Lead Aliikai

Sailing Around Raja Ampat

 

Whenever most people talk about Indonesia, Bali is always at the forefront. And for good reason. It’s a tourist haven and an incredible place to visit multiple times. However, on this trip of ours I wanted to explore beyond Bali and see what else Indonesia had to offer. In my research, Raja Ampat kept coming up. Indonesia is one massive collection of islands (20,000 approx.) and in the northeast are a collection of islands called Raja Ampat. These hundreds of jungle covered islands are actually quite famous in the diving world, any diver of any repute apparently has to make a pilgrimage to this part of the world as the underwater marine life is of another world, and now we can certainly attest to that.

 The only way one can properly experience this part of Indonesia is by living on a boat and we were about to do that for 10 days! The wonderful owners and team of Allikai, a luxurious sailing yacht, had offered us their sailing home and we could not be more excited..

 

But first, how to get to this slice of paradise? It can be quite tricky as it’s a remote part of the world but there are plenty of local Indonesia airlines operating, you just have to find the best option. For us, coming from Bali, it made sense to take a 1 hour flight from Bali to Jakarta and then 4 hour flight to Sarong - just shows how big Indonesia is. But don’t be put off by the flight time as the result is truly amazing! 

 

Sarong was a bustling little airport and town, but the moment we walked out, we were met by the wonderful Eko from Alikai Voyages, whisked into a couple of cars and driven just 10 min to the nearby port; we were effortlessly moved to a speeding boat and after an exhilarating 10min ride we came upon the majestic Aliikai sailing yacht.

 

Allikai means “queen of the sea” and she certainly lives up to that exalting title. Comprising of 7 cabins, meaning only a maximum of 14 guests, it has the appropriate space and size to offer everything a boat needs and present it in a very luxurious feel. Joining us on the boat were two other couples from the US, meaning there were only 9 guests for this trip so sometimes it felt like we had the whole boat to ourselves. But the beauty of these live-on-board experiences is that you get opportunities to meet people from different parts of the world and bond through a collective adventure and that was certainly the case with us as 10 days later we can consider them as part of our family and people we will certainly keep in touch with for the rest of our lives.

 

As we settled in and checked out the yacht with the kids scrambling to find their preferred cabins, it was only 8am so we had breakfast and waited for the rest of the guests to arrive. Once everyone was onboard we started sailing and Eko (the Aliikai Team Leader) introduced us to the 15 crew members (from Alex and Bose the stewards, to the captain, the chef, the deckhands and dinghy drivers) who were about to become our family for the next 10 days. Everyone was pretty exhausted but excited for what was about to unfold and just on queue, as we began our journey and began leaving the Sorong port area, we were greeted by a breathtaking display of dolphins sliding and jumping through the waters – this sent an adrenaline rush through everyone – our Great Raja Ampat adventure was truly on!

 

Our first destination was at least a day away in what is known as the South Misool area, so we had nearly all the day to lounge around, get comfortable with the beautiful yacht, become familiar with the crew and the rest of the guests and start drifting into “boat life”. Our first lunch on board, elaborately setup on the large outside dining table, consisted of fish, chicken, salads, spring rolls and rice, all amazingly prepared. It was quite evident that food over the next 10 days was going to be simply remarkable. As we rapidly sailed towards our first destination, the beauty of Raja Ampat started coming into view, endless green islands dotting the blue horizon. Around sunset we stopped briefly so everyone could jump into the clear waters for a “sunset dip”. We then witnessed our first sunset, the sky turning fiery red and orange, sending goosebumps through everyone.

 

Dinner on the first night was soup, steak, vegetables and fish and salads. What I love about our travels is how the kids have become so sociable and have great conversations with all kinds of people. They first showed this when we were traveling on the Rovos Rail from Zimbabwe to Pretoria. Sitting in the lounge with other guests, they would introduce themselves and freely begin conversations. Similarly on the boat they immediately hit it off with our 2 US couples. The kids would chat endlessly and the guests were kind enough to play card games and ask the kids questions. 

It’s great to see when they can hold their own and share their own memories. 

 

While the kids had 2 cabins right in the front of the yacht. I had a room right at the back, a lovely cabin, with a queen size bed, a big terrace with two day beds and with the bed facing the terrace, I would just sit there and admire the view and watch sharks and dolphins swimming past. The inside of the cabin was like the rest of the boat, beautiful wooden floors and Boho chic furniture all white coverings, so spacious with lots of different areas to relax and communal areas for dining and for the movie nights under the stars. There was turn down service every night which after a sumptuous dinner and drinks, just felt divine, I would snuggle into my covers and stare out through the back, watching the islands whisk by as we effortlessly glided along the flat waters.

 

For the next 4 days we were going to explore the area around Misool which is basically the southern part of Raja Ampat. To make things more interesting and adventurous, this was also the area where there was essentially no WiFi. For 4 days we were truly cutoff from the rest of the world. It was an exhilarating and also a nervous feeling for me as on one side I fretted about my clients not having access to me while the other side of me implored me to just let it go and just experience the next 4 days for just what they were: a chance to disconnect from the material work and deeply connect with the nature world.

 

And wow did we reconnect with Mother Nature. Over the next 4 days, all we did was dive. Up to 3-4 times a day, with the divers going for night dives, we just simply slipped into a routine of diving/snorkeling, eating, sleeping – rinse and repeat. We would move the yacht around to various spots which would then be the base from which we would take smaller dinghy’s to the actual dive spots, the scuba divers jumping in and going deep meanwhile we donning our snorkels and fins and exploring the magical marine life. The kids became so comfortable with them easily free diving, getting close to the coral reef and playing with the various fish and fauna. On Day 3, we got up early to dive/snorkel and see manta rays – the gentle giants of the underworld, gliding along silently and mesmerizing us with their effortless movements. On Day 4, we changed it up a bit, going for a exhilarating hike up a sharp mountain, reaching the top from which we looked down onto a “Love Lagoon”, a heart shaped pool of water, strikingly pearl blue, surrounded by ultra green mountains – the quintessential postcard image that perfectly reflected the unique beauty of Raja Ampat.

 

Early on day 5, we grabbed our snorkeling equipment and headed towards these special caves that get darker and darker as we swam more inwards (requiring flashlights) but then saw this blinding white light in the distance which turned into this wide gap in the cliff side, opening the caves onto the rest of the island. Quite the adventure as swimming in the dark can be quite a unique experience. Then we hiked up another mountain, navigated towards the peak and from there treated ourselves to the incredible views of the Raja Ampat archipelagos in all their glory. 

After a quick pit stop back at the yacht for lunch we continued our adventures with a simply surreal experience. We were heading to the “Jellyfish Lake”, which was literally what it meant and we were going to swim in it! I have to be honest I wasn’t that excited to swim in jellyfish lake given its name but we were told the jellyfish don’t sting. My nervous apprehension was tempered slightly by the exciting rock climbing route/trail we had to take in order to access the jellyfish lake. Well this was pretty amazing. Millions of jellyfish of all sizes. As you entered the lake it felt quite normal, but as you swam more towards the middle, you started seeing the jellyfish. Next minute, you are simply surrounded. These fascinating creatures were everywhere and you had no choice but to let them envelop you. They gently caressed you, bouncing off your skin. Increadible sensation.The twins had no fear whatsoever and helped me and Amara conquer our fears of jellyfish. This was easily up there in terms of the most unique and surreal activities I have ever done. And another powerful reminder of the various incredible complexities of Mother Nature.

 

Halfway through our 10 day adventure and we were heading to the central part of Raja Ampat which meant an 18 hour sail through the night. But bright and early on Day 6, we woke to another part of paradise and finally (for some!) Wi-Fi. As everyone on the board scrambled for their phones, even the crew finding time to check messages, it was interesting to reflect on what we had done and not done in the previous days without Wi-Fi. Did we actually miss it? And did we actually miss anything?

