Into the Wild: My First Safari Part I

Our package deal from South African Airlines included a three-day stay and safari at the Tanda Tula Private Game Reserve located in the northeast section of South Africa adjacent to the world-famous Kruger National Park.  Tanda Tula was one of the first luxury private reserve camps established in the area and prides itself in giving the visitor beautifully appointed African safari styled “tents” in a gorgeous reserve with no boundaries and no fences.

During our three-day stay at Tanda Tula, we would be going on an early morning safari ride, a late afternoon one and a surprise evening safari where we would be tracking the two dominant male lions in the reserve.  We were also surprised with a candlelight dinner IN THE WILD….yes that is right.  We ate an enormous feast right smack in the middle of the game reserve, while the rangers stood by on the watch.

We took the morning flight out of Cape Town non-stop to Hoedspruit, one of three airports located near the Kruger National Park.  Here are some photos of my first day into the wild.

Boarding the plane to Hoedspruit Eastgate Airport:

View from the plane of the Southern Cape:

Small, clean airport in Hoedspruit, one of three airports in the vicinity of Kruger National Park:

After collecting our luggage, we were met by our driver from Tanda Tula Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park.   Our two-hour van ride was like nothing I’d ever experienced (at this point, I had not been to India or Nepal thus passing through the African villages felt like being on a movie set).  There was village after village located right next to the roadway filled with Africans in traditional dress and women walking along the side of the street carrying their goods on their heads and children wrapped around them in brightly colored fabrics.   Men and children were loaded into the backs of trucks and there was no sign of anything remotely modern.  I desperately wanted to take some photos along the way but held back thinking that not the proper thing to do.  Our van was the nicest vehicle for miles so getting out of the car to snap some photos would be extremely rude!

As we approached the numerous private game reserves, the roads became more modern and the villages disappeared.  Here is a view not far from the entrance of Tanda Tula Game Reserve:

Arrival at Tanda Tula Game Reserve.  Tanda Tula which means “to love the quiet”:

Checking out the surroundings….there are NO FENCES!  Yes that is correct.  One of the beauties of visiting a private reserve is that you are literally in the wild.  The entire base “camp” is without fences or boundaries meaning the animals are free to roam wherever they please.  You must take extreme caution, especially at night.  No one is allowed out of their tent once darkness hits as elephants, lions and leopards have been known to invade the campsite.  There is always a ranger on alert just in case a herd of 20-30 elephants decides to trample through your camp!

Here is a picture of the most annoying, yet charming friend….the neighboring monkeys that live in the trees surrounding the “tents”.  You better watch your breakfast when eating on the outdoor verrandah….or it will be gone!

Ok….drum roll please….here is a picture of our “tents”.  Yep, these are our luxurious tents.  There are eight in total and apparently they run for about $1000 a night if you were to show up and rent one.  Our incredibly, amazing package deal from South African Airlines (remember $1800 for our Atlanta-Jo’berg flight, two other internal flights and lodging in three places including here!) must have really been getting a steal on this part of the deal.  When we arrived at Tanda Tula and checked in, my dad mentioned that I was his daughter, not his wife (they had us originally in one “tent” and it only has one bed, not two like we requested), their simple response was “no worries” you can stay in the tent next door at no charge.  Can you believe it?  I got a $1000/night tent for free!  Wow!!!!!

The inside view.  Note the minimalistic structure.  It is sturdy yet not too enclosed so there is no avoiding the sounds of the wild.  My first night sleeping alone was a little scary as I would jump at every noise and it took me awhile to finally fall asleep to the bizarre, dramatic sounds of the wild.

Plus your own private bath tub and bathroom which includes an OUTDOOR shower, right in the thick of things.  It felt a little strange actually taking a shower that first night as dusk settled in and the animals began to make noise.  Plus there were more bugs than I’d ever seen but this was so cool!

Tanda Tula has beautiful, lush grounds and even a pool in case you are interested in taking a dip (it gets quite hot there in the afternoon).

Every meal is prepared from scratch and contains a delightful selection of South Africa’s finest.  Our meals were eaten on the large, open-air dining hall which afforded views of the game reserve and if lucky, a curious giraffe or two.

