Balule Game Reserve
Balule Game Reserve forms part of the Greater Kruger Park, an open conserved area of approximately 7,000,000 acres or 23,000 km², along the Olifants River. The reserve is only an hour’s drive from two of the main gates to the Kruger National Park.
Greenfire Game Lodge
The luxury safari lodge is best known for its striking contemporary architectural design, isolated location and magnificent views over the seasonally-dry Mohlabetsi River. No effort has been spared to deliver an exclusive safari experience where the ultra-chic facilities of a modern safari lodge blend seamlessly with its stunning natural surrounds.
Pondoro Game Lodge
At Pondoro you are invited to indulge in the ultimate luxury when selecting anyone of our five suites during your stay. All our suites are air-conditioned and architecturally designed offering modern comforts in an ancient setting. Each suite is provided with a private wooden deck, Jacuzzi, lounge area and an outside shower for those who are adventurous at heart.
A general overview of Balule Game Reserve
Balule Game Reserve is a private game reserve along the Olifants River in Limpopo that shares an unfenced border with the renowned Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa. Balule Game Reserve thus forms a part of the recently established Greater Kruger Park, an open conserved area that totals approximately 7 000 000 acres or 23 000 square kilometres.
The reserve is only about an hour’s drive away from two of the main gates to the Kruger National Park and promises to provide an unforgettable safari experience.
Balule is located in a mixed woodland eco-zone, which is one of several eco-zones in the lowveld of Limpopo, and the one with the highest variety of fauna and flora. It is characterised by a rolling landscape of granitic origin with several seasonal rivers that are draining the area. The region is further decorated by quartz and dolerite intrusions and outcrops.
With regards to wildlife, the area has it all – from excellent opportunities to encounter the members of the Big 5, which include lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard, to a full varied range of other indigenous wildlife. The best way to enjoy this offering of wildlife is by several game drives during your visit and the many offered open vehicle game drives are the best way to get even closer to these majestic animals.
Under the guidance of experienced and qualified rangers, you may experience more than one such a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Of all the game drive possibilities, night game drives are possibly the most popular and rewarding.
At night that part of the bush that one cannot experience on your own during a self-drive safari, comes alive as the nocturnal animals start to emerge and go hunting and feeding. Most of the vehicles used for night drives are fitted with effectively adapted spotlights to provide optimal game viewing in the dark.
The reserve and surroundings offer accommodation by means of highly rated lodges, from where both local and foreign visitors can enjoy a true African luxury experience, but in a typical safari setting.
Many of them offer the convenient option of travel packages that are all-inclusive and offers all meals, drinks, activities and more as part of the price.
The history of Balule Game Reserve
Although it is now part of the Greater Kruger National Park, the Balule Game Reserve originally consisted of a number of separate and fenced game farms, owned by individual farmers and families.
During the early 1990s, those landowners decided – in aid of conservation – to remove the fences that were separating their properties from each other so that the grazing area for the local wildlife could be increased. This would also diversify the animal gene pool.
By the end of that decade, most of the landowners in Balule had joined in the venture and together they had created a much larger area where the game could roam unrestricted by any fences.
Hunting in the area, which was previously allowed on the farms, was also restricted and the outside border fences had been electrified.
More recently Kruger authorities realised what the ecological benefits of those decisions were and eventually it was decided to incorporate the whole Balule and other similar areas into a greater conservation area, now known as the Greater Kruger National Park.
Fences between the Kruger Park and Klaserie Game Reserve as well as those between the Klaserie and Olifants Game Reserves, were also removed so that the Balule reserve today covers more than 40 000 hectares in area. This area extends from time to time as more landowners decide to join the initiative and their farms also become incorporated.
Inside the area that is known today as the Balule Private Nature Reserve there are no more internal fences. The welcome extension to their range encouraged wildlife to initiate and follow new migratory paths, which prevented overgrazing and was the reason for the expansion of the gene pool.
Animals that had not previously been spotted in some specific parts of the area were suddenly free to come and go as they wish and, because of the consolidation that was now possible, the landowners themselves actually profited in terms of the diversity.
Hunting became totally obsolete and with time the animals grew used to tourist-packed vehicles with nothing but cameras shooting away at them.
Over the last few years this resulted in the reserve developing the reputation of one of the best places where visitors would have a very good opportunity to enjoy a wide-ranging variety of magnificent animal and bird life.
Where is the Balule Game Reserve located?
Balule Nature Reserve is a protected game reserve in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park as a member of the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR).
Balule Nature Reserve is situated on the western boundary of the KNP, southwest of Phalaborwa and north of Hoedspruit. The perennial Olifants River flows for about 20 km through the centre of the reserve.
The reserve consists of a number of small and privately owned properties, which include the following:
- Olifants River Game Reserve
- Olifants River Eastern Conservancy
- Olifants West Game Reserve
- York Game Reserve
- Parsons Game Reserve
- Olifants North Game Reserve
- Grietjie Game Reserve
- Jejane Game Reserve
With all the fences previously separating these APNR reserves – Balule, Timbavati, Klaserie, Umbabat, Grietjie Private Nature Reserve – and the Kruger National Park, now removed as part of a successful wildlife conservation initiative, the ecological benefits of the initiative has made the region one of the most popular ecotourism destinations.
How do you get to the Balule Game Reserve?
Getting to Balule Game Reserve is easy, since it is both accessible by road and air.
There are daily connecting flights from either Cape Town International Airport or OR Tambo International (in Johannesburg) to the Hoedspruit Airport. Road transfers can also be provided by shuttle services or tour operators from Johannesburg as well as from local airports to the various lodges in the Balule Game Reserve.
The Balule Nature Reserve is reached by far the easiest when you travel to Eastgate Airport, also known as Hoedspruit Airport (it is situated near the town) in the eastern reaches of the Limpopo Province.
If you intend to get to Balule Nature Reserve by air, it would be best to discuss all the options of booking your international and local flights with your travel agent. They will be able to secure the best tariffs and then match it with your safari dates, so that you will be transferred from the airport to the reserve in a comfortable private, air-conditioned vehicle.
