Couple’s Guide to Pondoro Game Lodge
South Africa is open to US Citizens with the following requirements needed to travel:
- RT-PCR COVID test with a Negative result (72 hours prior to departure)
- Current COVID travel insurance for length of duration of visit
- Proof of Accomodation within South Africa
South Africa is a dream destination for many marked by several distinct ecosystems with a diversity of unique plant and animal life. Greater Kruger National Park is located in northeastern South Africa and is one of Africa’s largest game reserves. It’s high density of wild animals include the Big 5: Lions, Leopards, Rhinos, Elephants, and Buffalos. Hundreds of other mammals and diverse bird species also make their home within Greater Kruger.
Although there are multiple game lodges to choose from there is one that stands out above the rest. In this article, we will be showcasing our stay at the magnificent Pondoro Game Lodge which is located in the Balule Game Reserve inside Greater Kruger National Park. In addition, we’ll also be highlighting socially distanced protocols Pondoro has set in place to ensure their guests experience the magic of South African Safaris in a safe way. So without further ado, we present to you our Couples Guide to Pondoro Game Lodge!
As most of you know, we reside in the sunny state of California which is home to one of the largest international airports, LAX. On any given day there are multiple flights to and from Africa. The total distance from California to South Africa is 10,238 miles. There are a few prominent airlines such as Qatar Airways, Etihad, KLM, Lufthansa, Virgin, and British Airways that fly this route to name a few. There is always at least one or two stopovers involved in a flight itinerary. In our case, we have flown two different airlines, Etihad for our first visit back in 2019, and Qatar Airways for our most recent visit.
The flight itinerary was as follows, first flight was from LAX – DOH (16 hours) and the second flight was from DOH – JNB (9 hours). An additional domestic flight was also required within South Africa from JNB – HDS (1 hour) to reach our final destination. In total, we traveled on three different aircrafts at a total of 26 hours of flight time. As you can imagine, we were excited to finally reach Greater Kruger National Park.
Upon arrival at HDS airport, there was a private shuttle transfer previously arranged by our game lodge. Pondoro is located inside the Balule Game Reserve which is about a 15 – 20 minute drive from HDS airport.
After crossing the gates into the reserve the wild animal sightings began! There was an additional 45 minute drive to Pondoro within the game reserve which allowed plenty of time to see the wildlife.
During this particular drive we witnessed Giraffe, Elephants, Impala, and Kudu.
Overwhelmed with excitement, we finally reached our lodge. We were greeted by Armand, one of the lodge managers, upon arrival with welcome drinks and a brief introduction to the property grounds.
We’d like to add that safety was first and foremost with 100% mask compliance by all of the Pondoro team and sanitization products were available for use for all guests. Check in was seamless and we were personally escorted to our room by Armand. Once the keys were given to us and lunch time was set, we walked into what would be our home for the next 6 days!
Pondoro provides a variety of accommodation options starting with 5 luxurious suites: Water Suite, Buffalo Suite, Tree Suite, Rock Suite and the Earth Suite. Each suite is equipped with air conditioning, a private patio, a lounge area, an outside shower, and a jacuzzi built into the wooden deck in front of the suites facing the river.
Pondoro had booked the Earth Suite for our stay which in our opinion was in a great location to the main lodge area. It should be noted that each suite is unique in its own way and designed differently than the other suites. In addition to the suites there are also three Chalets available upon request. As we walked into our spacious room, we instantly noticed the vibrant earthy colors and a handwritten welcome message on a medium sized chalkboard from our room concierge. The words read, “Welcome to my lovely room, enjoy your stay with us.” love, Sindile.
After a quick shower and change of clothes from our long journey, we headed off to lunch in the main restaurant area!
Throughout the property grounds there are plenty of areas to sanitize your hands. There were only two other couples staying at the lodge during our visit which we met at lunch time. The tables are easily spaced more than six feet apart, and the dining area is located outside in the open air. Pondoro offers a delicious menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Note: If you have dietary or restrictions, they are very accommodating.
The food at Pondoro is incredible!! Everything is made fresh and presented beautifully.
After lunch it was time for our first safari!
