Sam’s South Africa Trip Report

15th April 2020

South Africa Trip Report

As the world’s battle against the ongoing pandemic continues, we thought that to keep you entertained we would carry on providing our trip reports from the past year. This week we look back at my trip to South Africa.

South Africa is arguably the most diverse country on the continent. With exceptional wildlife viewing, vibrant cities and home to some of the best food and wine in the world, the possibilities are endless here.

Sams South Africa Trip Report

Elephants from the deck at Tintswalo Safari Lodge © Sam Hankss

After guiding in the country for a number of years in the Greater Kruger, I was already familiar with many of the lodges and hotels, however seeing how the lodges have evolved and exploring a few places I never had the chance to get to, made this an amazing trip. South Africa really is a year-round destination, although the seasons do change, the game viewing and accessibility around the country allows holidays to take place all year.

Sams South Africa Trip Report

Flying above the Lowveld of South Africa. © Sam Hankss

The setting sun and a very relaxed cheetah. Sightings this perfect are hard to come by, yet the open plains around Tintswalo’s Safari Lodge are perfect for cheetah and an abundance of other animals. Located on a reserve called Manyeleti which is located just North of the famous Sabi Sands, Tintswalo really is a hidden gem. With unfenced boundaries to the Kruger National Park, game viewing here is fabulous and with beautiful rooms that come with their own private plunge pool, it was the perfect way to start the trip (even if we did happen to lose the rugby World Cup Final on the same day!)

Cheetah at sunset. © Sam Hankss

The infamous Sabi Sands. Renowned across the globe for its big five game viewing and high-end luxury lodges certainly didn’t disappoint. If you’re looking to see leopard on safari then the Sabi Sands must be on your list.

Big tom at Dulini. © Sam Hankss

Standing on the edge of a meandering river and enjoying our morning coffee and rusk break, we were discussing the finer intricacies of life within the water. From the tilapia that clean the hippo’s teeth to the poisonous banded-rubber frog, life beneath the surface is quite incredible! We were surprised by a sound that can only be described as a saw going through wood which was omitted from a bush no more than fifty metres or so from where we were standing. Instantly jumping into the vehicle, we made our way towards the sound and were greeted by this beautiful leopard. He had decided to take a rest from patrolling his territory and wanted rest on the cool sand, duly obliging for some great photos.

Elephant sightings are hard to beat. © Sam Hankss

Whilst I was lucky enough to see many relaxed leopards at all the camps I stayed in, there was so much more on offer in the Sabi Sands. From lions on a giraffe kill at Lion Sands, to wild dogs with pups at &Beyond’s Kirkman’s Kamp and exceptional elephant and buffalo viewing at Dulini. The game viewing was truly incredible, as were the all lodges, even those I haven’t mentioned! All have their own unique style and intricacies, yet most are small and intimate with brilliant guides, giving you a fantastic all-round experience no matter where you stay. There really is something for everyone here and it really helps to talk to someone who has been there and done it, so please feel free to contact me for some more information.

Up close and personal. © Sam Hankss

Phinda Game Reserve was one of the most unique experiences I have had on safari. Owned exclusively by &Beyond, this reserve contains only a handful of lodges but is made up of seven distinct habitats. The result is some fabulous yet varied game viewing, from the big five and cheetah to extremely rare species of bird and antelope.

The open grasslands at Phinda are great for game viewing. © Sam Hankss

Mountain Lodge was my first stop here and built into a beautiful escarpment, the lodge offers beautiful views into the surrounding valleys. Quite large in size and perfect for families, Mountain Lodge provided me with a beautiful setting for my safari.

Smaller, intimate and built in the very rare sand forest, Forest Lodge is aptly named. With uniquely styled rooms that are glass panelled, this is a birders paradise. The open plains surrounding the camp are fantastic for cheetah and other mega herbivore, yet the bird life here is incredible. I was lucky enough to see a narina trogon, and for anyone who knows what this is, you will appreciate my excitement at finally seeing this rare and elusive bird!

The magical red sand of the Kalahari. © Sam Hankss

Next on the agenda was a flight to the Kalahari Region of South Africa where Tswalu awaited and proved to be an experience like no other. With my own private vehicle, guide and tracker (yes, every group gets this), we went in search of the some of the world’s most elusive and shy animals. People who see a pangolin on safari are some of the luckiest people in the world – wonderfully I can join that list now – and Tswalu excels in its intimate and extraordinary sightings.

Aardwolf on foot. © Sam Hankss

The sun was setting and the pangolin we were hoping would surface from its hole had failed to do so. Leaving the pangolin to gain enough confidence to come out, we ascended over the crest of a sand dune with only the barking geckos as company. Some slight movement caught our eye in the distance – aardwolf! We steadily made our way down the dune before sitting and waiting in silence amongst the straw-like grass. Zig-zagging as it went, the aardwolf made its way towards us, oblivious to us crouching on the ground. Every now and then it would stop to mark its territory with its anal glands before moving on. It got to within ten metres of us before it realised we were watching. Collectively we held our breath as it nonchalantly stopped and looked our way. Clearly not bothered by us at all, it carried on with its dusk-time duties. Not many people can say they’ve seen an aardwolf, let alone on foot!

The Cape Grace. © Cape Grace

The variety of hotels in Cape Town is astounding, yet there are certainly some that stand out from the rest. The choice of whether to stay on the V&A Waterfront or just off this tourist hot spot is the important decision for you to make. Littered with vibrant bars, restaurants and shops, the V&A Waterfront is the place to be, however the hotels do have a premium price. The Cape Grace is full of character and in the best position one could wish for. For those of you who enjoy smaller hotels that are more personal and boutique then Cape Cadogan just off Kloof Street is perfect. Only a ten-minute shuttle from the Waterfront, you get fantastic access to the best spots here without the higher prices.

The penguins of Boulder’s Beach. © Sam Hankss

Whilst you are in Cape Town, exploring the Natural beauty of the area should also be on your list. The penguins at Boulders Beach are a firm favourite of mine, however the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and Table Mountain are beautiful for day trips. For those of you who are adrenaline seekers, I must admit that a sky dive above the city and its coastline was a definite highlight.

Babel at Babylonstoren. © Babylonstoren

Whilst the food and wine in Cape Town is extraordinary, it gets even better as you venture out into the winelands. As the suburban sprawl of Cape Town gives way to rolling hills and vineyards, there is no better place to relax after a safari. On the boarder of Stellenbosch is an old farmstead called Babylonstoren. Serving some of the tastiest rustic cuisine on offer, if you can’t stay here then you must stop for lunch in their greenhouse. Who would have thought a biltong, blue cheese and pear chutney homemade sandwich would be one of the nicest things I have ever eaten? Well it was!

The best food in the world!? © Sam Hankss

Heading deeper into wine country and no matter where you look, you are surrounded by vineyards. Whether you decide for the opulent La Residence or the Leeu Estate, you can be sure of a lavish and indulgent stay. Franschhoek high street is home to a plethora of the world’s best restaurants that often intertwine South African cuisine with a French twist. The combination is exquisite food and I almost had to be rolled reluctantly back to the airport!

If you would like more information about a trip to South Africa then please contact us – I would love to have a chat to you about my trip and all the other possibilities South Africa can offer.

If you would also like to see a video round-up of the trip, please visit our YouTube page.