Trends in international travel are as changeable as designer fashion. The zeitgeist mutates regularly, dictated by special promotions, easier accessibility, what opinion leaders consider in vogue, or simply word of mouth. Equally, the popularity of existing favourites can pall because of natural disasters, terrorism or over-exposure, for instance. A while back, Croatia’s profile heightened remarkably and the Maldives became affordable. Lately Oman and Iceland have captured the collective imagination.
So, too, African safaris. As the world’s become more environmentally aware and denounces the shameful shooting of wildlife for trophies, the lure of seeing game roaming free in their natural homelands – the Big Five of lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino, and zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and more, in Tanzania’s Serengeti, Kenya’s Maasai Mara and reserves in and near South Africa’s Kruger National Park – has tugged the heartstrings of travellers around the globe.
A host of operators offer packages, many at agreeable price points, to the African continent, for safari alone or combining a safari with other highlights.
One such wholesaler is Bench Africa, chosen by retired Australian businessman Gavin whom I met fireside at Garonga Safari Camp just west of the Kruger reserve. Gavin admitted to being defeated, despite personal resourcefulness and as an experienced traveller, by trying to put together his own itinerary. After attempting by himself to tailor arrangements to his preferences, Gavin surrendered to reality and chose the Australian-African wholesaler to make his trip run smoothly. The company, now in new hands, remains named for its founder Charles Bench, once sales manager for South African Airways. On a visit to Australia 50 years ago he found relatively few Aussies visiting neighbouring Africa – just across the Indian Ocean, after all. So he migrated here and established the specialist tours provider.
From Sydney flying direct to Johannesburg, Bench partners with South Africa Airlines (SAA), the “Rainbow Nation’s” national carrier, and Qantas. Gavin chose Qantas for its non-stop service between Sydney and Johannesburg, while Bench worked with SAA for my trip. I flew with SAA codeshare operator Virgin on the domestic forward and return legs between Sydney and Perth and transferred to/from SAA at Perth. Which formula is better depends on the individual: I welcomed the break at Perth before and after the Indian Ocean long haul and especially enjoyed my first trip with SAA. Its flight attendants were refreshingly down to earth, eager to please and lacking irritating “attitude”. My opinion’s supported by the recent 2018 Skytrax best airlines awards: SAA placed only second overall among African operators but was assessed best for cabin crew, cabin cleanliness and general staff and offering best business class lounge.
The lounge’s leather recliners section and shower facility were welcome prior to our Joburg-Perth leg. The curried chicken on offer was uninviting but drinks, refreshments and the hospitality were generous and a connectivity studio and a kids’ playroom well appointed. Next month: South Africa and Safari 101.
Susie travelled courtesy of South African Airways and Bench Africa, just named Australia’s Best Specialist Wholesaler in the 2018 national travel agents awards. Their 2019 brochure is due out next month: www.benchafrica.com to go on their mailing list. Focus recommends consulting a local travel agent to arrange your trip.
Travel Editor, Susie Boswell
Georgina Calvi of Bonny Hills is the winner of Lonely Planet’s new Africa guide book, available in 1120pp paperback or downloadable at www.lonelyplanet.com