Reviews of Okonjima Bush Camp
They do not necessarily represent the views of Expert Africa.
Okonjima Bush Camp review
I came away from Okonjima with very mixed feelings.
First the positives.
The Thatched Lodges are very high quality, very comfortable and have everything that you need. Each also has a separate viewing room for betting up close to the local wildlife (bit limited) and birds. But it is very, very comfortable even if the closest Lodges are a pretty decent walk from the main guest area - in fact a long walk! For some the presence of green lawns is somewhat at odds with the dry surrounds of the country side. It makes it nice and pleasant but is a bit artificial?
Next, the game viewing, particularly cats, is very good provided you can set aside any prejudices that you may have about "cheating" a little by searching via radio collars rather than genuinely "hunting" in the wild. But, if you want to see, in particular, leopard, this is that way to do it. I also had some good cheetah sightings and was able to "track" an impressive pair for about 15 minutes but be aware they do move quickly, even when they are just walking. We also had a close up of a "resting" spotted hyena and found a pair of wild dogs for really good close ups. We also saw porcupines from a night hide - which were impressive but only after a dangerous clamber over a rocky path in the dark because no body bothered to tell us to bring a torch!!!!!
Less impressive was the actual guest service in the areas of the welcome, the food and bar service and the overall quality of the meals. Frankly, it seemed as though they were a staff member or two short for the number of guests! The buffet and cooked breakfast were actually quite good and we were served by an excellent and enthusiastic waiter who was pretty much run of his feet and there was a tendency for the buffet to run out of things. Certainly, on the occasion of one afternoon tea the plate of savouries had disappeared within about 10 minutes and a request for a refill could not be fulfilled.
The main meals were OK but not outstanding. Some of the game meats were, frankly, a bit tough compared to other places and the "service" side did not match the quality of the accommodation.
There were other irritations such as a very confused welcome and booking in process where clearly our party of three lodges got confused and I ended up with the "personal" welcome note of one party and the luggage of another. How hard is it to remember three different groups/names? And on check out we had to sort out a small issue of being charged for some bar items when we had booked "fully inclusive". Not major issues and all solved but at these prices .........!
For the purists the visit to the Africat Foundation is both impressive and perplexing. It is impressive because of the effort and energy that has obviously gone into creating a very impressive facility to accommodate leopard and cheetah and to assist at least some back towards a potential release into the "wild" within a Reserve environment. More perplexing is the ultimate outcome for some animals that are not able, for various reasons, to be released back into the wild. Africat explains that these animals are used for "education" purposes and the long term objective of helping the community to better relate between farming and wildlife is clearly desirable. At the same time I came away with the impression that there was an awful lot of energy and resources into creating a very, very impressive "zoo" to look after some wonderful animals - but for how long and ultimately to what purpose. I was impressed but am still in somewhat of a dilemma.
Overall, Okonjima is worth a visit.
Okonjima Bush Camp Review
This camp has recently been refurbished to an amazing level - the accommodation was really good, with a bedroom, bathroom and separate lounge each. The game drives were good with great sightings. However, the big BUT - the catering and service were very poor. There was not enough staff to serve, and they desperately need someone who can actually cook!! Such a shame - this brought down the whole experience.
We have to also complain about one of the 'managers' - Rodney. He was totally incapable of a). sorting out our rooms, b).giving any information and c). any administration. To cap it all, he tried to charge us for standard alcoholic drinks, which we knew to be included. After arguments from all members of our group, he backed down and cancelled the charges. Not a good advertisement!
Glad we went but wouldn't go again.
We have struggled with our review of Okonjima Bush Camp because although we enjoyed our wildlife sightings and admire the goals of the Africat Foundation, we are troubled by some of the things we learned.
First, the camp: The Bush Camp accommodations are amazing. The villas are large, well appointed, and quite luxurious. Each villa has a sala attached and from there you can lounge, enjoy the view, and feed the birds. Heavenly! So, no complaints whatsoever about the accommodations. But, when it came to food and service, there was a disconnect. Where the accommodations are five star, the food and service struggled to get past 2 stars.
This was another place that struggled with my food allergy but beyond that, the food was simply not good. Also, no meal options were provided. Like it or not, that was what was for lunch or dinner. Take it or leave it. Afternoon tea was offered but so little was put out that if you didn't arrive early, you might well go hungry. Unless, of course, you had a food allergy and an assertive personality and were willing to find a manager and specifically ask for something to eat. Kudos there to Angel, who seemed to be the afternoon manager. He was professional, accommodating, and seemed to have an understanding of service standards in the hospitality industry. The person who appeared to be the morning manager, however, (I think his name was Ronald) was withdrawn, surly, and prone to mistakes. Overall, the staffing levels were low, which made it hard for any of the staff members to do a good job. Also, the staff members' skill and training levels seemed to vary greatly with some staff members being very personable and competent while others struggled.
Now for the wildlife experience: We went to Okonjima specifically to see cheetahs and leopards and, in that regard, we were not disappointed, even though all our sightings - with the exception of one leopard cub - were of collared animals. What I wasn't really prepared for was how much our game drives felt like excursions into a big, fenced zoo. We have an attraction in the Toronto area called African Lion Safari, where guests can drive through a large park in their own cars and see the animals. As our Okonjima guide swung his tracking device around, and as we pulled up next to collared cheetahs and leopards (as well as a sleeping hyena and two wild dogs) that seemed completely oblivious to our presence, I kept thinking this was not a typical wildlife safari and these were not typical wild animals.
