And we slept it in too. Crazy right ? No ? Well if you have known me for a long time you are probably at least a little bit surprised. You see, in the past I was never known to be much of an outdoorswoman. Even a couple of years ago I would never have imagined myself sleeping in the African bush with only a thin layer of poly-canvas between me and the stars. But This Is Africa (TIA) and that has all changed, though it has been a gradual process.
During our first trip to Kruger National Park about 3 years ago we had a great time but stayed in nice little chalets or rondavels. The following year I was ready to be closer to nature and we stayed in a permanent tent (with private kitchen and bath) in the unfenced camp of Mpila. What an unbelievable experience. As the camp is unfenced, this allows all sorts of animals to be browsing about at all times of the day or night. This could be some dainty impala munching on the grass right outside your tent while you try to sleep or even a hungry hyena lustfully checking out your braai just a couple meters away. If you want to know more about this camp, you can see our photos here.
Mpila Tented Camp
In 2013 we spent 17 days back in Kruger, 10 of which were spent in permanent tents in Punda Maria, Tamboti and Lower Sabie camps. I was hooked and loved every second we spent in the tents, even when our supposedly private bathroom was getting a bit overcrowded.
Who is in your shower ?
So it was only natural that soon after moving to Joburg, we started looking at buying a tent. After all, we had our new Jeep to schlep all our kit around and what better way to experience the bush than to do it the real South African way. Of course this would mean that the luxury of private kitchens and bath was history, but I was up for the challenge. Not to mention the fact that our African Rands don’t stretch nearly as far as the almighty Euro so camping was really going to be the only way to be able to get away for any extended length of time in the immediate future.
Fully loaded with all our gear
As you might imagine, here in South Africa you are spoiled for choice when it comes to tents. We spent many Saturdays in various camping stores trying to determine the best tent to meet our needs. Rooftop or ground tent ? Dome tent or frame ? Nylon or Canvas ??? These were the initial questions we had to answer before we could start narrowing down the choices.
One of our first stops was to the Campworld in Randburg. What I like about this place is that they have a lot of different types of tents set up making it easy to compare the differences. Initially we were most interested in a rooftop tent. I figured this type of tent was likely the most secure against both creepy crawly invaders and meandering elephants in unfenced campsites. The salesman showed us how easy and quick it was to popup and close back down, which is important because if you go the rooftop route you will need to do this everyday in order to go out for your safari drives.
We next had a look at some of the ground tents. One of the big advantages of ground tents over the rooftop tents is that once you get them setup they stay up until you change camps. No need to pack up every day to go out on safari, your home away from home will be awaiting your return. With the ground tents you then get into the debate about dome tents (quicker to put up) or frame tents (a bit heavier but also more stable) and nylon (cheaper, lighter) vs canvas (can get really heavy if it rains).
In the end, the biggest deciding factor for us was the price. The rooftop tent was running almost twice the price of a decent ground tent, once you add in the costs of the roof mount as well as an extension (really nice to have as you can only sleep up in the rooftop tent and there is not a lot of space to move about). We were however, willing to pay more for a good quality tent that would hopefully last us for years to come. So what did we get ?
After much discussion, we decided on the Howling Moon Strata 2 Dome tent with an extension. What we really liked about this combination was that the sleeping part can stay completely closed off while you are still free to move about in the extension, especially nice if it happens to rain. The tent is made of a poly-canvas rip-stop fabric so more durable than nylon though not as heavy as canvas.
Howling Moon Strata 2 with Extension
By the time we actually bought the tent in the beginning of March, we had already booked a 9 day camping trip to Kruger National Park for mid-March. We thought it would be a good idea to do a weekend test run to make sure we were ready for the first big camping trip, however, all the rains and flooding at the time made organizing this a bit difficult. The weekend before our Kruger trip the rains cleared and we headed a couple hours north to Manyane Resort in Pilanesberg National Park.
I’ll do another blog post later about our Pilanesberg sightings but despite the earlier rains forcing the closure of all but the main roads in the park, we had a fun-filled first weekend in our new tent. We got to the park around noon and immediately got to work on setting up the tent. We had been told this would take about 10 minutes for the tent and maybe another 15 or so for the extension. A little over 2 hours later the tent + extension was finally up and completely exhausted, we
sat collapsed down to lunch.
Choosing our camping site. The neighbors in the background arrived right before us. They had 3 tents up, the braai going and were almost finished with lunch by the time we had gotten just the tent part up.
Strata 2 Ready to Launch
Warthogs grazing next to our campsite
Even this baboon managed to sneak some lunch before we did
Finally our lunchtime
So how do we like the tent ? Well, aside from the lengthy set up/take down process (and we really haven’t gotten much faster even after the Kruger trip) it is really comfortable. We have a queen size inflatable mattress on a frame bed affording a fairly good night’s rest. There is also enough room in the sleeper portion to store our backpacks and other items we want to secure away from rummaging primates. The extension portion is nice for the additional space. We keep everything in there that we need to easily access in order to avoid going in and out of the sleeping section (and thus minimizing the possibility of mosquitoes entering).
As for the actual camping aspect, well, I LOVE it. It is such a relaxing experience to be so close to nature that the minor inconveniences that come with camping (early morning treks in the dark to the bathroom come to mind) are easily dealt with. There is nothing in the world like a tasty evening braai (BBQ) accompanied by a nice bottle of wine as you wait for nocturnal creatures to make an appearance. Our Kruger trip was such a huge success (blog posts to follow) that as soon as we got back we booked our next camping adventure to Lesotho over the long Easter Weekend. Stay tuned.
Master Braai Chef