Category Archives: Hotels


A big (Hawaiian) island of contrasts

Last Wednesday, 8 April, we flew into Honolulu from Sydney, then on to Hawai’i Island, the largest and youngest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Oliver and Louisa were thrilled to learn that we arrived about five hours before we left Sydney, as though we had travelled back in time in some kind of time machine (no, we just crossed the international dateline and gained a day).

Kona Airport, on the west coast of Hawai’i Island, is a very small open air airport, with a series of modest thatched huts serving as gates, security, shops etc; very much in the tropical theme we expected. But when we collected our rental car and drove north from the airport towards our hotel we were struck by a truly alien landscape. We expected blue waters and palm trees. Occasionally we could see those in the distance along the west coast as we travelled north to Waikoloa Beach Resort. But mostly we could just see black lava flow fields undulating and stretching away from the roadside. We could see giant cracks as well as holes and caves where the ground had buckled and risen.


Soon we turned off the blackened highway into Waikoloa Beach Resort, an oasis of green built around the sandy beach of ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay. I had chosen the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort as our first stop. The resort was built in 1986 and is showing its age a little. But it is amazing the way that the 62 acre ocean-front property has been carved from the black of a 150 year old lava field. Below you can see a photo from the resort’s website of the early days of construction. And then you can see photos we took of the stark lines between the verdant green of man-made resort, black volcanic rocks and then ocean. It certainly made for a dramatic landscape!


It was a beautiful location with lots of fun things for Oliver and Louisa to do, such as swimming in pools …


… snorkelling in the man-made lagoon with turtles …

… meeting Australian parrots (“g’day mate”, the bird said to Louisa; “g’day mate” Louisa said to the bird, both pleased to share being six years old and from Australia) …
… and having lunch while watching dolphins at play right behind us (we’re swimming with dolphins on the last day of our trip, next Friday).
Then as dark fell, we were treated to the most glorious sunsets.
On Thursday we drove for 3.5 hours to the other side of Hawai’i Island and encountered a completely different face of this beautiful island: lush, green rainforests stretching from the east coast inland and then up along the craters of huge volcanoes.
I’ll write more about our visit to the World Heritage listed Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in my next post. Although our visit to The Big Island was very short, we saw enough to know that this is a majestic and dynamic landscape. As we read in a brochure from the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum (in the National Park), the ever changing landscape:
… shows the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution in the Hawaiian Island-Emperor Seamount chain. These processes first thrust a bare land from the sea and then clothed it with complex, unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture.
Unlike Australia, Hawai’i Island is small enough that you can drive around its circumference in a day and coast to coast in two or three hours (compared to maybe two or three weeks coast to coast in Australia). So it’s comparatively easy to see many different ecosystems: rainforest, ranch lands, alpine heights, sandy beaches, and black, barren desert.


Our next stop is Oah’u. But first, I’ll tell you about our day trip to the rumbling, steaming goddess, Pele!














Packing suggestions for a South African family safari

When we were preparing and packing for our trip to South Africa I looked online for suggestions of what and how much to pack for us, two adults and two kids.

Our trip included:

  • 2 x 12-14 hour flights to South Africa and back
  • 2 nights in a hotel near Johannesburg (Maropeng) and day trips to the Cradle of Humankind and a Cheetah Research Centre
  • 1 night and 2 days on the luxury Blue Train, including a dinner requiring formal wear
  •  5 nights in Cape Town with day trips around Cape Town, to Table Mountain, and the Cape Peninsula
  • 4 nights on safari at Tswalu Kalahari with early morning and afternoon/evening game drives

The weather was predicted to be mid to high twenties (Celsius) during the day and colder in the mornings, evenings and overnight. It certainly was cooler in Cape Town than in both Johannesburg/Maropeng and Tswalu. It was especially hot during the day at Tswalu. But it was quite cold on our early morning game drives.

On many safaris, including ours, you are restricted in the amount of luggage you can take and you need to pack in soft sided bags (not wheely bags). For Tswalu we were restricted to 12 kg each of checked luggage and 6 kg each of hand luggage. So just 18 kg each. I also read online advice about colours and fabrics for safari clothes (not black, not navy, not white, not red!).

Also of relevance, in Cape Town (at the Cape Grace Hotel) we could send dirty laundry to the cleaners and have it charged to our room; at Tswalu our laundry was free. Several safari lodges include free laundry, so it is worth checking.

For families planning a safari, here’s how we packed and what we packed for this trip. Perhaps it will help you.



North Face Large Base Camp Duffel Bag 90 L

For checked luggage, we used two North Face Large Base Camp duffel bags (90 L each), packing 1 adult and 1 kid’s clothes per bag.  We also took a Samsonite suit bag, packing our “good clothes” for the Blue Train’s formal dinner, as well as overflow items.

