Tales from a Safari Camp: A Lion Cub Murder Mystery

On the 7th of July 2018 we came across a very sad sight on our morning game drive at Garonga Safari Camp. We found the bodies of two young lion cubs who had been killed…and so began our murder mystery. 

Identifying our Suspects and Victims

Unfortunately, life for a young lion cub is a tough one as almost every predator will kill them if they have the chance as it is all part of their instinct to remove competition and prevent the cubs becoming a threat when they are older. Whilst the pool of potential suspects was large, our investigative team was leaning towards an adult male lion as the culprit for the crime. The previous evening we had received reports of a pair of mating lions in almost the exact same spot.

Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy

It is always heart breaking to see any of the animals lose their lives, but the Garonga team was especially concerned that the dead cubs might be the two adorable trouble makers from ‘the Garonga pride’. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them, ‘the Garonga pride’ it is made up of three feisty females; granny, mum and a perpetually curious daughter, two resident pride males and two heartwrenchingly mischievous cubs.

Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Tracking ‘The Garonga Safari Camp Pride’

For about 3 days our lions went into full stealth mode, and despite finding fresh tracks, they had retreated deep into the thickets and we saw neither hide nor hair of them. Now, as guides, strictly speaking you are not supposed to have favourite animals. However, the Garonga pride has managed to sneak its way into the hearts of our whole team and we were increasingly desperate to discover the fate of our cubs.

One morning it was quiet in the lodge so we collected together our expert trackers and set out to unravel the mystery once and for all. It seemed that the lions were missing us too as at about 5.30 that morning they had been calling. This gave us a heading and before too long we found our 3 females looking healthy and relaxed, but the cubs were nowhere to be seen. However, the cubs are still at an age where their mother will usually hide them in thick bush to keep them safe during the day.

A lioness from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
A lioness (and mother) from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Not to be defeated we left the ladies and picked up their tracks, tracking in reverse to look for evidence that our cubs were still with us. To cover the maximum ground possible we split the team with Josia, Samantha, Derrick, Stewart and Sophie on foot and Kaizer, Phineas and Bongi on the vehicle.

After tracking the one female through drainage lines and across some of our more open plains we had the best discovery – miniature lion tracks sitting on top of the dew from the night before and heading towards a thicket that would be the perfect place to stash a pair of cubs for the day. We radioed in the rest of the team and had a celebratory coffee stop, delighted to have discovered that our little troublemakers were alive and well. Later we slowly started heading towards where the cubs had spent the day and were rewarded with two little furballs full of energy chasing after mum and pouncing on each other. The relief was shared by the whole safari camp team and was enormous.

The Sad Truth

It seems that the two cubs who lost their lives were, in fact, from a rival pride that had wandered into the territory belonging to the Garonga males. It is always sad to see such a sight but a male lion’s instinct to kill cubs that are not his own is one of the harsh realities of the circle of life, it helps to ensure that the strongest genes are being passed to the next generation of lions, which in turn will hopefully help to ensure that we can continue to marvel at these incredible creatures for years to come. The life of a safari camp guide is never a dull one and this episode of Bush CSI [Crime Scene Investigation] is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Photos taken, and article written, by Sophie Barrett (guide, tracker and photographer at Garonga Safari Camp) 

Behind the scenes at Garonga: Meet the reservations team

Find out more about the fun ladies behind the phone calls and emails

Studies show that first impressions are made within the first 17 seconds of meeting someone new and therefore selecting a team to handle reservations and guest enquiries is one of Garonga’s top priorities. They are the voice of the organisation which can make or break a booking.

Effective communication skills are the key to success in all areas of life and lack of this in a professional setting can lead to an error, misunderstanding, frustration and (in the case of a lodge), a dissatisfied potential guest that walks away and tells on average 9-15 other people about their experience.

But it’s not all serious. Yes, the reservations team must be extremely professional, informative, courteous and helpful but they also have to be fun people. They must be “people’s people” that form a friendly, informal connection with guests from the outset.

Garonga is blessed to have those qualities in the persons of Randee, Claire and Jen.

Randee September:

Randee at Garonga Safari Camp
Randee at Garonga Safari Camp

Randee has been consulting through her company ‘Pro-Active Reservations’ for over two years now. She has visited Garonga many times and knows the camp very well. She manages all enquiries from the agencies we work with.

Claire Long & Jennifer Harmse:

It is only recently that Bernie (owner of Garonga) has also chosen to have a separate department for direct bookings. This decision was made to ensure that more time can be spent dealing with each guest enquiry in a more personal manner, offering a far better user experience than if it was all dealt with by one department.

