Africa, South Africa

South Africa safari – we didn’t know what to expect and it was awesome!

African safari always gives me an impression of expensive and far-reached bucket list destination from all those National Geographic and travel magazines. I never even think to start to plan for such a trip until one of my coworkers went on a South Africa safari trip last year. I heard stories of how expensive and luxurious the private game reserve and the lodges are. When I saw photos of her trip of how close she got to the animals even though she didn’t have any fancy DSLR camera, my travel bug started to bite me bad, real bad! During lunch at work, my buddy Sokunna, who’s another travel addict, started to ask why don’t we go safari next year? You know when two travel addicts started to talk and taking turn persuading each other LOL soon it was a deal!

On Friday, July, 28th, 2017, our adventure started with a long flight…it took 2 days to get there…

We flew Turkish Airlines before to Croatia and it was good especially they gave an amenity kit for economy passengers! I like to collect those amenity kit bag as they are very handy to pack lose items for trips like medicines and girl stuff.

Their food was edible at least and they serve freshly baked bread…yes soft and hot bread! Here’s a photo of breakfast, I didn’t take one for dinner as we were too sleepy and already had dinner before the flight:

Like I said, it took a long time to get there from Boston with a 9+ hour layover in Istanbul as we flew Turkish Airlines; that was the only award availability. Arrived at Istanbul….1/3 way there!

When we checked in at Boston, the lady told us to get our boarding pass for the 2nd leg at Istanbul Airport, it was inconvenient as we need to get through security again GRRRR. After a long line at the Turkish Airlines counter in between the arrival hall and security gate, we finally got our boarding passes but no seats on the 2-seater sides; the plane configuration was 2-4-2. Going through security wasn’t that bad as we had 9 hours to spare so no need to rush. Once we get through security, we went straight to the Primeclass CIP Lounge; there are 3 lounges in the international airport terminal that we can access for free with our Chase Reserve credit card.

The food options in the lounge…plenty of sweets but I am not a sweet pastry person.

Salad and vegetables:

Only one hot dish – chicken with pineapple:

Oddly, there are two sides at the lounge and both served the same food.

My meal; it was not great but at least filling and better than airplane food!

The lounge layout was big cushioned chairs on one side and then a big table for those who want to do some work. There are three sofas and occupied by people who lay flat to sleep on the whole sofa! We waited for people to leave and finally had a section of the big table to do some work and play a card game. When we took this selfie, a guy photobombed hahaha!

The lounge also has shower rooms….two exactly but one was out of service so only one working shower room and it was a longgggg line! There are four restrooms, two each for woman and man and there sometimes could be a long queue! Halfway through our 9 hours layover and the shower room line wasn’t as bad, we went in line for a shower. The lounge provided disposable slippers and a paper-thin towel. It was finally my turn and yikes it was like flooding inside the shower room; the lady came to dry it out a bit and clean it after each use. The shower room didn’t look too comfy nor clean…being sem-OCD, it was a challenge for me to try not to touch anything oh boy!

It was a refresh to shower after the long flight and wait!!!

We both enjoyed the peach juice drink in the lounge!

3 more hours to go and we decided to checkout the other lounge – HSBC Premier Lounge – that I read has better dessert options! It was time for dessert haha.

They have the same juice but not in bottle so you have to pour into a cup.

More pastries and desserts….I like the white pudding with raspberry sauce on top, I had a few of those!

Some kind of puff with fillings but it wasn’t good!

Jason and Sokunna took a short nap while we guard our bags.

For another 9 hours flight from Istanbul to Johannesburg, I need to fill myself up with hot food. Sokunna and I went down to the food court and got some stir-fried noodles. It was spicy and I think too much sauce so the noodle tasted a little bit too salty for me.

We survived the 9 hours layover – it was brutal! We got another amenity kit from this flight, this time it was a silver pouch which I much preferred than the other one!

Our flight menu:

The chicken fillet was dry…..luckily I was full from the noodle.


I slept most of the way luckily so the 9 hours flight wasn’t as bad! We landed Johannesburg, went through immigration with a breeze and walked to the domestic terminal. We couldn’t believe how the domestic terminal lounge was so much better than Istanbul’s lounges! It was night and day! Look at this section of drinks!!!

And most amazingly this whole table spread of FOOD!!! OMG OMG OMG, it was the best lounge that I have ever been to!

If all the lounges are like this, I don’t mind get to the airport extra early!

I didn’t take a shower this time but Jason did! He said the shower room was so clean and spacious unlike the one in Istanbul! I totally believe that because I went to the bathroom and the room looked luxurious!

Our Airlink flight to Skukuza, the airport inside the national park!

