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Africa is my passion. East
Africa will stay in my heart forever.
Would South Africa
hold the same magic
I had to find out.
story Yvonne Mostowy
SPECIAL GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
With my husband, Richard, my friend Gay and our intrepid group leader Cherry Collins, we set off with our crew of ten for this luxury adventure.
Leaving from Toronto (with Delta) we connected through Atlanta for our direct flight to Johannesburg. Although we enjoyed the 15-hour flight (we lucked out with business class), I would highly recommend connecting through Amsterdam. The two flights (11 hours & 8 hours) are easier to take. KLM business class and the easy terminal transfer make this a much better experience.
We arrived in Johannesburg tired, but ready for this once-in-a-lifetime experience – a luxury South African safari. The Big Five: lion, rhino, elephant, leopard and African buffalo, were chosen by the white hunters for the difficulty in hunting them on foot and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size. They are indigenous to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania, but in the Sabi Sands private game reserve, the drama truly unfolds as they are all easily spotted.
Sabi Sands, 500km east of Johannesburg runs along the southwest border of Kruger National Park. Here you will find high-end luxury lodges that put you up close and personal with the indigenous wildlife. Although Sabi Sands is a private reserve, there are few fences separating it from Kruger Park and animals travel back and forth freely.
Singita Ebony Lodge
At Singita Ebony Lodge, Sabi Sands, not only is the big game viewing some of the best in the world, but so is the hospitality, the service and the fine cuisine prepared by world-class chefs, accompanied by some of the finest South African wines.
Arriving at the lodge, we weren’t prepared for the sheer luxury of our accommodation. The individual thatched luxury lodges were stunningly designed and furnished to reflect the local surroundings. The sumptuous baths, indoor and outdoor showers, the expansive living area with a double-sided fireplace, and the wooden leisure decks with private heated plunge pool, tempted us just to stay put, relax and luxuriate.
Sabi Sands Safari
Our startling 5am wake-up call had us tempted to roll over and go back to sleep, but then we remembered we were in South Africa. Getting up before the sun rises means tracking nocturnal hunters and bush animals when they’re at their energetic best. With visions of the lions and elephants in our heads, we raised ourselves to greet the dawn with childlike enthusiasm.
After a quick cup of coffee, we headed to our open-air jeep to embark on our 3 to 4 hour safari drive with our ranger Wade and our tracker Johnson. The dozens of sightings we were treated to exceeded even our wildest dreams. We saw not just one elephant, but dozens, from a playful baby trumpeting his displeasure at our intrusion to a two-storey bull, toppling bushes with a shake of its head.
The rangers and trackers work as a team. The tracker sits on an elevated seat at the front of the jeep, searching for animal tracks and indicates direction to the ranger. The rangers communicate with each other and exchange news of animal sightings.
One morning, a leopard had been sighted and within the hour, we found this splendid fellow draped over the limb of a tree with his kill. He was replete with his meal and fast asleep. Being within 20 feet of this magnificent beast in an open jeep was both exhilarating and heart-stopping. But even when he lazily meandered down the tree, closer to us, we never felt threatened. Leopards are sometimes considered to be the most difficult of the Big Five to find. They are nocturnal and take flight at the slightest hint of danger.
After this thrilling encounter, we were treated to what became our morning ritual of stopping for tea, hot chocolate and coffee laced with Amarula (a local cream liqueur made from Marula tree).
Returning from the morning encounters, we were drawn to the intoxicating aroma of freshly cooked breakfast served on the open air terrace of our lodge. We were sent into gales of laughter as cheeky vervet monkeys swooped down and tried to grab food off our table.
The rest of the day was devoted to relaxing on the verandah, swimming in our private pool and enjoying a bottle of good wine that we found in our fully stocked mini-fridge.
Nature walks with our ranger and spa treatments were also available.
Then it was time for afternoon tea and the evening game drive that included a stop for a “sundowner’ (cocktails enjoyed as the sun sets), along with all kinds of tasty treats. What a wonderful experience just to enjoy the peaceful sounds of the bush in the company of good friends!
Back at the lodge, dinner awaited us under the starry southern sky followed by drinks around the fire. Then off to our comfortable rooms to dream of what we would encounter tomorrow.
Londolozi reserve, also in Sabi Sands, was every bit as luxurious as Singita. Mike, our ranger, held us spellbound with his stories of the lion wars. He promised to introduce us to ‘the brother,’ a magnificent lion who had ferociously taken back the territory from his older brother. We sought and found him the next day, surrounded by his females and young males. It was a sight I will never forget. We were truly in the presence of royalty.
From Durban to Cape Town
Next stop on our itinerary - Durban, South Africa’s third largest city, famous for its miles of beach providing access to swimming, surfing and fishing in the warm Indian Ocean. We flew from Durban to Cape Town and drove through the picturesque mountains and rolling vineyards to Franschoek (French corner) which has about 20 wineries and is considered gourmet capital of the winelands.
Our home for two nights was Le Quartier Francais where we were introduced to Margot Janse - winner of the rising chef award in 2006. We sampled many of the dishes and agreed it was some of the finest food we had ever tasted.
Stellenbosch is known as the wine capital of South Africa with nearly 100 wine estates. After touring some of the cellars and tasting the excellent wines, we enjoyed a wonderful gourmet lunch at one of the 300-year-old wineries. I can still savour the salads, fresh baguettes and the variety of cheeses paired with the appropriate wines. Unforgettable!
Upon arriving in Cape Town, we were taken to the lower cableway station on the slopes of Table Mountain where we ascended the mountain by aerial cable car and overlooked the city, Robben Island and Table Bay from a height of 1067 metres. The view was breathtaking.
Our home for the next two nights - the One & Only Resort (Hotel and Spa) Cape Town was situated in the heart of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This 6-star hotel offered us unprecendented luxury and provided us with the gateway to rare and enchanting adventures.
At the fishing harbour of Hout Bay, we embarked on a launch to visit the Duiker Island seals and cormorants at close quarters. Then on to the Cape Point Nature Reserve which is the best vantage point to view the erroneously called "meeting place" of the two mighty oceans. After a stop for lunch, we were taken to the African penguin colony. We all fell in love with the dumpy little waddlers with the beady black eyes.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Last on our tour, but first in my heart was the early afternoon visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Comprising two square miles of rare indigenous plant species, these enchanting gardens blend the vivid colours of the flowers with the mists of the mountains beyond, tempting you just to meander through the pathways and drink in the staggering beauty of your surroundings. This truly is a garden lover’s paradise.
Blue Train to Pretoria
Our final journey was on the Blue Train to Pretoria. This is not merely a train as it combines the luxury of the world’s leading hotels with the charm of train travel. This truly all-inclusive luxury rail cruise pampers you from start to finish. With our private butler to pander to our whims and fancies, we were taken back in time to a world of grace, elegance and romance.
As we arrived in Pretoria, for our final journey home, we all knew that we would never forget the many facets of South Africa - this stunning jewel in Africa’s crown. GL
AT TOP A baby elephant crosses the safari trail
as our ranger Wade looks on
ABOVE Yvonne and Richard hop on a flight to Singita
from Johannesburg at the start of our trip
BELOW Our safari team heads out at daybreak with
Richard playing ranger, Johnson driving
and tracker Wade seated behind him
BELOW (TOP TO BOTTOM) - THE BIG FIVE:
A mother and baby rhino graze mongst the birds
African buffalo bathe in a favourite watering hole
A leopard surveys from a tree
A magnificent lion known as "the brother"
An African elephant enjoys a shrubby meal
unfazed by our presence