Claire is working with WildWeb which develops and manages the website and digital marketing. She comes from a tour operator background and so her knowledge and experience in this field is top notch.

Claire reservations Garonga
Claire Long

For Jennifer, this is her first full-time job after studying Travel & Tourism for 1 year prior to it.

Jennifer Harmse at Garonga
Jennifer Harmse

Garonga owner Bernie says, “I have tried managing reservations ‘in house’ before and although it is great to have all the information at your fingertips, it does create problems when staff members go on leave or depart. It is much more comforting to know that if a person moves on, is sick, or goes on holiday then the position is still covered by a professional at WildWeb.”

From feedback we have received we know that this set up is working and that Randee, Claire and Jen are doing a wonderful job. The system runs smoothly, and communication is efficient.

Thank you to the reservations team for helping to create and maintain that ideal first impression which has resulted in many a satisfied guest here at Garonga.

Behind the scenes at Garonga: Meet the Waiters

Meet the waiters at Garonga and hear about how they were ‘Under the Influence’ in the name of good service…

If you have ever had a wonderful meal and ambiance spoiled by an apathetic waiter then you will know what a difference a ‘service with a smile’ really makes to your dining experience. Waiters are a huge asset to any lodge and a vital ingredient in the customer service pie; they serve, they converse and they strike a relationship with the guests. But there is also a distinct difference between genuine or fake service which is easily noticed by diners. Here at Garonga the smile is real. We are very proud that our waiting staff simply seem to ooze courtesy, grace, interest and all round happiness.

The waiting role is varied and includes not only serving meals but also packing and unpacking of cooler boxes for safaris, constant cleaning and checking of items for meals as well as an in-depth knowledge of what is being served, pairing of wines, setting up of tables and stock taking.

Meet our happy chappy team:

Our waiting team on training in Cape Town
Our waiting team on training in Cape Town

Herfric
Herfric has been here since before Garonga opened as he started assisting on the farm once Bernie (owner) purchased the land. He has a heart of gold and will do anything for you. He oversees the department, and is also Head Butler at Little Garonga. When the Manager (Robert) is away on leave then Herfric stands in as Manager.

Aldrin
Aldrin has been at Garonga just over 4 years. He is extremely competent and quietly dedicated to his work. However he also has a comical streak and every now and again will perform a dance for the Guests. Aldrin is in charge of the waiters at the Safari Camp.

Courage
Courage has been at Garonga just over three years. He started at Little Garonga in the security department, then he became a casual waiter at Little Garonga. When an opening became available he was then employed permanently at Safari Camp. Courage is from Zimbabwe, he is very friendly and helpful and very amusing. He won Garonga’s ‘waiter prize’ in 2017 for the ‘most special wines sold’.

Bongani
Bongani has been employed at Garonga for just over two years. He is ‘the mischievous one’. He is extremely good with guests and has that knack of remembering names very easily.

Eric
Eric has been at Garonga for over a year. He started off in the security department at Little Garonga, and then an opening became available and he became a casual waiter at Little Garonga. Due to the occupancy success at Little Garonga, Eric now has a permanent position as a waiter there under Herfric. He has settled in very well and taken on the training extremely fast and competently.

Waiters ‘Under The Influence’
This programme was started in 2017 giving waiters the opportunity to excel in their sales skills. The prize was 5 days training with our main wine supplier in Cape Town called ‘Under the Influence’.

The competition endedon 28th February 2018 (just before our annual three week close down). Courage, as mentioned above, won the competition, however as a surprise Bernie (owner of Garonga) decided to send all of the waiters to do the training course. None of them had ever flown in a plane before, let alone been to the ‘Mother City’, Cape Town.

Garonga Safari Camp Waiting Staff
Our waiting team in Cape Town experiencing wine pairing with their meal

During the course they visited many wine farms, saw the whole process in action, had lectures and lessons, sat down for wine lunches (that was the toughest part of course!) and in the end completed a test which they all passed. They also saw a bit of Cape Town too. Not only was it meant to educate them even further on wines and therefore be able to sell them better on return, but was also meant to be a fun, engaging, motivating and bonding experience.  Big thanks to ‘Under The Influence’ for providing this great week of wine education!

Our team of waiters wait eagerly (with their big genuine grins) to welcome and serve you.

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Security Team

Meet Garonga’s Security Team – the men who watch over the camp, because lions don’t sleep at night.

This month we invite you to meet our Security Team, another essential ingredient in the Garonga operational cooking pot and one, without which, we would be left tossing and turning in our four poster beds. The phrase ‘unwanted guest’ takes on a whole new meaning at a safari camp after all!