Although the reserve is only a few kilometres from the Eastgate airport, it can take up to a few hours to get to some of the accommodation facilities within the reserve, as speed limits are strictly enforced, especially on the gravel roads, for your own safety and the comfort, as well as the safety of the animals in the reserve.
The reserve can be reached by car from Johannesburg in about 7 hours. There are also scheduled flights from Johannesburg, from Cape Town and from Durban to three nearby international airports.
To get to Balule Game Reserve by road from Johannesburg one follows the N4 motorway east towards Nelspruit and take the Belfast off-ramp to drive through Belfast, Dullstroom, Lydenburg and Ohrigstad.
You have to make your way over the scenic Abel Erasmus Pass and drive through the Strydom Tunnel and then on to Hoedspruit. At Hoedspruit, you turn left at the 4-way stop and follow the R40 north towards Phalaborwa.
Approximately another 17 km further on, you will find the entrance to the Balule Nature Reserve and turn right into the reserve at the Olifants West gate.
Why would you want to visit the Balule Game Reserve
There are numerous good reasons to include a visit to Balule in your southern African travelling itinerary.
The Balule Game Reserve is situated adjacent to the world-famous Kruger National Park but without any of the previous fencing, the game reserve now shares open borders with the park and forms an integral part of the national park’s ecosystem.
The experience of game viewing in this reserve is now even more rewarding, with the presence of all species including the Big 5. The Olifants River attracts a variety of wildlife, including elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, and giraffe, with the king of the jungle also often visiting.
The reserve has a large hippo population which can be seen wallowing in the river during the day.
To experience all this to a maximum, the reserve’s accommodation establishments all offer daily open safari vehicle drives as well as off-road drives to staying guests for an unforgettable experience.
The area is well located for excellent bird watching. Balule itself offers great overall birding with at least 250 species that have been recorded. The Olifants River which runs through the centre of the park, is a perennial river that attracts many waders and other birds associated with water. The area is also excellent for raptor sightings, in particular eagles.
All this means that if you want to have close and intimate encounter with the animals that can be found in Big 5 territory, Balule is the destination for you. In addition to a dam and various waterholes in the reserve, Balule is set along the banks of the Olifants River which in itself attracts a multitude of animals all through the year.
Participating in open vehicle safaris, going on thrilling bush walks, and staying in the choice of unobtrusive accommodation facilities throughout the reserve, will guarantee some unequalled encounters and sightings.
Here you can experience your own slice of Kruger in a much more exclusive way, since Balule is completely unfenced from the Kruger National Park, with the animals free to roam wherever they please, but the visitors to the official park are not!
The more or less 40 000 hectares that belong to the Balule Game Reserve only make allowance for private guests, allowing for a limited number of guests which in turn guarantees a more exclusive and luxuriously private experience of the Kruger National Park and surroundings and what it has to offer.
By making Balule Game Reserve your destination of choice, you are also supporting conservation in a unique way. Soon after your arrival in this exceptional game reserve, you will already notice that there is something extraordinary about Balule.
Everywhere you look, you will not only find an abundance of wildlife, but learn that it comes as a result of some outstanding conservation efforts in the form of the Transfrontier Balule Conservation Programme, the management’s working along with Elephants Alive and the founding of the famous all-female anti-poaching unit – the Black Mamba APU.
The Balule Gam Reserve is a leader in anti-poaching initiatives and combats poaching on a daily base to conserve its precious rhinos, as well as wild dogs and cheetahs in the area. This Black Mamba anti-poaching unit won the 2015 Champions of the Earth Award, which is the United Nations’ highest environmental honour for similar actions.
To summarise some of the most prominent reasons for visiting Balule:
- You will be able to experience the wilderness in the Greater Kruger Ecosystem
- A variety of luxurious accommodation are available
- You will get excellent value-for-money
- Game drives are offered during the day and night
- The Olifants River attracts a variety of wildlife all year round
- You can experience amazing game viewing, including the Big Five
- Some of the rarer creatures are sometimes encountered, of which civets and honey badgers are just two.
What can you do while staying at the Balule Game Reserve?
Everything in the Balule Nature Reserve has been designed so that you can have a unique experience within unspoilt nature and your visit to the Balule Game Reserve and the Olifants River valley need not bring one moment of boredom.
The Olifants River flows steadily north from the Highveld of Mpumalanga, until it is forced by the Drakensberg mountain range to turn east straight into the Balule area. The continuous presence of the water lures animals and birds, especially elephants, hippos and crocodiles, but also makes for magnificent sunrises and sunsets with the Drakensberg looming in the distance as backdrop.
You can ready yourself for animal sightings galore. Chances are very good that you will see most if not all of the Big Five, but apart from that you will see an abundant number of other animals and birds. Elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, baboons, crocodiles, raptors and much more will be seen whilst on game drives or even just walking around where you are able and allowed too.
With an ever-present spotlight on offering attractive wildlife related activities to guests, you can be sure that there will be an experienced ranger or two to assist you in any of your endeavours, whether you are in search of the famous Big 5 or are interested in locating some of the rare birds of the area.
Open safari vehicle game drives that are offered during the day and night permits close-up encounters with wildlife
Balule Game Reserve covers thousands of hectares on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, which means that exceptional Big 5 game viewing can take place in a private area where guest numbers are limited.
Experienced and qualified rangers use their vast knowledge and bush craft on Balule game drives in order to search for the much sought after Big 5 (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) but guests will soon realise that searching for these famous animals is only part of the total game. There are so much more to enjoy watching other plains game such as zebra, wildebeest and giraffe, not to mention the smaller and more elusive inhabitants of the African bush.
The open vehicles in which these drives are negotiated, add a greater sense of adventure for close encounters with African wildlife and guests usually thoroughly enjoy these outings.
During a sunset or night safari, your stops will be timed and planned by the ranger or guide to get the best opportunity to photograph a stunning sunset and to listen to the traditional night sounds. Powerful spotlights are usually provided and used to locate the more elusive nocturnal animals.
