Camping at Berg en Dal

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The name “Berg en Dal” means “Mountain and Dale”, and is the perfect name for this camp which is set amongst the rolling hills found in the South-Western corner of the Kruger Park. The camp was opened in 1984, making it one of the newer rest camps in the Park. Its architecture is somewhat different to other rest camps in the Kruger, sporting face brick walls and none of the traditional “rondawels” that one might associate with the Kruger Park. Whether you prefer this or not is up to your own preference, but I personally enjoy  accommodation at Berg en Dal is also lovely. Just slightly different.

I have stayed at Berg en Dal on quite a number of occasions in the past. My parents used to take us there as children, partly because of the convenience of Berg en Dal’s location (situated just 12Km from Malelane Gate, which is just off the N4 highway), and partly because it really is a great camp that settles perfectly into its beautiful surrounds. More recently, I’ve stayed in the Rhino Guest House twice which is also fantastic and caters for larger groups. These days, however, my passion is camping. No matter how much money I have, or what I can afford, I would still pick camping over any other form of accommodation in the Kruger.  For me, there is no better way to experience the bush. Generally speaking, fellow campers are very friendly and love to strike up a conversation with you. You can pitch your tent or park your caravan right next to the fence if you’d like to, and with nothing more than a couple of millimetres of canvas separating you from the outside world, camping really is like having a front-row seat at the Kruger National Park. I love lying in my tent listening to the roar of a Lion or the cry of a Jackal off in the distance. I love sitting by the fire at night hoping to spot a Hyena scavenging along the fence. It’s the best way to experience the Kruger Park in my opinion, and I aim to experience as much of the Park in this way as possible. So far, I’ve camped twice at Skukuza, as well as at Pretoriuskop, Lower Sabie and now Berg en Dal.

To my knowledge, there are 12 camps in the Kruger Park that offer camping as a form of accommodation, and I’m slowly working my way through all of them. If you’ve not read the intro to my ExploreKNP blog yet, open this link (https://exploreknp.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/welcome-to-exploreknp/) in a new tab, and read it once you’re done here, to gain a better understanding of what my mission is all about.

After taking 2 solo trips to the Kruger Park, and having camped at Skukuza and Pretoriuskop prior to this year’s trip, I was keen to try out the campsites at Berg en Dal and Lower Sabie. The reason for this was because I’ve heard that the campsites at Berg en Dal are some of the best in the Kruger Park, and although I’d heard that camping at Lower Sabie was not so great, I know from experience that it’s a fantastic camp in a brilliant location, and so I made my booking. At about 7:30am on the 10th of June 2013, I drove through Malelane Gate for the start of my Kruger Adventure.

Having heard many good things about camping at Berg en Dal and knowing that this rest camp had won the prestigious “Rest Camp of the Year” award on a number of occasions in the last few years, combined with my early entry into the Kruger Park, and with that, the promise of a campsite along the fence, my expectations were high. About half an hour after entering the Park, I drove through the gates of Berg en Dal rest camp, and straight to reception. Upon checking in, I was given a full-colour map of the rest camp which was really nice in comparison to the black and white ones I’ve received in the past, as ablutions, kitchen facilities and other amenities are easy to spot as they are colour-coded, and clearly set-out.

My only issue at reception was that the lady who assisted me accidently charged double the amount to my card that she should have for conservation fees, and didn’t know how to reverse the transaction. Granted, it was partly my fault for not checking the amount when I entered my PIN, but who could blame me? I was too distracted by the excitement of being in my favourite place in the entire world! The receptionist then tried to sell me a night drive instead of refunding me. I turned this down because I was planning to do this in a few days’ time at Lower Sabie. She then said I could fill out a refund form, but that my money would only be paid back to me in a month’s time. When I said to her that there must be a better way, she phoned the shop manager who came over to reception and tried to help. He couldn’t work out how to refund the transaction, but said he had an instruction booklet at the shop, which he then went to fetch. After following the instructions, my money was transferred back into my account immediately and the problem was resolved. Unfortunately, it took about 20 minutes to resolve, but I guess it wasn’t really a big issue – just a little frustrating at the time.

Anyway, although I’ve never camped at Berg en Dal before, I already had a pretty good idea of what the layout of the campsite was like and where I should try to camp from having read a couple of threads on the SANParks forums, and from a Berg en Dal map I downloaded. Camping at Berg en Dal is divided into 3 circles, and I knew I needed to find a space at circle number 3 if I wanted a spot along the fence. Arriving at circle number 3, however, I found that it was absolutely packed, and that there was no way I’d be camping along the fence. So I drove around until I found what looked to be a nice spot at circle number 1, and I parked my car to reserve the space. From here I set out on foot to see if I hadn’t missed something, or if there wasn’t perhaps a group of campers in a better location that looked like they might be packing up. After having covered every inch of circles 1, 2 and 3, I was satisfied that I had already found the best spot available under the circumstances, and began setting up camp.