These 4 chaps only come out at night (much like many of the predators they protect Garonga guests and staff from) but play a key role in the overall hospitality experience at Garonga. Their tasks include escorting guests between the common areas and the tents in the dark, general upkeep of some of the grounds but of course most importantly keeping watch for any intruders. They have in the past encountered elephant, lion, hyena and leopard in the camp and, as you can imagine, have many a story to tell.

Introducing the team:

  • Jazman: Head of Security
Jazman
Jazman

Jazman has been employed at Garonga for almost 10 years – since 2009. He started off as a General Security Guard and is now Head of the whole department which is no mean feat at all. Very well spoken, highly intelligent, and not afraid to speak his mind, Jazman is the ideal person to have in charge.

  • Lloyd: Security Guard
Security team at Garonga
Lloyd escorting guests

Lloyd enjoys driving guests to and from the local airports. Additionally, he is involved in routine night security patrols ensuring the safety of guests. A very personable fellow with a profound sense of humour, he has been employed at Garonga since 2014.

  • Thomas: Security Guard
Thomas
Thomas

Thomas’ main responsibility is assisting with luggage when guests arrive, and day to day security tasks. He has been with Garonga since 2008. A very pleasant and intelligent person, Thomas uses his initiative and is always willing to go the extra mile for guests.

  • Anold

Anold’s main task is night security during the ‘Quiet Hours’ between 10pm and 6am. He has, on many occasions, taken the initiative and sorted out problems for guests without having to involve management. On other occasions he has of course reported to management when he feels necessary even if to inform them of what has happened and what he has done about it,. Anold has been with Garonga since 2013.

Garonga’s Uninvited Guests:

As amazing as our team are at keeping guests and staff safe, this is the African bush, and occasionally the beautiful creatures that we so long to spot on our game drives, come to us. It’s at times like these that the security team’s real experience and professionalism shines through. Anold (night security guard) recalls escorting guests back to their rooms after dinner one evening and being greeted by two mock-charging elephants! On another occasion, a whole lion pride with cubs were found toddling down the main pathway of the lodge just before the guests came back from safari in the evening. Other special appearances have been made by hyena and leopard.

Imagine bumping into these guys on your way back from the Bush Boma…

We can’t thank the security team enough for what they do for us and our guests. Well done Jazman and the team for always being alert and aware, and especially for always going the extra mile for staff and guests. Without you Garonga wouldn’t be the peaceful ‘safari for the soul’ that it is.

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Kitchen Team

Feeding your soul at Garonga Safari Camp is in the artful hands of our passionate and skilful kitchen staff. And they take your tummy’s satisfaction very seriously.

Over the next few months we are going to take you on a journey behind the scenes at Garonga Safari Camp. You will have insight into the love, passion and history behind all aspects of the lodge’s services which, of course, stem from its beautiful people as a foundation.

A focus on Food
Breakfast buffet at Garonga Safari Camp
The Breakfast Buffet

In January we start with a focus on our champion chefs and kitchen staff who not only guarantee that no one ever goes hungry at Garonga but also promise to bust your new year’s diet resolution in a flash. From the droewors (traditional South African dried meat) and spicy corn snacks served on your game drives paired with fabulous wines, to your high tea or potjie (South African stew) night in The Boma, everything is sprinkled with a generous dose of African spirit, energy and a smile. They are even kind enough to share with you their ‘not-so-secret’ recipe for their renowned Amarula Chocolate Cake (see below)…what a lovely bunch they are!

The Team
  • Reineth – Head Chef 

Reineth, (our ever faithful!) started at Garonga when we first opened in 1997. Over the years she has performed magnificently, and quite rightly was given the position of Head Chef 10 years ago. During our Closedown in 2016 for 3 months, she spent 3 weeks in a top hotel in Cape Town learning more tricks of the trade.

  • Venecia – Assistant Head Chef
Venecia at Garonga
Venecia at Garonga

Venecia has been at Garonga a few years now coming across from Makalali. She is a very capable stand-In when Reineth is away and a valuable assistant to her day to day.

  • Sylvia, Caroline and Phumzile – Sous Chefs 
Caroline at Garonga
Caroline at Garonga

Syvlvia and Caroline both previously worked in the scullery and over the years learnt cooking techniques by observing the other Chefs. Both are now very capable Sous Chefs. Phumzile started at Garonga about a year ago as a Breakfast Chef and she has progressed beautifully and is now more than capable of preparing dinners as well.

  • Paulinah – Scullery Manager
Paulinah at Garonga
Paulinah at Garonga

Paulinah (another ever faithful staff member) has been at Garonga almost 20 years and has overseen the scullery ever since she started. She also takes casual staff under her wing when they come in for short periods of time.

