Six quaint, old-fashioned-style chalets, no electricity, oil lanterns at night and the beautiful view of the Olifants River and bush. This is the charming satellite camp of Balule.
We recently stayed over at Rustic Balule in Kruger for one night and if I knew how much I would have enjoyed it, I would easily have made it two (or more).
We stayed over at Letaba Camp in the safari tents the night before. We left the camp early so that we can enjoy Balule in daylight hours. You have to check-in at Olifants rest camp, so we arrived at Olifants at around 11h00 to have lunch at the restaurant, before checking in. The parking lot at Olifants was full of cars, but it never felt crowded at the shop, restaurant or lookout. We also spent some time at the lookout and in the camp to do some birdwatching. The Olifants camp lookout never fails to deliver something interesting. This time it was, what looked like two herds of Elephants bypassing each other with huge noise and trumpeting.
Back at the vehicle, a friendly bypasser enquired about what we saw and where we were going. I had to laugh at his expression when I told him we are on our way to Balule. ”There is no electricity there”, he said with a disgusted look on his face. I suppose what is charming for one has no appeal to another…
Just before we left Olifants camp, we went to check-in at reception. We have never been to Balule before, so when the receptionist told us we will be staying in chalet number 6, we accepted, not knowing the treat we are in for, and made our way to Balule.
For those who have never been to Balule before, it was a little bit unclear from the different Kruger maps we had in the vehicle exactly where Balule was located. You cross the Olifants river to get there and when you are at chalet number 6, you have a view of the bridge crossing the Olifants River, but not a close-up detailed view of the river. From the most part of the camp, you have a nice view of the surrounding bush, but not the river, as vegetation blocks your view.
When we arrived, we were delighted to see that Chalet number 6 was the one closest to the fence, with the best view in camp. The camp is divided into two sections. The one section with six chalets, an outdoor kitchen and an ablution block and the second section, a campsite with its own kitchen and ablution block.
It seemed that most of the other guests visiting the camp all had the same plan as we did, come early and enjoy the silent camp in the middle of the bush. We visited in June and even though the night temperatures were quite chilly, it was almost hot in the midday sun and the camp birds were having a blast at a container at the tap. The shady trees in the middle of the camp with benches to sit and enjoy it all were most welcome. We brewed a pot of coffee and sat down to enjoy the birdlife and the shade.
Some of the birds we saw in the camp were Natal Spurfowl, Orange-breasted Bushshrike. Red-headed Finch, Blue Waxbills, Village Weaver, Mourning Collared Dove, Fiscal Flycatcher, Brubru, Cardinal Woodpecker, Mosque Swallow, Grey go-away bird, African dusky Flycatcher and Red-capped Robin-Chat.
We also went for a walk through the campsite part of the camp and were amazed at the set-up of some of the campers. Some had solar systems with them and were clearly geared for this type of camping experience.
The chalets are old-style chalets with no windows, but with ventilation where the thatch and wall come together, covered in mesh. The simplicity of this camp might not be for everyone, but it might be something to consider to experience a bit of old-style Kruger. At night, the camp manager Justice, brings a paraffin filled lantern to use as a light, but definitely bring your own torch and candles for extra light and to walk to the bathroom at night. The shower water is heated with gas and there are paraffin lamps in ablution which keeps them lit all night. The huts have the perfect layout to book all six chalets with family or friends (if you have the luxury to plan that far ahead, as this camp is very popular.)
Some of the guests staying in camp went for a sundowner drive and this camp’s location would definitely make for a wonderful late afternoon drive with some river views. We chose not to drive as we just wanted to relax, enjoy the peace and watch the sun setting. The birds noisily settled in for the night. As dusk came we enjoyed a show of bats emerging, seemingly from everywhere, the bat houses, the roof of the ablution block and kitchen and some trees including the giant Baobab in the one corner of the camp. While enjoying our dinner and campfire we were treated with one of my favourites, a very healthy looking Spotted Hyena. Spotted Hyenas are known to do their rounds along fences of campsites of Kruger, please don’t be tempted to feed them. Feeding wild animals leads to disaster either for humans or them…
I loved listening to the hyenas calling at night, it must be one of my absolute favourite sounds of Africa. It was lovely for my daughter Isabel to see the hyena, so close and seemingly, unaffected by our presence. We were also spoiled by a grazing Hippo right next to the fence. It was an exciting and humbling experience to see such a dangerous animal so close-up. (Keeping all of this in mind, it was with big caution that I did a walk to the toilet late at night…)
The camp went to bed early and was very quiet. During the night we also heard a Barn-owl, Fierry-Necked Nightjars, African Scops Owl and lions roaring. We must have fallen asleep, as we missed the sound of a leopard, which Justice, told us about when he came to fetch out lantern the next morning.
I always try to get up early when we are in Kruger, even when we are not planning to drive early. I love to soak in every minute and hate to miss a sunrise or a sunset. And this is exactly what I did this morning at Balule. I love having my morning cup of coffee with a view!
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast next to the fence and some friendly chats while washing dishes at the communal kitchen. I was sad to go and would only change one thing if I could, that is, to stay longer.