My honeymoon booked through Mahlatini was incredible. There were too many highlights to list, but at the top was probably the helicopter flight over Victoria Falls, cage diving with great white sharks, the huge herds of elephant and giraffe in the Chobe National Park, lunch on our own island and the general high standard of all our accommodation. From the first phone call to the flight home, Nikki at Mahlatini did an amazing job at organising everything. Even halfway through the holiday when something went slight wrong (my own fault), Nikki was easy to get in touch with and worked to resolve it quickly.
I was unsure about whether to organise the trip by myself, or to have it done for me. I definitely made the right choice with Mahlatini. Even if I could have done it cheaper, it wouldn't have gone as smoothly and I wouldn't have had the same piece of mind. It's obvious that the staff have first hand experience with the destinations and know what they're doing. The information pack was useful regarding things like what power adapters to take, the currencies in use and how much to tip - which is often a problem for Brits as we don't often do it! One thing that wasn't mentioned though (but was kind of expected) was how many people in Zambia want money from you. In Botswana it wasn't really an issue, but in Zambia there were a lot of people selling trinkets for change - especially in Livingstone around Victoria Falls. Everybody has a sad tale to tell, but if I'd known then what I do know, I would have bought something from the people near the border crossings and not those in the tourist areas where they will try to charge a LOT more ($85 vs $5). One guy was trying to sell me a wooden ornament for $85 to 'feed his family' whilst wearing more expensive trainers than I owned, and with an iPod sticking out of his trouser pocket. Whilst at the border, there were lots of people selling similar items for whatever they could get - even just a few dollars (rather than charging European prices in a Zambian market) - and it was obvious that they needed the money.
All the people we met in Botswana were very friendly. I learned a little of the history of the country and it's people from our guide, and of all the African nations I've visited (5 in total) this was undoubtedly the most friendly and welcoming. We also did not encounter anybody following us trying to sell us things, which while everybody knows why this happens, it can still sometimes be intimidating to those who haven't been there before. The country itself isn't much different to neighbouring countries in terms of appearance. The thing that sets it apart is the sheer volume of game there. The sizes of the herds, of every animal we say, were huge. Herds of 50 elephants were not uncommon.
The South Africa that we saw was not that dissimilar to home in the UK. We only drove from Cape Town to Grootbos and didn't really see that much of Cape Town itself - but save for the staggering number of hitch-hikers at all times of the day and night, and some of the shanty towns that had built up around the city, the roads and towns seemed very western. Even the climate while we were there was similar to the back end of the British Summer - and just as wet too. Some of the scenery was very impressive though, and the drive along the mountainous south coast was impressive. The highlight for us was the marine life. Whales, sharks and penguins are all in good numbers and easy to find at the right time of year.
Zambia was nice, but for us, less so than Botswana and South Africa. The people outside of the accommodation did not seem as helpful or friendly as they did elsewhere, and we couldn't stop the car for more than a couple of minutes without it being surrounded by people selling the same beads, ornaments and souvenirs that we'd seen countless times already. You can't buy from everybody, and saying no all the time quickly changed from guilt into irritation.
The game elsewhere is better and more abundant than in Zambia (with the exception of the white rhino) so the only real draw for us was Victoria Falls... which is an awesome sight to see, and highly recommended. But for game, there are better options.
Ngoma Safari lodge was our first stop on the Africa leg of our honeymoon. We received a very warm welcome by the managers, John and Babs, and were very well looked after throughout our visit. The place was beautifully done, with a communal dining and social area and separate lodges providing wonderful accommodation that still felt isolated. Each individual lodge had it's own patio with plunge pool and outside shower, with views over a watering hole towards the Chobe river. Zebra, Impala, baboons and other wildlife were all frequently visible from the room. Visits from elephants are also not uncommon. We were very lucky with the wildlife we saw on the game drives, and although we perhaps stayed a little longer than would have been ideal (based on what everybody else was doing), we didn't get bored and didn't feel like we'd outstayed our welcome. This was also our first experience of 'sundowners', which seem quite popular on Safari trips.