For carry on luggage, my husband and I each carried a Crumpler Backpack (The Dry Red No 5, 20 L) for camera gear, electronic devices, stuff for the plane, wallets etc. And our two kids each carried a small backpack for a few books, toys, colouring pencils etc

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack


Herschel Packable Duffel Bag

In addition, we packed a light weight Herschel Packable Duffel Bag (30 L). This cunning bag folds up into a small package and then unfolds into a good-sized bag. We used this on the Blue Train to separate out items from our large duffel bags we wanted in our cabins (the rest of our luggage was stored in a luggage carriage). We also used it to carry home souvenirs we needed to declare to Customs.

Finally, I packed an empty Crumpler iPad bag in my luggage to use on day trips as my hand bag.    hand bag

When fully packed before leaving, our luggage weighed about 62 kg, 10 kg less than our weight limit. And we were well under our 48 kg checked luggage and 24 kg carry on luggage limits. This is partly because our kids’ back packs weighed very little. I recommend limiting toys and other items from home since kids will pick up souvenirs and other items on their travels. So start light!

Packing Lists

For both adults and kids we used a rule of thumb of 4-5 days of clothing, planning to do laundry when we reached Cape Town and then at Tswalu. We ended up doing a large load when we arrived in Cape Town and another small load just before we left for Tswalu. Then we did another large load our first day at Tswalu and small daily extras (because it was included in the cost of our room).

Here’s what we packed for our kids …

  • 1 pair of sneakers (Louisa, 5) or 1 pair of walking shoes (Oliver, 9); sneakers were fine for the game drives we went on, which involved minimal bush walking
  • 1 pair of pool side shoes (sandals for Louisa, Crocs for Oliver)
  • 1 pair of “good” shoes for our formal dinner and nice outings (silver flats for Louisa, fancy sneakers for Oliver)
  • A rain jacket (which we didn’t in fact use — no rain on our trip — but still worth packing).
  • A warm fleece jacket/jumper for planes, cooler mornings, early game drives
  • 2 short-sleeved t-shirts each, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts each, plus an extra long-sleeved t-shirt to wear on the plane; we found nice merino long-sleeved shirts for Oliver at Pumpkin Patch and nice long and short-sleeved easy care shirts for both at Kathmandu
  • For Oliver’s pants, 2 pairs of Kathmandu light weight pants (with zip off legs converting them to shorts), a pair of shorts, a pair of swimming “boardies”. We also took a pair of track suit pants but he didn’t use them
  • For Louisa’s pants, 2 long leggings (1 heavier weight, 1 light weight), 2 3/4 leggings (we only needed 1 pair), a pair of shorts
  • 4 pairs of underpants plus 1 extra for the plane; 2 singlets each; 4 pairs of socks plus 1 extra for the plane
  • A pair of pyjamas
  • Swimmers and goggles
  • A broad-brimmed hat each and a cap each
  • Toiletries (especially sunscreen for game drives) and a selection of medicine (we used panadol, neurofen, cortisol cream for various ailments while away)
  • For the formal dinner and other nice outings, for Oliver we took a pair of navy Chinos, collared shirt and blazer. For those in Sydney, I found the pants and shirt on sale at Birkinhead Point Factory Outlet Centre. For Louisa we took two sleeveless dresses from Pumpkin Patch (because she and I liked different ones!) and a light long-sleeved cardigan

Most of Oliver’s clothes were in neutral colours: grey, green, blue. Most of Louisa’s clothes were in purple, lilac, green. We didn’t especially look for “safari” clothes so everything could be worn again back in Sydney.

My husband and I followed the same pattern:

  • 1 pair of sneakers (for me) or 1 pair of walking shoes (for Peter)
  • 1 pair of pool side shoes (sandals for me, casual shoes for Oliver)
  • 1 pair of “good” shoes for our formal dinner and nice outings (silver wedges for me, leather shoes for Peter)
  • A rain jacket; we both took Kathmandu packable rain jackets, which fold up into a small zipped pocket
  • A warm fleece jacket for planes, cooler mornings, early game drives; we found these on sale at Kathmandu
  • I took 2 long-sleeved merino t-shirts and a vest for the plane and early morning drives. I also took 3-4 light kaftan tops layered over singlets for everyday wear
  • Peter took 2 short-sleeved shirts and 2 long-sleeved shirts like the kids, plus an extra shirt for the plane. Again, Kathmandu was a good source for easy care shirts
  • For pants, I took 2 pairs of 3/4 pants, 1 pair of long cotton pants, and 1 pair of light weight jeans
  • Peter took 2 pairs of Kathmandu light weight pants with zip off legs, an extra pair of shorts (which he didn’t use), and a pair of jeans
  • We took a similar number of pairs of underwear and socks as the kids
  • Pyjamas
  • Swimmers
  • A broad-brimmed hat or cap each
  • Toiletries, medicine
  • For the formal dinner and other nice outings, I took a pair of navy slacks, two fancier tops, and a soft jacket. I didn’t need the second top. Peter took a nice pair of pants, formal shirt, jacket and tie
  • I also took two extra warmer layers, but I didn’t really need them. I dressed in them on a few cold mornings but changed after breakfast. They were too warm. There was only one morning at Tswalu that I might have worn them but didn’t. So I could have left these at home