 

Day 7 consisted of an early morning snorkel/dive and then moving to a specific dive site which was known to be a Manta Ray cleaning station. Here we saw lots of mantas, swimming majestically beneath us. After lunch we sailed to another area for a dive and then sunset drinks on a nearby sand bank - we all started playing games - clearly started by the kids -  with group tag involving the guests and crew being the most fun and funniest. Kids really do bring out the fun side of any situation – imagine playing tag literally in the middle of the ocean!

 

Day 8 was Beach Day! A full day on a private beach. The crew set up beds, umbrellas, a volley ball court, a well stocked bar and even racked the sand to perfection! We enjoyed paddle boarding, kayaking and donuts from the back of the speed boat. Then it was time for a special adventure. We had asked beforehand if the kids could be introduced to scuba diving and Eko obviously obliged and agreed to conduct their first “fun dive” especially as he was a Dive Master and very adept at handling multiple first divers. Amara was so excited as shes wanted to dive for a while while the twins were initially slightly apprehensive and nervous but Eko was such a pro, managing to relax them, building up their confidence and then just getting on with it. 30 mins and 7 meters depth later they were back feeling very accomplished and proud of themselves. It certainly seems that we will be doing more trips that revolve around deep sea diving! That evening we were back on the island for an incredible bbq dinner as the crew had removed the beds and set up the dinner table, with lights. A beautiful setting with exhilarating food. After dinner, we had a good, old fashioned party around the fire, with the crew and especially the chef (who was an accomplished guitarist as well) serenading us with Indonesian classics.

 

After the full on activities of day 8 and our Raja Ampat adventure nearing an end, Day 9 was a much more chilled affair, as some of the guests headed for a morning hike and some bird watching whilst others lounged around the boat and I started the thankless chore of packing, the kids already saying they didn’t want to leave! For our last activity we headed towards the famous “blue lake”, a shimmering, ice cold, crystal blue water oasis that required taking the speed boat deep into a water jungle, ditching the speed boat and then traversing on foot, through marshes and jungles towards this water hole that sprung up in the middle of the jungle.It was so pretty but oh so cold.

Back on the boat for our last dinner on board but the crew wasn’t done yet as they surprised all three kids with birthday cakes and another impromptu singalong. Day 10 was a melancholy day as we headed back to Sarong in order to leave the boat and go to the airport.

 

We had never experienced a live-on-board travel itinerary before and we had wondered if 10 days was a bit too much yet at the end we all wanted to stay on longer - we could have easily stayed another 10 days. And even though Raja Ampat and its captivating beauty played a large part, in equal measure, it was Allikai and its crew which made this trip that extra special and one that we will not only never forget but which now sits up there on the “best ever” list. As a luxury travel expert and being fortunate enough to have experienced some of the best travel around the world, I tend to very careful in assigning rankings and preferences but in the case of Raja Ampat and Allikai I do have to say that this ranks in the “Top 3” of my experiences so far.

 

For more information on this “bucketlist” experience, please contact Unique Family Travels; we have an excellent partnership with Allikai and I’m sure we will create something that will be a true luxury travel wonderland.

 

Please Note: Days of sailing vary. Raja Ampat is normally Nov - April

While the Komodo islands are in the summer months.

 

For unique rates and more information contact Unique Family Travels 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Gondwana Private Reserve

Rovos Rail Africa

Have you heard of Rovos Rail?

A hidden African gem that we were so lucky to experience. We took the Rovos Rail train traveling from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Pretoria, South Africa. Over 5 enthralling days we travelled through national parks stopping for a safari game drive where we saw a pride of 7 lions stalk prey alongside a watering hole, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, got dressed up every evening for dinner, met lovely people from all over the world, and the kids just loved their bedrooms as they sat on their beds enjoying the best tv you can imagine, watching in amazement through their windows as we passed all kinds of African wildlife. Mesmerizing, enchanting, beautiful, exciting- not enough words can describe Rovos Rail - it has to be experienced.

 

Here is my story of a very unique African adventure…

Very close to the majestic Victoria Falls is a simple train station. But within this train station sat a majestic train, all green and gold, inviting us to come onboard and begin a journey like no other. Rovos Rail is the African answer to the Orient Express. Originating in South Africa the train crisscrosses multiple southern African nations and then ends back in Pretoria, South Africa. We had been invited to experience the Zimbabwe-South Africa leg, hence we were setting off from the Victoria Falls station. Over the next 5 days we would travel across the rugged countryside of Zimbabwe, cross into South Africa, see the rural beauty of this magnificent country and finish up in the old school capital of Pretoria. Also during the 5 days we would make 2 stops, one to experience a safari in Hwange National Park, the largest one in Zimbabwe – 14,700 sqm of land, equivalent to the size of Belgium and containing 35,000 elephants and 250 lions – while the second one to stop at sacred cultural spot that symbolized the growth of Africa and Rhodesia (the previous name of Zimbabwe) as it broke free from the shackles of colonialism.

 

The highlight of the safari was us coming to a watering hole just as a pride of 7 lions showed up; what followed was straight out of a National Geographic episode as the lions waited patiently, camouflaged themselves brilliantly (at one stage looking like rocks strewn across the banks of the watering hole) as various other prey like zebras and gazelles ventured closer to have a drink. It was fascinating to see as the prey sensed danger but still kept approaching the water while the lions let them get closer and closer before launching a full attack. We also realized it was part of a learning experience as the young lions kept giving away their presence while the older female lions patiently coaxed them closer and closer to the prey. We could have literally sat and watched this for hours, but the train had to keep moving so we ventured back, onboarded the train and set off again.

 

The following days experience was a visit to World Heritage site Matobo National Park which is the country’s oldest national park. One of its sublime features is the Matopo Hills a series of granite kopjes (rock formations) formed over 2 billion years old This is was also the land/home of the traditional bushmen who lived in the caves leaving behind incredible rock art and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes. Read more on his legacy here:  https://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/cecil-rhodes.html

 

 

Invigorated by the safari, we cleaned up and headed to the dining room for lunch; as we sipped on drinks and munched through delicious food, we kept our eyes on the ever-moving landscape through the train windows. Because we were still in the national park and there were many more animals to spot – a safari by train, an experience like no other.

 

As we took pictures and tried to share our experience with friends and family, we came across a dilemma that would follow us for the duration of the 5-day journey. A dilemma or a blessing, it all depended on your perspective. The train had no Wi-Fi- later on we learnt it was on purpose as Rovos Rail truly wanted you to disconnect and truly take in the journey and the surrounding areas we were passing through. However, for people that still want to stay connected, the best option is to have a local Zimbabwe chip for the phone and pray for decent coverage.

We need to talk about the main character in this story which is the train itself. Straight out of the history books, Rovos Rail is a wonderful homage to the great trains of the past, when they were the main modes of transport. Elegant, luxurious trains are a way for people to travel into the history books while experiencing the nature of today.

 

Rovos Rail is especially important as it provides access to luxury train travel in Africa, a one-of-a-kind experience that cannot be easily accessed on this fascinating continent. For our family of 5, Rovos Rail had very kindly offered us 2 Spacious delux bedrooms, each with their own bathrooms (powerful shower included). Even though we are talking about train cabin rooms, the size is deceiving. We had ample space to move around and there was lots of storage room as well.

 

For the train passengers, other than their rooms, there are 3 areas to explore. There is obviously the dining cart, situated in the center of the train and the heart of the action every day as breakfast, lunch and dinner is served with immaculate train efficiency. Dinners are a lot of fun as everyone gets dressed up, formal attire is recommended, and everyone sits back to enjoy sophisticated candlelight dinners. The lounge area, located next to the dining cart, is also a very comfortable place where passengers can go for pre or post drinks whilst also being a nice play to relax during the day, play cards and read books. But certainly one of the most favorite areas of the train is right at the back. The last cabin is a lounger/bar area that also has an observation deck; a fantastic place to chat to your fellow passengers, enjoy sunset drinks and watch the views. A lot of us gathered there when we crossed from Zimbabwe into South Africa across an imposing rail bridge, certainly one of the highlights of the ever-changing landscape.

