Where? Madikwe Game Reserve
When? 27th-30th July 2019 (3 nights)
Total? £660 per person for 3 nights including return transfers from and to Johannesburg (based on 2 people sharing). The only extras after this were drinks and tips. See below end of blog for breakdown of costs.
Includes? Accommodation, 3 meals per day (plus afternoon tea and sundowner drinks), 2 game drives per day (each 3 hours long).
July Weather? Winter in South Africa. Cold in the morning and when the sun went down, but pleasantly warm at other times.
Travel to and from? We flew from London to Dubai (had a pool day in Dubai) and then flew to Johannesburg all with Emirates. Others in our party flew straight to Johannesburg with B.A. We stayed in O.R. Tambo airport hotel in Johannesburg the night before safari (although would not recommend this hotel).
Why South Africa? We chose to safari in South Africa mainly because it meant we didn’t need jabs or visas like we would have if we had chosen Kenya (Kenya and the Great Buffalo Migration is still on my bucket list though!). Children’s birth certificates were the only extra requirement for travellers from the UK -see here for up to date travel advice.
Highlight? The whole thing from start to finish- too many to mention-just WOW!
Words will never do this holiday justice. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was the BEST holiday and experience we have ever had by a million miles! From the hundreds of wow moments, the amazing knowledge of our guide Daniel, the delicious food and the luxury of the lodge itself, to the little touches like the nougat on our pillows, heated blankets and the hot flannels handed to us at the end of each game drive. We loved every moment and could not recommend this holiday enough!
We were collected at 8 a.m from our Johannesburg airport hotel. Our driver was super friendly and pointed things out to us along the route such as the various diamond and platinum mines and fruit trees. After leaving Johannesburg we drove through country side, past townships and through smaller towns and villages (we were amazed by the queue for the bank!). Four hours later we were entering the Tau Lodge gates into the Madikwe Reserve. We presented our confirmation letters at the gate and the guard checked each passenger and stamped our card (it was like going through a border into another country!). It felt strange driving through the reserve to our lodge in a normal mini bus, knowing that there were wild animals all around us! Madikwe is currently the 5th largest game Reserve in S.Africa and offers the Big 5 in a 680km square park. The land where Madikwe now stands was previously used as farming land. The poor soil meant that farming was mostly unsuccessful and the South African government then decided that it would best be used as a national park. In 1991 the area was declared a reserve and 10,000 mammals relocated from other National Parks. Click here to read more about the history of Madikwe.
Tau Game lodge is surrounded by electric fence and an electric cattle grid, which makes it safe to walk around once inside (only the baboons get inside!). We were welcomed by a row of staff offering us fresh drinks, and introduced to our game driver Daniel. There is a small gift shop in the entrance and the Reception area has comfy seating and toilets. Straight away we were wowed by the view of the waterhole through the Reception and restaurant area. We checked in and were told the timetable for our 3 day stay, before being shown to our rooms. A porter delivered our luggage and we headed to the main restaurant area for a buffet lunch overlooking the water hole (click on link for lunch video). We were also in time for our afternoon game drive at 3.30 p.m (so in total got 6 drives).
The rooms were amazing! (click on link for tour!) We loved the outdoor showers (but were warned to keep the door to them shut so that Baboons didn’t get into our room!) and the beds were huge and super comfy. The lodge lent us plug adaptors and we had tea/coffee making facilities (with biscuits-always a bonus!), a safe, wardrobe, and lovely african style decor. All rooms have the most AMAZING decking areas, with direct views across the waterhole. Here we could sit and watch zebra, crocodiles, elephants, impala, baboons and lots of unusual birds coming down to drink.
- 2 small pools (both overlooking the waterhole).
- A Spa (I had the most amazing facial here and it was a bargain!)
- Lounge- a chill out hut with seating areas and bar with wi fi.
- Boma (outdoor eating area with fire pits).
- Dining area with bar.
- Conference centre (our guide told us about this as it was better Wi Fi for checking into our return flights).
6.30 a.m wake up call (Your safari guide rings your room).
7-7.30 a.m breakfast .
8.30-11.30- First Game Drive.
3 p.m- afternoon tea
3.30-6.30- Game drive with sundowner drinks.
7pm- Evening meal.
A Day At Tau Game lodge
After a wake up call from our Ranger Daniel we would heat up the outdoor shower before braving a quick run outside to get under it (mornings in July are freezing!). We headed down to breakfast at about 7 a.m, which was served in the main restaurant (which was thankfully heated). It was a buffet style breakfast (delicious) with a variety of hot and cold food such as pastries, sausages, yoghurts, juices, smoothies and eggs. Tea and coffee were served to the table. After a quick pop back to our rooms to gather cameras, binoculars, more layers and coats we would meet Daniel in the Reception and headed to the jeep for our morning drive. On the jeep were hot water bottles and we got snugly wrapped into our blankets ready to enjoy the drive.
