Our stay in Garonga, a 2,500 hectare stylistic holistic haven in the bush, was soothing. After weeks in remote game viewing areas of Southern Africa , delayed flights, a long drive from Johannesburg in a manual 4 x 4 along unfamiliar roads, we arrived in Garonga a bit stressed. Used to focusing our energy on dawn and sunset game drives, it took some effort to refocus and appreciate the main attraction at Garonga, our aesthetically oriented surroundings and the leisure services available.
Among our favorite features in this “safari for the soul” was the small size of the fashionable lodge. We prized the design and comfort of our elegant room with a hammock hanging on the front porch. Every time we walked by, we longed to lie down and unwind. We appreciated the thoughtfulness behind the dining arrangements, which made allowances for guest’s dual desires: To get away from it all and to mingle and connect with other travelers. We also liked the relaxation oriented options including open air hilltop baths, overnight treetop sleep outs, massages and other spa like treatments. Game viewing was more an option than a must do. The key at Garonga was to enjoy the way the earthy design blended with the natural surroundings, and focus on relaxing.
Class Of Accommodation
4 stars (Tourism Grading Council of South Africa)
Handicapped Access One room
Length Of Stay 2 nights
Location In the Makalali Conservance W est of Kruger National Park in South Africa ‘s Limpopo (formerly know as Northern) Province. It was a six hour 500 km drive from Johannesburg for us.
Owned-Managed Bernardo Smith
Size There were 14 beds in 6 tented rooms and one suite and 35 staff members.
Year Opened-Renovated June 1997
Lobby And Common Areas : Built in what we thought of a blending of Arizona , bush and modern décor, Garonga’s designs focused on repose. It just happened to be in a game reserve.
Bathroom : The room and bathroom were continuous. Behind the bed was a concrete chair. In front on the chair we found his and her sinks. To one side there was an open (no curtain or door) indoor shower and beyond it larger outdoor shower with a wall for privacy. The water was marvelously hot. The only area which afforded privacy was the water closet in the back left hand side of the room.
As we approached our room, we heard the sounds of a operational camp: Workers making repairs, kitchen and service staff walking about and other guests by the pool (our room was the first one after the pool). We were surprised by the sense of harmony and contrast we found inside the room.It hadrough plastered walls with canvas windows and doors, giving the impression of a sand tent like the buildings in the movie Dune. We opened the front “door,” by unzipping the canvas flaps. Once inside, the room felt like a permanent structure. It was full of contrasts: Spacious and cozy, light and dark, hot and cold, quiet and noisy, comfortable and stark, luxurious and primitive.
Two double beds joined together with a white gossamer canopy and sat on a concrete bed rest. There was a concrete night table with a lamp on each side of the bed. There was a built-in concrete closet with hanging space and baskets. On one side there were two wicker chairs; on the other, there was a concrete sofa with pillows. The colors, white and terrazzo, like the room, contrasted with each other. There was a fan for the steamy summer heat. In the winter, it was all we could do to stay warm under the duvet at night and to convince ourselves to abandon our toasty tent for the frigid outdoors of the open game viewing vehicles. When we weren’t out and about, we especially liked the front porch with its two chairs, a table and a hammock.
Meals After the morning drive, we were served a hearty breakfast on the main building porch facing the scenic dry riverbed. Each couple or group sat together. An informal afternoon tea in lieu of lunch was served in the same area and consisted of home made snack foods. We had two dinners while at Garonga. One was served fireside in an open area with all the guests and the seasonal guide sharing a table and conversation. The food was grilled and the conversation loud and cheerful. For our second evening, the dinner tables were scattered on the porch and poolside. The setting was beautiful with subdued lamps scattered about, underwater lighting in the pool; even the dry riverbed was subtly lit.We were served at the table and the mood was quiet and intimate; somewhat sad for us since we were leaving the following morning. There was a large, attractive fireplace in a corner of the room, where many of us gravitated at the end of dinner. There was a large cellar with lots of wine and for those wishing for lighter refreshment, the tap water was potable.
A ll rooms en-suite with indoor and outdoor showers, gowns, slippers, hammocks, private wooden decks, Zen gardens, rain sticks. Main lodge, lounge and dining area with wooden deck, aromatherapy sala, bush bath, sleep out deck, easels, wine cellar, boma, private dining
Facilities A bush bath, a curio shop, an aromatherapy sala, main lodge, boma or outdoor dining area
Pool Yes. An inviting infinity edge pool was available and in spite of the cool weather we saw at least one couple in the water.
Game Viewing There were two guides and three trackers, who emphasized the setting over the Big Five sightings. When pressed they would seek out specific animals by guest request. Guides underwent weapons and first aid training with an outside instructor once a year. It was helpful that the fences between Garonga and its neighbors in the reserve were down. This meant the animals could move around freely and increased guest’s chances of good sightings. Our guides were Lawrence Mkansi and Julius Mathebula. Thanks to their abilities and diligence, we were fortunate to see two teenage cheetahs and a number of other animals including: Rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, wildebeest, and impala.
Activities Game drives, drawing, bush walks, therapies, sleep outs, picnics , bush breakfasts, outdoor bush baths, mediation area, aromatherapy and reflexology sessions. We scheduled an aromatherapy massage in the spa area, which was slightly separate from the main building. The visiting masseuse was excellent. We returned refreshed and reenergized from what turned out to be one of our favorite activities at Garonga.
A small self service well stocked curio shop offered guests good quality African souvenirs. Highlights included masks, Kenyan wrap/fabrics (samples were available for guest use in the rooms), guidebooks, West African artifacts, beaded sandals, kikoi bathrobes and towels.
Other : All local soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits with meals were included in the accommodation rate.Outside of mealtimes, there was an honor bar self service, where guests marked what they consumed in a notebook and paid for it before leaving. Spa services and curios were extra.
Check-In-Check-Out Process Ease
Date Of Last Visit May 2004
Reviewers Article by Elena del Valle
Photographs by Joni Johnson-Godsy and Chester Godsy
Service Staff tended to be hands off, giving guests a lot of space to relax. There were small snafus that resulted in disappointments such as when our wake up drink order was mixed with another tent’s order. We found the staff would assist us if we asked for something though they were unlikely to volunteer or enquire, qualities that were conducive to relaxation.
Would You Stay Again? Yes