Impala Camp, Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Overlooking a wooded stretch of the Rufiji River, Impala Camp offers a fabulous location in the wild, majestic Selous Game Reserve in Southern Tanzania. Being one of the most popular camps inside the Selous, Jonathan and Sophie visited to see for themselves

Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby.

It’s late afternoon and we’re cruising along on a boat trip to Lake Siwandu – enjoying the views, the breeze (quite a relief in the 36 degree heat) and, naturally, the abundant wildlife that inhabits this great body of water – hippos grunt left, right and center, crocs laze on every sandbank. Suddenly we come to a halt – Charles, our guide, is excitingly pointing at a flock of birds, flying beautifully in a tight formation, right above the surface of the water, almost skimming it with their beaks. African Skimmers! Being twitchers, this is a real treat for us, thanks to our guide’s efforts.

View over the Rufiji River

View over the Rufiji River

On our way back to camp, we stop for sundowners at the edge of the old airstrip, but this is no average sundowner stop. While we’ve been out on the lake, Victor has set up a beautiful table with champagne glasses, snacks and, naturally, a cold bottle of South African champagne! We sit back, relax and enjoy the stunning sunset through the palm trees dotting the riverbank. Yellow becomes orange, orange becomes purple and suddenly it’s almost dark and time to return to the camp.

We meet up with the other guests for pre-dinner drinks around the fire, and chat to Sylvia, the friendly and charismatic assistant manager, about our plans for the following day. For dinner we sit under the stars and enjoy a scrumptious 4-course menu of vegetable soup, aubergine rolls, beef fillet, topped off with cheesecake for dessert. We’re accompanied back to our tent by a Maasai guard, leading the way down the long path, a tight grip on his spear and shining the torch up every tree, down every hippo path. There’s no unaccompanied walking during the night as the camp is unfenced – an aspect that we really enjoy, especially waking up to the sounds of at least 15 different bird species outside our tent.

Impala Camp

Impala Camp

The tents at Impala are built on stilts and each has its own verandah with deck chairs to enjoy uninterrupted views of the bush and/or water. Simply decorated, unpretentious yet comfortable with all modern day amenities, such as electricity, hot water and a plug point. The camp also boasts a pool and a lovely bar with great views of the water – nothing beats game viewing with a cold Kilimanjaro beer in hand!

Selous Game Reserve is one of the great wildernesses remaining in Africa, and the safari action here centres around a clutch of lodges on and around the Rufiji River. Partly water-based, and with fewer crowds than the parks of northern Tanzania, it’s a fine alternative to the beaten tracks of the Serengeti.

Sundowner drinks, Impala Camp

Sundowner drinks, Impala Camp

For our morning activity the following day we do a game drive with Charles and our fellow French guests. We are lucky to see two different prides of lions (one coalition of 6 males and another consisting of 2 females, each with her own set of cubs), a day-old hippo kill with more than 50 vultures (we spotted 5 separate species!) competing to be king of the carcass, while a few spotted hyenas lurked in the background. A wonderful way to end our stay at Impala Camp.

Good for:  Those seeking a semi-luxurious bush experience in the world-famous Selous Game Reserve. Good for families (double tented units available).

Not so good for: No communal dining so the camp has less of an intimate feel than some others

Our verdict: A beautifully located camp with great range of activities (game walks, drives, boat trips, fishing)

Morukuru

African Safari Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

Set on its own private concession within the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve, Morkuru’s three ‘mini-lodges’ promise a different formula and a different experience. We find out how it compares with other Madikwe offerings.

Sometimes we can tell straightaway when a place ‘has it’. Well, Morukuru has it. It’s a combination of a great many things all coming together, but first, a bit about how Morukuru is different.

Instead of one lodge, Morukuru consists of three ‘mini-lodges’ – the Owners House, The Lodge, and The Farmhouse, which each sleep 2-10 guests, and are booked exclusively. Each comes with its own team of dedicated staff – guide, tracker and hostess, chef, butler and back-up staff so whether you’re a honeymoon couple, a family, or group of friends, this team is at your very own disposal throughout your stay, including your own private safari vehicle.

Our whole team is waiting to meet us when we arrive, with a cold cocktail and traditional African song before our hosts, Anthony and Amy, accompany us to our villa. We’re staying at the Owners House – the house originally built by Ed and Anka Zeeman, who fell in love with Madikwe after their first visit here in 2003, and built this incredible bush house on the site of giant Tamboti tree (Morukuru means Tamboti in Tswana).

Owners House Suite

Owners House Suite

Imagine your idea of a luxury safari suite overlooking a wooded river bed (or if you can’t, read some of our other blogs). Then quadruple it in size, add several outdoor decks and wooden walkways among the trees, add a dining room as well as a lounge, kitchen, library and study, and finally a private heated rim-flow pool (larger than many a 5-star lodge’s communal pool) that appears to hover among the trees, and you have an idea of what this place is like.

There’s even an integrated sound system, where you can play different music in different parts of the house (including speakers in the outdoor shower).

And this is just for the two of us. But it gets better.

“At Morukuru, we don’t work on any schedule”, Anthony explains. “We can go for game drives whenever you like. Joyce [our chef] can cook for you whatever you like, whenever you like. We’re all at your disposal”.

Breakfast with our hosts, Morukuru

Breakfast with our hosts, Morukuru

This is not normal. Most top-end lodges have a strict schedule – from a wakeup call to meal times and game drive times, and although you can skip whatever you like, you can’t tailor every day to your personal wishes. At Morukuru, you can.

