Category Archives: In transit

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaii bound!

When I was a child my brothers and sister and I watched endless re-runs of the Brady Bunch. Apart from the episode where Marcia gets hit in the nose by a football or the episode where Davy Jones from the Monkees turns up, my next favourite episode was “Hawaii bound”, the episode where the whole family accompanies dad, Mike, to Hawaii on a business trip (because it’s pretty likely that his company is going to pay airfares and accommodation for a wife, six kids, and Alice the housekeeper; yeah, right!)brady bunch

Over the Easter holidays, Peter, Oliver, Louisa and I plan to follow in the footsteps of Mike, Carol, Greg, Marcia, Peter et al. and fly off to Hawaii for 10 days. Peter will be on his way to a conference in California. So we are helping him break the journey. He’ll fly on at the end of our holiday and I will bring the kids home … alone!

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Hawaii! So excited!

 

 

 

 

We are flying into Honolulu, the state capital of Hawaii, which is on the island of Oahu. The Hawaiian archipelago includes hundreds of islands spread across approximately 2,500 kms, but there are eight main islands. We’ll be visiting two of them: Oahu and Hawaii (the Big Island). We fly from Sydney to Honolulu then immediately fly from Honolulu to the Big Island. We’ll be staying there for a few days to explore its many extinct, dormant, and active volcanoes! Then we return to Oahu and stay at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. Here Louisa will be able to ride horses and Oliver will be able to visit the beach to their hearts’ content. Finally, we move to downtown Waikiki for a few days of sightseeing and shopping.

The Hawaiian archipelago

The Hawaiian archipelago

I’m excited to see the geology and diversity of flora and fauna. Hawaii features heavily in one of my favourite books: The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen. dodoBecause it is so isolated from other major land masses and because it arose steaming from under the ocean (formed in the distant past and still being formed by volcanic activity), Hawaii boasts many species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world (it also, unfortunately, has lost many species to extinction).

Louisa is excited to find out what kinds of animals live on Hawaii. I suspect they will be quite different to what she saw in Africa. Oliver is looking forward to the beach and Peter is looking forward to some relaxation!

So we will post what we learn about Hawaii as we prepare for our trip and we look forward to reading your suggestions about places to visit and things to do. Please post them in the comments below.

Aloha oukou!

lei

 

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.

Luggage

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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

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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

Recommendations for a family holiday in South Africa

Now that we have returned from our two week family holiday in South Africa, here are our top recommendations for places to stay and things to do, see and buy. I’ve already posted suggestions for successfully travelling with children (based on my trip with Oliver to Europe last year and which we tried to follow this trip). And you can read here for safari packing tips. So in this post I focus on people, places and things in South Africa that we loved and recommend to others (especially families).

#1 Recommendation

We all agreed that the highlight of our trip to South Africa was our four night stay at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in the Green Kalahari of the Northern Cape Province. Tswalu is a luxury private game reserve catering to just 30 guests at a time. We chose (and extended) the Cape Grace/Tswalu package, which gave us five nights in Cape Town (see below for more on Cape Grace) and four nights in The Motse, Tswalu. Read about our magical experiences at Tswalu here, here and here.

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View of the pool and waterhole at The Motse, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

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Tswalu’s Malori Sleep Out Deck

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Sunrise across the Kalahari, Tswalu

Getting There and About

We flew to South Africa from Sydney, Australia on Qantas. We were pleased to secure direct flights to Johannesburg with no stop over in Perth. So just 14 hours to South Africa and 12.5 hours home (which is a very manageable flight time and distance coming from Australia). The outbound flight worked well because we arrived in Johannesburg in the evening and could go straight to bed when we arrived at our hotel in Maropeng. Our evening homeward flight also worked well because the kids slept most of the way home, tired from the early starts for game drives at Tswalu.

We travelled from Pretoria in the north east to Cape Town in the south west on the Blue Train. The journey, in luxurious surroundings, takes 28 hours. Through the large picture windows we gained amazing insights into the South African landscape and life. Read about our experiences on the Blue Train here. Although we enjoyed the novelty and comfort of our overnight train journey, I think it is one best suited to couples, young or old, than to families with young children. We were the youngest by far on the train and the train’s magnificent style and five star service probably are best appreciated by those with time and freedom to sit and ponder in the Club Car or linger over drinks in the Dining Car. The Blue Train also is best for people who are untroubled by motion sickness. The ride could be rather bumpy at times and I had 24 hours of mild disembarkation syndrome when we arrived in Cape Town.

