Last month I got to tick off one of the most exciting items on my bucket list – a proper South African game reserve experience. After years of researching and patiently waiting for our trip, we eventually got to experience a stay at what I think is one of the best private game reserves in South Africa – Nambiti Private Game Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
There are 9 different lodges to choose from within Nambiti, and I’d had my eye on Ndaka Safari Lodge for a long, LONG time! After what seemed like forever, the day finally arrived for us to check in to Ndaka.
We had THE MOST amazing time, and knowing that lots of you enjoy going back to South Africa and visiting game reserves, I just had to share our experience with you.
Nambiti Private Game Reserve
Everyone always seems to tell you that if you’re going to a game reserve in South Africa, you have to go to the Kruger National Park.
Which is all well and good when you’re visiting Johannesburg, but when you’re going to Durban like me, going to Kruger is just a giant pain in the butt.
Nambiti Private Game Reserve is set just outside Ladysmith in the heart of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
We had spent a couple of nights at Champagne Castle in the Drakensberg, so the drive to Nambiti took just 90 minutes – plus an obligatory road trip coffee stop at the Wimpy in Ladysmith!
If you’re driving from Durban it will take around 3 hours (plus traffic) to arrive at the main gate.
A Warm Welcome To Ndaka Safari Lodge
On arrival, we parked our car at a designated parking area and awaited collection by the lodge. Nambiti doesn’t allow any vehicles to drive around the reserve except for the land cruisers used for the game drives. This means the animals are used to the vehicles and are not scared to get up close to them. It makes for awesome game viewing!
Ngcebo, who was our ranger for almost all of our drives, picked us up a few minutes after we arrived and off we set to the lodge. On the way to the lodge – maybe a 5-10 minute drive, we saw eland, ostrich, kudu, and most excitingly, black rhino! Being on the land cruiser and so high up, the sightings are so much better than when you’re low down in your car on a self-drive.
When we got to the lodge, we were greeted by Fana with a warm towel and a cocktail – bliss! We were given a quick tour of the dining, bar and lounge areas and because it was almost lunch time, we stayed for lunch before checking into our room.
During our stay, every staff member seemed to go out of their way to make us comfortable and happy, but at the same time, it didn’t seem like an effort on their part – it appeared to be just seamless service. Some of the staff have been at Ndaka for several years and seem genuinely happy to work there – something you rarely see these days no matter what country you live in.
Luxury Safari Tents
The accommodation is the main reason we chose to stay at Ndaka Safari Lodge over the rest of the lodges in Nambiti. The other 8 lodges look stunning, but the luxury safari tents at Ndaka have a real African safari glamping feel to them.
The tents are part brick and part canvas, and include a large entrance hall, a lounge area, bedroom, dressing room, bathroom, separate toilet and an outdoor shower.
We had a kettle and a coffee machine with a jar of homemade biscuits in the room too, very handy for those 5am wake up calls!
The tents are well-insulated and we had a heater in our room plus very handy electric blankets on the bed. In the evenings, they offer a turndown service so when you get back from dinner the bed is warm, and there is a little after-dinner treat waiting for you by your bed. They also leave Ndaka’s very own bottled water in the rooms which comes from the reserve itself.
As Mr 8 was with us, the lounge had a single bed added to it and waiting on the bed for him was a gorgeous little lion cuddly toy (which he has named Ngcebo after our guide!) – such a thoughtful touch.
Ndaka also welcomes families and this sets them apart from a few of the other lodges in Nambiti, which either didn’t allow under 12s at all, or allowed them to stay but not come on the game drives. As our Mr 8 would NOT be happy to be left behind, being the massive animal lover that he is, Ndaka was perfect for us.
They also have a huge jungle gym for the kids to play on during the day.
Where do I start? The food was just divine. I was so busy eating I forgot to take any photos of the food!
Breakfast was served as soon as you arrive back from your morning game drive. We were absolutely freezing when we got back, being winter and all, so a hot coffee and brekkie were most welcome in the gorgeous dining area.
It consisted of cereals and fruits to start, and then a whole array of hot options. Delicious scrambled eggs (I wish my scrambled eggs tasted that good!), sausages, bacon, tomatoes, potatoes, amazing breads, croissants and more. They also had a cooking station in the dining room with the chef on hand to cook eggs to order.
Lunch was a light meal but plenty to choose from – usually one or two options like quiches and pizzas, with a few salads and bread to go with it. There was always a gorgeous home-made dessert at lunchtime too.
Dinner was a more formal affair. At lunch, you’re presented with the dinner menu and can choose from 2-3 options for your starter, main and dessert. Being kid-friendly, there is a separate kids menu too. When my fussy Mr 8 couldn’t find anything he liked, the chef was more than happy to make him something simple which was fantastic (he did love the macaroni cheese!).
