Reviews of Okonjima Plains Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Cats' whiskers at Okonjima
Okonjima Main Camp provided a splendid end to our holiday.
We were upgraded to a “View” chalet - spacious, with two double beds, panoramic windows, table and chairs, superior en-suite facilities and a porch looking at the adjacent patch of veld and its grazing warthogs. With a tin roof, the interior became hot as the day wore on. The internal electric fans were sufficient to relieve while we were there (in Spring), but the chalet might, we thought, become uncomfortable in Summer. During our second evening one of the beds was visited by some small ants so we transferred to the other.
On arrival, we were given an introduction to the facilities by one of the staff. She spoke engagingly, but obviously thought that we knew more of the Camp's style and its activities than we did. We felt as though we were being pushed into “activities”, whose agendas were not apparent to us. When we asked as to the latter, she said that our “guide” would decide – not very illuminating at the time, though she did say there would be either cheetah and leopard tracking, at the discretion of the guide. We would have preferred to have been provided with a written outline of the Camp's programmes and the modus operandi (with, by all means, a supplementary talk to bring it all to life).
As it turned out, we enjoyed it all. We found that we were, in effect, allocated a guide and personal sponsor for our stay. He ascertained our preferences and made arrangements accordingly. Normally, these entailed joining an excursion which he would lead (for which one would be billed on account – unless there under an all-inclusive tariff). A side-effect of this approach was that we were seated with other members of our excursion parties at dinner. We got on well with these fellow-guests and we enjoyed the company. We presumed – but never checked - that we could vary the seating arrangements, had this not been the case.
Our first “activity” started at around 4pm on the day of our arrival. It was a tour by 4WD shuttle of the AfriCat facilities, including the large enclosures for certain orphaned cheetah, leopard and caracal. While interesting – and an eye-opener for anyone who had not previously seen such cats – it was not, in our opinion the best activity available.
The next day we went on a leopard “hunt” after breakfast and a cheetah “hunt” around 4pm (after complimentary tea and cakes). Each excursion lasted approximately 3 hours, giving us the middle of the day to relax and to do our own thing (we initially contemplated one of the self-guided hikes at this time - but it was too hot for us). Our guide drove our parties of 4-6 persons in 4WD shuttles (with capacity for 8 guests) around the much larger expanse of Okonjima's bush terrain. Here roamed the cats and other wildlife, constrained only by many miles of outer perimeter fencing, encompassing hills, ridges and plains.
The cats were collared and traceable through radio receivers deployed by our guide. In this respect there was a degree of artificiality. However, the imprecision of the tracing equipment, the density of much of the bush, the off-roading and the distances involved combined to provide real prospects of failure and a thrill of hunt.
We were lucky. On our morning excursion, after much double-backing and circling through the thick bush, we tracked down a leopard still eating a fresh kill – a steenbok which she had dragged up a tree. In the afternoon, we quickly located a lone cheetah, loftily surveying its surrounds from a termite mound. Then, after a couple of hours (during which we saw giraffe and other plains-game, but no cats), we ran to ground three cheetah who had freshly killed a young zebra. Initially, all three cats stayed together at the kill. However, the routine changed as we watched. As one ate, the other two moved off a small distance to peer intently in another direction – prepared, as it turned out, to fend off the attentions of an approaching leopard who had smelled the kill.
In normal circumstances guests are permitted to disembark the shuttle in order to get closer to cheetah (but not leopard). In this case we were forced to get back into the vehicle hastily, after we heard the cough of the encroaching leopard and our guide was radioed by a colleague (who was tracking the leopard for his party from Okonjima Bush Camp). We found that the guides confer and collaborate during their respective excursions, in order to share discoveries and to improve the experiences of their parties. They were careful to avoid crowding. Thus, after we had finished with watching the three cheetah, we moved on to see the frustrated leopard (some 60m away through the bush, in the gathering dusk), while the party from Bush Camp moved from their primary “target” to view the cheetah.
On each evening, after a satisfying dinner, we opted to join a party to walk some 15 minutes via torchlight to the Camp's porcupine hide. Here the guide tossed down a basketful of vegetable remains into a floodlit area outside the hide, in order to lure the animals. On the first evening nothing showed up, except a jackal which quickly took fright and fled. A German guest asked if the porcupines existed. She had done the walk twice the previous year and this was the third occasion on which she had drawn a blank. However, the next night we went again (German girl too) and, within minutes, two large porcupines emerged from the bush to chomp their way steadily through the assorted chunks and peelings on offer.
Close encounters at Okonjima
We arrived at 3.15pm and were welcomed by the host with a cold drink and introduced straight away to Pieter, our guide for the duration of our two-night stay. Being on full board basis, all activities were included and we had been allocated with another couple on a safari drive to track wild dogs which would leave as soon as we were ready! So we only had time for a quick freshen-up in our (lovely) room before clambering into a Landranger for an exhilarating drive to the far corner of the vast conservancy in search of these rare animals.
