Family Trip : Waterfront Apartment, Thornybush Safari, Chobe Bakwena, A’Zambezi River Lodge

Dear Michelle, 

Thank you on very personal basis from the whole family for your itinerary and detailed arrangements, for the selection of accommodation, selection of lodges, and the assisted transfers at each travel leg. We met the Bidvest people 3 times at Jo’burg, each occasion a different transfer sequence, and they were very efficient, gaining us priority in queues and taking any confusion away from where to go. Botswana/Zimbabwe border also had the potential of being challenging and the 2 drivers sorted it out easily between them.

You earned our grateful thanks for managing the cancellation of the private flight from Thornybush with the early morning road transfer.  The fog was incredibly dense the whole way, and Nelspruit airport had absolutely zero visibility, so it was just as well we did not attempt to fly.  The minibus driver, Hermann, was a private guide/driver based in Hoedspruit and was appropriately cautious on a dangerous journey.

If you look into your files you will know that I have been planning this visit for some years, and I’m delighted with how it has turned out. Southern Africa felt very familiar and comfortable to to us despite the 30 year absence. However the greatest joy was seeing it all through the eyes of the children, who continue to enthusiastically relate their experiences back in Sydney.  Deborah has cautioned them that they have been spoiled with “Poppy’s style of travel” which is not the norm!  Congratulations again to you Michelle for judging the standard that we were seeking, not over the top luxurious, but good quality comfort and service. 

Thornybush Monwana Lodge was the highlight. The small size suited us perfectly and delivered a very personal experience. “Shared safaris” resulted in only us 4 plus another couple, or sometimes just us.  The resident Guide, Doctor, and his tracker were excellent and related incredibly well to the children. When we met other safari vehicles you could tell that the guides related to Doctor with a high degree of respect.  He gave us some exciting experiences and set off each day with a purpose, “We are going to find that male lion..”.  We did a bush walk most days, each one delivering a surprise, with a pair of rhino, a herd of elephants, a lion, and a Cape Buffalo waiting to charge us. We became good friends with Doctor and continued to correspond after we left. The food was bordering on gourmet standard, and the personal attention of the Manageress Tamsyn who one day served lamington cakes in our honour (Australian iconic dish) was special.  When you originally booked Thornybush Park for us, I was a little concerned that its finite size was going to present us with a zoo experience rather than wide expanses of African bush.  No foundation to my reservations, as with all the fences down the park is connected to Kruger.  It was sensational.

Chobe Bakwena Lodge was different and presented its unique experiences. Bakwena is not so upmarket as Monwana, and the gate access is through a dusty African village. The family sized rondavel, (actually an oval) was large and ideal for us.  The place is well managed by a group of women, the food wholesome, and willing service. The main lodge building was established, comfortable and practical. We had a guide Jonathan (Jono) who was on contract to Bakwena and was very good. Matthew was a bit put out initially  when he discovered that Chobe Reserve would not allow us to go off-road bush-bashing in pursuit of lions as we had just experienced, but in the end that did not limit what we saw. 

Chobe overall gave us some fascinating sights, that complemented Monwana, particularly the river trips.  We took a private boat one day at 1100am to avoid the flotilla of boats from multiple lodges that are on the river at 3.30pm. Once again our safari vehicle was not overcrowded, most occasions it was just the 4 of us.  On the last day, Jonathan took us for a walk through the local village and we visited the junior school. Julia made a presentation of a drawing of a Kookaburra and we left some gifts (30 pen/pencil/ruler sets and notebooks). This was a good educational experience for our children.

 Botswana felt safe and well organised.

After the inefficiency of the Zimbabwe border crossing, Vic Falls town also presented a smart prosperous safe environment.  It obviously thrives on tourism and influx of USD and is not representative of the rest of Zim. A’Zambezi River Lodge with manicured lawns down to the river was a good hotel selection.  The public spaces, restaurant, and bar are all good, fine choice of food, with excellent entertainment at dinner in the evening, Rooms are “holiday inn” style and size; a contrast to the vast sized rondavels we had just enjoyed, but perfectly adequate when combined to the outside sitting area on the lawn. We were impressed that our Guide, Mackson, with his 20 seater bus was at our disposal for the whole time, hence we were not stuck 7km out of town or dependent on hotel minibus schedule. 

The helicopter trip was of course the highlight. Thank you for the initiative of including it in the itinerary.  We all enjoyed the local craft market, and Deborah especially bought loads of wooden carvings. (No problem at Australian quarantine as hardwood).  Just as well it was our last morning. Two nights and one and half days was quite sufficient.

Big picture, we will enthusiastically recommend this itinerary and all the safari locations to everyone, but ideally after Cape Town, reverse the order; start in Zim/Botswana and finish in Thornebush.  I know we did not have a choice and you did very well to craft the itinerary so successfully.

Thank you for what you have done for us, particularly sorting out the changed arrangements after Deborah’s accident. We greatly appreciate the initiatives you applied and the inspired choices that you made on our behalf. We are enthusiastic ambassadors for Southern Destinations and the service you have delivered. 

Sincerely,

David & Deborah

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