Article and pictures by Ruth and Adam Gooding
For many people the idea of a Safari holiday is a romantic fantasy restricted to daydreams and wishful thinking. I was certainly in that bracket before, however the opportunity arose recently and I made sure to grasp it with both hands. Born in southern Africa, but now living and working with the Royal Navy in Scotland, I have fond memories of bush trips as a child and the stunning variety of wildlife and vistas available in South Africa. When my (now) wife and I were planning our wedding and honeymoon the conversation was very short and only had one option – a safari with a bush wedding!! I wanted to share the beautiful land of my birth with her, and she loves animals so it was a match made in Heaven.
We chose to stay and have the ceremony at Garonga Safari Camp located in the Makalali Conservancy. The trip from Johannesburg to Garonga, if you choose to drive as we did, is beautiful and opportunities for sightseeing are aplenty, however a word to the wise the track from the main road to the camp itself is just that – a track and any heavy rainfall is likely to make it hard work for a 4×4 so I would recommend not taking anything other than that!! Garonga is split into two areas; the main camp and the smaller more exclusive Little Garonga where we chose to stay.
Buried deep in the bush in buildings that are designed to blend beautifully with the surroundings, you are welcomed with a smile and warmth. The Hambledon Suite is beautifully appointed and blessed with a deck and plunge pool overlooking the river bed running in front of the camp, often a meeting place for a couple of elephants during our stay, and the throaty sounds of a pair of young male lions were a welcome soundtrack in the evenings. With nothing to separate the camps from the bush you are often greeted at all times by the local wildlife wandering through the camp which just adds to the allure!
Bernie, the owner, and the G Team as they are affectionately known made us feel welcome and part of the family from the moment we arrived till the day we sadly left with a tear in our eyes. Every aspect of the stay was looked after and no request was too much, not that there was much that they hadn’t thought of before we arrived. Our wedding took place at the small sleep out deck that the camp maintains, about a 20 minute drive from the camp it is built into a tree overlooking a watering hole. During a stunningly warm clear day, we exchanged our vows above this magnificent countryside, and were joined by some of the locals!! Seven giraffe and a curious zebra came to drink at the watering hole and see what all the fuss was! A special thank you to Pippa and Chris for sharing our day with us, I have known Pippa for many years and am blessed to have her and Chris as friends.
Little Garonga has its own Land Rover and guides, so that you can share in their love for the local area and wildlife, their knowledge and skill added to the experience for sure! We enjoyed several spectacular sightings during our 8 days there and I can never say thank you to the team enough for sharing the locals with two awestruck tourists! The moment when we were sat in the Land Rover as a herd of approx. 40 elephants (from young calves to majestic old bulls) emerged from the bush to walk around the vehicle as we sat speechless, will forever linger in my memory.
Garonga is marketed as a “Soul Safari”, where you recharge your soul and being before returning to whence you came, and without a doubt it is most deserving of this title. My wife and I had the most perfect start to our married life and look forward to returning as soon as the Navy allows me time to plan a trip!!