The reserve is further well-known for its night-time wildlife encounters, and guests should always be on the lookout for civets, owls, bush babies, aardvark, hares and the elusive leopard, to name but a few. Night drives are even more magical, with the to life at night in the bush brought to you with the help of powerful spotlights.
Game drives in general are interpretive drives in the bush in specially adapted four-wheel drive vehicles, with the purpose of finding wildlife and watching its behaviour in a natural environment. This gives guest the opportunity to rest their feet while exploring the African bush farther than you ever thought was possible for close-up game encounters you won’t believe or ever forget.
Balule also offers a bush walk with an armed ranger to add to the thrill of encountering animals on foot.
These walks are always guided by an accompanying experienced and armed ranger, even more than one, and they are ready to share their knowledge and expertise on the footprints and other signs left by animals. The focus of these walks is on tracks, scats and other signs of the wild. Most of these can’t easily be seen from game vehicles, so this way you can learn how to personally identify the paths the animals make and follow and discover more of the smaller critters and plants of the area. You will witness the daily experiences of the animals by sharing their game paths, waterholes and become more knowledgeable about their environment.
Although these guided walking safaris really are something spectacular, during which you can truly immerse yourself in the surrounding nature, you can also embrace pristine African landscapes with an abundance of wildlife and birds in and around all the accommodation establishments offered in Balule.
Since Balule is known for its variety and abundance of wildlife, an array of plains game such as zebras, wildebeest, buffalo, impala and giraffes can usually be found at the various watering holes, and larger game like hippos, elephants and crocodiles can be found in the Olifants River catchment at any time throughout the day.
The availability of many of these animals as prey in turn attracts lions and other predators, which will then closely be followed by scavenging hyenas.
With more than 260 species found in the area, Balule is a firm favourite destination among birders, and a range of encounters with the rarer species can be expected. Water birds like storks and herons can be found in the lush vegetation along the banks of the Olifants River.
This area serves as one of the main breeding grounds for the rare and elegant saddle-billed and black storks, birds high on the list for photographers too. Predatory birds such as eagles and hawks, including the highly valued and popular African fish eagle, are also regularly spotted in the area.
Balule Private Game Reserve offers not only viewing of famous Big 5, but also different types of birds. Africa’s highest level of endemism in the most accessible setting: 185 bird species are endemic or near endemic to southern Africa. With its scenic and botanical wealth, South Africa contains two of Africa’s four biodiversity hotspots as defined by Conservation International.
When returning to the camp after a successful evening game drive, guests are usually welcomed at most camps by an enticing sight of beautifully presented dining tables encircling a roaring boma fire. Guests can sit down next to the crackling fire to be warmed by its heat as well as an aperitif before enjoying a scrumptious barbecue meal and let the evening progress into night while discussing the days’ adventures.
Some of the lodges in the Balule Game Reserve offers specific activities that may not be available from others. For example, Naledi Bush Camp and Ezulwini Game Lodge offers fishing as activity. Apart from the relaxing aspect of fishing as activity to pass time, it is a novel way to enjoy being in the bush, listening to the chirping of the various bird species or the sounds of hippos in the distance while patiently waiting for a fish to take your bait.
But bird and game viewing are not the only activities that you can keep yourself busy with while staying in Balule.
You will find some opportunities for horse riding, hot air ballooning, white river rafting and other adventurous activities in different sections of the reserve.
The reserve is a real mecca for avid photographers and cinematographers, especially since the area is so well-known for its amazing sunsets and panoramic views. Stargazing is offered by some venues on cloudless nights and offers a spectacular experience.
You can also consider a visit to the Khamai Reptile Park in Hoedspruit, which was formerly known as Swadini Snake Park, which houses some of South Africa’s deadliest snakes, as well as other centres if you would like to gain even more knowledge of the area.
The Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in the area is a home to many of South Africa’s abandoned, injured or poisoned wildlife. A visit to the centre can be an experience of a lifetime and will leave every guest with a love of wildlife and animals with a lasting memory. You can enquire at your lodge about a visit to the centre, which would welcome you to the unique experience.
Gym facilities are found at many of the lodges and offers a healthy way to work up a sweat on the various machines and equipment while watching out over the bush below. The many well-equipped gym caters to the guests’ need for physical exertion – something often necessary when the temptation to overindulge in the culinary delights offered at the same lodges gets the better of your willpower.
Moreover, such exercise in the bush can be just the alternative after you had adequate time for relaxing on a deck or next to a pool.
To complement some healthy exercise, spa treatments like massages, or skin and beauty spa treatments, can enhance a deeper and more spiritual aura cleanse for better body balance and an enjoyable sensory experience.
Such massage treatments can leave you feeling revitalised and rejuvenated after a hot day in the sun and offers the perfect alternative to rest and relax. These havens of tranquillity provide the ultimate and much coveted African Spa experience.
One of the best ways to end a day in the veld remains to cool off in a swimming pool, and if you are able to do that with a spectacular view of the unspoiled landscape around you, it is an added bonus. Most lodges boast viewing decks with swimming pools that are excellently situated for both bird watching and game viewing, whilst enjoying the cool water with a refreshing drink in hand.
Wine tasting are offered at certain lodges, including Billy’s Lodge and Pondoro Game Lodge. Here you can taste wine from their collections in the cellars during breaks between game drives and other activities. Needless to say, you will have the opportunity to taste some of the best South African wines where even the most discerning guest with the most exquisite taste, should find something suitable to his or her palate.
What should you watch out for while staying at the Balule Game Reserve?
Balule is located in the subtropical lowveld of South Africa, an area with multiple eco-zones that results in a significant variety in its fauna and flora.
With regards to the flora in the area, well over 330 tree species have been documented in the region. Of the better known predominant species in this wooded savannah are baobab trees, fever trees, knob thorns, marula and mopane trees.
