5 Reasons to Visit Makalali Private Nature Reserve

by Harriet Nimmo

Known as the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve, Makalali is located in the lowveld region of Limpopo, about an hour west of the Kruger National Park. It offers a great experience for first-time safari goers and, with some romantic lodge features, it is also a special destination for honeymooners. There are many reasons to visit the Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve but just the top five are listed here.

  1. Remote and wild

The Greater Makalali Private Nature Reserve is one of the country’s major privately-owned conservation areas. Its mission is to expand South Africa’s green frontier and the reserve is involved in trying to re-establish the ancient wildlife migration routes that link Kruger National Park in the east to the Drakensburg Mountains in the west.

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Encountering rhinos

At over 22 000ha/54 400ac and with a very low density of lodges, it feels very wild with few, if any, other vehicles at sightings. The lodges have unlimited traversing rights across the whole reserve – very few lodges in other reserves have access to such an unfettered space.

  1. Breathtaking scenery

Makalali’s scenery is stunning, with a varied terrain including undulating rocky hills (known as kopjes or koppies in South Africa) and open areas.

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Enjoying sundowners

There are beautiful viewpoints, with panoramic vistas across the reserve – the perfect setting for a sundowner (evening drink).

  1. Wildlife watching

Makalali is home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) and has a great reputation for close-up sightings. As well as white rhino, it is also home to the rarer and far more elusive black rhino. You also stand a chance of seeing cheetah here too.

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Glimpsing a cheetah

Because it is a private reserve, your guide can drive off-road to follow the animals into their world, away from the road, for optimum viewing, which can make for fantastic photographic opportunities.  You can also go for private guided nature walks in Makalali.

  1. One-of-a-kind experiences

Although the Big Five wildlife encounters and going on game drives are thrilling, it is only part of the safari experience. Equally important is the whole lodge experience – taking time out to relax, unwind, switch off and nurture your soul.

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There are some very special experiences on offer in Makalali at Garonga Safari Camp. This small, exclusive lodge provides luxury accommodation in en-suite tents. Sleeping in a tent is a far more intimate experience than being sealed inside a brick chalet, as you can hear the noises of the African night.

In addition, Garonga Safari Camp offers the Star Bath, which is a whole new alfresco bathing experience. Your private free-standing bath is under the glittering African night sky; enjoy a glass of wine and the sounds of the African bush.

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The yoga deck

To continue the theme of a ‘safari for the soul’, Garonga Safari Camp also offers a tranquil Yoga Deck – an enclosed tented structure, which allows the breeze to pass through while you stretch and contemplate the view of the African bush, and (if you’re lucky) passing wildlife. You can also relax and enjoy a massage by the camp’s resident therapist in the Sala Room in a beautiful bush setting.

  1. Sleeping under the stars

Finally, there is the opportunity to spend the night on Garonga Safari Camp’s Sleep-out Deck.

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The sleep-out deck

Spend a night under the African stars, on your very own luxurious sleep-out deck with a four-poster bed and private dinner, overlooking a waterhole.

If you’re headed to South Africa, then a safari experience at Makalali Private Nature Reserve is highly recommended.

Harriet Nimmo is a member of the SafariBookings Expert Panel and founder of the Wild Shots Wildlife Photography Conference in South Africa. You can read her South Africa country review on SafariBookings here.

Garonga Teams Shine in New Uniforms

All of our teams at Garonga Safari Camp have been decked out in new uniforms and are wearing them proudly! Just take a look below at our supremely stylish and smiling teams…

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Safari Guide Team: Phineas, Kaizer, Richard, Jaffeth, Derrick, Josia and Sophie

Meet the Safari Guide Team – the ones who hold the dreams of our guests in their hands, when they set out in search of the perfect safari experience.

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Security Team: Douglas, Lloyd, Collen and Thomas

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

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Housekeeping and Laundry Team: Dolphine, Damaris, Margret, Eunice and Dorah

Meet the Housekeeping and Laundry Team – the angels who miraculously make up the rooms and public areas but nobody sees them.

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Kitchen and Scullery Team: Virginia, Caroline, Phumzile, Kensane and Reineth

Meet the Kitchen and Scullery Team – the ones that take your tummy’s satisfaction very seriously.

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Waiter Team: Aldrin, Eric and Bongani

Meet the Waiter Team – these charming fellows ensure that every delicious meal served at Garonga is matched equally by fantastic service for an all-round unforgettable dining experience.

Chat to us about booking your luxury Big 5 safari experience with the warm hospitality and outstanding guiding that South Africa is so well-known for.

