Guides’ Wildlife Photo Competition Winners

Along with the photo competition that guests from both Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga can submit their safari moments to, we have also started an annual Wildlife Photo Competition for our guide and tracker teams. The teams: Jaffet and Richard; Josia and Phineas; Samantha and Stewart; Derrick and Kaizer; and Sophie and Bongi, get to explore the bush daily on a game drive or on foot, regularly experiencing fantastic sightings, which make for great photographic opportunities.

While a little healthy competition never harmed anyone, this is just a fun platform for our guides to showcase their wildlife photography skills in the field. Wildlife photographer, Paul Changuion, judged the submissions sent in by our guides last year. Without further ado, here are the winners of last year’s Wildlife Photo Competition.

1st Place – Born to Ride

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© Sophie Barrett

During an afternoon game drive in late October, Bongi called out “What’s that?”, which was met by a chuckle from Sophie. She pulled out her binoculars and starting scanning the area where he was looking because she knew that if Bongi couldn’t identify whatever it was without binoculars, then she certainly wasn’t going to be able to. On the tracker seat ahead, Bongi began to squint and muttered ‘pangolin’. At that point, Sophie was doing a passable impression of a spinning top – binos firmly glued to her face, calling out “Where are we looking?!”. And then she finally saw it, or more accurately them. Their very first pangolin sighting was also their second pangolin sighting as there was a female carrying her youngster on her back. Many guides never get the chance to see a pangolin – let alone two- during their entire career so they most certainly count themselves lucky! To read the full story, visit the first blog of our Safari Camp Stories series titled A Double Pangolin Sighting.

2nd Place – Cat Got Your Tongue

Garonga, Big 5 Safari, South Africa Safari, Africa Safari, Wildlife Photo Competition
© Sophie Barrett

It was an afternoon in mid-November that was ripe with possibilities, Sophie had a vehicle filled with new guests and Kaizer and Sophie were keen to finish tracking down the Garonga pride. Kaizer was taking the sleep-out guests and headed straight to where they had left the tracks in the morning. Sophie got waylaid by a gang of boisterous elephant bulls and saw King Raf (the oldest elephant bull in the reserve) get outsmarted by a sassy young bull. Whilst they were with the elephants, Kaizer called over the radio to say that he had found the lion pride and that the cubs were with them. At this point the pride had four cubs, two who were about 6 and half months old and two who were coming up to 2 months old. When Sophie pulled into the sighting she blinked, rubbed her eyes and gasped – there were not four but SIX cubs!

The oldest female in the pride had given birth since anyone had last seen her and the tiny bundles she was suckling looked to be about two days old! It was late evening and they sat in silent awe watching as this experienced female nursed and then washed her cubs. Once she was finished she glanced up at them, stood, stretched and, with incredible gentleness, picked up one of the cubs in her mouth. She levelled an assessing stare at Sophie and started walking towards her, and for one bonkers moment, she thought the lioness was bringing her cub to Sophie for a lion king style introduction to the reserve, at the last moment the lioness changed direction and stalked silently into the setting sun.

3rd Place – Nightjar Ninja

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© Derrick Nyathi

The Garonga pride had some recent additions to the pride, which were now old enough for the pride to move the den site. That afternoon Derrick and Kaizer were determined to find where the pride had moved to. They set out and were successful in finding them but the lions weren’t all that they found… As Derrick was positioning the vehicle to glimpse the lion cubs nestled inside the den he spotted two eggs on the ground. Curious, he pulled closer to work out what bird they belonged to and as he examined the area Derrick realised the answer was right in front of him, blending perfectly with the leaf litter and not so much as batting an eyelid at the gigantic tyre that was passing next to her nest was a fiery necked nightjar. It was impossible not to record such flawless camouflage.

4th Place – Midnight Snack Attack

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© Sophie Barrett

Leopards are the most elusive cat, feeling more at home when the shadows have lengthened. During the daylight hours they are shy and skittish, they often take comfort in the darkness becoming bolder and tolerating an observer’s presence. Sophie and Bongi had found this particular leopard on the morning drive when they were tracking a coalition of male cheetahs that had moved into the Garonga section of the reserve. As soon as they spotted the leopard, it raced down the trunk of the marula tree and disappeared leaving a warthog carcass stashed in the tree’s canopy.

