- Südafrikareise von Rena and Christopher Perry
Südafrikareise von Rena and Christopher Perry
South Africa had many positive surprises, and we always felt welcome
Hello Mrs Tiemann and staff,
My husband and I arrived back home from South Africa and Swaziland on the 25 of December 2014, and we are looking back at a great vacation. Needless to say, we had a fantastic trip and it was among the best we’ve had. South Africa had many positive surprises, and we always felt welcome – with the exception of one corrupt police officer in South Africa and one in Swaziland – and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery, interesting places, and fabulous lodges and boutique hotels. What made this trip so great was the diversity of sites: mountains and the mountain passes, beaches, plains, waterfalls, national parks, as well as cafés, art, small towns, and the interaction with animals as well as cultural experiences – a perfect mix. We were happy with our compact cars, although it was sometimes tricky to forge water crossings. We would recommend taking an SUV during rainy season. Most importantly, we were fortunate to have GPS, maps, Umfulana's directions, and Google, which together provided a perfect combination for finding our way around. It is also worth noting that South Africa is full of speed traps – even in the national parks - so it pays not to speed and to obey every rule.
When we arrived at our first destination – the Chestnut Lodge – we were surprised to hear that the entire country was experiencing power outages, but it all worked out at the end and we were not much affected by the outages. The staff and service were outstanding; especially when the kitchen staff prepared chakalaka, a South African vegetable dish, which is very similar to ratatouille. We always welcome the opportunity to eat and try local dishes and the kitchen staff was tickled by our requests. It was a very spectacular drive across the Long Tom Pass; the clouds gave it a very dramatic look. We took the Panorama Route to the Blyde River Canyon and were not disappointed by the phenomenal views.
Tip: We stopped at the small artsy town Graskop to stroll the streets, peek into galleries, and enjoyed pancakes and homemade ginger beer at Harrie’s Pancakes.
Note: Umfulana needs to update the pool picture as it is outdated by several years. The pool is no longer situated on the second porch.
We were blown away by the professionalism of the next lodge, Kambaku River Sands. The lodge and chalets are beautiful and the service is outstanding. The charismatic and friendly staff were never short on stories, surprised us with fantastic foods and incredible dance and singing performances during dinner. Every day we had a herd of elephants – sometimes six, other times as many as twenty – arrive at our pool to drink the swimming pool water and entertain the guests. Wow, what a blast. The game drives were very well organized with a lot of attention to detail. The rangers and trackers were very knowledgeable and did not shy away to make every effort to show us the big five.
Note: We got stopped by a corrupt police officer upon exiting the Timbavati Reserve on our way to the Orpen Gate. He pulled us over and insisted that we did not stop early enough in front of a stop sign. He tried to be intimidating, informing us that unless we paid a fine to him directly we would have to follow him back to the station several miles away, which could take a lot of time and impact our scheduled drive through Kruger National Park. He eventually requested that we buy him lunch. We refused to pay anything, kept calm, and let him do most of the talking. After enduring his roundabout suggestions for a direct fine payment, I said that he should issue us a verbal warning instead, which he accepted, surprisingly, and let us go. Lessons learned for all travelers: refuse to pay and don’t show any signs of distress.
Tip: On the day of our departure, we got up very early and took the longer route of six hours through the Kruger NP and were not disappointed. We’d definitely recommend taking this route as we got to see many animals very up close at our car. We were driving very slowly in some parts of the park due to strict speed limits but it’s worth the extra effort. Also, always ask the departing lodge to prepare you a lunch, fruits, and water for your long commute.
Another phenomenal experience was our stay at the Mkhaya Game Reserve. To be honest, we would have loved to stay two nights, even though, our stay was not your typical one with many surprises. The staff was very accommodating and we loved the performances after dinner when all of the guests were encouraged to participate in the dancing and singing. We all joined in with much fun and laughter, which made us feel like we are among family. We retired to bed around 10pm but awoke a few hours later to the storm of a lifetime. That night the sky opened up and dumped about 25cm of rain in the camp. The thatched roof sprung leaks and we had water dripping onto our faces. The thunder sounded like mortar shells exploding and the sky lit like daytime with each lightening strike. The camp manager later explained that this was a very unusual storm. The biggest surprise came in the morning when we learned that chalet number one was struck by lightning at around 4am and burned to the ground. Luckily it was vacant and nobody was injured. It was still burning when we departed after breakfast (see picture). The dry riverbed near the camp turned into a rushing river and all of the guests had to rush out of the camp to move their cars out of the game reserve. We all made it in time and crossed the low water crossings before the water arrived. What an adventure. Nonetheless, we loved our stay.
Tip: Please make a notation for guests to ask for a detailed map at the border crossing which they hand out for free. The large map that Umfulana provided was not of much use as it lacked details. Also, make a notation that upon entering Swaziland you’ll lose GPS and phone service and that the directions provided by Google maps are completely inaccurate.
Pakamisa, Teremok Lodge, The Fernery Lodge, Hilltop Country Lodge, and River Manor were all outstanding. All lodges were in fantastic locations, had outstanding management and staff, and offered very personal and special service that you only find at high end accommodations. They went out of their way to make our stay and experience very special. A special thanks to Isabella and her staff at Pakamisa which surprised us with beautifully arranged lunches and dinners and made sure we got an impressive service.
Didima – what majestic scenery! The Drakensberg brought back memories. of our trip to New Zealand's South Island, which we booked with Umfulana back in 2007. We loved our little hobbit house – it had an incredible view of the mountains - and we could not believe our luck in experiencing this magnificent escarpment. We hired a guide at the lodges for a 6 hour hike all the way up to 2000m to Mushroom Rock and to the leaks above. During the hike we saw cave paintings, waterfalls, and wildlife. Incredible.
Stellenbosch was so much fun. The River Manor was perfectly situated near the historic downtown and restaurants and the grounds of the hotel were beautiful. Our room overlooked a quiet, tree lined avenue and we had a splendid time checking out the many wineries in Stellenbosch and Franschoek.
Tip: We took the Franschoek Pass towards on our way to Stellenbosch and were stunned by the beautiful views. A must stop.
- Close to the Hilltop Country Lodge in Wilderness there is a wonderful complex of interesting arts, crafts, and shops. We dined at the Zucchini Restaurant in the Timberlake Village. They serve wonderful organic foods and have many craft beers on tab.
- Stop at the African Art Centre in Durban for beautiful handmade gifts and souvenirs. All profits go back to the community and support artists.
- We stopped in Port Elizabeth at the quaint Richmond Hill neighborhood which is lined with beautiful little restaurants. The neighborhood is just 9 minutes from the airport and up on a hill that resembles a little San Francisco. The buildings are pastel colored and it is the perfect stop for lunch before you continue with your trip. Most of the restaurants are along Stanley Street. A must stop.
- We broke up our trip on the R62 by making a lunch stop at Die Handelshuis in Calitzdorp. This little tucked in and hidden pearl is a coffeeshop/gift shop/gallery. The service is outstanding and they have many wonderful South African gifts. We stocked up on tea, soap, and other souvenirs to take home.
Our only disappointing experience was at the Buhala Game Lodge. This was a very disappointing stay with multiple issues with the management, accommodation, and service.
We trust Umfulana to speak up on behalf of their clients and resolve the issue. We don’t want any other guest have the same awful experience at the Buhala Lodge that we had.
We look forward hearing back from you.
Best regards and thanks for putting together such a nice trip.
Rena & Chris
Austin, Texas, USA