by Matthew Sterne on September 6, 2010
6 min read

What a trip! Good friends, great memories, innumerable laughs and unforgettable moments!

Last month my colleague Billy and I got to enjoy an 11 night trip of our own. We were to experience 2 nights in Johannesburg, 7 nights in Zimbabwe and 2 nights on the Chobe River.

Not expecting too much from our first 2 nights in JHB, the experience was memorable for so many reasons. Having only travelled through JHB Airport en route to other destinations both locally and abroad, I had expected the “large mall type lifestyle” and busy 4 lane highways, but boy was I pleasantly surprised. I found very friendly people, quaint local culture at sidewalk bistro’s and cafe’s and beautiful tree-lined residential suburbs within the sprawling metropolis.

We began the trip by entering JHB on the newly launched “Gautrain” which is JHB’s answer to London’s underground or New York’s subway. What a pleasure. It was speedy (12 minutes to Sandton), clean and so easy to use with staff around to assist with the purchase of tickets and at the stations to answer any questions. We were collected at the station by our friendly driver who escorted us to the wonderful hotel awaiting our arrival.

Born in Africa

The Marion on Nicol is a boutique hotel which has been recently opened (to a full house during the FIFA World Cup) and we realised that the pictures we had seen and its website did not do it justice. This was even better than we had expected… and trust me, we had very high expectations to begin with……

No expense has been spared, the decor is beautifully plush and inviting, the staff friendly and professional and the rooms so very well appointed.

Imagine my delight at finding ultra-luxe “Bulgari” amenities in the bathroom…… Word has it that diamonds are supposed to be a girl’s best friend….. I disagree!

Larry, the ever-present and so charming GM showed us around the property with pride. We were enthralled. STUNNING! The location is ideal too being just a 10 minute drive (complimentary in their in-house luxury shuttle of course) to Sandton Centre, so you are close to everything but not in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Sandton life. The property is expanding its gardens into the surrounding properties, recently bought by the owners, to extend and offer a “wetland” vista to be enjoyed from your room’s balcony.

That evening we, reluctantly, abandoned our decadent accommodation and headed out into the great unknown that is JHB and experienced all that was on offer… with gusto!

Our first morning in JHB, albeit a little heavy headed after enjoying the JHB nightlife, was spent on a tour of the “Apartheid Museum” and Soweto arranged by our preferred tours and transfer company in JHB, namely RNS. The charming Solly looked after us with aplomb and was incredibly knowledgeable. What a truly fulfilling experience. Billy and I were moved to tears…. all I can say here is that I feel it is vital for everyone staying in JHB to visit our largest township and especially the “Apartheid Museum” during their trip. Here you will find the story of South Africa… who we were, who we are and who we aim to become……

The second night in JHB was to be spent at the stately Westcliff. We arrived, checked in and were ferried off to our suites in a golf cart which winds its way up the curved path towards the top of the hill which houses the entire property that is Westclif. The higher we went the more it felt as if we had somehow been transported to France and were approaching our very own chateau! The views from the rooms are amazing, you can see JHB Zoo in the foreground and Sandton in the distance. The property sincerely is a haven of tranquillity.

Lunch became quite an affair at the Polo lounge where we languished at a table next to the huge infinity pool and relaxed with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc whilst watching the sunset over JHB before returning to our suites that one could cartwheel in and with baths that one could swim laps in. That night was to be a quiet night as the following day involved an early start and some travelling and we are responsible adults after all…..

After what turned out to be very little sleep, we met up with Hans who was to join us for the remainder of the trip. We were now the “3 Muskateers” incarnate. Admittedly there was a little rushing around to make flights and transfers, we landed at the Livingstone Airport (flights into Zimbabwe were full at time of booking) and were collected for our road transfer into Zim. We were headed to a lodge called “Imbabala”. Billy has always had a soft spot for the property since a treasured friend, Karen, now manages the lodge and both he and Hans had visited before… so I was the newby…..!

Imbabala is a safari lodge, located on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe just this side of the Botswana Gazungula border crossing, offering game drives, boat cruises and fishing. Its location is breathtaking as you walk into the main lodge area and all you see is Zambia in the distance across the Zambezi River which forms a natural border between the two countries, you can smell the fresh bread cooking in the kitchen and you can hear the unmistakable call of the African Fish Eagle. This is a comfortable lodge with no airs and graces or bells and whistles but offers all you need to enjoy a truly African safari. What makes this lodge special though is equal doses of wonderful home-style cooking and the most incredible staff and service. Nothing is too much trouble… “Ask and ye shall receive” is surely the mantra that is instilled in all staff and it is very noticeable.

Born in Africa

We spent 3 nights here. Bliss!! Our time was spent on game drives, cruising up the Zambezi River and making good use of the pool loungers “rejuvenating” around the pool with a good book, the warm sun on our faces and a cool gin and tonic in hand. Sitting back and letting others do all the work can be so tiring! Nights were spent around the fireside, sharing stories and laughs with the other in-house guests. On one of the 3 evenings, our after dinner tales were rudely interrupted by a cacophony of loud roaring, squealing, trumpeting and galloping, as a herd of Elephant, a Lion, some Hyena and Buffalo decided to have the most unruly spat just 100m (tracks spotted the following morning verified) down from where we had just minutes before been sitting. No words can aptly describe the intensity and the feeling of adrenalin coursing through our bodies that evening……. Only in the African bush!

Follow Sam’s exciting adventure tomorrow, when we’ll post Part II…

Photos and text by Sam Myburgh