My only criticism of the lodge would be the amount of plastic bottles we went through, where other lodges on our trip offered refillable containers. But I suspect this is something likely to change over time as the lodge matures. John also said he was looking at individual solar units for each lodge which is a great idea.
The food here was great, the people were friendly and helpful and we felt welcomed the whole time we were there.
We were at Toka Leya for two nights of our three night stay in Zambia. After the drive from Ngoma, we were taken the last mile by boat down the Zambezi to be greeted by the manager and introduced to the staff... and the resident hippo,Moto Moto.
We had the furthest 'tent' away from reception - which was about a 5 minute walk along raised wooden decking. But the walk was well worth it, as our tent had uninterrupted views on two sides - including across the Zambesi. As with Ngoma, the food and accommodation was of a very high standard. The staff were attentive but not intrusive, and the live entertainment by the campfire on the first night was good fun. The lodge is larger than Ngoma so doesn't have the same intimate feel, but the staff all remember your names which is noticeable. The tent wasn't really a tent at all... it had some canvas over the top, but that's about it. It was still luxurious, with inside and outside showers, a well presented bathroom and a large comfortable bed. From Toka Leya, we did a boat safari, a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls from Livingstone, and walked out to see white rhinos.
The River Club was a very different experience to Ngoma and Toka Leya. As we drove through the security gate into the resort, we got a strong 'colonial England' feeling. The lawns were all dark green and well looked after, and the buildings were grand in appearance. The staff seemed friendly, but there was a definite feel of 'the management' and 'the staff', whereas previous places had felt a lot more equal with everyone working together for the guests.
That said, our lodge was lovely. It had a large bed, separate lounge area, and a bathroom with views over the Zambezi. We had our own small pool, also overlooking the river. We were also treated very well here. Knowing that we'd stayed at Toka Leya and probably already done much of the activities, they arranged for us to have lunch on a small island out in the Zambezi. It wasn't mentioned to us, we were just shown onto a small boat which we assumed was for a river tour. But then as it went around one of the islands, we saw the table and chairs set out with the waiter standing there with Champagne on ice. A very nice touch.
Likewise, in the evening, there was a large group of Americans all staying in the lodge - so rather than seat us with them, we were treated to a candle lit dinner in the Gazebo, which again was another very nice touch. The food was excellent.
In the morning, I was trying to track down some post which I had couriered from the UK as I needed it for the next leg of the trip. However it hadn't arrived, and the courier couldn't help. The hotel manager, however, called the local courier depots and tracked it down. The driver that took us to the airport then called in to collect it on the way. That is service!
Grootbos was the final stop on our holiday. I naively expected it to be a bit warmer, so my request for a room with a pool (made after the booking) seemed a bit silly once we arrived. Nevertheless, the lodge was the best yet. It was huge! With two bathrooms, one with a large bath (that my wife LOVED) looking out across Walker bay. The bedroom was large, with a walk-in wardrobe and the same great view over the bay. The lounge was very big, with sofas, a table and a wood burning fire. The service was very good too. We arrived late by car, and the restaurant was shut. However when we were shown to our room, there was a bottle of Champagne on ice and a platter of food left for us. The food is worth a special mention here. It was of a consistently high standard, and we had what was possibly the best steaks of our lives here! In terms of activities, the weather wasn't great to begin with and boat trips were cancelled. However we managed to alter our flights to squeeze in the shark cage dive - definitely worth doing, however I should have had that second sea sickness tablet...
We also squeezed in horse riding, a tour of some local caves, a winery and vineyard tour and whale watching. One of the staff, Abby, was particularly good - and looked after us very well. The sundowner on our first day was a in a house owned by the reserve and used for whale watching, and while the weather was too bad to really see much, Abby managed to keep us entertained - as she did throughout our stay.
I couldn't ask for anything more. Nikki was friendly, professional and did a fantastic job. She listened to my requirements and planned several options to suit. Once I made up my mind, everything was taken care of and I was sent all the info I needed. If and when I needed to contact Nikki, she was easily reachable and always helpful.
All the people I spoke to at Mahlatini were all helpful and approachable. I would definitely use Mahlatini again.
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