I felt even more uneasy when I learned from our guide that a fairly large number of cheetahs (I don't remember the exact number) have been killed by the resident leopards because the area is so heavily covered by brush and conditions are far better for leopards to hunt than for cheetahs. Apparently there are only 6 collared cheetahs left in the park while something like 14 have been kept in holding cages for some time now (at least 2 years) waiting for more brush to be cleared so they can be released. Another group of cheetahs are in the holding areas but will never be released for various reasons such as not being able to hunt for themselves. I understand there are also three or four leopards and three lions in holding areas and none of these animals will ever be released.
Several things the guide said made our group wonder how much professional guidance Africat has had over the years. For example, we heard of several "mistakes" made over the years that cost the lives of many cheetahs and how Africat has struggled with the cats' diets because of the high cost of feeding them (which apparently came as a surprise after having rescued a few cats). We also heard that Africat has consulted a "lion whisperer" but we didn't hear of any consultations with wildlife biologists or other scientists. It could be that Africat is guided by a board of highly training and variously qualified professionals (biologists, veterinarians, and others knowledgeable about conservation) but we didn't hear about this type of guidance or oversight. Also, please keep in mind that my criticisms must be taken with a grain of salt because not only do I not know the details of Africat's involvement with scientists and conservation agencies, I am well aware that even the most professionally guided and best run conservation efforts make mistakes, encounter conundrums and cannot "save" each and every animal. I'm simply expressing some of the concerns our group voiced.
We also heard that Okonjima has recently brought several different types of animals into the park including ostriches, horses, and rhinos. If these efforts are aimed at ensuring a healthy and balanced environment for the cheetahs, leopards and other current occupants of the park, then I applaud; however, if these efforts are aimed at diversifying the wildlife in order to broaden the park's appeal, I hope Okonjima anticipates the consequences for the animals currently under their care. For example, our guide stated that they are considering bringing lions into the park, a move that is certain to have negative repercussions for the cheetah population, especially with regard to cub mortality.
Although I am conflicted by some aspects of Okonjima's operation and approach, I applaud their current focus on education. They seem to have come to the awareness that in addition to saving individual animals threatened by human-animal conflicts, a focus on education may also save species.
In summary, this is a camp to visit if you simply want to get close to cheetahs, and especially leopards. If you are interested in an authentic safari experience, Okonjima is not for you.
A truly stunning place to visit.
This was to be our last destination, and it surpassed every other lodge we had stayed at. The location is stunning, the quality of the staff excellent, the lodge we stayed in was marvellous, very spacious with views you have to experience to believe.
We did some Leopard, Hyena, and Cheteeh tracking with our guide Daniel, and these were really unforgettable experiences,made even more interesting with our guide.
The whole 3 days were really marvellous, I would recommend this site to everyone. For some reason we were given the honeymoon suite, and gave us the opportunity to experience the local game at close range.
The only minor draw back was the limited evening menu. Always meat, But every other aspect of the stay at Okonjima was truly stunning.
Our last stop of the trip and for two nights. First impressions were that it might all be quite contrived but not a bit of it. We encountered surprisingly few other vehicles on our drives (the guides actually communicate to try to avoid each other which is unlike many camps when finding a special animal). Yes many of the cats are collared but sightings don't seem at all artificial. The photographic opportunities with leopard and cheetah are absolutely unrivalled. Possibly the most magic moments of the whole trip were walking within 10 paces of the fastest mammal on the planet. The Africat Centre does a magnificent job rehabilitating and (sometimes) releasing big cats and you are missing the point if you don't make time to visit. The central area of the camp is more hotel-like than some but the chalets offer excellent accommodation with outdoor sitting room (overlooking a little watering hole and with seed to feed the birds). Vegetarian food again very disappointing.Read more about the whole safari
We were upgraded!
We arrived at Okonjima to find we'd been upgraded to the Villa. It was phenomenal. Two other guests joined us for dinner the first night and the next morning's activity. Aside from that we had the place to ourselves. It felt like a private house, but with a bunch of staff including a chef.
The activities were great too. Really enjoyed the cheetah tracking, especially because we were allowed to approach closely on foot. We did it twice. The first time we had to chase them down and had quite a long walk. The second time we found a pair quickly. These ones were kind enough to stay still and pose for us.
The Africat tour was very informative and provided another opportunity to get quite close to a leopard and cheetahs.
Supremely enjoyable from every angle
There could be no better guide than DanielRead more about the whole safari
Okonjima Bush Camp review
Arrived for lunch, poor welcome. Large, comfortable room No. 4 with separate siting & bird feeding area.
Charming guide Gideon took us on evening game drive. Saw Leopards before it rained. Good dinner for me as Sarah has upset stomach. the Lodge supplied her with Kaolin which helps settle her. Quiet day until evening game drive, seeing Wild Dogs, very interesting.
Lodge gave Sarah soup two nights running as she was still unwell.
More rain, visit the Africat Centre, worth a visit. Night hide visit after dinner, saw spotted Genet and Brown Hyena. Great.
Okonjima Bush Camp review
By far and away the VERY best part off our trip (2700 kilometres) enjoyed every minute, excellent in every way, even the trips were half the price the others were charging and much better than Etosha, saw a great deal more and had two great nights their. The view and comfort of the rooms truly outstanding.
Recomened, don't miss it. Stayed in room No2