Best of Reykjavik

Best of Reykjavik

Perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle and positioned on top of the world’s most active volcanic hot spots, Iceland checks all the travel adventure boxes – glacier hiking, fjord kayaking, cave exploring.  But no journey to the 66th parallel is complete without a visit to the country’s captivating capital. Reykjavik, the smallest, northern-most capital in Europe combines the hip with the wholesome – it’s a modern city with small town Scandinavian charm.

Originally under Danish rule, Iceland gained independence in 1944 and slowly emerged from its fishing-focused foundation with a little help from the 2010 volcanic eruption that paralyzed European air travel and put Iceland “on the map.”  Reykjavik, now a tourism magnet, maintains its Viking roots while embracing a cosmopolitan flair.

Reykjavik, IcelandOnly have time for a quick visit to Iceland? Spend a few days in Reykjavik — the old city center welcomes with its metal clad houses, mossy lawns, picket fences, and bustling pedestrian zone. Combine this with an array of appealing day trips – from bubbling hot springs to volcano hikes — Iceland’s famous geological wonders are at your doorstep.  Travel in summer for unending hours of daylight, or in winter to witness the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). To fully appreciate the country requires a longer stay — driving the 830-mile ring road that encircles this island nation can take a week to ten days depending on the number of stops made along the way.

BEST OF REYKJAVIK:

Walking Tour: The best way to explore any city is on foot. Your wanderings will take you into pocket-size shops and quaint restaurants, with plenty of chances to meet the locals along the way. Or, take a Segway or bike tour if you prefer to explore by wheel.

Reykjavik

Lake Tjornin

City Hall: Sitting on the shores of Lake Tjornin, this modern building may lack visual appeal, but it is worth a look: pick up brochures at the tourist center and walk around the super-sized three dimensional map of the country located in the lobby.

Laugavegur: This predominantly pedestrian street lined with cafes, galleries and shops, is truly the heart and soul of the city. Stop at Alafoss for Icelandic wool sweaters and pick up weatherproof gear at 66° North. (By the way, no one carries umbrellas in Iceland so pack a hat or hoodie!)  Hrim Housewares offers functional yet cool Icelandic design pieces all crafted from local materials. Grab a coffee at Reykjavik Roasters or fruit smoothies at Joe & the Juice. Purchase a travel guide at funky Edmundsson Bookstore, and sit down for refreshments at their café, Te & Kaffi.

Restaurants: A Reykjavik tourist brochure I picked up in our hotel’s lobby states: “Reykjavik dining is not cheap so it better be good.” Yup, that’s about right. But, the offerings do not disappoint. Iceland’s waters are some of the coldest and cleanest worldwide and thanks to government programs, one of the most sustainable.  Menus feature unique dishes like shark, Icelandic lobster, and puffin.  Dine at Sjavargrilled, or Fiskmarkadurinn and sister restaurant Grillmarkadurinn for an amazing selection of surf and turf.  Sushi Social is a delicious Japanese and South American mashup. Or for a novelty meal, try the “conveyor belt” service at O Sushi.  Enjoy lunch at Iceland Fish & Chips for the healthiest and freshest version of you guessed it: fish and chips.   Fill your picnic basket at Sandholt:  the tastiest sandwiches and mouth watering pastries to go.  Visit the circa 1937 hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur — it literally means “the best hot dog in town.”  Their menu reads: “hot dog, soda.”  Get one with the works: ketchup, mustard, remoulade, and fresh and fried onions.  Stop in any supermarket and stock up on farm fresh Skyr yogurt, high in protein and virtually fat free (it’s thick and creamy and is Iceland’s secret to healthy living).  At the end of a day of touring, warm up with a giant bowl of Thai-style noodle soup at cozy Noodle Station.

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja:  Where Laugavegur forks, walk up Skolavordustigur Street to reach this Lutheran Cathedral, one of Reykjavik’s most iconic buildings, named for the Icelandic poet and clergyman, and visible from almost anywhere in the city. Its design echoes the basalt lava-flows common in Iceland’s landscape.  Climb to the top of the tower and you will be rewarded with an amazing panoramic view.  Just outside the church, take a selfie with the statue of Norse explorer, Leif Erikson, and pay homage to the man who REALLY discovered America (600 years prior to Columbus).

