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

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

Boulders Lodge, Singita

Klein Collection Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie

Situated in the heart of Sabi Sand Game Reserve bordering Kruger National Park, Singita’s historic Boulders Lodge offers a classic, traditional safari experience combined with one of the highest standards of five star luxury you’ll find anywhere in Africa. We stayed two nights at Boulders Lodge and visited Ebony Lodge at the same time. We liked what we saw. A lot.

Two nights at one of Africa’s most luxurious safari lodges goes all too quickly. Filling in the guest feedback form on the (sad) day of departure, we’re stuck on the ‘What was the most memorable part of your stay?’ question. Was it the incredible gourmet food and vast (complimentary) wine list? The game drives where you’ve got a good chance of the seeing the Big Five on your very first outing? The personal hospitality and attention to your every need? No. It was the suites themselves, the place that becomes home during your stay. Quite simply, we’ve never seen anything like it.

Perhaps the word ‘suite’ is misleading. Imagine instead your own personal safari lodge, two wings in fact, one dedicated to sleeping and bathing and showering, the other to lounging on leather-clad sofas and directors chairs, all in superb contemporary-African style. A double-sided fireplace demarcates the two wings and outside is a private deck and private rim-flow pool, heated to a delicious 30C, directly overlooking the Sand River. There are three air-con units, two telephones to save you walking across the vast space, a sound system complete with pre-loaded iPod, even a guest loo for goodness sake!

Singita Boulders LodgeThe small details say a lot too – the espresso machine, the well-stocked fridge, the bowl filled with several types of fruit, Lindt and Ferrero Roche chocolate, Dermalogica skin and hair-care products, even a set of water colours for the artistically minded. And surrounded by floor to ceiling glass looking straight into the bush, the organic interior design is all about textures – carpet here, wood there…. we could go on and on but just take it from us – it doesn’t get better than this.

It would be tempting to stay in your suite and never leave (you can opt for a candle-lit dinner on your private deck, and order anything from the complimentary wine list after all) but then you’d be missing out on the rest that Singita has to offer. After the evening game drive (complete with sundowners and on-the-spot marinated, grilled venison skewers, served on a white cloth decorated with a spruce of silver cluster leaf) we’re treated to a wine tasting by François Rautenbach in Singita’s famous wine cellar.

After the name itself, Singita is perhaps best known for its wine and if you’re a connoisseur, look no further. Living in Cape Town, we’ve had a good exposure to Cape wines over the years, but we learnt more in that tasting then ever before. And you can taste whatever you like and finish the bottle for dinner, or try something new. All complimentary!

Next morning we gather for the drive on the deck overlooking the river as dawn breaks, and I chat to a family of Americans on their first-ever safari. As old bush hands ourselves, it’s refreshing to see their infectious excitement and delight at seeing the African bush for the first time. Singita has something for everyone.

Shelly is our guide, and first up on the drive itself is a female leopard prancing gracefully by the side of the track, soon followed by a herd of white rhino, then we almost drive over a pride of sleeping lions. A herd of buffalo follow shortly and so we’re just a tusk away from the Big Five on a single drive. Damn those elephant! Still, if you want to tick ’em off, Singita’s Boulders Lodge is the place to come.

Boulders and Ebony enjoy a huge traversing area, some of which they share with neighbouring Londolozi, giving it one of the most enviable locations in Sabi Sand. We were also impressed with the quality of the game viewing Land Rovers – no more than 6 to a vehicle with comfortable seats and storage space, with plug points to charge camera batteries, sun cream and insect repellent in case you forgot yours, bean bags to steady your camera and even tripod mounts on the side of each vehicle. These are the most well-equipped standard safari vehicles we’ve ever seen.

Breakfast, like every other meal at Singita, needs to be seen to be believed. Served outside on the main deck overlooking the Sand river, it’s the most comprehensive spread we’ve ever seen, quite literally – including homemade granola, croissants and scones, dried fruit and sparking wine, while I finish off with a fascinating ‘African Eggs Benedict’ of roast beef and biltong hollandaise sauce, while Anne-Sophie opts for scrambled duck eggs with warthog bacon. Shepard, our personal waiter, replaces Anne-Sophie’s finished glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with a full one without her asking. It’s small details like this that set Boulders apart from the rest.

