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 Post subject: Arks' KNP Trip Report: April/May 2006: General Observations
Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 1:22 am 
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As with my Cape Parks reports, I will submit them in stages, as I work my way through all my photos and am able to put all the elements of each segment together. I may also add further to this general observations topic as and when anything further occurs to me.

Game-viewing conditions and practices
The park was still very green when I arrived on 20 April 2006 and the tall grass (especially the tall and thick thatching grass in the south) and thick bush made game viewing "challenging". The low profile of the small and most aptly named Nissan Micra added to these challenges, but there is no way that I could justify paying double the cost for a higher vehicle. There are other trade-offs between a normal sedan and a higher profile vehicle, and I personally prefer to be on eye level with most animals, rather than looking down, plus a sedan is closer to the ground for those smaller things: some birds, reptiles, insects, plants. So I don't worry about what I may miss by being lower than a Landie or a Condor, just accept it and enjoy the fact that every day brought me satisfying sightings and often memorable experiences.

The speed at which one chooses to drive is another factor in what/how much you see. I know that many respected forumites advocate driving very slowly, 25k/hr or slower. That may be great if you have lots of eyes to scan in all directions, but travelling on my own, it has never worked well for me. No matter how slowly I travel, I can't look in all directions at once. My own experience is that overall, I've seen less when I try driving slowly, while I seem always to see plenty when I am driving at more-or-less the speed limit. I'm sure I miss things, but everyone does, and I'm amazed that I so often can spot the flick of an ear or a distant bird when I'm travelling at 35-50k/hr. I also generally tend to stay out all day, taking a circular route when leaving camp, with a stop at at least one other camp (for a snack/lunch) each day.

Restaurants and cafeterias
I don't usually eat my evening meal in the camp restaurant, as I don't enjoy eating alone in a restaurant, but I do generally stop in at a camp during the day for a snack or lunch. This may not be the "proper" place to post my observations on the new catering, but I can always move these comments elsewhere if the mods wish. Overall, I was not at all impressed the current catering, for a number of reasons.

First, when I looked at the evening menus in the hope of finding something that would tempt me to eat an occassional meal in the restaurant, I was generally disappointed both by the lack of any game dishes (I can eat chicken and beef in the USA, but I can't find kudu or other game) apart from a stew which did not appeal, and by the fact that all of the camps seemed to have essentially the same generic menu, whether it be presented as a buffet or a la carte. I'm also disappointed that most camps only offer a buffet dinner, as this is more than twice as much food as I could ever eat at one meal. It would be nice if camps could offer the option of ordering a few of the buffet items a la carte for those of us who don't have huge, man-sized appetites. Even for those camps that only offer a buffet, I don't think it would be too difficult to offer an a la carte option to choose just an item or two from what the full buffet includes?

Second, it used to be possible to go to the restaurant/cafe during the day and order a light snack, such as a pot of tea and a scone, croissant or other pastry. With rare exceptions (Satara, Skukuza), this is no longer an option. The Shingwedzi restaurant was one of my favourites spots for a snack break, but they now offer nothing but a full breakfast or lunch menu, so I had to make do with an ice cream from the shop. At least at Letaba they still have a small selection of homemade cakes, including melktert, but no other light offerings. (Satara used to have wonderful homemade melktert too, but sadly no longer, although they do have a few breakfast pastries.) I did try one of the full breakfast selections at Satara one day, but was not at all impressed with the tiny, rock-hard "African muffins" on which they served the poached eggs. And once I knew that I couldn't get any sort of light snack at Shingwedzi, I planned to arrive hungrier on my next visit and had excellent poached eggs on toast with crispy bacon. However, if I eat that much in the middle of the day, I want only a very light evening meal. In general I prefer to have my large meal in the evening, as eating too much while I'm out driving tends to make me a bit sleepy - not good for game viewing!

