South Africa by Kelly Cutting
African Travel Specialists Educational
27 October – 07 November 2006
When African Travel Specialists, organized an Educational to Southern Africa, they endeavored to show some highlights of a fantastic combination of countries to all that participated.
South Africa is described as “The world in one country”. It has a mixture of cultures, offers a wide choice of food, entertainment, dress and living styles, and the accommodation that was chosen for the group reflected this in every way. Beautiful, well located properties offering total luxury and comfort.
After South Africa the group was taken through to Botswana to show them firstly the magical Okavango Delta and then up north to Chobe National Park. This part of the world is magical offering a pristine expanse of lush waterways flowing over the sands of the mighty Kalahari Desert, a wilderness area that attracts a wealth of bird life as well as a large concentration of wildlife.
On arrival at Victoria Falls the group found one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, a spectacular water fall forming a natural border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. With so many activities on offer in this area the two night stay at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel was a necessary end to a fantastic trip.
Following is Kelly’s summary of the Educational Tour
WESTCLIFF HOTEL – Johannesburg
We stayed here on our arrival night it was approximately ½ an hour from the airport.
It is a beautiful 5 star hotel that is located in the Westcliff area which is the upmarket area in Johannesburg. It is about 10 minutes from the major shopping departments in Johannesburg.
Rooms were beautifully appointed and spacious. The marble bathroom was amazing, absolutely huge with heated flooring, walk in shower, double basins and claw foot baths.
Personally the following morning we were driven past the shopping centre and for clients wishing to stay in Johannesburg for a night or 2, I would put them in the 5 star Intercontinental Sandton Sun & Towers which has direct access to Sandton City shopping centre.
MARATABA SAFARI LODGE – Marakele National Park – South Africa
MALARIA FREE PARK
I would rate this as the best all round lodge that we stayed at, the staff were attentive, friendly, experienced and really made all guests feel comfortable. It is located about 3 hours drive north of Johannesburg at the base of the Waterberg Mountains. You can get to the lodge by road transfer or private charter plane.
The accommodation is luxury tented suites with stone bathrooms including double basins and a gorgeous freestanding bath. The tents have heated flooring and are fully air conditioned.
You have a private deck with bean bags where you can sit and just enjoy the view which is spectacular.
The main building holds the dining area, a small library, bar and general lounge area with open fire place and a small tourist shop. They have a salt water pool with sun lounges and hammocks where you can relax in between game drives.
There was great game viewing at this lodge. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Sun City is located approximately 2 hours drive north of Johannesburg.
There are 4 hotels within the resort complex:
1. Palace of the Lost City – 5 star
2. The Cascades – 4 star
3. Sun City Hotel – 4 star
4. Cabanas Hotel – 3 star
The resort complex also houses ‘The Valley of the Waves Waterpark’, two 18 hole championship golf courses, casinos and a huge range of cultural activities and many restaurants.
For guests staying at any of the hotels you get access to the Entertainment centre which houses the waterpark and a range of activities.
The waterpark is fairly tame, I would recommend maybe 2 nights for Australians visiting South Africa. There is a game park within close proximity to Sun City so if clients are not wanting to be traveling long distances they could stay at Sun City and then transfer to Pilanesberg National Park which is also a malaria free game park.
There are many restaurants and available within the complex
The Cascades Hotel
We stayed at this hotel, I believe it is classified as 4.5* property but really I think it is more 3.5 – 4*.
The only thing I really disliked about this property was the main reception area it was long and thin and fronted the road and then onto the main courtyard area at the back, there always seemed to be so many people wandering around and it didn’t feel like a hotel reception area at all.
There are 243 well appointed and spacious rooms with opening windows. Rooms are air conditioned and include mini bar, in room safe etc.
Palace of the Lost City
We did an inspection of this property and had dinner at their main restaurant which was fairly ordinary.
The grounds of this property are just beautiful, the reception area is located under a huge glass atrium and has an exquisite mosaic tiled floor which took 6 months just to do. The attention to detail is just amazing at this property it is just a pity that the rooms did not live up to the rest of the hotel.
We saw a standard room as well as a newly renovated standard room and both were very dark inside. The newly renovated room was slightly better but I just felt that the rooms were so dark that you needed to open the curtains but they were already open! The bathrooms were very basic for a 5* hotel.
This is the premium hotel at Sun City and is classified as a 5* + property, the best thing about it is the grounds. To stay at this hotel is about double the price of the Cascades, I am not sure if it is worth it as you can go and have a meal there and access all areas of the Palace without having to pay the additional to stay there.
