luxury safari holidays

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A Luxury Safari at Amakhala Game Reserve, South Africa – The Ultimate Travel Experience

amakhala lion jeep

A three night luxury safari at Amakhala Game Reserve – what a way to finish off our South African adventure! We stayed in a five star tent, saw countless animals and had the ultimate travel experience.

 

Nothing can compare to spending the night in a tented camp when you know there are wild animals wandering around outside. The excitement as you hear the sound of a tree rustling or the cry of an animal, as you scour the landscape hoping to spot one of the ‘Big 5’. Spending days in the African Savannah with no other cars, shops or electronic devices; a safari holiday is, to quote the cliché, ‘a travel experience’ and is world’s apart from everyday life.

amakhala

I have always been a bit of an animal lover and twenty years ago I went on my first safari in South Africa. I loved it so much I booked a holiday to Tanzania the following year. My ten year son, Luke, didn’t scrape it off the ground, he has been an animal fanatic since he was a toddler. In fact when Luke was a year old, he could name all the main farm animals, and this was before he could say ‘Mama’! I had annual passes for Dublin Zoo for seven years and we went constantly – we also visited Fota Wildlife Park, twice. Luke watches re-runs of Deadly 60, National Geographic and Planet Earth over and over and keeps pestering me to get a pet – something I still haven’t given in to yet. I did however strike a compromise and promised to bring him on safari in Africa once he was old enough. Sure enough his 10th birthday came around and he asked me when we were going!

We decided to book a holiday to  South Africa so we could combine a city break with some beach time and of course, the all important safari experience. We flew into Cape Town and then drove the Garden Route to Amakhala Game Reserve. You can read my top tips on how to plan the perfect South African road trip here.

 

I chose Amakhala Game Reserve because I had heard it was particularly suitable if travelling with children. I also wanted somewhere that was malaria free, and where we were guaranteed to see lots of game through an authentic safari experience. Amakhala is a massive 18,000 acre game reserve and has a wide variety of 3, 4 and 5 star accommodation, ranging from restored country houses to tented camps. We decided to treat ourselves as the safari was the main reason for our trip and we really wanted the wow factor. We were recommended Bush Lodge in Amakhala for a luxurious safari experience. 

amakhala

 

After a leisurely ninety minute drive from Cape St Francis Resort, where we stayed for two nights, we arrived at Reed Valley Inn, Amakhala’s reception, which looked more like a colonial house than a safari lodge. We were immediately greeted by Penny, a friendly staff member who introduced the kids to the house pets as we were checking in. She told us to leave the car at the house and she would take us to Bush lodge. We would not see our car again for three days – it was almost symbolic, we were venturing into the African bush and no longer needed modern accoutrements….

amakhala

We arrived at the main lodge and I knew instantly we were going to love it here. The comfy leather couches and massive wooden dining table immediately caught my eye, as did the expansive outdoor viewing deck, that happened to overlook a watering hole. I imagined us sitting around the large open firepit at night time, watching the animals at the watering hole and the stars in the night sky. The wow factor had kicked in already and we hadn’t even seen our tent yet!

amakhala

There are eight tents at Bush Lodge, all located close to the main lodge and within minutes we were standing outside ours. The excitement was palpable. When I say a tent, this doesn’t adequately describe what we were staying in. We opened the door to see a massive room with a thatched roof, tented walls and a wooden floor. There was a king size bed, free standing bath, a fireplace, an outdoor shower, plunge pool and a separate bedroom for the kids – to say it was everything we had hoped for is an understatement. It was spectacular.

 

All of the Bush Lodge tents overlook a watering hole and it wasn’t long before our first visitor arrived. A giraffe walked majestically towards the watering hole and Luke was mesmerised. He was so excited and I was so happy for him. It was a bit of a struggle, but we finally managed to tear ourselves away from our verandah and made it to dinner.

amakhala

Dinner is served at the massive dining table in the main lodge, where all guests dine together. There was a great mix of people and nationalities staying at Amakhala, including an American family with kids similar ages to ours. Despite this, my two chatted incessantly to newlyweds from Wexford! Traditionally people tend to book the safari at the end of their holiday and this was the case with most of the guests. We all enjoyed talking about where we stayed in South Africa and comparing the various stops along the Garden Route. Some of the guests had arrived the previous day so we listened intently to thrilling stories of animal sightings and hoped our first game drive the following day would be as exciting.

amakhala

 