Third, what is it with playing muzak in the restaurants?!? I had a bit of a hissy-fit one morning at Pretoriouskop, when I arrived very hungry and knew that I really needed to eat something before going further. Because it was earlier than my usual snack-time stop, I discovered that there was a breakfast buffet with lots of lovely fresh fruit. However, after I'd made my selection, I discovered that there was no way to get away from the restaurant's muzak, even outside. Perhaps I'd been lucky, or perhaps it was timing, but this was my first encounter with restaurant muzak and I was appalled. I come into a camp's restaurant/cafe looking forward to enjoying the camp's birdlife and other such natural sounds of the surroundings, not recorded muzak. If I'd been a bit more relaxed (for reasons I won't go into here, my holiday was not as relaxed and stress-free as it might have been, and I was unfortunately on edge throughout my time in the park), I might have simply asked them to turn the @%*# muzak off, but instead I stormed out in a huff and went to reception to lodge a complaint. Which is how I happened to have the great pleasure of meeting Van Rooi Moreku, a most charming gentleman and a master at smoothing prickly tempers.

But my question remains: Why the need for this muzak? Especially during the daytime when there is so much birdsong to be enjoyed? (Although at night there are all the night sounds as well and for me this is one of the great joys of time spent in the park - the silence, at least of man-made noises, and the opportunity to hear those sounds of nature that are usually obscured in cities and towns.) Apparently this muzak is played during breakfast and dinner in all the restaurants, and often the Pretoriouskop breakfast buffet extends its hours beyond 0930 if there is still food. (I had actually arrived, I believe, a bit before 0930, much earlier than I usually get to a camp for a snack break, which is why this was my first encounter with the muzak in the restaurant.) It is considered equivalent to the same sort of music being played in the shops, but while I've not found it annoying in the shops, because I'm not in the shop to enjoy a snack accompanied by birdsong, I just don't see the point or the need of such muzak in the restaurants. Van Rooi agreed that this was an apt query and criticism, although no one had raised it before. What do forumites think?

Speeding and park etiquette in general
Speeding has been discussed extensively elsewhere (I'll try to remember to add the links here) and I've posted my observations there. It's a widespread and increasing problem and in my opinion, the only way to combat speeding is for KNP to levy substantive and meaningful fines. This will require an increase in traffic officers, but the increase in personnel costs should be offset by the fines levied.

Beyond the speeding issue, there is the matter of the lack of common courtesy on the part of far too many visitors. You would think that drivers would slow down when passing another vehicle on a sand road, but few do, and I was left with a mouthful of dust on countless occasions - whether I was moving or stopped. Aren't others interested to see what you might be looking at if you are stopped? As for not slowing when passing another moving vehicle, I've noticed that, even in autumn, many (even most) people travel with their windows closed and their AC blasting, and they clearly haven't noticed that some of us are driving with our windows wide open.

In general, I just don't comprehend why anyone would come to KNP and drive around in a closed-up vehicle - you miss so much of the total experience, the sounds, the smells. And I was most amused, one evening on the Mahonie Loop, when a guy in a big white bakkie stopped next to me, couldn't see anything, and eventually rolled down his window to ask what I was seeing. Well, I wasn't seeing anything, but I was listening to what I thought might be the resident leopard! And there are many times when I've heard something and stopped to look and only then spotted what was rustling in the bush - be it a bird, an antelope, even an elephant can be almost invisible when the bush is as thick as it was this past April and May.


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Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 11:24 am 
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The only time I ate at a restaurant in Kruger was june 10th in Olifants, because we were going to do a nightdrive and did not feel like a braai.

I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised! Yes, it is a buffet dinner, but that gives one the choice of what and how much to eat.

The staff were very friendly, even pulled out the chair for me, which I sidestepped as I think it was the lady in my company that should be honoured so. After making a choice of wine we had some starters while looking at the lovely building it is in. Unfortunately it was dark outside, so the view outside was very relaxing, just black. :cry: I want to do it during the day sometime!

The maincourse was in one word fabulous! I took 3 helpings of the chicken, after noticing that I liked that a lot! The beef and other meats were very good as well, but that chicken... I want the recipe. My used plates were whisked away almost unnoticed by the staff. The only thing they missed was replacing the cutlery that they took with them, but as I am a regular customer in restaurants I had located the stash of clean cutlery and simply took new with me.

