Africa is like a final frontier for many travellers. It's renowned for being home to some amazing wildlife and natural wonders, but there's also an element of fear; it being a developing country and news of war, disease and poverty. This can be confronting for some travellers, but don't be put off by what you see in the news. I often hear people express an interest in travelling to Africa, yet they are are unsure about where to start.
If you're considering a trip to Africa, rest assured that getting there is not as challenging as you might think. Obviously, you'll need to do your own research about visas, tour companies, required vaccinations and other basic information, but if you're looking for suggestions on what to see and where to go on your first visit, then what follows is my idea of a good time.
If departing from Australia, Qantas offers non-stop flights from Sydney to Johannesburg. Other airlines that connect to other cities include Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Qantas, Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines. It's roughly a 14-hour flight.
When I've travelled, I have left Sydney and travelled to Perth. Then I've travelled from Perth to Johannesburg, allowing me to arrive at 5pm on the same day (watch adjusted), which I feel has been the best option for managing any jetlag.
I've stayed at the Garden Court Sandton City in Johannesburg. It's functional and affordable. The hotel picks you up from the airport at your arrival. You'll have access to air-conditioned rooms and free Wi-Fi, while also being able to enjoy a great meal at the restaurant on-site, Riffs Bar and Grill, and a dip in the pool. I've spent two nights here.
Booking a tour of Soweto – Africa's most famous township – should definitely be on your list. The small group tour I went on was fun and safe, and gave me greater appreciation for the importance of the city and how it helped shape the Africa of today. It's also an opportunity to learn about apartheid in South Africa and those involved.
On the third day I recommend heading to the family-run game reserve, Makutsi Safari Springs at Hoedspruit. I flew the 1.5 hours from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit and was collected by a ranger from the reserve on my arrival. From there it's about an hour to the lodge itself.
I don't believe anyone will get better game viewing than at Makutsi. It's a lovely private reserve. The rates for a week are again, very affordable. I stayed in one of the rondavels (African-style hut) during my visit. There are two swimming pools with soft thermal-mineral water that comes from the earth at 34°C, and the food is wonderful (I got breakfast and dinner as part of my package).
My stay included two open-vehicle game drives each day, a day trip to Kruger National Park (about an hour west), and a day trip to Blyde River Canyon.
Only experienced and qualified guides are allowed to drive on Makutsi, which means there will also be the highest conduct and respect of the natural environment and its wildlife. I observed the wildlife in a very relaxed and natural manner.
Another thing I appreciated about Makutsi is that no more than two vehicles are allowed to be with any animal at once, so the animal sightings I had on tour were spectacular.
Having spent a week at Makutsi, it was time to head back to Johannesburg. I booked into the Peermot Mondior at Emperor's Palace, a four-star hotel close to the airport. It runs a free shuttle every 20 minutes, making it very convenient.
There are seven different casino options here, a cinema, a kids' activity area, banquet, theatre, spa and concert facilities. You'll be forgiven for not wanting to leave and it's no surprise it has been nicknamed "Palace of Dreams".
On my final day, I took a trip to Sun City/Pilanesberg National Park.
Sun City resort features top-quality hotels, magnificent sporting and recreational facilities, the Palace of the Lost City and Valley of Waves water park, as well as casinos and gourmet restaurants.
The Pilanesberg game reserve covers an area of around 58,000 hectares and is less than three hours' drive from Johannesburg. There are four rings of hills in the area, produced by volcanic action about a million years ago. You can spend a good couple of hours exploring with a guide, searching for Africa’s 'Big 5' or taking in the diverse birdlife of the area.
All up, the 10 days I spent in Africa cost me less than AU$3,000 (excluding flights), and it was the trip of a lifetime.