Safari Camp Stories: A Zebra Walked into a Bar…

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

Certain guest questions, like certain guide jokes, can be considered to be a staple of a visit to the bush. For a guide, watching a zebra go from one side of a road to the other we are overwhelmed by the urge to call out “zebra crossing!” and only very rarely do we successfully repress this urge. In our heads each repetition of the joke is met with raucous laughter accompanied by general agreement that your guide is a sterling human and probably has a decent back-up career as a stand up comic. In reality, the joke is often met with a raised eyebrow, possibly even a roll of the eyes, and if the guide is really lucky a polite titter. Nevertheless, I can assure you it is a joke that never gets old. Similarly, when presented with our equine pals guests’ lips start to twitch, they glance sideways at one another and finally ask the immortal question: “So, are they black with white stripes or white with black stripes?”, quick as a flash our lowveld guides will fire back, “ah but what about the grey stripes?” which are a distinguishing feature of the Plains zebra found in the area. In general this tends to stump guests and we all move on from our guilty game drive giggles to enjoy the animals themselves. Despite this battle of the comic wits zebras are a firm favourite with guests and guides alike and never fail to delight on a drive as we rediscovered on a morning not too long ago…

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© Sophie Barrett

Here in the bush Autumn has started or, as the Starks would say, ‘Winter is coming…’ Our mornings are misty and there is a definite chill to the air. In practical terms what this means is that we reach a point on the morning drive when Bongi and I spin round in excitement only to discover that the mysterious noise we are investigating is the gurgle of a guest stomach – it is time to stop for coffee. One recent morning, anticipating that the stomach rumble would soon be upon us, we stopped for coffee in an open clearing and, after a quick check that there was nothing lying in wait behind the bushes, we invited the team to come down and stretch their legs. However, we were not the only occupants of the clearing, although we definitely needed some caffeine to get our energy levels up to the standards of those who were sharing it with us! Across the open plain was a scene that proved, beyond a doubt that we were in Africa. We had been joined by a tower of giraffe and a dazzle of zebra – and boy were they active! A couple of giraffe bulls were sizing each other up, whilst being pointedly ignored by the females who were with them, spoiling for a battle over mating rights. Their limelight, however, was stolen soundly by the zebra stallions.

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© Sophie Barrett

Zebras have a foul temper that they demonstrate with a solid kick and a nasty bite and these stallions were in need of a referee. When zebras fight over mares they have been known to inflict serious wounds on their challengers – and I mean serious, zebras running around sporting half a tail have most likely fallen foul of another zebra stallion rather than pulled off a close escape from a lion! The fights are fast and messy, each stallion lunges to take a bite out of his opponent. There is no gentleman’s agreement here. As we watched the males jumped, snapped and spun; suddenly crashing forwards onto their knees to prevent their opponent biting through their genitals! On foot in the clearing we were connected with the sighting in a way that is hard to achieve in the vehicle. Our hearts were in our mouths and our adrenaline levels spiked as we watched, transfixed, as the battle played out. After an incredible number of near misses one male emerged victorious and chased the vanquished opponent, thankfully with both genitals and tail in tact, from the clearing! Shaking our heads and grateful that our day would be considerably more peaceful we slipped back onto the game viewer and headed for home without a single mention of stripe colours or zebra crossings.

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© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett
Garonga Safari Camp, Little Garonga, South Africa Safari, Zebra, Zebra Fighting, Safari Camp Stories
© Sophie Barrett

Safari Camp Stories: (Near) Death on (Just a Bit South of) the Nile

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

To be well suited as a Field Guide and a Tracker you need to have different parameters on danger. A scream of terror causes a flood of adrenaline in a Field Guide and the overwhelming urge to run to the source clasping a camera in one hand and a snake wrangling kit in the other to see what excitement has been uncovered. Something in the development of our survival instincts went astray. We are drawn to creatures that most humans consider deadly and downright disadvantageous for a long and healthy lifespan.

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© Eugenio Guasina

So, with this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that one morning Bongi and I were chasing around on some fresh cheetah tracks, eyes gleaming at the challenge. Bongi was doing some systematic tracking, out on foot following one track and then the next to find the animals. Whilst I was doing some intuitive tracking, circling the block in the vehicle, checking to see if the tracks emerged and trying to predict what their movements would have been or would be likely to be so we could slip ahead of the coalition of cheetahs and spot them that morning. We covered a few uneventful sides of the block when, BINGO, cat tracks on the road ahead. I stopped the car, gave the guests a few reassuring words and leapt out for a closer look. Not the cheetahs we were following but an even more elusive creature – a female leopard – had been down the road and recently judging by the crispness of the tracks. I followed them for a few metres head down to get a feel of the gait and behaviour of the animal when I felt an ominous prickling on the back of my neck. I froze. Call me superstitious but I was convinced something was watching me. I raised my head to scan around. Leopards love to rely on their excellent camouflage and from the freshness of the tracks it was entirely possible the female was lying somewhere close-by in the bushes watching my every move. I scanned carefully in the bushes on my left, slowly coming round to the road where my eyes met a pair of black pools, lined with silver and typically associated with a swift, anxious and painful death.

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© Vaughan Jessnitz

A few metres ahead of me, starting to cross the road, was a black mamba, about 3m in length and raised up about 50cm from the ground. The mamba had spread its hood (oh yes they have a hood) and was daring me to come closer. I stood for what felt like an age staring transfixed at the snake before common sense kicked in – I should return to the car and get my camera – what a photo opportunity! I called to the guests to make sure they were enjoying this rare and special sight in the bush and slowly backed towards the vehicle. My movement broke the spell and the extra space relaxed the snake, it turned and slid back towards the bushes. With great excitement we approached it in the game viewer and the serpent climbed a nearby knobthorn gave us all a piercing stare before moving off on its own business once more.

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© Sophie Barrett

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