They did indeed prove difficult to find, even with radio tracking and it took an hour and twenty minutes to pick up their signal. When the signal was strong, Pieter told us he believed they were somewhere deep in the surrounding bush where there were no tracks to follow so he took us "off road" in the true sense of the word and bulldozed a way through! Being confident the wild dogs were close by, Pieter stopped the vehicle, turned the engine off and whistled to them. Amazingly, after a few moments four wild dogs came running towards us and stayed close to the Landranger for ten minutes before a nearby Oryx caught their attention.
Thankfully, they left it alone and headed off to a nearby water trough instead. After they departed we were invited off the vehicle for a sundowner and in the fading light it was a great way to conclude to a fantastic experience. The drive back to the Main Camp was in darkness so a spotlight was used to seek out other wildlife on the way. The long time taken to find the wild dogs meant that we were a little late back, with less than ten minutes before dinner which was served at 8 o'clock. We wanted to get changed and freshen up and it would appear that by the time we arrived at the restaurant, we had kept everyone else waiting for a few minutes as service doesn't start until all are seated!
We did not realise that dinner was a set menu with no choice of main course. This caused a problem because it was game sirloin and my wife, on principle, will not eat game. After speaking to our waiter, the kitchen staff offered chicken as an alternative. Problem solved! Unfortunately, when it arrived the breaded chicken fillet looked like it had been cooked inside a blast furnace. It was burnt to a crisp and tasteless. The game meat wasn't bad but I didn't ask what it was. The vegetables to accompany our meal were spinach, diced sweet potato and a small jacket potato. The portions were quite small.
Dessert was supposed to be pear crisp but all that was served up was a peeled pear with cream. The pear was quite firm and a spoon would not cut through it. Everyone was having the same problem, chasing their pears around their plates! Eventually knives were brought out but they were not much use either. Finally, some forks appeared but overall this was a pretty poor meal. At least we were able to help ourselves to tea and coffee.
The following morning we were taken out early to track some cheetahs and this time it was just the two of us with Pieter plus another member of the team for safety. Unusually, for September, the morning was very overcast and we experienced a brief shower of rain. The cheetahs were proving to be as difficult to find as the wild dogs but at 8 o'clock three of them were spotted in a wide clearing. Pieter stopped the vehicle and invited us to climb down. We walked, slowly, in single file towards them and they didn't seem at all phased by our presence. They had picked up the scent of some Wildebeest and started walking. We walked with them, albeit from about 50 feet away and it was fantastic! Soon realising that a herd of Wildebeest was not a realistic target, they stopped.
We walked back to our Landranger but in the meantime the cheetahs had turned their attention to something else. Pieter drove a little closer and noticed two or three kudus browsing amongst the trees. They were aware of some danger but couldn't see what. The cheetahs were laying down watching the kudus and it looked like they were going to pick one of them off. I had previously told Pieter that we did not want to witness a kill but I suppose that if he had started the engine and moved away, that would have caused a distraction which may have deprived the cheetahs of a meal. We were very anxious but thankfully, after half an hour and a couple of clear opportunities missed, the kudus wandered off and the cheetahs lost interest.
We returned to Main Camp for a brunch, effectively a late breakfast and this was really good. In addition to the usual buffet selection there was a menu of hot food which was cooked to order on a grill set up in the garden. Brunch is normally served instead of lunch because of the early morning activities but if you arrive in the early afternoon a lunch will be offered. As we arrived too late the day before, we were offered a lunch today at a time to suit us. Unfortunately it turned out to be the chicken again, just as burnt and tasteless!
In the afternoon we finally had the opportunity to enjoy our "view" room, so called as it had a fabulous view out over adjoining grasslands where some oryx were grazing. We could also see warthogs and the occasional black-backed jackal (being seen off by the warthogs!), all of this being viewed whilst enjoying the warm sunshine in comfortable chairs on our veranda!
There are two types of rooms offered at Main Camp and I would strongly recommend the View rooms over the Garden rooms as the latter, whilst looking cosy and surrounding a pretty garden are very close to the restaurant and reception so do not enjoy the privacy that the View rooms have. The View rooms may look basic from the outside but they are enormous and extremely comfortable with all the facilities you need including a fridge. A square to round pin adaptor was available at reception so that we could use our hairdryer.
Our next scheduled activity (after coffee and cake) was a leopard-tracking safari, this time with seven other guests. Sightings of these wonderful big cats are not guaranteed and Pieter did have trouble tracking down a female leopard that he was after. After almost an hour an a half we found her laying down in a ditch amongst dense thicket. She was so well camouflaged that even from about 25 feet away most of the group couldn't see her but she could definately see us! Pieter explained that anyone on their own, exposed, in this situation would be killed very quickly.
This leopard was impossible to photograph but there was a signal from another leopard, this time a male, nearby. It took another half an hour to spot him because he was moving around. The sun had set and the light was fading when Pieter was finally able to position the vehicle to intercept this magnificent animal. It stood still, curious of our presence, just long enough for us to grab some pictures before disappearing into the bush once more. We were certainly lucky as another party out looking for leopards had no success!
With everyone happy, we were driven to a clearing to enjoy another sundowner. This was the last day of our holiday and what a way to end it! After enjoying our drinks amongst the incredible stillness and silence of the Savannah, we embarked on another night-time safari back to main camp.
