Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Perfect Vacation

Before I give specifics on each of our stops, I wanted to run through the itinerary and give mention to some folks.

When I started planning this trip, I did some research online. I quickly realized that I didn't have time to figure things out on my own, and so I did just one more search - a travel agent.
I found Megan Phillips at African Rainbow Tours and figured if they had an online presence they would be ok working with someone in a different country via email. It took a couple tries to work out when, how long, and in what order we would do all of the stops, and Megan was very responsive and easy to work with. We didn't realize realize how important the decision to use a travel agent would be, until we started on our trip. Everything was made easier by the fact that we had "vouchers" from an agent... but more importantly, the locations that Megan recommended were incredibly amazing! We highly recommend her services, advice, and assistance.

Megan hooked us up with a car from Europecar. It was a Toyota Yaris and served us very well for the two plus weeks of driving around.

Of course, the first couple of days were about an amazing wedding (more on that later) and we stayed at my Maternal-aunt and uncle's. Right after the wedding, still hazy from jetlag, we headed east to the ocean.

Our first stop was Sodwana Bay Lodge. We stayed here because they have a dive center and we thought it would be easiest to have the diving and lodging in one place. It was definitely easy, and the lodge was amazing. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner here. They had a varied menu and all the food was excellent. We stayed in a bungalow and it had every convenience - air conditioner, mosquito net, fridge, bathroom en suite (yay!), and a big deck.

The diving operation at Sodwana Lodge was magnificent! Every dive went out with a dive master who looked after the divers and acted as tour guide. The team was very organized and you were assigned a person to help you with your gear (will post more about all this later). Bottom line - would use Sodwana Lodge diving team without hesitation!

Or next stop was Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge. For some reason, we were the only people with a booking the 2 nights of our stay. We had the dining all, paths, and grounds to ourselves. This is a very interesting place with very comfortable accommodations, delicious food, and amazing views. This lodge was Megan's recommendation. Thank you, Megan!
It rained the day we were here, which was perfect because we were here for a day of rest.

...and then we headed north. The big reason I looked for a travel agent was because we wanted to do a walking safari in the game reserve, and I had a hard time figuring out how to do that from so far away. Megan hooked us up!!
She put us in the Rhino Post Safari Lodge for one night, and their Plains Camp for three. This was such an amazing experience, there are no words big and full enough.
The lodge is built with incredibly creative architectural details, in the perfect location on a river, with all the comforts you could want.. including a large soaking tub and outdoor shower. Again, we were the only people staying at the lodge and the camp (we were joined by a man and his mom our last night at the camp), and so the rangers and facilities were at our beck and call.
The lodge was very African themed, but the camp was like taking a step back into the past and ending up at a colonial explorer camp. Wow! was this place incredible!
Rhino Post has a concession in the middle of the Kruger National Park northeast of Skukuza which means that you are not on a contrived, stocked, private park... but part of the large preserved landmass of Kruger. I highly recommend Rhino Post and Plains Camp, and see if you can get a reservation when the ranger Bernard is scheduled to lead the walking tours. He is so knowledgeable, entertaining, and runs a tight ship at camp.

Our stay was supposed to end at a bed & breakfast in Johannesburg (The Space), but compared to all the other places we had been, it was just wrong. so we canceled our last night and went back to my aunt and uncles. This is the only place that I booked myself, and I shouldn't have! I should have asked Megan to help with this reservation too.

So, those are all the places we stayed. If you're looking to do a similar type of trip, I would recommend Megan, Phophanyane, and Rhino Post. I noticed that Rhino Post is part of a chain of lodges, Isibindi, and there is one in the Sodwana area. If (or... WHEN) I go back, I would try that accommodation instead (Thonga Beach Lodge).

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