Museums: My fishing-fixated kids loved the Viking Maritime Museum, devoted to the history of Iceland’s fishing industry and the great “Cod Wars.”  Head outside the city limits to visit Perlan, a science center built on top of the city’s salt water tanks.  (Climb up to the 360-degree outdoor viewing platform or walk through the world’s first indoor ice cave).  Check out the child-friendly Museum of Iceland (on the second floor kids can dress up in Viking attire complete with sword, shield, and chain mail).  Or, take a peek at the more adult-themed Phallological Museum!

Volcano House: This petite but information packed learning center focuses on the volcanic and geothermal history of Iceland, with interactive and hands-on exhibits. Watch the moving, hour-long documentary about the recent eruptions (1973 and 2010) and the effects on the people that lived through these horrific natural disasters. How they managed to restore their communities with little help from the outside world is humbling and awe-inspiring.

Puffins Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland has the largest puffin population in the world

Whales & Puffins: Recently, whale watching has slowly out-paced commercial whaling in Iceland (thanks in part to national/international animal preservation organizations).  For an up close view of these awesome creatures, hop on one of the harbor boats that leave daily year round and catch sight of Orcas, Humpbacks, and dolphins too.  From May to August, take a puffin tour of the surrounding islands and view the breeding grounds of these diminutive birds known for their bright orange beaks and matching webbed feet.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

This geothermal spa is located in a lava field about 24 miles from the center of Reykjavik

Blue Lagoon: Thanks to Iceland’s volcanic activity, the country has a never ending supply of geothermal energy from natural hot water bubbling up from the earth’s core. It’s piped from mountain to town to warm up everything from homes to swimming pools.  Today, 85 percent of atmospheric heating is derived from geothermal sources. In the southwest, at power station Svartsengi, hot water passes through a heat exchange process to generate electricity. The runoff water forms a lake nearby and functions as a spa, the Blue Lagoon. Rich in salt and minerals and possessing an otherworldly milky blue hue, the naturally hot waters are known to have healing qualities. Depending on your schedule, it is possible to make a stop on your way to or from Reykjavik airport (there is a place on site to store your luggage). Arrive early before the crowds for the most relaxing and authentic experience. (More on the Blue Lagoon in a future post).

Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon

Golden Circle: This 300-kilometer looped route through the heart of the country covers many of Iceland’s most well-known sites both natural and historic.  This region, northeast of Reykjavik, brings you up close to the rift valley where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are slowly separating.  A full-day tour includes stops in Pingvellir (where the country’s original chieftains first assembled to forge their national identity and laws); Geysir (the gushing hot springs after which all such vents worldwide are named), and Gullfoss (the thundering Golden Falls).  Crisscrossing through this area are roads that meander through beautiful countryside, more green than many of Iceland’s rougher outlying landscapes. (Stay tuned for my upcoming article on the Golden Circle and our full day tour with local volcano experts, Reykjavik Erupts).

Golden Circle, Iceland

Kerid, an explosion crater on the Golden Circle route

Reykjavik

Laugarines shore, a recreational area in the outskirts of Reykjavik

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Safari Packing Tips

Safari Packing Tips

Light luggage, light heart

The rule “less is more” definitely applies when packing for an African safari.  Unburdening yourself from the usual travel trappings is liberating.   On our recent family trip to South Africa we journeyed from city to safari and back again hopping from lodge to lodge by bush plane (click here to read my recent posts).  Not worrying about our “stuff” added to the spirit of adventure.  Need advice on what (or what NOT) to pack for your safari?  Here are my top tips:

Thank you Micato Safaris for the great duffle bags

WEATHER:
Weather can vary based on the country and the time of year (seasons may be opposite of your home country). Wintertime in the southern hemisphere (June through September) means as you travel north (towards the equator) temps go up, with the reverse being true in their summer (December — March).  Kenya and Tanzania, located in East Africa, have milder, spring-like weather year-round verses South Africa, which has much greater temperature swings.  No matter the destination, early morning and late evening game drives can be cooler than when the sun is high in the sky.