Dinner that night was, once again, game sirloin which didn't show much imagination. However, we had already asked for an alternative during the day and were promised fish which was beautifully cooked. This was enjoyed with an excellent bottle of sauvignon blanc. The dessert was much better this time, a rather good creme brulee but because of earlier poor experiences I have marked the food overall as only average. Sorry!
After dinner we went to a nearby hide where food scraps were put out for the nocturnal animals but the hoped-for honey badgers and porcupines proved elusive. Only a jackal appeared but didn't seem interested and quickly trotted off into the night. We were entitled to another activity, an early morning search for hyena but we declined it as we wanted the time to pack before our flight home.
Overall, Okonjima is an excellent place to stay although it is quite expensive. We were happy to stay there as we wanted to support the work of the AfriCat Foundation and would certainly pay return visit. We were told that rhino and even lions are to be introduced when the conservancy expands even further.
Return to Africat
We spent our 20th wedding anniversary here and had such an amazing experience (included being upgraded to the Bush Suite) that we planned the whole trip to coincide with our 25th anniversary.
We booked a View Room which was spacious, well equiped, private and with great bathroom/wet room facilities. Game drives as fabulous as last time although saddened to be informed by Chris that the 4 cheetahs we had seen on our previous trip had all died. However, Norman our guide managed to find us a hunting pack of 3 cheetahs on the day we arrived and TJ the leopard eating his kill on the day we left.
The home of Africat
The first impression when arriving at the gate is of a place of maximum security but of course there are good reasons for this. On our last trip we stayed at the Bush Camp but this time had a view room at Main Camp. It proved an excellent choice and was a large room with a beautiful picture window of the bush and mountains. The room facilities were excellent and given the amount of time we planned to spend in it was more than adequate for our needs.
We used the activities to the full and had a super guide, Jonas, who took good care of us but also went out of his way to secure good animal sightings especially when tracking Leopard. For us the the animal sighting of the trip was here when we found TJ and a beautiful 8 yr old male who ate his dinner of Kudu whilst we enjoyed our sundowner next to him. That day we had sightings of five Leopard which was just great.
Service in the boma was good and the food amongst the best if only it had been hot when we got it.
Always be patient
This is a well run commercial enterprise that endeavours to provide a real bush experience. It is well packaged and well run, the staff are excellent and the accommodation of the highest quality.
The game sightings are disappointing if you have spent a lot of time in the bush but you can never really get bored of seeing the large cats. I fear for the future as it is proposed to introduce lions in 2013 which will have a dramatic impact on cheetah tracking and possibly drive the leopards to more remote areas.
The main highlight was seeing a small pack (4) Wild Dogs make a kill but it took us 2 trips and 6 hours to find them, but was a unbelievable experience.
Our forth visit , even better than expected.
We were surprised to be given an up-grade and initially a bit concerned as we really like the garden rooms at the Main camp, but really enjoyed the Bush Camp.
The standard of the Game drives is excellent, as is the knowledge of the guides.
The staff always friendly and efficient and food very good.
We are interested in the education and research aspect of Africat, we had a very informative talk with Tristan Boheme, one of the owners .
We found that our room was quite chilly at night time.
Okonjima Main Camp review
We were upgraded to the Bush camp.
Oh my goodness. The rondoval was stunning. The only problem was that we weren't there long enough to enjoy it. Meals were just superb. The excursions were fabulous.
I could have spent a week there. Wow!
Okonjima Main Camp review
Only stayed 1 night here but should have stayed longer.
The cheetah tracking was great fun with very professional guides. We would have liked to have done the Leopard tracking but our schedule did'nt allow us time in the morning. We stayed in a view room which was a nice experience.
Great staff and a shared table for evening meal with other guests was a pleasant finish for the last evening of the holiday.
Great safari at Okonjima
This was possibly the highlight of our trip. We loved the beautiful surroundings and the food was absolutely delicious. We had a great guide called Neil who drove us to within 10 feet of a leopard!! We also tracked three cheetah on foot and managed to see the very rare wild dogs. Everything was really well organised and you felt very well looked after. The night hide was also a great chance to see porcupine and honey badgers which you would rarely see normally.
Unfortunately my husband suffered a bad electric shock when he opened one of the perimeter gate as there was noone there to open the gate for us. There should be warning signs on the gates
Great big-cat experience
When we booked this camp as our last stop on a 3-week circuit, we thought it might be the most commercialised and therefore perhaps less enjoyable. Were we wrong! Although the budget end of the Okonjima set-up, it was a beautiful setting and our large view-room with its picture window looking on to the veldt was perfect.
The included activities (cheetah tracking on foot, leopard tracking by vehicle) were extraordinary experiences, and our guides Jonas and Angela thoughtful and knowledgeable. And the night hide gave us wonderful views of elusive honey-badgers and porcupines, including a dramatic fight in which the badger came off worse!
Dinner, although a set menu with no choices, was excellent in all respects.
Okonjima was a perfect end to an amazing holiday