24 January, 2019
I stayed at the game reserve two and a half years ago with my sister and family who were visiting from Australia, and enjoyed the experience, so booked it for a special treat for a friend leaving soon for colder climes and for my son and his girlfriend.
To be honest, it was a disappointment. I hated that before we were even shown to our rooms I had to pay upfront - it felt very mercenary! Then although I'd booked (and paid the deposit for) a family room which indicated that my friend and I would have separate rooms with our own bathrooms, we were (eventually) shown to a large room with a kingsize bed and double bunk. After questioning the staff, we were taken down a long wooden walkway to rooms of corrugated iron, which were too uncomfortably hot to sleep in, with ceiling fans barely moving the air around. Just not suitable, bearing in mind that my friend had a hip op not long ago and I was worried that she might fall in the dark while navigating the walkway. Eventually, after the staff had a long consultation on the telephone, they said we could stay in separate rooms for an extra R550 surcharge! To their credit, this was ultimately reimbursed because my friend was a bit nervous to stay in her room alone, so after all that we did in the end share a room!
The place is looking a bit rundown. I love the history, the antique furniture and the whole vibe, but it really needs some TLC! The wooden window and door frames and roof particularly need help. The staff is lovely, but far too many of them for just four people. We were shocked to be told on check in that the choice for dinner was either paying R495 pp for an ordinary 3 course meal (salad, meat & vegs and a pudding) or eating at the main lodge area, which was pretty much a cafetaria offering toasted sandwiches, burgers, chips, etc. We decided that would have to do!
I had booked the four of us to go on the 4pm game drive (R650 pp) and with all the shenanigans with the room, we were late but told it wasn't a problem, they would wait for us. We assumed we'd have our own game drive vehicle, but when we arrived at the main lodge area, there was a full vehicle waiting for us with some unhappy looking foreigners! We had to squeeze in, with my friend and I unable to sit together. We were not offered drinks or snacks on the two+ hour game drive - the first time I have ever encountered this! It was difficult to understand the strong Zim accent of the game ranger - we only managed to catch every one in three words, so the French tourists in the vehicle simply talked over him! I had the impression that there was not as much game as the last time I'd visited, and wondered if perhaps some had been sold? We didn't get to see the rhino/s, so I wondered if they are still there, and the cheetahs in the cheetah enclosure were nowhere to be seen. The last time I was there, it was winter and dark when we went to the separate enclosures with the wild dogs, lions and cheetahs. This time it was light and I felt a bit like we were going to a large zoo! I hate the fact that they get fed rather than hunting for their own food. On this note, we were informed that the SPCA will not allow them to put live animals in the enclosures. At the Garden Route Game Lodge, the lions are also separated from the other animals, however, they have a much larger area to roam in and there are many other animals in there, so they can at least hunt for themselves.
When we got back from the game drive, the kitchen was closed, so we went back to the Baroness Lodge with empty stomachs. On talking to the staff, we were informed that the only thing they could offer us was toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches! We ordered these, and they were dreadful. Not quite what I had in mind after all the money I'd paid. The breakfast provided the following morning was however, very good.
All in all, I think that this place has great potential, lovely views, great staff and the lodge could be amazing. However, the price is far too high for what you get. I'd much rather stay at the Garden Route Game Lodge or at Botlierskop.
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