Meno A Kwena Tented Camp in Botswana

– Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby, Klein Collection Safaris

Privately owned and managed, and a short drive from Maun, Meno A Kwena is a tented camp with a difference. We visited to chat with the owner David about his visions for ecotourism in Botswana, and to see what his place is all about.

It’s a hot two hour drive through the sparse Kalahari scrub from Maun, first on empty tar then unmarked sandy tracks, before it feels like you’ve been catapulted into new world.

Perched high on the banks of the Boteti River we gaze down at the water below, and the bush beyond. It’s late afternoon when we arrive and 200 zebra are drinking – they’re skittish and stampede at the slightest perceived threat, hooves thundering in a vast cloud of dust. It’s the start of the greatest migration in southern Africa, and Meno A Kwena is at the heart of it.

No ordinary safari lodge

The brainchild of David Dugmore, it began years ago when the Boteti River was dry, and there was no fence on the boundary of Makgadikgadi National Park. The result was a near-catastrophe as tens of thousands of zebra and wildebeest arrived each year at the end of the rainy season, to their only possible water source, to find it empty. For years, David and his dedicated team pumped water day and night to create a waterhole and keep alive what they could, fending off desperate cattle and watching the weak die. Meno A Kwena was literally an oasis in the desert.

Thankfully that came to an end in 2008 when the Boteti once again began to flow, easing the overwhelming pressure on both wildlife and cattle, but it taught David that for tourism to succeed in Botswana, it must embrace the local communities, local culture and conservationism – and this is what Meno A Kwena is all about.

Forget your traditional, regulated safari lodge and scheduled two daily activities – Meno A kwena feels more like a club, with none of the formality of corporate-style lodges. We’re greeted by the manager Jeff, a knowledgeable guide and old Maun hand who’s been involved with the lodge since its desperate beginnings, and straightaway we see what makes this place special. The people are passionate about it, and excited for its future.

We stroll down to the floating hide right on the river and enjoy a G & T as the zebra drink just metres away, before making way for a herd of elephant. As usual, we also enjoy the smaller things – the babblers alarm calling for two giant eagle owls in a tree nearby, the green-backed heron skimming the water below. Meno A Kwena is one of the only spots that thousands of zebra and wildebeest are able to drink after the pans dry up, giving it unprecedented game viewing during the dry season (April – Nov).

We relax at our comfortable but relatively basic safari tent before a delicious buffet dinner is served at a huge long table – here guests are encouraged to mingle and before long we’re all friends. Each tent has a private bathroom and bucket shower (you order hot water from the delightful staff) – this takes a bit of getting used to but the end result is just the same.

A walk (and run…) with the Bushmen

The next morning we accompany a family of resident bushmen (and women) for a walk in, naturally, the bush. It’s a leisurely meander accompanied by a lot of clicking (and thankfully, a translation) and although it’s a bit theatrical and ‘touristy’, we overcome our initial scepticism and quickly realise that these bushmen really know what they’re clicking about. Kgao, the leader, shows us how to dig for scorpions, make fire from firesticks and make arrow-poison from the grub of a root-feeding beetle. Meno A Kwena is as much about local culture as it is about game.

But traditional game drives are on offer as well in nearby Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and that afternoon we head there with our guide, Sel. It’s a good hour’s drive on good roads to the park entrance which is a bit of a pain, but David plans to slash this by using a boat for part of the journey. We see vast herds of zebra and wildebeest, some good birds and spook a pride of lions right next to the road – not a bad tally, and we enjoy the chance to see one of the less-visited parks in Botswana. Longer, day trips deep into the pans can also be arranged with prior notice.

But Meno A Kwena is also about relaxing in an idyllic location and this is what we do on day 2. Tired of those crack-of-dawn game drives? Just have a lie-in and let the game come to you, viewed from the plunge pool overlooking the river. And if you’re desperate for some exercise after days of gouging and slothfulness on safari, challenge the bushmen for a run. Back in the days, the bushmen would hunt kudu by running them down to exhaustion over many hours under the scorching Kalahari sun. They might not be that fit any more but they’ll give you a run you’ll remember (in bare feet), and it’s not everyone that can say they ran with the Bushmen!