  • Lee-Ann – Trainer from the Culinary Guild

Lee-Ann started consulting in 2015. She comes up from Cape Town about 3 times per year for 10 days. She completely overhauled our food style and presentation when we reopened in June 2016 after our 3 months refurbishment. It has made a huge difference and the standard and quality of food and presentation has dramatically improved.

Each evening at Garonga takes on a theme, and we rotate between private and communal dining. We do also cater for all dietary requirements on request. You can see more about our daily offering in our previous blog ‘A Foodie Traveller’s Delight’.

The people behind the food, and of course the food itself, at Garonga is something we are exceptionally proud of. We would like to publicly thank our staff for the commitment and enthusiasm they show to not only delivering top quality food to our guests but also for their motivation to continually learn and develop themselves, meaning Garonga can also only grow bigger and better and, importantly, keep creating more delicious and unique cakes like this one…

Not-So-Secret Chocolate Amarula Cake
Afternoon Tea - Amarula Chocolate Cake Garonga Safari Camp
Afternoon Tea – Amarula Chocolate Cake

Ingredients for the Chocolate Cake:
(Separate mixture into two tins when baking. Use spring form cake tins, they are more user friendly)
120ml good quality cocoa powder
250ml boiling water
6 whole eggs
440ml caster sugar
120ml vegetable oil
500ml cake flour
20ml baking powder
4ml salt

Ingredients for the Amarula Syrup & Topping:
800ml granulated sugar
1000ml water
300 ml Amarula liqueur
4 tins caramel condense milk
800ml fresh cream, whipped to stiff peak for topping
Flake chocolate

Method for the Chocolate Cake:
Preheat the oven to 180 C
Sift the cocoa powder
Pour the boiling water the cocoa, stir to dissolve into the water and leave to cool.
Beat the eggs, caster sugar and oil together until ribbon stage and sugar is dissolved
Add the cooled cocoa mixture to the egg mixture
Sift the rest of the dry ingredients together and fold into cocoa / egg mixture
Divide the mixture into two 22 cm x 30 cm pans and bake for approximately 20 minute or until a skewer comes out clean

Method for the Amarula Syrup
Heat the granulated sugar and water together for about 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid has reduced slightly.
Remove the sugar mixture from the stove and whisk in the Amarula slowly until well combined.
As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, while they are still hot, prick the cake with a skewer (all over – leave the cake in the tin)
Divide the syrup and pour an equal amount over both cakes while hot.
Place the cakes in the fridge to cool completely.

Method for the Topping:
Once cake has cooled completely in the tin, in the fridge, spread caramel on one of the cakes
Remove the other cake out of its tin and place the cake on top the caramel topped cake.
Spread whipped cream on top of the cake in the tin.
Place the cake back in the fridge to set for another 1 hour or until serving. (keep in the tin)
Just before serving sprinkle chocolate shavings on top and serve.

 

A Photographer’s Dream in More Ways Than One

An African safari is an obvious dream choice for a photographer. Those priceless wildlife moments and the breath-taking scenery framed by rich sunsets lure them in with a creative hunger like no other. But first they must get there, and in doing so they bring equipment…lots of equipment! Here we offer a solution for professionals and an opportunity for the novice. 

It’s fair to assume that baggage is every travelling photographer’s bug bear. Different lenses, camera bodies, support systems, lighting accessories and not mention those all-important super binoculars all must find a space in the suitcase. For professionals it’s a drag and for budding photographers, or those simply wanting to ‘give it a try’, it can all seem like a bit of a mission.

At Garonga we put the cherry on top of the photographer’s dream cake by launching a new photography rentals partnership with Africa Photographic Services which means you can now enjoy the convenience of renting your equipment Africa-side and even have the pleasure of it being delivered to your accommodation ready for your arrival. Luxury safari indeed!

Photography rentals at Garonga Safari Camp
A snap happy moment for safari goers

In case you needed more persuading, here are some top reasons you should choose to hire rather than lug!

Save money and try before you buy
Many of our guests see their Garonga safari as an opportunity to dabble in the art of photography. But there’s no point spending large sums of money on fancy equipment which might only see the light of day once per year so save the cash and put it towards your next trip instead. Hiring equipment gives you the chance to try before you buy. See how you get on with a professional range before splashing out.

Last minute planners
Some people have their whole trip planned months, or years, in advance but we know there are many people that leave some things to the last minute. This is also where we can step in and help you out by organising your equipment at short notice. Especially if you do pack your equipment and then realise while on the flight that you have forgotten that all important lens.

