By wind, water or wing to Hawaii

In less than 24 hours, Peter, Oliver, Louisa and I will board our plane for Hawaii and 10 days exploring what some people argue are the world’s most remote inhabited islands. This notion of remoteness is interesting because it doesn’t seem to me to be that far from here to there. Flying time from Sydney to Honolulu (the capital of Hawaii on the island of Oahu) is about 10.5 hours. So door to door we’re looking at just over 18 hours, including a 30 minute taxi ride from our home in Sydney, 3 hour check-in at the airport, 10.5 hour flight to Honolulu, 3 hour lay over in Honolulu, 45 minute flight to Kona and finally a 30 minute drive to our hotel. Long, yes, but not nearly so long as my 32 hour door-to-door marathon returning from New York last year. The distance to Hawaii seems quite attractive! Even Oliver said today that it didn’t seem too bad, which surprised me since he was a bit traumatised by our long flights to and from Europe in 2013.

Hawaii relative to Sydney and mainland USA (from http://www.michellehenry.fr/pollution.htm)

Hawaii relative to Sydney and mainland USA (from http://www.michellehenry.fr/pollution.htm)

What will Hawaii look like?

David Quammen, in my favourite science book The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, aims to explain Earth’s biological richness (and, importantly, its catastrophic loss of richness) by exploring the particular and often peculiar patterns of species distribution on islands: this is the island biogeography of the title. He discusses old versus young islands, big versus small islands, and continental versus oceanic islands.

The Hawaiian Islands is a relatively large archipelago, with islands ranging in age from an estimated 65 million years old to less than 1/2 a million years old; so some are relatively old and others are relatively young, at least in geological time!

Importantly, Hawaii is made up of oceanic islands. Quammen writes:

An oceanic island is one that never has been and never will be connected to a mainland. It comes into existence as a rising welt off the deep ocean floor, elevated into daylight by some geological process — most commonly, volcanic eruption (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53).

I saw evidence of volcanic and other (long ago as well as current) landscape defining forces a few weeks ago on another set of islands: New Zealand. On the South Island of New Zealand I visited majestic Mackenzie Country where I saw huge valleys, rich plains, braided rivers and glacial lakes, all carved by retreating glaciers over the past 250,000 years. And I visited Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, which continues to grow each year as the Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates collide along New Zealand’s western coastline, buckling and lifting along the Southern Alps mountain range. These landscapes are breathtaking.

Mackenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand

Mackenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mount Cook, South Island, New Zealand

Hawaii is similar to New Zealand in that both have been shaped by the movement of tectonic plates, fault lines in the Earth, and especially volcanic activity. We plan to visit Hawaii’s dormant and active volcanoes on The Big Island in our first few days.

Again like New Zealand, Hawaii also has been subject to the rise and fall of oceans over millennia, acting as a lifeboat for its fabulous and often unique flora and fauna (more on this in a moment). But Hawaii is different to New Zealand in that it has never been connected to a mainland, as noted above. New Zealand used to be part of Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent that also included Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India, Madagascar and South America before it started to break apart about 120 million years ago. New Zealand parted ways with Australia and Antarctica about 80 million years ago (separated by the Tasman Sea) and began to sink, leaving a scattering of islands that acted as a “Moa’s ark” for New Zealand’s birds and reptiles (you can read more about the geology of New Zealand and this notion of a Moa’s ark here).

In contrast, Hawaii always has been, and remains, isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii’s isolation — remoteness — has consequences for what we will see there.

What will we find in Hawaii?

On safari in Africa last year we saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, baboons and so many other amazing mammals and other animals. In comparison, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii have almost no large mammals native to each country.

At least in the case of Hawaii this is because every plant, animal or other creature (or at least its ancestor) could only reach the islands by wind, water or wing. Far too far for a large animal to swim from the closest mainland! Returning to David Quammen, he writes:

… every oceanic island comes up from below, like a gasping whale. It starts its terrestrial existence, therefore, completely devoid of territorial forms of life. This is the most fundamental distinction between the oceanic and continental categories. Every terrestrial animal on an oceanic island, and every plant, is descended from an animal or plant that arrived there by cross-water dispersal after the island was formed (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53).