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Boarding the Blue Train

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The Cafe Car on the Blue Train

Recommended Hotels

As above, our #1 hotel recommendation is Tswalu Kalahari, especially if you are looking for a unique safari experience. But we also stayed at four other hotels, three in the major cities of Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In Cape Town we stayed at and highly recommend Cape Grace Hotel. Situated on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, Cape Grace is a beautiful and very comfortable hotel. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment, which was enormous and included a kitchenette, dining area, large lounge area, two ensuite bathrooms, an extra toilet and a verandah with an outdoor table and chairs. The service was impeccable with lots of complimentary in-house activities for kids (including gingerbread decorating, free xbox games for the room’s xbox machine, board games). We used room service quite a bit for dinner, eating on the verandah. The meals were amazingly inexpensive. Louisa and I also tried Cape Grace’s Spa, which again was lovely and inexpensive. The Concierge and Reception Staff were extremely helpful, providing lots of tips for our stay in Cape Town as well as complimentary shuttle service within a 10km radius. On one day we ordered a picnic lunch to take on a tour of Cape Peninsula. We ended up with bags and bags of food and drinks that lasted us all day and night for a very reasonable cost of less than AUS$50. Read about our experiences in Cape Town and at Cape Grace here.

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Table Mountain, Cape Town, with Cape Grace Hotel in the foreground

Outside of Johannesburg, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, we stayed for two nights at the Maropeng Hotel. This boutique hotel is located just moments from the Maropeng Visitor Centre and saved us a long drive from Johannesburg to this fascinating place. I was very keen to see the Cradle of Humankind Exhibition and the hotel made this easy. Again, it was geared more to adult visitors than children but the rooms were large and comfortable. The breakfasts, included in our room rate, were delicious. Maropeng is quite a way from Johannesburg and near no other shops or activities — we came just for the Maropeng Visitor Centre — so may not suit everyone, especially if you don’t have a car (we were driven from the airport to Maropeng in a shuttle). Read about our experiences in Maropeng here.

On the night before we joined the Blue Train we stayed at the Sheraton Pretoria. As you would expect from Sheraton, this was an extremely comfortable and beautiful hotel right across from the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African Government. Finally, on the night before we flew home, after Tswalu, we stayed at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg. This hotel seemed very large and busy after the privacy of Tswalu but appealed to us for its position next to Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton Shopping Complex (good for souvenir shopping!). There are lots of hotels to choose from in the Sandton area.

All of our hotels included free wi-fi, which made life easier for adults and kids with devices!

Recommended Guides, Tours and Transfers

In places such as Johannesburg foreign visitors are recommended to hire cars or drivers since public transport is limited. So in Johannesburg and Cape Town we organised guides/drivers to transport us from airports to our hotels or to take us on tours.

In Cape Town we highly recommend Safari Lodge Shuttle. We were very fortunate to book Liese Mossner-Sequeira from this company to collect us from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and drive us to Maropeng, and then the next day to take us on a tour of the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre and some local markets before driving us to our next hotel in Pretoria. Liese was incredibly knowledgeable, very friendly and wonderful with our children. Read about our experiences with Liese at the Cheetah Centre here.

In Cape Town, the Concierge at Cape Grace recommended Jarat Tours. We booked them for a day to drive us down the Cape Peninsula. Read about our drive here and here. Although our driver was not as excellent as Liese in Johannesburg, our shuttle bus was comfortable and affordable (about AUS$325 for 7 hours of driving plus we paid all entrance fees and tolls).

Recommended Attractions

Here is a list of places we visited in Maropeng, Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula and at Tswalu. All highly recommended for adults and kids.

1. Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng (photos from our visit here)

2. Van Dyk Cheetah Centre, De Wildt (photos from our visit here)

3. Table Mountain, Cape Town (photos from our visit here)

4. World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, Hout Bay (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

5. Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town

6. The Penguin Colony at the Boulders, Simon’s Town (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

7. Tswalu Kalahari Spa, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

Eating

We mostly ate in our hotels or quite simply. But in Cape Town we went to the highly recommended Gold Restaurant, featuring Cape Malay and traditional African food. Dinner included a lesson in African drumming as well as African face painting, music and dancing. This was a fantastic, and inexpensive, night of African food and culture.

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Drumming lesson at Gold Restaurant, Cape Town

Suggestions for Souvenirs

Although we had strict limits on the amount of luggage we could take on the small plane that flew us to Tswalu and our safari, we managed to find a few lovely souvenirs of our trip in Maropeng, De Wildt, Cape Town, at Tswalu, and in Johannesburg. Some suggestions:

1. Football jerseys. When Oliver and I visited Europe last year he bought some football (soccer to us in Australia) jerseys in London. We found some terrific new ones in a sports store in Sandton: the jersey of the Kaizer Chiefs and the jersey of the Orlando Pirates, two South African Premier Soccer League teams based in Soweto.

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2. Carrol Boyes silverware. Carrol Boyes is a South African designer who makes beautiful pewter and silverware with African and other motifs. In Tswalu I found some wonderful teaspoons with Meerkats on the handle. In addition to the specially created designs at Tswalu, we visited Carrol Boyes stores in Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.

3. Born in Africa plush toy african animals. During our trip Louisa collected a whole zoo’s worth of plush animals including Cheetahs, African Hunting Dogs, a Rhino, a Zebra etc etc. Relatively inexpensive, good quality and a great souvenir for smaller kids.

4. In Cape Town we found Taunina, makers of hand embroidered teddy bears. From their website:

Celebrated for its iconic hand-embroidered teddy bears, Taunina is a luxury house synonymous with timeless artistry and social upliftment. The company provides full-time employment to women from disadvantaged communities in Africa through its flagship atelier in Cape Town. Each creation is one of a kind, designed and embellished by a single artist over five to seven days. The rare beauty of a Taunina collection pieGentian-SA-JK-SB-14-0004-FRONT-78x104ce lies in the opportunity it affords a woman in need to provide for her family and be recognized as an artist. Taunina bears carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It a gift that changes lives.

I chose a little one named Crispin who looks somewhat like this but in grey.

5. Books about South African history. I chose two with great reviews on Amazon: Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith; and A History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson.

6. Finally, in De Wildt outside of Johannesburg, in Cape Town, and in Hout Bay we visited local markets and shopped for smaller trinkets and jewellery. Because of Australia’s strict customs laws we were careful not to choose anything made of wood. But the kids chose a number of bracelets and necklaces made of stone or beads. I got ripped off in the De Wildt market when one stall holder started the bargaining process by asking for 4500 Rand (AUS$450), which I managed to get down to 700 Rand, but still too much for what I bought. I preferred the Cape Town and Hout Bay markets and shops where the prices were marked on the items. If not, then take a local with you.

We hope these recommendations are helpful. Please add your own suggestions below in the comments.

In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning after their sleep out, Oliver and Peter got to go and meet a colony of Meerkats. They walked in on foot and got incredibly close to these delightful little guys (and girls).

A Meerkat at Tswalu

A colony of curious Meerkats

Oliver got close to the Meerkats

Wednesday Afternoon

On Wednesday afternoon I treated myself to a Rejuvenating Facial in the beautiful and relaxing Tswalu Kalahari Spa. This award winning spa has a menu of delicious spa experiences. I enjoyed my hour chatting with Spa Manager and Beauty Therapist, Corli, as she cleansed and moisturised my face, which had been exposed to a fair bit of sun and wind on the game drives.

All four of us then joined a game drive to a pack of African Wild Dogs. These animals also are extremely endangered and rare in the wild. This pack was made up of five adult dogs and nine quite young pups. When we arrived the dogs were sleeping and yawning in the shade of some trees. But after a while the adult dogs got up, kissed the pups goodbye (literally) and then organised themselves to hunt for dinner. We followed them as they trotted in formation through the bush, stopped to look and listen for prey, and then fanned out and sprinted when they targeted prey to chase. It was a thrilling sight to see these beautiful animals showing us their true nature. Again, before this we only had seen them behind fences at the Cheetah Rescue Centre.