The diverse flora of the region in turn accommodates a diverse array of fauna. More than 250 different kinds of birds inhabit the area. These include several raptor species such as lappet-faced vulture, Pel’s fishing owl, martial eagle and impressive larger birds such as the kori bustard, ground hornbill and saddle-billed stork.
There are tens of species of mammals, ranging from plains game such as wildebeest, zebra and giraffe, to predators such as lion, cheetah and leopard. The rivers and other watering holes are home to herds of hippos and crocodiles.
Balule has a completely natural eco system, with all the animals being free to walk on and off the reserve according to their feeding needs. Giraffes, wildebeest and waterbuck are plentiful and is one of the reasons for the presence of great numbers of predators. Big herds of buffaloes are also frequently spotted in the reserve.
The vegetation in the game reserve is mostly presented in savannah woodland and grassland. The area around the Olifants River, which permanently flows through the park, offers the most astounding scenery, while the amazing view of the Drakensberg Mountain range that borders the park, further enhances the scenery.
Balule’s bushveld is synonymous with the African continent, and although the occurrence of each species fluctuates according to a specific area, the long grass combined with striking woodland trees such as the fever, mopane and thorn trees, are easily recognisable as far as you go.
The slow-moving wide Olifants River and the riverine vegetation associated with it, significantly add to the range and frequency of the fauna and flora to be found here, with more than 2 000 plant species added to the already staggering 330 plus tree species that have been documented in the Lowveld expanse.
During the dry months, which occur in winter, the Olifants River still holds water in scattered pools and this, together with the riparian woodland, attract abundant wildlife from all over.
Once spring arrives, the baobab trees, knob thorns, marula, leadwood, apple leaf and sjambok trees are covered by breath-taking seasonal flowers, and later pods and fruits that in turn bring an influx of migratory birds to the area.
The conservation efforts of Balule Game Reserve and the surrounding area are also not limited to the wildlife only. With some plant species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, conservation policies include the clearing of any alien vegetation, controlling and curbing erosion and planting of indigenous trees and plants to ensure their prevalence.
Due to no fencing between Balule Game Reserve and Kruger National Park, a much bigger ecosystem is there to be experienced. This created a larger, completely natural habitat for all the major animals you can expect to see on a wildlife safari, of course including the Big 5. A large number of animal species are attracted to the Olifants River and its surrounded vegetation, which enhances your chances to spot wildlife such as elephants, waterbucks, lions and giraffes in that area.
Due to the presence of water, the reserve has quite an impressive hippo and crocodile population. The former can often be seen wallowing in the river during the day, and the latter can be spotted lazing in the sun on the riverbanks.
Due to the more pristine nature of Balule, as compared to the busier parts of the Kruger National Park itself, there is a better chance to spot rare animals, such as civets and honey badgers, here.
Due to the lush vegetation the ideal time for game viewing in Balule is probably the dry winter season, especially during the last dry months before annual rainfall starts, as animals may then gather around the Olifants River in larger numbers. This is also a comfortable time to spend in the veld, since winter temperatures are fairly mild.
Animals that are common to the area and may be spotted in abundance, are elephant, giraffe, hippo, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and hyena.
White rhino and lion may be seen occasionally, while black rhino, leopard, cheetah and wild dog are present, but would count under the rarer sightings.
What type of accommodation does the Balule Game Reserve offer
The whole reserve is managed as an eco-tourism destination with there being quite a number of private commercial game lodges located within the reserve, catering for the whole spectrum of visitors.
The following lodges and camps offer accommodation in the Balule Reserve:
- Moditlo River Lodge
- Pondoro Game Lodge
- Sausage Tree Safari Camp
- Ezulwini River Lodge
- Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge
- Naledi Bush Camp
- Chacma Bush Camp
- Kwenga Safari Lodge
- Mutsami Private Bush Lodge
- Grietjie Reserve Accommodation
- Amukela Game Lodge
- Balule River Camp
- Baluleni Safari Lodge
- Campfire Safaris Academy
- Greenfire Game Lodge
- Kurhula Wildlife Lodge
- Leopard View Game Lodge
- Masodini Private Game Lodge
- Maninghi Lodge
- Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge
- Mpala Lodge
- Raptor Retreat Game Lodge
- Struwig Eco Reserve
- Toro Yaka Bush Lodge
All of these lodges in the reserve offer guest an unforgettable Big 5 experience and much more.
The following is an overview of most of these lodges, with reference to the type of accommodation, facilities and activities offered and highlights to expect during your stay.
Moditlo River Lodge
The Moditlo River Lodge is situated on 36 000 acres of African bushveld in the Moditlo Private Game Reserve on the banks of the scenic Nbesi River. The lodge offers a range of luxurious wildlife options and African safari encounters tailored especially for the discerning traveller.
Moditlo River Lodge is located at the heart of the Blue Canyon Conservancy, which is a stretch of protected land home to an astonishing array of fauna and flora.
Moditlo means ‘place of the elephant’ and the lodge is named after these gentle beasts of the bushveld, with the quiet grace so peculiar to these extraordinary creatures echoing the layout and décor throughout the lodge and its surroundings.
The general facilities offered by the lodge include a bar, lounge area, a spa, restaurant, television room, pool, private vehicles available, mobile connectivity and secure parking.
Activities offered at the lodge include game viewing as one of the main attractions. To go on an open vehicle safari is one of the greatest adventures one can experience outdoors and the excellent team of nature guides and trackers at the lodge will help you encounter the magic of our surrounds.
The guides had been hand-picked for their vast knowledge of the area and its animals and will be more than happy to inform you about, clarify or discuss any topic at length.
Other activities or attractions include
- High Tea
- Birdwatching safaris
Highlights of your stay at Moditlo River Lodge may include
- Appreciation of the unspoiled beauty
- Being part of and learn about the Blue Canyon Conservancy
- Memorable wildlife encounters
- Indulgent and relaxing spa treatments
Accommodation is provided in two types of rooms:
Luxury Double Rooms, which offer air conditioning, wi-fi, a laundry service, a safe veranda balcony or deck, en-suite bathrooms with shower and bath, a mini bar, hairdryer, pure cotton linen and tea or coffee facilities.
