Hello Ilse, from South Texas, rainy and cold.
Well it appears this turned into a travelogue. It was such a great trip. We appreciate everything you did to make it so grand, which indeed it was. It was so nice to do everything on our own schedule. Every guide you arranged for us was fabulous and every transfer and air trip went like clockwork. It could not have been better. I know this is long, but when I got started, I could not quit.
We did have a fabulous trip. It is hard to believe that after all the months of planning, we are there and back. You arranged the perfect trip for us. At each location, we were there just long enough, but not too long, to see most of what we wanted/should to see. Looking back on Trip Advisor, it seems you picked the #1 accommodation in each location, and it showed. Each hotel/lodge was wonderful in its own way. The food was so great. I am having to fight my way back to where I was, weight wise, prior to the trip, but I have developed this affinity for South African wines.
Each of our transfers from airport to hotel/lodge to airport went off without a hitch. The drivers were always at the airport with our name as we exited baggage claim, and not with a hand written sign, but with our name typed out, framed, and easy to see and read. And each driver and tour guide was so nice and so helpful.
We absolutely loved The Residence in Johannesburg. It started the trip off beautifully. Our dinner at the hotel was superb and the service was grand. Even though our room was small, we would have loved to have spent more time at this property.
We absolutely loved Ngoma Lodge in Chobe. This lodge had everything one could want, including the best relief managers, Judy and Peter Hepburn. They were such great hosts and made us feel so welcome. It was like we were visiting good, longtime friends. The food was also delicious. Chobe was a great choice for us. The animals are prolific and our ranger, Johane, could not have been better. He even took us to his daughter’s school and to see his new home he is building on a hill above Marbele village. That was so personal. I liked the fact that this lodge has a special relationship with the villages and works to employ locals and to promote them. Ngoma Lodge had even paid for Johane to go to the weeks of training to become a ranger. With
elephants drinking out of our plunge pools and baboons sitting on our deckfurniture, who could have asked for anything more.
Our transfer to Elephant Camp went off without a hitch. The border crossing between Botswana and Zimbabwe was very smooth. We loved Elephant Camp as well. I have stayed in tented camps before in Asia, but Elephant Camp exceeded all expectations. Meeting the resident herd of orphan elephants was so much fun and getting to meet and pet Sylvester, the resident orphan Cheetah, was so special. After hearing from other travelers along the route, we were so glad we were not staying at The Victoria Falls Hotel. The lobby was beautiful, but I hear
the rooms were very old and out of date and not really very nice. Thank you for putting us somewhere as luxurious as Elephant Camp.
At Elephant Camp, we had a fabulous guide, Sipho, who took us on a private walking tour of Victoria Falls. Sipho was so immediately impressive. You should request him when you book others into Elephant Camp.
We saw the falls from the ground, and the next day, took a
helicopter ride over the falls. The 25 minute helicopter tour was perfect. We did not feel cheated. The falls were rather dry, as they have been in a drought and the rainy seasons was just beginning. It was fun seeing the falls without as much water, as it was interesting to see the rocky areas not covered with so much water, and to see how it actually flows. It was 102 degrees the day we arrived at Elephant Camp and 72 degrees the next day.
We also booked the luxury sunset river cruise, not to see the sunset, but to get to cruise the Zambezi River. We were booked onto the Zambezi Royal boat, which was new and small. There were only 6 of us on this beautifully decorated boat built for a maximum of 28. It was truly luxury from the first glass of champagne they poured as you stepped on the boat, to the food they served as you floated down the river. We so enjoyed this relaxing trip down the river. We highly recommend this boat, as it was definitely the nicest we saw plowing the river.
Our guide in Joburg was very good – Tefo. We enjoyed being with him and I think he did a great job with the time we had available. We were able to see Soweto and the Mandela house and the Apartheid Museum, which I was surprised at how much I learned there and how interesting it was. He saw us into the airport with ALL our luggage and got us great help at that humongous airport facility.
Cape Town was splendid. The Mannabay was a beautiful property. They did NOT honor the reservation you had made for us in the Black and White room restaurant, which I think would have been much better for us. They had only one plug in the room and, unlike all the other properties, had made NO accommodation for the crazy South African law to not allow plugs in bathrooms. There was no place
a lady could plug in hair appliances and see what she was doing –
unbelievable for a property of this elegance and sophistication. I was about ready to check out the next morning and was somewhat upset with myself for dismissing “out of hand” your suggestion to book at the One and Only. The highlight of our stay here was the excellent butler staff and of course the beauty and elegance of the property. Breakfast was really nice, as well. And they did provide a car and driver for us to go the Greenhouse and they did provide and pay for taxis for us to go to town or to dinner.
We adored our guide in Cape Town area, Charlie Ratcliffe, and were so sorry he got sick our last day. He assured we saw all the fabulous sites around Cape Town. He got us to that wonderful Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill, which was so much fun. We would have ever known about it without Charlie.
We enjoyed the trip to Robben Island and hearing from the former
prisoner, Sipho (a different Sipho.) The trip out to Robben Island on the ferry was a great way to see Cape Town. We took the funicular up to Table Mountain; Charlie picked the very best time for us to do this during our stay. He took us to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Hope and took us through the towns surrounding Cape Town.
Baia was a good choice for our first evening. Nothing spectacular, but we had a great table right by the window on the harbor and the food and service were good.
The Greenhouse was a spectacular location and meal – probably one of the finest I have ever had. Very, very unique. We were overserved, as
their pours of wine and champagne were huge and the food was so good and plentiful.
The last nightwe went to Bizerca. We loved this restaurant. The food was unique and theambiance was so very nice. It was relatively close to the hotel. Thank you for working so diligently to get restaurant reservations at places we really enjoyed.
