On our most recent game viewing trip to South Africa we discovered the luxury of direct flights to and from the airport in Johannesburg and the game reserves in and near the famous Kruger National Park. In previous safari trips we had either flown to a regional airport and driven a couple of hours to our lodges or driven six to eight hours directly from the city to the lodges. In either case it was necessary to drive an hour on very bumpy unpaved roads within the reserves without cell phone signal or the ability to get out of our vehicles because of the wild animals in the area.
This small lodge, well situated within walking distance of Rosebank Mall in an upscale residential area of Johannesburg, stood out for its spacious and well appointed suites and offered many advantages for the independent traveler. In spite of being in a very big city inside the adult oriented lodge (guests with children 12 and older were welcome) there were few noises beyond the usual staff cleaning and other daytime sounds of a small guest house.
A cluster of immaculate South African stone and thatch rondavels nestled in lush indigenous gardens, Idwala Guest House was an enclave of bucolic luxury in the middle of Johannesburg. Located on a quiet residential street of the elegant suburb of Darrenwood, an easy 30-minute drive from O.R. Tambo International Airport, Idwala (Zulu for rock) was an ideal retreat for a day of relaxation after my nightlong flight from Europe and before continuing on my journey further into Southern Africa.
Ten Bompas, a remarkable boutique hotel near Sandton, is now one of our favorite small hotels. When we first heard about it, we were hesitant. We had planned to stay at one of Johannesburg’s larger and more opulent properties, which offered all the usual bells and whistles. The more we learned about Ten Bompas, the more we wanted to stay there. From the moment we arrived, we felt genuinely welcome by the hotel staff. Conveniently situated in an attractive Johannesburg neighborhood, it offered a wonderful haven of quiet African elegance with accommodating service, delicious food, a selection of fine wines and a guest-centered emphasis on comfort.
After a couple of weeks in the bush, a much delayed flight and airport delays, we could hardly wait to arrive at our warm and cozy Ten Bompas rooms. In spite of a late arrival, our rooms were waiting. A home-style meal at Sides Restaurant brought us back to life. We liked it so much, we wish there were Ten Bompas hotels in other cities.
While I had been to Sandton City, one of Johannesburg better known upscale malls, many times in past visits to South Africa’s largest city, I had never visited The Michelangelo Towers, a condominium hotel building on the edge of the mall. The luxury building, our one of our last stops during a three week summer visit to South Africa, offered many advantages for first time and veteran visitors to the African metropolis. My favorite feature was the panoramic view of the city from our two bedroom apartment.
From 24 floors above the ground the city of Johannesburg looks particularly attractive and the floor to ceiling glass walls that spanned the entire living and dining areas and part of the master bedroom made the view that much more interesting. During the day, we could see parts of Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton area as well as a hazy cityscape in the background. At night, we were surrounded by a sea of lights.
It was 3:45 a.m. when my hotel room phone rang the day after my arrival in South Africa. A few minutes later I dashed out of the room in a whirl of sweaters, full of excitement and anticipation. What had me energized at 4 a.m.? A balloon ride in the Cradle of Humankind. A half hour taxi ride later I found myself at the entrance of a hotel in the outskirts of Johannesburg greeting Mary Harrop, wife and co-owner of Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris. From there Mary described our upcoming flight with enthusiasm while we drove in a minivan to the picturesque Kloofricht Lodge from which we would be launching the balloon. We were only about 60 kilometers from Johannesburg and yet it felt like a world apart. Mary explained that the area boasted some of the safest and most reliable ballooning weather in the world.