Nearby Ebony Lodge, just as spectacular as Boulders and also part of the Singita collection, provided lunch and a tour for us – see our review here.

With so much work to do writing up our notes, we skip the afternoon game drive but console ourselves with a bottle of Haute Cabriere 2007 Pinot Noir, delivered to our suite as the sky darkens and thunder rumbles in the distance. You can feel the humidity and the tension build until it’s broken by the first flash of lightening and the birds grow silent and everything waits. I love bush storms more than anything else.

Soon the sky is lit up with lightening and the thunder crashes as torrential rain hammers down; the fiercest rain since the devastating floods of January 2012. Lauren and her team had planned a fabulous tasting-menu dinner under the stars on the airstrip for us, and after hours of preparation and work the storm hits just as everything has been set up. We have to settle for the à la carte menu instead, dining on a tempura of soft crab with grilled mango, pickled ginger and soya sauce, kingklip with a dill salad and creamed mussel sauce, kudu loin with pumpkin, asparagus and red wine chocolate sauce, followed by a trio of chocolate and crème brûlée with berry coulis and berry sorbet. As always, we’re free to choose from the 200-odd top South African wines on the wine menu (all complimentary of course) but we opt for Francois’ suggested pairing: a Solo Wines Viognier 2009 and Hartenberg Shiraz 2005 for me, and a chilled Simonsig Pinotage 1998 and Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2008 for Sophie, with a sweet Monis Red Muscadel 2001 to accompany dessert.

Returning to our suite with a RDM cigar to round off the evening, we walk in to the sound of music playing on the iPod and a hot bubble bath, decorated with bush leaves and flowers and sprinkled with candles, together with a bottle of iced sparkling rose. As the last rumbles of thunder dies away, I lie back in the bath with the RDM and reflect on the most astonishing day – starting with a leopard, and ending with a cigar.

Boulders Lodge stole our hearts, and we’ll be back as soon as ever we can.

Good for: Honeymooners, family suites great for children of all ages.

Not so good for: We’re struggling with this one.

What we liked best – incredible game viewing and even more incredible luxury suites, fantastic wine collection and first rate hospitality.

Our verdict – If you want to do it in style, this is the way to do it.

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

Simbambili Game Lodge at Sabi Sands

Klein Collection safari review by Jonathan and Sophie

Part of the Thornybush Collection and situated on its very own concession in Sabi Sand Reserve bordering Kruger National Park, Simbambili is a five-star lodge with five-star game viewing. We visited as part of our honeymoon and were blown away not just by the hospitality but by the best leopard sighting we’ve ever seen.

“Mamps is just going to walk through this block to see if he can find them”, says Liam, our guide.

Last night, Mamps, our Shangaanw tracker with 14 years experience on the reserve, heard leopards mating in the area and now, armed with just a catapult and a couple of small stones, he disappears into the long grass. Rather him than me. Half an hour later we rendez-vous with him on the Landcruiser and drive up a dry river bed, then we hear it. GRRRRRR!!!!! It sounds like they’re fighting, vicious growls and snarls, then we see them in the grass, just metres away. The female is flirting, enticing the male to mount her and then he does, biting her neck until she rolls over and swipes him with her paw, ears back, snarling. We inch closer until we’re barely two metres away, the cats so lost in their world that they barely acknowledge us.

“Just keep very still”, says Liam. “The male can be unpredictable”. We sit frozen, spell bound, as the leopards go at it again. And again. And again. It’s just us, and two very horny leopards.

We can scarcely believe it. As you’ll know if you’ve been on an African safari, leopard is the most elusive of the Big 5 and you’re lucky to spot one. Here we are, watching two of them, close enough to smell what they had for breakfast (which didn’t smell good), mating 10 times in half an hour.

Yet leopards are exactly what Simbambili Game Lodge is famous for. Part of the Sabi Sands reserve which borders Kruger National Park, this region has the highest density of leopards in the world and although you can never guarantee anything in the bush, you’ve got a high chance of spotting at least one during your stay. The record number of sightings on a single drive is 9 individuals.

