As you’ve seen in this post, I’m not one advocating for organized tours all that much.
And so, for a long while planning our SA getaway, I was actually looking at booking accommodation myself and organize transport on the spot.
Eventually, after a few questions thrown on TripAdvisor / Twitter, I decided to go the paved way in. Of course, it didn’t help that neither I nor my travel partner in crime owns a driver’s license (laugh all you want, I’m just not all that interested. There.)
So I had an extensive back and forth with two local tour companies for organized tours, narrowed it down to one, and eventually settled on a package which seemed fair. That company that made my happy travels real, was GoSAfari.
Most of you must know how rare it is that you come across a travel agent who is professional & dedicated, looking to provide as much value as possible and helping tailor make the best package without overcharging you for it. For us, that rare bird was Glen @GoSAfari.
Here’s a breakdown of our loveliest safari experience in Greater Kruger:
Organized Tours gone Right: Day 1
Glen already went outside the box and, after my numerous unsuccessful attempts to get our hotel to reply via Booking.com on their airport shuttle, Glen called them to ask for the schedule, two days before our travels. And this, even as we hadn’t even booked that hotel through him!
Se we left Johannesburg early in the morning, heading east into Middleburg, then Hoedspruit, and Timbavati Game Reserve Gate – now part of the Greater Kruger National Park. JP, our ranger at the Gomo Gomo lodge personally picked us up at the gate – nice touch, as we got to know each other a bit and that made the game drives much more personal.
Unfortunately, I forgot my hat in the other transfer. Oh well, hello sunburns!
At the lodge, we had a light lunch, with terrific views over the reserve and a waterhole. Amazing panorama, even though it did not quite meet our expectation to see a green lush nature. It is, after all, the end of winter and just barely spring.
(Also, I later found out that SA was in the midst of the worst drought in almost a century..)
Then at around 3.30 PM: safari time! We hopped into the open game tracking Land Rover and headed into the African Bush.
Despite the rusty-looking vegetation, we still managed to see plenty of wildlife, including zebras, giraffes and a lazy hippo. This helped ease me out of my terrified and recently YouTube-fed imagination of animals gone rogue and attacking from all sides!
Just before sunset, we stopped for drinks & tasty snacks – right there in the bush – and continued on a night drive for another hour before returning to the lodge.
Dinner time: Served in a traditional boma each night, dinner under the starry African sky was a delight – from the hearty soups all the way to the yummy desserts.
Back in our lodge, we found a hand-written bedtime story on the pillow!
Awww, how cute is that?! The story for the evening: When Hippo was Hairy
$h!t I’m not a morning person! Those early wakeup calls at 05.15 were hard. Stil, the cool breeze of the morning wakes you up pretty quick.
A huge baboon sitting on one of the walls of the boma was half-startled in his morning grooming by the sight of our sleepy heads. He decided to ignore us (thank you!)
Into the Rover for the morning game drive, then back to the lodge for breakfast, followed by an optional game walk with the ranger. I was not that courageous just yet, so chilling on the sundeck it was for me!
We eventually got to see (from afar) the same impalas and giraffes which the group had spotted, drinking from the waterhole.
And we spotted some fresh blood dripping from the tree onto the deck. Alert, alert! Was it a leopard? Was it a fresh kill? Turns out it was probably a little feud between the baboon we saw in the morning and one of the contenders in the group. Gulp!
Even though there is a small swimming pool, we didn’t use it. The weather in Greater Kruger is still quite chilly in September – after all, this is the end of their winter, so even though you can have 25+ Celsius in mid-day, it’s not pool time just yet…
Lunch is served at around 2 PM, and you’ll know it’s time to eat when you hear the drum call.
Then safari time again – you get to go out into the bush twice daily – and after we saw another round of impalas, zebras and baboons, we stopped again for sundowners watching the splendor of the African sun setting over the mountains. You have your choice of drinks, (the ranger will take your order before hopping into the Rover) and can be anything from beer, to water, to tea, to cranberry & vodka. Snacks accompanied.
After sunset, the spotter has its spotlight ready to look for lions & leopards – we did chase a leopard twice and it was exhilarating!
Which will we see first: the elusive leopard or my angry bladder bursting from all the bouncing?
Unfortunately, we were not lucky to see the leopard. Fortunately, I didn’t pee my pants.
Back to the lodge, dinner and some well deserved South African red wine, because why not! I think we ate game, it’s possible it was Impala, but who can know for sure. The wine was good… Not so good that we forgot to ask our ranger to tuck us in, though.
Ah yes, I didn’t mention this yet: after dark, you’re advised not to walk back to your lodge alone – and of course, we took the advice to heart!
Bedtime story for the evening: The Hunter and the Elephant
Good morning, sun! I think, given a few weeks in the bush here, I might just get used to the early wake-up. Maybe. We’ll never know. This was our last day at the Gomo Gomo, so we went on our last game drive here in Klaserie Reserve, then got transferred to the Balule Game reserve and on to Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge.
Now listen to this:
Glen made a pleasant surprise phone call to the lodge, and I was already thinking – oh boy, so there’s a problem with the transfer or something with the other lodge… But nope, he was just checking in to see how things were going so far, see if we’re happy with our safari and whether we needed anything!
This was a first of its kind for me. People usually sell you stuff, and then occasionally ask for an impersonal review afterward. Not this guy – the man wanted to make sure we’re all set during our trip as well.
It’s the little things.. Kudos to at GoSAfari!
Mohlabetsi was an experience in itself, for so many reasons. First, the style was much more luxury, and a bit less blended in the wild.
Same routine, jump into the open vehicle for an afternoon game drive, and out into the bush. My camera battery died just as we neared a herd of elephants, so I had to rely on the good ole iPhone for support.
Tow other couples were in the car with us, both newlyweds in their honeymoon, both heading to Mauritius after the safari. Man, the guy in the back was excited to see animals! I was half afraid he’ll make us be one of those cars trampled by elephants because they just couldn’t stay quiet.
He did behave though, after a few words from the ranger. And, it was because of his excitement that we got to spot the lion resting in the morning sun, the next day – Good eyes!
I’ll tell you more about the Mohlabetsi and how we got to complete our Big Five collection (plus many others), in another post.
Trust your Travel Agent
Although I’m not a big fan of organized tours, this is the kind of place where you just have to pick a good travel agent. Glen was absolutely right to advise us to stay at 2 different lodges in our 4-day safari because it gave us much more opportunities to spot the wildlife.
And the fact the lodges’ styles were quite different made for a very pleasant mix.
Plus the value for money.
So yes. An example of organized tour gone well. Beyond well. With GoSAfari.
We’re seriously thinking to go back to South Africa, or who knows, maybe even Botswana!
And GoSAfari will definitely be our go-to.