What is the real value of a bush holiday?

Posted on 22 January 2014

Getaway magazine editor, Cameron Ewart-Smith, works out what the real value of a bush holiday is.

Give or take, it costs R1 000 a person a night (all in) to visit a top wildlife reserve in South Africa such as Kruger. I worked this out on the back of a napkin the other day on my way back from a family holiday there. Sure, you could camp and that works out cheaper, but if you want to stay in a little self-catering chalet and enjoy guided drives morning and evening that’s what it costs.

Now, some of you will remark that Kruger’s become expensive, others that they prefer not being guided and enjoy the privilege of driving themselves – and a few will simply choke on their Klippies and Coke and snort: ‘Jislaaik just moer a tent down in the campsite and forget all that larney stuff.’ And I agree with all of you. But, no matter what you think, the figure is interesting in terms of value in South Africa.

Because R1 000 is more than you’d expect. After all, Kruger is nice but…

This month, I photographed a story with writer Paul Maughan- Brown on a selection of lodges you’ve probably never heard of in some of the Lowveld’s private reserves. We found some really incredible places at pretty decent prices and, for the first time, I have a nagging suspicion that my next affordable bush holiday may not be to Kruger. I appreciate that I’ll probably pay more in the private places, but I’m happy with that as I know the experiences I’ll have there will be supercharged. You see, what these lodges are doing right is that they’re putting visitor experience at the centre of their operations. Game drives are better (in most private reserves there’s no red tape insisting that vehicles must have high sides and roofs), magnificent sightings are guaranteed and, more often than not, no one in your family will need to cook.

Possibly the most important thing I’ve realised is that you don’t need as long in the private reserves to come away feeling rejuvenated and with storylines brimming. I envy the retired ramblings of my folks-in-law and their annual, month-long Kruger camping odysseys. Maybe my time will come, but for now I’m thinking more carefully about value. And you should too.

Find 10 secret bush lodges in the lowveld you can afford in the February issue of Getaway magazine (on shelves now). Click on the magazine cover below to see more, subscribe or buy digital issues.

Getaway magazine, Rikki HIbbert

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