We enjoyed an à la carte dinner and there was a good mix of European style food, chicken, pasta etc, as well as local dishes. My husband tried the Kudu steak and it was delicious. There was no separate kids menu but each day after lunch we were shown the menu and if the kids didn’t like the choices available, they were offered alternative child friendly options. After copious amounts of delicious South African red wine (at only 70 cent per glass!), we made our way to our tent and anxiously awaited our 6am wake up call, for our 6.30 game drive. TOP TIP: Unlike many hotels, Amakhala encourage you to check in early. Try to arrive in time for lunch (all meals are included in the cost of your stay) and then you will be able to take the afternoon game drive.

amakhala

 

I don’t think we were ever so happy to hear our alarm go off at 6am. We jumped out of bed, had a quick shower outside, (which was roasting by the way) and went straight to the lodge for coffee and croissants. We met Melissa for the first time and she told us that she was going to be our ranger for our entire stay. We immediately warmed to her soft South African accent and overall pleasant manner. We boarded a large Landrover Defender that was parked outside and off we went. I was surprised to see no other guests in our vehicle but this varies depending on the time of year, the maximum number of guests in a jeep is nine, although we never had any more than seven at any time.

amakhala

It was quite cold when we set off, which we found strange considering it was 32 degrees at midday. Luckily there were warm blankets on the jeep so we were able to wrap these around us until the sun came up. Within minutes we spotted giraffe, wart hogs and impala. In the midst of all of this, Melissa stopped the jeep when she spotted a giant African land snail in the middle of the path. She immediately moved it off the path out of harms way. It was wonderful to see her love of all animals straight away and her enthusiasm was infectious.

amakhala

The sun started to rise in the sky when we spotted a tower of giraffe (a tower is the correct term believe it or not!) and a herd of zebra – two animals that are iconic to Africa, it was a good start! It was one of those ‘pinch-me’ moments as the giraffes stopped right beside the jeep and grazed over the tall trees. We could hear them clearly munching leaves, it was incredible. Melissa explained to us how giraffes walk with two legs on the same side which is something I never noticed before, it is the opposite to cats and dogs and most animals. It was also fascinating to see how different the zebras stripes were, every zebra is has unique markings. It was facts like this which Melissa pointed out constantly, that kept us intrigued at every animal sighting. Reluctantly we had to move on, but on we went in search of more game.

 

We came across impala and many cute wart hogs before stopping for coffee, tea and muffins at a panoramic viewing point. It was only then I realised the true size of Amakhala game reserve. It has 18,000 acres, with a river running through it and has extremely diverse landscapes. In fact if it wasn’t for the water shortage in South Africa we could have opted for a river safari – something guests can experience on a three day visit.

amakhala

After our three hour game drive we were warmly welcomed at Bush Lodge with hot towels and friendly faces. We went straight in for breakfast which was an amazing buffet display of fruits, breads and cereals as well as the option to order hot food à la carte, which we duly enjoyed!

breakfast at amakhala

 

After breakfast we enjoyed some chill time in our tent. Ideally should have had a snooze but the excitement was too much and sleep just wasn’t going to happen. Instead the kids spent hours with their binoculars gazing at the watering hole, amidst the odd paddle in the plunge pool. I decided to relax on a sun lounger and enjoy the views. I attempted a swim but water was freezing, I realised the reason it was called a plunge pool!


After an à la carte lunch we ventured out on our next game drive. We saw giraffes, various antelope and wart hogs before I heard Luke roar ‘Lion’! Melissa wasn’t sure at first but lo and behold there was a large male lion walking towards us in the distance. Melissa immediately drove towards it and much to our surprise she stopped right behind him.

lion at amakhala

I couldn’t believe how close we got, my daughter Alex (7) was actually scared and couldn’t understand why we were going so close, or following it for that matter! For the rest of us, it was thrilling. I thought Luke was going to combust he was so excited! We spent about thirty minutes with this magnificent animal but had to move on eventually to allow other guests to see him. Amakhala have a strict policy that no more than three jeeps can be close to one of the ‘BIG 5, (lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard, elephant) at any time. As much as we didn’t want to leave him, I was happy with the reason why.

amakhala

 

Just as we thought the day couldn’t get any better we spotted a massive herd of elephants, including a tiny baby elephant that was only a few weeks old. They crossed right in front of the jeep, it was an amazing end to our first day!. We arrived back at Bush Lodge to a delicious meal surrounded by equally enthusiastic guests. We recounted our day to each other, listening to exciting stories about the various game that was seen that day and showing off our impressive photographs.

amakhala

Our second day of game drives was equally impressive. In the morning we saw two elusive rhino. Melissa reminded us of the serious problem that has arisen with poachers and that there was an anti-poaching team on site 24/7 watching their rhino. A scary reminder of the world we live in. We also saw a cheetah, relaxing at the side of the road. It was bizarre, she almost looked comfortable with us watching her. She sat still for about twenty minutes, only moving her head slightly.