IMPODIMO GAME LODGE – Madikwe National Park – South Africa
MALARIA FREE PARK
This was a fantastic fairly new game lodge located in the North West corner of the 75,000 hectare Madikwe National Park. There are only 8 suites and 1 x 2 bedroom private suite available at this lodge.
The suites are all glass fronted and they look out directly into the National Park, we had a herd of about 10 elephants walk directly in front of our room! All suites are air conditioned and have a deck, outdoor shower,fireplace, double basins and separate claw foot bath, rooms also contained a mini bar.
We had great game viewing at this lodge, this is where we seen our first set of lions along with plenty of other exciting game.
The main lodge houses the dining area, tourist shop, bar, library and main lounge area. There have a salt water pool where it is a very common occurrence at this lodge for elephants to come right up to the pool and drink and bathe in the water!
You can get to the lodge by charter plane which is approx AUD230.00 each way or you can transfer in by road which is approximately 4 hours drive from Johannesburg.
MADIKWE HILLS – Madikwe National Park – South Africa
MALARIA FREE PARK
This would have been my favourite accommodation the only thing that let this property down was when we were on game drives we bumped into heaps of other lodges vehicles and it just took some of the ambiance away, or if they saw an animal you had to wait in like a queue system and then sometimes by the time you got there the animals had up and left! This did not happen at any of the other lodges and if it didn’t have the feeling of being so busy when you left the lodge this would have been my favourite lodge.
The rooms are just stunning, huge with heated flooring, air conditioning separate lounge area with fireplace, massive bathroom with double basins, claw foot baths and an outdoor shower. The rooms are glass fronted with a huge private decking area that has a private plunge pool and 2 sun lounges.
This property is set almost into the side of a hill so basically everything is elevated and it is completely safe to walk to and from your room at all times of the day, all other lodges you must be escorted to your rooms by rangers, so this property really gives you a feeling of security.
The main lodge has a stunning lounge area, bar and an extensive library. There is a tourist shop also.
I suggest Room 2 for our clients, (this room has a slightly larger decking area that also has a table and 2 chairs and a bigger plunge pool )
You can access this lodge by road – approx 4 hours drive north of Johannesburg or by charter aircraft.
KHWAI RIVER LODGE – bordering Moremi National Park - Botswana
Khwai River Lodge is located in Botswana close to the Moremi National Park with access to the ‘Okavango Delta wetlands’. This is one of Botswana’s oldest game lodges.
There are 15 elevated permanent tented suites with air conditioning, overhead fan, in room safe and mini bar. There is quite a difference between luxury lodges in South Africa to when you cross the border into Botswana.
At Khwai River Lodge, the electricity is shut off between 11pm and 4am in the morning, so your air conditioning does not work through the night, only your over head fan and limited lighting in your room is available.
The standard of food is probably not as good but it is just amazing in itself how they get everything to come together in the middle of nowhere!
They have a swimming pool and plenty of sun lounges available for in between your game drives, a tourist shop and a library.
We had excellent game viewing at Khwai, we had lion tracks right outside our room, we could see hippos in the river from our room during the day and then grazing in the fields at night. On our last game drive we had the magnificent experience of 2 lionesses and their 4 cubs crossing the river, it was just breath
CHOBE GAME LODGE – Chobe National Park – Botswana
This is more like a hotel than a game lodge, it is set on the banks of the Chobe River and is the only lodge located within Chobe National Park. It is approx ½ an hour drive from Kasane Airport.
Rooms are well appointed and are air conditioned with either a balcony or private terrace if you are located on the ground floor.
There is a swimming pool with plenty of chairs / sun lounges and umbrellas, the hotel also has a business centre, a bar with a full size billiards table and dart board, they also have a television which shows mostly sports, a small gym and a tourist shop.
The have a great dining area which is lit up at night time and has a huge buffet style meal and traditional dancing.
We did a great sunset cruise on the river where we saw plenty of hippo, elephant, crocodiles and buffalo. This is a nice relaxing way for clients to enjoy a different type of game viewing.
VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL – Zimbabwe
This is a beautiful hotel that unfortunately does not quite live up to expectation and it is probably more to do with Zimbabwe being such a suppressed country now that it is just so hard to do anything.
The rooms are spacious, fully air conditioned with satellite tv ( that didn’t work ), in room safe, mini bar ( which was locked you had to call reception and wait at least 10 minutes for someone to come and unlock it for you ). Bathrooms average size, very hard to work out the hot water!!
