It has been a dream to go to Africa; but while we travel quite a bit, planning a trip to Africa seemed too overwhelming. Two years ago, we met Chris Liebenberg. Immediately, Chris, Emily and Mark started thoughtfully planning our August 2017 trip. Initially, we had a long phone conversation where Chris asked about each of our interests (we have 11 & 12 y/o girls), to put together a perfect itinerary. After a few tweaks (had to add a winery visit), we committed! During the 18 months between booking and traveling, the team fielded dozens of questions ranging from flights, what to wear to dinner, camera and lens tips, vaccinations, weather, tipping, safety, packing, providing our luggage, and even assisting with finding a volunteer opportunity for us. Would we recommend them to plan a trip? Absolutely
We started our trip in Joburg @ the Fairlawns Hotel. After a long trip this was the perfect place to relax and rest. We spent a day in Soweto, bicycling through the community, talking with locals. We had a chance to spend time with children at a youth center and visit a home. Together, our family learned tons about how the gold rush affected Joburg, the beginning of Apartheid, the Soweto uprising, the life of Nelson Mandela, and the history of South Africa.
From Joburg, we traveled to Botswana. We arrived at the border and were greeted by Dan, our guide, and Eddie, our tracker from Mashatu. We got in our open-air vehicle and started our short drive to camp. D&E were laughing at our excitement over the animals that we saw on the way to camp. At Mashatu, after a staff greeting, we were taken to our beautiful stone hut with perfect accommodations that overlooked the bush. In the nights that followed, we’d hear elephants outside of our room (“ele party”). Shortly, we were off on our first evening drive. For 3 to 4 hours, 2/day, we would go on a unique adventure. First, it was the male leopard who put on a show for us while marking his territory along the river. The elephants were fun to watch; the baby’s were playful, and the moms protected them & were quite aggressive when our vehicle posed the slightest threat. The giraffes were curious; they just stared at us and chewed. The lions – clearly the King of the jungle (or bush). The baboons were funny, and lived among the antelope and monkeys. They hyena babies were curious and playful, and moms so protective. On our evening drive, we’d watch the sunset, taking perfect pictures with animals in the background. We’d stop for wine & jerky / the kids water. With our experienced guides, we never worried about our safety. Early mornings, we were off to find the animals and watch another perfect sunrise. Between drives, many people napped; others sat outside overlooking the pond, reflecting on the trip. The food, South African wine, and company were fabulous.
Leaving Mashatu was sad, but we were excited to head to Mala Mala. At the airport, where we were greeted by our pilot who transported us to camp, bordering Kruger. Our guide, Michael, met us at the airport and took us to camp. Michael showed us the lodge, the balcony that overlooked the river, the infinity pool, and to our hut which had 2 rooms, a balcony overlooking a pond (& our hippo). Here we saw the Big Five within 24 hours, were educated about animals, astrology (you can’t imagine the sky at night), entertained by stories of previous shenanigans at the camp, followed the lion prides and learned more about bird life than I could imagine. Sitting by the pool during the day meant watching the animals walk through the dried-up river. Evenings, we met in the lodge where dinner was announced by a tribal dance. Our guide was brilliant and passionate about his work. There was not a question he did not have the answer to. Leaving was heartbreaking. I knew it meant saying goodbye to Michael, and the animals for a long, long time.
Our next stop was Cape Town. We stayed in the impressive Cape Grace Hotel. The girls were surprised with gifts of earrings in the room, we experienced a whisky tasting, a high tea and amazing breakfasts. We spent our days exploring the peninsula, shopping, and penguin community, and even had drinks next to Charlize Theron!
Next, we headed south to Grootbos, recently featured in National Geographic. It was rainy, but it didn’t stop us and our guide Gareth from exploring the sand dunes, caves, beak walks, milkwood forests & feynbos. Meals were fantastic. We had our own house, with a generously stocked mini bar. Chris and team had arranged a tree planting ceremony for us which helped us to feel connected to this beautiful place.
We finished our trip with a stop to Vergelegen Winery; beautiful grounds, great food and delicious wine. What a perfect way to toast an amazing trip.
If you have the chance to have Piper and Heath plan a trip, you will not regret it! Perfect way to bond as a family, disconnect and get a whole lot of perspective! We will certainly have them plan another trip!