Ultimate convenience
Not only will you NOT have to carry heavy and awkwardly shaped equipment across the globe with you, but you even have the choice of collecting/dropping off at the airport or it being delivered ready for you in your accommodation. Additionally, you have the ease of our online shop to make your booking and we are there for any advice you might need about the kind of equipment you should go for based on your level of ability.

Photography rentals at Garonga Safari Camp
Those all important binoculars

Weather you are a photographer in the making, an experienced hand or even if once you get here you just fancy a go…we can assist you to make sure you get the most out of your African adventure without the headache…not to mention backache!

You can see more about our photography rental service here

A Foodie Traveller’s Delight

‘Food Travel’ or ‘Culinary Tourism’ is a thing (Wikipedia tells us so!) with food ranking highly alongside climate, accommodation and scenery as the most essential elements for tourists’ experiences.

Now we know that our fellow safari-lovers choose an African safari with the main aim of seeing African wildlife in their natural habitat but let’s be honest, after a long sweltering day in the bush, there’s nothing better than a delicious, indulgent, nutritious and satisfying meal to put the cherry on top and complete your day. If that meal is also unique, creative and well presented in a beautiful location then you’ve got a winning combination.

Garonga Safari Camp promises a ‘Safari for The Soul’ and the dining experience is a large part of that. We offer various Africa-pretty locations within the camp for you to dine from including intimate dining on your private deck, the more social Bush Boma experience and our favourite ‘The Bush Breakfast’. The menu we offer is focussed on freshness and taste and values the roots of classic dishes created with African influence and flair, using locally sourced ingredients.

Here we give you an overview of what your tummies can expect from sunrise to sunset, at Garonga.

Early Morning Coffee and Tea: To get you going before your early morning game drive, we offer homemade rusks and biscuits alongside your morning cup of Joe, with fresh fruit available too.

Breakfast: The breakfast buffet includes Greek yogurt with home-made fruit coulis (which changes daily) and you can ‘build your own’ muesli with a variety of seeds, grains and berries to choose from. Order a smoothie from the kitchen, which are available on request or indulge into individually portioned fresh fruit salads.

Breakfast Tray at Garonga Safari Camp
Breakfast Treats

A platter of cold meats and cheeses are available as part of the buffet too. The hot breakfast is made to order and guests have a choice between a full English breakfast or eggs benedict served in an iron pan or one of our copper/silver dishes.

The Bush Breakfast is a unique way to enjoy your most important meal of the day. Set outside, in the wilderness, you can choose from a varied buffet including hot and cold options. You’ll be surrounded by the sights and sounds of the bush-veld and may even have some unexpected wildlife join you for the meal.

Lunch: Back at camp, you can build your own salad from a selection of fresh ingredients or choose our prepared salad of the day. You can also add the protein of the day such as roasted chicken pieces, char grilled beef kebabs or lamb cutlets with a piquant fresh herb salsa. Accompanying this there is a selection of homemade breads and a cheese board with preserves and nuts for guests to help themselves to.

Cheeseboard at Garonga Safari Camp
The Cheeseboard Selction

Afternoon Tea: Always feels like a treat and a good way to keep your sugar levels up through the day. This includes bite sized loveliness of both the sweet and savory variety.

Afternoon Tea - Amarula Chocolate Cake Garonga Safari Camp
Afternoon Tea – Amarula Chocolate Cake

Game Drive Snacks: Served straight out of the safari vehicle this little pick me up is very welcome when out scouting wildlife in the bush. Served in glass jars on a wooden chopping board for guests to hep themselves meze-style, this includes savory crackers, biltong or droewors, salted roasted nuts or spicy corn, marinated olives and crudité. Plus wine….of course!

Dinner: Our Bush Boma sets the scene for an interactive and social dinner between guests, staff, guides and chefs. Fridays are probably our favorite at the Boma as we offer pizza, fresh from the oven, as a starter around the Boma Bar, combined with a classic potjie choice for main course.

Every night is a different dining experience alternating between private dining, a communal setting around one large table in the main area under the stars, and of course the Boma.

On Tuesdays we offer a tasty and indulgent BBQ, Thursdays is ‘Meat Night’ served on traditional wooden boards and on Sundays you will smell the spices drifting across the camp from our curry night. Importantly though, should you have any specific dietary requirements we are always willing and able to cater for all.

If you are seeking wildlife we have it, including ‘The Big Five’ and so much more. If you want to add that ‘icing to your safari cake’ (and yes, there is also cake!) then we invite you to come and enjoy that little bit extra with us at Garonga. Foodie travellers will not be disappointed, and nobody goes hungry, ever!