 

The one thing that delighted me about Rovos Rail was that it was a true adventure for my children. They had not really travelled in a train before, so they soaked in the atmosphere with much glee and were thoroughly intrigued by the workings of the train and obviously spotting wildlife through the windows was a thrilling bonus. Even at one of the first South Africa train stations where we had an extended stop due to passport control, the kids jumped off the train, ran to the front of the train to explore the engine rooms and then played football on the station platform. A true African experience.

 

Even for a seasoned and profession travel designer like myself, Rovos Rail sits in a separate section of my portfolio that I offer to my clients. It is so unique that it needs its own category. I would like to position Rovos Rail as a very unique traveling experience (an adventure for sure) to all my clients but I also have to temper expectations as they will be travelling through remotes part of southern Africa that has its positives and negatives but which alls adds to the drama of the adventure. You have to go in with an open mind and an open heart. If one does, then the beauty of the experience reveals itself.

 

The overall experience was simply amazing and my family and I are beyond grateful that we got to experience Rovos Rail.

 

For unique rates and more information contact Unique Family Travels 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Lead Zambia

Royal Livingstone Zambia

A taste of what awaits you in Zambia is seen and felt at the Zambia and Zimbabwe land border. Having decided to fly into Zimbabwe rather than Zambia itself (both airports are close to Victoria Falls which was our ultimate destination) we negotiated the border control in Zim airport and headed to the Zambia border. Complete chaos. And the perfect example of Africa, all the positives and the negatives. Within the chaos, there was a method to the madness. It felt like an adventure. Which our holiday was all about!

 

The moment we crossed into Zambia and literally within minutes, we see steam/spray rising into the sky. Victoria Falls is right there. The grandeur of what we are about to experience, permeates the air. You know you are near something very special.

 

We were staying at the Royal Livingstone by Anantara, which is perched right on the edge of Victoria Falls. In fact, you access one of the 8 wonders of the world, through the hotel grounds. In terms of exclusivity, it doesn’t get better than this. Whenever you feel the urge to feel the power and magic of the Falls, you can simply walk across. In any case, the presence of the Victoria Falls is embedded into the fabric of Royal Livingstone by Anantara. You see the falls while having breakfast or sunset drinks and you feel the history of the falls in the history of the hotel. We visited the falls a couple of times, but the highlight was our midnight visit which coincided with a full moon and what is referred to as the “Lunar rainbow” or the “moonbow” a majestic freak of nature where the alignment of the full moon with the cascading waterfalls emits a full white rainbow that rises over the falls in sync with the rising of the full moon. Just experiencing this is worth the price of admission into Zambia and the Royal Livingstone. The Victoria Falls is so big it straddles 2 countries, 1.2m of it in Zimbabwe and 500m in Zambia. The best months to visit are June, July and August in Zambia and the rest of the year Zimbabwe.

 

There are many hotels around Victoria Falls but Royal Livingstone is clearly the cream of the crop. What makes it so special other than the access to the actual falls is the presence of wildlife on the actual property. Large number of zebras, giraffes, gazelles and monkeys freely roam the lands of the hotel. They are so ubiquitous that you forget that they’re still wild animals and not pets; the hotel staff had to keep reminding our kids not to think we can go over and start petting the gazelles or zebras. But the animals themselves are so used to people that they wander up close while we are eating or drinking; at one point we were lounging around the pool and this zebra walked right up to us, actually oblivious to us, as it munched the grass and literally brushed up against us. One morning we were woken up to what sounded like crashing noises on our roof, it was a massive group of monkeys traversing the roof of the hotel to get to the trees on the water's edge. One night as we were having sunset drinks and watching the steam off the Victoria Falls, an elephant decided to join us, walking past us and gently navigating the 2 giraffes that sternly looked on – don't worry he was in front of the electric wire on the waters edge.

 

Named after a legendary African explorer, the Royal Livingstone Hotel by Anantara captures the grace and elegant of the Victorian era. More than 170 luxury rooms and suites decorated in a colonial style boast private verandas that open out onto the river. Elegant suites are situated in two-storey clusters that are inspired by the grand estates of times past. Beautiful paintings and black and white photographs of pioneers of old call to mind the grandeur of the colonial era, which a hint of tribal warmth adds an authentic African touch.

Guests can unwind in the cool shade of the travelers’ bar and sitting room while savoring an impeccably served high tea or enjoy a dip in the heated swimming pool. Sunset drinks are served right infront of the river while traditional African dancers entertain you just as you sip the sun will slowly sink into the calm waters in front of you.

 

What makes Zambia so adventurous is the amount of adventure activities on tap; many of them revolve around the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River. My family decided to experience a variety of them. While I went for my own personal favorite- a helicopter ride over the Falls, my kids went for a microlight flight over Vic Falls, while my husband decided to do the world-famous bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge.

My helicopter ride seems tame compared to what the rest of the families activities but it was exhilarating seeing the 8th wonder of the world from a Birds Eye view and now I can tick it off my bucketlist. From up above, the grandeur of this natural wonder is easy to see, its an act of nature that is beyond human comprehension, it truly is awe inspiring. But while I was quite thrilled with my helicopter ride, I didn’t realize I had signed up my kids for something even more exciting. Microlight flights are just you and the pilot, in this small plane that rides the winds and gets you closer to life on the ground. My kids flew over the Falls and saw elephants crossing the Zambezi; I am sure in the eyes of kids this stuff was magical and when they all came off their respective flights and said this was one of the coolest things they had ever experienced, we knew Zambia had found a special place in our hearts.

 

To cap off our adventure in Zambia, we got to witness my husband, walk across the Victoria Falls bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe, head towards the center platform, have people strap him to a couple of elastic ropes and let him jump off the bridge, his sounds of sheer joy getting quieter and quieter as he descended further and further into the Victoria Falls ravine below. While my kids and I had our hearts in our mouths for a few seconds as we saw him disappear, once we saw him being roped back up after a successful jump, we started laughing at the uniqueness of it all: having drinks and snacks on the edge of a mountain, baboons roaming around, watching him jump off a bridge while the Victoria Falls in the background kept raging.

 

Zambia, you were certainly an adventure. Thank you for the incredible memories.

 

 

 

 

 

For unique rates and more information contact Unique Family Travels 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Mukoro on the Delta LEAD

Botswana Adventure Part 2

While it was very hard saying goodbye to Wilderness DumaTau camp, we were just as excited to embark on the next leg of our Botswana adventure. This time we were heading to another Wilderness camp, the Vumbura Plains Camp, and this was located in a totally different part of of Botswana, an area known as the Okavango Delta. A private charter 50 mins in the air and landing in the Delta.

This part of Botswana is famous for its diversity; because it has water all year round, all kinds of wildlife have made this their home. Other than the animals themselves, Okavango Delta also has a rich collection of birds, plants, insects etc It’s a true nature paradise.

The terrain is also very different from what we had witnessed before. While our initial exposure to Botswana showed a land going through their dry season, here the land had adapted to water being everywhere. So, there were rivers, muds, long reeds, more wet mud, more rivers, overflowing water holes; the ecosystem was entirely different and more exotic. Another new element to this experience was the game drives. Here your safari jeep was half automobile and half boat, as there were many instances of us driving deep into river crossings where the water rushed into the bottom of the jeep as we scrambled to keep our feet dry.

 

The varied terrain also makes game watching very different. Because there is ample water around, the animals are also spread out meaning it takes more work spotting them. The guides have to be extra vigilant and just as focused. Our guide, “Big O”, would use the entire ecosystem as well as all his senses to track the animals, from listening to the birds, watching footprints in the sand to actually smelling the air and following birds and smaller animals running as they usually led us to the bigger animals. Very National Geographic Channel stuff.

 

One excellent advantage to having the animals more spread out was that we could get more close to the bush and actually disembark the jeeps. Wilderness and the game guides had found these wonderful spots where it was safe for us to have sunset drinks and bush breakfast and bush lunch. It is quite a unique experience to have a beautiful, luxurious lunch setup, full with a bar and a barbecue, sitting in the middle of the bush, eating and drinking excellent selections while not too far away a herd of elephants have their own vegetarian lunch. Although it got exciting for a few minutes as a large bull elephant got a bit inquisitive and decided to pay us a visit, coming very close to the meat being cooked but then getting bored and walking away.