An African Wild Dog stretching after an afternoon nap and preparing to hunt

African Wild Dog pups

The African Wild Dog Alpha male leading the hunt

Thursday Morning

On Thursday morning, our last morning in this paradise, we did some horseback riding. It was extremely cold and windy so Oliver and Louisa rode in the Stable’s arena, although a rather naughty orphan Zebra kept running at Louisa’s horse and making it shy. Meanwhile I took a ride with Juan and Patrick, the horse guide, out across the bush and saw Baboons running away from the horses. Because it was quite windy the horses were very skittish. So we stayed relatively close to the Stables, looping out into the bush for a kilometre or two at a sedate pace. I didn’t want to be thrown off onto any of the many Tswalu plants that have huge sharp thorns if my horse got a fright in the wind.

Bush riding

Comfortable in the saddle!

On our way back to pack up our Lodge, we asked Juan and Ben if there was a chance we could see some Giraffes. In our four days we had not yet seen any although apparently they are a reasonably common sight. Sure enough, Ben spotted some Giraffes on the horizon as if conjuring them by magic. When we got closer we found two beautiful male Giraffes engaged in a display of dominance called “necking”. They circled one another and banged each other on the neck or body with their heads. Juan said that people hardly ever get to see this display!

So in just four days we managed to see rare Cheetahs and African Wild dogs, an endangered Desert Black Rhino, a Leopard, Giraffes, Lions, countless other African wild animals, birds, snakes (including a deadly Cape Cobra), lizards, insects, trees, plants and on and on. As Louisa said when we were planning this trip: lots of animals but no fences!

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“Necking” giraffes at Tswalu

From This Country to Our Country

Tomorrow we fly home to Australia. South Africa and Australia seem to have a lot in common in the uncommon beauty of their landscapes, fauna and flora: sunburnt countries both, lands of sweeping plains … Although we have loved the animals during our stay at Tswalu, we perhaps have loved just as much, maybe more, the landscape itself. What a glorious, glorious part of the world!

From one divine sunrise …

… to another

As a farewell, the kind people at Tswalu gave each of us a small bottle of red Kalahari Desert sand to take home. In a parting note, the Tswalu team wrote:

People say that if you leave with the red sand of the dunes in your shoes, the desert will call you back. So take a few grains with you — this will always be your home in the Kalahari.

Will we be back? We hope so. Meanwhile we will keep in touch via the Tswalu blog. But our visit may benefit the Kalahari as it has benefited us. In the same farewell note we read:

As you have seen, the southern Kalahari is a precious environment. Your visit will contribute to the conservation and care of what may be South Africa’s last great wilderness.

Ready to fly home. Farewell magical Tswalu.

What a rare privilege it has been to experience this final and elemental face of South Africa!

Go back to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 1 or Part 2” 

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.

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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” …

Hi 3/4T from Oliver in Africa!

Hi Mrs Taylor and 3/4T. We are in Africa. We are having a lot of fun. It’s been great staying in Maropeng, Cape Town and Tswalu. I will post a You Tube video to answer your questions, but I also will answer them here because I can give you more information about what I have seen and done:

Sheridan: I love the white peacock!

Hi Sheridan, I liked it too. Their tails are huge and look just like a long white dress. We saw these peacocks in a bird sanctuary in Hout Bay, which is near Cape Town. They had over 100 aviaries full of birds, like owls that were hiding right near the doors. The great thing about these aviaries was that you could walk into most of them, so there were no cages or bars between you and the birds.

Lauren: The monkeys are so cute!

Hi Lauren, I loved how if you held your hand out the monkeys would reach out and try to open your fingers to see what was in your hand. They felt really light like a feather and their paws felt really soft. They were very curious. They would jump on you from a long way away. One looked right into my dad’s camera.

Michael: That is a seriously huge hole! I can’t believe that you got to see it Oliver! Next time can I come to Africa with you?

