Just Back: Sandy's Southern Africa Trip

 
 
 

TRIP REPORT
 

Safari with Teens in Southern Africa

 

Just back from three weeks with four teenagers. Chip and Sandy show us how to unplug and unwind with friends and family in tow.


By SANDY CUNNINGHAM  |  CO-FOUNDER OF OUTSIDE GO

 
 
 


Back to My Homeland

 

Winter in Santa Fe is amazing, but come March the howling spring winds pick up and the juniper wreaks its havoc. Even the least allergy prone person starts to look like a heavy lidded lizard. Summer still seems so far off, and an African safari holds tremendous appeal! With this in mind, Chip and I decided to make the long haul to southern Africa with our girls. It was high time for our two teenage daughters to visit my homeland and meet my friends and family there, and they had a two-week spring break coming up. Our plan was to take in the best of Cape Town, then enjoy incredible game viewing in Botswana, and finally to finish up on the idyllic shores of Mozambique to ensure we went home rested and relaxed after an action packed trip.

Originally it was just going to be our family, but at a dinner party last year, spring break plans came up. After explaining our plan, several hands shot up as our new friends yelled out, “we want to come!” A couple of months later we were a party of eight (four adults and four teenagers ranging in ages from 13-18) packing our bags for the trip of a lifetime. As soon as spring break hit, we were off!

 
 
 


This is Going to be Spring Break to Remember

 

There is no better way to ease into southern Africa than landing on the Cape of Good Hope. The four of us arrived early to spend a couple of days with family and old friends in Cape Town, then our Santa Fe friends landed and our adventures began. We spent the first day enjoying Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and then tackled Table Mountain. The teens opted to climb straight up the side, while the adults (still nursing a wee bit of jet lag) opted for the cable car. Often the mountain is clouded in fog, but it was a brilliant blue day and the views did not disappoint. We celebrated with a glass of wine on the top and capped off our day with a delicious seafood supper on the ocean front at The Bungalow in Clifton, rounding out a perfect start to our trip.

The next day we headed out into the beautiful winelands. Instead of driving around trying to take in all the views from our van, we hopped on mountain bikes and took to the backroads behind Franschhoek, sampling some phenomenal wines along the way. We had a spectacular lunch at La Petite Ferme, moseyed around Franschhoek village indulging in a little retail therapy, and then finished off our day at Babylonstoren and a mouthwatering farm to table dinner designed by color. 

Our next big day of adventuring in the Cape had us covering some ground. We started with dune boarding on the silky white sands near Bloubergstrand then explored the peninsula looking for penguins, stopping in a farm-to-table eatery for lunch. We tried to insist that the kids take a dip in the frigid Atlantic waters (it worked, they all got in!), and stayed out all night sampling some of the finest gins in Cape Town. It was fair to say that Cape Town was at her best and we loved every minute of it!

 
 
 


Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? Probably Not.

 

Next we headed north to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side to Toka Leya, our base camp for the next two nights. With a teenage cape buffalo nearby and naughty monkeys everywhere, the walk to and from our tents was always an event! We cruised the Zambezi River in search of crocs and hippos and threw lines for tiger fish (Ian, 14 years old, landed the first one). We walked up to a mother and baby rhino (a mere 40 yards away) with the rangers in Mosi oa Tunya National Park (the rhinos were very accustomed to humans being in close proximity to them because they are guarded 24/7 by armed rangers). The following day, the teens opted to bungee jump off Victoria Falls bridge. It was ABSOLUTELY terrifying watching them fly out of the jump zone and plummet towards the chocolate rapids of the river below. A one-eyed guide didn’t even glance around after he gave the go ahead to jump. 3-2-1 Bungee! I for one am glad that’s over, although now they want to sky dive!

Zambia was the beginning of the digital detox for our group, as limited WiFi coverage in camp meant the kids were naturally spending less and less time on their phones and more time engaged with each other and everyone around them (me too, I might add). We had all started beating to the drum of Africa and it felt so good. I told the group about growing up here and how my parents thought it was “okay” to bring their three young daughters to Victoria Falls during the Rhodesian War while terrorists were lobbing mortar rockets across the gorge. Looking back, I do question my parent’s judgment (but at least we didn’t fling ourselves over the edge like my daughters had).

 

"We had all started beating to the drum of Africa and it felt so good."

