Monday, 30 May 2011

Kwalate Safaris – Ihaha Camp; Xakanaxa & Maqwee (South gate) – April 2011

Some months ago the DWNP [Department of Wildlife and National Parks - Botswana] confirmed a shift in its camp management policy. Most, if not all, of the public camps in Moremi Wildlife Reserve, Chobe National Park & Makgadikgadi Pans National Park are now managed by external management / tour operator companies.

IT.Com Civils (Pty) Ltd trading as Kwalate Safaris was awarded the management of Ihaha Camp (Chobe N.P), Xakanaxa (Moremi) and Maqwee / South Gate (Moremi).

Rumours of unresolved contractual disputes between the newly appointed management companies (MC) and the DWNP abound. Just how and why the dispute affects the management of the various camps is moot. Notwithstanding, the management of the camps is currently the sole responsibility of the MCs and in some cases the results are less than impressive.

Anybody who has been to the various public camps in the past will concede a degree of neglect. Very few of the camps were properly managed. Facilities were mostly poor and in need of repair. Presumably the intended change of management was to address the neglect and improve service levels. Not so. Prices have more than doubled but service levels haven’t.

Our party had secured and prepaid / confirmed accommodation at Maqwee, the public camp site at South Gate, Moremi. An hour after arrival and lunch we were told that the camp was closed until further notice. Rain water, it seems, had adversely affected the batteries which operated the water pump. The doors to the ablution blocks were subsequently locked. We had little alternative but take up the offer to try Xakanaxa, some 40 odd kilometers north. Recent rains yielded most of the road north virtually impassable. Nevertheless, some 4 hours later we arrived at Xakanaxa. Xakanaxa’s facilities were not much better. A fortunate encounter with the camp’s manager on his way out had us allocated camp site 5, pleasant enough as is most of Xakanaxa. Unfortunately the nearest ablution block was out of order and locked. The only other ablution block available to us some 150m away had no lights, no hot water and no toilet seats. Only one cubicle in the ladies bathroom was operational. Returning to Maqwee some three days later en route Savuti we discovered that the camp site was still closed. Little attempt had been made, it seems, to secure a new battery for the pump. Worse was yet to come.

In the interim our stay at Savuti camp managed by the SKL Group of Camps was exceptional. The camp site was in tip-top condition. Connie, an executive at SKL who assisted us on another matter, obviously runs a tight ship and must be commended. The camp sites were properly raked, the refuse was removed, the ablution blocks were spotlessly clean, all the showers had hot water and the toilets still had seats. The lights worked too.

Our arrival at Ihaha camp again managed by Kwalate Safaris in Chobe National Park some days later was nothing short of disastrous. Having left Savuti earlier that morning via the western route for northern Chobe NP we arrived at an empty Ihaha camp office tired and dusty at approximately 4.50pm. Our booking had been prepaid and confirmed. Closer inspection on the booking sheet revealed that we had been allocated site 8 which after brief inspection proved entirely unsuitable for two vehicles given the extent of the water in the floodplain. The solitary tree in site 8 would also prove to be the preferred roost for the local troop of baboons. Interestingly we were Ihaha’s only confirmed guests for the following few days. Besides the obvious neglect and the baboon damage, neither of the two ablution blocks had any hot water. A wood-heated boiler hadn’t any wood and therefore we weren’t to have any hot water…. Returning to the office to inform the camp’s management that the ‘donkey’ [hot-water boiler] had no wood and to request a change of site, we were informed by the DWNP representative that Davidson, the camp’s manager, would see us in the staff quarters some way away if we so desired. Davidson proved a revelation in bad service. Not only was the office unmanned during office hours, the camp sites unraked, both ablution facilities filthy and generally neglected but the ’recently serviced cruiser was broken’ too which meant that no wood could be carried to the boilers.  No solution was forthcoming from our designer-clad Kwalate representative.

Given the late hour we had no alternative but stay the night at a site of our choosing. We left the following morning forfeiting the rest of our prepaid days at Ihaha for Chobe Safari Lodge who charged us a third of the price of Ihaha for clean bathrooms, clean sites, hot water and good security.

Sadly, Kwalate is grossly neglectful of its guests which is a pity given the beauty of the sites under their control.

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