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Friday, October 12 2012 @ 08:21 PM EDT

Our Trip of a Lifetime

Cape of Good Hope

How do you describe a trip of a lifetime?  When it comes down to it, doesn’t any destination that you visit only once qualify as a trip of a lifetime?

For me and my wife, Linda, we began our latest trip of a lifetime by flying from Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC to Cape Town, South Africa.  I booked the entire trip online through South African Airways Vacations, choosing one of their pre-arranged itineraries.  Our package included four nights in Cape Town with two guided tours and three nights at the private Thornybush Game Reserve’s Serondella Lodge.  In Cape Town we stayed at Southern Sun’s The Cullinan hotel, which is a large, elegant, old Victorian structure.  The service was very friendly and efficient, and their complimentary breakfast buffet was stocked with a huge variety of food, including a made-to-order omelet station.  To us this was living the ultimate life of luxury, since 70% of all of our prior vacations have been camping vacations where we slept inside a real tent on the ground.

Seal Island

Our first guided tour in Cape Town was a full day Cape Peninsula tour.  We rode in a small van with the driver/guide and seven other tourists.  There was a couple from Australia, a couple from Singapore, a young Japanese man, a woman from Switzerland, and a woman from Canada.  Our first stop was in the town of Houts Bay, where we boarded a small boat for a trip out to Seal Island.  Dozens of seals were sunning themselves on the island’s rocks and were swimming in the sea.  From there we went to Boulders Beach to visit the African penguin colony that lives on the beach.  Our next stop was a visit to Cape Point and the Cape Point lighthouse, with a lunch stop at the nearby Two Oceans restaurant.  I had a very delicious ostrich burger.  From there we drove to the Cape of Good Hope, and then to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to finish the day.

Our second guided tour was a full day in the Cape Winelands region, where we stopped at the Anura Wine Farm and the Solms Delta Wine Estate.  Between the two stops we sampled a total of 16 different wines!  The Anura Wine Farm also had samples of six different cheeses with crackers and three different fruit jams.  We stopped for shopping and lunch in the town of Franschhoek.  Linda and I weren’t very hungry (after our buffet breakfast at the hotel), so we went to the local Pick ‘n’ Pay grocery store and bought a sandwich, bag of chips, and sodas, which we took to a picnic area on the grounds of a historic Dutch Reformed Church.  After lunch we had the option of visiting another wine estate or walking around and shopping in the university town of Stellenbosch.  Linda and I don’t drink much alcohol, so we walked around the town.  Besides our driver/guide, there were only three other people with us: two young women from South Africa and a young woman from Washington, DC, who works as a liaison to South Africa for the U. S. State Department.

Solms Delta Wine Estate

On our third day in Cape Town we took a complimentary shuttle from our hotel to Cape Town’s V & A (Victoria & Alfred) Waterfront shopping area.  There were several shopping center pavilions and a bunch of craft and gift shops.  At 1:00 p.m. we were met at our hotel by Bettie Coetzee-Lambrecht, a fellow member of the Travel Photographer’s Network.  She drove us around to see more of the sights in Cape Town.  Our first stop was in the suburb of Woodstock and the re-purposed Old Biscuit Mill, which had a lot of arts and crafts workshops and galleries and a large farmers’ market.  From there we went to the Castle of Good Hope, which is a traditional star-shaped fortress that was built by the Dutch between 1666 and 1679.  From there we went to the top of Signal Hill for panoramic views of Cape Town.  It was very cold and windy up there.  Gale force wind and rain started to pass through Cape Town the night before and it continued off and on all the next day.  Also, since South Africa is in the southern hemisphere it was winter there.  We next drove through the town of Camps Bay and stopped at a restaurant in Glen Beach for lunch.  Linda ordered a Caesar’s salad and I ordered a calamari appetizer, which we both shared with Bettie, and the main course for all three of us was called a Meat Board.  The Meat Board was a large, flat wooden serving tray that had a variety of luncheon meats, cheeses, fruits, and bread.  On the way back to our hotel Bettie drove us through the colorful Bo Kaap area of Cape Town, which is a Malaysian community.

Meat Board
Roger, Linda, and Bettie

From Cape Town we flew to the small town of Hoedspruit, where we picked up a shuttle to the Thornybush Game Reserve and the Serondella Lodge.  It took a little over an hour to get there, as we drove first along a good paved highway before turning onto a wide dirt road with a washboard surface.  We were dropped off at the main Thornybush Lodge and were transferred to Serondella Lodge in one of their open air game drive vehicles along narrow, winding, and rutted dirt roads.  We rode with another couple who were also staying at the same lodge: Irene and Roger from the Netherlands.  I became Roger 1 and he was Roger 2.  Another family consisting of a mother, son, daughter, and niece also stayed at the lodge.  The mother, son, and daughter were from Venezuela and the niece was from Croatia.  Serondella lodge hosts a maximum of eight guests at one time, so we got lots of personal attention.  After two days the Venezuelan family left and were replaced by a young newlywed couple from Ireland and another young newlywed couple from Italy.

There was a main lodge building where we ate all of our meals and met for our game drives, and there were four smaller guest lodges.  I said “smaller” but our personal lodge was quite roomy.  We had twin beds that were pushed together side-by-side with mosquito netting draped overhead, a sitting area with two upholstered chairs and coffee table, and an outdoor deck that overlooked a water hole.  The deck had two regular deck chairs and two lounge chairs.  The bathroom was actually split up into two different rooms.  A large room had two wash basins, a deep bathtub, and a separate shower stall.  There was a large picture window with no curtains or blinds behind the tub and a windowed door without any curtains or blinds in the shower stall.  Those windows looked out across the deck to the water hole.  No one else could get behind our lodge and peak through the windows, so it was very private.  The toilet and another sink were in a separate room.  We saw elephants, a giraffe, warthogs, baboons, impalas, duikers, nyalas, bushbucks, and banded mongooses right from our deck!  The lodge compound was surrounded by a fence to keep dangerous predators and elephants away, but there were nyalas, warthogs, and cervet monkeys wandering around inside.

