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Johannesburg – Inhambane, Mozambique – South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

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Bushbunny was very spoilt – again!!

During August we flew into Johannesburg and stayed at over at the exquisite Saxon hotel in Sandhurst. The norm here is always pretty special, but receiving a complementary upgrade to Nelson Mandela Suite was spectacular - it is larger than our London apartment! (Ok so the London bit may not be saying much, but the two types of decanted port sitting on the en-suite ten-seater dining room table and view over the Jhb skyline from the suite’s lounge would probably tick most people’s boxes.) The spa, though not huge, would easily stand alongside some of the finer Swiss spa’s (‘sans’ the naked people who tend to wander around those in the German parts.) Both the therapists and treatment facilities consistently met expectations and I loved the flotation pool. The hotel itself strives to meet the discerning travellers’ needs (wants) and butlers are always on hand to assist with everything right down to packing and unpacking your bags – if you are so inclined. Despite being a bit pricey, I would definitely recommend the Saxon to anyone travelling in and out of Jhb – it was a great place to rest, relax and find our boots every time before moving onto the next exciting destination.

For starters we drove up to Inhambane, Mozambique from Johannesburg, with an overnight stay at Bongani Mountain Lodge (just on the other side of Nelspruit.) As a stop over, Bongani is not entirely ideal. It is close enough to the border, but the access to and from the lodge, adds an extra hour to the journey both ways. The lodge is quite adequate though, if this is going to be your one and only trip which you are trying to get the most out of, you could drive up there the day you land, stay the following day and only move on after that. The lodge is slightly bigger than those we normally stay at, but their itinerary is well oiled and works flawlessly. The staff have a sense of accountability and ownership which is refreshing in the hospitality industry and you are practically guaranteed to see white rhino and buffalo. And ordering a Toby Shake (from Toby) is an absolute must just before accompanying him in a heart wrenching rendition of Shozoloza (this was an optional event – possibly encouraged by the Toby Shakes we had had…)

Inhambane itself was definitely worthwhile, but a bit far to drive considering we only had 3 full days of leisure. Flying is an option, but I don’t know how feasible vehicle rentals are. The road is generally sealed, wide and really good. The exception is the circa 100km’s on the other side of Xia Xia, which is badly potholed and takes longer than you think it will. The lack of facilities along the road, which more westernised bunnies like, needs a bit of planning. Don’t be fooled by the more modern petrol / rest stations close to Maputo - they dry up soon after, so take your supplies with you. Nothing major but lunch and limited liquids would have been a good idea for the 9hr drive.

Inhambane is a lovely little town; remnants of the Portuguese era are all around but very noticeable in the bakery where you are guaranteed to pick up weight with all the tempting treats. Between the local markets and shops and you will be able to find most of what you need, not only fresh but also grown and ripened naturally in the sun. Firelighters and red meat are not that readily available, but apparently these can all be found across the bay. The seafood treasure trove at our door step didn’t justify us making the trip though. Having only 3 days we nibbled our way through the masses of activities available without having time to fully indulge in any one of them – but the Ocean safari (including a snorkling stint), deep sea fishing excursion and beach playing pretty much filled up the day with sun, sea, blue skies and hump backed whales. The dolphins are a tad skittish, but you can swim with the whale sharks if they are around. The diving is also reputed to be quite good. Verdinhos, was a fun surprise. Nestled into the heart of the town, is trendy little bistro that would be quite at home in the more culturally inspired part of any trendy city, with great food and a laid back atmosphere.

While there, we stayed at Bali Hai, self catering chalets / lodge located just off Praia de Barra (or -23 47 41.54 (S) 35 32 11.27 (E) for Google Earthers.) The rooms were lovely, opening out onto a deck facing the sea. Once you get used to sleeping with the sounds of the sea; waking up to sound of waves as the sun peaks over the rim and the whales are splashing becomes a lifestyle I could all too easily get used to. Despite being self catering, the staff are great at helping you get, clean and even prepare the fish you caught – and if you are lucky enough to be there when Ernest has some time on his hands, do ask him to prepare his crumbed prawns, they are phenomenal! August was also a good time of year, as it was warm enough without melting our now anglicised bodies. Jannie and his family have really built a lovely little retreat, and were great in assisting us with our plans and arrangements – thank for a fabulous time.

Travelling back via the same route, we then flew out to Mfuwe via Lusaka and onto South Luangwa National Park. The park was in beautiful condition – but for the mud marks striped half way up the trees on the floodplain, you would never guess how high the floods pushed up. Luangwa River Lodge (-13 05 40.37 (S) 31 44 50.18 E) with its subtle elegance and breathtaking setting was the jewel in the crown of our previous trip and this time even more so. James did his utmost (again) and not only gave us exclusively intimate moments with the lioness and cubs but also rare sightings of both a spotted hyena and a leopard with two rambunctiously healthy cubs – both up close and very very personal. I was surprised at the number of young in the park and how also easy the animals are with the vehicles. Having travelled Africa a fair bit, it was genuinely a pleasure to experience a part of the world where, for the most part, man and animal co-exists in harmony.

Marco once again exceeded his personal best, with a delicious brunch tucked away in the Ebony grove, just waiting to be found as our nature walk drew to a close. As a chef extraordinaire he redefined the concept of a barbecue under the stars, which was perfectly accompanied by the male lion’s seduction roars.

We indulged in Natalie’s Personal Touch as a first this time round, and I’m not sure if it was the indulgent setting under our private boma which overlooks the river bed or her incredible touch, but I was mind blown (and fairly dilly – but that may be normal) afterwards.

Once again, Shawn, James, Marco, Dennis, Friday, Bien, and those I have missed (apologies) you are doing a spectacular job! Its not often I feel comfortable recommending a place without reservation, but Luangwa River Lodge is one I’ll always make an exception for. Thank you for tailoring our holiday to our needs and not your schedule!!

There was however a little matter of an Ele crossing which I promised I’d write about in the guest book… but perhaps if a picture is worth a thousand words, I wonder what a film clip is worth!! All I have to add is 1) even if you are an old hand in Africa, don’t wander off without your guide because you think you know better, even when you are theoretically outside of the park – mommy elephants don’t study theory and 2) in terms of distance, I do not have a zoom facility on my camera when it comes to recording movie clips…

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