Trip Report – Kapama River Lodge – Kruger National Park & Safari, South Africa

This is part three of a ten part trip report from my travels to South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and covers my stay at the Kapama River Lodge . This trip report includes the lodge itself, while the next one will cover the safari and some awesome pics and video.

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We decided on a last minute trip from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park for a safari and searched long and hard for a place that would provide an authentic experience, but also had reasonable rates. We selected Kapama River Lodge which is a five star property located in Hoedspruit, about a 5 hour and 40 minute drive from Jo’burg. On a Friday during rush-hour it still took us only 5 hours despite some major difficulty finding the entrance at night.

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Now as it was summer in the US, it was considered off-season in South Africa and this entitled us to some special rates. The standard off-season rate for a standard suite (all rooms are suites) is R2750 ($282.53) during high season and R2350 ($241) during the off-season. That was still a little too high for us so I emailed the reservations department at the email on the website and started negotiating. We needed 5 rooms and I was able to get them to agree to a rate of R1800 ($184.61). This rate is better than it seems as it includes a whole lot:

  • Three meals per day: full English breakfast, light luncheon and dinner in the open-air boma or thatched dining room (Special bush dinners can be arranged at an extra cost).
  • Tea, coffee, cakes, pastries and afternoon teatime snacks. Special snacks and drinks while on safari.
  • Two game drives daily in open safari vehicles, accompanied by experienced rangers and expert Shangaan trackers.
  • Complimentary bush walks
  • Complimentary road transfers between your Kapama accommodation and Eastgate Airport.

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Imagine looking for this sign below in complete darkness with absolutely nothing else around…yep took us a few tries (try to arrive in daylight if possible)
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Upon arriving, we pulled up to the main lodge and were greeted by one of the rangers. He checked each of our names off a list and provided our keys (the front desk closes at 10pm). He advised us to get right to bed as we’d be meeting again at 4:45am and he’d be our guide.

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The room was so much nicer than I was expecting, which sort of gave me doubts about the authenticity of the safari the next morning. Comfy king size bed with duvet and hotel style bedding, multiple leather chairs, two screen-doors with patios overlooking the reserve (one with a table and chairs for reading or eating outside), an extremely modern bathroom, shower and tub, and strong free wifi.

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The lodge itself had several lounges, all with amazing views and local artifacts as well as a great pool deck area, media room (TV, DVD player, internet, etc.), a bar, and a wine cellar.

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I have to say, it was extremely quiet during our June stay and we had most of the facilities to ourselves. We used the media room each night to share our pictures and videos and debrief from our game drives.

The meals were top notch, especially dinner. From Kapama’s website:

In true African luxury safari style, Kapama offers guests three different dining venues. As in classic old Africa, evening meals are often enjoyed seated around a roaring fire in the Rhino Boma. Here, buffet meals are served under open-sided thatch and showcase pan-African dishes prepared from fresh local ingredients. Traditional venison dishes also feature on this authentic African menu. Romantic dining is epitomised by dinner set in the dry riverbed in front of the lodge, under a star-studded African night sky. The experience adds enchantment to any African luxury safari experience. The Siyatla Lounge is purpose-built as an enclosed dining area, where breakfasts and lunches are served. It has its own bar and lounge with two large fireplaces, while glass stack doors open up the lounge to the surrounding bushveld. All cuisine at Kapama is prepared using fresh seasonal ingredients and herbs grown in the lodge gardens. Traditional South African dishes and accompaniments, such as mealie pap (African-style polenta) and chakalaka (a hot, spicy relish) further enhance the luxury game lodge experience by giving a taste of real Africa. Menus include warthog stew, kudu casserole, impala sausages and oxtail curry. Vegetarians, vegans and various other dietary requirements are easily catered for.

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Upon returning from our evening drive, we’d head outside for dinner with our guide. The buffet was great with amazing chicken, steak, fish, venison, and local specialties. There was way too much to choose from, but you didn’t want to stop eating. Complimentary beer and wine were also served as was dessert.

During our game drives we also received snacks and beverages…it was pretty cool to stop in the middle of nowhere, set-up a table, and talk about what we had just seen. The morning drives included tea, coffee, juice, water, and biscuits. The evening drives included snacks and a portable mini-bar!

