Reviews of Ongava Lodge
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
The ugly, the bad and the good
First the ugly. The rooms are furnished and decorated straight out of the handbook for a hotel chain; think Holiday Inn or Hilton, which we thought was wholly inappropriate for the African bush. Having said that, the rooms are very spacious with lots of storage, very welcome air conditioning when we were there and excellent bathrooms. Unfortunately the layout of room 6 meant that the entrance to the outside shower and much of the bathroom were in clear view of anyone leaving room 7 - bad design which should have been dealt with. Room 5 was nice and private. We would have been less than amused to be in the back row of rooms which have a fine view of the front row. Our roms did have lovely views with lots to see.
Next the bad. The main course and desert on two nights were very poor. Baked apple is not in my view a great pudding, and trying to eat it with the provided teaspoon was an interesting and inventive experience. Kudu steaks first of all overcooked and then left on a food heater make for a tasteless chewing experience like few others, although the fish was OK. Vegetables are uninspiring, straight from a motorway cafe. The chef should pop round to Doro Nawas to find out how to make food interesting. I have to say that the third night was better, and breakfasts were good and cake at tea time excellent. There are lots of under managers, but an overall manager who is on the ball is needed to stop rubbish being served. And I really cannot understand why a buffet for dinner is necessary - there are plenty of staff around to serve the food. I suppose that Wilderness will come out with their usual PR rubbish about thanking me for pointing this out and taking steps to deal with matters. The point is that at this price, the food should be good and there should not be little niggles in other ways. We have paid for our comfort, not to provide a test bed for others.
There were lots of little things which we disliked. Very obviously, they could not wait to get rid of us; the chambermaid waiting outside our rooms after breakfast until we cleared them at 9.30 told its own tale. Leaving the water jug empty in a room for over 24 hours is not very good. The swimming pool was opaque, perhaps to hide its shallowness - again a visit to Doro Nawas might be an eye opener. Not giving you cold towels after an outing, unless it is an organised activity, is petty. I could go on. I think the problem may well be the way in which Wilderness manage their properties. or more accurately do not manage them. Trying to charge for all our wine without credit for the allowance of one glass per head per dinner left a bad taste.
Lastly, the good, and there is plenty. The common parts are very well laid out with good views over a busy waterhole. 9 rhino, black and white, was perhaps exceptional on our first night, there were none on the second, and on our last morning there was a constant procession of different animals culminating in an eland. We only went on one activity, an afternoon game drive, which was excellent although pricey with 6 in the vehicle. We were lucky with our sightings, but the standard of the guide was first class. He made a very real and effective effort to get to a good position to photograph a white rhino and calf, and how he spotted a genet at night without picking up the eyes, I will never know. The staff were friendly and efficient.
We self drove into Etosha which worked very well as we were able to take our time looking at things of interest, such as the family of ground squirrels in holes on the side of the road, rather than spending ages looking at lions which we had all seen many times before. Etosha, particularly on some of the longer side roads, was much quieter than we expected and the experience was first class, even though we had all had several holidays in Africa and our sons have both spent three months on conservation work in South Africa/Botswana. An afternoon drive to Okondeka was outstanding for close views of jackals. Okondeka had huge numbers of animals and birds at the waterhole; probably the most my wife and I have seen since seeing the migration in the Masai Mara on honeymoon.
Overall, therefore a mixed experience. The trouble is that Ongava does not have much alternative of a good standard in the South of the park and environs but it really does fail to live up to its price and is the worst lodge we have ever stayed at in Africa at any price level, albeit with excellent guiding. It is a pity; with a good kicking it could be as good as Mountain Homestead; perhaps, like the latter, it could do with a change of management company. We would probably avoid this area in future rather than stay here again.
Expert Africa comments
We sent these comments the team at Wilderness Safaris, who run Ongava Lodge. They thanked these travellers for their feedback, and tell us that they are looking very seriously at the standards of food at Ongava, and several of their other camps in Namibia. Apparently they have appointed two new ‘food managers’ – who are tasked to bring standards of food back to where they should be.
Great wildlife spotting and luxury at Ongava!
We have stayed at Ongava on two previous occasions, and wanted to return as we have always had excellent guiding and wildlife sightings here. Unfortunately we could only squeeze in one night, but the wonderful staff and management made sure that we were able to make the best of our time there. We were allocated room 1 which has a fantastic view of the waterhole. We saw an amazing amount and variety of wildlife just from our deck and bathroom. The rooms have been refurbished since our last visit. They are very luxurious, well appointed, attractive and comfortable with an amazing bathroom.
The view from the lodge restaurant across the reserve is one of our favourite views. It is even better now that the balcony area has been extended. The reserve is an excellent place to view wildlife, and we had good sightings and excellent guiding from Teacher. We also had an enjoyable and worthwhile trip into Etosha, again accompanied by Teacher.
We would recommend this lodge to anyone who is interested in wildlife, but who also would like a bit of five star comfort in the bush. We have always found the sightings here to be very good, and the guides are excellent. It is a good location for photography. Stay two nights if you can.
