This was my first trip to Africa. With a majority English speaking population, strong dollar to rand exchange rate, its cosmopolitan culture and superb game viewing, South Africa was the perfect soft landing for a trip to the Motherland.
I just returned from a 12 day press trip, that took me from Johannesburg, to a wellness reserve and spa in the Cederburg Mountains, to Cape Town and the Cape Winelands, to diamond mines and waterfalls and of course, a safari. We stayed in gorgeous hotels and private villas; we flew commercial at times, flew on private planes on others. The South African Board of Tourism showed us all the country had to offer, and it is true what they say; South Africa offers you the world in one country.
South Africa is a large and diverse country, comprising roughly 500,000 square miles, with a population of over 46 million people. Each province has its own culture and its own climate. South of the Equator, the seasons are reversed, so our May visit landed squarely in their fall season and every stop required its own distinct set of clothing. But how do you pack for a 12 day trip that involved everything from sightseeing, to spas and safaris, and be prepared, yet fashionable and practical?
I found the advice in every book I consulted on what to pack was best suited for South Africa’s summer season. But their fall season (remember it is now fall south of the Equator) with fewer crowds, and better game viewing, is a perfect time to travel to South Africa. Fortunately, very little of our itinerary required much of a New York look. It was hot, cold and everything in between, depending on where we were and what time of the day. The trip required careful planning for clothes and appropriate gear in order to avoid lugging around an insane amount of baggage and being woefully unprepared. After an interminable amount of time and research, I packed and was off, still nothing could prepare me for the wonders that awaited.
After an overnight stay in Johannesburg, we were whisked away to Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat, 3 hours outside of Cape Town nestled in the Cederburg Mountains. After a 15 hour flight on South African Airways, this was the perfect sanctuary to rejuvenate our bodies and spirit. Here, at this 16 room private resort, relaxation and restoration is the order of the day. We dined on delicious organic foods, sipped sumptuous South African wines, indulged in game viewing and sundowners (cocktails on the back of the Land Rover at sunset) and viewed their ancient indigenous Bush art.
Bushmans Kloof, voted Best Hotel in the World in 2009, is luxurious yet relaxed. The Western Cape climate is typical of any mountain valley climate, warm in the daytime and chilly at night, similar to Los Angeles. We went on morning and evening game drives to view indigenous animals and I lounged on the veranda of my villa overlooking a lily pond in the afternoons, while others indulged in archery or nature walks. I enjoyed a Bushmans Kloof Signature Massage which commenced by asking me to set my intention by choosing one of the mantras engraved in the rocks they presented to me.
Jeans or khakis and a sweater with hiking or tennis shoes for game viewing and recreational activities were perfect for day. Dining in the evening was relaxed, but touched by a chill in the air. I found the cotton scarf and long cotton sweater I threw in my bag before taking off saved the day (or night, as one would have it).
The South African landscape and game viewing is unlike anything I had ever seen. Everyone told me how beautiful the country was, so I was prepared for a treat to my senses. The memories you create in South Africa are those that last a lifetime, and I was intent on not missing a moment with my camera. I’ve found that the point and shoot digital cameras I’d used on previous trips, while portable, didn’t provide the quality photos that captured the beauty of the moment, so I bought a new camera that all agreed was worth the time and money invested.
To get the best pictures, you should invest in a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera. Without going into all of the photographic jargon, the benefits of an SLR camera will make all the difference in your photos. For starters, there is no delay in shooting as there are with the point and shoot camera, so you can capture that photo as it happens. Another benefit, the SLR camera has interchangeable lenses, affording you more options with wide angle and close up shots. Shop around because stores and websites often offer a bundle price for the camera, standard wide angle lens, and a telescopic (zoom) lens, which is perfect for the SLR camera novice. You can get a good Canon package for around $800.00.
I think a one shoulder camera bag on this type of vacation is the way to go, after all, you need to tote around your camera, at least 2 lenses, binoculars, water bottle, notepad, sunglasses and hat. I chose the Lowepro Photo Sling 100. It is waterproof, smartly planned and well constructed. The orange color provided an unintentional but cute color blocking moment that looked effortlessly chic.
The careful planning that went into packing was time well spent and afforded me the opportunity to unwind and totally relax in preparation for the rest of my whirlwind trip.