The Pondoro Game Lodge
Pondoro Game Lodge is situated on the banks of the Olifants River inside the 40 000-hectare Balule Nature Reserve.
All the lodge’s suites are air-conditioned and offer modern comforts. Each suite sports a private wooden deck, a lounge area, a Jacuzzi and an outside shower for the more adventurous at heart.
The three luxury chalets overlook the Olifants River. Each of the chalets is decorated according to a distinct African theme, with an en-suite bathroom with a shower overlooking the river. They are air-conditioned, with mosquito nets and a wooden deck.
Meals at the lodge are an extraordinary culinary experience with traditional African cuisine being effortlessly fused with modern European trends. Guests can select wine from the lodge’s extensive wine cellar to complement their meals and they cater well for vegetarians.
All meals are served on a wooden deck high up in the tree canopy overlooking the Olifants River and guests that stay for a third night can look forward to an unforgettable bush dinner.
Facilities provided at Pondoro Game Lodge include the following:
- Wine Cellar
- Swimming Pool
- Gift Shop
- Meals on request
- Airport Shuffle
Activities offered at the lodge include game drives and nature walks with an armed and experienced guide of the lodge. Wildlife, such as the famous Big 5 (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino) along with other animals, are basically guaranteed to be spotted by the guests.
Since the borders between Kruger National Park and Balule Private Nature Reserve are not fenced, the diversity of wildlife is impressive and spectacular. Guests can make the best of every opportunity to enjoy this, by participating in the following:
- Walking safaris
- A picnic lunch at the hide
- An evening game drive with spotlight
- Swimming in the pool
- Wine tasting from the cellar
- Spa treatments
- A visit to the Shangana Cultural Village
- A visit to the Moholoholo Centre
- Pondoro Game Lodge is a popular venue for weddings and honeymoons
Guests staying at Pondoro Game Lodge can look forward to the following highlights during their visit:
- Affordable luxury safari lodging
- Staying within the private Balule Game Reserve
- Superb African/European cuisine
- Enjoying the products from an extensive award-winning wine cellar
- Swimming in a rock pool
- Game drives with qualified guides and trackers.
Accommodation at the lodge is provided in luxury chalets and luxury suites.
There are three chalets and each unit sleeps two 2 adults. Each chalet has air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a bar, tea and coffee facilities, a safe, mosquito nets, en-suite outside shower, hairdryer, a viewing deck, veranda, lounge area, internet access, swimming pool, and housekeeping and laundry service.
Sausage Tree Safari Camp
The Sausage Tree Safari Camp in the Balule Nature Reserve along the Olifants River offers guests an exclusive haven from where to look for Africa’s famous Big 5.
Sausage Tree Safari Camp offers you an authentic engagement with the African bushveld, combined with a unique opportunity to stay in luxury, African-styled safari tents nestled between large marula, knob thorn, acacia and sausage trees. In these tents the sounds of the night are just that bit closer, the smells of nature just that bit stronger, and the feeling of actually being in the bush much more intense.
The luxury tents are situated in an elevated position and each has its own special view overlooking the dry riverbed, the bush and the majestic northern Drakensberg Mountain range.
Facilities at the camp include 24-hour-security, internet access, a pool, bar, laundry service, private vehicle service, battery charging facilities and library.
A variety of activities can be taken up from the camp. Sausage Tree Safari Camp aims to please guests with a selection of great activities through which they can explore the area in unique ways.
After enjoying a game drive, guests can also embark on an elephant interaction adventure, an Olifants River boat cruise, a Nyani Cultural Village visit, hike to the Blyde Waterfall, a Baobab and Kinyonga Reptile Park tour or they can hit the skies on a microlight flight or with some hot air ballooning.
A visit to the nearby Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre where injured animals are taken care of and if possible rehabilitated to such an extent that they can be released back into the wild, is always a heart-warmingly special experience. At any given time you may find duiker, zebra, giraffe, lions, leopards, hyenas, vultures, ground hornbills and even mongoose, tortoise and honey badgers being rehabilitated at the centre.
Guests can enrol for a photographic workshop to learn more on how to take the perfect picture since many of the nearby locations offer superb wildlife sightings. These workshops are designed around animal movements and concentrations in the various locations and through participating, guests can get loads of practical tuition out in the field or on a vehicle. Notes are supplied with all workshops so that you can keep practicing your new skill once you have left the game reserve.
Sausage Tree Safari Camp has created the perfect venue for relaxation after a day filled with activity with a refreshing deck pool, indoor and outdoor lounge and cosy bar with a variety of first class South African wines, craft beers and gin.
Breakfast and lunch are served on an open deck with uninterrupted views of the bush and a nearby water hole that is frequented by a variety of animals, so even these necessary parts of your day will form part of a game viewing experience. Dinner is usually served under the stars around a crackling fire that adds even more romance to a magical, African safari night.
To summarise, activities include:
- Game Drives
- Star Gazing
- Game Viewing
- Bird Watching
Highlights you can look forward during a stay at Sausage Tree Safari Camp are
- Bird watching
- Evening game drives
- Gourmet dinners
Accommodation is provided in eight safari tents.
Ezulwini River Lodge
Ezulwini River Lodge is located in the Balule Nature Reserve in a pristine region of the Limpopo Province and offers a top class Kruger safari. Visitors who would like to experience the appeal of the natural surrounds can consider this lodge, expertly managed by owners themselves and offering the all-in-one experience and knowledge of qualified guides.
The location of the reserve means that it shares unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park, but not allowing public thoroughfare, thus it is a place breathing privacy and natural heaven.
Ezulwini River Lodge is built on the banks of the Olifants River in a riverine forest, making bird watching one of the favourite pass times.
General facilities at the lodge include a bar, restaurant, dining area, view deck, lounge area, swimming pool, library, gift shop, laundry service, secure parking, shuttle service and battery charging.