Like most of the other lodges in the Thornybush CollectionSimbambili is small, intimate and luxurious. We’d arrived earlier in the day to a warm welcome from Alison, Liam’s delightful wife, greeted with a chilled face-towel and glass of ice tea as our rental car was spirited away, only to reappear when we were ready to leave. The husband-wife managing team is a great formula as it ensures a smooth running of both the hospitality and guiding aspects of the safari experience.

And at Simbambili Game Lodge, both are impeccable. We’re shown to our luxury suite, decorated in lavish colonial style and our eye is immediately drawn to the private plunge pool on the shady deck. It’s a 34C day and we cool off before dozing on the adjoining sala. Inside, we note the small things – the bed intricately decorated with russet bush-willow leaves, the personal kikois elaborately folded at the end of the 4-poster bed.

Our lunch table was ready for us, overlooking the lodge’s waterhole and we tucked into smoked salmon salad with dried mango and cashew nuts as a starter followed by lemon and basil grilled chicken and for dessert poached pears in red wine sauce.

It’s a tough job reviewing Southern Africa’s top safari lodges but someone’s got to do it and for this trip we’re combining it with our honeymoon.

If you’re considering Simbambili for a honeymoon (and it is a fantastic choice), be sure to let them know in advance because the superb staff manage, somehow, to find an over-drive that will leave you stunned. Returning from our leopard-mating game drive, an avenue of coloured petals and candles lead us to the hot tub in our suite (the largest tub we’ve ever seen, honed out of single huge piece of stone), filled to the top with soft, bubbly water at exactly the right temperature, ready to step into with the complimentary bottle of iced South African champagne at arm’s reach on the table nearby.

We had to laugh. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Or so we thought. The candles guide us down to dinner, where every detail you’d expect of a 5-star restaurant is reproduced – in a dry riverbed close to the lodge, next to a roaring fire under the stars. Liam, our guide, joins his guests for a delectable three-course bush dinner of soup followed by a vast buffet with a choice of chicken casserole, lamb roast or sausage served with loads of veggies, and to finish things off: cape brandy pudding! With Liam’s easygoing manner and superb guiding knowledge, you can learn as much (if you like) over a glass of Cab Sav as you can on the back of his Landcruiser. Easy conversation, the feel of the cool sand under-foot, the hyenas calling nearby, it’s hard to imagine a more exquisite dinner location. This sociable, friendly atmosphere sets Simbambili apart from many other lodges and is one reason why it’s one of the most popular in the Sabi Sand.

Back at the suite everything has been prepped for the night, the vast mosquito net (virtually a room in itself) covering the 4-poster bed, a personalised good-night card and ribbon-wrapped scroll relating an ancient African myth, together with tomorrow’s forecast (32C and sunny. Again).

We gaze out at the dazzling stars before turning in, a crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter almost perfectly aligned, something else you hardly ever see. Perhaps it was auspicious. But in any case, despite spending months in the bush, this was one of the best safari experiences of our lives.

It was a hard act to follow for the 6am drive next morning, before we sadly said our farewells. What did we see? Just a side-striped jackal then a couple of wild dog chewing an impala.

Boring…..

Good for: Honeymoon couples (and romantic getaways for all couples) and small groups

Not so good for – Young children (<12 yrs not allowed)

What we liked best – Quality of game viewing, super-friendliness of staff and exquisite accommodation

Our verdict: A world-class operation in a world-class game viewing area. With this combination, you’re not likely to be disappointed at Simbambili.

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

Lebombo Lodge, Singita

– Safari Review by Klein Collection reviewers, Jonathan and Sophie

Hidden away on a huge private concession in a remote corner of Kruger National Park, Singita’s Lebombo Lodge combines cutting-edge architecture, five star luxury and some of the best game viewing in South Africa. We visited for two days as part of our honeymoon to see how they measure up to other top lodges.

Singita's Lebombo LodgeAt Lebombo Lodge, you feel the wilderness like nowhere else. Part of it is the glass that’s everywhere, including all four sides of your private suite. Part of it is the view out over hundreds of square kilometres of the Kruger from its elevated perch up in the rocky Lebombo hills, close to the Mozambique border.