Sophie and Bongi locked eyes and gave each other an excited nod – they knew precisely where they would be driving once the sun had set. After darkness fell they made their way back to the marula tree and found, to their delight, that the young leopard had returned and was happily feeding on the warthog remains. With only the light of the stars (and a safari spotlight) to see them by, the leopard’s attitude had completely changed. Sophie, Bongi and their guests were presented with a poser of epic proportions and sat transfixed, snapping away, as the leopard locked them in place with its intense stare.

Safari Camp Stories: Following a Cheetah Hunt

by Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula, guide and tracker at Garonga

It was one of those mornings where the bush was alive and bristling with activity. We could barely move without seeing animals.

After a few days of careful tracking, we had found a young female cheetah. We enjoyed a lovely relaxed sighting where she was lying down, looking to all the world like she was fast asleep when, suddenly, her head popped up. With her incredible sense of hearing she had heard something moving through the bush.

Cheetah Hunt, Cheetah, Safari Camp Stories, South Africa Safari, Africa Safari
© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Gone was her lazy demeanour as she was up and stalking through the bush in one single movement. To us it was a mystery what she had heard; a cheetah’s hearing is far more acute than a human’s and we could neither see nor hear what she was following. Whatever it was though was clearly something delicious!

Whilst we were following her, she put on a burst of speed and disappeared! And so the search for her began again. We picked up her tracks and then in the background we heard the impalas’ alarm calling so we had our direction and raced off! Unfortunately, as a young cheetah, she was still learning to perfect her hunting technique. She had detected a bachelor herd of impalas, stalked them excellently but had gotten ahead of herself and become exposed.

Cheetah Hunt, Cheetah, Safari Camp Stories, South Africa Safari, Africa Safari
© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Like their big cat predators, impalas also have fantastic senses. As an animal that is on everyone’s menu, they have to be constantly on alert and luckily for the males that morning, they had spotted the hungry female cheetah as she approached them. After spotting her they sounded their alarm call, which let both the cheetah and us know that the impalas had seen her and the jig was up!

At this point, the cheetah had no choice but to move off as the noise was likely to draw the attention of other predators. That could be very dangerous for the cheetah because any of those predators entering the scene would see her as competition for food and attack her.

Cheetah Hunt, Cheetah, Safari Camp Stories, South Africa Safari, Africa Safari
© Derrick Nyathi and Kaizer Mathebula

Looking sad that she hadn’t managed to catch herself a tasty breakfast, she skulked off into the bushes to try her luck somewhere else.

Safari Camp Stories: Hanging Out with the Garonga Pride

by Samantha Hewitt, guide at Garonga

One morning in mid-January, on a game drive with guests, we spotted some tracks of the two dominant male lions of the Garonga pride but didn’t follow up as they were walking in a very thick area that we decided was too dangerous for us to venture into.

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

In the afternoon, we set off with the idea that we would drive around the area where we had seen the male lion tracks. As we left the lodge it started raining so I turned around to the guests to tell them that with the rain the chances of us trying to track the two male lions would be extremely difficult as the rain ages and washes the tracks away.

We went to the area where we last saw the tracks of the male lions but couldn’t see if they had crossed any road; at this point, the tracks no longer looked like tracks but just a bunch of raindrops. An elephant bull had been called in on the radio and we had already decided that if our gut feeling wasn’t right after checking one last road in that area, we would go to the elephant bull.

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

As we were driving, Stuart, and his amazing ability to spot animals from miles away, turned around with a huge grin on his face saying “Lion! Males! Two of them!” As you can imagine, the guests were so excited, and I was shocked that without tracking we had still managed to find these male lions!

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

As we drove a little closer Stuart smiled and said, “and the Garonga pride!”.

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

We sat in amazement as the six cubs played with one another, the mothers looking up from time to time making sure that the older cubs, that are about seven months now, were not being too rough with the younger cubs that are now around four and two months old.

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

The males got up a few times to change their position, which allowed us to take some fantastic photos.

Safari Camp Stories, Garonga, South African Safari, Big 5 Animals, Big 5 Safari, Lions
© Samantha Hewitt

It was a wonderful drive after all, even if we did get a little wet and saw very few impala!

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.

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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.

Behind the Scenes: Meet the Safari Guide Team

Meet the safari guide team who hold the dreams of our guests in their hands, when they set out in search of the perfect safari experience.

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation of your first game drive. The wind in your hair and the scent of the bush whizzing past as you set off. This experience is what draws our guests to book at Garonga Safari Camp. Operating on 22,000HA private game reserve in the Makalali Conservancy just west of Kruger National Park, we have all the big game and heaps more. Being situated in a large wilderness area also contributes towards such an amazing game viewing area. With passion driving them, all members of our safari guide team are here to give you maximum game viewing experience.

