For this instalment on my South Africa blog, I would like to concentrate on actually taking a safari.
When booking a safari to Africa, I would recommend using a tour company as they can help guide you along the way. I have used Icon Expeditions in Cape Town and was very happy, and I hear Roar Africa in New York is also good.
For most safaris in South Arica, you will fly into Johannesburg from the US or Australia with an overnight before your flight to the game reserve. My preferred hotel is the African Pride in the Melrose Arch Precint of Johannesburg. There are lots of restaurants and bars in the precinct (all walking distance) with Winesense being just across the street from the hotel and one of my favourite bars. One other benefit for being in Melrose Arch – you are only one kilometre from the Wanderers Cricket Ground!
Many of the game reserves outside of Johannesburg require a short flight on a puddle-jumper. Typically, you fly Federal Air. BE AWARE – Federal Air is not a scheduled service like a ‘normal’ airline. That means that if you have a 11.00am flight, well, it might just leave at 10.45. This is one time that you shouldn’t run late!
When booking safaris, I have found there are three classes: budget, moderate and luxury. And when I say luxury, I mean uber-luxurious! If you were visiting New York, a comparison between a moderate and luxury hotel would be a Marriott vs say, The Plaza. On a safari, a better comparison would be between a bicycle and a chauffeured Rolls Royce. Let’s be honest, you are paying for that luxury, but it is SO worth the money and I would always highly recommend it.
So, what do you get for your money? Well, world-class everything! The accommodations are spectacular; few guests, delicious foods, amazing service and a once in a lifetime experience.
The top resorts will have a limited number of rooms (if you can call them rooms) so you are not constantly running into other guests. Each room typically has a bedroom, separate lounge and dining area, a plunge pool and indoor/outdoor showers. All with spectacular views of the bush. The decor is African chic and sumptuous.
Each meal is simply delicious and makes use of almost entirely local ingredients. Tipsy organized the most amazing dinner for me on my birthday complete with a cake on silver service! Your every wish is catered for. The resorts also have a boma (an outside enclosure where you are protected from the animals) for an evening braai (think barbecue/barbie!) A braai in the boma with a crackling fire and entertainment from locals is a sublime way to spend an evening.
The service is impeccable and the South African people are so kind and wonderful. Some resorts will organise a visit to a local village – a must do.
But let’s not forget the game drives! There are two per day with one in the (very early) morning and one in the late afternoon/dusk. Tipsy wasn’t too happy with the 5.00am wake up calls whilst on vacation, but I was game (pun intended). Depending on the resort, you may have a special breakfast in the bush.
During the afternoon drive you will stop for sundowners (drinks) and canapés while watching another amazing South African sunset.
During the drives, the rangers/guides will stay along tracks, but are happy to ‘bush bash’ through the grass and even over small trees to follow the animals. Moderate and budget resorts only seem to stick to specific tracks and roads. The benefits of bush bashing? Photos like this …
I have been fortunate enough to have stayed at three of the world’s finest resorts (to date): Singita and Londolozi in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Jamala Madikwe in the Madikwe National Park.
As my pictures won’t do any of these resorts justice, I will ‘borrow’ a couple from their websites. I will also mention a special memory I have from each.
Singita Sabi Sands – singita.com
Aside from being drop-dead gorgeous, Singita also has a 40,000 bottle wine cellar where all wines are free to drink during your stay! You just don’t want to drink too many bottles as you know the early wake up call is coming.
Londolozi – londolozi.com
On one of my trips to Londolozi, we were tracking a pride of lions on a hunt. We were tracking them so long, that the staff brought dinner to us so that we didn’t have to stop tracking the lions. A very late night.
Jamala Madikwe – jamalamadikwe.com
Jamala has a water hole about 100 yards (90 metres) off their deck. Tipsy and I were having lunch on the deck while about 30 elephants of all ages were at the water hole. I have wonderful videos of the young males trumpeting and the little calves playing.
One of the big decisions – when to go? If you plan a trip in Autumn/Winter (April – October) the weather is drier and it is easier to see the animals. But the weather is cooler and you may need to rug up and enjoy a bottle of great South African wine by a fire. If you go in Spring/Summer (November – March) the weather will be warmer and it will be the rainy season with short duration storms in the afternoon. But you also get to see the newborn animals as well.
Wherever you choose to go, make the most of this very special experience. It is truly a bucket list item.
Till next time.