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Overall we were really happy with our experience at Kapama and we got to see all of the big 5 – lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros. The lodge is stunning, the rooms extremely comfortable, the guides and trackers friendly and knowledgeable, and the food fantastic.  However, I sort of wish I took care of the weekend plans myself (yes, I actually let someone else book travel for me this one time). I was hoping for a more authentic experience during our game drives, don’t get me wrong they were awesome and you’ll see in the next post just how great they were. With that in mind, Kapama is a reserve, they never mention the gates, but it is a gated reserve. The gates are miles and miles away from the lodge and you’ll never see them…so you certainly feel like your in the authentic bush (and we drove for hours in great distances from the lodge). Though, I couldn’t help but think to myself that we were tracking animals that were confined to the reserve. Yes, I realize that is the definition of a private game reserve and it comes with unique benefits as well. With Kapama you receive luxirous accommodations and the safari experience. There’s also this, if you visit Kruger National Park itself, you cannot go off the marked vehicle path. However, on a private reserve, our vehicle was off-road more than we were on the dirt paths. If we were tracking an animal, we’d follow it wherever, even if that meant literally riding over and through the trees and bush (our vehicle could even chop down trees that got in our way). A benefit I really loved was the bush walks themselves. Our guide and a special walking ranger (gun equipped) took the five of us on private walks through the bush – no dirt or gravel paths. On one, we decided to track a rhino and literally followed its footprints and droppings until it was literally right in front of us (great video and pics tomorrow). Anyway, more about the safari and walks tomorrow. Kapama is definitely a great option for those looking for a luxury game reserve in the greater Kruger region. Feel free to email me with any questions about our experience.  Some of the best pictures and videos from the S. Africa trip coming tomorrow…

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Kapama Private Game Reserve occupies a vast area between South Africa’s northern Drakensberg mountains and the Greater Kruger National Park. Adjacent to Kapama, Hoedspruit’s Eastgate Airport is ideally located to receive guests flying to Kapama on scheduled flights from both Johannesburg and Cape Town, and on private charters. Kapama offers courtesy transfers in open game viewing vehicles from Eastgate Airport to our four luxurious safari lodges: River Lodge, Buffalo Camp, Kapama Karula and Southern Camp. Situated in South Africa’s northernmost province of Limpopo, renowned for its prolific and diverse wildlife, Kapama Private Game Reserve is home to over 40 different mammal species, including the most dangerous Big Five of elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinoceros. Approximately 350 bird species and a myriad smaller species can also be seen here in their natural environment. Twice-daily game drives through the reserve, accompanied by expert guides and trackers, ensure unforgettable wildlife encounters in the African bush. Kapama Private Game Reserve comprises 13 000 hectares of sweeping wilderness. Extending from the R40 road in the west to the boundary with Thornybush Reserve in the east, and from the Eastgate Airport road in the north to Klaserie Dam in the south, the reserve hosts teeming wildlife and an enormous variety of African wildlife species that roam the area. Along with the Kapama River, the languid Klaserie River also flows through the reserve. These serve as natural water sources for the resident wildlife, which are regularly seen on guided game drives.

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  1. We stayed last year at Kapama Karula and just loved it, especially the game drives.We flew to Hoedspruit, which i recommend.

    The game reserve is 130 square km, so definitely in the bush, also protects the animals.

  2. I went to Kruger in Feb 2013 and had a great time doing a self drive/camping thru Kruger for 3 days @ diff camps and then 2 day stay at a 5* priv Lodge in Sabie Sands. Saw all of Big 5 and more. Lions and Cheetahs and Leopards multiple times just 15 mins from Lodge. I looked up Kapama and it looks like its not inside Kruger at all. Not ideal.

  3. As a South African reader I am so glad you enjoyed your trip there. It really is a beautiful beautiful country. As for the fenced in animals, you must remember that even the Kruger National Park is fenced in and just consists of a much larger area (it was originally 7 farms I think). The lodgings in the park also wouldn’t have given you the luxury you enjoyed outside the park. I know there are some lodges closer to the Kruger park though that will drive you into the park daily, while returning you at night to their lodge so you can still experience the luxury we points and miles addicts have become accustomed to. Can’t wait for the next installments. You make me miss home so much!

  4. I don’t want to be a “you’re doing it wrong” sort of guy, but doesn’t that much luxury defeat the point of going into the bush?

  5. We are currently planning our trip to SA and Kruger. Our son and his wife have been twice before and they always have done the drive themselves through Kruger as well as staying in yurt-like accommodations. We too are debating as to whether we want to do a game preserve so we are guaranteed, as much as one can, of seeing the big 5 or do the more natural type of setting in Kruger. Will probably try to do more moderate safari camp and then also self drive.

  6. Kapama does look like a wonderful place but I don’t think just one couple could get the discount you got for booking 5 rooms. The SANParks camps have fantastic and affordable accommodations and some of them rival the private lodges for location if not furnishing and service. Punda Maria was awesome!

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