As always, feel free to email me if you have any questions, and thank you so much for your support! 🙂
Til next time friends, be safe out there!
Love & Light,