Most of my clothes were navy, grey and cream; colours I often wear. Dark colours such as black or navy are not recommended in summer in Africa because they attract the heat or flies, but I had no problem with them in spring. Peter’s clothes were like Oliver’s: grey, green, blue. Again, we didn’t want to buy special “safari” wear looking clothes, which we might not get use out of back in the city.

We easily had enough clothes as well as met our luggage limits. In addition to the items above we took chargers and cables for our electronic devices (including a plug for Africa and a power board), a large Canon 5D Camera plus lenses for good quality animal shots, a small point-and-shoot camera, and a small video camera for the kids to use.

I was tempted to buy into the whole safari look, but mostly we took and packed our normal clothes with just a few additions: Oliver and Peter’s pants with zip off legs, which they will reuse for Scouts; our rain jackets; our new fleece jackets; and some extra easy care shirts.

At Tswalu, a number of the other guests were wearing safari kit from top to toe, but many were in the midst of a series of safari stays spanning many weeks. For just 5 days, our selection of clothes worked well (with just a few items we should have left at home). The most important thing is to pack light if you can and use laundry facilities at your accommodation.

I hope this list helps in planning your African adventure. Please add any other suggestions in the comments below.

Cheerio Amanda

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1

On Sunday afternoon, four days ago, we flew into Tswalu Kalahari Reserve on a small private plane.


On a seven seater plane to Tswalu

Tswalu is the largest private game reserve in South Africa; 100,000 hectares of land in the southern Kalahari. Over the past 10-15 years the owners, the Oppenheimers, and their conservation team have worked to renew the land and to return plant, animal, bird and other species lost during periods of farming and hunting in this part of the “Green Kalahari”. At Tswalu you stay in Lodges right at the heart of the game reserve with wildlife wandering past your doorstep!

Wildlife on our back doorstep

The typical pattern at game reserves in Africa is to go on “game drives” in open safari vehicles early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon as the sun sets. The wildlife is more active early and late in the day as everything and everyone rests during the intense heat of the middle of the day. So our days at Tswalu were broken into morning and afternoon/evening activities with quiet time in between: we returned from our game drives to eat brunch, swim in the pool, rest, play quietly, or read. We were miles and miles and miles from the nearest town so everything revolved around the game drives.

Our safari vehicle

Brunch after a game drive

Relaxing by the pool

The view to the pool, waterhole and beyond

At Tswalu, which is a truly luxurious game park experience, each family, couple or group has their own Guide and Tracker. This way we were able to tailor our game drives to the things that Oliver and Louisa were most interested in: learning about tracks, seeing the animals they liked, cutting the drives short when they became tired. This arrangement of a private Guide and Tracker for each group is perfect and a distinctive part of the Tswalu experience; it means that each group has their own needs met.

Tracking wild animals

Our Guide’s name was Juan; he drove the safari vehicle and interpreted for us what we were seeing. His knowledge of animals, birds, plants and the surroundings — their look, calls, tracks, habits, locations — was truly amazing! He told us he was born nearby in Kimberley, had worked on a number of game reserves, and is a “bush baby”. He was incredibly passionate about Tswalu and the Kalahari and seemed to be in his perfect job. He taught us the Afrikaans word for “truly awesome” (lekker, which sounded like lacquer to my ears) because he used it so often to describe what we were seeing. If only everyone could find the role in life that suited them so completely!

Our Tracker’s name was Ben; he sat on a jump seat at the front of the safari vehicle and looked for prints, scats and other signs of the animals we were tracking. He signalled to Juan the path to follow. Sometimes they both got out of the vehicle and walked around, peering at signs on the ground, or discussing options. They spoke mostly in Afrikaans but it was fascinating to watch them and see how their discussions and interpretations of signs around them led us to, for instance, two Cheetahs or a Leopard or the elusive Desert Black Rhino. These animals were like needles in a haystack in the huge expanse of landscape, yet everyday we found and learned about so many beautiful creatures thanks to Juan and Ben’s encyclopaedic yet somewhat mysterious talents.

Oliver, Juan and Ben

Juan showing Oliver and Louisa how to interpret tracks in the sand

Louisa following some bird tracks

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 2” …

Tales from Table Bay

We arrived in Cape Town, and the Cape Grace Hotel overlooking Cape Town Harbour and Table Bay, four days ago on Tuesday afternoon.

