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Experiencing The Real South Africa

Jemma White, Travel Advisor at our Woodbridge travel agents, has just returned from a tour of South Africa. In her blog post below, she tells us why the country is about more than just safaris and how tourists can help give something back to the local communities.

Destination: South Africa
Operator/Host:
Travel 2
Airline: Virgin
Accommodation:
(Hotel names/Ship name):
Jaci's Safari Lodge, Madikwe; Palace of The Lost City, Sun City; D'Oreale Peermont Emporer's Palace, Johannesburg
Duration:
6 days

Flights

The flights were wonderful. Virgin Atlantic has always been my favourite airline to travel with; their stylish, modern and fun feel to their flights make the experience of flying so exciting. We were lucky enough to use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounge at London Heathrow Terminal 3, which enables you to have your own private security line (as you can imagine it is a lot more relaxed, quiet and quick!)

The lounge offers so much space and a wide range of facilities to relax before your flight, including a hair salon, spa treatments and a rooftop garden that apparently is going to be themed for Wimbledon soon with complimentary Pimm's and Strawberries overlooking the planes taking off and landing! We enjoyed a delicious meal with the Virgin Atlantic Signature Clubhouse cocktail before the short walk to our gate and boarding our flight.

We were lucky enough to be in Premium Economy on the outbound flight to Johannesburg, where we enjoyed the extra space, bigger TV screens, cups of tea in a proper mug (!), and really friendly and attentive service from the cabin crew. I slept so well despite how exciting the experience was! I would definitely recommend the upgrade in the future for all the little extras that make such a big impact on your flight.

Flying to and from South Africa is great because, despite the 11 - 12-hour flight, there is only a one-hour time difference, therefore no jet lag!

Accommodation

Jaci's Safari Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve

I cannot put into words how much I fell in love with this place... Jaci's Lodge is inspired by the unique and natural surroundings, designed with comfort and relaxation in mind and a luxurious way to experience a safari. As well as striving to be environmentally friendly with their conservation of water, recycling and general impact on its surroundings, you come away from your stay with a greater understanding of how much we impact our environment and how important it is to protect the world we live in.

The Safari lodges and Tree House lodges are positioned to allow residents to embrace the outdoors; some properties face the outside game reserve, allowing you to share your mornings with the local animals too (behind gates)! The morning and evening game drives are incredible; our drivers Andrew and Bianca and the staff overall made our experience so special. They went the extra mile by organising snacks and beverages at the most beautiful spots in the bush, providing blankets and hot water bottles when it was a little chilly and organising a spectacular sunset dinner shared with a local rhino in the distance.

In comparison to Kruger, Madikwe looks TINY on the South African map and it is! But my time there proved to me how lovely smaller private reserves are; they're quieter, the residents know the animals and areas like the back of their hand, and, most importantly, they respect them. They have a general rule that no more than three vehicles can approach an animal at a time, providing the animals less stress and a more unique and personal experience for us.

The worst thing about a Safari for me would be the competition and congestion to see an animal; the animals would hate it and we would too! We are the intruders on a game reserve; we need to respect the residences and Jaci's is a great example of that. For anyone who loves animals, like me, a safari at Jaci's is a truly special experience and one I will treasure for a long, long time.

Palace of the Lost City at Sun City

This is a completely different experience entirely. It's very commercialised and a bit like an older version of The Atlantis in Dubai. The complex includes its own shopping mall, waterpark, 72 golf courses, lots of casinos – all designed for entertainment and indulging. I would say it's a great stopover if you’re travelling north-west from Johannesburg, with lots to do for all ages.

D'Oreale Peermont Emperor’s Palace

Emperor’s Palace is positioned very conveniently near the airport. The interior is very luxurious and would provide a comfortable stay before or after a flight. The breakfast buffet, in particular, was incredible and, with the accompaniment of a very talented pianist overlooking the beautiful garden outside, this hotel is a lovely one to start or end your stay in South Africa.

What Was Included?

In Sun City, we had the opportunity to complete the Chimp and Zee adventure at The Valley of the Waves. This is a fantastic little zip-line and high-ropes course and a great way for adrenaline-lovers, families and friends to spend a couple of hours.

We also completed the Magaliesburg Canopy Tour, another zip-line course across a man-made canyon. This is a great activity for everyone and a good stopover break en-route back to Johannesburg. The views are great and you get a real sense of accomplishment and fulfilment having completed the course – topped off with a free lunch at the end!

In Johannesburg, we took a Street Art Tour of Maboneng with a local resident. He was so knowledgeable, told us all about life in Jo-burg and introduced us to places we wouldn't have known about if we weren't in his company! We went to a pop-up market where we were able to buy souvenirs for people at home at a much more discounted rate as opposed to buying at the airport and were able to give money to the local people directly.

The next day in Jo-burg, we visited the Apartheid Museum, a museum dedicated to showing the policy and system of segregation and discrimination on grounds of race and how this affected South African people. This modern museum was a great way to learn about the history and culture of the country, where it stands now and the influential people like Nelson Mandela that made change happen; a very inspiring place to visit and one I would really recommend.

Our last excursion following the museum took us into the heart of Soweto, a township home to approximately 1.3 million and originally set aside by the South African white government for residence by blacks. Lebo's Soweto bicycle tours provided us with a unique and personal travel experience, integrated with the community and allowing us to be part of the vibrant residence. The tour guides and staff of Lebo's Soweto and the locals welcome tourists to their community and really made our trip memorable.

Trip Highlights

The sunset dinner in the bush at Madikwe Game Reserve was a definite highlight. The staff went out of their way to provide us with the most memorable and beautiful evening. The Rhino in the distance, the gorgeous dinner cooked on the fire and dining under what I can only describe as the most spectacular array of stars I have ever seen was incredible. We were truly spoilt!

Recommendations

I would definitely recommend a trip like this. We saw so much and had a great summary of the country.

Additional Comments

Travel 2 are so good at educating us on experiences and the impression we can take away from a country. Andy from Travel 2 and Reet from South African Tourism provided us with the best, fun-filled few days that left us with the greatest memories and a good summary about what the country has to offer.

There's so much more to South Africa than Safari's and, despite that being a real highlight of my trip, I was surprised as to how much I took away regarding the culture, history and people. Johannesburg is an eye-opener and, despite having its troubles, like lots of cities around the world, it was really interesting to see and learn about its past and present times.

All of our activities and places we went to, like Soweto, are so important as they bring money to the local communities and not just the commercial minorities. This exposes you to the real South Africa in all its forms; the people and their passion for their country. You come away feeling fulfilled having contributed to the local businesses due to the appreciation you receive from them. That made the trip for me and, without being too patronising or cliched, that is what tourism and travelling should be about!

Must see? Soweto
Must do?
Apartheid Museum
Must try? A safari (Jaci's Safari Lodge in particular!)

If you would like to enjoy your own South African safari, the TravelQuest team would love to help you plan the holiday of a lifetime. Call us on 0800 021 3237 or drop by our travel agents in Ipswich or Woodbridge.

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