IMPRESSIONS OF AN INVETERATE TRAVELLER
We recently had Kitt Garrett, friend and New York travel specialist travel with us on her first visit to southern Africa and we wanted to share some of her insights. A single traveller and keen cruiser, Kitt wanted to see as much of the countryside as possible, feel safe, and have the same amenities of a luxury cruise ship where she could hang up her clothes and not pack and unpack needlessly. She chose Rovos Rail to allow her to see the countryside as if it were a “land cruise.” We suggested an itinerary which would afford Kitt ample opportunity to mix with other guests, relax, take in the scenery at a leisurely pace and see some of the region’s highlights during her pre and post rail adventure.
In speaking with Kitt during her travels, she, like many first-time visitors, was totally blown away by genuine friendliness and hospitality of the locals, the impressive infrastructure, beautiful hotels and lodges, magnificent scenery, delightful cuisine and wines, and of course, the wildlife …
Kitt visited four countries whilst on her 23-day sojourn and below are some of her favourite experiences.
Fun to explore the City in the side car and see the gorgeous scenery along the coastline. Dinner at the Codfather in Camps Bay was delicious and selecting my own seafood and watching the chefs cook it was fun.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a must for anyone who loves interesting re-adaptation of architecture. It was an old mill transformed into an extraordinary space by Thomas Heatherwick who designed New York’s new Vessel and the current Lantern apartment building along the High Line.
Cape Grace Hotel boasts a wonderful location and is small and highly personalized. The staff are incredible. The hotel has two deluxe sedans which you can book to take you around town. Their dining room tasting menu is worth the calories. I worked with the concierge to select my restaurants, some within walking distance and others that needed a transfer. Trans African Safaris provided my private guides to explore the city.
Extraordinary experience to see the countryside in luxury. The first leg of the trip was from Cape Town to Pretoria for 10 days. Two motor-coaches followed the train and at each stop, half the guests boarded one coach to play golf, while the others boarded the other coach for leisure sightseeing activities.
The accommodations are wonderful, the staff is terrific and the guests on board are among the most interesting, fun and well-travelled people I have ever met.
Our excursions were far more interesting than I expected, including the ostrich farm learning about these interesting birds. Their brains are smaller than their eyes. Their feathers clean your house, their meat sustains you and their skins are used to make a range of attractive leather items. The eggs are so strong, you can stand on them. The variety of intricate decorations make them art pieces. The guides and drivers who met us for our game drives were caring and informative. They wanted everyone to see as much as possible and help us learn about the animal’s behavior.
Note: Beware, although the portions are small, the four course lunches and four course dinners with 28 different wines over 14 days made elastic waistbands a must! It’s amazing how many different meals were served from that tiny kitchen, including afternoon tea, sandwiches and sweets each day at 4:00 PM.
The Sheraton, Pretoria
Once the Cape Town to Pretoria Rovos Rail trip ended, I overnighted at the Sheraton. The hotel a buffet dinner and I craved a simple salad after all the formal meals on the train. It’s an easy drive from the train to the hotel. My room had a view of the Union Buildings (the official seat of South Africa’s government) and worked well for one overnight.
The following day, I boarded the Rovos Rail train bound for Victoria Falls.
Victoria Falls Hotel is special with lots of colonial history. They have two room types: the smaller rooms with standard baths in the main section and a new section with larger rooms that feature both a walk-in shower and separate bath which Trans Africa Safaris booked for me. I had a room with a view of the garden which was quite delightful.
The Jungle Junction is an outdoor dining space that serves breakfast. In the evening, they offer a buffet dinner with a show performed by local talented villagers that is interesting and entertaining. For $35 it’s a good alternative to The Terrace Restaurant and offers many reasonably-priced food selections than the more limited menu of The Terrace. Their formal dining room is lovely; however, I did not need another fancy meal after the meals on the train. The buffet allowed me to select light options which I preferred.
The sunset river cruise was lovely and I strongly recommend including this. There are many river boat options, including the luxury cruise which offers hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. The food is basic, but one goes for the scenery and animal viewing, not the food.
The Falls are an incredible experience and well worth seeing. The river flow varies depending on the time of year you book. The Zambian side was quite dry and some of their water is diverted to a hydro-electric plant. Trans Africa Safaris arranged my tour of the Falls and surrounding attractions as well as a visit into Zambia to explore Livingstone.
Sanctuary’s Chobe Chilwero, Botswana
Lovely property, fabulous bathroom with walk-in showers. The staff is nice and wildlife viewing is terrific! The food is served buffet style for the salads, but I did find the flies a challenge. The citronella candles and little fans were ineffective in keeping the flies away and covering the food with a net would work better.
Belmond’s Khwai River, Botswana
The game viewing is fabulous. The lodge was awaiting the renewal of their concession and certain aspects of my stay could have been better. Go for the animals and fabulous guides!
Belmond’s Eagle Island, Botswana
Newly renovated and lovely if you want a luxury, air-conditioned cabin, but feels more like a hotel and not for visitors looking for an “authentic” tented experience sans air-conditioning. If you want the latter, ask the team at Trans Africa Safaris to recommend options for you. The animals you see will depend upon your good fortune, time of year and water levels. Seeing a pride of 6 lions and a cheetah mother with 8 cubs was extremely fortuitous. One would not normally expect to see these sightings in the heart of the Delta, but Botswana was exceptionally dry late 2019 due to poor annual floods and late summer rains.
A few side notes …
- The diversity of the landscape, the friendly people along the way, the incredible travel professionals providing personalized experiences made the trip extraordinary.
- I felt very safe throughout my stay. I had private tours and hotel transfers so was always in caring hands.
- I asked my Zimbabwean guide to come with us and I treated him to lunch. We all ate the same local food which was an adventure. I was surprised to learn that eating the fish with my hands the way he taught me was much more efficient than managing it with it knife and fork.
- Everyone in every place I visited was incredibly gracious and welcoming. They wanted me to have a good time and learn something about their specific culture. The demeaner of the people is the exact opposite from a New Yorker. We can be short and curt without realizing it, but the locals I met were all soft-spoken, smiled and made you want to get to know them better, all traits that I hope I have returned with to New York!
- I feel calmer and more peaceful having taken the trip. Being with nature and watching how the animals wake up every morning knowing they will eat or be eaten is fascinating. The experience at the watering hole watching the elephants swim in the water was magical. As we looked around and saw elephants coming from every direction to participate, it made us curious how they all knew to arrive at the same time. It was the only location where the elephants submerged themselves in the water completely and splashed around.
- Watching 6 lions resting in the shade of the heat during the day was very special. The cheetah with 8 cubs was a once in a lifetime sighting. Our guide had seen a maximum of 2 cubs prior to that. Learning that monkey and baboon tracks are similar made sense. If you see a tail dragging with the tracks, you know it is a money since the baboons walk with their tails up.
- The personalized staff welcome “receptions” at the lodges were new to me and I thought they were creative and fun. The Jungle Junction dinner performance at the Victoria Falls Hotel was very interesting. Hearing the repetitive sounds and phrases, I was aware how these have transferred into our own gospel music. The stamina of the dancers and the choreography was equal to anything we have on Broadway, again showing the heritage of where our musical inspiration originated.