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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Six Of The Best Campsites Near Lions -

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.

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