Ongava Lodge review
Slightly jaded review for this as I got food poisoning on the last day, so after the morning game drive spent the rest of the day in bed. This was more of a return to 'real world' tourism after Damaraland, and although it was fun to see the Big 5 it did not have the excitement of tracking the elephants in Damaraland.
The reserve and game park are obviously well-stocked and managed. Perhaps the jaded view was shaped by the illness, but I think my husband would agree. Not going to comment on the food as I don't know if it was that that made me ill. Different focus here, as it felt like a much bigger lodge and the staff were not so personally engaging.
Ongava Lodge review
We liked this lodge too. Very good facilities. It felt bigger and a little less personal than the others and again a lot of driving.
We had very little time in the middle of the day and we would have appreciated more time to rest in the middle of the day. Not really sure about the night safari (in all the camps)
Food not as good as the other camps
Expert Africa comments
Ongava Lodge received this feedback gratefully and have already passed on the comments about the food to their 'food experience manager' so that he can take them into consideration and work on improving what's on offer. It is true that there is more driving required from Ongava to get deep into the Etosha National Park than from some of the camps in Botswana which are already well situated within the wildlife areas. Expert Africa will endeavour to make travellers more aware of this when they have a long safari combining multiple countries, and possibly build in some 'rest' days.
This is a real 'Out of Africa' experience. The lodge is unfenced and there is a serious safety briefing on arrival to tell you you have to be escorted to your room after dark and to stay there until daylight. Sounded a bit OTT until we were woken at 3am by the deep rumbling of lions 'calling' outside our room. They were so close that they set off the light outside the door and you could feel the deep vibration through the floor! We took the briefing more seriously after that.
Accommodation excellent with a favourite outdoor shower with a view into the bush and the waterhole. Food and service were patchy (as we found at Kulala, our other Wilderness Safaris operated lodge - though Ongava was the better of the two).
If you are driving yourself we feel it is best to go into Etosha on an independent basis rather than pay for the lodge's trip, you are situated right at the park gate and if you get a map and check the waterholes (in the dry season) and drive slowly your chances of seeing game are good. Another thought is that if the rains have started and the animals no longer need the waterholes there is no need to get up before dawn. We saw all our major animals - lion; rhino; cheetah - in the middle of the morning after a civilised breakfast!
Ongava Lodge review
The problem here is that the central facilities are at the top of a very sttep hill and all of the chalets were at the bottom. The steps were very very sttep (mountain goats would have had difficulty) and this had to be negotiated twice a day. After 7.30 we we had to have a member of staff to show us the way with a torch. Apparently we were in danger from lion!!!. If so we would have been at risk of attack all night. I think this was a grat over-reaction.
Timekkeping of torch bearers was appauling.--1/2 hour late.
Food was cold and poor quality.
Please take this off your list, especially for older clients.
Air con hardly worked, partly because rooms faced the sun for most of the day.
This lodge was my favourite - the room (5) very luxurious with a great terrace (although no view of the waterhole), the food excellent.
We had a late afternoon game drive on the Ongava reserve where we saw lions and white rhinos at close quarters and then a morning (5-6 hours) in Etosha, both with Michael who was the best and most knowledgeable guide we came across by some margin. Once we got used to his driving!
He also gave us good advice on how to get the most out of our next stay at the east end of Etosha when we planned to do our own driving.
Wildlife galore at Ongava Lodge
This lodge was a little disappointing; we felt that the management were not up to the standard we experienced elsewhere and this resulted in less than perfect service. It started when we were shown to the wrong lodge (one already occupied!) and then the one we did have had a broken glass pane in the door. A promise to fix it did not materialise and we had the impression they really had no intention of fixing it; we turned down an offer to move us as we had already unpacked and the lodge did have an excellent view of the waterhole. The accommodation was otherwise very good with lots of space and probably the best shower we experienced on our trip.
Food was good, only slightly below the excellent standards of other lodges. The service was not so good, especially in the dining room where the staff were much too interested in the football!
Our guide, Hennock, was excellent, well up to the superb standard we found everywhere - even if he did not find the lions! The trip into Etosha was great with lots of wildlife.
Very professional lodge
Ongava Lodge is run very professionaly and smoothly, although it does not have the personal and cosy atmosphere of some other lodges we visited. The activities were planned in a way so that not much time was left between drives and meals and we felt a bit overwhelmed with the programme sometimes.
The activities itself were neverthless great, both Ongava reserve and Etosha park have plenty of animals and each drive is an excellent opportunity to watch them.
The room was very spacious and well-equipped and we had a great view of the waterholes from the terrace. We really appreciated our guide Abder, who was one of the best guides we met during the trip.
Ongava Lodge review
We thoroughly enjoyed our 3 nights here.....unfortunately we were in Room 11 which has no view.
We would recommend the game drives on the property rather than in Etosha. The water holes at the Lodge and the Tented Camp are visited by lots of interesting game.
Expert Africa comments
Subsequent to these travellers comments Wilderness Safaris have written a letter of apology. They acknowledge that they definitely advised the camp of the room request, however unfortunately the manager on duty neglected to arrange the room allocation as requested and for that they are sincerely sorry. The concession manager has looked into this matter to avoid any special requests being unattended to in future.