Familiarisation, or FAM, trips are an important part of how our Personal Travel Managers ensure their knowledge of a destination, hotel, or experience is up-to-date (and not a bad perk of the job either).
Recently, Personal Travel Managers Charley and Dean, together with several other colleagues, were lucky enough to travel to South Africa on a whistlestop safari adventure, topping up their expertise as well as their tans. We sat down with them to find out what they got up to, their highlights, and what they’d recommend for any safari newbies.
From sunset cocktails amid the vastness of the savanna to jaw-dropping wildlife encounters just outside the door of their uber-luxurious accommodation, it certainly sounds like a trip to remember – and has got us wondering how we can bag an invite to the next one!
Dean: "We boarded a business class flight with British Airways from London to Johannesburg, before hopping on a domestic flight straight to Hoedspruit: the gateway to Kruger National Park."
Charley: "BA really looked after us, ensuring our trip got off to a comfortable start, and the flight to Hoedspruit on the smaller plane was an experience in itself. Looking out of the window and over the landscape helps you get a feel for the sheer scale of the park."
Dean: "Then, it was on to the first of three safari lodges, the lovely Thornybush Game Lodge."
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Dean: “So we arrived around 2pm and had a chance to check-in, get our bearings, and make our way out to the main lounge area, where a selection of teas, coffees, and treats awaited us – perfect for fuelling up before our first afternoon game drive."
Charley: "We set out around 4pm for a three-hour introduction to our spectacular surroundings, an amazing experience that was capped off perfectly by sundowners out on the majestic plains. What a welcome. It was quite the way to kick-off our safari experience.”
Charley: “The following morning brought a 5am start to ensure we got the most out of the day and maximised our chances of seeing some of the Big Five as the animals are most active at this time. The lodge provided a few snacks and teas and coffees to go, which softened the early departure time. Of course, the early alarm clock was so worth it once we were out in the bush, getting to watch the sunrise surrounded by wildlife you normally only see on TV.”
Dean: “Following that, our guides drove us through dried riverbeds (which provide natural roadways) to where we would be having a more substantial breakfast, sitting outdoors with the sounds of elephants trumpeting in the background…it beats your average brekkie for sure.”
Charley: “Then, our guides broke out the Amarula: a typically South African cream liqueur made with sugar, cream and the fruit of the African marula tree (known locally as the elephant tree or the marriage tree). That went down pretty well too”.
Dean: “The rest of the morning and afternoon are yours to do with what you like, and I would really recommend taking this time to recharge your batteries before heading out again. Make use of the spa, chill by the pool, or sneak off for a snooze in your luxurious accommodation to make sure you’re refreshed and ready for the evening game drive. Thornybush has a lovely laid-back atmosphere that's perfect for an afternoon of relaxation.”
Charley: “I really enjoyed the dining options at Thornybush, and the food was such high quality. You can choose from the restaurant, lounge, or the decked outdoor area to eat after you return from the evening excursion into the bush – and don’t miss out on a nightcap by the firepit.”
Dean: “The next day, we moved on to Royal Malewane, and – as much as we were sad to leave Thornybush – arriving here is truly an experience to remember, nothing quite prepares you for how beautiful this place is. It feels so intimate and exclusive, and I think it would make a phenomenal choice for a honeymoon.
Charley: "The suites are massive and have everything you need, while the private plunge pools and decks leave you feeling like you’ve got the whole place – and all the natural wonders around you – to yourself. Then there are those ultra-luxurious private villas…It really is the ultimate in safari luxury, it can’t get much better than this.”
Dean: “The privacy was wonderful. I enjoyed just sitting back on the sunken deck and having a drink from the bar, taking it all in.”
Charley: “The wildlife experiences, as well, were just out of this world. We’re talking prides of lions 20-strong roaring at each other and rhinos strolling past. Incredible.”
Dean: “We saw so many leopards, too, which our guide told us was very lucky as not everyone is fortunate enough to see them. They’re even more majestic up close. And the guides are so good too. They’re very knowledgeable and put your mind at ease. I mean, at the end of the day you’re out in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by wild animals. It takes a pretty skilled guide to make you feel completely at ease with a cocktail in hand as nearby lions roar through the gathering dusk!”
Dean: "One morning, I was just standing there with a cup of tea at 5am before we set out for the morning game drive, looking out over the gorgeous view when an elephant just came strolling through the grounds and right past our window. At one point, he couldn't have been more than a few feet away. At the same time, the staff knocked at the door to tell us that there was a small herd coming through, so I knocked on the door and managed to get Charlie out of the shower so he didn’t miss out! That had to be a highlight for me."
Dean: “A short 20-minute flight in a small plane brought us to Sabi Sabi Selati Bush Camp: a typical ‘camp’ style lodge that is exactly what you imagine when you think of a classic safari. Think: open-sided communal buildings with woven thatched roofs and curtains that pull back to reveal the magical landscapes around you. If you’re looking for genuine adventure with an opulent edge, this is the place for you.”
Charley: “The accommodation is lovely, more rustic than our previous stays but that added to the charm. Choose from the traditional thatched-style cottages, or the sumptuous suite options. We stayed in a traditional thatched-style cottage, which really added to the sense of authenticity. But, if a suite’s more your speed, there are some very luxurious options for those too. No matter which one you choose, you’ll be comfortable and well looked after by the super attentive staff.”
Dean: “The staff made this place stand out for me, they go above and beyond to deliver a seamless experience so you can get the most from your stay. Staying here feels like stepping into a movie, just a classic and timeless experience that would appeal to families as much as couples."
On the penultimate day of their trip, the Winged Boots team made their way to Cape Town to see out their final night in style – courtesy of the gorgeous Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel.
Charley: “The Mount Nelson is a Cape Town classic and the perfect place for us to spend our final night. Planet Bar, the hotel’s elegant bar and terrace is popular with locals and visitors alike, offering a different kind of ‘watering hole’ to those we’d been seeing and a stylish setting where we could sit back and debrief all the amazing things we saw.”
Dean: "'Nellie', as it's known, is filled with such a sense of history and place, thanks in part to its trademark pink exterior and prime location in the heart of the city beneath iconic Table Mountain. The architecture and beautiful pool area remind you of a bygone era. While the rooms, restaurants, and lounges are just so elegant. The fantastic food and South African wine selection don't hurt either."
Charley: “It was almost surreal, being back in a cosmopolitan city after all that wilderness. But if you have the chance, Cape Town is just unmissable and I'll be heading back for sure.”
Inspired by the team's travels to South Africa? Start planning your own safari adventure – or anything else you had in mind – by getting in touch with our expert team of personal travel managers on 0203 318 6094 or submitting an online enquiry today.
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