Dear Partners in Travel,

I had the opportunity to accompany one of our Finnish agents on a whirlwind site inspection trip around the Greater Kruger National Park and Cape Winelands.

Some of you might have followed our trip through social media on Facebook and Instagram (follow us on these platforms for instant and quick updates if you are not already doing so). I’m however sure you’ll appreciate some feedback on the properties and travelling around South Africa.

Although many countries don’t allow their citizens to travel yet, the South African borders are open and we welcome international tourists. The requirement of a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours prior to departure to South Africa remains in place. There is no quarantine on arrival considering the negative PCR test requirement.

The number of new COVID-19 positive cases in South Africa have dropped considerably in the last month and remain low considering the population size. The wearing of masks in public spaces are mandatory and social distancing observed, but most tourism activities can easily be enjoyed under these circumstances and relevant protocols.

This is particularly true while on safari as you spend much time outdoors and in the open air. Ample space at safari lodges allows for social distancing during dining & leisure times.

Naturally people want to also spend time in their safari suites – so an hour or so of ‘isolating’ in such surroundings is definitely a pleasure.

Lion Sands River Lodge

The public areas at Lion Sands River Lodge are contemporary incorporating the latest design trends with an ‘Afri-Scandic’ touch. Spacious and airy, yet welcoming and warm. The modern fire-pit serves as a central point to connect the different spaces and ads to the sociable and welcoming atmosphere.

An art gallery and photographic studio adds another dimension to the lodge as it allows guests to print some of their photographs (or some that their ranger took while on a safari drive with them) with the insights and skills of onsite professionals.

Two swimming pool areas (one located at the spa) allows for ample social distancing and peace if you’d like to relax (or cool down) between the safari drives. The suite category rooms have their own plunge pools. The superior luxury category rooms (a level up from the standard luxury) can inter-lead and would be ideal for families with older/teenage children that want their own room. Although the rooms are also contemporary in design, the dominant colour palate of white and off-white evokes a tranquil and serene atmosphere compared to the public areas.

We were particularly lucky with our safari experience (got to see all of the big five on our morning game drive) – but it also highlights the advantages of location and of course the skill and knowledge of our delightfully bubbly ranger and her tracker. We also had the opportunity to have a look at the Lion Sands flagship lodge – Lion Sands Ivory. I am happy to share my comments on Ivory on request.

Londolozi Pioneer Camp

It has been some time since my last visit to Londolozi and thus a valuable update.

Pioneer Camp only has 3 suites and is one of the 3 Relais & Chateaux affiliated camps in the Londolozi portfolio (Granite Private Suites and Tree Camp are the other 2).

Pioneer would be the most “traditional” of the Londolozi camps and evokes feelings of an old hunting camp. Contemporary touches and an open interactive kitchen keeps the style current but also enhances the cosy family style concept.

The size of the camp and family style makes it ideal for an exclusive use option (2 rooms from the adjacent Founders camp can be incorporated into Pioneer for a slightly bigger group/family that would like an exclusive use concept). The public facilities are ample and can easily accommodate the extra numbers for meals and social interaction.

The suites at Pioneer are large and spacious and in keeping with the theme. An additional space with a daybed (and smaller 2nd bathroom) makes it ideal for families as it allows for kids in the same suite but still giving some privacy to both parents and kids. Two of the suites have a glass-enclosed walkway between them for an interleading option that basically creates a ‘villa’ for extra-large families or families with adult/teenage children that appreciate some additional space – or intergenerational families with grandparents.

We also managed to have a look at the 4 other camps at Londolozi.

Founders Camp is one of their larger camps ideal for small groups but is also family friendly. An expansive deck area incorporating lounge, dining and bar facilities encourages sociable interaction and a livelier atmosphere.

Granite Private Suites is the flagship of the portfolio – a 3 suite camp, which promises pampering and personalised attention in an exclusive environment filled with earthy tones of wood, leather, rock and reed.

Varty Camp is again one of their larger camps but underwent recent renovations. Although the entry level rooms are small (compared to the competitor set) an expansive deck area with private plunge pool, outside lounge area and outside study/living space makes up for the indoor space constraints to facilitate ample living area in the unit. Bathrooms are open plan but can be curtained off from the bedroom. Tones of predominantly white and off-white gives the rooms an uncluttered and airy feel.

Tree Camp is the biggest of the 3 Relais & Chateaux affiliated camps. More contemporary in style with primarily black and white palate it however retains a warm and inviting feel with the incorporation of wood, thatch, hide and natural materials in earthy tones which softens the tone.

Similarly, to Lion Sands, Londolozi also has a top-quality photographic studio for guests benefit.

The Last Word Kitara

The Last Word Kitara was one of the first Pieter and I had a look at last year when lockdown restrictions eased, and it was possible to travel again. I am therefore linking it to the INSIGHT article from our visit for my feedback. I was not disappointed by my second visit – the ambiance, food and hospitality are still top quality. The option of helicopter transfers between Hoedspruit and the lodge greatly enhances access for guests not keen on the long dirt road transfer.

Tanda Tula Tented Camp

Located in the Timbavati Game Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park, Tanda Tula is one of only a handful of tented options in the region. Their tents are probably the most rustic of the various options but by no means basic.

Each tent is located under a thatched outer roof structure for extra shade and comfort and on a raised wooden deck. The bedroom is typical tent but the bathroom section the usual permanent/built structure you will find in any lodge/hotel with all the amenities you would expect – and spacious with both bath and shower (showers are “outside” option only).

The tents don’t have air-conditioning – which is a minimum requirement from some of our source markets and thus to be considered carefully. The camp has a total of 12 tents, spaced along a dry riverbed offering superb views.

The public area encompass a lounge, dining and bar area under an impressive thatched roof – although spacious and large it is tastefully decorated to make it feel intimate, cosy and welcoming. A well-balanced mixture of the traditional while also using contemporary pieces and warm but fashionable colours. The personalised touch in this owner-operated camp is clear – welcoming, homely and warm. A large lawn area leads to the pool area overlooking a watering hole.

We would gladly recommend this property taking into account that non-airconditioned tents will make it unsuitable for guests from some of our source markets.

Sabi Sabi Earth & Rockfig Lodge

We also quickly had a look at Sabi Sabi Earth and Rockfig Lodge. Both these properties featured in some of the INSIGHTS of trips Pieter and I did last year after lockdown restrictions eased. Please link to the 2 insights – SABI SANDS LODGES FEEDBACK and KRUGER LODGES FEEDBACK for my comments.

Winelands Properties

During our winelands stint we did site inspections at Grand Dedale, Babylonstoren, Boschendal, Delaire Graff, La Residence, The Last Word Franschhoek, La Cle Lodge and La Cle de Montagnes. I would gladly share my feedbacks and comments on request about these properties. All of them superb and recommendable but all with different styles, ambience and character. We firmly believe in the mantra of “right client in right product” – guests would have a great stay at any of these but by placing a guest in the property that is most suitable for them you create an exceptional and memorable experience for a guest.

There will probably still be many speedbumps, curveballs and WTF moments on this rollercoaster ride to a recovery path for tourism. I however hope that the communication has provided a bit of a “sense of normality” to your day, inspired you to motivate and hassle your clients to travel as soon as possible, made you even more determined to continue on this rough and bumpy journey to resume travel or at least given you a wry smile.

We remain committed on the tourism recovery road.

We will all travel again.

Best wishes