Activities at Ezulwini centre around a safari experience, including twice daily game drives in the lush Balule Nature Reserve. On the viewing list will be the ‘Big 7′, which is the Big 5 plus hippo and crocodile, with an abundance of birdlife and general game added to that.
The reserve falls within the boundaries of the Greater Kruger, with an unhindered flow of wildlife. The vegetation is highly wooded, which attracts all sorts of browsing animals, while the presence of the Olifants River in turn attracts a variety of water-loving birds.
Photography and bird watching are encouraged on all game drives. The morning safaris usually see the bush coming to life with all kinds of diurnal animals, while evening and night drives will provide guests the opportunity to witness some activity of hyenas, jackals, lions, and owls.
Other than game drives with game viewing and bird watching, guests can look forward to romantic boma dinners by night and cooling off in the swimming pool by day.
Highlights of a visit to Ezulwini River Lodge include Big 5 sightings, experiencing an exclusive location in the Balule Nature Reserve – one of the best spots in South Africa for bird watching, and guidance by expert rangers and trackers on game drives.
Accommodation is supplied in the following:
River Lodge Standard Suite
There are 4 suites available, with each unit sleeping two adults. The suites all have air conditioning, ceiling fans, a mini bar, tea and coffee making facilities, a balcony or deck, a lounge area, en-suite shower, hairdryer, a private pool or jacuzzi, electrical outlets, internet, writing desks, a laundry service and mosquito nets.
River Lodge Luxury Suite
Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge
Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge is located in the Balule Game Reserve in a pristine part of Limpopo Province and offers a top class Kruger safari. As a sister lodge to the Ezulwini River Lodge, Billy’s Lodge is owner-managed, enhanced by the knowledge and experience of the guides assisting guests during their stay. Since the Balule Reserve shares unfenced borders with the Kruger National Park, but does not have the same public thoroughfare, it is a piece of pure private Kruger heaven and Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge the place where Africa remains unspoiled.
Billy’s Lodge is surrounded by magnificent knob thorn, leadwood and marula trees where it is nestled deep in the heart of lion country. At the lodge the emphasis is on friendliness and informality.
The lodge is further an aesthetic masterpiece, with one of its stand-out features the raised wooden walkway that leads from the main lodge to a viewing deck overlooking a nearby waterhole.
General facilities at the lodge include the following:
- A communal dining area
- A stocked bar
- Indoor fireplace
- A swimming pool
- Air conditioning
- Laundry service
- Internet access
- Battery charging facilities
- Satellite TV
- Secure parking
- Availability of an airport shuttle
Safari activities at Ezulwini Billy’s Lodge revolve around game drives in the private traverse of the Balule Nature Reserve and Greater Kruger, including morning and evening open safari vehicle drives, but there are many more ways to keep busy during a stay at the lodge. Billy’s Lodge also boasts a fine wine cellar which is set against the natural rock face and resembling an ancient Bushman cave.
Superb chefs will lighten up your meals and expert rangers will ensure you enjoy an ultimate getaway, with highlights like the following to look forward to:
- Lots of room amenities available
- Lookout deck overlooking game at the waterhole
- Multiple areas to relax around the lodge
- A huge variety of activities
- Individual plunge pools at suites
- Game drives
- Bird watching
- Boma dinners
Accommodation is provided in superior suites and some chalets.
The three Superior Suites can sleep two adults and sports air conditioning, a fan, a mini bar, tea and coffee facilities, en-suite shower, electrical outlets, mosquito nets, a balcony or deck, veranda, lounge area, private pool or jacuzzi and laundry service.
Naledi Bush Camp
Naledi Bush Camp has only four magnificently appointed chalets which can sleep only nine people in total.
Situated right in the heart of Big 5 country within the borders of the greater Kruger National Park, it without a doubt offers a guest the most personal, intimate reasonably-priced experience anywhere in the region.
At Naledi you will never be more than eight guests on a game viewer, or more than eight people relaxing on the beautiful swimming pool deck overlooking the riverbed. At the private waterhole you may see a daily parade of animals and birds coming to drink and feed while you watch them in total peace and tranquillity.
Our lodge is showing people a private piece of wild Africa with staff introducing guests to the bush and all its creatures large and small, from lions and elephants, to antelope and birds.
At Naledi you can enjoy air-conditioned coolness throughout hot summer day, delicious and scrumptious meals, relax in elegant surroundings, enjoy drinks from a fabulously stocked bar, have either fun or enjoy total relaxation and excitement, all while having an unforgettable African bush experience.
Some of the highlights associated with Naledi Bush Camp are:
- Experience of a small and personal safari lodge
- Personal attention from owner management
- Big 5 game viewing
- A swimming pool to cool off
- Magnificently appointed chalets.
Activities offered at the camp do not follow strict routines, but just aims for excellent game viewing.
Lodge guests will find that the venue is ideal for friends travelling together and offers exciting Big 5 open safari vehicle drives and fascinating bush walks as it suits you. Guests can enjoy personalised wildlife adventures with experienced guides and day trips into the Kruger National Park and other surrounding attractions can also be arranged.
The lodge offers two game drives per day into the reserve in open safari vehicles. The morning drives depart very early and include a stop for coffee at a scenic spot in the bush. The afternoon game drive heads out late in the afternoon when the animals become more active. Guests will witness the sun slip behind the horizon while sipping on refreshing sun-downers before continuing on a night drive back to the camp.
In the late morning, after breakfast, guests can opt to set out to explore the region on foot on a guided bush walk. This provides a wonderful opportunity to see the region’s smaller creatures and experience the diverse birdlife of the area.
The guides are qualified and knowledgeable and will teach you more about the ecology of the region, the different uses of some plants and also being photo enthusiasts, they will be more than willing to assist guests to get a perfect shot every time.
Accommodation is provided in three different suites:
The Marula Suite
This unit sleeps three adults and sports air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a mini bar, tea and coffee facilities, en-suite shower, hairdryer, lounge, viewing deck, Wi-Fi, safe, housekeeping and mosquito nets.