LUGGAGE SIZE:
Luggage requirements (weights and measurements) vary by airline carrier, so check these in advance, especially the baggage allowed on small bush planes. For our safari, a medium sized rolling duffle bag with exterior zippered pockets to store non-valuables worked perfectly.

SHOES:
Shoes take up lots of room, so choose carefully. Hiking boots are only necessary if you plan on trekking or mountain climbing. On safari, you are traveling mostly by vehicle, but hard soled, comfortable shoes are a must for bush walks.  Over the ankle hiking boots are bulky, so a better option are walking or hiking shoes (preferably with waterproof Gortex, like North Face or Merrells).  Flip flops come in handy for the lodge pool or Jacuzzi.  And, slip-on style leather sneakers are convenient for airport security and work well for “in between” weather patterns. Touring Johannesburg and Cape Town during their winter?  Pack a pair of light weight leather ankle booties with rubber soles for cool or rainy days.

CLOTHING:
Layers, layers, layers.  Simple and neat, casual clothing, whether you are in the city or on safari, always works best.  Even in warmer weather, long pants and long sleeve shirts made from quick-dry or dri-FIT material will protect you from strong sun and mosquitoes. Wear a short sleeve shirt or tank top underneath for quick changes en route when the mercury rises.  Leggings or jeans are okay, but leave the trendy, ripped ones at home.  Ventilated trousers (like REI, prAna, or KUHL) are a great option and will keep you cool and dry.

Sabi Sabi Safari

As the sun sets, long sleeves and trousers work best

Pack clothing that can be washed (not dry cleaned) since many lodges provide complimentary same-day laundry service).  Pick neutral colors and leave the brights at home.  No camouflage patterns – it is simply not acceptable.  And, keep away from brash, logo t-shirts – it’s best to blend in.

When temps drop, most lodges will provide warm blankets or hot water bottles in the open-air vehicles, but come prepared with scarf, wool beanie, glove liners, fleece jacket, and light-weight quilted vest, because when the sun sets it gets cold!  Heavy winter boots and coats are not necessary — but I definitely appreciated my flannel pajamas during our visit in July!  In the cooler evenings in Cape Town and Johannesburg, I made good use of light weight merino wool cardigans that were easily layered (and didn’t take up much room in the luggage).

Sabi Sabi Safari

Dress in neutral attire that will not “attract” animals, especially when spending time outside the vehicle during a “Sundowners” break

Outdoor dining at the lodges is very popular, but dressing up for dinner is generally unnecessary; it’s more relaxed than you think, even at the luxury tented camps.  Usually, we went right from our evening drive to our al fresco dinner.

Other important items?  A brimmed hat and bathing suit for warm, sunny days and rain shell and collapsible umbrella for rainy days.  And, if you have read my previous packing article (click here) you will know I never travel without a wrap or Pashmina!

Mini surge protector

ELECTRONICS:
Bring extra batteries, memory cards, and lens cloths for your camera (dust gets everywhere) plus power packs for your phone. Converters and adapters will be required for most electronics, and a mini surge protector always is useful in any hotel room where outlets may be few and hard to reach. During game drives, my boys also made good use of binoculars — great for children who may not be using a camera or spotting wildlife through a zoom lens.

This adapter kit works with all Apple devices

Many lodges provide flashlights, but pack one of those mini mag lights just in case — lodges can be pitch-dark at night (although for safety reasons, you are usually escorted back to your tent by a guide). Most lodges include a hairdryer so skip packing this heavy item (and wear that hat you packed!)    Make sure to download books to your e-reader in advance because wifi and cell service can be unpredictable, or better yet, bring an actual book or travel-sized board game – since being “off the grid” is really the point.

SAFARI DAY-PACK:
Take a tote bag or a light weight backpack to use in the safari vehicle to store your camera and the extra layers of clothing you may shed (it can double as your carry on).  Make sure it has a zipper to keep your items dust-free (the bag usually winds up on the floor during all that off-road driving).

