DumaTau is part of Wilderness Safaris operation “please don’t let Singita destroy our entire business, please”. Most properties announce a major refurbishment, then close for a lick of paint, reopen and claim it’s a reimagining of travel, luxury, life, family and god. That your stay will be like a religious experience. DumaTau was literally torn down and rebuilt as an entirely new camp. It is a complete reimagining of the previous camp, cos that’s apparently the cool thing these days. . They have modernised it, dialled up the luxury ( not quite to 11, but several notches higher than before), added more facilities and even added a new camp, Little DumaTau, that offers a more intimate experience with just 4 camps. Between both camps there’s now 14 tents. It continues to prove that along with their other new projects, such as Bistate and Mombo, Wilderness Safaris know what Jerry Bruckheimer has for years: blowing things up is fun.
DumaTau rests just beside the river in the Linyanti conservancy, which it shares with lodges Zarafa and King’s Pool. Compared to the, shall we say “more rugged” properties, like Abu Camp, the rebuild is a major step in the right direction. Is it the same quality of Xigera? Nope. Yet it does offer a modern look and feel that will last them for the next decade. The facilities are everything you’d currently want in a lodge, with the swimming pool, gym and spa treatment room being particularly photogenic.
The gym has a good range of equipment, and, thankfully, air conditioning. It is next to their pool which overlooks the river, which itself is next to the mandatory gift shop. Behind that is the treatment room with two beds. There’s a snack and coffee station at the pool area, whilst the rest of the facilities are found in the main lodge, which is the entrance to the camp, including the fire pit, library, bar and over-the-top amount of seating areas. It’s hard to pick a favourite viewing gallery, as the sights from up top are brilliant, but the intimacy of being on the water is also great. Just like Mombo, they have dedicated paths for the animals, which supplied some really amazing viewings with elephants.
Less great is the god-awful internet connectivity, which was the worst I’ve seen in many, many years. There’s zero phone signal, so you’re stuck dreaming of the days when dial-up was a thing, as it was better than what they’ve got here. I can just imagine that sweet dial-up sound now, the one that sounded like a robot eating its own head.
I know you’re not asking for a side-by-side comparison with Xigera, but that’s where I came from, so you’re getting one. The room offers a similar layout, with the living room on the right, the bedroom in the middle and the bathroom at the end. It’s definitely luxurious, but unequivocally not on the same level as Xigera. Like most Wilderness camps, it has the feel of a tent and uses materials that reflect that. All rooms are water-facing and have a small deck with a tiny plunge pool. It has a signup warning you not to dive into it, but I say let Darwinism win here, remove the sign and implement population control. The plunge pool is so small it felt pointless, but maybe you’re all going to say “stood up in unheated water” is your bucket list. Although you’d actually just as well off actually standing in a bucket of water.
The biggest issue here is the heating or lack of it. There is a single unit behind the bed that has an on/off switch, which apparently is meant to be air conditioning during the night and heating some other time. All it did was blow cold air, which is exactly what you don’t want. Imagine Jack, having just escaped the Titanic, on that door and someone just decided to get him a fan. They’ve also implemented hardly any plug sockets, but lots of USB-A connections – they’re definitely going to live to regret that decision. Then there’s a phone, but after asking two people how to use it I still don’t know. I was told the phone is only for emergencies but no one explained how to use it, so I guess the emergency spark some repressed memory that allows you to recall what number to dial. It means when you’re back in your room at night you’re stuck there and it felt like being locked in.
The room felt luxurious, but the lack of heating is a major issue – it gets extremely cold in the mornings. On one morning my hands were in pain from the cold, so I left the room to warm up around the fire pit. I considered taking a fully clothed shower, but I’ll save that surprise for later in life when I’m senile.
The room is also the only place you can get the internet, so you need to pick whether the internet or having use of your freezing limbs is more important. I’m a millennial, so it was easy to pick – the internet.
Memories of other Wilderness camps flooded back when I saw the lunch menu and remembered they have the same options every day. They have put a plant-based focus on the menu, which meant I ate twice as many steaks to balance it out for my oppressed omnivore friends. Luxury is about choice, and here the choice is still lacking. I had to give dinner orders before going out on drives, I couldn’t get breakfast in the morning as I didn’t pre-warn them that I didn’t fancy eating at 6 am, and the choice for dinner is from two starters and three mains. However, despite all my concerns, every meal I had was brilliant. I must give a special mention to their strawberry profiteroles, which almost made me forgive them for having to eat them without internet access.
That doesn’t mean every decision was well thought through, like having the pips of lemon squeezed into my drink, or discussing the universally accepted fact that olives are devil’s juice and then getting bread with olives barely five minutes later.
One of the unique experiences at DumaTau is watching elephants swim, sometimes right from the room, other times you can take a boat and get up close and personal. Remember: they don’t forget, so don’t do anything disgusting. They would frequently walk through the camp, come past my room and make so much noise at 5 am I was convinced Leatherface was coming to end me. Otherwise, the viewings were extremely disappointing. Even other guests were talking to me about it. Yes, that’s right! Someone else saw me and thought I know, I’ll talk to that man that looks like he licked a stinging nettle covered in piss. Obviously, there’s nothing the lodge can do about that – it seemed to fit in with the entire theme of this trip like somehow all the animals decided to take the year off as they couldn’t handle the stress of the post-pandemic pent-up demand from the tourists.
Whilst this is meant to be wild dog territory, I saw anywhere between zero and none and managed to see a grand total of one predator, a single lion, in two days. All this whilst getting bounced around and dodging branches.
Yet the biggest issue was the guide. I know it’s not a personality contest, but hospitality kinda actually is. When there’s nothing to see, it looked like 85% of a guide’s job is a taxi driver. I dunno if it was being told it was 45 minutes to the lodge, or the lack of rapport with the driver or the other completely over-the-top step-by-step walkthrough of the property or the insanely slow internet or the distance I had to do the room to get said internet or that they just sat down someone to have dinner with me without asking, but this was not love at first sight.
The guide and I just did not understand each other. We were like two old men yelling “what?!” across the table – basically Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets. In the end, the guide and I were enjoying comfortable silence. I’ve never felt so serene not talking to someone. This almost felt like therapy.
- Facilities, notably the pool area
- Quality of food
- Spacious, comfortable rooms
- Lack of heating
- Terrible internet connectivity
DumaTau is a good lodge. It’s not a great lodge. It’s not the best lodge since lodges ever lodged into existence. It is definitely a good step forward for Wilderness Safaris because excluding their brain-dead decision to not have heating or having an internet connection as reliable as the first female victim’s phone signal in a horror movie, it is one of the better safari lodges I’ve been to.
It sucked to not see much wildlife, but I won’t hold it against them – I’m really not an unreasonable guest. What am I saying?! It’s definitely their fault. Somehow. I just know it.
Room type: Suite Duration: 10 June > 12th June, 2022. Approx. $7,000/n for a couple
Thanks, I was looking forward to this review. It’s interesting how certain things come together, or don’t on a particular stay. The internet issue wouldn’t bother me much, being off the grid is fine by me, but the heating issue or lack thereof would be a big problem. Leonardo indeed ?