by Richelle Stewart
Our team member Richelle visited South Africa for a travel academy recently learning all about the best tours, hotels and lodges to stay in this impressive country. She also managed to find a little time out of the classroom to explore Johannesburg, Cape Town and its surrounds and a short safari in Kwazulu-Natal. Here are some of her thoughts;
Johannesburg – I have to say that my apprehensions and concerns of being in Johannesburg quickly disappeared upon arrival as a friendly, kind transfer driver was there to collect me after my 5am arrival. Johannesburg was full of smiling faces and very kind and helpful people. Johannesburg seems to be a growing city with a lot more to offer than an overnight transit at the airport. A 30-40 minute transfer from the airport will take you to Sandton- a bit of an up and coming area, with Café’s, Shopping and a range of hotels here and the surrounding areas. The highlight of my visit of Jo Burg as it is also known would be Soweto. You can find the Museum home of Nelson Mandela here and really get a feel for the cultural difficulties that this country has had to face over the years. Definitely an educational visit worth stopping in and doing.
Constantia – A two hour flight into Cape town from Johannesburg and one hour transfer into the amazing mountains of Constantia. I was immediately hit with the fresh crisp winter air and scenery of this beautiful wine valley region. Contantia is full of old Heritage charm filled properties which I think almost all seem to have their own wine brands. This is truly a pretty place to stay and a wine tour won’t go astray or be hard to find. If you want something a bit more challenging you can opt for a Mountain bike trail and continue through with your wine tasting. Constantia is a beautiful stop on its own or a good alternative to staying in Cape town itself. Only an hour outside of Cape Town you can easily do your Table Mountain and city tours from Contantia before heading off and moving towards the Garden Route.
Cape town – What a fascinating city, ocean side with amazing mountain ranges. I loved the hustle and bustle of the busy harbour side V & A Waterfront. There is a lot to keep you entertained here from shopping, cafes, night life, restaurants and hotels. A top pick hotel here was certainly the Radisson Blue Waterfront. The hotel is located right on the harbours edge, with the spray of the crashing tide up against the rocks that border the property just meters away. It is truly a fabulous property. At night you can hear the fog horn that warns the ships. A 10 minute taxi around the cliff side and you’re at Camps bay Beach. Lined with cafes, beachfront residences and hotels, this is truly a hip and happening area in the summer time with beaches full of people. Another lovely property here is the Bay Hotel located directly across the road from the beach.
Kwazulu-Natal Province – A 2 hour flight from Cape town and 1 hour from Jo Burg, You will find the city of Durban Located in the Kwazulu –Natal Province. Finally escaping the cold weather, Kwalazulu-Natal is a warmer climate and Durban itself I would describe it as having a similar feel to Queenslands Gold Coast with lots of hotels, shops, dining and beaches. A great spot for some unwinding after your game drives by the beach. A short drive to Umhlanga and you’ll find the Beverly Hills hotel along a line of other great beach front properties.
Safari – There are so many options for Game reserves right throughout South Africa. With South Africa being 99% Malaria free this makes it a particularly great option for families. Whether it’s in the incredible Kruger National Park or the Eastern Cape Game reserves at the end of the famous Garden Route there is something for everyone.
My stay was at the Thanda Private Game reserve.
Thanda lodge is located 3 hours drive north of Durban airport. The road is a smooth highway drive in which you travel up the coastline sugar cane fields and green hillsides and beaches.
Set on 14,000 hectares of private property, Thanda offer two game drives a day which are inclusive of your nightly rate. They offer encounters with lion, leopard, rhino, elephant ,buffalo cheetah, hyena, warthog and the occasional wild dog, as well as abundant bird and plant life. You also have optional Bush walks and Photography Experiences.
The morning sets off at 6am to give you the best chances of getting the Nocturnal animals before they head off to sleep and rest for the day. After which you will return to the lodge by about 9 to have your buffet breakfast.
You will then have the remainder of the day to catch up on some sleep, have spa treatment or hang out the main house area or swim.
Buffet lunch is served and in the afternoon about 3.30 you set off for you sunset game drive. allowing for you to get a good hunt for all the animals getting active and on the move for the evening. You’ll return around 6 in time for your dinner. All lodges offer at least 1 night including Boma Dinner (an African Bushfire meal). You will enjoy this around the fire with some local Zulu dancing entertainment.
The staff were lovely and the guides very Knowledgeable and professional. The great thing about being in a private game reserve was that you would travel around the property looking for game and only ever 2 or 3 times see another vehicle and most often this would be in the distance or at a sighting. In which they have a rule of only two vehicles at a time. So the experience is very personal.
There is a main House which has 5 bedrooms, an upstairs loft area and library. All of which can also be converted into more bedding areas for larger groups. The main house is the owners holiday residence so is set up very comfortable and a homely feel. All bedrooms have an ensuite and off the main Bedroom which overlooks a watering hole that elephants often come to drink out of, is a warm Jacuzzi. The house also comes with a full size swimming pool in the back gardens.
Your second option here is the private Villas, set away from the main house. The Villas are quite substantial in size with separate lounge area to the bedroom. There is a lovely big fire place in the center separating the bedroom and lounge area for colder romantic nights. The Villas are well spread out and private form each other. They have both indoor bathroom and outdoor shower. Being set on a hill it’s a stunning view. You also have an outdoor fire area and a large deck with both outdoor bed for private massages or relaxing and a heated Jacuzzi.
The Private Villas also have a main house where you have your meals and drinks. You can sit anywhere and have fantastic views of the ranges. Down stairs in the wine cellar with a large viewing window of the main pool. You often can sit and watch as the Elephants come to drink there.
The Thanda Spa with a range of great services and Jacuzzis is also located at this part of the property. Lastly and a new part of Thanda is their permanent tented lodge. This is where I spent my time. Again the Tents have a main gathering area in which you have your meals, drinks and socialise with other guest or your own around a big outdoor fire area with comfy lunge area by the main pool.
The tents all have their own veranda that overlooks the land scape and mountains. The tents are substantial in size and again set away in their own area for more privacy. They can come with wither Twin or King size beds. Plenty of storage for your luggage and ensuite with a normal flushing toilet, shower and sinks. There is no power in the tents except for the lighting in the bathroom. At night everything is by candle in the tent. You can charge your cameras and phones up in the main house. The canvased walled tents give a great opportunity to connect with the bush and hear all the noises of the game around the property but still with all the comforts of a cozy bed.
Most Game reserves offer fully inclusive or close to it packages. Normally consisting of 2 Game drives per day, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Most lodges will offer the big 5 and there are a range of accommodation styles on offer throughout South Africa from 3 – 5 star Luxury, Tents to lodges and farm stays; family orientated and adults only. South Africa overall was very diverse and I truly loved it there. I feel comfortable to take my kids with me next time and I will most definitely be back for a second visit.