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More than 10 years ago, my hubby Dennis and I discovered the beauty and pure rawness of Africa when we did our first safari in Botswana. Since then, we have become safari addicts and worked hard to one day bring all our kids to Africa to see the wonder of God’s nature in the wild.
After a year of planning with A2A Safaris, we zeroed in on two splendid safari camps that were perfect for our family vacation. A2A Safaris is a leading travel company that creates bespoke, tailor-made tours to unique destinations. Founded by former investment bankers José “Lit” Cortes and Victor “Binky” Dizon, who are intrepid safari enthusiasts themselves, A2A has, since 2002, been crafting journeys of a lifetime for its discerning clients.
A2A trips have taken their clients to some of the planet’s remotest and wildest locations in Africa, Latin America and Antarctica. The company has offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and Manila, and now also supports conservation efforts to help preserve the pristine wildernesses they serve.
In 2004, we traveled with soon-to-wed restaurateur Malu Gamboa and the original Tropafrica gang. Malu and Binky curated a trip that had everything, from tented glamour to nouvelle cuisine in Franschhoek.
The Big 5
Fast-forward to this year: Dennis and Lit were the ones intensively debating camp choices, weather and terrain to ensure that the kids’ first safari would be their most memorable, with the highest possibility of seeing the Big 5—elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, lion and the elusive leopard.
Perfectly timed for our visit, the two camps chosen were Tswalu in the Kalahari desert and Singita Sweni in a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. The two camps were a perfect combination for first-time visitors.
Tswalu is a 250,000-hectare private game reserve owned by the Oppenheimer family, one of the ritziest names in South Africa. Their main home, Tarkuni, was our first camp. Complete with a library, spa, outdoor pool and deck, Tarkuni is a setting right out of Architectural Digest.
A typical safari day consists of a couple of game drives. Each open-top Land Rover has a team, a guide and tracker to ensure that guests spot the animals. The two vehicles are in close radio contact to further increase the chances of good spots.
On a typical drive, one never knows what will turn up. On different drives, we saw a dazzle of over 20 zebras drinking placidly at a watering hole, a herd of wild dogs hunting a herd of oryx antelope, and a raft of hippos yawning in a river.
The big cats are always the highlights of a game drive, whether it be a pride of lionesses and cubs languidly resting in the shade, or a coalition of cheetah brothers off on a patrol.
The king cats of the Kalahari are its black-maned lions, big, powerful animals with amazingly huge paws.
It took Dennis and I 12 years before we saw a rhino, but our lucky children were able to spot a black rhino mother and calf on their first game drive. We also saw white rhinos, but truly it’s so difficult to tell the two species apart.
The afternoon game drive always stops for a sundowner, a beautiful word for a happy-hour drink. After that, the drive home may start to bring out more nocturnal animals, and we were fortunate to see aardvark, pangolin, porcupines and various other night creatures.
Arranged by the Tswalu guides, our daughters Annika and Athena had the chance to go horseback riding from Tarkuni to sister camp Motse, where their brother Bryan and his girlfriend Tinkay Crespo stayed. They also enjoyed walking around and seeing cute meerkats up close.
I’d rate Tswalu a perfect 10, but then I’d have to change the scale to accommodate an 11, Singita Sweni. When it comes to luxe camps, the Singita brand sets the bar, and the chain has camps in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and, soon, Rwanda.
Sweni has the benefit of being adjacent to 2.2 million-ha Kruger, which is 350-kilometer long from north to south. Within Sweni, the camp has built its own private roads and manages the entire private reserve.
The newly renovated camp has six individual, spacious bedroom suites and a pool terrace, as well as a two-bedroom suite. I met designer Mark du Toit, from the brilliant design team Cecile & Boyd (designers Boyd Ferguson and Geordi de Sousa Costa), as he was there to do a final inspection of the camp, located next to a river filled with various flora and fauna.
The camp also has a boma, an outdoor enclosure where guests can enjoy an African-theme dinner with music and dancing. Of course, I happily joined the dancing staff. Nearby is the Singita Spa and a curated lifestyle shop that ships worldwide.
Our guides were longtime partners Brian Rode and Chantelle Venter, who enchanted us with our very first sighting of a murmuration of quelas—thousands of birds coming home to roost in the trees at sunset. Their noise is unforgettable.
To keep the kids entertained, Brian let the kids try air-rifle shooting, organized a very daring, kudu-poop spitting contest.
On our last afternoon drive, our tracker Glass spotted a leopard, thus completing our Big 5.
Between all the searching, I was busy making sure all my safari outfits were photographed perfectly. I had pieces from Kaayo.ph, a Roza bag from Baby Suarez (firstname.lastname@example.org) and personalized tags from Michelle Sacramento (email@example.com).
In Sweni, I also chatted with Jonathan Bailes, son of Singita owner Luke Bailes. Jonathan is currently working in Shangri-La at the Fort, for those interested to talk safari with an expert.
Jonathan is also helping me plan the forthcoming Red Charity Gala, to be held at Shangri-La at the Fort on Oct. 14, featuring the collection of fashion designer Joey Samson. (Check out www.redcharitygala.com.)
Next week, it’s all about Cape Town.
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