IT'S LYNNY KANSAS
DON'T LET THE RUBY SLIPPERS,
OR THE DOROTHY INSPIRED NICKNAME
FOOL YOU., THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME,
BUT TRAVELING IS FUN.
A trip long dreamed of came to fruition for our family this summer. To go on a Safari holiday, and to go as a family was truly a very special experience. We never dreamed that we would get so close to some amazing animals in the wild.
When it came down to booking this trip, I felt totally overwhelmed. There are so many different Countries, itineraries and scenarios to choose from, I knew I needed help. As I was planning this trip from Singapore, I chose, on the recommendation of a friend, to work with Destinations Africa, who are Australian based, although John is a South African with amazing experience in booking Safari vacations. Whilst I can share my rough itinerary with you in this post, I would encourage you to seek a reputable agent to guide you, as there are so many wonderful options. As far as our family was concerned, we had some basic criteria for this trip. We knew we needed to go in July, we wanted to see the so called "Big 5", (Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard & Cape Buffalo), and we wanted smaller, more intimate lodges where our party of 5 could be together in one truck on the game drives.. With all this in mind, John put together a fantastic trip for us which encompassed two private reserves Thornybush and The Sabi Sand that bordered the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Another side note here. Our trip took place in the South African Winter time (July), although it could hardly be classed as Winter. The mornings were chilly, around 7C (45F), but by 9am or so the temperatures rose, and would average around 26C (79F). One of the advantages of going at this time of the year (April to October is Autumn/Winter), is that the grasses are not so lush, therefore making it easier to see the animals. In the hotter Summer/Spring months (November to April), there are very hot/humid temperatures with more rain, which means lush grass and full waterholes. This also means more snakes and lizards, as well as mosquitoes. We thankfully did not see any snakes and were not bothered by mosquitoes at all, although it is always prudent to take precautions against Malaria.
As I already mentioned, I am going to share my trip itinerary and thoughts in this post, all of which are totally my own opinion and from my own and my families experience. In no way have I been paid by anyone mentioned in this post, and I would encourage you to do your own research, and if necessary enlist help from a professional, as this is not a cheap experience, although that said, we did push the boat out, as this was likely going to be a once in a lifetime trip for our family. Therefore, we opted for really nice accommodations, but there are options out there for all budgets. I should also mention that when factoring in costs, it is usual to tip your Ranger, Tracker and staff at the lodges at the end of your stay. Though both lodges let us know that gratuities were at our discretion, and not expected, it does seem to be the norm to leave gratuities. Each lodge can give you a guideline. At Shumbala for example it was Ranger R100 - R200 per room per day, Tracker R50 -R100 per room per day and Camp Staff R200 per room per day.
My husband and I were traveling from Singapore, our kids were coming from the East Coast of the USA. We all arrived in Johannesburg (JNB) and spent one night in theCity Lodge Hotel at the Airport. This was because our incoming International flights did not link up with our short domestic flight to the reserves. This proved to be a good thing, as we all got some sleep and rest before heading out on our South African Airways Express flight to Eastgate Airport, also known as Hoedspruit Airport (HDS) which left at 10.15am, arriving at 11.20am
We were met at the airport by a van and driver, who helped us get our bags from the very interesting baggage claim area at Hoedspruit, namely some trailers pulled by a tractor!! Our transfer to our first reserve and lodge took about an hour by road.
We were going to be staying in two different lodges at two different Private Reserves that border the mighty Kruger National Park. Anyone can pay to enter the KNP, and there are certainly accommodation choices within the park. However, in the park, you are restricted to driving only on the paved roads, which limits your experience with the animals you may see. The Private Reserves do not have this restriction, their roads are mostly dirt roads and you can go into the bush to get closer to animal sightings, it is also a lot of fun when your ranger suddenly guns the truck into the bush!!
THORNYBUSH RESERVE, SHUMBALALA GAME LODGE
The rooms (Superior Suites) were spectacular. They have an open fire place in each room, which when we arrived back from our evening game drives would be lit and blazing a lovely welcome. There were candles lit around the bath and shower too. There is also an outdoor shower if you are so inclined. The rooms have wifi, but there is no TV in the room, there is one in the Library room at the main lodge though. At night, before we turned in, there would be hot water bottles placed in our beds, so our toes were nice and toasty. The lodge can do laundry for you but there is a charge.
After being shown to our rooms, we were given time to freshen up before lunch, which was served at 2.45pm. All the food is included in the price, and is totally amazing. Alcoholic drinks are extra, (except for the sundowners which you experience out in the reserve), but we found the drinks to be extremely reasonably priced. The lodge has a wonderful wine cellar, and the staff are very knowledgeable about its contents. During lunch, our order for dinner was taken, they are very accommodating to any food allergies etc. After our lovely lunch, we headed for the truck, and our first game drive with our Ranger, Darryn and Tracker, Sam.
