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Amy Volunteers in Africa

South Africa

Written by Amy Yearwood

This spring I had the opportunity to visit South Africa for volunteer work, site visits and a little vacation. Even better, I met my colleague, Travis, in New York and we boarded the South African Airways non-stop flight from JFK to Johannesburg. This is one long haul! 16 hours and nearly 8,000 miles to the southern hemisphere; we were very happy to have two seats next to each other in business class.

This was my second visit to South Africa. Huge thanks to Adventures Africa for the assistance in setting up the perfect mix of business with pleasure!

After landing and clearing customs, we hopped on the Gautrain from the Johannesburg airport and took it to the Hilton in Sandton. Gautrain tickets are sold as one way, roundtrip and multi-pass at the airport. The train is a convenient option, especially during rush hours in Johannesburg. We had less than 24 hours in the city and we spent our time shopping and dining in Mandela Square.

The following morning, we packed, met up with friends and drove 5 ½ hours from Johannesburg to SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary in Gravelotte, Limpopo. (There are also non-stop flights from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit and the flight time is approximately 1 hour.)

The SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary is a refuge for rescued and rehabilitated wild animals where they live under natural conditions in a fully functioning wildlife reserve. Animal species rescued include a wild variety from tree squirrels to African elephants. We met with the team at SanWild, participated in game drives, learned about the animals they have saved and their plans to open the sanctuary to the public.  

During our time at SanWild, we interacted with the animals, learned the daily operations of the sanctuary and camped in tents. Some of my favorite animals were rhinos, wild dogs, hippos and lions… it’s difficult to choose just one!

Jennifer Viditz-Ward with Vail Resorts was a lead organizer for the volunteer work at SanWild. She’s pictured here with Reserve Manager, Andre Grobler, distributing bails of food for the rhinos.

Two of my favorite rescues, Aldo and Tongo, were once part of a circus and were unable to enjoy a natural habitat. They now enjoy their days hanging out in the water and roaming the sanctuary.

After saying goodbye to our friends at SanWild, we spent a day on a self-drive tour through Kruger National Park. Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, is one of Africa’s largest national parks. It has high density of wild animals which include the Big 5: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. Hundreds of other mammals make their home here, as do diverse bird species such as vultures, eagles and storks. Mountains, bush plains and tropical forests are all part of the landscape.

Travis and I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Sanctuary, as well as the drive through Kruger, and we were ready for luxury lodging, exquisite meals and ultimate relaxation at Lion Sands Tinga Lodge. Lion Sands is located in the Mpumalanga province, and they offer four lodges in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, and Kruger National Park.

Tinga Lodge is comprised of 9 luxury suites overlooking the Sabie River. The suites have gorgeous baths, private plunge pools on the deck, air-conditioning and luxury amenities. We spent two nights here and simply put “it was not enough!”

We participated in four game drives, two morning and two evening and we were excited we were able to see the Big Five at Lion Sands. My favorite animal that we tracked was a particular leopard that had not been “spotted” at Lion Sands for months, although leopards are seen on a regular basis.

The prime safari areas in South Africa around Kruger National Park are best visited from June through September when the weather is cooler and dry. This also means that the animals tend to visit the watering holes more and the brush is not as thick as it would be in the greener wetter season.

Our final morning at Lion Sands ended with a beautiful breakfast and mimosas on the Sabie River. A huge thank you to the team at Lion Sands Tinga Lodge for all of their hospitality! Our guide at Tinga Lodge escorted us to the Skukuza Airport – a quick and easy 25 minute trip and then we boarded our flight to Cape Town.

Two and a half hours later, we were enjoying stunning views of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean!

The Westin Cape Town was our home base for the last 3 nights of our journey. The location is ideal – a quick and complimentary shuttle ride over to the V&A Waterfront and very easy access to Camps Bay, Table Mountain, Long Street and other must-visit areas in the city. Travis and I headed to Camps Bay to dine at the beach front restaurant, Mantra, and watch the sun set over the Atlantic. We also managed to catch some late night drinks and live music at the Dubliner on Long Street. The following day, we spent our afternoon in Stellenbosch visiting some of the oldest wineries in South Africa; if you’re a wine lover, you could spend days exploring the gorgeous vineyards. The Pinotage and the Sparkling Pinot Noir are two of my favorites!

We spent our last full day on a private, guided tour of Cape Town – this included Table Mountain National Park, a visit to the colorful streets of Bo-kaap, the beautiful showroom of Afrogem where I purchased a gorgeous 3 carat Citrine ring, a drive up the coast to Boulder’s Beach to see the penguins, a visit to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Travis and I managed to squeeze in one more gorgeous sunset at Camps Bay before dinner at the V&A Waterfront.

Our nearly two week journey came to an end but our desire to return to this amazing country continues to grow.