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A visit to the Kruger National Park ranks as one of the most exciting holiday experiences. If, that is, you relish the wilderness and the chance to spot some of the thousands of creatures that inhabit it. You can either stay at the rest camps inside the park and self-cater (cheapest); or you could choose to spoil yourself and book into an all-inclusive private luxury lodge (most expensive).
Another option is to book into the guest-houses and lodges found in the towns outside the park’s western fences: Nelspruit, White River, Sabie, Hazyview, Hoedspruit and Malelane.
Basing yourself outside Kruger gives you options. You can enter the park as a day visitor as often as you choose, but you also have easy access to other substantial attractions such as the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window and Pilgrim’s Rest.
As ever, the Greenwood Guides can help you out. Below are some GG recommendations of places to stay in this area.
Kavinga Guest House
Ros has reopened Kavinga with a renewed burst of enthusiasm. We met as I peered from the car into bucketing rain and there she was, proffering an umbrella with a grin. Right away we got on like old pals, her hospitality wholehearted and genuine. The setting’s a bonus. Thick avocado orchards buffer the farmhouse from the outside world.
Ros, with a helping hand from Ria, assembles a country breakfast on the stone-tiled veranda, which is camouflaged by plants and flowers.
If you are like the majority of guests, you will spend a great deal of time there, lying on deck chairs or flopping in the pool while Ros dispenses drinks. White cottage-like units are fanned out around the lawn with French doors that open on to small, covered patios and broad views over the fence into the distant Barberton hills. The family unit offers a self-catering option, but I recommend you skip the grocery shopping – Ros’s home cooking is worth staying in for.
There are some high-quality restaurants nearby if you really must. Just 45 minutes to the Kruger National Park.
If you insist on breaking down in SA, do so in White River and let Amanda and Paddy soothe your psyche in the sumptuous European villa experience they’ve built in the mountains of the Jock of the Bushveld Conservancy.
The dynamic duo welcomed me into their fabulous life with arms laden with post-traumatic G&Ts, ushering me first into the lap pool, then the hilltop woodland Jacuzzi. And I needn’t have worried about other guests invading my bubbles.
UmSisi – SiSwati for lucky bean tree – is an exclusive-let, all-inclusive affair: you have the run of the magnificent villa, the lush gardens, the climb-me mountains and the drinks cabinet, while Amanda, Paddy and their bonkers boxers pamper you, ensuring you feel “at home in Africa”.
There is also a divine self-catering cottage under the giant wild fig tree (mind the cheeky, fig-hurling monkeys). Paddy’s home-grown veggie dishes and game lasagne at supper-time are the norm for guests in the house, but with a bit of prior notice, self-catering cottage guests can be catered for too. The English pair have travelled Africa extensively, both as photographers and with their Black Pot Safaris tour company, so can arrange anything for you. At umSisi – where gargantuan showers, African art, deep squishy beds, iPod speaker systems and stylish, light-drenched living spaces are the order of the day – they’ve taken the chore out of your tour.
Likweti Lodge & Sanctuary
Do not arrive at Likweti after dark. Not only is that 25-minute higgledy-piggledy mountainside climb peppered with three of the big five, but you mustn’t miss those heady views over this picturesque reserve. Likweti is no ordinary game reserve. For starters, it’s a sanctuary, a sort-of halfway house for animals post-rehab, and its 5 900 hectares of rolling green hills and tree-lined dams are a far cry from the rough bushveld of nearby Kruger Park. Zimbabwean John has been elbow-deep in animal conservation since he was knee-high to a cicada. His Swiss wife Francine used to be an air-hostess.
Quite some pairing for running a first-class lodge within an animal sanctuary, eh? After being (silently) whizzed to my immense, opulent room in an eco-friendly golf buggy, I sank into my bubbling plunge pool – spied on by rare peeping sable – soaked in my marble bath and sipped fireside tea before opting to brave white rhino, buffalo and leopard on a stroll back to the homely lodge. Conservationist Phil then 4x4ed me on an educational sundowner drive, where we spotted the elusive serval, nearly ran over a monitor lizard and sampled giraffe biltong (chewy). Over a decadent, five-course, star-gazing supper, John told me about Frith, who runs the on-site animal rehab centre and we had a visit from the resident wild bushbaby (since named after, ahem, yours truly). An animal-lover’s haven.
Plumbago Guest House
Between White River & Hazyview
Through wrought-iron gates at the end of a bougainvillaea-lined drive I found Plumbago, as pretty as the flower that shares its name. Set on an avocado and banana farm, it sits above a plantation.
When I arrived, 1940s jazz was swinging out from the radio, just the right aural accompaniment to the nostalgic, colonial-inspired setting. In the drawing room and bar, an eclectic collection of antiques, paintings and rugs is interspersed with vases filled with exotic flowers and extravagant palm-leaf fans. The rooms have the same casual gracefulness with their natural tones, Jacobean print curtains, mahogany beds and vased flowers. With a large lived-in verandah, elegant pool and sauna in the beautifully tended garden, there’s plenty of opportunity to relax and mull over days gone by.