 
 
 


Definitely "Not" Roughing It in Botswana

 

Next, we headed into Botswana to explore the wet and dry eco-systems of the Okavango Delta. We stayed at two amazing outposts: Tubu Tree and Chitabe Camp. The Delta was flooding early, which was great luck for us because it meant more wildlife! After a slow start to sightings on the first day (there was plenty of game but we were all hankering to see ellies and cats), right as the African skies changed to magic hour and the plains were bathed in a soft pink haze, a herd of elephants promptly marched by almost as if on cue. The next few days we continued to see incredible wildlife at dusk, although one morning game drive yielded an incredible encounter with a mother lioness and her two rambunctious stump-climbing cubs!

At both camps our guides were incredible, funny, attentive, and infinitely knowledgeable—but our guides at Tubu Tree Camp deserve a shout-out: Broken, Cruise, and Rhino had us captivated from the moment we arrived till we parted ways on the dusty airstrip at the end of our stay. One of our favorite memories is Rhino regaling us with a 10-minute highly animated African folklore tale as we glided through the delta in our mokoros; so animatedly in fact, I thought we were going to tip over several times.  

A farewell surprise dinner at Tubu Tree ended what couldn’t have been a more perfect finale to our favorite camp in Botswana. After piling into our jeeps, Broken and Cruise did one last lap around the island and–BAM–two huge male lions with enormous manes strolled out in front of us and started heading towards the spot we had been dining moments before. Our guides radioed ahead to warn the team who were breaking down the dinner. As we approached quietly from behind the lions, we could see a very small short-base land rover piled high with shaking bodies (it was an open top land rover with absolutely no concealment whatsoever). The lions started rolling around in the dirt mere yards from the staff. They were in charge and we all knew it!

 

"One of our favorite memories is our guide 'Rhino' regaling us with a 10-minute highly animated African folklore tale as we glided through the delta in our mokoros; so animatedly in fact, I thought we were going to tip over several times."

 
 
 
 

An Eye for Leopard

 

Our final nights in Botswana were spent at the stunning Duma Tau Camp in the Linyanti region.  Another incredible inland water delta system, we spent our time enjoying sunset cruises in a plush pontoon and early morning game drives through thick mopane woodland where troupes of cheeky baboons, families of warthogs, and multitude of antelope met us around each corner. Our final evening, just before we stopped for sundowners, we were met with a congress of baboons flinging themselves out of the trees in terror. Our guide Moxie scanned the horizon and noticed a flick of a tail, and voilà, spotted a beautiful young male leopard who preened and posed for us on a tree stump for what seemed like an eternity.

The following morning we flew back to Johannesburg where we spent a night in transit. Dinner was different. We were all back on our phones, posting to social media, calling family back home, and checking e-mail until our friend John said, “Enough! All phones on the table.” We were all thrilled that someone had pulled us back to the present. After all, the trip wasn’t over yet. The following morning we were headed to the last leg of our safari—Mozambique.   

 

"Our guide Moxie scanned the horizon and noticed a flick of a tail, and voilà, spotted a beautiful young male leopard who preened and posed for us on a tree stump for what seemed like an eternity."

 
 
 
 


It's Beach Time Mozambique Style

 

I hadn’t been to Mozambique since I was four or five years old. We used to drive up over the mountains from Rhodesia during the war, but danger aside the beaches of Beira and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean made for memories of a golden time I cherished as a child. Decades later, the beaches would look much the same but our lodging was a little different. We stayed on the mainland in a spectacular sprawling estate, the Santorini Mozambique. Originally built as a family home and recently turned into a boutique hotel, you can book it by the suite or take over a whole villa—which is exactly what we did.

I cannot say enough great things about the Santorini. The staff and managers were warm, gracious, and ever attentive. The food was undoubtedly some of the best we had on our whole trip and the never-ending hang out spots throughout the villa gave us bags of room to explore and spread out in. We snorkeled and sailed one day, stand-up-paddle boarded and swam the next. We visited a local craft market empowering the rural communities, we took a bumpy boat ride over to Benguerra Island for lunch and to visit a lovely lodge over there. We spent hours in the pools (yes, there are two of them) and playing ping-pong. We reluctantly caught up on emails but we weren’t so obsessed with being digitally connected any longer. We all knew that our time offline was coming to an end and it was starting to weigh on each of us. We lingered longer, the conversations were deeper, and the kids rarely left our sides.

 
 
 

 

What Life Should Always Be Like

 

No matter where we go in the world, there is nothing that compares to traveling with dear friends and family. Oh and by the way, did I mention we really didn’t know our traveling companions at all prior to the start of the trip? A mutual friend had introduced us and we had only chatted a couple of times before. Needless to say, this was absolutely the best three-week blind date of our lives!

 
 
 

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