So I have to admit, I have a love hate relationship with the bush! I love being on a game vehicle and seeing the wild life, I however generally hate lodging in the middle of a game reserve. You can call me a scaredy cat… I fear snakes hiding under my bed, bats hanging from my thatch roof and spiders crawling over me in the middle of the night. Yes, in my couple of years of local travel writing – I have had a few nightmare experiences.
When the invite to head up to the new Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp in northern KwaZulu-Natal (near Hluhluwe) promising us a five-star game experience at three-star rates that was also child friendly, well I couldn’t say no, despite my hesitation for bush holidays.
We packed up our backs last month and headed to the resort for four days and three nights. It is a comfortable three hour drive (from Umhlanga) straight on the N2 with a short distance on the reserves’s dirt road.
Arriving at Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp, the realisation of this newly renovated family oriented lodge being just up the road from our home dawned on us instantly. Nestled within a non-malaria, Big five private conservancy of close to 30,000 ha of unspoiled wilderness, we were simply blown away.
The lodge is situated within the Munyawana Game Reserve, a massive conservancy bordering onto the UNESCO-listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Once a hunting farm, today Bayala which has recently undergone a total refurbishment is a haven for wildlife. In 2018 fences were dropped with neighbouring conservancies to offer visitors the opportunity of traversing the pristine KwaZulu-Natal bushveld.
We were greeted with refreshing fruit juices before checking in at the foyer and being shown around the ‘common communal areas’ of the lodge which included the dinning room, a comfortable lounge area alongside the bar which opens up to the pool area as well as an informal dining inside or outside, where our chefs produce a line-up of dining experiences. The finishes are super modern, clean and simply put… beautiful!
From the beautiful and restful lounge and bar you walk out onto the deck with high tables and chairs – both lunch, breakfast and dinner can be served on. From there you step down to the pool area which homes reclining deck chairs, large umbrellas and the most gorgeous pool with a massive step (for the kiddies to swim on) and as well as a small seating step alongside both horizontal sides of the pool – for you to sit and enjoy a drink on while still being in the pool as well as for the kids to walk along all the way to the deep end. From the pool you look straight into the braai / outdoor dining area that is framed by the most beautiful acacia tree that is draped in lantern lights which simply ‘comes alive’ at night.
To the left and right of the pool area are stairs and ramps that lead via a cement walk way alongside short grass (and no nearby bushes) to the various ‘camp’ suites. Literally a stone throw away from the lodge which is also very well lit at night.
The rooms mimic the lodge in being super modern, clean and simple. There are 24 newly renovated thatch-roofed en-suite rooms (fully air-conditioned) decorated with neutral bushveld colours throughout and home two single beds, a wooden table between them, a dressing table with tea and coffee necessities and a separate bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower (sadly no bath) and another separate room with an open concrete cupboard and sliding door which leads to a small patio deck with a table and two chairs to look over the electric fence which protects the perimeter from the nature reserve… so yes there is a possibility of seeing anyone of the big five from your room but of course feeling completely safe from the ‘wild’.
We were given two inter-leading suites (two rooms with a door that opened to connect them) so that Maddie had her own bedroom. Despite A. being in the bush and B. Having a thatch roof – I felt at ease as soon as I walked around the lodge and the room knowing 100% that there wasn’t going to be any unwelcome visitors in my room as I could see everything around the room and everything was clean and simple. So I instantly relaxed! THIS is how bush holidays need to be done!!
Once we received our bags in our room we unpacked and headed up the pool deck for a light lunch which was a DIY wraps. Incredibly fresh and delicious!
It didn’t take long for Maddie to start nagging to put her costume on and jump into the very inviting pool. Now was my chance to fully take in the scenery, the stillness and sip on a G&T alongside the pool while Brett and Maddie enjoyed the water together.
After a short swim and a G&T we headed to meet our game ranger for the duration of our trip, Sam in the front of the reception where he waited with his game vehicle – an open game vehicle with comfortable seating, pockets behind the seats for your goodies like camera, cellphone, water bottles and room key and of course… no roof! Something I felt nervous about at first but soon relaxed the more and more we saw animals. I actually loved that the vehicle was completely open allowing you to fully take in the fresh air, enjoy the 360 view around you and enjoy the sunshine. The game vehicles go out twice a day – in the mornings from 6 to 9am and in the afternoons from 4 to 7pm.
So many of our local game reserves don’t allow children on game drives and one thing that stood out to me during this holiday was how incredibly accommodating Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp are with kids. Small things like allowing you to book out your own private game vehicle for your game drives with your kids makes the world of a difference! Knowing you are able to tell your game ranger to turn around and head back to the lodge if your child is ‘over it’ puts your mind at ease
For our first game drive we joined another family – a family of five visiting from Greece and man I love going on ‘safari’ with foreigners! There is something about seeing it all through their eyes all over again that is absolute magic!
