We've been back well over a month or so from our fab 16 days holiday in South Arica & i finally got some time to do a trip report. We are a couple who love to travel a lot & independently,we've been to North Africa before & had been planning South Africa for the last 3 yrs which for all sorts of reason never happened & we just took off somewhere else. So It was a rather sudden decision on my husband's part in dec to plan a trip to SA for my birthday in feb. The idea was great but it didn't leave us a lot of time to read extensively & research like I usually do. Anyhow between work,the holiday season,various trips out of town whatever time I could manage, first i quickly got our international tickets done & then worked on the itinerary. As always the info on the trip advisor forum is invaluable in planning a trip. Many many thanks to everyone who took the time out to ans my Qs & specially to MTChandler- we followed your route plan from Knysna to Franschhoek & enjoyed our drive throughly.
The makings of a workable itinerary - I knew we wanted to see Victoria Falls from both sides,do a safari, drive down the garden route & spend time in the Winelands & end up with a few days in Cape Town. All this in 15 days seemed impossible given the distances,travel time etc. And I had already booked our international tickets as the prices were going up & any ticket change on Emirates costs a lot of money. My husband HG generously offered to extend the tickets by 3 days but I would have none of it.(regretted it later when I realised just how beautiful SA is ) I was determined to make it all fit in in the time we had :) The actual planning & the logistics of it all, what to pick what to leave out was crazy mind boggling- so many places,different routes,flights,hotels,car rentals etc. But slowly things fell into place.
So here goes a fairly detailed account of our trip in February
Arrival in Johannesburg & flight to Livingstone Zambia Feb 14-17
We landed in Johannesburg at around 5pm in the eve after a long flight & checked into the City Lodge hotel at the O.R.Tambo airport. It's actually quite a long walk from the baggage terminal to the hotel & not too many elevators but the trolleys are designed in such a way that one could push them up onto an escalator . We saw some people doing it, looked rather precarious but my husband managed it. Check in at the hotel took a while & after freshening up we went to the airport & first got our money exchanged, bought a MTN SIM card with a 1GB data plan & then looked for a place to have dinner. We were starving by then & decided to go into Ocean Basket as it looked quite popular. After a good meal of prawns & calamari went back to the hotel & to bed.
Got up nice & early in the morning,refreshed & looking forward to Vic Falls we checked out of the hotel,lucky to find a trolley just outside & trundled our way to terminal B to check in for our 10.55 am flight to Livingston Zambia. The South African airways terminal was chaotic with hundreds of people & serpentine queues . No one seemed to know which queue was for which destination & we got shunted around a bit till we found the right one. We had decided to first check in & then grab a bite but checking in took almost 2 hrs. Oh well !
The flight was ok,they served a sandwich on board & it was really exciting to catch the first glimpse of Victoria Falls from the plane .We had initially planned to view the falls from both sides but the Zimbabwe visa took so long we decided to just do the Zambia side. Yellow fever shots was not a problem as we intend to visit South America later in the year. In hindsight this was the best decision we took as going to Zimbabwe for 3 hrs. in such a short trip would have been too hectic & this way we got to see the falls very nicely from all possible vantage points & did all the activities we had planned. The flight landed half an hr late & immigration took a while. A taxi was waiting for us & we sat back & chatted with the driver on the 20 min. drive to the hotel.
The Zambezi Sun hotel is very very convenient to visit the falls any time of the day,multiple times if you so wish & that was first thing we did do....a quick change we grabbed the disposable raincoats the hotel provides & went straight to the falls. The falls were spectacular !!! Mere words can't describe the sheer beauty, the deafening roar ,gorgeous rainbows, multiple ones too,we were soaked in minutes on the knife's edge bridge- truly " the smoke that thunders " !
We had to leave after about an hour there as we had booked a 4pm sunset river safari on the Zambezi river. The pick up was from the hotel activity centre. There were a few other people with us in the van but they all went to the bigger cruise boat while we went to the smaller boat which was great - it was like a private cruise for the 2 of us with wine & drinks & snacks ! We had a speed run which was fun & then for the next 2 hrs. we could finally relax & unwind just winding slowly down the serene & peaceful river, going very close to the shore to see the birds,once a snake,crocodiles sunning themselves,a bunch of hippos in the water & very interesting fauna. We meandered into the Zimbabwean waters ( that is allowed ),waved at lots of other boats passing us & finally stopped at one the many small islands we saw on our way where the captain & guide quickly set up a picnic table for snacks. We were on our way soon as it was nearly sunset time & viewing the sunset from the boat was wonderful,a lifetime of memories !
We were then dropped off at the Royal Livingstone Hotel jetty which is in the same complex as the Zambezi Sun & one can walk or take the shuttle which runs between the 2 hotels. The location of this hotel on the Zambezi River is gorgeous, the emerald green lawns contrasting with the white & black stripes of a herd of Zebras grazing peacefully on the grass ( yes,I could barely contain my excitement at the first sighting of zebras ), the river & it's drooping trees & shrubs,the smoke of the falls in the distant horizon outlined in the gathering dusk - it was picture book perfect !!! Then & there we decided to spend the next evening on their sun deck. Made our way back to the Zambezi Sun & found a herd of zebras grazing in the gathering dusk. We had dinner outdoors,under a million stars at one of rhe restaurants & went to bed dreaming of zebras !