 

We also had quite a surreal experience on one of the sunset drinks as our kids decided to have an impromptu football game, my son Rio, showcasing all his football skills on the plains of Botswana, next to a watering hole with the sunset setting and lighting up the sky in pink and purple, and the next morning the same watering hole had a herd of 15 elephants swimming, playing and soaking up the sunrise at exactly the same spot our kids had been playing the night before. Only in Botswana, only in Africa.

 

Some of the more memorable highlights from our game drives:

 

·       We came across a big pride of lions, 3 male brothers, 2 females (mum and daughter) and 4 babies, 2 girls and 2 boys all 9 months old; the family dynamics were so interesting we decided to track them for a while as they went about preying for food, marking their territories, and teaching the cubs all the laws of nature; at one point, and very rare for lions, the mum lion scrambled up a tree to survey the land so one of the more adventurous cubs decided to scramble up behind the mum, only when it came time to come down the cub had no idea what to do; what ensued was a delicate parenting skill as the mum lion gently trued to coax the baby lion back down the tree while the cub whined, growled and snapped at her mum. Fascinating. What was amusing was the rest of the pride just watched all of this unfold with slight detachment…

·       Very unique to the delta is taking your game drive to the water. What this means is hopping into a “mokoro” or the local version of a canoe and then traversing the various delta rivers. This again calls on the unique skills of your game guide as he has to expertly manage an erratic canoe with nervous passengers while keeping an eye out for hippos and crocs. However, everything is done with a high priority on safety and the moment the guides and the security on land suspected a hippo nearby they cut the trip short and got us safely to land. Quite exhilarating and peaceful at the same time although my daughter Amara was a nervous wreck throughout!

·       In all our time in Bots, we had still not come across wild dogs so when we heard a pack of wild dogs were on the move, we decided to catch up to them and follow them as they tracked prey and marked their territories. Wild dogs of Africa epitomize the wild nature of Africa. Ferrel and dirty but also industrious, always on the move, covering great distances, these dogs were so intriguing to watch. The laws of the pack were also on display as the strong leaders led the way while the weak, injured ones just tried to keep up.

 

Vumbura Plains Camp

 

Another great example of Wilderness hospitality, the Vumbura Plains Camp, is generously spread out over a large embankment, on one side a large river with all its hippos and crocs while on the other side, various watering holes that keep bringing the animals very close to the actual rooms.

 

Our room was a super luxurious 2-bedroom tent, very spacious, open plan, with a plunge pool outside and views especially at sunset and sunrise that were absolutely stunning.

 

Again the staff were excellent and always addressing you by your name. Nothing is to small to ask for as the entire team are there to make your stay as incredible as can be.

 

What we really loved about this Wilderness camp was their local impact and their commitment to preserving the surrounding community. A story like below which was showcased on the walls of their library/lounge, typifies perfectly what Wilderness means to Botswana and what Botswana means to Wilderness:

 

“Since the inception of Wilderness Safaris in Botswana in 1983, we have been fortunate enough to work with many inspirational Batswana. In this community story, we would like to introduce you to just two of them, Lenkemetse “Tracy” Nteashoma and Lpeleng Gloria “Mme Gloria” Gaosimodimo.

 

Lenkemetse is a farmer in Sankoyo village and received assistance during the pandemic through Wilderness Conservation Heroes Covid relief programme. Lenkemetse has been able to leverage her farming experience and affinity for the soil to pay forward and help us provide crucial food relief to members of her community during the immense challenges that rural communities have faced during the pandemic.

 

Lenkemetse’s assertion that “what you see depends on how you see the world” typifies the resilience she has been able to draw on as she inspires those around her to remain hopeful no matter what.

 

Since Covid 19 first reached Botswana in early 2020, Wilderness has been working with Ecoexist and the Ministry of Agricultural Development and food security, department of Crop Production on projects to enhance food security in rural communities by improving communal plots so that they can serve as cluster farms and produce staple foods such as beans, maize, cow peas, millet and sorghum. We’ve been able to assist with seed and the loan of agricultural equipment to reduce the labor involved in tilling and sowing.”

 

For unique rates and more information contact Unique Family Travels 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
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Botswana Adventure Part 1

I don’t start most travel write ups by stating the obvious but in this case, especially as we had been told repeatedly that it’s the truth, I have to admit and say that safaris in Botswana are very different to any other safaris around the world. When people told us that a Botswana experience would be something special, we did not know what to expect, especially as we have experienced so many incredible safaris around Africa. Now we understand and I can guarantee that whatever I write below will not do complete justice to what we experienced. But I will try. And I will say that anyone thinking about visiting Botswana should take my experience and expect something exactly like that if not better.

 

A large part of what made our Botswana experience so special and so unique was due to my wonderful travel partner Wilderness Safaris.

Everything we did from transfers, luggage transfers, airport requirements to their resorts and service, was absolutely impeccable. From the drivers, airport personnel, pilots to chefs, cleaning maids to safari guides, each person is a true symbol of what makes Wilderness so authentic: friendly, caring, warm, beautiful, family.

We entered Botswana via the Zambia land border meaning we had a 1-hour drive from our last location. However, the 1 hour flew by because Rafael, a driver for 20 years with Wilderness, regaled us with his stories, each one better than the last. As we got closer to the border the laughter subsided slightly as he informed us of some important travel tips for Botswana, especially while navigating the borders. The most important one was children’s birth certificates. You have to carry children’s birth certificate copies with you, otherwise they will not let you in. Another important travel hack is to carry separate shoes as they check all shoes for foot and mouth disease meaning they dip the soles in chemicals. It’s more of a formality and a way for them to lessen the risk to their cattle which is their 3rd largest export, but it can be a nuisance, so carry an extra pair and use them to get past the shoe check.

 

Other than that, the border people were absolutely lovely, we had all the docs so we spent last than 10 minutes at immigration and then we jumped back in another Wilderness car, and we were on our way to the airport for the flight to the Wilderness DumaTau Camp. At the airport we had another travel hack to learn as heavy bags and large suitcases not accepted on the Cessna planes but no worries, the wonderful Wilderness crew guided us to the Wilderness private lounge where we transferred everything we needed into soft duffel bags, and we were on our way (actually turned into a great lesson in packing lightly and efficiently! However we were traveling for three weeks!)

 

Our flight, in our private Cessna Grand Caravan, adds to the Botswana experience; because the moment you are in the air, the majesty of the Botswana terrain and the amount of wild animals wandering around literally hits you with its intensity. Botswana is known as the “Land of Giants” – this is because it has the largest population of elephants in the world. And you can see it from the air, picking out these majestic animals as they traverse land seeking water.

 

While we could have continued to enjoy our “air safari”, a dusty single track landing strip on the horizon showed our destination was near; after a smooth landing, we were swiftly escorted from the plane straight into our customized safari jeeps where we met our guide for the next couple of days: Rogers. Anything I write after this point is in many ways directly related to how Rogers conducted himself and what he gave us in what was our first Botswana safari experience. Excellence bar none is how I would summarize Rogers and absolutely the personification of Botswana people and the Wilderness family.

 

 

Safari

Because safari is why you are in Botswana, I will share my collective experience that was gained over many game drives over a coupe of days. If you have experienced a safari before you will know that every morning your drive starts bright and early around 6-7am while the evening drive starts around 3-4pm with sunset drinks and back to camp. In the middle you have time to unwind, have brunch/lunch and take in the wonderful camp settings.

