This is part one of my trip to South Africa, 2013. For the complete series, please see below:
Traveling to South Africa – South African Airways and Federal Air
Singita Ebony – The Lodge
Singita Ebony – Day to Night
Singita Sweni – The Lodge
Singita Sweni – Day to Night
Cape Town – The Peninsula Tour and The Boat House
Cape Town – City and Winelands Tour
Cape Town – V&A Waterfront, Test Kitchen, Fork and Table Mountain
24 Hours in Istanbul
Going to Africa has always seemed very daunting to me because of the incredibly long travel time, especially from California. We finally decided to take the plunge and I will confirm the obvious now – yes, if you’re coming from the US, the travel time will be long. The two most likely options available to us were to either go to DC or New York and take a very long direct flight to Johannesburg from there, or to transit through Europe. In the end, we decided to go through Europe in order to arrive in the morning in Johannesburg and transfer to our safari lodge on the same day.
All right…here goes the long saga. We decided to do our layover in London, and took the afternoon United flight over.
Nothing particularly unusual about the flight and I’ve flown United many many times by now overseas so it’s become almost routine. My one piece of feedback is that I wish they’d change up their ice cream sundae dessert! They’ve had it forever.
We landed in Heathrow after about 11 hours. We had quite a long layover in London, something like 12 hours, so of course we wanted to head into the city! Star Alliance has a decent arrivals lounge in Heathrow where you can grab a shower and some food. We had some quick breakfast snacks and then dropped off our bags and headed off for the Tube. We arrived in Knightsbridge around 10 AM and from there went to some of our favorite spots.
First off I dragged Mr. Feather to do some shopping – as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect leather jacket. I tried on a few and finally found my perfect one at Harvey Nichols (hint: it wasn’t the Rick Owens one). Here’s one of options I tried at Harrods, if you go in the morning the crowds are much less insane.
After a few hours of shopping and wandering around Knightsbridge, it was time to meet one of our friends for lunch at one of our favorite eating spots in London – The Wolseley! The restaurant was a very pleasant walk away and we chose to amble slowly through Hyde Park. The weather was amazing – one of those perfect days when everybody is outside and out of the office by 4 having drinks.
This is my favorite dish at The Wolseley – the kedgeree. I get this literally every time we come to London, I’ve definitely eaten it over ten times and probably closer to twenty. It’s amazing – a rice pilaf with smoked fish, a poached and a light curry cream powder. So, so good. If you are in London you must go to The Wolseley and try this dish (reservations highly recommended!).
After a long lunch with our friend we ambled back over to the Knightsbridge side so I could get pick up my purchases. We had a coffee then headed back to the airport…bye for now, London!
Back in Heathrow we headed to the Star Alliance lounge to wind down and take a shower. The lounge was actually better than I thought and the showers were decent (but not the greatest). To my surprise they actually had an afternoon tea offering on the ala carte menu though the scones left something to be desired. At least the lemon curd was decent.
From the lounge, we made our way over to our flight to Johannesburg – on South African Airways. Hooray, we’re going to Africa! It was my first time ever flying this airline and overall I had a very good impression and would fly them again.
I’ve been told that currently, SAA flies most routes with two levels of service, versus three. We flew their version of business which had a complete lie flat seat. I found the seat very comfortable, it was a little older and there were some beat up areas (like the control for the seats) but overall quite good.
The service was pretty good on our flight. I would say above US based airlines (sadly I always rank them last) and below the levels of Asian and premium European carriers. It was a little bit inconsistent and I would say that the service levels were more based on specific individuals than as a whole. That being said I was never unhappy with the service at any moment.
Where I felt South African was quite strong was it’s food! It was all very good and there was a nice selection of wines as well. A quick snap of the menu.
Some small appetizers that were served before the meal selections.
My chosen appetizer, a corn soup which I saw on the menu throughout Africa.
My husband’s main course, a smoked duck!
And my main course – the fish I believe was tilapia with gnocchi on the side.
And of course the desserts! Here was mine, a white chocolate and pineapple “drum”.
And a chocolate marble cheesecake.
After a very long and satisfying meal I watched a few movies (SAA had a very good entertainment selection so no worries there) and then went to sleep. The flight was around 11 hours and we landed in Johannesburg in the early morning. By this point remember, we had already spent more than 30 hours in transit, and 22 hours in the air!
If you’re going to be flying into Kruger Park, you will have to take at least one more flight from Johannesburg Airport (JNB). These flights are quite short but it’s still an extra leg of travel. We took Federal Air which I would recommend – they actually had a representative that was at the entrance when we disembarked, that met us and escorted us to the separate free standing Federal Air terminal (about a 10 minute drive away from JNB).
At the terminal entrance, Federal Air staff grabbed our luggage and labeled all our bags. I was getting excited at this point! All our bags were soft sided backpacks and duffels – on these small planes they require no hard sided luggage and there are also strict weight requirements (about ~50 lbs per person).
The terminal itself was really nice, free wi-fi and great snacks, sandwiches and drinks. There were indoor and outdoor seating areas as well.
After an hour or so, it was finally time to board our plane. I have to admit that small planes always make me nervous – little did I know however that this would not be the smallest plane on our trip!
What I loved was looking out the window and seeing the beautiful landscape.
After about half an hour, we landed on a single airstrip which belonged to our lodge and the first thing I saw was this little building – I know some of you may recognize the name – Singita.
Our ranger/tracker came to meet us on the runway and loaded our bags into the vehicle. After about 40 hours of travel, my posture was definitely suffering!
But all the tired feelings went away as we zipped away in the car towards our lodge. We waved bye bye to the plane, until next time!
Well there it is…my nearly 40 hours long travel journey to South Africa from San Francisco. It was an incredibly long journey but really as soon as we landed in Sabi Sand and could smell the air and see our amazing surroundings, it was worth it. I can’t wait to share our time on safari with you, and thanks for reading along!