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Five options for once-in-a-lifetime experiences

Unforgettable travel experiences come in all shapes and sizes – to some it’s about luxury, to others it’s adventure, and for some it’s about learning skills. Here are some suggestions from industry stakeholders. By Michelle Colman.

  1. Iconic rail journeys of the world 

    Blue Train

Suzanne Benadie, from Your Africa, says South Africa’s ultra-luxurious train operators, Rovos Rail and The Blue Train, remain some of the most popular luxury experiences for tourists, and are often in demand for anniversaries and special occasions.

Rovos Rail is step back in time to the heyday of Edwardian steam travel, when guests dressed for dinner and were summoned by a gong. The coaches feature wood-panelled plushness, leather, historical prints and antique touches.

The train travels to Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Durban, Namibia and Dar es Salaam, and also offers nine- and ten-day golf safaris. Departure point is a private station at Capital Park, Pretoria, a gracious colonial-style building that was once the hub of steam locomotion.

The Blue Train is an all-suite, five-star hotel on wheels – think goose down duvets, marble and gold bathrooms, butler service and cordon bleu dining.  Travelling between Pretoria and Cape Town, and Pretoria and Hoedspruit, on the border of South Africa’s premier wildlife reserves, some of most impressive scenery in the country is to be seen on the journey.

  1. Vic Falls – the luxury version

    Moon Rainbows

“Each full moon the Victoria Falls rainforest opens in the evening for special tours to witness the mystical magic of the lunar rainbow – spray and cloud permitting,” says Lindi Mthetwa, Regional Sales & Marketing Manager for African Sun Hotels, which operates the Victoria Falls Hotel,  synonymous with luxury.

Victoria Falls is one of the few places on earth where this natural phenomenon occurs regularly. Yet many visitors are unaware of it, says Mthetwa, missing out on one of the most impressive facets of the World Wonder. The lunar rainbow, or ‘moonbow’, occurs as a result of light refracted by water particles in the spray of the falls.

For yet another falls perspective, a helicopter flight is a further recommendation from Mthetwa. A heli flip offers viewing over the Upper Gorges of the Falls, the Upper Zambezi, the magnificent Batoka Gorge as well as the Zambezi National Park.

Visitors can top off a day of falls viewing with the elegant, five-star steam train dinner experience. The renovated steam train travels over the Victoria Falls Bridge, built by Cecil John Rhodes in 1905,  who sited it at a spot where the spray from the falls hits the carriages.

The experience is all about a red carpet welcome, canapes and champagne, and a five course dinner and full bar as the sun sets.  The catering and service is provided by The Victoria Falls Hotel.

  1. Bucket-list ballooning

    Hot Air Balloon

“Kadizora Camp, our luxury offering in the Okavango Delta, offers an amazing hot-air balloon experience,” says An African Anthology’s Chris Anagnostellis. “This is, without doubt, a bucket-list luxury and once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Anagnostellis says this is the only hot-air balloon that flies in the whole of Botswana and “the exclusivity of softly floating across our concession makes for an unforgettable experience, with unparalleled vistas of the Okavango and its myriad of game and birdlife beneath your feet.”

Kadizora Camp sits on the bank of a lagoon in the Delta, beneath a canopy of trees and along a peninsula. Its ten luxury tents are generously spaced, furnished with sophistication and feature full en-suite bathrooms. In addition to open-vehicle and walking safaris, mokoro excursions explore the endless flow of rivers and tributaries. The camp is reached by 40-minute flight from Maun.

  1. Brush up on photography and wildlife knowledge

    Photographic Safari

Makanyi Private Lodge’s four-day photographic safari under the guidance of a professional tutor is an experience that will put novices on the road to quality photography and enhance the skills of advanced shutter bugs.

Award-winning photographer, Hilton Kotze, of Africa Photographic Services in Hoedspruit, who also has the wildlife knowledge of 15 years spent in natural environments, offers coaching at Timbavati Game Reserve on a one-on-one basis, or for small groups not exceeding four.

The safari focuses on practical and technical skills both during game drives and back at the lodge. ‘On location’ tuition takes place at specific sightings, where Koetze imparts advice on shutter speed, ISO and aperture, taking lighting conditions into account. Settings, composition and shooting techniques such as panning, backlighting, side lighting and action shots are discussed throughout the safari.

Back at the lodge, workshops are conducted after brunch on points such as the workings of a camera and how to use a light room.

Participants can rent equipment if they aren’t keen to bring their own on their travels. On drives, Makanyi uses a vehicle that is specially adapted for cameras with added booms and swinging arms and storage for equipment, says Andrew Marshall, Sales Director.

At the end of the day’s shoot, photographers return to their 140sqm suites at the lodge, which are “pretty large by any standards,” remarks Marshall.

Located on 9 000-plus hectares devoid of other commercial operations, the lodge operates as a near-private concession. There are few vehicles on the extensive property and guests don’t have to ‘wait their turn’ at sightings.  Makanyi recently celebrated high placements on Condé Nast Traveler US’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards.

  1. Art, architecture and safari

    Art Seregra

From Dare to Explore comes a treat for visual art fundis, a 14-night guided exploration of art and architecture in South Africa, coupled with an East African safari element.

According to Co-owner, Louise Dreyer, the tour kicks off in Cape Town where the itinerary includes a number of art galleries, including – from late September – the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, due to open that month on the V&A Waterfront.  Also visited in the Mother City are remarkable heritage houses and, as some are privately owned, access is a privilege. Guidance is by a renowned South African architect.

Galleries and a private collection of contemporary art are viewed in Johannesburg, along with artists’ studios.  A local goldsmith, well known for providing a platform for contemporary jewellers to display their work, is included.

In Kenya, the tour visits Mara Plains in the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, before ending at Segera Retreat in Laikipia, where Jochen Zeitz’s stunning African art collection is displayed. Transportation on the Kenyan leg is done by private charter.

A specialist South African art critic and judge will accompany the trip, which is based on ten participants.

Five options for once-in-a-lifetime experiences

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Amanda Sampaio

A bit about me: I am Rhodesian born, grew up in Zululand, South Africa. Post matriculation, I studied a 3 year Travel & Tourism National Diploma; I then spent 7.5 years (during the mid-90’s) working in various operational roles for SAA at the old Durban Airport; My husband, son & I then moved to the UK and lived in south-west London (Worcester Park) for 10.5 years – I worked for 3.5 years in Local Government (at Epsom & Ewell Borough Council) and then for 7 years for QANTAS as part of the Cabin Crew Ground Management Team based at Heathrow and later with Qantas Corporate Sales based in their London Hammersmith office. My family and I have been back in South Africa for almost 3 years now (having missed too much of our family, SA sunshine and braai’s) and during our time back, we are also delighted to have welcomed our 17 month old baby girl into our family! Travel is definitely my passion and is in my ‘blood’ as I am firmly back in the travel seat with my current role within Sales and Marketing at iGo Travel and look after this for our newly launched brand ‘iGO Africa’.