Here is a photo of our first dinner, a delicious, spoiling buffet:

Me and the friendly bartender, known as “smiling” because he ALWAYS smiles!

View from the open-air verandah into THE WILD…..

I wondered what on earth was out there?  Would it come near the camp or even scarier, my tent while I am alone, tucked away under the luxurious white covers?  Those thoughts swirled around my head as I turned off the lights, closed my eyes and listened to the call of the wild.  Nature at it’s finest.

Stay tuned….next post will be of my first 5 am safari!  (And yes….I saw lots and lots of wild animals!)

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Exploring the Cape

Part of the reason why South Africa is such a magical place is because she is blessed with an immensely varied terrain which provides a vast array of flora and fauna.  When most people think of South Africa, they immediately dream of her Big Game Parks and are perhaps unaware that South Africa is also has one of the most varied botanic kingdoms in the world (over 9,000 different species on its fertile, mountainous slopes).

South Africa’s rugged coastline features gorgeous white sandy beaches, rolling hills covered in vineyards, craggy green mountains (such as Cape Town’s famous natural landmark, Table Mountain), lush, tropical botanical gardens and of course, the world famous savanna land where the lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, and more roam.

The southern tip of South Africa is an adventure-lovers paradise offering hiking, biking, golfing, paragliding, surfing and beach sports abound not to mention world class dining, shopping, entertainment and culture.   Cape Town is often considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world and when I first saw this spectacular city, her aura, beauty, excitement and adventure captivated my heart and soul.

Some of the outdoor highlights of our second day in Cape Town included a hike at Table Mountain, a visit to the spectacular Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and an afternoon spent in Clifton Beach.

Riding the Gondola up to Table Mountain (often covered in a gorgeous “tablecloth” of clouds):

It’s a long way down:

Views of Cape Town fron the top of Table Mountain:

Next stop:  A Visit to lovely Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, arguably one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, containing 8,000 of South Africa’s 22,000 plant species!

South Africa’s Grand Protea, my favorite flower of all….normally the size of an adult hand!

Another favorite of mine, The Bird of Paradise….

Lush, tropical greenery!

Located only about 15-20 minutes away from the center of Cape Town,is the local white sand beaches.  We decided to walk there and here are the photos along the way to Clifton Beach.

Leaving our hotel, we followed the sidewalks around the jagged coast.  Here is a gorgeous pool right against a delightful ocean backdrop…

The wild, rocky coastline:

Our destination awaits…

Entering Clifton Beach…notice this is where the ultra wealthy live….

Some lucky person’s house….

Main drag along Clifton beach:

Some cabbies from the Rainbow Nation happy to have their photo taken:

In search of an outdoor cafe or restaurant for a wine-indulging lunch facing the beach:

View of the beach town where everyone comes to hang out and have fun:

The gorgous Clifton Beach:

Next stop….South Africa’s Wine Country…..stay tuned!!!!

Getting to know South Africa better:  Some noteworthy facts about South Africa (Statistics found from

Population (2010): 49.99 million. Composition–black 79.4%; white 9.2%;

colored 8.7%; Asian (Indian) 2.7%. (2010 Mid-Year Population Estimate Report at

Annual population growth rate (2009): 1.2%.

Languages: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho,
Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga (all official languages).

Religions: Predominantly Christian; traditional African, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish..

Health: Infant mortality rate (2010)–47 per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy–55.2 yrs. women; 53.3 yrs. men. (Health data from 2010 Mid-Year Population Estimate Report:


GDP (2009): $287 billion.

Real GDP growth rate: (2008) 3.7%; (2009) -1.8%; (5-year average) 3.7%.

GDP per capita (2009): $5,787.

Unemployment (first quarter 2010): 25.2%.


The Rainbow Nation

The dismantling and end of apartheid in 1994 marked a dramatic step forward towards hope and reconciliation for the world’s pariah, the amazingly diverse South Africa.  Over 300 years of white dominance and racial discrimination had lasting, heartbreaking effects on the “rainbow nation” an incredibly diverse melting pot with over 11 national languages.  

