Trip lived up to our expectations and most of all the girls loved their first trip to Africa and safari, which was great.
1. Route 62 Winelands /Robertson Small Hotel – lovely. Small but intimate; good food and service and very relaxing. Just right to start the trip off with. Two nights was just right – as constructive feedback I wouldn’t suggest longer simply because the menu was the same each night so I think you’d run out of things to choose if you were staying longer (and eating in of course!). We loved it though.
2. Stellenbosch/Majeka House – the room was lovely and the food was really good but our sense was that the public areas don’t work as well. The sitting area is more public but the weakest thing is the pool which is basically indoors and far too hot – it was like swimming in a bath. It was really hot and you wanted to take a dip to cool off but came out warmer. (Is it possible to sweat in a swimming pool?!). We did mention it to them and they said they would see about turning it down but other people were saying the same thing and the net result was that the pool wasn’t really used. On the second day, we decided to go and find another pool so we want to the Lanzerac Hotel/estate. (It probably needs a bit of a refurb but the pool and grounds are super).
3. Cape Town/12 Apostles – gorgeous hotel. The staff couldn’t have been nicer; made plenty of time to talk to you and the food was wonderful. You can’t beat the setting with the views of the coast. We’d definitely go back there and it was much more ‘us’ than Cape Grace last year.
4. Victoria Falls / Royal Livingstone – beautiful location and hotel. It’s so nice sitting on your veranda and being surprised by a couple of zebra trotting past (although we did find out later that the hotel feeds them so I suppose it’s a bit of a cheat but very romantic nonetheless). The Falls are beautiful. In terms of negatives, the Sundowner Cruise was slightly disappointing as it’s basically a booze cruise with lots of families guzzling down free alcohol. We should have worked that out for ourselves though because the clue was in the name! Although the hotel brochure said that the African Queen prides itself on the quality of its food, there was a really big difference between what the hotel offered and the boat. With hindsight, for us, I think the river safari would have been a better choice because it was a smaller group and they saw more wildlife.
The village tour was fascinating and we really enjoyed it. The only thing I think it would be worth warning people about is the village shop which is very hard sell with all the individual store holders competing for your cash. There were so many sob stories about you being their first visitor and needing you to buy something so they can feed their families over Christmas – my concern was that (a) either the stories were true, in which case I felt really guilty that I didn’t have enough money to buy something from everyone or (b) they were making the stories up because they knew it worked as a guilt-trip to get people to spend but then I don’t like being lied to. Either way I left feeling rather depressed…. The problem is that all the villagers basically make and sell the same things so it’s difficult to decide what to buy from whom – I ended up spending money with the store holder who looked the most ill! We did wonder whether they’d be better having a larger single store where they pooled all their resources to avoid duplication and split the proceeds but there are obvious difficulties with that. As an aside, I know that Bushtracks are the hotel’s preferred operator but they were a bit hit and miss in terms of the quality/reliability.
5. Botswana / Savute Safari Lodge – good location and game drives. A very different sort of safari to Kruger (not least of all having only a driver rather than driver/tracker and the absence of any rifle – which to us softies was slightly scary when the lions are very close). The learning point for us was that we do like our creature comforts (particularly AC!) so the fans going off at night when they switch the generator off meant we didn’t sleep as well. There’s clearly a big difference between the level of development/sophistication of the tourism industry in South Africa vs. Botswana which in hindsight we should have anticipated but had rather naively assumed would just be the same. Overall Debbie and I probably enjoyed Kruger more – but Savuti/Chobe is a more ‘authentic’ bush experience. The girls didn’t have a comparison though and loved it – once Lucy had overcome the fear that everything was about to eat her! (My sense was that in general the elephants in Chobe were more aggressive and didn’t want you as close as in Kruger but I may be wrong about that). It did rain hard one day but it was so hard that it was funny and by the time you are soaked, you can’t really get any wetter… The atmospherics made for some great photos).
6. Okavango / Xugana – obviously a completely different experience and very relaxing. Debs and I preferred this to Savuti because it was more open and lighter. The activities were also completely different to anything we’d experienced before and the landscape is beautiful. Your recommendation that 2 nights at Okavango is enough, however, we agree with. The only downside was that it did rain really hard and when you are in a speedboat, there is nowhere to escape the rain. I did feel at one point when we were speeding down a waterway with our ponchos pulled up over our heads and wearing sun glasses that I had somehow been transported into a commando movie….)
Safari Air were really good and the flights – which Debbie hates – weren’t as bad as she’d feared. All the pilots we had did a really good job.
Air Botswana was rather frustrating – the direct flight from Maun to Johannesberg they decided to re-route as an indirect flight via Kisane – which meant flying North to go South. We also had to deplane because of the weather in Kisane so what should have been a flight taking about 1.5 hours turned into a 3.5 hour journey. Lots of people were panicking about missing their connections at Johannesberg but – to be honest – the Air Botswana staff didn’t give a s**t. We’d booked a hotel at Johannesberg airport because we thought it would be good to be able to have a shower, use the pool etc but because of the delay, we ended up only having an hour in the room so it turned out to be a bit of a waste of money. Out of choice, we wouldn’t fly Air Botswana again.
Overall, however, it was a wonderful holiday and thank you for your help in organising it.
MarkView Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa
View Majeka House
View The Royal Livingstone
View Savute Safari Lodge
View Xugana Island Lodge