 

So here, in no particular order but loosely based on the level of jaw dropping amazement is what we saw on our various game drives over an action packed 48 hours of wile animal watching:

·       Peekaboo around an ant hill - leopard and lion – an absolutely thrilling encounter where a female lion casually walked up an ant hill to survey the land but just happened to stumble upon a leopard on the other side, who adapted to the surprise but leaping up a gigantic tree, leaving a bemused lion starting up at her and lamenting the fact that she nearly had leopard for dinner – all while we were parked next to the tree

·       A pride of lions (1 male, 3 females, 6 cubs) gorging on a dead elephant; this was nauseating, horrific, thrilling, dumbfounding all at the same time but personified nature just taking its course right before our eyes

·       A pride of 6 male lions, nicknamed “Army Boys”, because they are fearsome, hunt in destructive ways, kill anyone who threatens them including other male lions and male cubs, with one of them actually called Cub Killer, a large, frightening looking male with huge mane and a look that literally said killer. We found them next to a dead hippo, occasionally gorging on the feast while also trying to mate with the one female that had reluctantly agreed to tag along. The rawness of this whole experience was quite jarring but again led more credence to the fact that safaris in Botswana are on a different level. However strong the male lion is, he will never mate without the permission of the female lion – mostly her just giving in – but nether the less, waiting for permission

·       As mentioned before, elephants are everywhere but they also move in huge herds which can be dangerous if you come across with many babies in the midst as that is when the herd and especially the mothers become aggressive in their behavior; there were numerous occasions where we had to speed up rather than get caught in a situation where we were surrounded back an angry herd of elephants. This is also where we learnt why Botswana has so many elephants. Some of the neighboring countries either though game hunting or war, have made Botswana a safe sanctuary for the elephants who keep migrating for safety.

·       At one point across a massive landscape of land and river we came across a huge number of vultures; they kept alternating between perching on tree tops to venturing down to the water and cleaning their feathers from all the carcasses they had feasted on – another raw reminder of nature simply at work

·       Another unique aspect of Botswana is combining the water into the safari experience. We had a river safari, complete with onboard lunch and a bit of fishing for the kids where whilst our daughter Sisi caught her first ever tiger fish (catch and release mind you..) we also witnessed many elephants swimming across the river right in front of the boat

·       We ventured into a bunker next to a watering hole, so while we had coffee and drinks, unsuspecting herds of zebras, antelopes, wild hogs and gazelles came right up to our hiding spot and lapped up the water. The softer, gentler side of nature.

·       Outside the entrance to the camp, every night lay “George” the resident hippo. George is as wild as they come, however a few years ago he was in a fight with other hippos and badly injured, he took shelter and refuge during covid at the camp. Every evening he comes from the river and rests on the sand taking comfort in the noise but not coming into the actual camp.

·       One afternoon we came out of our room to go for lunch at right outside the wooden walk way, elephants came to graze as we watched from our entrance these mighty giants up close – don't let this scare you as you just keep quiet and walk back into your room and call the guide to come and get you – its just another reason why Botswana is raw, untouched and nature at its finest.

 

As our vehicles were private use, we can determine our time and day. One of the morning game drives we left at 6.30am and came back at 2pm. An absolutely incredible live game experience that encapsulated everything that is so majestic about Botswana. As Rogers so expertly put it, we have to use all our 5 senses when we are out in the bush and in these game drives all our 5 senses were firing on all cylinders.

 

 

Wilderness DumaTau Camp

 

Located in the Linyanti Wildlife Reserve and perched alongside 45km of river bank and nestled between tow busy elephant corridors, the camp of 8 rooms with plunge pools, a large swimming pool, gym and a lagoon fire pit this is your little slice of heaven in the middle of Botswana. Raw, authentic but full of luxury, this is the perfect place to call home when you’ve come back from an invigorating game drive.

 

No amount of attention to detail is compromised, the service is impeccable where every staff member remembers not only your name but also every type of dietary requirements you may have from your favorite drink to how you like your eggs made. The entire staff, led superbly by Derrick the camp manager, are experts at making you feel at home and nothing is too much to ask for. From playing games with the kids to even letting them go into the kitchen and assist the chef in cooking and baking, no effort is left unturned in making your stay very special and truly memorable.

Also every room is provided with a SLR camera which you can use during your stay and the memory card will be given to you.

 

Everything that is so special about Botswana and Wilderness Safari camps comes to a resounding crescendo every Monday evening when they conduct their weekly BOMA: African barbecue next to a blazing fire, where stories are exchanged and the Wilderness staff (all of them being from Botswana) send all the guests on a history of Botswana while also showcasing the unique culture of this country with elaborate and traditional singing and dancing. A truly memorable evening never to be forgotten, especially for my kids who learnt more about a country than they ever will from a textbook and my husband who danced with the team.

 

** for that truly intimate experience, there is “Little DumaTau”, a smaller, much more exclusive camp with 4 rooms, right next to the bigger camp but only for 8 people – great for families to book on an exclusive basis.

 

Conclusion

 

While I will have more to say about Botswana in my second part, the experience we had at Wilderness DumaTao was pure magic. Everything was picture perfect.

I will recommend this camp to my clients till the cows come home, literally and figuratively. Its not my first time experiencing a Wilderness Camp across Africa and I hope it wont be my last, but I can say that impeccable service is in their DNA.

What I would suggest is to plan your trip around the dry season and not the wet season. In dry season, animals seek out watering holes so spotting animals is much easier while in wet season because there is plenty of water to go around, it can be harder to spot animals meaning longer unfulfilled game drives which can be hard on impatient children. So plan a Botswana trip around March-August and get ready to have an experience of a lifetime.

 

Check out this footage of the lion and leopard - 

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CwXGJ0Hobq-/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==

  

For more information and exclusive rates contact

 

 

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
11Gondwana Private Reserve

Gondwana Game Reserve

So many people come to Cape Town without realizing that just 4 hours drive from the city is a game reserve. Adding another exciting element to a Cape Town visit, I’ve started recommending this game reserve to some of my clients who only want to stay around the city but wanting to have a true African experience.

 

The game reserve is called Gondwana. Situated in the heart of the Garden Route, Gondwana Game Reserve offers an exclusive and spectacular natural setting with numerous nature activities on offer in the reserve, as well as nearby Garden Route activities. Gondwana has 27,000 acres of land, meaning lots of land for the animals to roam around in and make themselves home.

Being a private reserve, Gondwana places conservation high on its list of priorities meaning the animals are well taken care, populations are monitored, and the entire game reserve ecosystem is carefully preserved. The famous African Big 5 are all here and the meticulously choreographed game drives by the supremely talented game rangers give clients ample opportunities to spot all the animals in all their natural glory.

 

A stay at Gondwana is all inclusive, meaning 3 meals a day and 2 safaris a day. Only drinks (including alcohol) are extra. Like any game reserve around the world, the whole experience is geared around the safari drives. Early morning game drives start at 6.30am to catch either the animals waking up or in the case of lions, seeing them finishing off their night kills, are followed by breakfast either back at the lodge or in the bush. Then a leisurely afternoon leads to a late lunch leading into the afternoon/evening game drive that culminates in sunset drinks. Throughout all of this you are up close and very personal with cheetahs, lions, elephants, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes etc

 

The main Luxury Game Lodge is where all the facilities are located including a large swimming pool, a chic open-plan lounge and bar, a spa that offers rejuvenating Africology treatments, a reception area with a curio shop and the main restaurant where all the delicious food is served. This is also the staging point for the 2 daily drives, your personal Game Ranger escorting you to your customized Safari jeeps for the start of the adventure. The special characteristic of Gondwana is their specific focus on families and hence on children. Even though the game drives are more than enough entertainment for kids of all ages, Gondwana personalizes the experience by having a special Junior Rangers Program – on the second morning, after the morning game drive, our kids headed out in their own Safari Jeep with a lovely and charming Game Ranger who led them through experiences that involved animal tracking and making bow and arrows amongst other activities. They were even given their own personalized welcome bags full of all kinds of goodies.

Spread across the Gondwana landscape and again keeping to its conservation ethos are the accommodations available to customers. Gondwana’s villas have been praised as the best Family Safari Accommodation in South Africa.

Kwena Lodge Villas

These villas come with ample indoor space and an easy-going open-plan design that leads you outdoors to take in your natural surroundings. 
The spacious
villas feature either 2,3, or 4-bedroom configurations, all with en-suite bathrooms, to accommodate your particular group.  Choose a Fynbos Villa adjacent to Kwena Lodge or a Bush Villa deeper in the bush with a higher probability of animals roaming close by. That’s why especially at nighttime, you need to be escorted by the experienced game rangers.