A day full of exciting activities
Woke up early morning,pulled back the curtains & voila ! zebras outside our window. Grabbing the camera I rushed to the balcony to take pictures till HG reminded me about our 6.45am pick up from the reception. Quickly got ready for the microlight flight over the falls. As we were driving out of the hotel we spotted some giraffes & our driver obligingly stopped for us to take some pictures. The flights are operated by Batoka Sky & they were very professional & my pilot Andre was very knowledgable & friendly. At some point during the flight he told me to just let go, to not hold on to anything & I did. That was an amazing feeling, my arms were spread wide open like a bird. It was an exhilarating experience flying over the falls & the Zambezi river, the gorge & Zimbabwe, multiple rainbows & the rising mist, I could almost feel the spray on my face. We bought the 2 DVDs with our pictures,very overpriced but I think everyone gets them & then were dropped back to the hotel. We were hungry by now & went straight into breakfast. A quick breakfast & back to the room to change into swimsuits & shorts on top & a shuttle to the Royal Livingstone hotel. The Tongabezi guys were going to pick us from there to go the Livingstone Island. A short motor boat ride & we were walking on the island on top of the falls from where in 1855 Dr David Livingstone first gazed on Mosi-oa-Tunya or the Smoke That Thunders!
Our guide told us to leave our clothes & just walk in our swim suits bare feet to the falls as its muddy,rocky, quite slippery & we were soaked in seconds. Standing on top of the falls literally at the edge is an experience not to be forgotten,truly an experience of a lifetime. Devil's pool is closed in February but we got to swim in Angel's pool at the very edge.....a mind blowing experience. Our guide was very good & took fantastic photos & videos of us frolicking in the water. We spent a good 30 mins or so in the pool , then given towels to dry off & onto a delicious gourmet brunch. A morning well spent & the Livingstone island trip most definitely was the highlight amongst a lot of highlights. For me it topped even the microlight flight experience.
Got back to the hotel & decided to hike down to the Boiling Pot . It was pretty hot by then but we were game, there were lots & lots of stairs on the narrow trail to the bottom of the falls & it was a longer hike than we expected. We didn't meet anyone on the way except 40 odd baboons in one particularly dense area. I had completely forgotten about all the baboon warnings & we were just walking ,stopping to take pics,chatting casually till we turned one corner in the dense vegetation & suddenly to my horror came upon 4 huge baboons blocking our path. We stopped wondering what to do, HG wanted to brush past them but I refused. It was teensie tiny narrow trail & I was petrified - we were standing in a little clearing & I went & stood on a little rock on the side waiting for them to clear the path. A couple of the baboons ambled past us staring but didn't do anything & then much to my horror we noticed there were what seemed like hundreds of them of different sizes coming from the opposite side. I've never been so scared in my life, visions of us lying hurt & bleeding alone in the jungle were swirling around in my head. All this while HG was urging me to get moving but I just couldn't. After what seemed like hrs but must have been 10 mins or so most of them had gone past us but the original twosome still blocked our path,I finally plucked up my courage, clutched my husbands shirt from behind & with thudding heart followed him. As we got closer those 2 lazy bums finally got up & casually brushed past us. Some more stragglers ambled past us & then finally it seemed we were clear of the last of them & I could breathe again. We seemed to be quite close to the bottom as we could hear the falls & occasionally feel the spray. Further on we met 2 girls & their guide who was armed with a thick stick for the baboons on their way back to the top. We got to the bottom & the view was magnificent, the Victoria Falls bridge framing the swirling waters,well worth the trek & the scare ! We sat on the huge boulders with our feet in the water enjoying the view for a while before we got up to hike back to the top which we did pretty quickly without stopping....we had planned on taking a breather on one of the benches we had passed on our way down but the baboons had a similar plan :) but this time I wasn't as scared as before. By now we were really really hot & sweaty so we went back to the knife's bridge to get soaked & refreshed ! After walking to all the viewpoints & taking tons of pics we decided to head back to the hotel for a shower & get ready for the evening.
We got to the Royal Livingstone hotel around 5.30 pm & went straight to the beautiful deck on the riverbank to watch the sunset. We ordered our sundowners & did nothing but admire the serene picture in front of us in the changing light for the next couple of hours. After sunset everyone on the deck moved to the lawns for a candle light dinner with zebras grazing in front us. A fitting end to a wonderful day !
Farewell to the amazing Vic Falls & onto the next adventure :)
We wake up not quite so early today,thankfully I did most of the packing the night before so quickly get ready & go for breakfast. I'm tempted to go the falls one last time but HG wanted to go on the the bridge right upto the Zimbabwean border. We arrange a taxi from the hotel to take us there, walk on the bridge, very very windy almost lost my hat there, surprisingly we can feel the spray from the falls on our faces even though we were at quite a distance from them thanks to the strong winds, we take a few pics,admire the views from the top looking down to the boiling pot where we went yesterday afternoon, see the bungee spot & the knife's bridge,look over to the Zimbabwean side. The car drops us off at the falls gate & we go shopping in the curio market there. I buy a cute little hippo as a souvenir & then we walk back to the hotel. We take the shuttle to the Royal Livingstone one last time & I buy a small fridge magnet in the hotel gift shop. We had arranged with the same driver who picked us from the airport to drop us off. The small airport was pretty crowded,no place to sit - all the weekenders flying back. A short & uneventful flight back to Johannesburg & we actually land 20 mins before the scheduled arrival time.