A basic day goes something like this. There is a wake up call 5.30am, everyone meets in the Library area of the lodge for a quick coffee and snack. You will be on the truck by 6am and out into the reserve looking for animals. The lodge will provide you with jackets, blankets and hot water bottles for your chilly morning drives if required. You stop for a lovely coffee/snack break out in the reserve mid game drive, then back to the lodge for around 10am, where you are presented with an AMAZING breakfast. In between breakfast and lunch, your time is your own. You can go out on a bush walk with a ranger, or just relax by the pool. There is a water hole in front of the lodge, so you may get lucky and spot a visiting animal or two. Elephants are even known to come and drink from the lodge swimming pool (it's not chlorinated), We did spy a Nyala with her young baby right next to the pool one day. At 2.45pm, it is time for lunch, which is all delicious and amazingly presented, you are also given your options for dinner. After lunch you are out on the truck again at 3.30pm. As sunset approaches out in the reserve, it is time for "sundowners", (Darryn makes a mean Gin and Tonic), then back to the lodge for around 6.30pm. You have time to freshen up before drinks around the fire pit and then dinner. Each night dinner was served in a different spot around the Lodge, and always beautifully set, one night was an amazing "Braii" (BBQ). I can't stress enough just how fabulous all the food was at Shumbalala. If you want to sleep in one morning and skip a game drive (but why would you?) you can, it is all very relaxed, we loved it. We especially loved the people at Shumbalala, they were just the best, making us feel so at home and comfortable. We did three nights here which was perfect.
On our game drives at Shumbalala we spotted zebra, giraffe, cape buffalo, some wild dog pups, hyena cubs, elephants and and a male leopard just lazing in the late afternoon. We also got to see a pride of lions feasting on a dead giraffe, but perhaps the favourite sighting was a herd of elephant with a tiny baby, possibly only two weeks old. We also had a flat tire on the truck, which was very quickly replaced by our fabulous team of Ranger and Tracker. We stopped for amazing "sundowners", at various places throughout the reserve and witnessed amazing sunsets.
After an amazing three days at Shumbala, it was time to sadly say goodbye. We were collected by van at around 10am for a two hour drive to our next stop, Savanna Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Reserve.
THE SABI SAND RESERVE, SAVANNA GAME LODGE
The second part of our week of safari began with a two hour transfer by van from Thorneybush Reserve to The Sabi Sand Reserve and our accommodation, Savanna Game Lodge, where we were booked in for four nights, although in hindsight, and purely for cost reasons, three nights here would have been fine.
We arrived in time to settle into our lovely accommodations before lunch. Savanna has three Executive and four Luxury Suites, as well as the Savanna Suite which has two bedrooms flanked with it's own lounge, dining area and kitchenette. Our rooms here all had their own private plunge pool and a great view of a small water hole, which had constant animal visitors, quite incredible to see them so close. There are no TV's in the rooms, but wifi is provided, a TV is available in the lounge at the main lodge. As this lodge is all inclusive, there is also a fully stocked mini bar in your room. A particularly nice touch, was to find upon our return from the evening game drives, that a nice bath had been drawn, filled with rose oil bubble bath. A glass of sherry would also be waiting for you.
Lunch is served buffet style, with guests and rangers sitting round the huge Lodge dining table, and of course the bar is open if you wish to indulge. We were introduced to our ranger Derrick at lunch, after which we all piled into our truck and met our tracker Abraham.
There were three to four trucks, (each seating seven people max), heading out into the Reserve each day, obviously depending on the number of guests staying in the Lodge. Our family group of five had a truck to ourselves which was perfect. A typical day at Savanna starts with a 5.30am wake up call. You make your way to the reception area for a quick cup of coffee and a light breakfast snack. By 6am you are out on the truck for the morning game drive. After a few hours out in the Reserve, with no doubt some wonderful animal sightings, you will stop somewhere for a morning coffee and snack. More time out in the Reserve and then back to the lodge for an amazing Breakfast at around 10am. As mentioned already, Savanna is “all inclusive”, so all drinks and food is included during your stay.
You then have some time to relax, either in your beautiful room, which has its own pool, or a the main pool at the lodge, or just relaxing at the main lodge sitting room.
At 3pm, lunch is served, buffet style and by 3.30pm you are back on the truck for the afternoon game drive. As sunset approaches, you will stop out in the Reserve, for “sundowners”, snacks and drinks as you watch the amazing African sun disappear, leaving behind its amazing orange glow which seems to last for the longest time. Somewhere around 6pm to 6.30pm you will be back at the lodge in time for a quick freshen up before cocktails and dinner around 8pm. Dinner each night was served in a different place around the lodge. One night it was around a fire and a “Braii” (BBQ) style. One night was in an old train car. One evening all the lodge guests met at a beautiful spot out in the Reserve for sundowners with canapés, drinks, candles and lanterns, before we all headed back for dinner. All the food, drinks and settings throughout our stay were amazing. More importantly, the staff were all so incredible.
Again, so many animal sightings in the Sabi Sand. We certainly easily ticked off our "Big 5". Plenty of lions, cheetah, leopard, rhino to name just a few.
After four nights at Savanna, it was time to say goodbye and head back to Johannesburg. We were once again collected by van after breakfast for the short 45 minute drive to Skukusa Airport. This is a very small airport actually in the Kruger National Park. We took an early afternoon Airlink Flight back to Johannesburg, where we spent another night in the City Lodge Hotel at the Airport before we all headed out on our International flights the next day.
It truly was a fantastic experience. Everything went perfectly, and we have so many memories that our family will talk about forever. The staff at both lodges were simply superb. The Rangers and Trackers were all amazing, and it was incredible to see them track and locate the animals in the Reserves. Needless to say, we took many, many photos and videos, so please check these out on my Flickr page, link below. There is also a You Tube Video with the highlights which pretty much documents our experiences, also below.
Destinations Africa - website here
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