ROBYN VON GEUSAU bemoans the state of the Kruger Park administration and warns: Don’t let the standards slip-slide away
I love the Kruger National Park. Ever since I was a child setting off on family holidays where we would be alternatively thrilled and skrikked by bats in the rondawels and lions on the roadside it has lured me back. The simplicity of a bed, a shower, a braai grid and an excellent bottle of red by starlight is unfettered pleasure.
A recent visit, however, left my husband and me thinking: “Hmmm?”
We don’t complain easily. Our needs are simple. I know if I want 200-thread count linen, Reidel glassware and slippers-on-supply a KNP camp is not the place to go. We like Kruger for the less-is-more environment, but basic standards are slipping and now is the time to catch them. It’s a bit like a girl’s reputation (as I repeatedly told my daughters): easy to lose but helluva difficult to get back.
So, in the interests of one of this beloved land’s most famous heritages and popular destinations, here is my gripe list to Sanparks:
- We hired a hut with utensils. This is what we would have liked: corkscrew, chopping board, bowl of any kind, sharp knife. How about an inventory on the website so you know what you are getting – or not. I don’t want to buy these things at the overpriced camp shop. And I guarantee a foreign tourist doesn’t want to either. An inventory list defines the deal and there are no surprises. If stock disappearance is an issue then how about a utensil kit for hire?
- The shops are poorly stocked with meat and fresh produce. Come now! We are in the heart of the Lowveld, land of the avocado, home of the banana, the orange, the mango. All too often inedible fruit is not removed timeously from shelves. And how about some more appetizing braai meats than the standard vacuum-packed bits in half-empty freezers?
- Maintenance is a job – or several – waiting to happen. In order not to have our braai grid collapse onto the coals we had to find a suitable stick to shove into the appropriate hole. As the wine slid down it mattered less and less whether the meat would cook before the stick burned through. Plumbing, electrical and structural issues should be dealt with immediately. A British tourist complained how he was almost electrocuted by an exposed light switch. Small rocks demarcated the broken floor boards of a hide overlooking the most enormous crocodiles I’d ever seen had.
- Coffee. Weak, watery stuff with foam is not lekker. A decent brand, a good machine in each camp, some training and hey presto, you have happy people. I overheard numerous mutters about the quality of the coffee in the pitstops we made. And sometimes the machine was broken. Again.
- Linen. I’m not looking for Egyptian cotton but I’m also not looking for torn, threadbare stuff. My bedspread had several holes and cuts. Again, a job for someone to check this sort of stuff. One sewing machine per camp and the problem is sorted.
- Roads. yes, there were floods but the absence of workmen in many areas is noticeable. Roads are closed and bridges broken (pictured above). It’s forgivable it’s not finished but not forgivable it has not even started. Also, when there are major detours on main road between camps (from Letaba to Satara) patrons should be notified.
- Systems down. And down. And down. Oh come on. All too often when you go to reception to query something “the computers are down”. Come back in two hours or after lunch or tomorrow. Sometimes you don’t have two hours. We wanted to change a booking to another camp. After seeing the non-moving queue at camp reception I thought it would be easier to phone head office directly in Pretoria. It was (they answered straight away). And it wasn’t (as we were already in the park we had to do it directly in the park – no easy feat when the ‘computers are down’.) Result: mild inconvenience and major irritation.
- A touch more cheeriness. When you are in the hospitality industry a smile goes a huge way in so many ways. It costs nothing but can earn major returns, especially when you work in reception areas or restaurants.
On the plus side the huts and facilities we experienced were clean and serviced with a smile as warm as the African sun. But the KNP is no longer a cheap holiday destination. A very basic hut for two averages R1000 a night. The cost of getting there from Cape Town is ridiculous (it would have cost us R10 000 to fly). We will probably return – and that is the big test any tourist destination faces – but the warning flags are fluttering.
Read here why Helen Grange won’t be camping at Kruger Park again anytime soon ….