MEDICINE & FIRST AID:
Assemble a well-stocked first aid kit in a Ziploc bag. Include extra prescription medications (an antibiotic script, just in case) plus over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen, allergy and diarrhea tablets, cortisone cream, motion sickness pills, dry-eye drops, hand sanitizer, bug spray, sunscreen, and adhesive bandages.

Packing cubes

PRE-PACKING:
Before placing items in your bag, lay out your things by item type and then remove one item from each category – you will not miss them!  If traveling between several lodges, I recommend those flat, zippered, nylon pouches to arrange your stuff.   You can lift them from suitcase to dresser drawer and back again without having to repack each individual item.

DONATIONS:
Handing out toys, pens, and candies to local children you meet along the way is strongly discouraged because it creates an endless cycle of begging. Instead, search out a “Social Enterprise,” an organization that runs as a business with profits going to support a community project or social need — buy locally made handicrafts or stop at a community-run store or café. Upon your return home, make a donation to a cause that has pulled at your heartstrings be it animal conservation, children’s charity, or land preservation.  Your dollars, euros, or pounds will go a long way to helping our planet and all who dwell on it.

Sabi Sabi Safari

During our stay in Sabi Sabi, we visited a local community and the “Swa Vana Center,” which cares for orphaned and vulnerable children by offering physical, emotional, social, and educational support.

Sabi Sabi Safari

We stopped in a local market and met the proprietor.

Sabi Sabi Safari

After shopping at a local crafts market, we were treated to a performance of music and dancing.

Sabi Sabi Safari

The local children loved “hamming it up” for the camera

Our visit to the local communities in the Mpumalanga Province was an enriching and educational experience

PAPERWORK:
Check your travel documents — having the proper paperwork is crucial.  LOOK AT YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATE: it cannot expire prior to six months from the dates of your trip. If you have LESS thank six months left on the expiration you will NOT be allowed to checkin at the airport or board your departure flight! Make sure you secured the appropriate visas to enter a country. South Africa requires all children under the age of 18 to possess a valid birth certificate with a raised seal, in addition to a valid passport (even if traveling with both parents).  Many countries may require proof of inoculations so check the cdc.gov website (or visit a doctor that specializes in travel related immunizations) to learn about recommended shots.

For more packing advice, check out my recent articles: “Twelve Packing Tips Every Traveler Should Know” and  “A Few of my Favorite Travel Things.”

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Tintswalo, Manyeleti Safari

Tintswalo, Manyeleti Safari

Our recent journey to South Africa opened our eyes and our hearts to a new world. In Cape Town we walked in the footsteps of former President Nelson Mandela and learned of his struggle for freedom and the true definition of leadership (click here for my previous posts on Cape Town). On safari in Sabi Sands we spotted the Big Five and the Magnificent Seven in all their four-legged glory. (Click here for my articles on Sabi Sabi).

The next leg of our adventure continues here… We flew north by bush plane to Manyeleti, another private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park, which is located in the northeastern part of the country, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe. We were met at the dirt airstrip by our guide, Alister, and tracker, Pardon, who whisked us off into the bush to our lodge, Tintswalo.

Wildebeast, Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Wildebeest exhibit the largest animal migration in the world

TIntswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

In a pride, all the lionesses are related

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Leopards are nocturnal. During the day , they rest in thick brush or in trees.

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

During three days of game drives we caught sight of lions, buffalo, kudu, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, and fox and absorbed lessons in all manner of flora and fauna. The most important, but tragic animal fact we learned? That extreme poaching continues to run rampant in South Africa.

After dinner one evening in the lodge, Alister showed us a heart wrenching video that portrayed the devastating realities of this slaughter. Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years, primarily driven by the demand for its horn, specifically in Vietnam. Often associated with traditional Chinese Medicine, it has evolved into a status symbol displayed to mark success or wealth. Poachers are funded by international criminal organizations that provide sophisticated equipment and substantial bounties to track and kill rhinos. The animal is tranquilized and then the horn is brutally hacked off its snout – the animal left to die a slow and painful death, often in full view of its offspring.