Kwena Lodge Suites

A modern and luxurious twist on the traditional Khoi-San circular dwelling – augmented with all the amenities of a modern Luxury Hotel. Each open plan Kwena Room is designed to connect visitors to their beautiful surroundings with 180-degree views and skylights for star gazing. At night, visitors are warmed by the indoor fireplace and relax in a deep bath upon returning from an evening Big 5 Game Drive. These suites are situated around the main Game Lodge and more suitable for couples.

The true value of Gondwana is that it caters to any type of traveller. Families are very well taken care of, as are couples and single travelers. But it also gives ample opportunities to adventure seekers. Due to the amount of land under its patronage, Gondwana has a special closed off area where you can hike and mountain bike. During our visit we saw people coming in with their mountain bikes hooked to the back of their cars while my ultra running husband was shown trails that ran through wild bush. Imagine mountain biking and running close to where giraffes are grazing.

 

In my travels, I sometimes come across properties that tick a lot of boxes and cover a lot of angles for any type of traveller. Gondwana easily fits into that category especially if you don't want to get on another flight to a different part of Africa, for families coming to Cape Town and wanting a safari experience- check. Couples on their honeymoon looking to combine relaxation with excitement – check. People wanting an authentic safari experience-check. True nature seekers looking for highly talented game rangers that can truly educate on the multitude of fauna and flora around – check. The list goes on…

 

For special, discounted rates at Gondwana Game Reserve, please contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Video: https://youtu.be/CGkOE_-3MQE

 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Gondwana Private Reserve

Mont Rochelle

What makes the drive from Hermanus into Franschoek so special is the end when the winding mountain road descends rapidly into the wine valley; from every angle there are breathtaking vistas of large, sloping grasslands that run up against wild, craggy mountainsides. In the middle of this sits, Franschhoek, a quaint little village, one single road connecting one side of the town to the other while on either side of the road are ubiquitous wine farms as far as the eyes can see.

 

Less famous than its sister wine town of Stellenbosch but just as popular and with a distinct French flavor, owning to its heritage and history as a landing spot for French settlers, Franschhoek carries itself with a certain panache that comes from having a very unique history embedded into a very high standard of wine offering.

 

In any wine country, the standard of your wine farm is directly reflected in the kind of experience one can expect. In our case, our expectations became abundantly clear as we approached the gates to Mont Rochelle.

 

Made famous because of its association with its owner, Richard Branson, Mont Rochelle’s gates immediately send a message of welcome and as we made our way through the winding country road towards the large manor house, the rolling fields and majestic mountainside got our pulses racing.

 

The moment we stepped out of the car, a beaming, laughing, gregarious gentlemen bounds up to us. Peter symbolizes Mont Rochelle, one of its earliest employees, a fountain of knowledge, his endearing personality overflowing with happiness. Any guest will feel immediately at home in the presence of Peter, as he sends you on a journey of history and experience with his tales of life in the Franschhoek valley.

 

Spellbound by the magic of Peter, he escorts us to our family suite, tucked away on one side of the manor house, nearer the vineyards but close enough to all the resort facilities that the children can roam freely knowing they are close by. The family suite has a large living room that spills into open grounds that borders the vineyards while a heated plunge pool completes the picturesque outdoor landscape. The master bedroom has a lovely open bathroom with a large sunken tub and rain shower.

 

No wine farm worth its weight would shy away from exhibiting its own wines. Mont Rochelle has an arsenal of award winning wines at its disposal, including Miko wine which is also the name of their flagship restaurant. Miko is produced in honor of the late Mr Miko Rwayitare a Rwandan billionaire who purchased Mont Rochelle in 2001 making the property the first black owned wine estate in South Africa. He was also the owner of Hotel des Mille Collines on which the film Hotel Rwanda was based. I have to be honest, I personally loved the taste of Miko Red and as someone who has a soft spot for Rwanda, a huge cheers from me to Mr Miko and huge respect that Mont Rochelle, to this day, honor Mr Miko!

 

Guests are greeted in their room by a very generous collection of complimentary Mont Rochelle wines. As I eye my wine collection, Peter gives us an idea of what kind of activities we can expect over the next couple of days.

 

We enjoyed a wine tasting class for families at the Mont Rochelle Country House. The kids had a selection of juices while we went for the selection of grapes.

 

Obviously in wine country, a lot of activities revolve around wine tasting and visiting wine farms. Mont Rochelle is located close to the village so its easy to enjoy a village walk around the multiple boutiques. While in Franschhoek take the Wine Tram to visit other wine farms, or alternatively Mont Rochelle can provide a private shuttle service. I would recommend a visit to La Motte, Boschendal and lunch at the ultra luxury Leeu Estates which is right next door to Mont Rochelle.

 

Traveling with my family and because a lot of my clients want to visit wine farms with their families, I was seeking wine farms with a distinct family touch. Mont Rochelle had always been at the top of my list so staying in this beautiful property was an added bonus to utilizing its list of activities around the property – so many outdoor games and so much land to run around, not to mention the hotel swimming pool.

 

 

Wine country comes with a special vibe, that laidback country feel that gives one an opportunity to truly switch off, enjoy nature, indulge in fine food and drink and really grasp the true aspect of living in a wine valley with its unique history and personal idiosyncrasies. Mont Rochelle wraps all this up in luxurious surroundings and gives you a great location from which to take it all in.

 

 

To book your stay, with special offers, contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
1

Grootbos Nature Reserve

The drive is mesmerizing, winding through a 2-lane road that hugs desperately to the coast, every turn bringing another breathtaking vista. The approach to Hermanus, one of the world’s premier whale watching locations, is something special. But as we get caught up in the beautiful nature around us, we are keeping an eye out for a sign, a sign that simply says “Grootbos Private Nature Reserve”.

 

The nondescript sign is there, take a left and we are moving down a small road, the beauty of the coast behind us and just deep, deep greenery in front of us, as far as the eye can see. We don’t know what to expect as we enter the gates and follow the signs to “Garden Lodge”. After parking our car and being met by the wonderful Ruuwan (our exceptional guide for the next few days), we are led up a cobblestone path to the main reception area. Through the main door and the first thing that hits you is the view. I am fortunate to have travelled to many parts of the world, but certain places hold a certain aura, a certain energy that is indescribable.

 

 

Grootbos (meaning ‘big forest in Afrikaans) and deservedly rated by Condé Nast as the Number 1 lodge in South Africa, is a hidden gem in the true sense of the word. Off the Hermanus coast, deep in the lush greenery of the surrounding mountainside, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is a true testament to the fact that if you build something based on a vision, it becomes more than a hotel and resort. Meticulously laid out over 3500 hectares of land, owner Michael Lutzeyer has done a remarkable job in creating a first-class resort that utilizes its unique location to provide customers with an experience that they will soon not forget.

 

The resort has 2 sections, Garden Lodge which is where we are staying and primarily for families and Forest Lodge which caters more to the adults/couples' segment. Both lodges are managed separately with their own pools, spas, lobby/reception and restaurants. Both facing the beach and both owning the same incredible view. 

 

Rooms

Ruuwan has to drag us away from the view and gently coax us towards our room. A Guide (personal butler) is dedicated to each family/ villa/room and heightens the personalized service. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve works on an all inclusive package, so other than alcohol and outside activities, everything else, and especially the dining is available throughout the day. They even have a cheeky corner of the lobby area, next to the raging fireplaces that contains all kinds of candies, cookies and drinks – enticing not only all the kids but all the adults that are kids at heart.

Our first port of call and abode for the night is the two-bedroom family suite – a home away from home that literally feels like you could move in! The crackling log fire, a beautiful terrace with an old extinct fig tree growing through the middle, that the kids immediately scrambled up, sets you up nicely for that gorgeous view again and a feeling that life is just divine. The bathrooms are generous sizes with a walk-in wardrobe, double sinks and large shower and bath in both en-suites. The master bedroom has a wraparound window going across two walls that provides a postcard view of the incredible Hermanus coast and beach while at dusk, nature goes to work and puts on a show, breathtaking sunsets with powerful color explosions of pink and orange that can only be experienced and that no words can do justice. 

