There are many options for how you can see the wildlife in South Africa. You can go on a ‘tented’ adventure, self-drive through one of the game reserves or stay at a lodge within a private game reserve.
I chose the lodging within a private game reserve for a few reasons. Being able to relax throughout the visit rather than constantly being on the move to a new destination each night was one of the deciding factors for me.
I decided to head to the Manyoni Private Reserve rather than the larger, more popular Kruger National Park. Manyoni was closer to where I would be traveling ( a 3 hour drive from Durban ) and is 99% malaria free. Manyoni has most of the same animals but the scenery is a bit more tame.
I stayed at the Rhino River Lodge and I can’t praise it enough. There are varied options within the ‘camp,’ depending on how many people you have and what you’re looking for. These range from hotel-esque rooms to family chalets with multiple bedrooms and a private swimming pool.
The only downside to the lodge experience is that it is not great for solo travelers. Meals and such were designed for groups so that tables were in a big circle looking at each other. I travel solo frequently and this was one of the few times that it was slightly awkward.
The camp only holds 20 people maximum. Every day there are two game drives, each lasting three hours, where you hop onto a jeep to explore the reserve. The jeeps hold up to ten people, but during my stay averaged about 5-7 people per drive.
The guides are extremely knowledgeable and can spot animals so far in the distance you’ll be stumped to see what they’re seeing until they point it out to you.
The first game drives leaves just before dawn, so you’ll be aboard the jeep around 5 AM. Half way through you’ll stop for a light snack and coffee.
When you arrive back at the camp they serve a huge, cook-to-order breakfast in the dining room.
You’re then on your own until 1:30 when lunch is served in the dining area.
Your second game drive will depart around 4:30 in the evening. You’ll stop for a sun downer (cocktail and snacks) to watch the sunset out in the game reserve. They take your order for a cocktail and what meal you’d like for dinner during lunch.
Back at the camp dinner is served either in the dining room or around a camp fire, with tables setup for each party of guests.
What you’ll see
The Mayoni Game Reserve has all of the Big 5 animals (Elephant, African Buffalo, Cheetah, Rhino and Lion). We also saw jackals, wildebeest, crocodiles, hippopotamus, zebra, giraffe, and numerous other species.
You get fairly close to many of the animals. Much closer than I thought we would. This caused a ruckus a couple of times with elephants and rhinos huffing and puffing and charging toward our jeep as a warning. It was fantastic to see all of the animals in their own element.
All in all, I’m glad I chose to go the lodge route versus the guided tour that moves daily. I still got to see everything that I wanted (and more) but it was in a relaxed atmosphere.