Hoedspruit, South Africa

At the Hoedspruit Center for Endangered Species, orphaned rhinos are nurtured

One afternoon, we visited the nearby Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center to learn more. This unique facility focuses on the conservation and sustainability of rare, vulnerable and endangered species in South Africa. Through education of surrounding communities, tourism, breeding, rehabilitation and anti-poaching initiatives, HESC aims to make a difference in the long-term survival of the planet and its animal inhabitants. The rhino, second largest land mammal after the elephant, specifically has borne the brunt of poaching, which has led to near extinction.

Tintswalo Lodge Suite

Tintswalo Lodge – suite bathroom

In between our excursions and twice-daily game drives from Tintswalo, we relaxed in our two-bedroom Baines Suite, named for the nineteenth century English artist and explorer.  The suite includes a living room, kitchen, dining room, and chef.  Our boys were delighted when creatures great and small visited the suite’s backyard plunge pool. On occasion, the front desk rang our rooms to alert us that a herd of elephants had arrived for their daily drink at the watering hole located in full view of the restaurant terrace.

Tinstwalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Tintswalo’s suites, all named for 19th century explorers, feature exquisite colonial era decor

Tintswalo, Manyeleti

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

A Waterbuck visits our suite’s backyard plunge pool

On our last morning, we bid a sad farewell to Tintswalo as we joined the other guests for a “bushveld” breakfast. Our lovely al fresco buffet, laid out along a dry riverbed under the tallest of olive trees, was a symphony of sights and smells — the brewed coffee and roasted bacon mixing pleasingly with the aromas of the surrounding dried brush grasses.

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Almost daily, this herd visits the lodge watering hole

Tintswalo Lodge, Mayeleti

The wooden boardwalk connects all of the lodge’s suites to the main lobby, restaurant, and library

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

A farewell breakfast in the bush

As we boarded our safari vehicle and headed back to the landing strip to await our flight to Johannesburg, we reflected on our safari experiences, pondered the interdependence of humans and wildlife, and recognized the impact this intertwined relationship has on the world’s survival.

Tintswalo Lodge, Manyeleti

Sundowners at Tintswalo — a highlight of our stay

Check out my son Harris’s video, below, of a herd of Cape Buffalo we encountered during one of our evening game drives. (You can watch all of his adventure and travel videos on his Vimeo Channel – The Suburban Sportsman)

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New York Times Travel Show 2017

New York Times Travel Show 2017

New York Times Travel ShowWant to travel the world in a New York minute? Visit the New York Times Travel Show held at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center January 28-29, 2017 where you can join thousands of other travelers as they roam the aisles amongst 500 plus destinations and suppliers.

Attend this interactive exhibition and come away with a wealth of knowledge: attend educational seminars, learn about new resorts and hotels, and enjoy international food and entertainment. From Asia to Africa, the United States to the United Kingdom, the world will be at your fingertips.  NY Times Travel Show

The Jacob Javits Convention Center is located on Manhattan’s west side (34th Street and 11th Avenue).

New York Times Travel ShowNeed help putting it all together? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com
I will help you create your unique trip for 2017 and beyond.

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Sabi Sands Safari

Sabi Sands Safari

When visiting South Africa, the goal is to see the “Big Five” game animals: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. The term was originally coined by hunters to represent the five species most difficult to hunt on foot, but has since been adopted by the tourism industry to denote optimum viewing experiences.  Adding in two additional animals — the hyena and cheetah –means that you have also achieved the “Magnificent Seven.” Although never a guarantee, we were very fortunate to sight all seven animals during our safari.

My recent articles highlighted my family’s adventure in South Africa — truly a trip of a life time. Our journey began in Cape Town (read recent articles here) where we enjoyed city, wineland, and national park exploration. Next, we hopped a bush plane to reach the next leg of our trip — safari in Sabi Sands (for safari planning tips, click here).  We stayed in Little Bush Camp, located in one of the great private reserves adjacent to Kruger National Park. To read about our experience at this amazing lodge, click here.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Out of the hundreds and hundreds of photos we snapped, it is impossible to play favorite. So, here are just a few that will give you a small taste of the wild and wonderful creatures we encountered during out travels in Sabi Sabi:

Sabi Sabi South Africa
Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

At a kill, a lion tends to gorge himself and can consume up to 25 percent of its body mass in only a few hours. Afterwards, a rest is much needed!

