Having never been on a safari before, and never stayed in a game lodge, we had no idea what to expect. We couldn’t have been more blown away by Little Garonga. In this Little Garonga review, I am going to endeavour to explain just why it was so special, and why it would be the most fantastic spot for your South Africa Honeymoon.
When we talk about safari or a South Africa Honeymoon, Kruger gets all the attention. However, Makalali Reserve to the West of Kruger is 25,000 hectares of wildlife packed park. It is very easy to reach from Hoedspruit, but we chose to drive up from Nelspruit, passing along the Panorama Way en route; it was a wonderful drive. Once you reach the gates of the park, it is a 30-60 minute drive, depending on how good the suspension on your rental car is. We had a mini SUV but were very paranoid about scraping the undercarriage so it took us the full 60 minutes.
During the drive (both on the way in, and on the way out) we got to do some wildlife spotting.
Garonga and Little Garonga also have their own landing strip and you can catch a charter flight, saving time, and arriving in style.
Now I say room, but we had a whole lot more than a room. We were in our very own thatched private suite, The Hambleden Suite, and it was incredible!
Our suite was actually a family room and so it had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. We had the kids room shut away behind a curtain during our stay but here is a sneaky peek for you.
In the middle of the suite was our huge king size bed. This is one of those beds that is a whopping three pillows wide, meaning nobody gets kicked by mistake at 03:00. That is quite important when you are getting up at 05:00 for a game drive. It was a lovely mattress and we slept comfortably all night, and that is pretty unusual for me.
The whole thing was surrounded by a mosquito net, which was brought down for us as part of the nightly turn down service.
The Living Space
Taking a look around the suite, we had two double wardrobes behind the bed and between them, a long bench which we nicknamed the wall of shame. Here our clothes exploded out of our bags every morning, getting ready to leave.
Our living room had a cosy seating area that faced the deck. It wasn’t cold, but there was a lovely wood burning chimney for winter evenings. We also had air-conditioning and fans to cool down the summer heat. If you prefer to keep things natural, you can open the glass doors onto the deck and just let the breeze cool you off overnight.
On the side cabinet there was a small selection of books to nose through (Mr Fluskey loved the 101 stories of Kruger).
Then, the mini bar. Our fridge was stuffed full of drinks from water to my favourite South African cider (yum). On the top of the cabinet were all the fixings to mix a great drink. We had a selection of full size spirits in gorgeous vintage bottles, each with their own tag on. We also had a fresh lemon every day. It all felt very grown up and if we hadn’t been so busy with all the activities, we would have indulged a little more.
The aesthetic that ran though the decor was rustic-plush…is that a thing? The art was African and the furniture wooden or in shades of cream, terracotta and neutral tones. I was borderline in love with a lamp that had a wooden snake climbing it. I think the balance of luxury and the sense of being in the wild was very skilfully achieved.
Forget the his and her sinks, forget the pretty bowls of bathroom nik naks, in this room, it is all about the many ways your can get clean. We could choose from:
- A giant copper bath with a view over our deck. Very decadent.
- A huge shower that also overlooked the deck.
- An outside shower in our own secret, sand-floored space. Have a chat with a little lizard while you lather.
Whichever we chose, and we used them all, we could use the delicious toiletries provided. I was particularly keen on the smell of the air freshener. It was like mint, coffee and chocolate. We were even given three little tubs of organic insect repellent, sun screen and lip balm (everything you need on a game drive).
Running along the front of our villa was our very own viewing deck. It had another sitting room suite (you can never have too many places to lounge on a holiday).
We spent a chilled out afternoon relaxing on the deck and our very own private plunge pool. After heating up with a cider, I thoroughly enjoyed cooling off in the pool when the sun really started to beat down. It was an infinity pool with views over the game park.
That day we saw giraffes, elephants and monkeys from the deck. The elephants even had a baby. Not your average hotel view.
A Look Around Little Garonga
Along with our suite, there were just two other suites, the Chiltern Suite and Buckingham Suite. This means that there doesn’t need to be 20,000 square feet. Instead, Little Garonga is small but perfectly formed.
The clubhouse/reception/deck/dining room/lobby are all in one spot. I am calling it the clubhouse.
We were welcomed here with a glass of homemade lemonade before being shown to our room, and from that point on this thatched structure served as the base for our time at Little Garonga.
Out on the deck was a fire pit, around which we sat in the evenings after returning from the game drives. In the day time, we could lounge by the pool and gaze out over the hills (although we chose to use our own).