The Paperbark Suite
This unit sleeps two adults and sports air conditioning, a ceiling fan, a mini bar, tea and coffee facilities, en-suite shower, hairdryer, lounge, viewing deck, housekeeping, Wi-Fi, safe and mosquito nets.
Chacma Bush Camp
The Chacma Bush Camp is located deep in the heart of the Balule Game Reserve and offers the perfect Big 5 safari experience in a rolling landscape that is strewn with rocky outcrops.
It is a family-friendly camp that can sleep a total of only 10 people in 3 chalets, guaranteeing an intimate and authentic safari experience really close to the Olifants River. The diverse landscape makes for unique game drives that traverse over interesting geological areas.
The camp is surrounded by mopane woodlands which are home to a wealth of wildlife. Elephant, kudu, bushbuck and other plains game are commonly found in these woodlands and can be viewed from the comfort of the deck area around a sparkling swimming pool. In front of camp is a natural waterlogged area which provides the animals in the area with much needed water and shade during the heat of the hot summer and warm winter days.
Evenings can be spent by guests swapping stories of the day’s sightings while sitting around a roaring campfire in the boma area, and dinners are an experience on its own, with the temptation to overindulge in traditional cuisine in a rustic lapa.
Guests can enjoy daily open safari vehicle drives as well as bush walks in the reserve, and special excursions like sundowner events, bush breakfasts at the river and star gazing at night can be arranged with the camp management.
Activities offered on site include Big 5 sightings, bird watching, game drives and game viewing, game walks, night drives and guided walks.
General facilities at Chacma Bush Camp include 24-hour security, a bar, meals on request, mobile connectivity and a swimming pool.
Highlights of the camp that you will remember include the following:
- A family friendly camp
- Magnificently appointed chalets
- A swimming pool which is the ideal spot to cool off
- Game drives with qualified guides and trackers
Accommodation types offered at Chacma Bush Camp are the following:
The Klipspringer Chalet
This unit can sleep two adults and four children and offers air conditioning, a balcony / deck, cooking facilities, electrical outlets, en-suite bathroom with shower, a fan, lounge area, mosquito nets, safe and outside shower.
The Grysbok Chalet
This unit can sleep two adults and two children and offers air conditioning, a balcony / deck, cooking facilities, electrical outlets, en-suite shower, a fan, lounge area, mosquito nets, outside shower and safe.
The Steenbok Chalet
Kwenga Safari Lodge
Kwenga Safari Lodge is a refined and elegant lodge. The name means ‘the lead buffalo’ and a waterhole is situated close by that is frequented by buffalo and many other kinds of game species.
The close proximity of the waterhole affords guests to enjoy wonderful sightings whilst savouring a cocktail on the terrace overlooking the waterhole.
The lodge offers popular dining under the African night-sky, served in the boma, which is always an exceptional experience where you might hear the roar of a lion while enjoying your meal of refined and varied cuisine in the intimacy of the stars above. After dinner guests can relax around the campfire with a cocktail or fine wine from the bar.
Kwenga Safari Lodge provides the perfect venue for a true African safari holiday where you are woken in the early hours of the morning to depart on a guided safari tour or bush walk to find the Big 5 and other animals.
The lodge conveys a luxury ambience to all staying guests, while also offering interesting activities that include game drive safaris, birding, hiking, touring, golfing, guided excursions to local tourist sites, hot air ballooning and boat cruises.
Facilities at the lodge include parking, lounge, bar, wi-fi, outdoor dining area, outdoor fireplace, outdoor pool and laundry services.
Highlights that you will remember long after your visit include:
- Experiencing the African wildlife wilderness
- Big 5 sightings
- A great variety of African game
Accommodation at Kwenga Safari Lodge is provided in standard and luxury rooms.
Standard rooms have air conditioning, a seating area, tea and coffee facilities, a hairdryer, bathroom with shower, mosquito nets and a private terrace.
Luxury rooms have air conditioning, a seating area, a hairdryer, mosquito nets, tea and coffee facilities, a vanity desk, bathroom with shower, housekeeping and a stunning view.
Mutsami Private Bush Lodge
Mutsami Private Bush Lodge is a very small private lodge situated in the Grietjie Game Reserve, which forms part of larger Balule Nature Reserve.
“Mutsami” means hunter in the local language, but the only shooting that will take place here is with cameras.
Mutsami Private Bush Lodge offers a thatch home which is an ideal destination for an ultimate private bush getaway. It has access to game viewing areas where you can be assured of a memorable bush experience and good animal sightings.
The lodge is complemented by a private swimming pool, lush indigenous garden and you will enjoy the services of your own private chef, field guide and game viewing vehicle.
From the lodge you can enjoy spectacular sunrise and sunsets, watch animals at the waterhole, or just lounge around to the pool enjoying refreshments from the little pub with the quaint name of The Olive Toad.
General facilities at the lodge include parking, wi-fi, an outdoor dining area, bar, swimming pool and laundry service.
Activities that can be arranged with management include flying safaris, Kruger Park tours, birding, hiking, golfing, hot air ballooning and boat cruises.
Highlights that you will remember long after your stay at Mutsami Private Bush Lodge has ended, include:
- Beautiful bushveld views
Accommodation is provided in the Nyarhi Room and Mangwe Family Suite.
The Nyarhi Room offers a bath, shower, air conditioning, fan, safe, mini bar, hairdryer and balcony.
When is the best time to visit the Balule Game Reserve?
It is possible to visit Balule all year round, but summers in the northern part of South Africa can get extremely hot. The rainy summer season also brings an influx of mosquitoes and the risk of malaria is at its highest then.
The seasons in Balule occur in opposite times as compared to Europe and North America. The sparser vegetation during the dry winter season brings animals to waterholes and make for easier game viewing, so it is best to visit in the winter between May and September. While winter morning and evening game drives may be quite frosty, day temperatures will be very comfortable.
Birding is excellent though during the summer months from October to April and the lush greenery then makes for fantastic photography.
A month to month guide for visiting Balule Game Reserve:
May to September marks the dry season.
