Camping with kings
Few things fascinate people more than the roar of a lion. Here are six campsites not in the Kruger where you can park your caravan within a stone’s throw of these beasts.
1 Tau Roara Lodge, North West
Tau Roara means “place where the lion roars” – yes, even here on open plains. In fact, if you open Google Maps and search for Tau Roara Lodge you’ll see the faint outlines of an old golf course in the shape of a lion. Right next to the “grass lion” there are a few cages containing the real McCoy. These are laid out in an L-shape, right around the corner of the campsite. You camp on these beasts’ doorstep and you couldn’t ask for better “guard dogs”. You can walk the 150 m between the cages under supervision. At one of the cages a sign suggest to rather keep your hands to yourself if you want to keep all 10 digits. The older lions are used to visitors – they appear to not even notice people walking past – but the younger ones purr against the fence not unlike domestic cats. The campsite is on a piece of even lawn that stretches along the cages and is laid out in a large circle. Two stands share a double power socket, and if you require water you’ll have to walk to the bathroom, which is about 30 m away. You can braai your chops next to the big old willow near the reception office. In the cordoned-off braai area the wind is less of a nuisance than at the clearing next to the cages, and there are a few loose-standing braais to choose from.
2 Wawielpark Holiday Resort, Free State
Wawielpark is one of the more popular camping destinations in these parts – a claim justified once you see how many vehicles are crammed in here on any given weekend. As with any decent family resort, there’s something at Wawielpark for everyone to do. You camp on the bank of the mighty Vaal River, and fishing is the main pastime. And while you’re trying to hook one of the slippery suckers, the kids can enjoy the play park with its imaginative equipment, putt-putt course, trampoline and go-kart track. Not to mention water fun... You can rent canoes and pedal boats or splash around in the hot or cold swimming pools. And you should bring a bodyboard because there’s a wave pool where you can imagine you’re catching some waves in the ocean. It feels like you’re camping deep in the bush because you’re not very far from Simba and the Lion Guard. At the resort’s entrance there are a few large cages with electric fencing around it. If you want to entertain the kids, you can walk here during the day. It’s free. There are also white lion breeding pairs and Bengal tigers. Besides the cats there are a few springbucks as well as a camel and an ostrich. There are 65 stands, all with electricity and plenty of shade. There are two ablution facilities – a neat, old building close to the campsite, and a very modern one next to the hot-water pool.
3 Lion Park Resort, Gaborone, Botswana
A holiday in Botswana usually means seeing wild animals in the bush, but at the Lion Park Resort, 13 km from the capital, Gaborone, there’s an additional big attraction. Yes, you camp close to the king of the jungle, but here playtime reigns supreme. Lion Park is probably the campsite with the biggest entertainment area in the southern hemisphere. The theme park with its water slides and rides attract visitors from all over, and the campsite was laid out in 2010. It’s four hours from Gauteng, on the Trans-Kalahari highway to Windhoek, the Okavango Delta, and the Vic Falls in Zimbabwe. The campsite next to the theme park came about because so many tourists were looking for accommodation in the area – people travelling from the north and the south. You don’t have to worry about security, because the resort has a concrete palisade fence around it and the entrance gate is locked at 6 pm every night. Not long after sunset you’re greeted by a hair-raising roar: On the other side of the fence a lion is making his presence known – and before long some of his mates will join in. These terrifying conversations between the big cats happen about five or six times a night. The lions are fed once a week and also over weekends. You may check it out if you want to. They’re kept in an enclosure about half as big as a rugby field.
4 Olifantsrus, Etosha, Namibia
Etosha’s newest campsite, Olifantsrus, lies in the west of the game park, on the road between the Okaukuejo and Dolomite camps, and is the only overnight spot in the national park that is exclusively aimed at campers. The world here is as untouched as it comes, because the campsite is not even three years old and lies in an area of the park that until recently was sheltered from hordes of tourists. It is, however, better suited to an off-road trailer than a Penta, since it’s dirt road all the way – one that is not well maintained – and it’s a test for even the most seasoned tower. Olifantsrus’ pride and joy is the lookout point at the waterhole, a double-storey thatched rondawel where you can see game up close from two different levels. Those in the know at Namibia Wildlife Resorts claim shy animals such as black rhinos and black-faced impala are more established in this part of the park, which means you have a better chance of spotting them. There are also quite a few lions here and you can hear them from your stand at night. You can see them at the waterhole by day. The campsite has 10 stands – some of them are bigger and more isolated than others. You share a power point (standard domestic socket) with your neighbour and you need to bring an extension cord of at least 20 m. You get your own loose-standing braai drum with a grid, and each stand also has a concrete boma where you can relax around the campfire. The ablution facilities are neat and modern and are cleaned daily. Its divided into two with the shower facilities (two showers and one basin each for men and women) on the one side and toilets (three for the ladies, one for the guys, plus two urinals) on the other side.
Not long after sunset, you’re greeted by a hair-raising roar as male lion makes his presence known to all.
5 Tri-Hunt Game Lodge, Free State
A little bit more than halfway between Bloemfontein and Brandfort lies the Tri-Hunt Game Lodge between the Southern Free State’s hills. Besides the giraffes and 20 or so buck species in the veld, there are cages with anything from orphaned monkeys and a wildcat to caracals that the resort’s owners are rearing by hand. And next to the lodge is a camp with two white lions. It’s good to know the lions are behind a fence, because at night their roars are so loud it sounds as if they’re right next to your tent. You have two choices here in terms of camping: a small caravan park at the guest lodge or a bush stand next to the dam. In the enclosed caravan park there are no numbered stands but there’s space for up to 10 caravans between karee and olive trees. The spot close to the only electricity box is a good choice because then you don’t have to roll out an extension cord to power a light and a bug zapper at your stand. A little bit further is a tap with borehole water, and there are two loose-standing steel braais. The ablution facilities consist of two separate bathrooms for men and women and are neat, with space to store or hang your clothes. Opposite the campsite is a dam where antelope come to drink. About a kilometre or so from the caravan park is an overnight spot in the bush with old fibreglass railway houses and an old double-decker bus that’s been converted into a kitchen and entertainment area. It’s next to a dam with an abundance of bird life. You can park your camping trailer here and use the bus kitchen, which has a two-plate stove, microwave and a fridge. There’s electricity in the kitchen but not at your stand. There are open cold-water showers and flush toilets behind a wooden fence.
5 Thaba Monate, Limpopo
Thaba Monate lies hidden in the Waterberg, not even 100 km from Pretoria. Here you camp in one of two separate camps, and you can hear the lions roar from beneath your rally tent. The one camp, Njala, is at the top of the mountain, while the other one, Rooibok, is a little distance down the side of the mountain. There are about 100 stands in the Njala camp and they are mostly even. The camp is fenced in to keep animals out and it looks like they tried to lay out the site around the original trees. Like you find so often in the Bushveld, the shade trees are not the biggest, but there are smaller trees that supply some shade. The Njala camp has three ablution facilities and they’re tiled with neat brown slate tiles and the shower cubicles are spacious with a separate bench inside. The Rooibok camp has only 15 stands. You pay more to camp here, but your stand is slightly bigger. The trees are like those in the rest of the resort and the grass is slightly more thin on the ground, but at least you’re not camping in dirt. Some of the stands are slightly uneven, but it’s a small price to pay if you want to camp close to the heated pool. There is only one ablution building, and the two basins inside can become quite crowded if the campsite is full. About 100 m from the office are two lions in a large enclosure, and you can organise a viewing with management. There are also quite a few self-drive 4x4 routes – all free. A map is included in the paperwork you get when you sign in.