cheetah at amakhala

 

Our afternoon drive was another incredible experience. We saw a large male elephant walk towards a watering hole to take a bath in the blistering heat. He happened to be surrounded by a herd of buffalo and he spent ages enjoying the cool water. It was an another pinch-me moment. I felt like I was David Attenborough witnessing something extremely rare.

elephant taking a bath at amakhala

To complete the safari experience, Melissa took us to another magnificent viewing point and proceeded to take out some refreshments. I couldn’t help but notice she brought the red wine that we had enjoyed so much the night before. She also brought juice and crisps for the kids. Sundowners in the open plains, with wine, beef jerky and light snacks – what a perfect end to a perfect day!

sundowners at amakhala

 

We took another game drive on our last morning as our flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon.  I would encourage anyone visiting to try to coordinate your check-in and departure times to allow for as many game drives as possible. We were so glad we took this final drive as we came across a group of lionesses playing together. Melissa knew it was our last morning and that we hadn’t seen them. She really went out of her way to find them for us and was constantly on the radio with her colleagues to find out if they had been seen. Throughout our visit she was so attentive to Luke and Alex and I really felt that our experience mattered so much to her.

amakhala

Like a dog with a bone, Melissa eventually found the pride of lions and once again drove up close to them. I had mixed emotions of fear and excitement. We watched closely, you could hear a pin drop, as one of the lionesses walked towards us while another used our jeep as cover when she spotted a wildebeest in the distance. We thought she may go in for the kill but alas this didn’t happen. However, what did was another amazing experience. Three lionesses played together in the wild – it was magical. At one point the sun was behind them, it was straight out of a National Geographic magazine. We watched them for about a half hour but I could have watched them all day.

amakhala

 

It is so difficult to describe the difference between seeing lions playing together in the wild and watching them in a closed environment, like a zoo or wildlife park. I suppose it’s like watching your favourite movie star on TV and then meeting him in the flesh – it’s a completely different experience. It was only a matter of time before the other jeeps arrived to witness this incredible sight and unfortunately it was time for us to make our leave.

amakhala lion

We drove back to the lodge feeling we had witnessed something special, and it was not just the lionesses playing. Over three days we had followed a male lion, seen a massive elephant taking a long bath, watched as a cheetah looked majestically at us and enjoyed a tower of giraffe grazing at sunrise. In fact as great as all of these individual experiences were, it is not just these that made our three nights in Amakhala magical. The beauty was in the whole experience. The magnificent tent you sleep in and the noise from the animals outside, the wonder in seeing a giant African land snail or a female warthog staring at you as it protects it’s baby.

A few days in Amakhala was like being transcended to another world, we completely switched off from everyday life. We have been on many family holidays where typically I sunbathe and spend too much time on my phone, the kids go to to the swimming pool and Cormac, my husband, finds an umbrella to hide under and read his book. We spent our few days in Amakhala together, equally enjoying the same activities. There were no TV’s, no time for trawling through social media pages, no large swimming pool to lay beside. It was every bit as magical as we could have wished for and it has convinced me to bring the kids on more adventurous holidays in the future. Namibia watch out………

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Planning a trip to South Africa? Check out my video from our stay at Amakhala and all my posts from our South Africa adventures below.

Top Tips For Visiting South Africa

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert

 

 

Long HaulRest of the World

4 Unique African Safari Holidays in South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania

safari

From tented camps to luxury lodges, whether to self-drive or take a tour? Should you incorporate a safari with a holiday to South Africa or add on a week at the beach? There are so many different options to choose from when booking a African Safari holiday, check out my favourites.

 

When I went on my first African safari it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I know this may sound like a cliché but it was really more of a life experience than a holiday. We loved it so much that we booked a safari in Tanzania for the following year. Nothing compares to seeing wild animals in the African savanna, where you are the guest in their home. There are so many different safari experiences available and each one has a unique landscape, some with rivers, mountains and thick vegetation, while others will have wide open plains. The experience you have with each one is completely different and that is why many choose to try two or three different safari options within one holiday. Remember it is going to be a trip of a lifetime so make sure you do it right. Go in a 4×4 and not a small mini-bus, ensure you have a window seat for optimum viewing and at some stage opt for a tented camp or eco lodge to give the most authentic experience.

african safari holiday

I have teamed up with Tropical Sky, who offer a wide selection of African Safari holidays. All prices include flights, accommodation and transfers or car hire. Safaris include two game drives per day and all meals.  Here are some of my favourite African Safaris, hopefully there will be one here to suit you 🙂

 