October to March is wet and the game reserve is not overly crowded.
April to September offers excellent wildlife viewing.
April to May may bring a little rain but will have mild weather. Temperatures usually fall between 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit) and 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit).
September to October one can expect very little rain and mild weather.
June to August is characterised by cool mornings and nights. Nights are usually around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) while afternoon highs get to 25 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit).
December to February can be very hot and steamy. The summer season is also very humid, with rainfall being frequent. Temperatures can go above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). On an average, afternoon temperature is 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).
Anti-poaching measures in the Balule Game Reserve
With Balule Game Reserve part of the Greater Kruger conservation area and home to a big part of South Africa’s rhino population, anti-poaching measures take centre place in the management of the reserve. Balule is a private reserve, privately funded and had been hit hard by illegal poaching in the past.
Since 2013, a task force of mostly local African women were formed to protect the Olifants West Region of Balule Nature Reserve. The Black Mambas patrolling the Balule nature reserve are the world’s first female-led anti-poaching group. Within their first year of operation they were invited to expand into other regions and now protect all boundaries of the Balule Nature Reserve.
The members are all from disadvantaged communities on the border of the park and did ranger training and wildlife education and work alongside a number of armed guards and an intelligence team that aims to stop poachers before they can kill.
They remove traps, put down bushmeat kitchens and poacher camps, and have the necessary authority to arrest poachers. They do day-to-day patrols of up to 20 km a day on foot and by vehicle at night, pulling out snares, conducting roadblocks and assisting with tracking collars.
Recently South African National Parks (SANParks) and its conservation partners in the Greater Kruger region implemented additional interventions as part of their integrated rhino management approach by embarking on the dehorning of rhinos in Balule Nature Reserve. During a seven day, highly specialised operation, the rhino population of Balule was dehorned.
It is believed to have been the largest single dehorning operation carried out in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo Lowveld at the time. This multi-disciplined operation was carried out by a large specialised team comprising the Balule management team, a team of wildlife veterinarians, a fixed wing spotter aeroplane and a two helicopters. Vehicle based ground teams with air-to-ground communications, assisted by systematically moving through the reserve capturing and dehorning all rhinos that could be located.
Safety during your stay in the Balule Game Reserve
As with most national parks and private reserves in South Africa, Balule is very safe to visit due to stringent safety measures and access control.
Most of the people employed in the reserve are passionate about conservation and the hospitality industry and will do everything possible to make your trip safe and comfortable. Wildlife viewing is generally done very safely with a professional guide ensuring your safety on a guided safari.
Self-drive safaris are safe as well, as long as guests treat animals with due respect and follow all the park rules. Some general safety guidelines and tips to adhere to, are:
- Always follow the guide’s instructions and guidelines when on a game drive or bush walk
- Always keep your voice down and act as quiet as possible when close to animals
- Stay in the vehicle during game drives except at designated areas where you are allowed to climb out under supervision
- Don’t stand up in open safari vehicles, hang out of the window or sit on the roof of your vehicle when self-driving
- Don’t get too close to animals if you are on a self-drive safari and back off immediately if it seems that the animals are disturbed
- Never drive between elephants in a herd, especially if there are females and young ones in the herd
- On a walking safari stay together as a group and close to your guide. Always walk in single file
- Never walk between a hippo and water; the animal may panic and charge at you because you may block its safety route to the water
- Don’t wear bright and colourful clothes or strong perfume on walking safaris
If you are a foreign visitor, Johannesburg will most probably be your entry point into the country for visiting Balule. Crimes and car-jackings do occur in and around the city hence it is advised that visitors try to limit the risks by taking simple safety precautions if they self-drive to Balule Game Reserve.
You may feel safe inside your vehicle but stay aware of dangers and keep your doors locked and windows rolled up at all times, even if you’re in an area that you think is safe. It is not uncommon for thieves to wait near intersections and on highway off-ramps, approaching vehicles when they stop and attempting to rob the driver and passengers.
Keep valuables like camera bags and handbags out of sight to avoid attracting attention from would-be thieves.
The roads leading into and out of the Kruger Park are popular for carjackers to strike, so be cautious of any debris on the road which may have been placed there on purpose by criminals in an attempt to get you to stop. Don’t get out of your vehicle to clear anything from the road, just try to drive around it or better still, turn around and seek safety.
Don’t pick up hitchhikers, it is not worth the risk. When parking anywhere, always keep your vehicle locked with the windows rolled up and all valuables out of sight.
If your vehicle breaks down or you get a flat tire, pull over, put on your hazard lights and remain in your vehicle with the doors locked and windows up while calling for road-side assistance.
Don’t be scammed by criminals posing as traffic police, pulling you over for a supposed traffic violation and demanding an on-the-spot fine. Offer to go to a police station to pay the fine or motion for them to follow you to the nearest police station.
Malaria and vaccinations
Although the risk of contracting malaria is higher during the damp summer months (October-April), Balule does lie in a malaria zone and you should guard against mosquito bites with repellents, preferably those containing DEET which are most effective, and by taking proper antimalarials.
Where is the Balule Game Reserve located?
Balule Nature Reserve is situated southwest of Phalaborwa and north of Hoedspruit on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park in the Limpopo Province of South Africa and forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park.
When is the best time to visit the Balule Game Reserve?
You can visit Balule all year round, but summers can get extremely hot. The rainy summer season also brings an influx of mosquitoes and the risk of malaria is at its highest then.
Is Balule in the Kruger National Park?
No – although there are no fences separating Balule and the Kruger, it is located on private property. It does form part of the Greater Kruger conservation area though.
Will I see the Big 5?
All the animals comprising the Big 5 frequent the area, but the animals are free to roam where they please, which means each safari is unique.
Is the reserve child-friendly?
Yes, many of the lodges and other facilities cater specifically to families.
What about malaria?
Balule is located within a malaria area. It is best to contact your physician for information on anti-malarial prophylactics prior to your departure. Keep your arms and legs covered after dark, sleep under mosquito nets and use repellents where possible.