Into the future

Perhaps what’s most exciting are the plans for the future. As well as improvements to the tents and bathrooms, expect short boat trips on the Boteti River and more ambitious walks with the Bushmen deeper into the National Park. Most exciting of all are David’s plans to start two or three night mobile safaris to the edge of the Pans in the midst of the zebra migration; expect to be surrounded at night by thousands of thundering hooves.

Swapping email addresses with our fellow guests at the end of our stay, we feel firmly part of the Meno A Kwena family. If you’re looking for something outside the corporate safari lodge mould, informal, with great activities, this is your place. Or if you just want to kick back for a couple of days and relax in the middle of a hectic safari itinerary, it doesn’t get better.

Good for: families, independent travellers, those looking for something different.

Not so good for: those just wanting to see the big five, or expect 5 star luxury.

Our verdict: While it’s not cheap, Meno A Kwena prices compare favourably with most safari lodges in Botswana. It’s important to understand what you’re getting (e.g. bucket showers – although this is part of its charm) and a highly informal approach. If you’re happy with that, it’s a great option and fits nicely into many safari schedules. We greatly enjoyed it, and so did everyone there we spoke to. And within easy driving access of Maun, there are no expensive flights to worry about. A breath of fresh air.

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

N’kaya Lodge, Thornybush Game Reserve

“Everyone feels right at home here,” – there’s no hesitation from Lianne, the super-friendly host at N’kaya Lodge, when we ask her to describe the atmosphere here at this small and intimate family-friendly lodge. Nestled among trees and with a big lawn surrounding the property, and with four chalets, this is the perfect spot for families or small groups.

The chalets are arranged in a semicircle around the crystal clear swimming pool, while the dining area and honesty bar are only a few meters away. During winter, expect a roaring fire as you sip your gin and tonic or sample one of the wines available from the small, but charming wine cellar.

Just a short stroll away you’ll find a small but popular waterhole – popular with game, that is. When we visited N’Kaya Lodge there was a beautiful male giraffe drinking and we had a great view of him from the hide (where you might be lucky to spot the family of bush babies living in the ceiling). This entire camp can be enjoyed while staying connected with the outside world – there’s full wi-fi coverage, even (fear not!) at the waterhole.

Enjoy!

What makes it different: Stunning chill-out spot by the waterhole

What we liked best: This unpretentious but very welcoming lodge is ideal for small groups and families.

Contact us to book your own safari experience today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

Serondella Game Lodge, Thornybush Collection

– Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby, Klein Collection Safaris

Surrounded by large fever trees and with two separate waterholes, Serondella Game Lodge makes for prolific bird and game watching without having to leave the comfort of the camp. Being away from the river, at Serondella you are in the thick of it all.

Kelly, the top-notch host, manages the lodge immaculately with her husband, who doubles as the guide at Serondella. They can cater for anyone – families in the family suite (sleeps six), honeymooners in the beautiful luxury suites, two of which have stunning waterhole views. The main lounge and dining area is set on a large wooden deck, the swimming pool is out front, and you can enjoy the waterholes from the elevated tree-top viewing decks.

What makes it different: Two waterholes for relaxing game viewing during the day.

What we liked best: The “in the middle of nowhere feel” – secluded, but not claustrophobic.

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

Shumbalala Game Lodge, Thornybush Game Reserve

– Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby, Klein Collection Safaris

Shumbalala means ‘Where lions sleep’ and you could well find one here, curled up underneath your deck or by the nearby waterhole. We were met by Isabel, Shumbalala’s charming hostess for a tour of the lodge’s 5 suites and one family room, all superbly furnished with exquisite furniture and an open fire. We were especially impressed by the view of the waterhole from the dining area, and the small touches, such as a bird guidebook in each room.