Because everything that got there had to get there from somewhere else, dispersed across vast ocean distances by wind, water or wing, Hawaii has a quite different “roster” of animals, birds, plants and insects compared to other countries. Hawaiian writer and blogger, Dennis Hollier calls Hawaii “genetically remote”. He writes:

Hawaii’s isolation has made it the world capital of endemism. For its size, Hawaii has the highest percentage of species that exist nowhere else on Earth (from http://dennishollier.com/2014/01/14/hawaii-the-most-isolated-archipelago/).

In fact, 80% of the species found on Hawaii are found nowhere else in the world. Of course, humans have introduced a variety of non-native species as well as accelerated the loss of many native species. Nevertheless, I imagine that Hawaii will be a different world for us, both in terms of its landscape and wildlife. Writing of this biological richness, Quammen concludes:

Charles Darwin never saw the Hawaiian Islands. If he had, the Galápagos might have paled by comparison (Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction, Random House, 1996, page 53)

We are looking forward to our “voyage” to Hawaii tomorrow and the exotic world that awaits us. We will share our discoveries with you in the coming days.

Aloha!

Charles Darwin in the Natural History Museum, London

Charles Darwin in the Natural History Museum, London

 

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!

alice

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 2

Sunday Afternoon

On our first afternoon, Oliver and Peter joined Juan and Ben for their first game drive. They met a lot of African animals we are less familiar with, such as this Blue Wildebeest. But mostly they were on the path of a Leopard, which they tracked down quite close to the Lodges. That night we were told to be cautious walking to and from our Lodge as the Leopard might still be close by.

A Blue Wildebeest

Tracking the Leopard

Monday Morning

On Monday morning we set out at 6am, before sunrise, looking for two male Cheetahs that had been spotted Sunday night. Ben and Juan followed tracks in the sand and scats on the ground until we spotted them strolling along one of the dirt roads. Their stomachs were full from hunting the night before and we followed them and watched as they looked for and then settled into a comfortable resting spot for the day. It was amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat. They are highly endangered and the last time we saw Cheetahs was behind fences in the Sanctuary near Maropeng. Almost all of the animals at Tswalu are used to the safari vehicles and so we were not in danger even though we got very close. We were instructed simply to stay seated in the jeep and not to make loud or sudden movements. But these Cheetahs were happy to yawn and ignore us!

Tracking two male Cheetahs

Cheetahs are highly endangered but protected and thriving at Tswalu

Monday Afternoon

On Monday afternoon, continuing the good luck and/or demonstrating the great skills of our Guide and Tracker, we found a pack of 10 Lions lazing near a waterhole. This group included four gorgeous young Lion cubs. While the adult Lions mostly slept on and ignored us, the cubs were very playful and inquisitive.

Four gorgeous Lion cubs

Playful and inquisitive

Meanwhile the adult Lions snoozed on in the afternoon heat

 Tuesday Morning

On Tuesday morning we set out to find a Desert Black Rhino, a critically endangered animal and one of the hallmark species of Tswalu. But he proved quite elusive! We searched for nearly four hours, following tracks, signs and scats; finding lots of other animals but not our Rhino. Finally, a call came through on the radio from another Guide who had spotted a Rhino way up on the edge of the Reserve. When we found him he was camouflaged well in the surrounding bush and stared rather suspiciously at us. Rhinos apparently are skittish and aggressive so we respectfully kept our distance from this awesome animal. After this long morning we were thoroughly exhausted but already had seen an incredible array of African wildlife in just a few days.

A Springbok

A Warthog

A herd of Plains Zebras

The elusive and highly endangered Desert Black Rhino

Tuesday Afternoon

On Tuesday evening Oliver and Peter drove with Juan and Ben out onto a dune in the middle of the Reserve where they spent the night sleeping under the stars in Tswalu’s Malori Sleep-Out Deck. They were treated to a glorious sunset and delicious dinner cooked by Ben (although unfortunately ants got to their dessert before they did) before being left to the bush and the dark.

Preparing to camp under the stars on a sand dune

Another beautiful sunset

Read on to “In the wild: Tswalu Kalahari Reserve Part 3” … (or go back to Part 1)

 

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” …