 

The next night we were invited to stay at the 4- bedroom villa, one of the 2 premier accommodations on the entire property. This was uber luxury at its finest. Like its neighboring 6-bedroom villa, this is all open plan exquisiteness, large swimming pool going across the entire garden, a fantastic art collection spread cross the entire property, cinema, wine cellar, gym, sauna a large kitchen and dining areas that bring the outdoors in.

 

Dining

Fully intoxicated by the ‘sunset show’, suitably warmed up by the log fires, we are ready for our 5 course evening meal. Superbly crafted by the chefs, the attention to detail in every dish is worthy of any recognition while the use of the surrounding nature to attenuate your taste buds is masterful. While mum and dad are sufficiently sated, the kids also work their way through the kid's menu. Our only gripe, which was put to us by our kids, is that there could have been more choices on the kid's menu – although the chefs were again versatile and open to making things off-menu.

Activities

 

The coup de grace for any activity in Hermanus is whale watching; it is literally considered The best spots in the world to watch these incredible animals. Due to its wide coastline and deep waters, whales have made Hermanus a key spot in their annual travel and in particular they use the Hermanus coastline to give birth.  A couple of years ago we visited Hermanus in the March time and literally watched whales giving birth on the coast – it was incredible to witness.

Whilst Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has many internal activities (horse riding, cave exploring, flower & bird safari, botanical tour,fat biking etc), whale watching is a customer favorite, so they have teamed up with one of their touring company partners to provide the “Marine Big 5” experience. Jump on a specialized touring boat, get warm, get the binoculars out, head out into the waters for 3-4 hours and you will be presented with the incredible experience of watching up close and very personal, sharks, seals, African penguins, dolphins and whales (in particular the humpback and the southern right). While the expert “watchers”, some with 20 years of experience look out for the various sightings, an expert onboard marine biologist keys you in on all the data and information you could ask for. But this is nature, anything is possible, so go in with an open mind and you may just encounter something magical. Magical like 2 enormous whales breaching the water literally a few meters away from you, so close that you can see the scratches on their skin, the awe-inspiring sight leaving you totally speechless as you witness nature at its rawest beauty. We must have seen around 20 whales who came close to the boat. As one whales tale lifted in front of us, it was like he was saying goodbye and then they disappeared.

Another unique way to experience the whales is by going on a helicopter tour; this is also thrilling as you get a Birds Eye view of these majestic animals.

Fun Fact: one of the tagged whales went to Australia and came back to Cape Town in 3 months!

One of the other activities we enjoyed was horse riding through the fynbos and fauna. The children loved visiting the stables and farm which is very close to the rooms, so the children went and visited the horses often.

As the property is emerged in so much land, the hiking trails are amazing.

Conclusion

 

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is an experience onto itself. Some resorts have that special “it” factor where everything aligns, the story sells itself and you just have to ride the wave were luxury meets nature.

 

Anyone that believes in sustainable conservation, wants to get out in nature, experience some truly magical encounters with some of our earthly co-habitants, and do all of this in a luxurious, uber-comfortable and peaceful setting, than Grootbos should be high on your list. I have to say, having stayed at many incredible properties around the world, Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is certainly in my top 5 destinations and I believe me, I would visit again in a heart beat, but this time stay for at least a week.

 

To book your stay, with special offers, contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Platte lead

Waldorf Astoria Seychelles

It was an absolute honor to be invited by Hiltons Signature luxury brand - Waldorf Astoria to be part of a small, select group of luxury travel experts to visit the soon to be opened Waldorf Astoria Platte Island in the Seychelles.

 

As one of just 4 luxury travel advisors, we were the first people to get a glimpse of this brand-new resort and witness how this incredible property is coming along before its much-anticipated opening date in Oct 2023.

 

Upon landing in Mahe, Seychelles, you can either start your holiday at the beautiful Mango House which is a 25-minute drive from the airport or you can go directly to the Platte Island Private Villa at the airport, freshen up, relax and wait for your twenty-minute flight that takes you directly to Platte Island.

 

An 18-seater plane lands directly on the untouched islands landing strip, flying across the palm trees and showcasing the coral reef beneath you. It was breathtaking to witness such raw natural beauty and it also gave me a sense of hope that we still have parts of the world that are still untouched and ready to be explored.

 

From the landing strip we hopped into golf buggies, something that guests can expect and that will be waiting to take them directly to their villa for in room check in.

 

Let me tell you a little bit about this piece of paradise that you can call home…

 

The Island Resort

 

As mentioned before, Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, Hilton's signature luxury brand, will debut in the Seychelles with the opening of the anticipated Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island. Located on a secluded luxury private island, the resort promises an unparalleled nature lover's escape with top-notch hospitality.

 

Situated in an untouched atoll, the resort is hugged by palm forests and seabirds, and turtles protected by its own lagoon and coral reef. The island is home to a variety of native wildlife such as Hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, manta rays, and whale sharks, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers.

 

Guests will have access to six restaurants and bars, a spa, kids' club, outdoor observatory, tennis and paddle courts and a marine conservation discovery centre.

 

Villas

 

This all-villa island will host only 50 exclusive, seafront villas in total ranging from 1 bedroom, family villas up-to a 5-bedroom grand villa. All villas will have a private pool, large garden and come with a butler service. In order to protect the marine life, none of the villas are located directly on the beach (this will preserve the turtles nesting grounds), however all villas will have direct beach access which makes the villas even more private and exclusive.

 

I stayed in a family villa which is very spacious, has a living room, king bed, large bathroom and another bedroom with sofa bed and ensuite for children.

Each villa will have bikes in order to explore the island from tip to tip and as its 14 km wide, that's a nice ride especially if you stop to watch the marine life.

 

Dining

 

The island's garden is expected to provide lots of local fruits and vegetables, in order to give guests a sustainable “soul to soil” gastronomic experience.

 

Meeting the culinary team on the island was an absolute pleasure – their passion for bringing Seychelles local produce back into authentic dishes was wonderful to listen to. There are so many local produce grown in Seychelles which is simply overlooked as the country imports most of its produce. Not only will eating local produce keep inline with the resort’s sustainable ethos but the produce is also healthier and more beneficial. From herbs and roots that can help cure diseases to natural remedies for a healthier lifestyle.

 

Spa

 

The spa sadly wasn't ready during our stay but I can tell you that there will be six large treatment rooms, a beauty salon, a hammam, spa suite and “serene” outdoor spaces, making it the perfect zen retreat.

 

Sustainability

 

In keeping with Hilton's "Travel with Purpose" commitment, the Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island will make use of a designated solar field to create renewable energy across most of its operations.

 

As a sustainable travel advocate that likes to work with the best luxury sustainable hotels brands in the world, I have no doubt Platte Island will be up-there with the best of them.

 

Don't worry about packing shoes for your island escape – barefoot is the way forward (although if you still insist, a more natural footwear that's fully aligned with sustainability will be provided). But as we were told, it is estimated that an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic and synthetic materials (flip-flops) are floating on every square kilometer of ocean. Since 1998 Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tonnes of flip-flops from the ocean and waterways.

 

Hilton's commitment to sustainable travel and tourism has been instrumental in the success of its three Seychelles properties, all of which have won numerous awards for their sustainable practices and Platte Island with its own unique sustainability approach will only add to their accolades.

 

 

Overview

 

Apart from feeling greatly appreciated that I got to experience Platte Island up close and personal, I have a feeling this resort is going to be in serious demand. A discerning, smart traveller that is looking for a resort that caters to the highest luxury needs without compromising on its sustainability ethos whilst doing all of this in a place that is raw, untouched, and shows what the world can still look like, can do no wrong with a visit to Waldorf-Astoria, Platte Island, Seychelles.

 

To book your stay, with special offers going into the grand opening, contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
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Club Med La Rosiere

I have to start by saying that ClubMed French Alps is certainly not what many would have thought about ClubMed from a few years ago. Not only could this be one of my favorite family holidays in recent years, but I can honestly say it’s completely changed my mind on what a ClubMed Ski holiday means. I will explain in more detail.