Our favourite though is the Presidential Suite which sleeps 4 in one of the most beautiful collection of rooms we’ve seen anywhere. At the push of a button, part of the private deck slides back, James Bond style, to reveal the personal plunge pool. We were standing on the deck as it slid back when a large herd of elephants wandered down to the waterhole to drink. There was a fine mist in the warm air and a faint rainbow was forming against the family of elephants drinking below. Watching that from your private pool – how can you beat that?

What makes it different: Shumbalala Game Lodge has its own quaint little wine cellar, stocked with top South African wines.

What we liked best: The Presidential Suite!

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

Sweni Lodge, Singita

– Safari Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby, Klein Collection Safaris

Delightful, intimate Sweni Lodge sits next door to Lebombo and despite sharing the concession, guides and vehicles with its big sister, has a unique charm of its own. We popped down from Lebombo for lunch to check it out. See our review of Lebombo [link] for more about this Singita concession.

It’s a short stroll down the hill to this delightful little lodge right on the Sweni river. While Lebombo is set up high in the rocks like an eagle’s nest, Sweni Lodge has a more intimate feel with only six suites strung along the river either side of the lounge deck, dining area and a generously proportioned pool.

We’re greeted by the lodge manager, Kevin (who this week is also doubling as our sommelier up at Lebombo) and we’re immediately struck by the cosy feel of the camp. We settle down for a bite of lunch in the dining area which, like Lebombo up the hill, is surrounded by glass so you feel like you’re part of the bush even on cold winter nights when it’s too cold to eat out on the deck.

Singita Sweni LodgeThe style is contemporary but comes across as less of an architectural statement than Lebombo and it feels more homely. The suites are very similar to Lebombo with the interior design revolving around glass, wood and steel finishes. I have zucchini and parmesan soup as a starter, a parma ham and brie sandwich followed by fresh summer berries soaked in malibu with fruit sorbet. And since it’s a hot afternoon, I have the suggested rosé wine although as always, any wine from Singita’s vast cellar is available, all complimentary of course.

Good for: Small groups and families.

Not so good for: Lebombo better if you’re looking for something more striking.

Our verdict: Not quite as polished as Boulders Lodge and Ebony Lodge but more intimate – the friendly staff bring guests back here again and again.

Singita Sweni Lodge

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

Chapungu Tented Camp

– Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

It’s the personal relationships that you form with not only the other guests but the staff here at Chapungu Tented Camp that truly defines this small and intimate lodge in Thornybush. With every set of guests being assigned their very own personal butler you’ll feel like royalty every day!

Surrounded by bush and with no cell phone reception, Chapungu Tented Camp is the perfect place to unwind and dive into proper “bush mode”. Rediscover your sense of smell, sight and hearing as you sit on the deck, swim in the rock pool or enjoy a glass of wine in the wine cellar. We were thrilled to discover that the accommodation here is in canvas safari tents… sounds basic? Not at all – these tents ooze colonial style luxury! And better yet – you won’t be disturbed by screaming children – only kids above the age of 12 are allowed here.

What makes it different: Beautiful rock pool.

What we liked best: Nothing beats sleeping in safari tents – you just feel that much closer to nature.

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961

Africa’s most exclusive safari lodges… get an inside peek.

Klein Collection’s safari reviewers, Jonathan and Sophie, travelled to the far corners of South Africa and Botswana to bring you these exciting safari reviews of several of Africa’s best safari lodges. From the extreme luxury of Royal Malewane to kayaking in the Okavango Delta amongst hippos and crocs, it’s all in this jam-packed 17 minute video compilation.

To all the African adventurers, we invite you to experience the safaris through their eyes. Enjoy!

We would love to help you plan your own African safari. Contact us today.

Email: info[at]kleincollection.com | South Africa Tel. +27 (0) 21 813 6961