Off we were to Franschhoek. Even though The Last Word Franschhoek was not as elegant as our other hotels, we really liked this establishment. The service was superb and our room was very large. Like every other property except Mannabay, they had honored your request and placed us in a room that was very close to the lobby and easy for Chal to maneuver. I think if I went back, I may choose La Residence, or even a location in Stellenbosch (I liked the vibrancy of this town.)
For a first trip, I think Franschhoek was a great choice, as was The Last Word Franschhoek. The town was fun to shop in for an afternoon and I could walk back and forth between the shops and hotel. No driver needed. Our first night, we ate a Ryan’s Kitchen. The hotel delivered us there and picked us up. Wow, the food was excellent and very unique. I would certainly recommend this restaurant to others. I had the fish in buttermilk, go figure, and ended with the very best soufflé ever.
Now on to Delaire Graff – WOW. That is a spectacular property. I am so glad you choose it for us. The food was good, though not as inventive as The Greenhouse or Ryan’s kitchen, but the setting is just so fabulous. Charlie took us to lunch at La Petite Ferme. We so enjoyed the food, and the setting there, too, was gorgeous.
Our picnic at Warwick Vineyards was so special. Thank you for that gift! We had a great time savoring their specialties and enjoying their wines. The weather was so beautiful, as was the setting. That was such a lovely surprise.
Our guide, Leonard, was very good. He had a great knowledge of wines, as he has a degree from Stellenbosch University. We told him what we were interested in and he took us to great vineyards. Even though we were disappointed Charlie could not make it, I think Leonard was a good substitute. On our way down to The Winelands, Charlie had made us reservations in Paarl for a wine and cheese paring at Fairview Vineyards. We thoroughly enjoyed that and really liked their wines. Each vineyard we visited was unique and we really enjoyed each of them.
Well, Dulini. What a great place! Pictures on the Internet do not do it
justice. This place was just utterly spectacular. Ian and Sue Garret, the
owners, are such gracious hosts. Ian is so enthusiastic, he was even out in a range rover helping us look for animals. Sue hunts for beautiful African arts for the lodge shop, and this is where I did some of my best shopping while in Africa. The food was so good and our suite was so gorgeous, just like an elegant Out of Africa. This was our only plunge pool that was heated and that was so nice. All our other plunge pools were not heated and I could not use them as the water was so cold. But Chal and I made great use of this pool.
Each morning, I would tell our ranger, Patrick, and our tracker, Tyrone, that they could not possible show me anything I had not already seen, and challenged them to show me something new and different, and by God they did it! From the leopard eating her
catch in the tree at dusk to the elephants frolicking in the mud pool, to
the lion pride settling in for the night, each drive had something unique and different.
Our trip in and out of Dulini on the bush plane was great (Federal Air was the best), and we even got to do our first (and only) air safari, seeing out first rhino sightings from the air. The plush landing
strip reception area was the nicest we saw as we flew in and out of the
various camps. It is no wonder Dulini is ranked #1 of all lodges in Sabi
Sand, and with only 6 rooms is so intimate. We wanted the Federal Air guys to fly us on to Durban, but alas, they didn’t.
Our trip to Umhlanga Rocks north of Durbin was also special. The Oyster Box is such a beautiful property, and the service, like every place we visited was great. Breakfast with the monkeys was fun, if they did not steal your food. We enjoyed our day trip to Zululand.
Our guide and driver, Tim, with Shakka Tours was wonderful. You should request him every time. He showed us around Durbin before we headed to Zululand. We hooked up with our Zulu guide, Maxwell, who had put together quite a nice itinerary for us to be “Zulus for a day.” We first visited the orphanage, where Philele showed us around. She has been at the orphanage since her parents both died of AIDS
years ago. Her goal is to go to college. One of the other children at the
orphanage has just started at University to be an electrical engineer. All the children we met on this trip were so impressive. They are working hard to get a better education and move up in life. We visited a village after school program where they teach life skills. Very impressive. No “poor me” there.
We had lunch with Tim and Maxwell at a local restaurant, typical of
what a Zulu would do for lunch. Then we went to see the traditional healer, where we learned about her training and trade. The little girls who are working to keep the Zulu traditional dances alive were so cute. We had a great time with them.
Tim suggested we take the Segway tour that leaves from the stadium in
Durban, which we did the next day. We decided on the 2 hour Segway tour with our fabulous guide, Sbo. I am so glad we chose this one. We were able to do the entire waterfront and stop for a drink at a restaurant over the water. We took the cable car up on top of the stadium after our Segway tour. We could see all Durban from the top of the stadium. At the Visitor Center under the stadium, we let them talk us into taking the “People Mover” bus from the stadium to the marine park rather than an taxi. Interesting.
We then went to eat lunch at Ushaka Marine Park, at the Cargo Hold. It was not one of our better meals, but was fun because it is in the hold of an old ship and because of the aquarium on premises. The Oyster Box took us in their Mercedes to and from town for a nominal fee, which we were glad to pay.
I was so disappointed I could not get into the spa. I was told you
have to book 3-4 weeks in advance to be assured a spa treatment. Well, as they have the top rated spa in South Africa, I will just have to go back for that.
Our last night, we ate at Il Maurice. It was expensive and the food
was not nearly as good as the hotel (The Grill and the patio restaurant were both excellent), but the owner, Maurice, was very nice to us and gave us special drinks and wine. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Durban area.
Ilse, you planned a wonderful trip for us to southern Africa. We loved
every day of it. If we can be a reference for you, please let us know. It
was so much fun to meet you in Cape Town. Thank you for taking the time to come to our hotel so we could meet.
Until next time…