GP went for dessert twice while I had toast and bread with smelly cheeses. Yummy!

The bill arrived with a smile, and I payed with a smile, as it really is very cheap to European standards, and certainly had been a very nice dinner.
I would recommend that restaurant to anyone.

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Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 11:30 am 
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Hi Arks,

Really enjoyed reading your observations, and can identify with a number of them.
We tend not to use the restaurant/caffeteria very much, maybe to grab a snack if we stop of somewhere during the day. But we always used to plan to 'splash out' and have dinner in a restaurant one evening - often the last evening of the trip. We too used to look forward to having game of some sort, and can remember having lovely meals particularly at Satara and Olifants. Over recent trips we have stopped this as the menu has changed, become uninspired. Who wants 'chicken a la king' and such like in the Kruger!

Have not used the new restaurant at P'kop, but looking in do not find its design very inspiring, too much metal! As for the muzak - last time we visited the shop at Skukuza it was like a disco.

On the positive side I beleive that the service at most gates and receptions has improved.

I too don't understand why any visitor would want to drive around with the windows closed. The first thing we do after leaving the gate is to open the windows - even in Dec - Jan. You have to experience the sounds and smells.

We have noticed that people seem to be more impatient nowadays, maybe its presure of life, maybe its new visitors who have to see the big five at all costs.

Its amazing how the vegetation changes. When we were there in September I have never seen The grass around P'kop so dry and short ( and burnt too) by January you would have thought it was a different place. I imagine it is elephant high by now!

As I said it is great to read your various reports.
Dave

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Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 12:09 pm 
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Three cheers for Arks - your comments are very valid.
I hope that SANPARKS take carefull note that their levels of quality and service are not acceptable to their visitors , and having been slipping in a downward spiral over the years . The staff have an attitude problem - they are are not on holiday the paying visitors are .
The franchising out of services has been a disaster and more visitors are self-catering as a result .


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Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 2:15 pm 
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mikev wrote:
Three cheers for Arks - your comments are very valid.
I hope that SANPARKS take carefull note that their levels of quality and service are not acceptable to their visitors , and having been slipping in a downward spiral over the years . The staff have an attitude problem - they are are not on holiday the paying visitors are .
The franchising out of services has been a disaster and more visitors are self-catering as a result .

Thanks to all for your comments and feedback. Diannet is very pro-active with forumite comments (both pro and con) and has already been passing on some of my observations (particularly regarding speeding in WCNP) to the "powers that be" :thumbs_up:

I actually found service overall in KNP to be excellent and have a number of specific compliments yet to post. In almost all the camps I visited, the reception staff was welcoming and efficient and more than willing to sort out any issues I had. There were a very few exceptions, but overall SANParks staff at all levels were exemplary.

My issues tended to be more with the overall philosophy or culture behind such things as muzak in the restaurants and less than creative menus, but not with the staff, who with rare exceptions couldn't have been nicer or more responsive.


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Unread postPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2006 2:35 pm 
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I found your remarks very informative Duques and now I am not worried at all about eating in the restaurants, in fact more than looking forward to it.
I do understand how you feel about the menus Arks but for myself I wouldn't like to think I was eating any of the animals so chicken and beef would be fine for me. I remember years ago we had Buffalo steaks and I argued with my brother that of course it wasn't really buffalo but when we enquired we found it had been so I didn't feel very happy about that. I would hate to eat an Impala, one of my very favourite animals.
When we go in November hopefully they will have had their young. Oh I really cant wait to go.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 10:39 am 
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Hi Arks. I am really enjoying your reports.

Quote:
I just don't see the point or the need of such muzak in the restaurants. Van Rooi agreed that this was an apt query and criticism, although no one had raised it before. What do forumites think?


I'm with you here - one of the most memorable times was sitting at Shingwedzi and listening to the European Kingfisher. And at Lower Sabie listening to the hippos - this would be lost if the music is playing.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 2:41 pm 
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saraf wrote:
Hi Arks. I am really enjoying your reports.