And part of it is the memory of yesterday’s 3-hour drive from the Kruger park gate, itself in a pretty remote spot.

Contemporary Wild

But it’s the award-winning (and some would say controversial) architecture that sets Lebombo apart from all the rest. We’re hot and tired after the long drive when we arrive and Lucky shows us to our suite. We’re gobsmacked – almost the whole construction is glass, steel and solid hard-wood with a private deck with an extra bed where you can sleep under the stars. Huge amounts of imagination have gone into harmonising a contemporary design with a wilderness area, and the result is electrifying. We like it a lot.

Lap pool at Singita's Lebombo LodgeThe main lodge area is no less spectacular. The centrepiece is a dramatic lap pool, which makes up for the lack of private plunge pools in the suites (a feature of Boulders and Ebony lodges). The pool tends to be overlooked by the dining area so if privacy is particularly important, you might be better off at one of those lodges.

We’re just in time for the afternoon game drive and to our delight, Deirdre Opie, the head guide, has been assigned to us. As qualified guides ourselves, the quality of a guide is important to us and Deirdre is well known in the industry as one of the best. Among many formal qualifications, she’s on the cusp of attaining Senior Tracker status, which makes her not only the best female tracker in Africa, but probably in the world.

Leopard sighting at Singita's Lebombo LodgeIt’s overcast and windy today – animals are skittish and nervous but it’s perfect conditions for predators and we spot a young male leopard at dusk, and two large-spotted genets on the way to a stunning bush dinner, tables set around a roaring fire, lanterns hung from the rocky outcrops, under a stormy sky.

Singita prides itself on its wine collection and before the next day’s poolside dinner (a 6-course tasting menu), Kevin treats us to a private tasting. To accompany dinner we select a Kanonkop 2004 Cab Sav – my favourite South African wine. As always with Singita, every one of the wines in their comprehensive cellar is complimentary. Wine lovers will be in heaven here.

The dining experience at Lebombo is excellent, but in this price range it needs to be. The breakfast menu wasn’t quite as comprehensive as Boulders and Ebony and sometimes there was less attention to detail, but Lebombo is like that – more minimalist, less extravagant than it’s sisters in Sabi Sand.

Biking in the Bush

With so much gourmet food and wine on offer, and in almost unlimited quantities, we’re soon in need of some exercise, so while Sophie takes to the beautifully equipped gym, I grab one of the guides, Chris, for some mountain biking.

Biking while on safari at Singita's Lebombo LodgeRiding a bike in an area dense with dangerous game is an exhilarating experience, and safe thanks to the experience of Singita’s guides. Chris takes off at a brisk pace with Daniel, our tracker, driving the Landy some distance behind in case of emergencies (and to carry food, cameras, water and anything else you might want). The vehicle is always out of sight (and earshot) and doesn’t intrude on this unique experience, while the animals are not sure what to make of bikes – they’re less wary than if you’re on foot, but more cautious than if you’re in a vehicle.

With the short, steep ups and downs here in the Lebombo Mountains, it’s a good workout and I cool down in the huge, feature pool overlooking the rugged hills and reflect on yet another incredible day. And if biking sounds too much like hard work, other activities such as archery can be arranged, all included in the daily rate.

Safari lodge, or 5 star hotel in the bush?

There’s not much African in the architecture or décor of these lodges. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t like African kitsch or kudu heads on the walls, but this design would fit into any natural environment from California to Australia. For some, this is a refreshing change. But if you want a traditional-style safari experience, this isn’t it.

Once out on a game drive though it’s just the same, with the same quality of guides you’d expect from Singita. Game viewing has improved in recent years and is virtually on a par with Sabi Sand, with regular sightings of leopard and large prides of lion (up to 25 in one pride), although these can sometimes be tricky to find. And with the huge size of the concession, exclusive to Singita, and never more than 8 vehicles on the reserve at any one time, you can avoid the crowds of vehicles that sometimes descend on sightings in Sabi Sand.