But what really makes this place stand apart are the Robertsons themselves. On my visit, Ilara (who honed her culinary skills cooking for diplomats) was deciding on that evening’s dinner menu while Robbie was itching to go flying before being back for waitering duty later on. A young and active bunch, they are often busying about doing their own thing but are happy to share their passions with you. Twenty minutes to Kruger and close to Panorama Route and God’s Window. Babysitting available. Game drives and beauty treatments can be arranged with Ilara. Small weddings can be arranged.
Bohms Zeederberg Guest House
Böhms Zeederberg is an institution round these parts, known especially for the warm and welcoming Böhms themselves. Mother Marlene sits at the helm of this unique country house, perched high above the Sabie River Valley, where indigenous bush, snug chalets and wild fig trees are dotted around neatly clipped lawns. All 10 charming abodes boast private verandas, elevated views and individual personalities moulded by family members who’ve tendered their decorating ideas over the years; a multitude of skillfully manipulated, wrought-iron fixtures is particularly eye-catching and I recommend a closer look at the house drinks cabinet, not only for the extensive SA wine list. Outside, the lap pool, Jacuzzi and lapa offer an indulgent sideline while the indigenous birdlife on this tree-brandishing ridge – including the Knysna and purple-crested touracos who raucously vie for nesting sites – provide the soundtrack. You can admire them and the sunset seeping away from the valley upon the stone verandah before hearty, mouthwatering dinners. Marlene still does the cooking too… no written recipes here, just family meals that are strong endorsements for the expansive, tiered veggie and herb gardens. For lunch I suggest meandering to the neighbouring Windmill Wine Shop – another Böhm family enterprise. Otherwise you’re 20 minutes to Kruger National Park’s Phabeni Gate and Blyde River Canyon. Hot-air ballooning, river-rafting, game drives, riding and fishing are within easy reach.
Porcupine Ridge Guest House
Janet and John are sitting on a gold mine. Literally. Along with nine similar, private homes, Porcupine Ridge B&B forms an old mining village built high upon Vanaxe gold mine. Don’t worry, it closed years ago. The only drilling you’ll hear these days is the drilling of cuckoo on eucalyptus.
After 38 years in residence, the Wills may be more South African than British, but they still chose Sabie as their retirement spot from Durban because, infinitely green and smack bang in the centre of the Panorama Route, it reminded Lancashire-born Janet of the Lake District. Sitting pretty up in the skies, Porcupine Ridge’s mountainous doorstep is the active nature-lover’s playground. Scenic leg-stretchers sprout from all corners of the sunny yellow house. The climb to the waterfall with deep, refreshing, swimming pools is my favourite, and George and Alice, Porcupine Ridge’s resident golden retrievers, may even act as your guides. Closer to home, nearly a hectare at least of this wilderness has been tamed in the form of a beautiful 50-year-old garden. Barely a lion’s roar from Kruger Park or an oar’s toss from Blyde River Canyon, you couldn’t get bored up here.
But if exhaustion sets in, John and Janet (such affable hosts that one returning guest published and gave them a photography book of their B&B) will be back at your cosy home-from-home, ensuring your snug, comfortably kitted-out rooms are still spick and span, plumping sofa cushions in the laid-back lounge, pouring terrace sundowners while you take in dramatic ridge-top views, drawing up tomorrow’s itinerary…
Children over six by arrangement.
Blue Jay Lodge
I would have been happy enough plonked in a hippo wallow on such a hot and humid day, but Blue Jay Lodge, a cool oasis hidden among lush, indigenous trees, was so much better! And when I say hidden, I really mean it. The neighbours are completely blocked out by the undergrowth and among all the sycamore figs and fever trees I could have been in dense rainforest. I had found my very own tropical oasis. Sensing my heat fatigue, Phil showed me to my huge room (past blossoming orchids), switched on the aircon and invited me to take a chilled drink from the mini-fridge.
A new calmness prevailed as I lay back on the giant bed and gazed up at the high thatched roof.
A short walk away was my balcony, from where the braai area and swimming pool are visible beyond the leaves of an old kiaat tree whose branches reached out to me from under the balustrades.
The Nichols are wonderful hosts and I managed to wangle myself an invitation to join Phil and his family for lamb chops and boerewors. I slept particularly well that night and was only dragged back to consciousness by the smell of a cooked breakfast with my name on it.
Sitting on the veranda, lingering over coffee, I watched an African paradise fly-catcher ducking and diving between the leaves. With more than 80 bird species on offer, you could easily forget the day’s activity and just sit and bird-watch at the lodge. Like I did! No children under 14. Blue Jay Lodge is 10 minutes from Kruger Park gates. Can organise hot air ballooning and safari drives. - Sunday Tribune