Behind the Scenes: Meet the Little Garonga Staff

When staying at Little Garonga, you’re in the good hands of our friendly and attentive staff that is fully equipped to make this your best South African safari.

Garonga welcomed Little Garonga to the Makalali Private Game Reserve in December 2007, giving guests a little extra luxury and exclusivity in the same beautiful setting as the Safari Camp. Not only is each suite fitted with air-conditioning and Wi-Fi, the guests in these units have their own safari team with private vehicle and housekeeping staff.

Garonga, Little Garonga, Garonga Safari Camp, South African safari, luxury safari accommodation, Big 5 Game Lodge, Meet the Team
The luxurious Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga © Little Garonga

The permanent staff complement at Little Garonga ensure all guests enjoy personalised and attentive service throughout their stay.

Robert: Having started off as a waiter at the Safari Camp over a decade ago, Robert moved across to Little Garonga and with his rich knowledge became the camp’s Manager in 2015. With his calm and professional demeanour, Robert always goes out of his way to afford all guests a great experience.

Margaret: Completely dedicated to maintaining clean and presentable suites, Margaret is the perfect person to oversee housekeeping at Little Garonga. She has been around since the grand opening in June 1997 and is an ingrained member of the Garonga family. You can expect to see her working briskly throughout the busy times at Garonga, always with a smile and happiness radiating from her.

Christine: With over 15 years’ experience, Christine assists Margaret with all housekeeping responsibilities and leads in all laundry tasks. She is industrious and professional, always taking real pride in her work whilst keeping a wonderful smile on her face. You can also expect a joke or two from Christine!

Herfric: Even before Garonga opened in 1997, Herfric was part of the Garonga family. From 1996, he has been working with us in different roles until his personality directed him towards waitering. Herfric is Head Waiter, overseeing all waiters at Garonga but working permanently at Little Garonga. He has a huge heart, great smile and willingness to do anything for the guests.

Patsy the Cheetah Tastes Freedom

…but not without some coaxing! 

Picture the scene: A slightly sunburned, blonde Brit crouched in the back of a pick-up truck (or a bakkie if you come from round here) holding both a DSLR with a weighty lens and a Canon PowerShot with a hefty zoom in one hand, and a rope in the other hand. You know those 20m or so plastic type ropes? Well one of those – green and white if you are wondering – that has been looped through a cut in the hind-leg of an impala carcass.

Now, I can almost hear you wondering how on earth I (or indeed anyone) had found myself in this situation. The answer, of course, is that together with the team, I was trying to tempt a female cheetah we were set to release whilst also hoping to document this exciting moment!

The outcome was not exactly what we had hoped for. Things started out well. We had got the attention of the female cheetah, Patsy to her friends, and I had managed to catch a few shots of her as she started to follow us around the enclosure. Sure, we hit a couple of bumps along the road when the impala carcass got stuck on all the citrus trees in the enclosure (and there are a lot of them). But all round we felt positive about how things were progressing. At one point, Patsy even picked up the impala in her mouth but on discovering she couldn’t simply drag it away she became an increasingly suspicious cheetah. Undeterred, we inched ever closer to the open gate and to Patsy’s freedom.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Something smells ‘fishy’ here” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

For the fastest mammal on the planet, Patsy followed us agonizingly slowly, stopping to rest in the shade of her favourite orange trees and continuously assessing our intentions. We passed her inspections, barely, and finally we (and our sad impala comrade) were through the gate! We deposited our hairy friend about 7m from the gate and snuck off into the distance to watch Patsy take the bait. Or, as it happened, to watch Patsy lie in the shade about half a metre from the gate and show no inclination whatsoever to go through it.

I can’t say I blame her. This whole drama had taken about an hour and a half and, at this stage, was punishingly hot. This was on top of the Garonga Pride paying the cheetah boma an early morning visit, during which time they circled the boma and tested her eardrums with some intense roaring. In the end we gave up with our cheetah release. Patsy lived for another week in the boma with the impala carcass to devour for her troubles, whilst we slinked away to attempt the release on another day.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Maybe this freedom thing is overrated” © Josia Sibuyi / Garonga

I suspect at this point you are all bursting with questions. Why don’t we just open the gate and let Patsy wander to freedom in her own time? And why was Patsy in the enclosure in the first place?