We linger over a late breakfast next to the pool, trying to delay the start of the long drive to Joburg. With Kevin’s help, we select a couple of rare bottles from the wine cellar to buy (at excellent prices), and Lucky hands us a goody-bag of snacks and drinks for the road. It’s the kind of farewell we’ve come to expect from Singita, and it won’t be the last.

We’ll be back.

Good for: Romantic getaways, those after something a little different

Not so good for: Young children (although children of all ages are welcome at Singita lodges, some exposed drops at Lebombo might make life a bit stressful for parents. Unlike Boulders Lodge and Ebony Lodge, there are no family suites). Currently there is no cell reception or wireless Internet, but this should change in the near future

What we liked most: Simply incredible architecture and décor. Fantastic wines and the best afternoon tea in the business

Our verdict: Stunning and complements Boulders perfectly, but being pinned down to choosing one of the two, we have to go with Boulders. Ask for suite number 3 here at Lebombo (or number 5 if you want to be really secluded) for the most spectacular views.

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

Honeymoon at King’s Pool Safari Lodge, Botswana

– Safari Review by Klein Companions, Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

With its stunning location on the banks of the Linyanti River, and well-deserved reputation as one of Wilderness’ top Premier Lodges, we had high hopes indeed for the end of our honeymoon at Kings Pool. We weren’t disappointed.

Kings Pool Safari Botswana“During the dry season the dwarf mongoose gather in groups of up to 60-70 and have been known to take down a buffalo…”

Lemme, our guide, sends us a mischievous glance and a wicked smile as he continues driving past the termite mound, home to a large group of these cute, shy little creatures. I’m the first to catch him out – “There’s no way, Lemme! You’ll have to try that on safari novices, not us!”

It’s our first evening drive here at Kings Pool Camp and we’re already in love with it – not only the stunning camp, but this beautiful piece of wilderness, right on the Linyanti river swamps. Stopping for sundowners along the open floodplain, a large pod of hippos put on an impressive display as we sip our G and Ts, while arriving back at the camp we come across a beauty of a female leopard, walking casually in the road ahead of us – until she spots the fire at the boma with dinner about to be served. She freezes at the sight of the flames, than dashes into the bush. Just as well really.

Kings Pool Botswana SafariKings Pool Camp is named after a Swedish monarch who apparently once camped here on the banks of the river – long before any lodge appeared. And the lodge today does everything possible to live up to its royal name – Kings Pool has class. From the tasteful African-styled minimalist interior, kept in neutral, earthy tones, to the impeccable ever-smiling, ever-welcoming staff and the delicious plentiful food; everything here exudes effortless style.

Julie shows us around the newly refurbished luxury tents, all of which now have floor to ceiling mesh walls, providing more light and stunning views of the water flowing right below. The tents have thatched roofs, providing coolness during the hot midday hours, while the decor is African, with wooden sculptures and a carved, wooden door.

A bottle of sparkling wine is ready for us, in an ice bucket, with a personal, handwritten note congratulating us on our recent wedding. It doesn’t take long for us to settle in – the tent is wonderfully spacious, has a desk, director’s chair, couch, reference books and magazines on the coffee table, a yoga mat and weights in the dresser; there’s a double indoor shower, as well as an outdoor shower.

Outdoor Deck at King's Lodge, BotswanaThe outdoor deck is equally divine, with a private plunge pool, two loungers and a thatched gazebo for that essential afternoon nap. Make no mistake – quality of suites don’t get much better than this, let alone in a location like this.

For our first evening at Kings Pool Camp we get to experience an authentic African evening under the stars. At pre-dinner cocktail hour we are all treated to a magnificent show of dancing and singing where all the Botswana staff (guides and waiters) perform. The singing and dancing continues as we are led to the boma, or kgotla as it’s known in Setswana, where a roaring fire awaits us. Before the traditional dinner is served, Lemme gives everyone a brief orientation on the traditional uses of the kgotla and how it still today exists in all villages as a focal point for gatherings, celebrations and meetings. Dinner is a colorful display of authentic Botswana cuisine – corn soup starter, pounded beef and chicken as mains and malva pudding as dessert, with good company to match.