Pondoro provides two game drive experiences per day that can last around 4 – 5 hours for their guests: a morning game drive at 5:30 AM and an afternoon game drive at 4 PM. As most of you know, we are avid scuba divers and the rule of thumb is the more dives you go on the more chance of seeing the underwater life therefore the more drives you go on, the better chance to see more wildlife!
South Africa is no different and these are real wild animals that almost never stay in the same place twice. That being said, Pondoro opened up a whole new world to the word Safari! Welcome to Game Drive number 1!
Each safari vehicle is designed to seat nine guests (three per row), one driver, and one tracker. Due to COVID, Pondoro arranged the vehicles to ensure only two guests sat apart from each other per row. The vehicle is also opened without a top to provide the best game drive viewing experience. Within minutes into our drive we came upon a giant giraffe grazing in the bush. Moments later we stumbled upon our first sighting of the Big 5, an adult bull Elephant splashing and bathing himself at the local watering hole.
Fifteen minutes after our tracker spotted two adult white Rhinos with their young catching some shade by a group of trees.
In the distance, we witnessed another safari vehicle that had found a mother Hyena with her den of cubs which we shortly arrived at.
Finally, our tracker (Andres) and our driver/ranger (Rul) discovered a pride of lions at the top of the hill resting in the tall grass.
There are no words to describe the feeling of being within inches of such stealthy, powerful and graceful creatures. We spent the next hour photographing and filming these beloved mammals.
This is a once in a lifetime experience that cannot be lived through a television program or described in a conversation.
For a moment in time, we were one with nature witnessing the circle of life first hand.
It is easy to spend five hours in a single game drive and feel as if it’s only just begun. After our exhilarating game drive experience, we headed back to the lodge for some dinner and rest.
Over the next five days, we participated in some of the most magnificent game drives with other guests and a couple private ones as well. We encoutered multiple herds of elephants and their young and two of the most prominent pride of lions within the Greater Kruger area,
we celebrated New Years Eve with an “Out of Africa” theme presented by Pondoro,
We spotted all of the Big 5 throughout our game drives, went on a couple of bushwalks in the wild where we encountered a deceased Zebra being fed upon and a surprise encounter with a Crocodile, and finally witnessed first hand an adult male and female lion mating. If that was not exciting enough, Pondoro arranged an evening to spend the night in their infamous Tree Hide in the middle of the African bush.
On the third day, we were whisked away to the Tree Hide after dinner, and spent the night high above inside a treehouse listening to the sounds of the wild until morning sunrise when they came to pick us up.
In addition, they also arranged a Tree Hide picnic the next day where we were provided with plenty of food, drinks and a front row seat to multiple herds of elephants bathing at the local watering hole with their young.
Throughout our journey, one thing remains constant, we felt safe and secure with the protocols Pondoro had set in place. Mask compliance was at 100% for all employees and guests, hand sanitization products were available throughout the resort, everything was cleaned and disinfected multiple times a day including the safari vehicles, and most importantly Pondoro successfully succeeded at creating and maintaining socially distanced safari experiences for each guest.
As American citizens we receive questions all the time regarding travel and is it safe? We would like to respond with this, we feel like we’re doing our part by wearing masks, face shields, gloves when necessary, avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet apart from others during our travels. Travel supports millions of jobs around the world and the economic devastation that is happening is unprecedented. There are plenty of people who need to feed their families and depend on tourism to do so. In this regard, we feel it is safe to travel as long as you follow the proper precautions so that we aren’t transmitting the virus and we feel very confident that we’ve done everything we can to not put others or ourselves at risk. This is of course a personal decision and we would still recommend speaking with your doctor, talking to your family and do what’s right for you. Certainly traveling in today’s world is not easy, it does take a level of planning and even having back up plans. In our opinion, it is totally worth the once in a lifetime experience. We want to thank our Pondoro family for having us and making our time an incredible experience! We hope to see you again soon!
Thank you to everyone else for your support in reading our articles, and please feel free to visit our website at www.adventurpro.com for more travel tips and exciting adventure stories from our travels around the world! Have a great day and always remember your Adventure Awaits! Cheers!