To answer the first question, when wild animals have been in enclosures for a while they get used to the ‘room service’. So, when released they tend to spend their first week waiting for their next meal to be brought to them. That’s why it’s important to ensure they have had a decent feed, hence the alluring impala carcass. We had an extra factor at play here at Garonga as our pride of lions had taken an unhealthy interest in our cheetah friend. We were concerned that if we opened the gate to let Patsy wonder out in her own time, we would run the risk of the lions finding her before she had mustered up the courage to venture through the gate.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
Males from the Garonga Pride © Garonga

As for why Patsy was in the enclosure in the first place, that is a sad tale and it relates to the fate of cheetahs in the wild. There are currently approximately only 6,700 cheetahs in the wild across the world and they are listed as Endangered with Extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Best estimates are that cheetahs have disappeared from about 76% of their historic range on the African continent. One of the major causes of this decline is habitat loss.

Cheetahs are best adapted to have enormous territories but as the human population continues to expand, there is decreasing space available to cheetahs and, left to their own devices, they are adapting slowly to this change. At Garonga, in the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, our cheetahs have adapted to a different style of hunting. They still use their amazing speed but now in conjunction with the human-made fences, which they use to chase prey as if the fence is an extra hunting partner.

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“This feels familiar” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy will be our second adult female in the reserve. Having come from a different part of South Africa, she brings the gift not only of her femininity but also a rejuvenation of the cheetah gene pool for the reserve. As our wild spaces continue to dwindle, we see four major challenges facing our cheetahs, namely habitat loss, lack of genetic diversity, human and animal conflict, and competition with other predators. By introducing Patsy into the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve we are hoping to do what we can to help in the conservation of this stunning species.

Now, coming back to Patsy’s release! Working with nature is often bizarrely like working as a comedian because it’s so often about the timing. About a week after the shenanigans described above, we dragged a second impala carcass behind a vehicle and this time Patsy was after it like a shot. This time the whole process took just five minutes!

Garonga, cheetah, South African safari, wildlife safari, Great Makalali Reserve
“Farewell, see you soon!” © Sophie Barrett / Garonga

Patsy is now freely roaming the reserve and we sincerely hope that she thrives here – keep an eye on Garonga’s social media feeds for updates on her progress!

Written by Sophie Barrett (Guide, Tracker, Photographer and Videographer at Garonga. 

Book with us and enjoy wild South Africa.

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) 

A Bush Wedding & Honeymoon Combo

Weddings don’t have to follow the traditional herd anymore. Adventurous love-birds rejoice!

Engaged couples these days tend to look beyond the ordinary and destination weddings (bush weddings in particular) are a great choice. They combine culture, adventure and often very pleasant climates – enabling the bride to wear whatever dress her heart desires, and the groom to reject that uptight suit and embrace more comfy and fitting attire to suit the scene too. Guaranteed picture-perfect wedding moments are part of the destination wedding allure.

Fabulous wedding destinations are also usually equally-fabulous honeymoon destinations…and so is born the ‘wedding and honeymoon combo’. A bush wedding in Africa offers this very opportunity and Garonga Safari Camp was privileged to recently host the wedding of Adam and Ruth Gooding.

Ruth & Adam's Bush Wedding at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp

Here we give some top reasons why the honeymoon/wedding combo is a winner and Ruth kindly gives feedback on their experience with us.

Five Reasons to Combine Your Wedding and Honeymoon…

  • No busy itineraries

No need to pack bags, rush off to the airport and leave the party behind (that’s just not fair anyway seeing as it is your party!) Your honeymoon begins from the moment your wedding day ends so you can ease into married life at leisure.

  • Best of both worlds – privacy and company

Having your friends and family right there on your honeymoon with you can be a draw card or quite the opposite depending on what you are seeking but quality and experienced venues will be able to ensure you still get that seclusion and privacy. For example, at Garonga we can arrange private dining, private game drives, exclusive accommodation as well as experiences like The Sleep Out and Bush Bath to make sure you still have that all important private honeymoon feel. And for the socialites amongst you, having your nearest and dearest with you just adds to the ongoing paaaarty!

Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
  • Less stress and expense

Planning a wedding and honeymoon can be stressful but when you combine the two you are generally dealing with one venue and often one specific contact at that venue. The less people interfering the better (mothers-in-laws included) and the simpler and more enjoyable the experience will be. Destination wedding venues also sometimes offer cost effective packages with thrown in perks. At Garonga, included in the wedding package is a cake, bouquet, massage for both bride and groom, a private dinner for the married couple and even ceremony/vehicle décor. You can see more on our weddings page.

  • Bucket List Tick

Choosing a destination wedding and honeymoon venue, such as a bush wedding, is also a way of (or maybe excuse for?!) being able to tick off one of those key locations you’ve longed to visit and its highly likely it will be on your guests’ lists too.

  • The ultimate setting and photos

Honeymoon destinations lend themselves to wedding settings with romance and beauty at the forefront of everyone’s minds. And you don’t have to leave your guests for hours just to get those picture postcard wedding photos.

Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp

Ruth & Adam’s Bush Wedding & Honeymoon…

This couple from Scotland had their hearts set on a bush wedding in South Africa and booked the venue and accommodation (The Hambleden Suite) two and a half years in advance. The countdown then begun to their big day.

“We booked the Hambledon Suite as it was a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip and it was everything we could have hoped for and more. From the spectacular view from our own private deck and pool, to the luxury copper bath where I have very fond memories of relaxing on the morning of our wedding day taking in the view and the peace and tranquillity – not many brides can say they spent the morning relaxing. It was exactly how I hoped it would be.

The Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga
The Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga

We were lucky enough to stay for 8 days for our wedding and honeymoon.

Upon arrival it was much more than we could ever have expected. The day I had dreamed of was here and we were completely blown away. We were made to feel welcome from the second we arrived which in turn made it all the harder to leave when our time was done.

I say it was a once in a lifetime trip, however, that certainly won’t be the case as something keeps calling me back and I fell more in love with Garonga than I could ever have imagined and cannot wait to return. We now have a 2-year-old daughter and just as soon as she is old enough to stay we will be booking our next trip out. Not a day goes by that Garonga isn’t on my mind and that’s testament to just how amazing this place is.”

You can read more about Ruth and Adam’s day on their wedding blog.

Photography thanks to Jeannie C Photography

10 signs you may need to get back to Garonga

“Way over expectations.”
“The only way to do a safari!”
“Like a dream!”

A visit to Garonga in South Africa’s Makalali private conservancy bordering the Kruger National Park impacts our guests in the most magical ways. Luxurious bush life and all its unexpected perks stick with them when they go back home and inevitably make them want to return again and again for more. And we’re so glad it does.

If you’ve visited us before, here are 10 tell-tale signs that you are missing your Garonga experience and it’s time for another visit soon.

1. Slumbering under the South African stars, listening to the wild sounds of the bush below you on the private Sleep Out Deck ruined any other treehouse experience for you.

Sleep out deck

2. You now look for animal tracks on the ground and tails in the trees when you go for a walk in your local park.

bush walk

3. You can’t fall asleep at night without a teddy bear in your arms.

safari camp accommodation

4. You drop everything you’re doing to stop and appreciate the sunset that unfolds before you. It was mandatory when in the South African bush after all. Why not everywhere else?

African sunset at Garonga

5. You can’t walk into a New York restaurant and feel at one with nature like you do dining in a boma that has the coolest outdoor bar you’ve ever seen.

Bush bar and boma

6. Your bathtub at home, between the four walls just doesn’t quite manage to set the scene for a relaxing bubble session anymore.

Bush bath

7. And back rubs from your partner in front of the TV don’t cut it anymore either.

Massage sala

8. When you hear something that sounds like a falling tree branch you look outside to see if there’s an elephant nearby.

elephant in camp

9. You leave a little note for your spouse to read when they come home from work. Maybe not as creative as the ones you found left by Garonga staff on the small zen garden in your room, but it’s the thought that counts.

zen garden in room

10. You’re saving up your annual leave days because you’re ready to go back!

Game drive