The Cape Grace Hotel sits amidst the V&A Waterfront; a collection of hotels, shopping precincts, galleries, handcraft markets, museums and other tourist attractions. On one side the view is beautiful waterfront. On the other side, majestic Table Mountain towers above us.


It has been a little hard to leave the hotel because Cape Grace is so beautiful and comfortable and all of the staff are extremely friendly, especially to Louisa (who they call “baby”) and Oliver. We are staying in a wonderful two bedroom apartment with lots of space for everyone.

But we have ventured out and we are in love (“thandi”) with Cape Town.

On Wednesday, after a quick visit to a doctor for Oliver (he picked up a rattly cough on the way over) we spent much of the day at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Quite like Sydney Aquarium but much cheaper, we enjoyed meeting African sea life from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as some of their Australian cousins. Louisa especially enjoyed the touch pools and Oliver was keen to learn more about South African Black Footed Penguins, which have become endangered (down from 1.5 million in 1910 to mere thousands now left in the wild) due to human interference with their habitat.

On Thursday morning we “discovered the magic of minerals” at Mineral World Scratch Patch. Almost half of the world’s gemstones are found in Southern Africa. At Scratch Patch you can hunt through thousands of polished gemstones, which cover the floor of a large cave, and fill a bag with your favourites. Oliver and Louisa loved hunting and then learning where their gemstones came from.


On Thursday afternoon we ventured out to Green Point Park, a beachfront area and series of playgrounds overlooking the West Coast of South Africa. First we visited the world’s 3rd largest maze and got completely lost on the way to the “magical fairy triangle” in the middle (in case you are wondering, the largest is the maze at Longleat in England; I asked). Next we played in a series of playgrounds, one with a small replica Blue Train that chugged around the perimeter of the park. Apparently it has been a feature of this park for at least 50 years. In many ways the landscape of Cape Town is similar to Sydney — especially with blue skies overhead, waves crashing on the shore, and a brisk onshore breeze — except for the ring of very large mountains.

The maze, the park, the ocean

On Thursday night, capping an extremely busy day, we went to dinner at Gold’s Cape Malay restaurant. The night started with an African drumming class. We first learned how to hold our drums. Next we learned how to make deep booming sounds in the middle of the drum or higher notes on the rim of the drum. Then in between three courses of authentic Cape Malay and African dishes we were treated to African singing and dancing. Oliver and Louisa had their faces decorated with traditional designs and at one point Oliver was invited up to dance. He more than held his own!

Drumming lesson at Gold’s

Dancing at Gold’s

On Friday we hired a car and driver to take us further afield, south of Cape Town down the Cape Penninsula. The scenery on this drive was spectacular. Towering mountains. Crystal blue ocean. White sandy beaches. Lush green fields.

Our first stop for the day was at Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay where we boarded a boat for a 40 minute round trip to Seal Island. Huge seals swim in and out of the Harbour, as well as laze on their rocky outcrop. We saw one local man feed a large seal by putting a fish in his mouth, which the seal jumped out of the water to grab. Risky! But worth the 5 Rand he asked in payment. He said: “I use the money to buy more fish. We feed the seals, the seals feed us!”

Seals at Hout Bay

Our second stop was World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, nearby. We posted separately about this stop because we saw so many amazing birds and animals, including Oliver and Louisa’s favourites: penguins and monkeys.

A Squirrel Monkey checking out Peter’s camera

After lunching on a picnic packed for us by the hotel, we continued further south, climbing high up to Chapman’s Peak. Named for a Dutch sailor who was mistakenly left behind when his crew stopped for water (before South Africa was first settled by the Dutch; apparently they sailed back hours later to find him ashen faced and surrounded by menacing wild animals), the Peak overlooks Chapman’s Bay. We saw three whales frolicking in the crystal clear waters just off the sandy beach.

Next we crossed south west to Simon’s Town, a former Royal Naval Base and home of the South Atlantic Squadron under British occupation in the early 19th century, and on to a large African Penguin colony at The Boulders. Boulders is nestled between Simon’s Town and Cape Point and home to around 2,200 penguins who swim and waddle around Foxy Beach, metres from boardwalks where we watched and took photos.

Penguin colony at The Bolders

Penguin Colony at the Boulders

By the end of the day, three busy days, we were exhausted and ready for dinner in our room and an early night. Today, our last full day in Cape Town before flying to Tswalu, we visited a Farmers Market in an old biscuit factory, toured a chocolate factory, and caught the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain.

Cable Car to Table Mountain


There certainly were parts of Cape Town and the Penninsula that I would have liked to explore a great deal more, such as Simon’s Town, which looked like a quaint English town. And the V&A Waterfront. But travelling with children means compromising and finding child friendly activities. Louisa especially has little patience with sightseeing and prefers active outings, particularly if they include animals. Hopefully when we arrive in Tswalu tomorrow she will have action and animals to her heart’s content!