Quote:
I just don't see the point or the need of such muzak in the restaurants. Van Rooi agreed that this was an apt query and criticism, although no one had raised it before. What do forumites think?


I'm with you here - one of the most memorable times was sitting at Shingwedzi and listening to the European Kingfisher. And at Lower Sabie listening to the hippos - this would be lost if the music is playing.


Thanks, Saraf! And thanks to everyone for this feedback on the restaurant muzak. I promised Van Rooi that I would raise the issue here in the forum and report back to him on what forumites had to say, both about the muzak in particular and about the restaurants and menus in general. It's great to have a good cross section of opinion on these matters and I'm sure the feedback from forumites will be appreciated.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 3:32 pm 
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I don't like muzak at the best of times (maybe I've watched The Blues Brothers too often), but in a setting like the KNP it is totally out of place, in the restaurants or anywhere else.

As far as the menus are concerned, on my last visit the only restaurant I patronised was the railways station grill at Skukuza; other than that I didn't find the menus particularly tempting so was happy to cook for myself.

On my first visit in 1997 we enjoyed kudu and warthog in camp restaurants but, as Dave says, such game items no longer seem to be available :(

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 4:05 pm 
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Can someone give me the definition of "muzak" as compared to music?

@Arks. I did not really eat in any of the restaurants so I can't give you my opinion on global menus and service.
As to muzak, we did have breakfast one morning in the Pretoriuskop restaurant (we were the only customers in there) =very nice buffet breakfast.
There was some music playing. I would have very preferred it without music.
You said you needed feedback, so I hope this helps..

*edit* I just re-read your post and remembered you were also talking about Pkop.
*double edit* Just looked in the online dictionary and found the definition of "muzak" (I live in a very non-English speaking country and am not up to date with some terms)
Regards Graeme

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 4:19 pm 
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Hi
Arks , great obervation report , but i am a bit bewildered by the full breakfast etc.

Last year we could choose from three kinds of breakfasts
All had egg etc but you had big to a small brekkie.
We ended up with the Sunrise brekkie. 1eggs, bacon, 2 pieces of toast and jam. Kind say that this is to huge :?

And this you could order throught the day. We have done it at Letaba, Shingwedzi and Mopani.

And in Punda Maria it was possible to order only a Greek salad
in the afternoon.

Are you trying to tell that this has all changed :cry:

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 4:51 pm 
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Graemy, muzak is a kind of generic, bland sound often played in elevators, cinemas, shopping malls... a kind of background sound not meant to be intrusive, but in Kruger it probably "shouts".
I do not enjoy muzak (although I love music) at the best of times, I enjoy silence.
As far as comments go about the restaurants.. I find what Arks said in terms of buffets very pertinent.
I love to nibble, and do so frequently. I cannot do justice to a buffet and I hate the feeling of being "bloated", particularly if you want to be alert and sensitive to the moment.

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 5:47 pm 
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Thanks for your info MM

I love "all you can eat buffets" but this is not something I would enjoy in KNP, for the same reasons you stated...

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 6:01 pm 
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and because we are all so different :wink: ..I love buffets, being vegetarian has the drawback of when eating in a restuarant with a set menu I usually have one dish to choose from :( and as I eat out virtually ever night in KNP, this would be darned awful, in fact I very seldom eat out anywhere other than KNP for this very reason!


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 7:31 pm 
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bert wrote:
Hi Arks , great obervation report , but i am a bit bewildered by the full breakfast etc. ... Are you trying to tell that this has all changed :cry:

Bert, I think there are still a range of brekkie choices — I never eat breakfast, so was ordering my "brekkie" meal as lunch :D .

It's the dinner menus that I found generic (and FAR more food than I can eat). I object the the buffets because I don't want to be paying full price when I'd be eating less than half of the full buffet, that's why I'd appreciate the option to just order a few of the items offered on the buffet, and pay a comparably lesser amount.

I do believe that Punda has a few more options than other camps, and that it's an a la carte menu, but it still didn't have anything that tempted me. When I was there in 2000, I had ostrich, but there were no games dishes this time except some sort of game stew, which didn't appeal.


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