Client Feedback : An Honest Review of a Safari in KwaZulu Natal

Natasha’s clients are repeat guests and they’ve just sent through a lengthy and informative review of their safari to Africa. They enjoyed a unique safari to KwaZulu Natal, which offered them an opportunity to experience the best of both worlds in terms of safari living – tropical paradise surrounds heaving with animals! Clients spent time overnight at Petit Provence, then safari to Hluhlwe River Lodge in the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, Royal Thonga LodgeThanda Tented CampTembe Kosi Tent at Utshwayelo Lodge and Camp, and Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge. Quite the safari in South Africa !

Ballito Petit Province Views from Rhino Ridge

Here is their review : 

Hi Natasha, 

As usual, I wanted to send you a bit of feedback on the places we stayed at during our road trip. 

I can’t say much about Petit Provence since we were literally in and out. The room was very comfortable though (amazing bed!) and very beautiful. Knowing know how little time we had here to really enjoy any of it I would probably next time pick a(n even more) budget place. Just because we literally only used it to sleep from 11-7. 

Hluhluwe river lodge was very pleasant. I would rate it a solid 8 thanks to the manager/barman/server/receptionist Lesley and the amazing breakfast/lunch pack they made us to take to the park (there was enough food in there to feed 2 people for 2 days! and it was very good food). The honeymoon suite was very lovely (huge!). The food was very good. The drinks were a bit overpriced in comparison to other places (wine was really quite expensive by SA standards). They always made a lovely boma fire in the evening where you could have a pre dinner drink (I love those!).

They have a somewhat tame Genet that visits during dinner if it smells meat, loved having him over as a visitor. My first time seeing a Genet so close. I had an accident involving water and an iPhone and Lesley happily provided me with some rice to help it dry, which was incredibly nice. He really made the place. The other staff unfortunately were a bit surly. We only encountered smiles everywhere else we went and here the ladies were definitely in a more sour mood. The place is quite easy to find, well sign posted. Though definitely recommend people  not to drive there during the dark. There are so many animals (and people) on the road, it’s insane! We had to stop several times for goats and cows on the road or about to cross.

We stopped at Ilala Weavers for some souvenirs and a light lunch before continuing our trip onwards and that is something I can definitely recommend your other guests! The people are very nice, the place very pretty, the prices are very reasonable. Only good things to say about it! 

Then on to Kosi Bay and Utshwayelo lodge. The place there suffers a bit from multiple personality syndrome. The tent is gorgeous!!! Absolutely stunning, brand new, well appointed, has everything you could possibly want in luxury accommodation (hair dryer, coffee/ maker, torches, beach towels, etc). But it doesn’t match with the common areas which are geared towards the campers and budget accommodation guests. They are what I will kindly call shabby chic.

I don’t mind, I love this laid back vibe that reminds me of my backpacking days in Australia. But it’s not consistent with the rest. Either they need to fix that up or they shouldn’t have this luxury accommodation, it doesn’t really make much sense at the moment. I can imagine older and/or more demanding guests not appreciating the area for lunch and dinner (breakfast is in the bar area which is pretty cool). Service is also pretty non existent. Again, I love this leisurely hang out and honesty bar system where everyone is just relaxed, but it doesn’t match the public they are trying to attract with the upmarket tented accommodation and the all inclusive dining.

It was also very easy to find and I was super pleasantly amazed by the great condition of the road leading to Kosi Bay (R22). It stood in stark contrast to the pot hole riddled roads we have seen around Kruger! Not a single pot hole to be seen. This road was in mint condition! So even though off the beaten path maybe (or a bit further), the area is incredibly accessible! (though one negative comment that I can’t not mention is the amount they charged us for a pick up from Kosi mouth, 400 RAND for 2 people?!?! It was a 3km drive!). 

On to royal Thonga. 

This place makes me want to cry. After two nights I was really angry with the 3 useless managers sitting around. The place is sooooo beautiful. The pictures don’t do it justice since it has just been refurbished. There is nothing rustic about it, it’s beautiful, well appointed. The pool is huge. It’s thin but very long and again, the pictures don’t do it justice, it’s very nice! Clearly a lot of money has been invested. Unfortunately that’s where it ends. The place has no soul. The staff is not trained and they don’t understand service. They show you the room with outside shower and you have to point out it hasn’t been installed yet… Oh oops, oh well. (maybe another one of the 14 rooms does have the shower? since only 2 were occupied maybe you can check? Or you can apologise with a drink. Or just generally do something!).

You ask for a chenin blanc and they bring you a sauvignon blanc and then stare at you when you say that is not what I ordered “oh but is ok?”. There were so many things that were perhaps small when singular but they added up. And the staff just doesn’t know what to do. They are sweet and friendly and you don’t want/can’t be upset with them because it’s not their fault, they need training, they need management, but it’s mighty frustrating. You then also see these managers sitting at their own table (eating with guests, being served first, treating staff like their personal butler, sitting around drinking wine since 3pm, etc) and the only thing they do is then run after the server and yell at him when they realise something went wrong (which they only realise 1 out of 5 times because they are too busy hanging out by themselves)! That just serves no purpose, it only increases the pressure that you can see these people are already under and makes them scared and uncomfortable around guests. You could feel their unease. You also wouldn’t know that these 3 people were managers because all they do is sit around like guests. They don’t introduce themselves. They don’t ask you about your stay.

