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Your private Kruger experience: How to experience game park at half the price



You get to make the rules on safari…

It was our last breakfast in the Klaserie and I had asked the guide for an elephant encounter – since the whole point of the trip was an exclusive Kruger experience, in theory we got to call the shots on where and what to do.

Despite our best-laid plans, of course, we couldn’t control the movements of the giant pachyderms. That is, after all, the nature of these things.

After hours on our drive with no sighting, we were perched atop a bank overlooking one of the virescent bends of the horseshoe river when the magic happened.

As if planned all along, a herd of almost 30 individuals appeared on the far side, nimbly walk-sliding down the bank to the riverbed, entertaining us for over an hour. Thoroughly unexpected, but utterly rewarding – the kind of encounter I’d dreamed would happen on our private Kruger experience.

The “in-between”

There’s a market gap between the government-owned Kruger accommodations (that don’t often make the cut for more discerning travellers) and then the very pricey slick international lodges.

My aim was to find something in between that promised exclusivity and luxury but without the hefty price tag. Simbavati’s Homestead was exactly the “in-between” I was looking for, offering an exclusive use luxury stay, sleeping up to 10 guests, starting at a reasonable rate of R2 100 per person.

Your stay includes your own guide and tracker, full housekeeping, and a fully stocked kitchen for self-catering. The eight of us happily split the cooking duties, and at no cost, Pick n Pay Hoedspruit did our shopping (including alcohol) and delivered it to the lodge.

The Kruger all to yourself

Since Simbavati Homestead lies in a private concession, there are exclusive traversing rights, so it often feels like you have the Kruger all to yourself, leaving behind the long line of Fortuners vying to catch a glimpse of the game.

Even when there is a sighting outside the concession, sightings are limited to two vehicles at a time, giving you the front-row seat.

Within reason, you also get to make the rules on safari; what time you leave, where to go and how to apportion your precious safari hours.

For example, on our last day, we opted to forfeit the afternoon safari and rather enjoy a sunset at the house. In place of the usual afternoon drive, we asked for a night drive, to meet some of the resident nocturnal dwellers.

Inside-out beauty

After browsing through the line-up of other lodges in the Simbavati Lodge Collection, I thought it fitting to suffix the welcomed homeliness of Homestead, with two nights at one of the fully catered luxury lodges.

Waterside was my first choice – and being only an hour’s drive from Homestead through the park, it was a no-brainer. During Covid, Waterside was stripped down to its bare bones and gracefully rebuilt. Designer Eugene Coetzee and Associates had quite literally a field day in pushing the design envelope to create something truly unique.

Handmade chandeliers, clay jugs, ceramic and earthen pots, baskets, jute carpets and woven installations all conspire in bringing nature into the interiors. The new rooms are remarkable bush sanctuaries available in one and two-bedroom configurations.

With design elements from the refurb preserved throughout, guests can enjoy seamless interior to exterior spaces, presenting verandas that overlook the water, outdoor showers and very little disconnect from the surrounding bush.

I had the feeling that I was in one of Kruger’s most exclusive lodges without having to empty the bank account – and I was assured that the SA’s locals-only rates (currently from R4 500 per-person) are here to stay.

A fitting send-off

Waterside incorporates all the safari favourites one might expect, but also some surprising twists. The outdoor boma includes a pizza oven for alfresco Italian-themed evenings alongside the beach bar.

There is a gym, sauna and spa as well, and then for those who unavoidably must get some work done, the media room provides a tech savvy space for remote jobbing.

Our wildlife sightings were plentiful, with lion, elephant, hyena, vulture and giraffe. We were even graced with the presence of an elusive puff adder – who allowed us a quick glance before slithering off into the thicket. On our final night, we proceeded to the dining space, with tables set spaciously apart from each other.

Just as I was about to sit at the table, our butler halted us saying we’d be dining elsewhere. Following him down a level to the water’s edge, a line of lanterns lit up a path to the edge of the deck, where a private table lay waiting.

Hardly 50 metres away a family of Waterbuck stood along the water’s edge, and overhead hung a thousand glistening African stars. Opening the bottle of sparkling wine on the table, I couldn’t dream of a more fitting way to conclude our exclusive Kruger experience at Simbavati.

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