Safari Team – Guides

As Head Guide at Garonga, Jaff started here as a tracker when we first opened 21 years ago.

Over time he has passed various qualifications and progressed through a position of guide to now our Head Guide. His key strength is his tracking skill. Currently he is trying to accomplish his Senior Tracker Level which is one step below the highest tracking level achievable.

He runs his own ‘Guest Walk Experience’ to show guests an insight into how he tracks, and also gives an in-depth knowledge on his cultural roots, ending with a fun ‘Catapult Shoot Competition’ with the guests. Something which is enjoyed by all. See more about our walking safari here

When Jaff is on leave, Josia picks up position as 2nd in charge. He also has a “Walk Experience” to share with the guests – ‘The Solitude Walk’. Not always easy keeping people silent throughout a walk. He is a very accomplished safari guide and brings in great humour and fun to his safaris.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, Josia, Phineas
Josia and Phineas

Samantha is currently attempting her Trails Guide, which will then enable her to also carry out walks, or to substitute if Josia is away. She is an extremely keen and enthusiastic guide, and very willing to go the extra mile to find the game for her guests.

One of the ‘old school’ who has been guiding for over 20 years. Derrick is a very accomplished and experienced guide. Although only just started with Garonga Safari Camp, he has fitted in very well with the ‘Safari for the Soul’ philosophy. We aim to up-skill him even more to enable him to lead more diverse safaris.

Although having just joined us via the Bushwise Training Programme, Sophie has been guiding for over two years. She has traded her legal career in the UK for her passion – guiding in the African bush. She can communicate confidently in French, and can get away with passable Spanish, which is extremely handy for our European guests. Sophie is very passionate and enthusiastic about her new-found career. Sophie is also an excellent photographer and has the added responsibility of sending video and image content as well as written copy for use on our website and social platforms.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Sophie, Kaizer
Sophie and Kaizer

Safari team – Trackers

Kaizer teams up with Sophie and is very knowledgeable and has that 6th sense as to where the animals are heading. A very capable tracker indeed and converses well with our guests. He has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam theory and practical, so he is also a qualified guide.

He teams up with Josia and always carries a great smile and sense of humour. Phineas is a very capable tracker and works extremely well with Josia, making them quite an amusing team. He also has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam.

Richard has been here the longest amongst the trackers and he teams up well with Jaff. A very thorough and experienced tracker. You may also come across Richard behind the Manhattan Bar in the Boma, serving after dinner drinks. Richard has also just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guide Exam.

He tracks with Samantha, and is a very likeable, well-spoken and intelligent person. Steward is fairly new to tracking but has taken to it extremely well. He received top marks out of all the trackers for the FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam and so holds great potential.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, tracker, Samantha, Steward
Samantha and Steward

Bongi is a very enthusiastic tracker and teams up with Derrick. Being very new to the team, our aim is to get him fully qualified up to a FGASA 1 Level Guide over the next 3 months. We foresee him being a great asset to the safari team.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Derrick, Bongi
Derrick and Bongi

This is a big team with a big heart. Their responsibility is a great one as guests arrive full of hope and expectation to see as much wildlife as possible. Time and time again the team continue to deliver using their experience, knowledge and passion. Thank you to all at Garonga Safari Camp for your hard work, energy and commitment to your roles!

Here we leave you with just one example of a rare sighting to the delight and astonishment of our American guests…

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Farm & Maintenance Team

Our small team with the big job of making sure everything runs as it should.

This month we are going further behind the scenes to meet the team of men who aren’t scared to get their hands dirty. They run a tight ship, making sure that everything at the lodge and on the farm is up and running as it should be. Their skills range from painting to plumbing and even mechanics for our vehicles. It’s for sure that things would grind to a halt without them.

Leading the team as Farm and Maintenance Manager, Steffen has been at Garonga for 18 months and is married to Charlotte (Safari Camp Manageress). Steffen is extremely committed to performing great tasks and always puts 110% into what he does.

Having moved across from Makalali some 15 years ago, Albert is our Assistant Farm and Maintenance Manager. He is perceptive in finding any problems and resolving them. He is very committed and proud of his work. A great asset and someone who always has a smile on his dial!

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga

Fixon has been on the Farm for over 30 years, since the previous owner of Garonga. This makes him extremely knowledgeable of where things are and capable of putting his hand to everything. He is also not afraid at all to get stuck into those drains! He is always happy to help out.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga

Given oversees the Farmhouse area, which is considerable, and Bernie’s house in the afternoons. He is very proud of his work and ably assists in maintenance when required. A very keen footballer and a great team asset.