I honestly did not expect to see so many animals and so frequently. I thought that we would spend ages looking for them, view them for a few minutes and then search all over again. However, we literally saw animals around every corner and ticked off the big 5 and many more. Daniel would often off road to get close to the animals, crunching bushes under the jeep and shouting at us to duck under the branches! We tracked a group of African Wild Dogs as if we were in a real life David Attenborough film, got 1 metre away from a herd of elephants (as they sniffed us!), saw a baby rhino being defended from a male by its mother and followed 2 cheetahs who wandered right next to our jeep. We got so close to all of the animals that there were some hair raising moments, but Daniel always made us feel safe. It was amazing!
Madikwe is a private reserve so the only jeeps driving around are from the lodges. They communicate via radio with each other, so any good sightings are shared. Only 3 jeeps are allowed near to the animals at any one time so as not to disturb them too much. This is why they have a queuing system where your guide radios through to get a place in a queue for you to go and view a good sighting. We saw loads of other animals in between these big sightings too. We loved the care and respect that they showed the animals. Daniel was full of information and taught us so much about each animal and was able to answer all of our questions. He showed us how to track the various animals and always listened to what we wanted to see or do next.
We would return back to the lodge at about 11.30 a.m and get ready for lunch overlooking the waterhole. Lunch was a buffet with a variety of hot and cold foods, including carved meats, salads and desserts. All of the food was delicious and there was something that everyone liked (even my Dad who is famously fussy!). After lunch we usually had a couple of hours to chill out and watch for animals coming to the waterhole. We would sit on the decking areas of our rooms, the kids would have a dip in one of the pools, I had a facial at the Spa one day and mum and dad would have a nap! Whenever a large herd of elephants came down to the water hole there would be much excitement as we followed them down to the lounge area where you could stand 2 metres away from them watching them drink.
At 3 p.m afternoon tea was served in the main restaurant, which consisted of tea, coffee, water, iced coffee and some sort of biscuits or cake and something savoury. Daniel would then meet us and at 3.30 we would head out to the jeep for another drive. After a couple of hours on the afternoon drive we would stop for Sundowners. Daniel would lay out a table with a couple of bowls of snacks and serve drinks. There were a large variety of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks and we would watch the sunset, stretch our legs and Daniel would show us stuff nearby, like termite mounds and spiders that would dart out of holes in the ground if you tickled the top with a stick!
We would then have another hour on a game drive in the dark back to the lodge! Daniel would shine a spotlight around to try and catch animals eyes shining out and the radio would crackle into life when someone had managed to track the lions which were active at night. We were lucky enough to see a male lion eating his prey (zebra) and one night got to witness a lion roaring at the elephants nearby!
On returning to the lodge at about 6.30 p.m we would be welcomed with a hot flannel and taken through for our evening meal, which was served in the main restaurant one night and the Bona the next. The Bona was magical with fire pits and fluffy blankets and on our anniversary night all of the staff performed african singing and dancing for us. We were served soup for starters to our table and then would get up to choose our hot dishes which were served by the staff. Again there were a variety of foods and we really enjoyed trying traditional african dishes and even some game meat! While we were having our evening meal the staff would get our rooms ready with nougat on our pillows and our heated blankets warming up.
In the middle of the night (about 2-3 a.m) we would be woken up by the lions roaring as they came down to the water hole to drink. They were so loud! We went outside onto the decking area but didn’t manage to spot them and it was freezing so we didn’t last long!
After our final morning game drive, we were collected by our transfer at 11.30 a.m. We said a final farewell to everyone-especially Daniel. Our youngest still sometimes says, “I miss Daniel!”.
Our journey back to Johannesburg took over 5 hours as near to the airport the road had been closed due to an accident. We literally got to the airport with 6 minutes to spare before bag drop closed! We then flew onto Cape Town to carry on our summer adventures (but nothing compared to our 3 days on safari!)
We feel so blessed to have had this experience and to have shared it as a family with my mum and dad. It is something we will never forget and we have so many memories that we will treasure forever. It is defiantly something that we would all love to do again one day, whether we will return to Tau or try Safari in another part of Africa-who knows! But one things for sure, our time at Tau Game lodge will be hard to beat!
Cost? R3440 per person sharing per night (about £177.83 p.p per night)
Not included? Drinks (breakfast &afternoon tea drinks were free so we only had to buy drinks at lunch and dinner. We often had a jug of water which was free), park entrance fee (R180 p.p- £9.31), bed levy (R10 p.p p.night- 52p), Conservation levy (R150 p.p p.night- £7.75), transfer with biggestleaf travel (R12 600 per vehicle for 7 people- £651.29 also arranged through Madikwe Game Reserve), gratuities (for the game driver & staff which you leave at the end). Extra fees were all paid at checkout to the lodge. We didn’t pay anything on the park gate.