Of course having infinite choices can be stressful. Do you go to check out those lions you heard roaring earlier, or relax instead in the pool while Evanz [our butler] plies you with cocktails? Should you choose a vintage wine from the owner’s private collection instead of a house wine, and if so, what? Luckily, everyone from your chef to your guide is on hand to make recommendations and we’re happy to follow them for our stay.

It’s time for our afternoon game drive and Anthony takes us on a tour of the 1,000 hectare private concession that forms part of Madikwe Game Reserve. Madikwe has a lot of lodges and it can get quite crowded at sightings, but here you’ll only see other Morukuru vehicles, although they also have access to the rest of the reserve. So we had a beautiful lion sighting to ourselves, and stared down a rare African Wild Cat before a private dinner on one of our decks, and a moonlight swim (the pool is heated to 30C today).

Dinner with a view, Morukuru

Dinner with a view, Morukuru

Next morning we combine a game drive with a stop at the Farmhouse – a bigger mini-lodge sleeping up to ten, different, but just as luxurious. Here you virtually have your own private reserve as well as a private lodge, as the huge grounds, complete with many antelope, are fenced, so completely safe for children.

Morukuru is generally fantastic for children, who can accompany adults on game drives, or be whisked away for their own drives or other activities, such as tracking, setting up camera traps and a host of other exciting activities. And all in a malaria-free part of the country. For kids, it doesn’t get better than this.

In our experience, individually owned (as opposed to corporate) lodges are often more intimate, and Morukuru is no exception; the owners’ touches are present everywhere, right down to the specially customised safari vehicle. And the owners must be doing something right, as Anthony and Amy have been with them for two years, perfecting the art of guiding and hospitality.

Sundowners, Morukuru

Sundowners, Morukuru

With all your own dedicated staff, you might think there’d be people fussing over you the whole time. But this is not ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ service – that is not what hospitality is about. When it’s done properly, you don’t notice – everything just happens the way you want it, effortlessly. It’s easy to say, but requires great skill and experience to achieve. Morukuru manages it where many others fail.

If all this sounds a bit mediocre to you, don’t despair. There are a few things we’re not mentioning – call them Morukuru family secrets if you like – that might just blow your mind. Don’t ask because we’re not telling, but if you’re curious there’s only one way to find out…

Good for: Exclusive, tailored, Big Five game viewing and other activities, with the best hospitality around, including for children.

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

Our verdict: State-of-the-art quality across the board

Madikwe Safari Lodge

African Safari Review by Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby

Set in a game-rich corner of the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve and now under new management, we find out what Madikwe Safari Lodge has to offer.

 

First impressions count. We arrive in the burning heat of the day, our vehicle is whisked away and we’re escorted straight to the lunch table, chilled drink in hand. So far so good. A hot breeze wafts through the shaded deck; I order a gourmet burger and settle back in my chair. It’s been a long journey to get here.

WIld dog, Madikwe Safari Lodge

WIld dog, Madikwe Safari Lodge

As you’ll know by now, eating occupies a large proportion of your time on safari, so what you eat, and where you eat it, are important. Madikwe Safari Lodge is tucked away in the bushveld on the lower slopes of a rocky hill, just high enough for a wonderful view out across the veld. And the bush comes right up to where we’re sitting with my gourmet burger. I hear a rustle not far away, and three elephants are plodding towards a nearby waterhole. Is that a giraffe’s head I see peaking at me through the trees? No, it’s two…

At the same time, there’s a plethora of birds flitting from bush to bush – with binocs in hand, we tick off a good 20 species in between bites of that gourmet burger (which is delicious by the way).

Zebra, Madikwe Safari Lodge

Zebra, Madikwe Safari Lodge

We’re shown to our luxury chalet, which is very private and situated well away from other chalets. One of our pet hates is chalets situated too close together – you want to hear the sounds of the bush, not your neighbours. The room is tastefully furnished – hints of African, but not kitsch, with muted accents of colour, an outdoor shower, and huge bath.

Best of all is the private plunge pool overlooking the bush – we cool down as three curious kudu come to investigate what the splashing is all about. Private pools are not always the norm and this is a huge bonus. There’s also a bag of gym equipment so you can work out on your own private deck, if the need for exercise arises. This is a great little touch, and one we haven’t seen before.

Luxury suite, Madikwe Safari Lodge

It’s afternoon tea and time to meet our guide, Andre, for the evening game drive. Madikwe is well-known for its wild dogs and Andre obliges with a great view of one of the main packs resting in the shade. And lions. Madikwe is all about lions, and you’re virtually guaranteed a sighting. Our pride was relaxing under a bush, as usual, but with so many around, you’ve got as good a chance as any of seeing them hunt. The day’s rounded off with G&T sundowners and a boma dinner under the stars back at the lodge.

It’s an eye-rubbing 5.30am start next morning but Madikwe is hot, and the deliciously cool morning quickly morphs into a blazing hot day. We’re treated to a beautiful white rhino, right on the road in front of us, and lots of ellies.

Rhino, Madikwe Safari Lodge

Rhino, Madikwe Safari Lodge

We linger over breakfast (a delicious buffet spread, and eggs to order), disappointed to be leaving so soon. But with binocs in hand, we’re once again treated to our own breakfast safari gazing out over the bush. Are those the giraffes again? I think so….

Good for: Big Five viewing in an awesome setting. Children – good child facilities and malaria free.

Not so good for: Exclusivity at sightings (although this is true for most Madikwe lodges)

Our Verdict – Under efficient new management, with chalet upgrades under way, this sound, good-value, top-end lodge should go from strength to strength.