Every course at every dinner was fantastic. I’d say the food was on par with some of the best restaurants we’ve eaten in. I was very glad the diet was out the window while we were here! Hats off to the chef, kitchen staff and restaurant staff!
There is also a coffee machine in the dining area which makes all sorts of coffees, tea and hot chocolate. You can help yourself any time of the day and there was always a jar of fresh rusks or biscuits alongside it too.
The only extras not included in your room rate are items from the bar – Amarula was R20 for a double shot, so we may have consumed our fair share of these during our stay!
Game Drives at Nambiti Private Game Reserve
Now, the best bit. The whole reason why you go to a game reserve in the first place. The animals.
At Ndaka Safari Lodge, you have 2 game drives a day included in your stay. You don’t have to go on every drive, but I wasn’t going to miss a single one.
Morning game drives depart at 6am and afternoon ones at 3:30pm. We found that a little late for our families on the drive to get back with kids who were starving, so asked our guide if we could go at 3pm and he was totally fine with that. It was great that they allowed flexibility to suit the guests (within reason of course!).
Our guide was Ngcebo (and Siya on the final morning drive as Ngcebo was on a fire fighting course that day) and we had another family join us on our drives. They also had children and were staying the same amount of nights as we were so it made perfect sense. The vehicles take up to 9 people so you may share with other guests if your party is small (there were 5 of us plus another family of 4 on our drives).
Being winter, it was flipping cold when it was dark! On the morning game drives, we had Ndaka rain ponchos (fleece lined as well), blankets and hot water bottles waiting for us on the seats of the land cruiser when we arrived.
Each drive is usually around 3 hours (possibly longer depending what animals you encounter). Mid-way through each drive you get to stop and stretch your legs and have a drink and some snacks. Ngcebo always had some kid-friendly snacks at the ready too.
Morning stops involved hot coffee or hot chocolate (Amarula optional!) and some homemade rusks (which were amazing!).
Evening sundowner stops had whatever drinks you had pre-ordered before the drive (red wine for me to warm up!) plus ever-changing snacks like biltong, droewors, sweets, fruit roll ups, dried fruit and roasted nuts/sweetcorn (so yum!).
We didn’t see too much in the way of game before the sun came up on the morning drives, but once the sun was out, so were the animals. In the evenings we saw a few animals but the best was the lions who seemed to be on the road after sunset and much easier to spot and track.
All the game drive vehicles from the different lodges communicate via radio which each other and share their sightings which is awesome. It means instead of driving around blindly, they know where some animals are and guests have the best chance of ticking animals off their bucket lists.
The drivers communicate using Zulu words for the animals. This helps keep the element of surprise so you don’t know what’s coming next and saves disappointment in case the animal has moved on. Unless like me, you understand some Zulu words and then you get super excited!
The only animals they don’t radio about are the rhinos. This is part of their rhino protection so that poachers are not able to listen into their radio conversations. They only share rhino sightings face to face. They are pretty serious about their rhino conservation at Nambiti which is awesome.
Another good thing is that the vehicles take turns getting up close to the animals when there is more than 1 vehicle waiting to see them. They don’t crowd the animals and this makes them less shy of the vehicles, making the best game viewing experience possible for the guests.
During our 6 game drives, some of the animals we saw were:
- White Rhino
- Black Rhino
- Cape Buffalo
- Scrub Hares
- Heaps of different birds
Our favourite experiences were definitely seeing the cheetahs. Nambiti has 5 cheetahs at the moment, 3 adults and 2 cubs, and we were privileged to see all 5 of them across our drives.
The lions were also spectacular – we saw them only at night so it was hard to get good photos. On the last evening, they walked right next to our vehicle and I swear if we reached out we could have touched them they were that close. It’s pretty nerve-wracking having a male lion look you directly in the eye while in an open vehicle!
The fact that I didn’t want to leave tells you everything about how I felt about our stay at Ndaka Safari Lodge in Nambiti Private Game Reserve
From the second we arrived to the moment we left, I felt like there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be. The staff all went out of their way to make sure you were happy and small things like them remembering your name each time they greeted you makes the biggest difference to the whole experience.
The surroundings are breathtaking, the rooms are luxurious, the food mouth-watering, the staff friendly and fantastic, the rangers super-knowledgeable – I honestly don’t think they could improve on much at all. As cheesy as it sounds, we arrived as strangers and left as part of the Ndaka family.
If you’re looking for a magical private game reserve experience next time you visit KZN, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find something better and more affordable than Ndaka Safari Lodge. To get more of an idea of what to expect, check out my video I created on Facebook here:
And before anyone asks – no I didn’t get any freebies or discounts here. We had the best time and I wanted to give this awesome place a big shout out on my blog!
Have you stayed at Ndaka or any of the other lodges in Nambiti? I’d love to hear all about your experience so leave me a comment below.