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…
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just when you didn’t think your safari could get any more relaxing, we go and prove you wrong!
Here at Garonga we pride ourselves on our motto of being a ‘Safari for the Soul’. While the Big Five game drives and encounters with wildlife is a huge drawcard, it’s only half the safari experience at Garonga. Equally important is slowing down the pace of life, nurturing yourself, and ‘resetting your system’, so to speak.
That’s, of course, why we offer the Bush Bath and Sleep Out Deck, which are complimented by luxurious accommodation and nourishing, hearty food. And it doesn’t stop there. A stay at Garonga isn’t complete without a visit to the Massage Sala, and not to worry, very few people come out without a bad case of ‘pillow face’.
We’ve upped the relaxation ante with two new features added to the revamped existing luxury facilities:
It’s time to get starry-eyed! We bring you the dreamy Star Bath – a whole new alfresco bathing experience. We’ve added a special touch to the original Bush Bath experience. Now you can get lost in the view of a dazzling African night sky as well as our very own galaxy of twinkling stars, all in complete privacy. Soak away your troubles, let go and look back on the sightings and experiences of the day with a glass of wine in hand. It sounds like bliss because it is!
Those already familiar with the practice of mindfulness and meditation, or those that just love a good stretch or daytime nap, will be excited to see our new Yoga Deck. An enclosed tented structure designed to allow air to flow freely, perfectly frames an exquisite view of the valley. You can step onto the mat and practice in privacy surrounded by only the peaceful sounds of the surrounding bush. If you’re lucky you might even get some of the local wildlife passing by!
Not forgetting our existing Bush Bath, which continues to be a much-loved feature at Garonga. It received the full luxury treatment and make-over with a brand-new freestanding bath.
If you’re looking to leave your troubles behind, completely unwind and indulge your senses, then we can certainly help you by offering the ultimate in soulful spa/safari experience.
The Management Team is the backbone of operations at Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga. They ensure everything runs smoothly for the guests both at the front of house and behind the scenes. More importantly, they are the leaders that guide, support and mentor the other teams of staff at Garonga.
Reyneke is the Operations Manager and has been at Garonga now for almost three years. As a very diligent and thorough person, he is tasked with all general operations of lodge as well as overseeing the Safari Department, which is run by Jaffeth. Reyneke arranges external training courses to ensure consistently high standards at both properties that meet the expectations of every guests that walks through our doors.
Riki is the Administration Manager, who has worked at Garonga for three years, along with her husband Reyneke. She has taken on this difficult and intense role with great gusto and quiet determination. From accounts management to stock control and month-end reporting, Riki is incredibly capable and efficient.
Charlotte, who joined Garonga two years ago as the Manager, is currently on six months maternity leave and will return in the beginning of 2019.
Lize has stepped comfortably into Charlotte’s shoes for the six months she is on maternity leave. Whilst she is new to managing, she has slotted well into the position because she is thorough, diligent and confident. In January 2019, Lize will begin her four-year Tourism Degree.
Robert and Steffen are the Manager at Little Garonga and Maintenance Manager, respectively. Check out the blogs on the Little Garonga Staff Team and the Maintenance Team to find out more about Robert and Steffen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
Garonga Safari Camp has had an incredibly interesting year so far. The camp reopened its doors on the 1st of June 2016 after a three-month long revamp. The Garonga team is delighted with the camp’s fresh new look and the colour scheme which they proudly refer to as ‘wet elephant’.
The refurbished camp has only been open for just over a month but the recent Garonga guests have not been shy to compliment the camp on TripAdvisor.
Here are a few of our top picks from the review portal:
We had an absolutely fantastic time during our stay in the stunning Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga. We had our own pool on our deck which overlooked a watering hole, and every detail had been considered in our rooms – even down to our favourite drinks! – Nikkicsmith, the UK
‘Garonga is overwhelmingly beautiful. The accommodation is spa-like elegance with every attention to detail. The resort is small so the service is personalized. The staff and guides/trackers ensure all your needs are met.’
– DueNorthDragonflies, Canada
‘This camp has just been revamped and looks great! Super friendly staff and hosts who made our safari and stay as memorable as possible. Honestly – whoever wants to brunch together with elephants in the morning – just book your stay here. Super spacious tents with STUNNING views over the dry riverbed.’
– Weltenbummlerin06, Germany
‘Totally “in awe” with the newly revamped Garonga! Luxurious tented rooms, spacious both inside and outside – what beautiful decks. Amazing bathrooms and oh the outdoor shower. The staff are so friendly and attentative to one’s needs, and the food outstanding.’
– shezpb, South Africa