Dining at Little Garonga also all took place in “the clubhouse”, or just outside on its deck. Aldren and Eric were the ever helpful and friendly waiting staff.
At 05:00 on both mornings, we were up and ready to go on our game drive, but first we got to pick our breakfast from a menu of a la carte options. There were egg dishes, full cooked breakfasts, healthy chia seed bowls and a daily smoothie.
On day one, we both chose omelettes. On our arrival back to camp at around 10:00, we were hungry and ready to tuck in. Imagine our surprise and delight to see a whole buffet laid on as well. There were homemade croissants, a cereals selection, toast, fruit and some fun little additions.
We were pretty stuffed by the time the omelettes came…but we soldiered through!
On day two I just stuck to the buffet and overindulged on those pastries and coffee.
Thinking we would never eat again after breakfast, we somehow made it to lunch. It was a nice light meal with soups, salads and sandwiches.
Little Garonga (as you may have guessed) keeps you well fed. The day is peppered with opportunities to top up your tummy with nibbles. On our drives in the morning, we had hot drinks at a tea and coffee stop. These were accompanied by dried fruits and biscotti. The evening stop comes with a decent bar selection (another cider anyone?). There was an antipasti spread with hummus, crudités, olives, biltong and other addictive nibbles.
Forget buffets, forget menus, at Little Garonga, you won’t need them. Every night, the skilled chef came and talked us through that evening’s menu that she had designed. One of the guests was vegan and she planned a separate menu just for her as well.
Along with food, the waiters suggested a wine to accompany the food. They quickly took on board our preferences and the following night we all had a white or rosė wine that would match the springbok main course, rather than the more traditional red. None of us were red drinkers.
On our first night we selected the bits that we thought sounded most tasty. This was met with a little bemusement and a kind smile. When we sat down to eat, we realised that we were getting the whole selection. We were so happy! Every night we hit the sheets utterly content, bellies bulging with the most wonderful fare, and all washed down by a drink or three from the impressively stocked self serve bar.
Activities at Little Garonga
OK, here’s the thing, we didn’t know how much we were going to take advantage of the game drives. Mr Fluskey is NOT a morning person, and I am visually impaired, but we thought we may do one or two. Well, we went on every single one and we would urge you to do the same. They were simply fantastic!
Our guide Jeff, and the tracker Richard worked tirelessly to show us the best that Makalali Reserve had to offer. Jeff was a font of knowledge and his calming manner was very reassuring when we were just feet from a pride of lions. Richard was often sent off in search of tracks and other clues completely unseen to us.
Through out our stay, we shared our drives with two other guests from Spain. They had an idea of everything they wanted to tick off but we decided to let them take the reigns and just see what we could see.
We were lucky enough to have encounters with:
- A leopard tortoise
- White rhinos
- Black rhinos
- And numerous deers/antelopes/buck.
It was so much fun and so rewarding. I am a total safari convert now.
If you love animals, read all about our animal experiences, including swimming with whale sharks and turtles.
After a long day of game drives, and chilling out, we decided to take advantage of the bush bath. This is an outside bath that you can luxuriate in during or after the evening game drive. We filled the giant bath with yummy scented bubbles and wallowed in the giant tub drinking our pre-ordered drinks. It was luxury indeed and a very special way to unwind. If you are travelling for a South Africa Honeymoon, you are definitely going to want to do this!
Check out all our travels around Amazing Africa
If you are interested in staying at Little Garonga or their big sister Garonga Safari Camp then here is some information you might be interested in.
- You’ll find best deals and lots more information on the Garonga website.
- To reach Makalali Reserve by air you can fly to Hoedspruit (pronounced Hood-spraite) and they will arrange a transfer from there. Alternatively, check out FedAir for direct flights to Garonga’s airstrip.
- It will take 5-6 hours to drive from Johannesburg. Most of the drive is pleasant and you’ll pass through a lovely town called Haenertsburg with loads of lunch options.
It was during our free afternoon that I really got to think about Garonga‘s slogan, “Safari for the soul”, Yes the game drives were exciting, but it was the times in between that Garonga really stood out from the crowd. Their philosophy means that your free time is just as valuable as those important safari moments. There were massages on offer, a valet to help you if you needed anything, an easygoing, all-inclusive atmosphere, and the staff did everything in their power to ease the day along smoothly. We could have stayed forever but sadly, our stay slipped by in a heartbeat and soon it was time to leave. Thank goodness that giraffe came to say goodbye.
We were guests of Little Garonga but we genuinely had the most fantastic time and couldn’t recommend it more. As ever, all opinions are entirely ours.