Lion at Kings Pool Safari Camp, BotswanaThe Linyanti region is known for its large lion prides and elephant herds and we come across some big breeding herds, but for now the lions remain elusive. We spot a mystery bird that none of us can identify – later at the camp, Lemme enlists fellow guides Alex and Ndebo to help solve the mystery, but no luck. But this sincere interest and enthusiasm is one of the absolute highlights of our stay – a good guide not only shares his knowledge but also always strives to learn more, and at Kings Pool we experienced just that.

For brunch we tuck into a delicious buffet with different salads, cold and warm meats, fresh bread, fruit, cheeses. As if this wasn’t enough we find ourselves ordering from today’s menu, which includes fish cakes, soups and frozen yogurt as dessert – yum! The meals at Kings Pool Camp are hearty and wholesome and the South African executive chef, Kenny, keeps tabs on his guests – we chatted to him every day of our stay. As well as an early morning breakfast of cereals, yogurts, cheeses, muffins, pancakes, fresh fruit and boiled eggs, there’s a daily menu for brunch and dinner with at least two options as main courses. And for afternoon tea there’s a wide selection of cakes, scones, fresh fruit and savory snacks.

All in all, there’s a marked difference between the food served at Premier camps, compared to the Classic camps.

It’s our last morning – in the night we heard lion’s roaring and we hit the road with Lemme. Following the fresh tracks, it takes him only a few minutes to locate them – two sisters and a young male, and they walk right into a herd of impala. “No kill today,” Jonathan sighs as the impala scatter, and the lions walk down to the water and casually dump themselves in the shade. Oh well.

Kings Pool Safari Camp, BotswanaWe’re in need of stretching our legs so Lemme shoulders a .458 and we go for a stroll in an open area of Mopane bush, looking at tracks and the small things – just as important to us as the Big Five. Kings Pool is one of the few camps in the delta where walks are offered, and there’s more. You can, depending on the season, go fishing, do boat cruises along the Linyanti River, or visit the waterhole with its unique eye-level hide. Or take a break and have a massage.

Back at the camp we indulge in our last bush brunch before saying our goodbyes. It’s the end of our honeymoon, and Kings Pool one of its highlights. The facilities, the staff, the guiding and game – all were in a class of their own. And one day we’ll be back to ID that mystery bird…

Good for:

Honeymooners and families alike – there’s something for everyone here. Big game.

Not so good for:

The luxury safari tents were spaced a little close together, but it’s a minor quibble.

What we liked best:

Stunning location right on the river – it’s a world of birds, hippos, and elephants to enjoy from your own plunge pool.

Our verdict: As good as it gets in Botswana, with an unbeatable combination of luxury and big game. Best combined with a water-based camp such as Xigera [link].

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

Kayaking Safari in Okavango Delta, Botswana

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

If you’re tired of sit-down safaris and want a bit of exercise (and adrenalin) to accompany your game watching, John Sandenbergh’s unique kayak trips through the Okavango Delta are the perfect counterbalance to a more traditional Botswana safari. Now 49, John has lived in the delta all his life and is one of the most experienced operators around, and the only person to offer, or dare to offer, commercial, multi-day kayak trips deep into the delta. We join him for an informal two day trip to get a taste for what it’s all about.

Kayaking Safari in Africa

Sophie and John kayaking in the Okavango Delta

Emily, John’s girlfriend, laughs. “I can’t see John anywhere”, she says. “That means he’s telling one of his crocodile stories!” We’re sitting round the campfire in a bush camp deep in the delta and sure enough, John is describing an encounter with a three-metre reptile that attacked his kayak recently. “It came out of nowhere” he says, “And went straight for me. I jammed my paddle into its mouth and it snapped off, the kayak went upside down, I pulled myself into the front section and turned to breath in the trapped air bubble”. Apart from a couple of broken ribs, he got away unscathed. I’d have thought he’d never want to set foot in a kayak on the delta again after that but he’s circumspect. “This is what I do. I’ve been doing it all my life”.

