Glamping Review: Safari West

Since the very early stages of our courting, my wife and I have talked openly about a shared dream to take an African safari. Elephants! Rhinoceros! Giraffes! All of these animals are critters we have hoped to see in the wild. With two children, however, we likely can’t afford to schlep the kids. And we wouldn’t want to leave them home for such a fantastic adventure.


Naturally, then, we’ve looked far and wide for similar wildlife-oriented experiences here at home. It turns out one of them is around the proverbial corner from our house in Sonoma County, California: Safari West. The 400-acre preserve is home to nearly 700 species of animals, including Grant’s zebras, ring-tailed lemurs, and southern white rhinoceros, to name a few. The place also has 30 canvas-walled tent cabins—imported from Africa, of course—in which visitors can spend the night.


One night this spring, my wife and I did just that. Our cabin—Cabin 19—overlooked the giraffe enclosure; from our deck, where we drank a bottle of local Zinfandel after check-in, we watched the animals cavort with wildebeests and frolic with each other, just few neck-lengths away. Inside the tent’s pale green canvas walls, décor was rustic but elegant, a motif I like to consider bush chic. Two of the tables were hand-hewn from pieces of a felled tree trunk. Overhead lights were made from tree branches. The lampshade had metal silhouettes of animals from the Serengeti. The cabin had two double beds (with electric blankets), a space heater, and an armoire with umbrellas and flashlights. There also was a small-but-spotless private bathroom, which had a copper basin and hot water.


On the night we stayed, we could have taken the car into Santa Rosa for an upscale meal. Instead, we opted to stay on-property and eat at the Savannah Café, a low-lying building that doubles as the mess hall for resort guests. Chefs cooked up a buffet-style ranch barbecue, complete with chicken, corn, beans and more. After an hour, we were so stuffed that we grabbed our flashlights and headed back to the cabin, where we snuggled down on a comfy bed beneath an electric blanket, and dozed off to the cacophonous cackles of flamingoes—nature’s white noise.

lesser flamingo talking

The following morning, we awoke to the same flamingoes bright and early, and wandered down the hill to the Café for a continental breakfast that comprised bagels, fresh fruit and coffee. Fueled for the day, walked around a back portion of the park in which monkeys and cheetahs and other animals (including a porcupine) are sequestered in separate habitats. My wife, an anthropologist, spent much of the time regaling me with details about the monkeys. Her tutorial made the experience significantly more interesting.


Around 10 a.m., we returned to the area in front of the Café and boarded double-decker, open-air Jeep-like vehicles for a “safari” around the property.  Over the next 2.5 hours, our vehicle sputtered up and over the back hills of Sonoma County, inching past gazelles, oryx, antelopes, cape buffalo and other critters. A Safari West naturalist guided our trip, pointing out distinguishing characteristics on each of the animals as we drove by. I found the naturalist helpful—just not as helpful as my own wife.


The tour ended just before lunchtime, and we had enough time to hike back to the cabin and retrieve our belongings before check-out. That evening, on the drive home, my wife and I struggled to summarize our experience overnight at Safari West. No, we agreed, it wasn’t luxury living on the Serengeti. But it sure came close.

Legend Lodges Safari Camps in Waterburg, South Africa

Unaware of what it really meant at the time, I first went glamping on a trip to South Africa back in 1992.  We were up in the Sabi Sand at a private game reserve called Kirkman’s Camp.  It was quite a memorable experience since I left the U.S. single and returned engaged. I proposed during sundowners of the first safari my now wife and I ever went on.

We’ve been on dozens of game drives since, but certainly none as significant as that one.  Yet each one is special in it’s own right.  And it’s not always because of the wildlife that you see (or don’t see).  There’s simply something incredibly alluring about being in the African bush that keeps you coming back.

So when I received an invitation to speak at a travel conference in Johannesburg last month, I gladly accepted – just as long as I could extend the trip and return to the South African savannah I love so much.


Now that I’m quite familiar with the term and have done my share of glamping both in and outside of Africa, I specifically looked for locations that not only offered high-quality game viewing, but tented accommodations that would bring me that much closer to the environment in which these animals roam.  The Legends Lodges, situated in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy within the World Heritage “Waterberg Biosphere” wound up easily fitting the bill.  Not only do it offer the opportunity to see the “Big Five”, they were less than a three-hour drive north of Johannesburg and in a malaria-free zone, which meant I didn’t have to deal with any anti-malaria medication.

Another reason I chose Legends was because it offered much more than just safari activities.


Besides its diversity of wildlife, world-class wines, culturally rich cities, and historic past, South Africa is also world-renowned for its golf. The Legend Golf & Safari Resort has a one-of-a-kind championship golf course designed by eighteen of the world’s top golfers.  Set within the 22,000 hectare Entabeni Safari Conservancy, the course winds its way directly through the open grasslands and dense bush of the park.  During the round that I played, I literally hit a tee-shoot into a heard of gemsbok and later, had to steer my golf cart around grazing zebra.  Pretty cool.  Best of all, the pristine bushveld environment has been preserved and the course remains one of the most environmentally sensitive in Africa.

