It’s unsurprising, really, that it wasn’t our husband-and-wife hosts at Ngoma Safari Lodge who were first to greet us as we drove through the winding dirt tracks of Chobe National Park. After all, Chobe is home to 120,000 elephants, so who more fitting to welcome us to the park than a small family group of them, mummies and babies and others in-between? Once this first flush of safari excitement had died down, we continued en route, pulling up at the charmingly small lodge in front of the flood plains dividing Botswana and Namibia (it’s so close that you can walk across to it in the dry season). Comprising of just eight suites, you can see why it’s the perfect honeymoon destination, with each villa offering private views across the watering hole, where zebras, warthogs, impalas and giraffes can all be seen gathering. Whether you decide to watch them from the comfort of your room, which has floor-to-ceiling windows, or the private plunge pool is up to you, but be prepared to get up close and personal to thirsty elephants, who have been known to venture up here to guzzle the water. Opened by Africa Albida Tourism in May 2011, there’s no denying that Ngoma Safari Lodge is a special place. A lot of that magic is generated by the location and the small size of the lodge, sure, but a hefty dose of it comes from the owners, too: married couple Jarryd and Frances, whose own meet-cute is thoroughly appropriate (he saved her from a lion – ask them about it) and whose warmth, knowledge and generosity makes any stay unforgettable. Offering a variety of experiences – from full-day drives, to river safaris and night expeditions, as well as visits to the local town – you’re guaranteed to leave Botswana a little bit in love.
Your suite is everything you would expect from safari accommodation: high, thatched roof ceilings, white-washed walls and stone floors, not to mention local tribal artworks and décor (there’s even an ancient Zulu flint tool mounted to the wall – making it feel a little museum-like, but paying homage to the land). A beaded warthog head greets you as you enter – a nice take on those old-fashioned mounted taxidermy heads you see – with more beaded lampshades of impalas dotted around the room. It’s split level, with the bedroom and living area on the ground floor and the bathroom just behind it up a few steps, with a large shower, roll-top bathtub, his and hers sinks and separate toilet. Toiletries are made in-house from local ingredients, and as with the group’s other properties, there are thoughtful touches – like insect repellent, sun cream and pool towels – as well as the necessities like a big fluffy robe. There’s a complimentary mini-bar with Savannah cider and St Louis beer, a Nespresso machine and - joy of joys - FRESH milk rather than those silly little long-life capsules you get. Two armchairs are geared towards animal-spotting outside your room, while African birdlife magazines and coffee table tomes are for the keener guests.
What We Did
Ngoma’s raison d’etre is safari, so it’s no surprise that there are multiple options available to you. The most common itinerary includes a full-day drive, a trip on the river to do some hippo and croc spotting, and a night drive, meaning that you’ll be hard-pressed to miss out on seeing an incredible roll-call of wildlife. The safari 4x4s are luxe – with upgrades like comfy leather seats, generous armrests and drink holders – while the local guides are superlatively knowledgeable about all things Botswana. We saw zebras, impalas, warthogs, giraffes, snakes, lizards, vultures, and of course, elephants, with some of the most special moments coming courtesy of the latter. One that particularly springs to mind occurred during the river boat trip, when we were able to get up close and personal to one drinking water. It walked straight past us - if we had reached out, we would have been able to touch it. While on the boat we also saw hippos floating in pods and crocodiles from ancient times basking lazily in the sun, plus numerous birds, impala and other creatures drinking from the river. The night drive, which is possible thanks to the lodge’s location in the Chobe National Forest, produced more sightings, including genets (one is playfully dubbed ‘Genet Jackson’ by the staff).
What We Ate
Despite its tiny size, Ngoma boasts an impressive foodie offering. Breakfast is served in the lodge reception and includes a buffet with exotic fruits (even chia seeds have made it to Botswana) as well as an a la carte menu of ambitious dishes, including cloud eggs covered in melted cheese and served atop bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms (yes, we did devour it). Lunch happens wherever you are, with the safari picnic comprising of leftovers and salads, while dinner can be either eaten at the restaurant or the Boma, with the former being a set menu type affair and the latter an alfresco buffet and BBQ under the stars. While dinner at the restaurant was incredibly well-executed, with presentation to the same standard as a fancy London eatery rather than a kitchen in the bush, if we had to put one above the other, it would be the atmospheric Boma. Tables are set up beside a roaring bonfire, while guests can choose from a wide range of buffet dishes as well as grilled meat and fish from the brai. As far as amazing dining experiences go, this is very high up on our list.
How To Book It
Nightly rates at Ngoma Safari Lodge start from US$565/ £404 per person in a Suite per night on a fully inclusive basis in Green Season 2018. Prices include all meals, non-premium brand beverages, up to four activities per day, National Park fees, Community Levies and return transfers from Kasane Airport or Kazungula Border. For more information visit www.africaalbidatourism.com or call +263 213 284 321 120.