We’d set out on a motorboat from Maun the day before, zooming through the waterways to the buffalo fence that demarcates the community areas from the wilder interior. John’s right hand man, implausibly-named C Company, went ahead with another boat so when we arrived at our campsite on a remote island, everything was meticulously set up with safari tents, a mobile kitchen and camp fire, kettle already on the boil. C Company grew up in the delta and is as knowledgeable as anyone in the ways of the bush.

Birdwatching BotswanaWe’d transported two kayaks up on the motorboat but this evening we decide to take the motorboat out for some fishing and game viewing, and a couple of cold beers as the Botswana sun sinks low over the horizon. African Jacanas flit from lily to lily, a giraffe pokes its neck out from above the reeds and a couple of young male elephants flap their ears at us as we cruise by. Out here, you really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, while back at the camp, Emily prepares a delicious braai and we drink whisky around the fire, listening to the nightjars, and more crocodile stories.

It’s the crocodile stories that are foremost in my mind when John and I push off in our kayaks from the island and start our paddle downstream. I try to ignore the bite marks in the polyethylene on the back of the boat. The sun is beating down and the air is silent save the distant resonance of Cape Turtle doves, and the dipping of paddles into water. My eyes constantly scan for moving lilies, and that silent ripple as a croc glides underwater towards you.

John laughs. “The crocs here are not too big”, he says. “This area was dry for too long. It’s up in the panhandle that you have to be really careful”. Over the years, John has learnt which areas to avoid and at what times of year, and his trips are planned carefully to minimise the risks. As we cruise along, he taps the side of the boat with his paddle.

“It’s to warn the hippos”, he explains. “I find that as long as they know I’m here, they’ll leave me alone. It’s when you surprise them that the trouble starts. Sometimes they even answer to my taps with a ‘honk honk’ and we have a little conversation. I’m here, you’re there.” In all his life paddling in the delta, John’s never been attacked by a hippo. “I’ve had a few close calls though!” he confesses.

We pick up the motorboat further downstream and Anne-Sophie has a turn in the kayak. We’re both struck by how comfortable they are, with fully adjustable padded seats and adjustable foot rests. We’ve found on kayak trips before that you can quickly get uncomfortable after an hour or two, making a multi-day trip nothing short of torture. With John’s kayaks you’re comfortable from the start and good for many days of paddling – John’s even done an epic 22 day trip in them.

We relax in the motorboat for a bit and land on an island for lunch. This being a ‘slack-kayak’ we’re enjoying the comforts of the motorboat more than usual, but on a typical 5 day trip, you might kayak 7 hours a day and 30-50km, depending on the fitness level of the group. That sounds a lot, but with the flow of the water at around 3kph (and you always paddle downstream), it goes surprisingly quickly.

What we found most satisfying was the physical exercise combined with the wilderness experience. All too often on safari you sit on your backside day after day, either in a vehicle or on a boat, and get plied with copious amounts of food and drink all day to boot. Sometimes you just crave getting your heart rate up a bit, and a stroll in the bush doesn’t always do it. John’s kayak trips give you as much of a work out as you want, in one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in Africa.

If you’re looking for a challenge as well as a safari, this is it.

Kayaking the Okavango 101

For John, this is a lifestyle as well as a business and he does this because he’s passionate about it.

Kayaking SafariHis most popular trips involve taking a motorboat with kayaks and supplies for mobile camps high up into the delta, then paddling downstream for 4-5 days camping on islands where you’ll hear lions roar and see no one. The camps are basic but absolutely adequate with comfortable tents and sleeping rolls and good, hearty food cooked on open fires, and plenty of cold beers after a long day’s paddle.

Trips are for a minimum of two people and can be tailored for whatever you want – from the popular 5-day paddle, to a shorter ‘slack kayak’ where you can cheat with the motorboat, to a full-on, no-frills, self sufficient Trans-Okavango expedition of 10 days or more.

John carries a full first aid kit and satellite phone for emergencies but no firearms. It’s important to understand that this is a remote wilderness area with dangerous game in abundance and although you’re in the safest hands around, you need to be comfortable with this.

Botswana Kayaking and Camping TripGood for: The more active and adventurous looking to compliment a traditional safari with something unique.

Not good for: The fainthearted…

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