Although the sand at the campsites was about as solid as sand can be, my tent and gazebo were up in no time at all, I had a good parking spot for my car, there was already one of the traditional green benches at my braai (BBQ), and although I hadn’t found a spot at the fence, I was facing a large stretch of veld (long grass) within the camp, which was beautiful none-the-less. I was also near enough to the ablutions and kitchen without being too near to any human traffic making their way to these facilities. At this point in time, I also had no neighbours. Not that I mind neighbours at all, but a bit of privacy is always good. I was happy. My home for the next 2 nights was set up, and I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy Berg en Dal.

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I drove down to the shop to buy some bread rolls for lunch. I buy all of the necessary groceries before entering the Park, but I always buy rolls inside the park so that they’re fresh. They’ve been fresh at Skukuza and Pretoriuskop in the past, but unfortunately I may as well have bought my rolls 3 days beforehand with the rest of my groceries, because the ones I bought at Berg en Dal this year were already quite stale. It didn’t bug me – I’m quite an easy-going guy, but I thought it probably is worth mentioning.

I headed back to my tent and had lunch. After lunch I decided to go for a drive. On my way back, driving up the tar section of the S110, I noticed a huge cloud of smoke above Berg en Dal. Arriving at the camp, I found that they were burning fire-breaks around the perimeter of the camp. I was instantly grateful for not having found a campsite along the fence. While I understand that firebreaks are absolutely necessary and must be burned at some point – especially in the dry winter months, it was very unpleasant even though I wasn’t too close to the fence. The camp was full of smoke, and ash fell all over the campsite. I made a cup of coffee, put it down on the table for a couple of minutes, and when I looked again, there was ash floating in it. As I say – necessary, but unpleasant. I certainly won’t hold that against Berg en Dal – it could have happened at any camp. But unfortunately it did happen at Berg en Dal and did spoil the experience to some extent.

The other thing that I arrived back to was new neighbours. Once again, I don’t mind neighbours at all, but these guys had over-stepped the boundary a little. There were 4 of them, and part of their elaborate setup (their sleeping quarters) was not more than about 60cm away from my tent. A little too close for comfort, some might say. They came over before I’d even stopped my car and apologised, saying that there were no other nice campsites available. Perhaps not “nice” ones, but there were many other campsites around that would have done a much more adequate job of accommodating their 4X4 trailer complete with large roof-top tent, caravan, gazebo, dining area and 2 SUV’s. In their favour, though, was that they were thoroughly nice people, and it was their first trip to the Kruger Park. I certainly wasn’t going to spoil that, and I decided to let them be. Aside from them staying up and chatting very late on both nights, and one of their cell phones ringing at full-volume, probably not more than 1 meter away from me at 3:30 am on one occasion, they were actually quite pleasant to have around and I enjoyed telling Chris (the most apologetic of the bunch) all about the Kruger National Park. He certainly took any opportunity he could to ask me questions, and I did my best to answer them.

Aside from the fire-break being burned around camp, and the too-close-for-comfort neighbours, I generally had quite a good time at Berg en Dal. On my second night there, I had a Serval come and visit me in the veld that my tent looked out onto, and there was an abundance of bird life in camp. The ablution facilities, while satisfactory, were not nearly as nice as in other camps, but each circle of campsites had its own ablutions and so I never had to queue for a shower, or suffer under a stream of cold water. The liquid hand soap dispenser was empty and didn’t get refilled while I was there which was a bit inconvenient, but not a major problem. The kitchen facilities were some of the best I’ve ever seen in the Kruger Park, and the boiling water on tap is really convenient for coffee and hot water bottles.

All of the campsites have electricity, but you’ll most likely need to bring a very long extension cord to reach the nearest outlet. Campsites don’t have their own power points, but rather central power points which feed up to 4 campsites. So depending on where and how you set up, you may struggle to reach the power points. At these central power points, there’s also a tap as well as a rubbish bin and a recycling bin. There are plenty of trees in the campsite, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll struggle to find shade. One of the few negative points is that the campsites are not demarcated, and as such, you might find that your neighbours pitch their tent or park their caravan slightly too close to you, as did happen to me. The other disadvantage of this is that some people set up excessively large campsites, taking up more space than would be allowed if the sites were demarcated. Berg en Dal offers 72 campsites. I wouldn’t really say that there are any sites to avoid, and the advantage of such big camping grounds is that just about everyone’s needs are catered for. What I mean by this is that I noticed that older people, or people with young children tended to camp nearer to the ablution/kitchen facilities, while there are also some very private, secluded and quiet sites like the one I got, as well as sites along the fence, and then there were also sites right along the main road offering very little privacy. I’m not sure why, but these very exposed sites seemed to be very popular, and I can’t imagine why. But one thing I have noticed is that you find a very large variety of different people in campsites – each one with their own preferences, and their own reasons for having those preferences. Some might even think I’m crazy for wanting a spot at the fence!