Sabi Sands South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We came upon this matriarchal breeding herd of elephants. The females can be identified by their tusks, which are smaller than the males’.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The African Buffalo, also known as the Cape Buffalo, can travel amongst very large herds and can spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and moving.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The Greater Kudu, noted for its long and twisted antlers, is related to the antelope.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The cheetah is the fastest land animal. We were lucky to catch him at rest, mid-meal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The leopard’s whiskers help guide it through the thick vegetation and compliments its excellent night vision making it a lethal predator.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

We witnessed these wild dogs as they pursued an impala. Our safari vehicle could barely keep up with them as they raced through the bush —  the dogs’ initial speeds can top 66 kilometers per hour.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South AfricaSabi Sands South Africa

Despite the giraffe’s long neck, it contains only seven vertebrae — the same number as a human and most mammals.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

The hyenas’ bite is the most powerful of all mammals and will crush the thick bones of their prey in order to access the nutritious marrow contained within. Seeing (and hearing!) them in action in the pitch darkness was an intense sight to behold.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sands South Africa

The beautiful stripes of the zebra actually serve a purpose: to effectively heat and cool the animal.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

We followed along in our vehicle as this leopard, which had suffered an injury in a fight with another animal, walked the stream bed in search of water.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Wildebeest have many predators: lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

All creatures great and small are part of the safari experience. Here a dwarf mongoose peaks out of his home, a repurposed termite mound.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Hippos cannot float, which is why they are often seen resting in shallow water.

Sabi Sands South Africa

We couldn’t help but name this hornbill “Zazu” in honor of the character in the movie “The Lion King.”

Sabi Sands South Africa Warthog

And, not far away we spotted his “Lion King” companion, “Pumbaa,” otherwise known as a warthog.

Sabi Sands South Africa

Impalas are known for their characteristic stripes, but only the males have horns.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Sabi Sabi South Africa

Unfortunately, rhinos are being hunted into near extinction. More about this in an upcoming article highlighting our visit to Tinstwalo Safari Lodge, located in the Manyeleti Private Preserve.

 

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Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Half way through our South African safari, I knew this trip was unique when my two sons said: “this is THE best vacation!”  I knew exactly what they meant.  Knowing of their travel experience to 37 countries, people always ask: “what’s your favorite destination?”  They could not play favorite … until our recent trip to South Africa.  Combining history and culture, with stunning landscapes and wildlife encounters, this vacation checked all the adventure boxes.  While Cape Town and Johannesburg were a history lesson come alive, safari was nature in four dimensions: big sky, vast plains, majestic creatures, and a spiritual other-worldliness.

I dreamed of Africa… and still am.
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
After leaving Cape Town (read my recent articles here), we flew to Johannesburg and then hopped a bush plane to the landing strip in Sabi Sands, a private reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. (For more details on this private reserve, read my article here).   We were met by our safari vehicle and whisked away on dirt roads to Little Bush Camp, a Sabi Sabi lodge comprised of six thatched-roof suites, each with private viewing deck all overlooking the banks of the Msuthlu River.Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

Little Bush Camp Lodge

We were greeted warmly by our hosts and given instructions on safari schedules, dining, and excursions. My husband and I checked into one cottage, and my two sons next door in their own.   Our three days in the bush were a whirlwind of game drives and animal sightings. Awoken by our guide, Aniska, at 6am each morning, we joined our lodge mates by the fireplace in the main lodge for a much needed cup of hot tea and plates of fresh fruit, homemade muffins, and warm scones. At the end of the garden path, we boarded our Land Cruiser, which we shared with a lovely honeymoon couple from Australia.  Our visit was in July (winter in the southern hemisphere), so early mornings were brisk and required extra layers, including wool cap, gloves, and scarf.  Blankets and hot water bottles placed on our seats in the open-top vehicle came in VERY handy.
Little Bush Camp
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
Our morning drives lasted approximately three hours, after which we would return to the lodge to eat a hearty breakfast and then spend time relaxing and reading in our huts.  Intermittent Wi-Fi and sporadic cell service were a blessing, giving us a chance to really “power down” on this vacation.