Ten minutes into our drive we spotted Rhino – Maddie was so excited to point out the animals she saw in her Book of South African animals from Pan MacMillan which we made sure we packed. It was her ‘tour guide’ for the trip.
Our amazing game ranger Sam was absolutely incredible with the kids. He stopped the vehicle in the middle of the bush and told us all to jump out, took Maddie by the hand and lead the kids to a turquoise hiding under a tree and encouraged them to stroke it… my mind was already blown!
There is no denying that the reserve which remains untouched or interfered with by the owners or lodges, homes an abundance of wild life. Between the six game drives we embarked on we saw; lion, elephant, leopard (in a tree!!), buffalo, cheetah and rhino – the entire big five amongst beautiful zebra, giraffe and various other plain game with the help of our experienced ranger Sam who managed to track their tracks and find the herds with ease on each drive.
At sunset we stopped to stretch our legs and enjoy a sundowner and a juice for Maddie with some good ol’ crisps and peanuts snacks on the hood of the vehicle before continuing until dark before returning to the lodge with a welcoming Sherry.
After freshening up we were treated to a traditional South African braai under the stars. The chef (who never made us a bad meal throughout our trip) put together the most delicious offering of braai meat including steak (cooked to perfection), boerewors and chicken sosaties with a selection of salads and pap and gravy! There was something magical about sitting underneath this gorgeous acacia tree draped in lanterns while sitting alongside a fire pit and sipping on a glass of red wine while watching the chef braai in front of you. A proper South African experience – I was proud to be South African and sharing this experience with a lodge booked to capacity with foreigners.
Needless to say our bellies were full and our senses overloaded from the amazing game ride we experienced – we had the most peaceful sleep in our super comfortable beds.
It was an early wake up call of 5am to meet Sam at 6am to enjoy a sunrise game drive. We spotted some elephant, zebra and buffalo and despite searching far and wide to find the cheetahs we weren’t so successful but we knew we had several other rides to find them, so we weren’t worried.
Sam stopped alongside a dam where we spotted hippo’s popping their heads out every now and again, to enjoy a cup of warm coffee with Amarula (cause why not) and some freshly baked rusks!
We were back at the lodge by 9am to enjoy a delicious offering of a cold selection including yogurts, freshly cut fruit, cheese, croissants and jams. We could then order off their hot menu offering including a full traditional breakfast or omelettes. The breakfast was done to perfection and what a treat to sit along the desk alongside the pool with a cup of coffee and breakfast after such an amazing three hours in the bush.
We then headed back to our room to put our cozies on and hit the pool for the rest of the morning.
After a relaxing midday snooze – yes we all snuggled up together in our blissful air-conditioned room to sleep because… we are on holiday!
After a light lunch of mini quiches and a fresh salad we jumped back onboard our game vehicle – this time alone with Sam as the Greek family had checked out.
This was probably my favourite ride of our holiday… we got to see cheetahs, a lion, a leopard in a tree! I kid you not! And we almost got caught in a thunder storm (missed it by 30 seconds) – it was absolutely beautiful! A real bush experience!
It was a race back to the lodge while witnessing the most gorgeous thunderstorm on the horizon and seconds after stepping foot in the lodge the most glorious rainfall fell and again – it was so beautiful to watch over the pool and acacia tree.
We were served with an incredible oxtail for dinner that evening. A buffet style dinner with salads, veggies as well as stuffed chicken breasts. What stood out for me was the presence of the chef around dinner times. He was always around to ask you how you are enjoying your meal and to see his guests utterly enjoying their meals.
On the morning’s game drive we got to see the ‘effects’ the rain caused to the roads and dams. I can still hear the swishing and swashing of the water as Sam drove over the puddles of mud. It was so beautiful to take it all in! The sun was shining so we knew it would’t be long before all the wetness would be dried up and we’d be baking in the heat.
Sam drove us up to a very high point of a mountain on the reserve. These vehicles and game rangers have some mad driving skills – it is super impressive to see what they are capable of while being in complete control and always keeping the safety of his passengers in mind.
The views were incredible! We enjoyed our morning coffee while Maddie had her hot chocolate (made by her new bestie Sam) and dunked her rusks into it. I think if you had to ask Maddie what her favourite thing about the trip was… she’d probably say stopping for a drink! Towards the end of our trip she’d ask Sam to please stop for ‘a drink’ – clever little sausage!
After spending the dawn in the wild, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast before spending the rest of our day alongside the pool.
