From a train on a bridge to a boutique hotel on the beach, LIESL FRANKSON gets used to the soft life.
If the pandemic has taught us anything about travel, it’s that getaways at regular intervals are a must because you simply don’t know when life will lock you down. The beauty of South Africa is that you can go from the bush to the beach without breaking a sweat if a short stay is what you’re after.
My “two stays in two days” getaway started at OR Tambo International Airport on a rainy Wednesday morning where the team from Discovery eagerly awaited us to give our group a taste of the Vitality Travel experience. Naturally, we skipped the queues at security, thanks to Discovery Bank Fast Track access and found ourselves in the South African Airways Premium Lounge.
Before we knew it, we took to the skies and an hour later we were on our descent approaching Skukuza Airport, but before we could touch down, our pilot had to pull up and perform a stomach-churning U-turn in the sky to avoid some animals strolling across the runway. Our second attempt at landing was successful and the warm blast of air and wide-open space on the tarmac was a welcome reprieve from the turbulence of the tiny cabin.
As we made our way out of the airport through the bush towards our destination, the cold chill of the morning rain in Johannesburg was a distant memory. In true Mpumalanga fashion, it was scorching hot. We stopped to view a crocodile and a few turtles splashing around but in the distance across the river we could see a train on a bridge. “That’s where you’re going to be spending the night,” said Victor, the driver of our game vehicle. Our group let out a collective “wow” as we approached Kruger Shalati.
The Train on The Bridge
Dubbed an elevated personal sanctuary, Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge is set on the original, existing site of the Selati railway bridge at Kruger National Park’s Skukuza Camp. The hotel consists of 24 historical train carriages that have been restored, and rest permanently on the original tracks running across the bridge.
This was where the park’s first warden, James Steven-Hamilton, welcomed visitors nearly a century ago and it was into the train coaches that visitors would retreat at night before the train moved on to its next destination. The hotel pays homage to this part of history, and you get a sense of that when you walk into the rooms.
I consider myself claustrophobic but the rooms at Kruger Shalati are spacious and tastefully decorated. The simplistic and minimalist décor of the glass-walled train suites allows you to focus on what’s important, which is the undisturbed views of the Sabie River and the bush below. As relaxing and inviting as the room was, I had little time to laze about and opted to spend some time taking in the views from the pool and deck on the train. Set high above the river and aligned with the floor level of the train, the pool and deck area offer a swimming experience like no other.
As our group gathered for some mandatory selfies in the pool before our safari, we were treated to a show as two elephants splashed around in the water below us. A short while later, a baby elephant appeared from the bush and joined in the fun.
After our quick swim and a wholesome lunch, we made our way to Victor’s vehicle for our afternoon safari. We enjoyed elephant, hyena and buffalo sightings and then paused to watch the bush glow a warm orange and pink as we sipped on champagne and enjoyed an array of sweet and savoury snacks in the sunset.
The next day, we enjoyed an early morning safari and a light breakfast in the bush before packing up and setting off for our next destination over 1 600km away.
The Boutique Hotel on The Beach
We landed in Cape Town just after 2pm and boarded a bus that took us through the city until we were parallel with the ocean enroute to our next luxury stay. The Marly Boutique Hotel and Spa is Camps Bay’s most sought-after boutique hotel and it’s not hard to see why.
This gem is nestled right in the heart of all the action and offers the best views on the strip. I know this because I was fortunate enough to get a room with an ocean view. To be fair though, any room at The Marly is a room with a view because of its location, so even if you aren’t looking out over the strip, you’re up close and personal with the mountains.
Before checking into our rooms, we were invited to experience Camps Bay to the fullest with a quick welcome drink session at Baptiste, the hotel’s rooftop bar. The 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and the 12 Apostles Mountain Range were breathtaking and the set up made me feel as though I was a cast member in a reality TV show for rich housewives.
Looking over the promenade and watching people jogging, cycling, and swimming in the ocean, I couldn’t help but consider my career choices and the changes I would need to make in order to frequent places like The Marly and its rooftop bar with the curated poolside, champagne and cocktail menu.
In an effort to live my most luxurious life, I retired to my room to unwind and get ready for the Discovery Travel Launch party at Bilboa. After a luxurious shower and some time spent soaking up the afternoon sun on the balcony, I allowed myself to be engulfed by the vibey music and the lively atmosphere streaming in from the restaurants below.
After going full glam, I went downstairs to join the rest of our group to celebrate the launch of Discovery’s fully integrated travel booking service.
Discovery Bank’s Vitality Travel platform is a fully integrated travel booking service with unprecedented discounts and simplified trip management. The comprehensive travel offering is the world’s first shared-value travel platform that channels behavioural savings into the greatest possible savings on flights, holiday accommodation, car hire and holiday packages.
Vitality Travel provides clients with a unified platform to view, book and change flights, holiday accommodation and car hire. Clients can easily compare travel prices across the market and benefit from unparalleled discounts with a range of travel partners. Bookings are payable directly from a client’s Discovery Bank account or with Miles, which clients earn from managing their health and money well.