Luxury Cape Town, Winelands & Five Star Safari, Self Drive, 10 Nights €4799

A South African safari is one of the most popular for Irish holidaymakers. It was where I was introduced to it and is ideal for first timers. Of course it is not just the safari that attracts people to South Africa. During this luxury self drive holiday you will encounter many highlights, including a four night stay in Cape Town. Climb to the top of Table Mountain, drive out to the Cape of Good Hope or spend a day in Robben Island. Evening times can be spent along the cosmopolitan waterfront or at some of the trendy bars and restaurants in Camps Bay.

african safari holiday

After an action packed four days you will go to Stellenbosch for a three night stay in the Winelands, before finishing off your holiday at the five star Shamwari Game Reserve. This has been voted the World’s Leading Safari and Game Reserve and Conservation Company for many years. Enjoy two game drives per day searching for the Big Five, (lions, leopards, elephants, rhino and buffalo) and stay in luxurious accommodation in an authentic African setting, with all meals included. As this is situated on the Eastern Cape, it is malaria free, so there is no need to take malaria tablets before you travel. The icing on the cake is that there are are no lengthy bus journeys back to the airport, as you will fly home from Port Elizabeth.

african safari holiday

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Cape Town, Garden Route & Luxury Kruger Safari, Self-Drive, 11 Nights, €2879

Another South African classic, this time incorporating the Garden Route and Kruger National Park. Start your holiday with a three night stay in Cape Town before overnighting in the wine town of Montagu. Stays in Oudtshoorn, Kynsna and St Francis will ensure an action packed few days, seeing the highlights of the Garden Route. Drive as far as Port Elizabeth where you will return your car and fly to Hoedspruit. You will be met at the airport and transferred to Thornybush Private Game Reserve. Another one of South Africa’s finest, you will be staying in a luxury tent for three nights and will experience a truly authentic African safari. You will have the opportunity to spot the Big Five from your open top safari vehicle and enjoy tasty African meals which are included the price of your stay.

african safari holiday

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Magical Kenya Safari, 4 x 4 Safari, Full Board, 7 Nights €2299

The Magical seven night Kenya Safari departs every Thursday and is one for the purists. There is a maximum number of seven passengers on each safari and you will visit the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Samburu and Aberdare National Parks. You are guaranteed a window seat in the 4×4 vehicle and if travelling as a family, you are able to pay a supplement to book a private vehicle.

african safari holiday

After a quick overnight in Nairobi you will drive North to Samburu National Reserve where you will spend two nights. The Ewaso Ngiro River here attracts elephants, zebras, giraffes and lions in large numbers. You will then drive to Aberdare National park where you will stay in the Ark Tree Lodge. There is a waterhole beside the hotel where animals come at night time; you will no doubt be viewing wildlife into the small hours. Your next stop is Lake Nakuru National Park where you will overnight. Expect to see white rhinos, lions, leopards, hippos and the endangered Rothschild’s giraffes. Your last two nights will be spent in the Masai Mara National Game Reserve, where you will overnight in Keekorok Lodge. This world famous reserve is not only home to incredible wildlife but you will also have the opportunity to see the Masai villages, a sight that is worth a trip to Kenya alone. You will then drive back to Nairobi where you can return home, or choose to extend your stay in Mombasa, Zanzibar or even Mauritius.

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Taste of Tanzania Safari & Zanzibar, 12 Nights, €3349

Safaris in Tanzania are so diverse. From the wide open plains of the Serengeti to the natural wonder of Ngorongoro Crater, it has been almost 20 years since I visited, but it is a holiday experience I will never forget. For anyone who has been following me, you will know that my safari in Tanzania was the best holiday experience I have ever had.  This once in a lifetime trip combines the Taste of Tanzania tour with a stay in the paradise island of Zanzibar. Your holiday will include over-night stays in Ngorongoro Conservation area and the Serengeti National Park, as well as a game drive through Lake Manyara, in search of the iconic tree-climbing lions that frequent there.

african safari holiday

You will have picnics in the bush and stay in unique accommodation. You can opt for luxury tented camps which offer a more immersive experience or luxury lodges with stunning views. After your five night safari tour you will be flown to Zanzibar for a seven night stay in the luxurious Dream of Zanzibar resort. Chill out on the beach, scuba dive in the Indian Ocean or explore the sights and sounds of StoneTown.

african safari holiday

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The above are just a small sample of the African safari holidays that Tropical Sky feature. They can add on stays in cities, at the beach or even combine safaris in South Africa, Namibia or Botswana. Call Tropical Sky on 01 6649999 or click here for more details.

 

Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change. This post was sponsored by TropicalSky but all views, as always, are my own.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert

 

 

 

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