Today was the hottest day we experienced during our stay. Luckily there are umbrellas over most of the loungers and what I thought was absolutely brilliant is the umbrella that fits directly into the pool creating a large area of shade while you are still swimming in the pool. So this is where we spent most of the day and luckily avoided sunburn.
There is nothing quite like lounging alongside a pool, in the middle of a game reserve and hearing the laughter of your child in her element in the water playing with her dad.
Cheers to that!
Our last sunset game drive of the trip was out of this world. Maddie sat in the front with Sam and got shown all the little tools he uses including his flashlight which Maddie needed to help Sam find the animals with. It was amazing to see how Maddie could now recognise and point out the animals we saw along the way.
We got to witness the most incredible sunset – the skies were showing off and we got to spot so much game – just an awesome experience to have in own memory bank as a family!
Upon returning to the lodge we had an intimate three course plated meal on the outside deck. Brett had venison while Maddie and I enjoyed fish and chips.
It was an early night for us after packing most of our goodies up before heading out early in the morning for our last game drive with Sam before we checked out and headed back home.
Another stand out memory for Maddie was communicating with Sam over his walkie talkie. It’s small touches like this that simply mad the family experience an amazing one for us all!
We are so grateful that we got to experience a proudly South African ‘bush’ holiday complete with the entire big five onboard a game vehicle with our daughter. She had the most incredible time, she learnt so much about animals and the bush, it left such an impression on her and we never once felt like we were inconveniencing anybody by having our toddler with us. Judy (the Bayala lodge manager) and her team were absolutely incredible and so accommodating and had Maddie’s needs in mind, always. Small things like making sure Maddie’s food was ready for her as soon as she stepped foot off the vehicle – these things don’t go unseen and made this holiday such an easy one with Maddie. She was happy and so excited throughout the holiday and happily sat for three hours on the game vehicle because game ranger Sam made it so entertaining, kept her captivated and in-thrilled about everything she saw! She never once threw a tantrum or refused to get back onto the vehicle.
We spent a total of 18 hours on board Bayala’s game vehicle, enjoyed nine delicious meals and left with hundreds of special photos we will treasure forever!
Here is a highlights video of our time at Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp:
Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp truly does offer an affordable safari destination for South African travellers who are too often priced out of the country’s leading luxury lodges. So often a safari holiday has simply become unattainable for the majority of locals, especially family travellers, and I feel like Bayala has changed that.
Bayala offers two similar, yet separate, accommodation options including; Bayala Safari Lodge offers 24 rooms set around spacious lawns and a large swimming pool. Spacious communal areas gaze out over the bushveld while, come evening, dinner tables are scattered beneath a spread of acacia trees. With an abundance of serenity, Bayala Safari Lodge is an ideal choice for couples seeking some R&R in the great outdoors. While the Bayala Camp, is ideal for families and multi-generational travellers. Charming thatched rooms encircle the main lodge, ensuring younger travellers are safe to explore the grounds on their own. Some of the 24 rooms offer sleeper couches for little children, while the 14 Superior Rooms are inter-leading and boast small private terraces with uninterrupted views over the bush.
Along with a family-friendly pool area at the central lodge building, Bayala Camp also has the benefit of a large outdoor boma, where fireside dinners are enjoyed under the stars. All rooms in both the Bayala Camp and Bayala Safari Lodge have recently been refurbished, offering air-conditioning, en-suite bathrooms and a stylish yet subtle safari aesthetic.
Between game drives, which are offered in the morning and afternoon, young travellers will find plenty of entertainment with the unique Mini-Ranger activities, where Bayala’s qualified guides take youngsters on bush walks to learn everything from animal tracking to bird identification.
I highly recommend booking a holiday at Bayala Private Safari Lodge & Camp if you are looking for a memorable, affordable (five-star game experience, at a three-star price) safari experience.
With flexible seasonal rates, prices range from R2 475 per person per night sharing to R2 775 per person per night sharing for a superior room. Single occupancy rates range between R3 710 to R4 010 per night. Kids under 12yrs are charged R1 230 per night. Kids under two years are free of charge. This includes dinner, bed, breakfast and one game drive per night. There is an additional Conservation Levy of R99 per person per day for anti-poaching, maintenance of roads and security.
For more details visit http://bayala.co.za/ and follow them on Instagram on @bayalaprivatesafarilodge/ and Facebook BayalaPrivateSafariLodge/. To book online click here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 035 562 0498, 035 562 0420.
DISCLAIMER: We were invited by Bayala Private Safari Lodge and Camp to experience their facilities as their guests and I have been paid to write about and share our experience on social media. Despite being paid to write this review all opinions and experiences are in no way influenced and are 100% accurate and fair.
Until next time…
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