The magnificent setting makes up for a lot. On the banks of the well-named Crocodile River as it runs through sandbanks and rocks, this Lodge is partway between the Crocodile Bridge and Malelane gates with just the river, and that is no obstacle for most animals, separating it from Kruger proper. With lawns running down almost to the water's edge you can watch the birds, crocodiles and occasional animals all day if you just wanted to sit there, or in the splash pool; apparently the day before we arrived (isn't it always!?) A female lion and a leopard had been seen drinking just across from the hotel. The wealth of tracks certainly indicate a well used access to the life-sustaining water.
It is a large private reserve, so your ‘free’ morning and evening game drives are limited to their own territory, nonetheless we saw plenty of wildlife and a private trip around Kruger is only about 30 km away. (As I am writing, a 4 m long crocodile slowly hauls itself out of the water and onto the sandbank-even the locals reckon this is a big one.)
I arranged a morning game walk with Jakob, and Jakob, two highly experienced trackers and guides and the ground level experience of having animal tracks and the ecosystem explained as we walk was one I am really pleased I took. Walking in the bush puts your attention on the ground - I realised later that on drives your attention is at eye level and maybe the reason I saw less birds than I expected was that my attention was generally not above eye level.
So much for the setting, now what about the facilities? Well, the physical stuff is fine-maybe three rather than four-star. When you first arrive you might like to remember that the lodge itself is a 7 to 8 km drive down a dirt track from the main N4 road. You will be asked to sign the usual indemnity (‘if an animal kills you it's not our fault’) not that the initial gated entry but at a second one a bit further along underneath the railway bridge. That was where the first little niggle happened-they seemed bemused that I did not know my room number and I had to repeat three times “I do not know because I have not yet checked in”. Maybe my Yorkshire accent is hard to understand, although others managed okay.
When I eventually reached the lodge (a few more signs might reassure and direct first-time visitors and ‘Way Out’ signs help people not to get lost as they leave-as I did) I was greeted with customary friendliness and shown to my large room shaded by trees with that spectacular view across the river-worth waking up for. The room itself was fine, OK bed, sofa, TV, wardrobe, small fridge etc and the bathroom was also good apart from the low showerhead-I am 1.93 m tall and the head had perhaps 1.8 m clearance from the back, so I had to stoop every time I showered.
This staff were plentiful and friendly (as they were everywhere I went) but in a real four-star venue I would only have one member of staff, not three on one occasion, after asking if I needed a morning cup of tea. I thought I made it very clear what night that I did not want an 05:30 wake-up call one day because I was not going on the 06:00 game drive-I was somewhat dischuffed to have two different calls, one just before and one just after six, the next morning asking if I was ready!
A request for a second bread roll with dinner one night needed a check with the chef before I was told they did not have any! A request for a wine list on my first night was met with “We have a bottle of red and let me see if we have any white”. I did not even ask on my second night but on my last night I noticed a few additional bottles of red and again asked what they had to offer. The response was as sad, for them, as it was in effective – “Do you want red or white?” “No, I want to see what you have to offer before I decide”. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, during which just two of the eight or nine bottles on the shelf were brought down to me, I was finally offered a wine list on the basis that “If you have a look, I will tell you what I have”. I was rather pleased that my first choice was available as I don't think I could have contained my frustration much longer. To cap it all, when the bottle arrived at the table, it did so with a broken corkscrew and a request for me to help open it! By the way, it was a typical South African fruit driven mouth filling cabernet sauvignon.
It's the little things, like the removal of the chairs on my private patio to set breakfast on the lawn (which, by the way, was truly superb) that marks a place up or down. The range of choice available for meals should not be dependent on the number of guests in the place-the breakfast spread on my last day (clearly the one with the most occupants) was notably more extensive than earlier days.
As a hotel, this would be three star with two star service. The glorious setting pulls it up to 3 stars, but definitely not the advertised four.
Having just read what seems like a litany of complaints, I really need to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and hope you will too. Please do not be put off as these comments are offered for improvement, after which it might even make those claimed four stars!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Full service Lodge offering Meals & Game Drives in Big 5 Territory ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Mjejane River Hotel Hectorspruit
- Mjejane River Lodge South Africa/Hectorspruit