Following our alfresco lunch there were activities available: a visit to one of the other Sabi Sabi lodges, an excursion to the local community to learn about their culture and history, or a bush walk on guided walking trails outside the lodge’s perimeter.  Upon our return, we would grab extra fleece jackets and vests (having shed them because the midday sun can be exceptionally strong even in winter) and embark on the evening drive.

Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi

In Sabi Sands, the guides can take you off-road into the bush

Sabi Sands, South Africa
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
The highlight of the evening drives was “Sundowners,” South Africa’s very civilized version of “Happy Hour.” As dusk arrived, our guide pulled over in an open grassland and set out a lovely spread of snacks and beverages on a fold-down shelf perched on the front of the vehicle. With hiking boots on the ground, we had the opportunity to see, hear, and feel the bush up close as we watched the setting sun.

At nightfall, we drove back to the lodge where we were greeted by a candlelit dinner. We joined our lodge mates and guides at a large family table for an intimate evening of conversation and safari story telling by moonlight. After our meal, exhausted, we retired to our thatched cottages escorted by a guide with a lantern to ward off wandering wildlife. (Leaving your accommodations on your own in the dark is discouraged — the lodge’s fencing only keeps out larger animals like elephants).
Sabi Sabi
Sabi Sabi
Sabi Sabi
Our guide/driver, Aniska, was a “bush baby” who grew up in the local area and was well versed in all creatures great and small. All the lodge guides work together as a team, seamlessly communicating their location and animal sightings by radio so multiple vehicles don’t overwhelm the wildlife.   My sons loved when Aniska went into full “Ferrari safari mode,” racing off to see a unique sighting — wild dogs pursusing a herd of impala or a cheetah devouring its kill — before it disappeared into the bush.

Seated at the very front of our vehicle was Voster, our tracker, who hails from the Shangaan village which abuts the game reserve. These experts are completely in tune with the many clues and hidden signs that animals leave behind, be it foot print or dung heap, and work hand in hand with the guides to track the game and provide you with the up-close wildlife encounters this area is famous for.

Sabi Sabi

Enjoying “Sundowners” with our tracker and guide

One evening, Aniska parked on an empty plain, turned off the vehicle lights, and in the pitch darkness, we gazed up at the pristine night sky — the lack of light pollution allowed for an endless blanket of stars.  With her laser pointer she highlighted the Southern Cross and Milky Way and we even caught a glimpse of the International Space Station silently making its way across the universe.  Wow, how very small we are.

It is hard to put into words all of the sights we saw, each more wondrous than the next. Viewing animals in their natural habitats, existing together (and yes, sometimes eating each other!) truly illustrates the “circle of life” no matter how cliche it sounds — queue the “Lion King” score.  Each night, at bedtime, we scrolled through the hundreds upon hundreds of photos we snapped and reflected on the day’s adventures, so very thankful that it was not just a dream.

Stay tuned for more photos of our animal sightings in Sabi Sands and articles on our second safari stop in Manyeleti Private Reserve plus tips on packing.
Little Bush Camp, Sabi Sabi
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South African Safari Logistics

South African Safari Logistics

When planning a South African safari, the name Kruger immediately comes to mind.  This National Park (the size of Wales) is located in the northeastern part of the country, with neighbor Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east.  It offers popular camping spots and self-drive tours with a variety of accommodations (mostly run by the National Parks board).  However, if you are looking for a more unique, intimate safari experience in South Africa, a stay in one of the adjacent, private reserve areas is the key to a memorable trip of a lifetime.

Map of South Africa

Sabi Sands Private Reserve is a wildlife conservation private reserve, (the oldest privately owned reserve in South Africa) which means it is not available to day-visitors.   Considered part of the Greater Kruger Wildlife Enclave, it covers roughly 250 square miles. A reservation for one of the lodges is required for entry. Sabi Sands derives its name from the two rivers, River Sabi and River Sand, which flow through the savannah and woodland areas that sustain the diverse flora and fauna.   The western perimeter is fenced, however the eastern perimeter (which adjoins Kruger) is 50 kilometers of unfenced border allowing wildlife to roam freely.  This is not a “zoo” – animals are not “fed.” They are existing in their own biodiverse and natural environment (except for water sources that were part of the original agricultural land).  It’s home to the most sought after animal sightings: the Big Five (buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, leopard), the Magnificent Seven (Big Five plus the wild dog and cheetah), and 300 species of birds.