The place has so much potential and it is all going to waste. The only good thing about it was Vasy (and their proximity to tempe elephant park). He was our guide and barman. He had to work from 6.30am to 11pm every day with 2 4h game drives. And he was all smiles! I can’t imagine that he was happy, but he was incredibly friendly, super dedicated and motivated and an all round great guy. He’s going places I’m sure with his mindset, places other than royal thonga. Needless to say though the place was practically empty during our stay. The food was also lacking. The lunches were really tiny and not of great quality. The wine on the other hand was great and very reasonably priced! Tempe is also a great park. Though we didn’t see much else than elephants (and planes game of course like Nyala), I very much enjoyed it. This place just made me really angry and sad for the potential that it has and which is just not put to good use. I know you have to compare apples with apples and pears with pears and so take into account the price which is definitely not very high, but it could be sooooooo much better. And despite the lower price point, people will still be upset if everything goes wrong on their holiday.

Next up was Thanda tented camp. 

What can I say? Heavenly, blissful, amazing. The tents are out of this world! The service is out of this world! The tents were cleaned twice daily! And when I say cleaned I don’t mean a simple pillow fluffing or making the bed. No, really cleaned with soap and water and for an hour! I walked in on them once and I was surprised to see how much effort does go on behind the scenes in luxury places like this. Because of course you’re not supposed to see it. It does give me added respect for the management and for the level of coordination that is required for a place to be such a well oiled machine (also because we had just seen the opposite…). Everyone was also so friendly and nice! Of course, maybe I am naive, but I really did have the feeling it was all genuine. Anything you wanted, nothing was too much trouble and all was there in an instant. Very very well done. Unfortunately, and I feel really sad saying this because I don’t want to keep people from visiting, the wildlife experience was really not great. The guide and tracker are great, they do a great job! But there is a very low density of animals unfortunately. Though the reserve has 14.000 hectare, only 7.000 is accessible and there really is only 1 pride of lions, 2 herds of elephants (of which only 1 is seen), 2 cheetahs (of which only 1 is seen), etc. They are also very close to the main road (N2) and you drive by their electricity poles all the time. On one game drive we were closer to the trucks racing by than to the elephants that we were watching. I know it’s a delicate question as a guide, do you show your guides the elephants or move away from the road and risk your guests never seeing the elephants. We also had very bad weather so I’m sure that influenced the game viewing (cold, wind, rain and storm – really awful but nothing you can do about it). On heritage day they did an amazing boma dinner in the bush, showing some dancing, explaining some of the zulu history, it was a great experience and very informative! Nothing touristy/tacky about it, it was very well done. I highly recommend this place but two nights is enough. 

Rhino ridge was the icing on the cake. The place is amazing. It’s slightly too much hotel in the bush for my liking (I prefer more rustic or tented accommodation), so I had to warm to it at first but that was done in less than 2h 🙂 Without any hesitation or reservation: send all your guests here! Nothing nothing nothing negative to say about this lodge (and as you can read I’m a critical guest 😉 ). I had e-mailed them in advance that I would prefer a car without kids (as always) and unfortunately upon arrival they put us in the 1 car (out of 6) with kids… But a place like this stands out by how it remedies these things. I mentioned it at reception and within 5min the manager was there, apologising, saying it was absolutely their fault, they had indeed received my e-mail and they would change our car immediately. I said they next day would be more than fine since they car they suggested to change us to had already left on game drive, but they rallied another driver and got us to the other car. Afterwards I felt bad having even mentioned it, but as I said, critical guest 🙂 It turned out it was the right thing to do though because we ended up with an amazingly nice group of people and a great driver guide! I can highly recommend Hala. He was so service oriented, went out of his way to make us happy (even drove me around by myself on the last morning on an extended game drive from 5h45-11!!!

Everyone else wanted to have a lie in and he just took me and heeded my request. The park is also one of my favourites ever. The fact that you can’t off road really isn’t that big of an issue because the animals are kind enough to come and stand on the road or right next to it. If you have guests who are interested in rhino’s, this is THE place to be! One day we saw 23 different ones, the other day 22. The food was also amazing! The best we had. Very very very good. Wine also delicious! And then we haven’t even mentioned our once in a life time goose bumps moment: our bush walk with Nunu. This walk is a paid extra but absolutely no doubt worth it! We have done walking safaris in Zambia and nothing compared to this! We just walked up to rhino’s!!!! A couple meters. It was adrenaline pumping and awe inspiring to be so close to these magnificent animals. And not once but twice! Nunu is an amazing guide and his calm personality has a great effect on both animals and guests. At some point we took a break, sitting down, eating a banana while 5 meters away from 2 rhino’s. I have never experienced this in my life and I don’t think any other experience will ever come close.

Hluhluwe imfolozi is an amazing park. It looked to me very small on the map, but we actually in 3 days only scratched the surface of it! I would love to go back at some point and do a wilderness trail (I know those are very basic 🙂 but what an experience that must be). 

So that’s about it. Though the weather was really terrible we had such a great time!

As always thank you so much for your help in putting this together!

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do another Africa trip in 2018 but it wouldn’t be before April. In any event, if you hear of any specials don’t hesitate to let me know! We still have a lot to explore and there are some locations (somewhere else in SA, or Namibia) where our limited budget can still get us a great vacation! Or if more generally you have some kind of newsletter, feel free to sign me up 😉

All the best, 

Ellen Cassaer   

Hluhlwe River Lodge Bedroom Hluhwe River Lodge

Rhino Ridge Pools

Thanda Tented Camp Thanda Tented Camp Wildlife Thanda Tented Lounge Thanda Tented Camp Lodge Thanda Tented Camp KwaZulu


Author: Carolynne Higgins

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