Having joined the team permanently 3 years ago, Patrik was originally only called in for casual work as and when we needed more hands. He is a very capable person on maintenance issues and also with vehicles. Patrik is very committed to his job.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Farm and Maintenance team

With this incredible team, Garonga is able to run like a well-oiled machine and we are forever grateful!

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 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 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 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 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 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.

3 Reasons to Visit Garonga

Nestled in a private concession in South Africa Garonga Safari Camp offers visitors a unique travel experience, or a ‘safari for the soul’ as the staff likes to describe it. From wildlife viewing to luxurious pampering, a stay at the camp is nothing less than an exceptional experience.

Here are three reasons to visit Garonga:

1. No Crowds

Spot a pride of lions or catch a glimpse of a leopard hiding in the bushveld as your game viewer slowly makes its way across the savannah. Makalali conservancy, a 22 000 hectare reserve situated west of the Kruger National Park, is home to an incredibly diverse range of wildlife.
Visitors can enjoy intimate wildlife encounters and a true Big Five safari experience without having to share the moments with hoards of tourists.

Game drive with Garonga Safari Camp in Makalali, South Africa

2. Sleep Out

Set deep in the African wilderness, the Garonga Sleep Out provides a safari experience of a uique kind. Sleep under the night sky on a deck out in the bush with nothing but the sounds of wildlife and the Milkyway keeping you company. Enjoy an intimate 3-course dinner in the bush, accompanied by a bottle of bubbly before letting nocturnal Africa lull you to sleep.

Garonga Sleep out, Makalali, South Africa

3. Bush Bath

Being on safari doesn’t always mean ‘roughing it’. A bush bath is an utterly unique way to enjoy nature whilst taking some time to relax and unwind. Set on a platform, overlooking the Makalali bushveld Garonga bush bath offers guests front row seats to enjoy the wonders of wilderness from the comfort of a lavish bubble bath.

Garonga bush bath, Makalali, South Africa

Exciting Elephant Encounters at Garonga

You don’t always have to trek deep into the heart of the African bushveld to see wildlife whilst on safari. Sometimes just staying at your safari camp provides you with plenty of wildlife excitement. Garonga Safari Camp’s guests were recently lucky enough to witness a very memorable occasion with their own eyes.

A bull elephant decided to come visit one of the safari tents when the guests were relaxing on the viewing deck. The impressive beast was certainly not shy to show off!

Watch how whole the spectacle unraveled:

Garonga Safari Camp – A Well-Kept Secret of South Africa

It has almost been six months since the grand reopening of Garonga Safari Camp, and the team is ecstatic with the positive response from guests. The Garonga staff are devoted to offering service that is nothing below excellent. There is nothing quite like beaming feedback from past visitors to make the Garonga team members’ hearts fill with delight, day after day.

Garonga Safari Camp, main lodge

This is how recent guests describe their stay at Garonga on TripAdvisor:

‘This “camp” is a well-kept secret of South Africa. Traveling off the main road for almost 45mins is your first clue that you are in for a taste of a vanishing Africa. The staff is as warm and welcoming as you could possibly want and try to anticipate your every need.’
– Cindi

‘Wow! Garonga is a great safari camp. We have been on safari numerous times and this place hit all the marks and then some. Only 6 “tents” so no more than 12 guests at a time. The tents are actually small, very posh concrete houses with mesh windows and front flap enclosures that make it feel like a luxury tent. Animals come right into the camp as there are two watering holes right below the rooms.’
– Nancy, the US

Garonga Safari Lodge tent

‘We stayed here for our honeymoon in September. Everything was such an incredible experience. The ‘tents’ are clean, spacious and luxurious along with the view. All of the staff are incredibly friendly and happy to assist with any need.’
– Louise, the UK

‘Our tent, number 5, was large and well located to view the water hole where a variety of animals could be seen refreshing themselves. We were able to watch the elephants as they came through the camp feeding and knocking down the trees for food.’
– David, Australia

‘The accommodation is quite simply superb – huge “tents”, super comfy beds, wonderful bathrooms with indoor and outdoor showers and double sinks. We were in room six, which is furthest away from the waterhole and main lodge but great to feel you are away from it all watching the monkeys, mongoose and anything that wanders along the dry riverbed from the spacious deck (one night we spotted hyena as we were walked back from dinner).’
– CH London, the UK

Garonga Safari Lodge Accommodation