 

This was my kids first ski holiday and for me I have only ever been skiing in  Courchevel, France. I wanted a ski in ski out resort for convenience and I needed the kids to take full advantage of the ski school so that they really could learn and enjoy snowboarding during our time at the resort. 

The beauty of this property in the French Alps is that its located in the shadow of Mont Blanc close to the Italian border and perched 1900 metres above sea level. Club Med La Rosiere – nicknamed as ‘The Balcony of the Tarentaiseski – is known for its exceptional 180° panoramic south-facing view, perfect to watch the sunset every evening over the Tarentaise Valley .

 

It's a ski in ski out all inclusive resort, which means 5 hours a day of ski school with the incredible ESF instructors, ski hire with brand new equipment provided at the start of each season and full ski pass for the duration of your stay. As is standard, the slopes start off for beginners but I can guarantee you by the end of your week, like me, you will be on a red slope enjoying the incredible views.

 

Resort

If you are reading this, you know I am a luxury travel designer, so I have high expectations when it comes to rooms, service, staff and F&B. Well let me tell you, I couldn't fault Club Med La Rosiere at all. Every member of staff greeted you at all times, every member of staff are more than helpful and welcoming and every member of staff by the end of the week knew each of my 3 kids names!!!

Even though La Rosiere is a large hotel, it really provides an alpine chalet feeling, cosy yet spacious, seating areas around the fire and large floor to celling windows to take in the breathtaking views. The main bar is in the large ground floor lobby area where mid morning and afternoon tea and drinks are served posted ski school. The area is so big so you have space to relax. There’s also an outdoor seating area with heaters.

 

Our interconnecting rooms were extremely comfortable and very spacious, with a large bathroom and a lot of wardrobe space  - which I needed with all my suitcases. Each room has a balcony with views of the mountains. Going from your room to the slopes was so easy – step out your room, in to the lift and viola.

 

 

F&B

Well I certainly put weight on after a week at the hotel as the food was amazing and offered a lot of options. Do you ever find that eating French bread and pasta in Europe doesn't bloat you, well I do hence why I lived on the wonderful warm French bread! Every morning in the main restaurant was a large buffet offering a variety of dishes for all dietary requirements.

Mid morning and afternoon tea were served in the ground floor lobby lounge – think yummy sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries, which is exactly what you need after a 2.5 hour ski lesson.

Some of the days out on the terrace they served charcuterie boards, with the dj spinning the latest tunes.

Lunch and dinner are served in the main restaurant with every meal time providing various international cuisine. Think dishes from all over the world – pizza, pasta, chicken, entrecote steak, burgers, lobster, muscles, escargot, soups, salads, deserts to name a few, again with all dietary requirements catered for with multiple choices. Alcoholic drinks are also available throughout the day and constitute as part of the all inclusive full board. I’m not a massive foodie expert, but I can’t think of any dish that wasn't served. The restaurant is so big with so many different serving areas so you never feel restricted.

 

Their other restaurant – San Bernbardo Gournet lounge serves a la carte fine dining which requires pre-booking. We ate lunch on the terrace one day as the chef bbq’d gourmet burgers and steak baguettes while the DJ played and the drinks flowed.

 

 

Ski School

 

During our stay the sun was always shining and it was snowing which meant amazing, thick powder, which for snow boarders is ideal. Ski School is Monday to Friday 2.5 hours in the morning and 2.5 hours in the afternoon. On arrival at the resort, you must visit the ski hire centre were you will be fitted for your ski equipment. As mentioned earlier, at the start of the season every Club Med property has brand new equipment. The team will prepare your boots, skis or snow board, helmet etc. Adults will keep their equipment in a locker which is assigned to their room and located by the exit to the slopes, while the kids equipment is kept in the kids ski room.

If you’re a parent you know what its like getting your kids ready to go outdoors, coats, gloves, hats and putting on their boots by the time you get yourself ready, you’re hot, exhausted and quiet frankly need a rest! Well, not at Club Med. The staff will prepare your kids for ski school, putting on their boots, helmets and each group wears a color coded vest.

Most of the kids were skiing, only 6 kids were in the snowboarding class which was a massive result as our kids got a lot of attention. The kids coach was Elie, who had the patience of a saint. He was so gentle and attentive and explained everything so easily in French and English so the kids could understand. By the end of the weeks lessons, my kids were snowboarding on the same slopes as me and we were on the chair lift together going on a blue slope. I was beyond proud of them and I can officially say they have the snowboarding bug. Looks like we will be enjoying ski holidays annually.

 

My snowboard instructor was Sylvain who was totally awesome – only 6 people were in my group and on the last day it was just me, so I had a one on one session which meant multiple red slopes and time to film.

 

If you think about the fact that everything is included - 25 hours of ski lessons a week per person, ski hire and ski pass you have already saved so much money before you even start.

 

Kids Club/Entertainment

Hassle free is an understatement when it comes to the Kids Entertainment, services and staff. For ski school each child is put in groups by age and if they are skiing or snowboarding. Each group is provided a dedicated playroom and multiple teachers/assistants. At the start of each ski lesson, kids meet in their assigned classroom where the staff will assist them with getting their boots and helmets on and take them to the ski teacher. After the class kids can either go back to the room and have lunch with all the kids or parents can sign them out. In each of the rooms, there are toys and games to keep them busy and the staff are very friendly, considerate and playful.

Some children are at the kids club all day well into late evening, constantly supervised by the dedicated team.

On the last night all the kids (who wanted to participate) put on a performance for the adults – singing and dancing if they chose to. Plus all the ski instructors honor all the children with an award ceremony to congratulate them on their hard work and successful week of skiing.

It's a great way to end the week and solidify some budding friendships.

 

For older kids, strictly 12plus there is a games room to chill in and come and go as they please.

 

Every evening there is a live show/performance or a DJ playing. During our stay France was playing in the World Cup and the hotel were fully behind arranging all the kids to have French flags, face painting and a big celebration party during the semi finals.

 

Cinq Mondes Spa

The spa was beautifully designed and offered all treatments, you can take a weekly package which includes massages, facials and body scrubs. Next to the spa is a large gym and a swimming pool. In the summer months, the pool opens up and so do the outdoor hot tubs. Before dinner the kids would have a swim and a play.

 

 

Ski Boutique

If your looking for the latest ski wear then look no further as the boutique located in the hotel lobby, has all the latest designs and styles with many choices. You will need to have ski goggles as these cannot be rented, for which they have a large selection for the entire family.

 

I can say this with confidence. In all my years as a luxury travel designer with a specific focus on family holidays, anyone looking to find a ski holiday that is hassle free, full of moments that matter and with a standard that is 5-star, than the Club Med in the French Alps, is the perfect solution. I will recommend this to any one of my clients as my own experience was just perfect.

 

To book a Club Med Ski holiday contact Unique Family Travels. Also all ClubMed ski resorts are open in the summer months which are ideal for hiking, biking and exploring the local villages.

 

For all Club Med Ski Resorts visit: https://www.clubmed.co.uk/l/ski-holidays

 

To watch our video – click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tv7GIQXe-uc

 

To book your stay please contact:

Danielle@uniquefamilytravels.com

 

www.uniquefamilytravels.com

Dani
Family Friendly Couple

dani-footer

About Us

As an avid traveler, pre and post my three children, and a lover of boutique hotels, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, stay at unique properties and take adventures off the beaten track.

I've been lucky to see and enjoy so much that I think now is the perfect time to share my travel experiences, so I have created Unique Family Travel - a company where my team and I can develop bespoke, wonderful and unique travel experiences for you and your family. I can guarantee our experiences aren't available on the likes of large booking websites as we take you on a tailored journey which caters to your specific needs.

Each destination and journey should be a timeless memory, created for you and your family and captured in fantastic memories to keep forever. We can help with this simply because that's how I would do it for myself, my family and friends!

Do get in touch with us, drop us a line and lets get you going on your next amazing, unique travel experience.

Happy Travels

Love Dani

PS. All photos on this site are taken by me, mostly on my iphone :)

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