Sabi Sands South Africa

A safari in Sabi Sands gets you face to face with the the Big Five

Sabi Sands Reserve Map

Sabi Sands Reserve map

Sabi Sands lodges include meals and off-road safari privileges with an experienced guide in a designated Jeep or vehicle. (In Kruger National Park, you must stick to paved roads, which means you cannot follow a stalking leopard into the bush or an wild dog pursing its prey).  It is divided into several privately owned game reserves including Sabi Sabi, Ulusaba, Singita, and Londolozi, each with its own set of individual lodging areas from modest to luxury.  Some are more child-friendly, while others cater to honeymoon couples or small groups.  Some come equipped with private pool, private deck, or connecting suites. Some lodges have only six or eight villas – a more intimate experience – while others offer amenities like a spa, resort pool, or kids club. All provide other activities besides safari, including visits to the local communities and bush walks.

Sabi Sands rhino

Up close and personal with a rhino, one of the Big Five

Leopard in Sabi Sands

Sabi Sands is well known for its leopard sightings

Our stay this past July was in Little Bush Camp located in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve.  Sabi Sabi has four lodges, each with its own distinct style and flavor: colonial themed Selati, family-friendly Bush Lodge, ecofriendly Earth Lodge, and Little Bush Camp, which features six individual huts all nestled on the banks of the Msuthlu river.

How to get to Sabi Sands? There are several choices including taking a scheduled commercial flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town to local airports in Nelspruit (towards the southern area of Sabi Sands) or Hoedspruit (closer to the northern part of Sabi Sands) then transferring to your lodge by vehicle or “bush plane” depending on travel distance.

South Africa, Federal Air

Boarding our bush plane in Joburg

The most efficient way is by chartered flight on Federal Air, based out of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, which takes you directly to the various private reserve landing strips (some paved, some not so much) all within Sabi Sands.

After spending several days in Cape Town, (check out my recent articles here) we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a scheduled South African Airways flight then transferred by minivan to a Federal Air flight. Located a short drive from the main airport terminal, Federal Air has its own dedicated lounge with beverages, snacks, and bathrooms.  The aircraft are parked right outside the lounge — no jetway or staircase needed.  Our flight was 1.5 hours nonstop to Sabi Sabi, (there is a possibility for one or two quick stops to drop off or pickup other passengers staying in other areas within Sabi Sands). Be aware that time of flight departure is not confirmed until 24 hours prior, so make sure to include ample layover time in Joburg if making a connecting flight post safari.

Sabi Sabi South Africa

From the Sabi Sands landing strip it was a quick ride by Land Cruiser to Little Bush Camp

Micato Safaris, South AfricaAlso note that the luggage limit is 44 pounds per person (including carry on) since these are small bush planes (Cessna Grand Caravan or Beechraft 1900 are typical). We used soft-sided, rolling duffels (thank you Micato Safaris!) – hard-sided luggage is not allowed onboard.  Our plane held about 12 passengers and two pilots and was a smooth flight – the only real discomfort was from the lack of bathroom on board, so plan accordingly!

As you plan your South African safari, make sure to check government websites for information on proper shots and malaria pills, or consult with a travel doctor several months prior to departure in order to educate yourself on immunization recommendations.  Also, the South African government now requires that all children under the age of 18 must possess an unabridged version of their birth certificate (along with their passport) reflecting the particulars of the child’s parents. For more information (including documents required for children traveling with only one parent), click here.

Sabi Sands South Africa

More about Cape Buffalo in my next article

Stay tuned for my upcoming article and photos from our stay at Little Bush Camp and Sabi Sabi safari including notes on weather and packing.

 

 

SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

Herricks Travel American ExpressTo become a SUBSCRIBER, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box, and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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