A multi-generation, multi-destination holiday – is it easy post covid?
Ali shares his multi-generation holiday combining beach, safari and Vic Falls.
13 Sep 2022
26 Sep 2022
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Towards the middle of 2021 whilst lockdowns were still not that uncommon (but parties at no. 10 were) and travel was something of a luxury, I decided to put together a multi-generational trip for the summer of 2022 taking in various countries in southern Africa. I was convinced we had to be able to get back to doing this: travelling the way we did before borders were closed, planes were grounded and COVID temporarily strangled the life out of travel. Madness you say? Some in my office certainly thought that I had lost it. The general consensus in our (at the time very quiet) office was that post covid travel, particularly in 2022 would be all about exploring one country, forget the incredible multi-destination blockbuster trips, that were sooo pre-pandemic. Victoria Falls, safari and beach were the nuclei of the trip. There would be 9 of us in total, ages ranging from 9 to 80. All adults had been vaccinated but the 9-year-old had not. Easy, right?
Firstly, flight changes…
As Easter 2022 appeared on the horizon so did the hordes desperate to escape Blighty en masse for the first time in a long time. Alarm bells started to ring at airports and at airline HQ’s - no one had enough staff or planes to service the demand. Long queues, disappointment and cancellations were the headlines of Easter time. Those that did get away were never sure how they would get back.
Things were not looking promising for our mid- August departure. However, Saint Christopher was obviously smiling on us and only one flight change was required meaning we had one less day in Mozambique and an additional night in Johannesburg. The team took this first-world problem well, although I could tell no one was really looking forward to more time in Johannesburg than was required, the attitude was that this was just the way travel was now. Onwards.
Up, up and away
D-day arrived with two people carriers waiting for the ‘Home Alone-like’ departure chaos to move from the house and into the carriages to then weave their way to London Heathrow. Bag drop was easy, Heathrow was relatively quiet, no queues…so far so good. The plane was jammed, no spare seats but the flight was on time and issue-free. Would all of our 9 bags appear at the other end? Not great odds but we were not let down – all present and correct.
Immigration in Joburg was the smoothest I have seen. No Covid documents are required regardless of vaccination status, and no kids’ special requirements as there used to be before covid. The only anomaly was a man in uniform pointing a gun (thermometer) at your head to check temperatures. To be on the safe side we had plenty of time to connect in Johannesburg but we had no issues and the flight to Vilanculos was smooth and on time.
Immigration into (and out of) Mozambique is always a hassle with lots of form filling and picture taking, Covid has changed nothing here! You do need to show your NHS app proving you are vaccinated or a PCR no older than 72 hours. Kids under 12 are exempt so our youngest was fine.
So far so good, we had moved through South Africa into Mozambique with no issues at all. And boy it’s worth it once you are there. The azure blue of the southern Indian Ocean never gets dull and winter here is a very happy mid-to-late twenties with beautiful blue skies reflecting the magnificent colours of the ocean. A very pleasant place to be whilst the UK was staggering through a heatwave.
We were staying at Bazaruto Anantara which is on the largest island in the archipelago. It has 50 rooms and plenty of activities to occupy all our various ages.
We were staying in over-sized Beach Pool Villas which had recently been refurbished and sat directly on the beach. Outdoor showers, sunken baths and an enormous comfy bed, all within a stone’s throw of the ocean. The 2-bedroom suites with private pools are located above the beach and have lovely views out to sea. These are more private and would suit a younger family or indeed those looking for more privacy.
There are two swimming pools – one for kids with a waterslide (hours of entertainment) and one for adults (only) with a swim-up bar (especially enjoyable when house drinks are included!) The food was a mix of a pretty impressive and extensive buffet or a la carte – all was tasty with good portion size and a good variety of local seafood, as well as dishes cooked to order with a bit of flair. The service was equally good, not necessarily fine dining but perfect for hungry kids that have spent all day in the pool or in the sea burning off their lunchtime pizzas.
Dugongs, dolphins and dunes
Activities here are aplenty: we saw dugongs, dolphins and humpback whales on the water safari; a whole heap of stunning coral just off paradise island whilst snorkelling; I nearly lost my swimmers whilst being pulled around the bay at high speed on an inflatable and tried to avoid getting sand everywhere whilst dune boarding. Good wholesome fun enjoyed by all. And when it wasn’t all go go go, there were plenty of spots to hunker down and get stuck into a book or head to the very good spa overlooking the bay.
Whilst in the archipelago I did manage to get a boat over to Azura Retreat on Benguerra Island which was very special. It’s a completely different hotel to Anantara – it’s not worth comparing as they are not in the same bracket (price, style or expectation). Suffice to say that my Luxury Beach Pool Villa here was outstanding with all the details checked to make sure your stay is more than comfortable. The highlight for me at Azura was the staff. Nothing was ever too much trouble and there was always a big smile to accompany their response. The food and accompanying wine were definitely a notch up from the offerings at Anantara but again they should be.
Next up Jo’burg and onto Zimbabwe
Returning to Johannesburg proved to be as easy the second time as it was the first. Short immigration queues, man with a thermometer, all bags recovered and to top it all off a man waiting patiently with a sign for us. We were off to Athol Villa for a couple of nights, bliss.
Athol Villa and Athol Place are two exclusive use houses and perfect for a party our size. We were superbly looked after by our host Tittie. Our unvaccinated daughter required a PCR test in order to get into Zimbabwe so about 30 minutes after our arrival a nurse turned up and we had the results the following morning. Easy-peasy.