Hi Michael, the hole was huge. When I looked down I felt like if you ever fell down into it you’d never come out. It’s the largest man made hole in the world. They dug it by hand to find the diamonds. Even though the mine was closed a long time ago (in 1914) there are still diamonds left in the hole. They aren’t going to get them out because if they dig them all out, according to African law, an “exhausted mine” has to be filled back in. And they can’t afford to fill the hole in and return the land to nature. Africa is a once in a lifetime experience so there probably won’t be a next time. But I hope you like my photos!

Kate: Were you scared when the monkey climbed on you?

Hi Kate, I was a bit nervous but it wasn’t too scary. The monkeys were really used to humans and getting food from humans. But you had to make sure that you had nothing in your pockets and no jewellery on because they tried to get into everything. They tried to open my dad’s backpack! These were squirrel monkeys. There were lots of other monkeys at the park but you couldn’t play with them because they would bite.

Charlie: The big hole looks pretty scary!

Hi Charlie, it was quite scary. There was a bridge with a huge platform that was just over the edge. We looked over guard rails because if there wasn’t any you’d fall right in. I didn’t ask if anyone had ever fallen in before. When I looked into the hole there was water down the bottom. The hole was brown (earth) and light navy (water).

Sienna (3): What was your favourite part of the trip?

Hi Sienna, my favourite part of the trip is here at Tswalu because of all the animals we’ve seen, the horse riding and bow and arrows. We’ve tracked a lot of animals such as a leopard, cheetahs, lions, baboons, a Black Rhino, zebras and lots of South African animals you probably haven’t heard of such as kudu, springbok, blesbok, gemsbok and others.

Jemma: I thought that flamingoes are pink. In that picture they’re white.

Hi Jemma, some flamingoes are pink. On our train trip from Pretoria to Cape Town we saw a flock of pink flamingoes on a lake just before our stop in Kimberley. But the kind we saw in Hout Bay were white with some pink colouring. We saw a lot of birds that look like Australian birds but with different colouring. Here at Tswalu there are many beautiful birds with amazing colours and songs.

Cristian: I love the monkeys and I miss you!

Thanks Cristian. I miss you too and I loved the monkeys too!!

Edith: Those peacocks look like they’re angels that fell out of heaven.

Hi Edith, my mum agrees. These were her favourite birds. They sat up high on a branch with their long white tails streaming down like a bridal veil. We also saw more traditional peacocks with the blue and green colours.

Tom: Where were those diamonds? Can you mine some for me please?

Hi Tom, there are still diamonds in and around The Big Hole but you’d be arrested if you picked up an uncut diamond from the ground. That’s a law in South Africa. In the vault of the Mine Museum we saw huge cut and uncut diamonds, which had been found in the mine. But you couldn’t take diamonds away with you because there was lots of security!

Kye: Wow! It looks like an epic journey! I wish I could come!

Hi Kye, it has been an epic journey. It took 14 hours to fly from Sydney to Johannesburg. Then two hours to drive from the airport to Maropeng. It took 28 hours on the train from Pretoria to Cape Town. Then two hours on a very small plane (with only 8 seats plus 2 for the pilots, who we could see working the controls) from Cape Town to Tswalu. We have a two hour flight back to Johannesburg tomorrow and then a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg back to home. So it has been epic! We’ve also seen so many amazing sights and animals.

Prue: Those birds look really beautiful. I wish I could go and see them in the school holidays.

Hi Prue, most of the birds were really beautiful. The ones with no feathers weren’t so beautiful though! The most beautiful animals I have seen are meerkats, monkeys and penguins. The most scary animals were snakes and the rhino. Rhinos can charge at safari vehicles so our Guide, Juan, had a rifle with him. We were pretty nervous as we tried to get close enough for a good look but not too close to die! Apparently rhinos have bad eyesight but good hearing. So if they hear a threat they charge first and ask questions later!

Edward: It looks like a really interesting trip.

Hi Edward, thanks for your comment. It has been really fun. Your Earthkeepers camp looked really fun too and I was sorry to miss it. But I have learned that it is really important to protect your environment and not do things that are bad for the animals. The people at Tswalu have worked hard over the last 50 years to return this part of the Kalahari to what it was like 200 years ago before farmers came and changed the environment and wiped out many of the local animals.

See you soon! From Oliver.