The promise and hope of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president who was inaugurated on May 10, 1994, thrust South Africa to finally come to terms with its brutal past of discrimination, hatred and injustice that occurred under the many long years of apartheid (which literally means “separateness”). 

The apartheid system was widespread and touched every spectrum of the population based on skin color.  Whites were the privileged class who retained control and power of the government, the land and the nation’s wealth.  Blacks were at the lowest spectrum of the group and basically had no rights, no land and lived in poverty, desolation and constant fear.  A new class of people originated during this time called the “coloured” peoples.  These were people of mixed descent who were all grouped together as one race called the “coloured” and had to pretty much give up their “blackness” altogether resulting in destruction of families, livelihood and spirit.   Under apartheid, mixed race marriages were banned; and education, job opportunity, housing and living areas were all determined based on color leading to severe oppression, poverty and destruction of an entire race of people.

The dismantling of apartheid occurred in the early 1990s, when a new leader F.W. de Klerk took over power, unbanned the ANC and ended the 27-year-long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, the infamous leader of the ANC.  Over the next four years through difficult negotiations, the first democratic elections were held and the New South Africa was born when Nelson Mandela, age 76, was able to cast his first ballot ever. 

Shortly after coming into power, Mandela launched the Truth and Reconciliations Commission to investigate the human rights abuses which occurred under the years of apartheid.  Although forgiveness was difficult to achieve, the country was somehow able to peacefully move forward to a new future of hope and freedom.  Long deprived and oppressed South Africans were slowly able to reclaim a sense of dignity and pride yet of course without problems.  Severe poverty exists throughout much of South Africa as there remains a large imbalance of wealth based on color, and the AIDS pandemic has struck the country like lightening.  Positive things are in the works as well, though.  Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has gained one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, has become a leading player throughout Africa, and has won the status of one of the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations, which has brought in much-needed capital to the country.

It was a decade after the end of apartheid, right in the midst of all this change, that I saw the ad in Conde Nast Traveler sponsored by South African Airlines and the government of South Africa, featuring an enormous gray elephant across the page with the words “Visit South Africa”.  The deal sounded too good to be true.  For US$1800, you received a coach fare ticket non-stop from Atlanta to Johannesburg, and then on to Cape Town for three days, a private safari near Kruger National Park for the next three days, and finally two days in Johannesburg—-including lodging and all flights!  We called South African Airways and it was indeed true. The government was trying to get more tourists into South Africa to help the economy and lucky us got to take advantage of this incredible deal.

We left on the eighteen hour flight from Atlanta with one short stop in Cape Verde, a small island off the western coast of Africa, in order to refuel.  It was the longest flight of my life and our lucky streak continued with a near empty 747. My dad and I both got an entire row of seats across so were both able to lie down flat and sleep!  (An unheard of rarity in today’s over-crowded, full flights).

We landed in Jo’berg and had a couple hour layover until our next flight to Cape Town.  It was late November back at home in Minnesota meaning cold, brown and ugly.  Cape Town, being on the opposite side of the equator, was in the midst of spring.  As we landed, lush green landscape surrounded me and awoken my senses.  The rebirth of spring and of myself had finally begun!

Here are few of my favorite photos from our first day in Cape Town, a magical, richly diverse town that offers endless amounts of fun and adventure.

The rugged, beautiful landscape:

View from the hotel…the beach isn’t far:

The gorgeous rugged beach:

The trendy, hip Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and marina:

Loaded with restaurants and yachts galore:

Me outside a restaurant featuring the “biggest wine bar in the world”…look at this extensive list!

The colorful streets portray Cape Town’s multitude of culture:

A veritable melting pot:

Dinner in Cape Town offers an amazing array of international delights given the immense variety of cultures. We chose a fantastic Indian restaurant for our first night in the Cape and enjoyed the savory, spicy flavors of curries, samosas along with a bottle of delicious South African pinotage. I went to bed feeling excited about the day ahead. On the agenda included a hike around Table Mountain and a visit to the famous Cape Town beach at the end of town. I couldn’t wait to learn more about this fascinating place!