We stayed here for 2 nights and on both nights the electricity went out, the first night was for about 40 minutes but the second night was almost a couple of hours, during this time there is no power to any of the rooms. The hotel had generators but only for the main restaurant and the lobby area. We were told that this is a common occurrence in Zimbabwe for the power to go out.
The grounds at this hotel are beautiful and they have a large pool area with plenty of seating, there is a bar at the pool where you can order drinks and snacks are available. If you have guests staying in Zimbabwe please make sure that they are aware that it is very expensive within the hotel. There are also 2 tennis courts.
The bank exchange rate that the hotel uses is about 250 ZIM dollars to 1 USD but on the black market it is 1400 ZIM dollars to USD. Our clients must have enough USD for their stay, there is no where in Zimbabwe to exchange currency into USD and there is no point having ZIM dollars as it is basically worth nothing.
At the markets they will accept all currencies but they charge you more to pay in ZIM dollars! Advise our clients not to tip at any of the hotels as the government takes this money so it does not go to the staff.
We did this fantastic fairly new activity in Vic Falls called the Lion Encounter and it is an absolute must for all tourists. You get to walk with young lions up to the age of 15 months, it was sensational probably one of the best things that we did.
You get to spend about ½ an hour – 45 minutes just walking around with these lion cubs, you can take as many photos as you want, you are able to pat them and they are able to approach you also. One actually come right up to me and went in between my legs and rubbed itself around my legs like a cat does!
The viewing of Vic Falls is fantastic, when we were there is was only flowing at about 40% and I thought it was fantastic, so if people are going in the 1st half of the year they will see it flowing more heavily.
One of the guys in our group did the whitewater rafting on the Zambezi. You get picked up at around 8.00am in the morning and dropped back at the hotel around 3.00pm in the afternoon. These are category 5 rapids and not for the faint hearted, there are some areas that are unraftable where you have to get out and walk around. The biggest point that he told us to tell all clients is that to get down to the river you walk on a vertical stepladder down a 100m sheer rock face, apparently at least 1 – 2 people fall off and perish per year, EXTREMELY DANGEROUS and worse yet you have to climb up the same ladder to get out!
THE ROYAL LIVINGSTONE HOTEL – Zambian side of Vic Falls
This was a beautiful hotel and for the discerning traveller they would be better off at this property rather than the Vic Falls Hotel. It is located on the edge of the Zambezi River.
It has all the feel of the of a luxury 5* hotel, the rooms are beautifully appointed and have air conditioning, mini bar, in room safe, luxury bathrooms and private balconies or patio areas. The lounge areas are rich and there is a well stocked library and beautiful bar and a tourist shop.
THE ZAMBEZI SUN – Zambian Side of Vic Falls
This was a great 4* property, it has a huge pool area with a pool bar and has recently been refurbished. Guest rooms are all air conditioned with in room safe and mini bar.
The rooms were a little on the small side, but the hotel had plenty of character. The rooms were light and brightly painted.
KELLY’S SPECIAL NOTES
• It is recommended that Australian traveling to Victoria Falls stay on the Zambezi side. Visa fees are waivered by the government if you are staying at a Zambian hotel for at least 1 night.
• You will still need to get a visa to cross into Zimbabwe to access the best side of the falls but clients will be better off on the Zambian side, there are still local markets available to purchase local handicrafts
• Do not tip any hotel staff
• Make sure clients have enough USD for their stay
• I have highlighted that all the game parks that we went to were malaria free, this is important for people who are anxious about taking malaria medication as apparently it can make you very nauseas and also makes you EXTREMELY sensitive to the sun
• At all of the game parks tipping is customary, generally the more game you get to see the more you pay your driver!
• Clients could easily have a full safari experience without leaving South Africa
• South Africa is also great for wineries and there are a couple of world renowned train trips available
• The food that we had was amazing in South Africa
• Clients will need to take plenty of film and video tapes as there is an abundance of wildlife out there.
• Make sure that they are aware that the lodges are not protected in anyway from the wildlife ( exception to Madikwe Hills )
• Whilst staying at lodges you do 2 game drives per day, 1st wake up call is usually 5.00am in the morning and you set off around 6.00am for approx 4 – 4 ½ hour game drive. The 2nd game drive usually departs around 4pm for about 4 – 4 ½ hours also. Sometime you aren’t eating dinner until around 9.30pm – 10pm at night.
• Make sure clients have back up US currency as this is accepted everywhere