Big window 😀

Johannesburg from the plane:

So many rounded fields!

The short 50 minutes flight, we were served a drink and a sandwich!!!

The sandwich was quite tasty, we were impressed!

As the plane was descending, Kruger National Park from above……wait..where are the animals??

Skukuza Airport looked blend into the park!

Inside the small airport but very nice looking! We picked up our at Avis inside the airport and was told to go to the desk to pay the park fee to exit the airport.The park fee for 4 of us was R1216 ($85.59) per day.

We got our SUV, loaded our luggage, set up GPS, and off we go…..Jason had to get used to driving on the left and it wasn’t bad inside the park since little traffic and pretty straightforward roads! We didn’t know what to expect but were super excited to be inside the park already so animals could appear any minute! We were on the lookouts for animals and within few minutes after getting out of the airport road, we saw OMG OMG OMGGGGGGGG my favorite animal – a giraffe!!! Jason pulled over the car and we rolled our windows down to take photos! It was unbelievable, a wild giraffe right besides us!

We followed the giraffe and it stopped at a tree to eat the leaves, it was so beautiful! My dream of safari came true, I couldn’t believe it that we did it!

We just sat there taking photos and watching the giraffe gracefully eating the leaves.

Not sure if it heard our camera shutter sound, it turned and looked at us OMG that moment was priceless!

The “huh?” look hahaha so cute!

Then, it walked away to another further tree inside the bushes, we started driving again and searching for more animals. Within another few minutes, right beside the road, there were a handful of impalas!!

It also turned back and looked at us!

And more crossing the road, oh wow, we really into the wild, this is Africa!!!

It was incredible that we didn’t know what animal will appear next!

I was using the 70-200 mm lens and it was great for the most part of the trip! Sokunna rented a 400 mm and it was great but sometimes the animals were too close…yes that close! We both had our 24-70 mm with us too but sometimes we couldn’t switch our lens fast enough!

This guy kept looking at us, it was so funny!

Some nice flower tree that we have seen throughout the park!

Right near after the entrance of the gate, there is a sighting board for the day before and today. The “Big 5”  (lion, leopard, rhinoceros elephant, and Cape buffalo) and some popular animals sighting board:

The park closes at 5:30 PM and we need to be out by then and we had half an hour left… bet that we didn’t waste any minute! We turned onto another road and tried our luck to see if we can find any other animals. There were a lot of birds in the park as well but I am not a bird photographer so didn’t pay especially attention to look out for birds. There was this huge bird on a tree with a big yellow beak!

Another one:

And a tree filled with birds!

A small one but its color was changing from green to blue to purple by the lights.

Sokunna has sharp eyes, she spotted the zebras and pointed us to them…..too bad it was photobombed by impala and we could only see the butts of the zebras lol!

Hidden in the bushes 🙁

Waterbuck? out there!

Look at those huge nests up on the tree!

Lastly, we saw a family of giraffes, so lucky!

I couldn’t get enough of them, they are so elegant even eating!

Only minutes left to exit so we turned back toward the gate as the sun starting to set in front of us, it was magical – the African sunset!

There was a line to exit the gate as each car get inspected as an effort to fight against rhino poaching in the park! We couldn’t figure out how to open the trunk from the key so each time, one of us need to get out and open from there. After the gate, we crossed a bridge and then the hotel is right there! We entered a security gate by providing our name under our reservation, we parked our car and walked to reception.

It was a long walk to our room through a long hallway and our room:

I like the glass in our shower!

We rested a little before heading out for our South African braai (BBQ) dinner. The atmosphere was really nice, an outdoor BBQ buffet style dinner. The entire property is fenced so it was safe from wild animal.

The dessert…we need to save room for dessert!

Plenty of salads and cold dishes:

The grills…..even impala sausage urggggggggg, I am not sure about that!

Dinner was yummy and it was included as part of our room price so it was such a good deal! I never have South African cuisine and surprised to find out that they are into spices too. I had the chicken curry and it was very spicy! The lamb chop was good but had a little lamb taste so I couldn’t finish it. Other dishes were good.

The hotel’s atmosphere is like inside a forest, very green and relaxing. We had a little stroll around the property before heading back to our room.

We couldn’t wait to navigate the park the next day!!!

8 thoughts on “South Africa safari – we didn’t know what to expect and it was awesome!

    1. No special immunization for this trip as we only had a short stay 2 nights in Kruger, 2 nights at Sabi Sands, and 2 in Cape Town. Also, it was the winter season there so the risk of malaria is low. We had our hepatitis A, etc. regular immunization up to date.

      1. Thanks for the quick response! Looking forward to reading the rest of the your trip report. Not much informations on the web about self drive trip in South Africa…

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