Our typical day at the lodge began with a 6:00 a.m. wake-up knock on our door.  After getting dressed we went to the main lodge for tea or coffee before climbing into the game drive vehicle at 6:30.  The vehicle, which they called a “mover”, was an open air 4-wheel drive truck that could hold 10 guests – one in the front seat beside the ranger/driver, and then three each in three tiers of rear seats, with each tier a little higher moving from front to back.  Our local tracker sat in a seat that was perched in front of the truck on top of its left fender.  Both the tracker and the ranger looked for and followed animal tracks in the soft dirt of the roads.  Sometimes they stopped the truck and got out to follow the tracks more carefully on foot while we waited behind.  If they found a significant animal that was moving through the bush beside the road, the ranger drove the truck into the bush to get close to it, driving right over small trees and shrubs.  Linda and I were shocked the first time that happened.  We got really, really close to a lot of animals, especially the Big Five: elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and leopard.  We also saw wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, kudus, steenboks, elands, a wild dog, cheetahs, hippopotamuses, hyenas, bushbabies, and a variety of birds.  After a couple of hours we stopped for a coffee break.  The ranger and tracker opened up a small wooden table, covered it with a tablecloth, and served coffee, tea, juice, cookies, and breakfast bars.


Around 10:00 a.m. we arrived back at Serondella Lodge for a hearty, hot breakfast with cereal, fresh fruit, cheeses, yogurt, eggs and omelets cooked to order, sausage, ham or bacon, toast or pastry.  After breakfast we relaxed until afternoon tea at 3:00 p.m.  Of course, it wasn’t just tea.  We had our choice of beverages and there were always at least three food items to eat.  At 3:30 we went out for our afternoon game drive and just before sunset we stopped, set up the table again and enjoyed “sundowners.”  We had our choice of beverages, and while the other guests had wine or beer, Linda had water and I had Coke.  We also had two types of biltong (dried meat similar to jerky), trail mix, and chips.  We finished the game drive after dark, and the guide used a spotlight to try to find nocturnal animals as we drove back to the lodge.

We ate dinner around 7:30 p.m.  The main dining area was outside under a thatched roof.  Most of the time all of the guests sat around small square tables that were pushed together to form one large banquet table.  We ate all of our breakfasts and afternoon teas and our first dinner like that.  Our second dinner was a braai (barbecue) at a boma, an outdoor entertainment area complete with a campfire.  Our last dinner was served outside on the main lodge’s patio.  The small tables that formed the banquet table were separated so that we sat two per table.  It was dark outside, so there were two kerosene lanterns on each table.  We had a choice of two different entrees for each dinner, plus an assortment of side dishes and dessert.  The food was prepared “gourmet” style.  In other words, it was a lot fancier than what Linda and I are used to eating.  Linda refused to try any of the wild game that was offered, but I ate some springbok, kudu, and warthog.  I have to admit that I was not impressed.

At the Boma for a Braai

Serondella Lodge is managed by a married couple, Kelly and David, with two young sons, 2 years old and 4 months old.  Kelly is the facilities manager.  She’s responsible for scheduling, the housekeeping and kitchen staffs, ordering supplies, and general hostess duties.  David is the ranger/driver for the game drives.  They were both extremely friendly and caring people who made us all feel like family.  Since David is also a serious photographer, he made special effort to position his “mover” to give us unobstructed views of the animals in the best available light. 

My camera equipment for this trip included two DSLR bodies and four lenses: 18-250mm, 400mm, 10-20mm, and 50mm macro.  I also had a carbon fiber tripod.  When I e-mailed the lodge prior to our trip to ask about their photography policy I got a very helpful reply from David.  He said that it was okay for me to bring the 400mm lens, but it would probably be overkill because of how close we would get to the animals.  He was absolutely right!  After our first game drive I left the lens at the lodge and shot exclusively with the 18-250mm lens.  I used the 400mm from our lodge’s deck and from two high hides that were situated above the two water holes located beside the lodge.  I used the 10-20mm lens for interior shots and a few Cape Peninsula landscapes, and I didn’t use the 50mm macro lens at all.  By the way, except for our morning and afternoon breaks, we were not allowed to leave the “mover” or stand up in it to take photos.  The first rule was for our safety and the second was to keep from spooking the animals.

We left South Africa with a lot of terrific memories and more than a few photographs.  It was a fantastic trip of a lifetime!  You can see more images from Roger and Linda's trip of a lifetime in in Roger's "South Africa" album on TPN or in a slide show of this trip at

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The comments below are owned by whomever posted them. TPN is not responsible for the content therein.
Authored by: Bettie Coetzee-Lambrecht on Saturday, September 08 2012 @ 04:25 PM EDT Our Trip of a Lifetime

 Roger and Linda, Im so glad the galest of gale storms you've brought to us here on the upside-downest point of the globe, were transformed by the more congenial weather in the bush up north. From your description and pictures it seems you've really covered the main touch points on your first visit to South Africa. I hope there will be more so can immerse yourselves in our weird and wonderful world. Happy Days. Was great to share some time with you. 

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