Bayala Camp: this private game reserve's prices won’t make you wince
Richard Holmes discovers an affordable, family-friendly safari gem in northern KZN
Do "good fences make good neighbours", as Robert Frost wondered in Mending Wall? After a few days at Bayala Private Safari Lodge and Camp I'm not so sure. For it's precisely the lack of fences that makes Bayala such a great option for South African travellers hoping for a Big Five safari on a three-star budget.
For years a hunting concession, in 2011 Bayala's 3,500ha of KwaZulu-Natal bushveld came under new management. The consortium of private owners silenced the rifles, rejuvenated the landscape, and set about conserving the fauna and flora. In 2017 they dropped fences with the neighbouring Munyawana Conservancy, a 30,000ha parcel of land that's home to all of the sought-after Big Five, and a handful of swish five-star lodges.
Access to private game reserves isn't cheap, and at most lodges the accents are more likely to come from Britain than Benoni. But Bayala is a welcome exception to that rule: while game drives take the same roads as those spendy five-star properties, it comes with the affordability of a three-star lodge.
But even on that score, you're scoring.
Guests at Bayala have the choice between the Bayala Lodge and Bayala Camp, both offering 24 rooms. Of the two, the camp is your best choice, as the rooms have recently been revamped and redecorated to offer larger en-suite bathrooms and - with the superior rooms - a small, private terrace overlooking the bushveld. They're a little more expensive, but the extra space is worth it.
Bayala Camp is a family-friendly spot, with the rooms (some inter-leading) clustered in a handful of blocks and laagered around a wide lawn that's ideal for letting kids blow off steam. As is the large pool, which sits neatly between the main lodge and the outdoor boma, where al fresco dinners are offered fireside.
A daily chalkboard menu lists what's on offer and meals are focused on generous homely fare rather than fine-dining flair. Think homemade pies and inventive salads for lunch, beef fillet with pap-en-sous for dinner.
Foams and gels? Not so much.
But, of course, it's the wildlife that you're really after, and of that there's certainly no shortage.
For starters, Bayala is a birder's paradise. Over 400 species have been recorded, from soaring short-tailed bateleurs to the curious black-bellied bustard, its trademark "champagne-pop" call ringing out from the grasslands.
Looking for something larger? In just a handful of game drives, I watched a pair of lionesses trying their luck (evidently run out) in stalking a herd of zebra; admired large herds of buffalo; and enjoyed close-up views of cheetahs, giraffes and rhinos.
Rhinos are a particularly hot topic at Bayala, which is on the front-line of anti-poaching efforts in the region. Conservationists from across the Munyawana Conservancy are engaged in an ongoing process of rhino de-horning, but it's an expensive exercise, costing roughly R35,000 per rhino to cover a vet, helicopter and conservation team. And the process needs to be repeated every 18 months as the horn grows back. But it's a small price to pay.
With this team effort keeping rhinos safe from poachers, and a remarkable tract of KZN bushveld made accessible to South African safari travellers, Frost was right. No fences are needed to be good neighbours.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Bayala is a three-hour drive north of Durban, on the N2.
From R2,475 - R2,775 per adult sharing per night (R1,230 for children under 12). Inclusive of dinner, bed, breakfast and one game drive per night.
Compulsory conservation levy of R99pp excluded.
Additional game drives R909pp. Bush walk R1,360pp.