Two nights in Joburg turned out to be well worth it with an excellent Tour of Soweto that had the kids’ 1st world and luxury hotel bubbles properly burst.
A puncture on the motorway on the way to the airport added a bit of spice to our journey, and who knows what people thought as they saw a bunch of tourists waiting to be rescued from the central reservation. Credit to the guys at Athol Place for reacting quickly and sorting the issue to get us there in good time. We were booked on Fastjet, the airline has started to make its mark in southern Africa since the collapse of BA subsidiary ComAir and I was really impressed with this outfit. Smaller planes, frequent schedules and always on time. Really nice to see and use, couldn’t recommend them highly enough. We used them to fly up to Victoria Falls and back again.
On arrival in Victoria Falls obtaining a visa was relatively straightforward. Again, we had to show our vaccination certificates or PCR tests but apart from that, it was business as usual. Whilst not as straightforward as South Africa it was certainly quicker than Mozambique. We got Kaza UniVisas that enable you to visit the Zambian side of the Falls as well. Once through immigration, we were instantly met by our representative from African Bush Camps who led us through to the waiting plane that would fly us down to Hwange. There was very little waiting about – a slick service.
A dusty welcoming bump as we touched down in Hwange National Park and were greeted by our guide from Somalisa Acacia Camp who treated us to a mini-game drive on the way back to camp where we inevitably bumped into a load of elephants and two large male lions.
Safari with Somalisa
Set on private land within the national park Somalisa Camp and Somalisa Acacia sit adjacent to one another, although cleverly done so that you don't realise. Somalisa Camp is ‘larger’ with seven luxury sail tented rooms (think huge space with wood burners, outdoor/indoor shower, enormous beds with views of the waterhole) with the mess area looking out over a fabulous waterhole.
Somalisa Acacia, where we stayed is focused on families and is made up of only four luxury sail tented rooms (2 family and 2 doubles/twins) making it a mini version of Somalisa and perfect for a multi-generational party of 9. You have your own mess area, pool and decking and even your own waterhole.
We took over the camp which was ideal as it meant that everyone could relax and enjoy themselves and not have to worry about how much noise the younger ones were making in the pool. It also meant that we had several daily private animal viewings at our very own waterhole - somehow it's more satisfying when they come to you! The camp staff were incredible and the whole place was set up to accommodate a party like ours.
We had superb sightings whilst out, notably: lions on an eland; sundowners in the thick of a herd of buffalo; more elephants than you could poke a stick at and a prime leopard sighting at dusk. We also had some great walks too. With various levels of safari experience in the group there was something for everyone and 4 days was just the right amount of time with the early starts. An experience that will stay with every member of our group forever. That’s what this was about.
Our next transition should have been the easiest yet; a game drive to the main gate where we would be met by a minivan to take us the rest of the way to Victoria Falls. Once again, we were not disappointed and the only (very pleasant) surprise was the wonderful packed lunch laid on by Somalisa as a departing gift. We arrived at The Victoria Falls Hotel 2 ½ hours later with no one ‘Hangry’. A really nice idea by the camp that none of us had even given a second thought to and meant that we all arrived without issue.
The Victoria Falls Hotel doesn’t seem to have changed in 20 years and although some of it is a bit stuffy – ties and jackets for their fine dining restaurant – it has stood the test of time (and tribulations) and its position is majestic. Sitting up over the Batoka Gorge with the famous bridge standing proud as a backdrop. We were in 5 rooms (2 lots of interconnecting) which worked well and enjoyed our time here. Although not peak season the hotel was busy with American and Europeans but everyone seemed to go to bed after dinner and there was a distinct lack of atmosphere both in the hotel and the town later in the evening. Vic Falls Town used to be a pretty mad place, maybe less so these days with everyone tucked up just after 9.
The Falls never disappoint but you need to be prepared to get wet if you go at pretty much anytime other than when they are at their lowest. The trail along the falls is well worked and offers great viewing points with good paths and good photo opportunities. The heavier spray is closer to the Zimbabwean bank where sometimes it really is pointless trying to see them but as you move further across the spray clears a little and you get a good view along the mile of water that tumbles. We did this in the morning and then went up in a chopper in the afternoon – a great way to put everything into perspective.
There is plenty to do for all age groups – The canopy tour is a great way to see the gorge for all ages with just a touch of adrenalin. Ramp that up if you want to do a gorge swing or bungee and then calm it down with a sunset cruise which despite the traffic on the river now is still very much worth it.
The final hurdle was to get home and we had no issues here again with another easy immigration queue into SA and then out again. A few hours in Joburg were killed in the airport shops and then BA departed on time and landed early. Our 10 bags were collected off the big black snake and our taxis were waiting for us in arrivals. Job done.
So, would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Experiencing what we did as part of a family group was outstanding. With regards to the hassle factor – there was very little (whilst we were away) and I believe that we are moving swiftly towards ‘normal’ again in terms of getting in and out of different countries. I would caveat this that there was no hassle factor whilst away. However, before we departed there were over 200 emails booking flights which during this period were then cancelled or changed, only to have to rebook them again when they changed back, but that is why you use someone like F&W who will do all that running for you out of sight.
All that needs to be done now is to pay the carbon offset charges.
If you're planning a multi-generational trip, a multi-destination holiday or both, call Ali on 01768 603 715 and he'd be happy to help.