​Expert Reviews – Balule NR

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Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Winter

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

5 people found this review helpful.

Important Member of a Vast Unfenced Ecosystem
Overall rating

I have mixed feelings about Balule. As part of the cluster of private reserves that shares open boundaries with Kruger National Park, it is an important component in one of Africa’s vastest unfenced ecosystems. This system extends for tens of thousands of square kilometers across northeast South Africa and on into Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Greater Kruger is also possibly the last place in the world to support viable breeding populations of all the Big Five, including both types of rhino. Balule is no slouch when it comes to spotting most of these charismatic creatures. The exception are leopard, which although present are less habituated than in the likes of Sabi Sand or MalaMala. A striking geographical feature of Balule is the Olifants River. This pretty perennial waterway meanders through the reserve for more than 20km/12mi before crossing into Kruger. It forms an important Dry season magnet for elephant, giraffe and antelope, as well as lion and other predators.

That said, Balule is a less cohesive entity than most of the other reserves bordering Kruger, since it is divided up into around half a dozen smaller conservancies. Each of these is further subdivided into a mosaic of small properties, some less than 1km2/0.4mi2 in area. This is noticeable firstly in the number of artificial constructions (such as buildings, telephone lines, fences) that litter the countryside. Secondly, in the complex cross-traversing arrangements that limit where game drives from any given lodge can go. This quibble aside, lodges in Balule tend to be far cheaper than their counterparts in the likes of Sabi Sand and MalaMala. And the wildlife viewing is generally excellent, especially if you stay at a lodge whose traversing rights include part of the Olifants River.

Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Winter

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

4 people found this review helpful.

Affordable Big Five Viewing
Overall rating

Balule shares an unfenced border with the world-renowned Kruger National Park, which is part of one of Africa’s largest ecosystems. For top-quality wildlife viewing in South Africa, you can’t beat the private reserves. They all offer similar packages, inclusive of accommodation in luxury bush lodges, excellent meals and guided game drives in open vehicles focused on the Big Five. It’s a great formula, but it comes at a steep price. Balule is one of the more affordable private game reserves. I wouldn’t say it’s on a par with better-known Sabi Sands, Timbavati and MalaMala, but it is a great alternative if you are budget-conscious. Balule is divided into a cluster of smaller properties offering each other traversing rights. I felt the reserve was quite busy with game drive vehicles and there was some pressure to leave sightings quickly to make room for other vehicles (the maximum number of vehicles on a sighting is three). Having said that, the game viewing is excellent, and we had good sightings of lions, buffalo, giraffes and wild dogs.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.0/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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