The other thing about Berg en Dal is that when I checked in, I was given a notice warning me about Baboons in the camp. I did encounter a Baboon at my tent, and while it was an entertaining experience in retrospect, if a Baboon feels threatened, it can be extremely dangerous, so this is definitely something to take note of.

With all of that taken care of, I can say that while Berg en Dal as a whole is a pleasant rest camp, it doesn’t really have the same sort of atmosphere that some of the other camps do, and I missed this while I was there. If you don’t know what “atmosphere” I’m going on about, then it’s nothing to worry about – you’ll love Berg en Dal none-the-less. But if you’re a bit of a Kruger veteran, then I’d still recommend giving Berg en Dal a go, just knowing not to expect the same sort of feel that you might associate with other camps.

Berg en Dal’s restaurant looks nice, although I didn’t try it out, and is in a beautiful location overlooking the Matjulu Dam that lies adjacent to the camp. This dam, and the Rhino trail that you can follow around camp are 2 of the highlights of Berg en Dal. The shop was a lot like most other shops in the Kruger Park, and aside from the bread roles being stale, I found the shop to be perfectly adequate. Another thing worth mentioning is the camp’s picnic/day visitor area. To reach it, you drive out of camp on the tar section of the S110, and turn left a short way down the road. It’s a thoroughly nice spot – there’s a central parking area with toilets and a place where you can hire a Skottel braai (gas BBQ’s), and each of the picnic spots are a short walk away, offering a bit of privacy and a breathtaking view.

This probably seems like quite a mixed review, and I guess it is, in a sense. The biggest problem I had at Berg en Dal, I suppose, is that I had extremely high expectations based on what I’d heard from other people, and unfortunately my expectations were not really met. The point I’m making is that although Berg en Dal was really nice, it was definitely not any better than any other camp I’ve ever stayed in. In fact, I’d probably prefer to stay at elsewhere in future. Having said that, I must stress that Berg en Dal was still very good, and if I was told it was the only place I could camp at for the rest of my life, I guess I probably wouldn’t be disappointed.

It’s just that with the very high calibre of accommodation that other camps in the Park offer, I would say that Berg en Dal is probably as good as most, but not better – which is unfortunately what I was expecting, because of what I’d read and heard, coupled with the fact that Berg en Dal has won “Rest Camp of the Year” so many times recently. It is interesting to note that Olifants Rest Camp won the award this time around. I’m not sure if this is because Berg en Dal has lowered their standards somewhat, or because Olifants has raised theirs, but the fact does remain. It is also unfortunate that the fire-breaks were burned while I was there, and that I had a too-close-for comfort-neighbour, but neither of these things are Berg en Dal’s fault with the exception that perhaps they could demarcate their campsites.

To conclude, Berg en Dal is, in my opinion, better than camping anywhere outside of the Kruger Park, but it wouldn’t be my first choice inside the Park. This is partly because of my own preferences, and partly because of a number of minor things not being quite up to scratch.

Would I stay there again? Yes, certainly – but only if I knew I’d be pressed for time in arriving at the Kruger Park and needed a camp close to an entrance gate, or if I couldn’t get a reservation in another camp.

Would I recommend that you camp at Berg en Dal? Definitely. Just because it didn’t quite manage to meet the level of excellence I’ve experienced in other camps does not mean it wasn’t brilliant anyway. Also, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be there while they’re burning fire breaks, and you probably won’t have an overly-intrusive neighbour either. If these two factors had not been present during my stay there, I would probably have completely overlooked the other shortcomings I experienced.

I would give Berg en Dal 7.5 out of 10. It was very good, but not quite as good as Skukuza (8/10) or Pretoriuskop and Lower Sabie (9/10). Of course, you have to remember that this is just the way that I experienced these camps, and you might well experience them slightly differently. Hopefully this post just gives you an idea of what it’s like. If you’ve camped at Berg en Dal before, I’d love for you to drop a comment below. Also, if you’ve camped at Malelane Camp before, I’d love to hear about it, as my next couple of trips to the Park will be further north, starting with Satara this September, but I really want to know what Malelane is like. Feel free to drop me an e-mail on exploreknp@gmail.com. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I wish you much happy camping in the Kruger!

Below are a number of photos I took, standing at my campsite at circle number one. This should give you a pretty good idea of what the campsites at Berg en Dal are like.

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