Legends Golf Course

The Resort also includes privately owned homes, a hotel, recreational facilities, a wellness center, a “Field of Legends” sports complex and a multi-functional conference facility.  But I came here primarily to see the animals, so after my round of golf and fancy dining, I headed straight into the bush to completely immerse myself in the beauty of these natural surroundings.

The Entabeni Conservancy has four distinctly unique bush camps situated in the midst of the reserve, so visits by lions and other predators is an expected and accepted part of the experience. This reserve is also one of those places where you do not need to search for animals, as plains game is plentiful and diverse, with at least 15 different antelope species, more than 55 large mammal species, 300 flowers, 50 grasses, 140 trees, 380 birds and innumerable insects, reptiles and amphibians.  And thanks to the highly trained rangers, there’s even a chance of seeing the Big Five up-close.


Meanwhile, the Conservancy is separated into an upper and lower escarpment.  The upper, which offers majestic craggy rock formations and wide open grass plains, sits atop 1800 foot high cliffs.  There you will find three of the five camps.   Kingfisher and Lakeside Lodge, each sitting on the banks of Lake Entabeni, offer guests an intimate and tranquil setting that is nature at its undisturbed best.  Ravineside Lodge, located under the shadow of Entabeni Mountain, is made of thatch and stone and is built on stilts hugging the cliff’s edge.  It offers spectacular views of unspoilt ravines and wooded hillsides. Visitors can take advantage of the observatory and listen to a professional astronomer explain the mystery and vast beauty of the southern night sky.


The lower escarpment is about three degrees warmer and is comprised mainly of sandy wetlands.  That’s where you’ll find the Hanglip and Wildside Safari Camps.

Hanglip, which evokes the romantic Africa of yesteryear, has ten luxury suites, each furnished in an African Baroque style, with private sun decks and breathtaking views across the wetlands and vast open plains.  Guests can choose to go on game drives or guided bush walks.  They can even opt for a horseback safari if they so choose. A wine cellar can also be rented out for the night to celebrate a special occasion.

I opted to stay at the Wildside Safari Camp, since that’s where they featured the en-suite glamping tents.  The camp itself captured the essence of the unspoiled wilderness of the Waterberg region perfectly.  The tents, which are permanently set to a wooden foundation and come in two or four-person “sizes”, are covered with a thatched roof and have fully functioning bathrooms (with semi-outdoor showers), very comfortable beds, a fridge, tea and coffee makers, and a small writing table to fill out the space.


But as alluring as the tents were, I found the pool to be a nice place to chill out and escape the heat of the afternoon sun.  After the evening game drive, the open lounge/bar area and the roaring fire in the boma created the perfect end to yet another relaxed and memorable day in the bush.

Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris

The amazing thing about glamping is the diversity of locations where you can find it. Take for example Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris. The southern coast of Australia rarely tops bucket lists of exotic places to visit, but maybe it should. Glamping has the ability to make any remote destination a five-star vacation. Let’s take a closer look at Gawler.

It’s a small family business operating nature based tours that’s been in business since 1988. Guides provide experiences in the outback and west coast of South Australia, contrasts, wild beauty and rich fauna. The Gawler Ranges, located about 400 miles northwest of Adelaide on the Eyre Peninsula, is the Australian Outback at its finest.

The diverse terrain changes from semi-desert to arid to eucalypt woodland, while the age old volcanic landscape is spectacular with its gorges and weathered rocky outcrops. In Spring, the desert comes alive with a carpet of wildflowers covering the landscape… and has over a hundred species of birdlife. The colors are vivid and diverse. You will also see a lot of kangaroos and wombats. At the end of summer, the grasslands near Gawler are covered in a thick carpet of wildflowers. The landscape in one word is “dramatic.”

camp-photo2Photo: Gawler website

Gawler’s luxury safari tents are set in the stunning mallee wilderness region of the Gawler Ranges in South Australia. This is perfect for the nature lover who really wants to get away from tourist traps and experience South Australia’s finest scenery and wildlife. The curved-roof design keeps the tents cool by always keeping the air flowing. Interestingly enoug, no vegetation was removed from the camp site. It was designed and built using the natural fire breaks that the trees create for their own protection.

camp-photo1Photo: Gawler website

The camp has a central dining room which is mostly open sided but is closed when the weather is not so perfect. The camp is a wonderful place to relax, walk and observe the nature which lives in harmony with our presence. Recycled materials were used in its construction and furnishing, giving it a tastefully rustic look.

Kangaluna Camp has been developed by its owners from a life time of experience on how to best live in this environment and dry climate. Water is collected from the roofs and is the only water source. Techniques are used for its preservation, and best of all you don’t have to sacrifice showers or flushing toilets.

Learn more about planning your own glamping trip with Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris.