Soft soar in Sabi serenity

2011-08-12 13:25

Like any self-respecting goduka, my family holiday experience usually involves the month of December, filling my bags with gifts in the form of books, music and clothing, and heading off home to Cape Town.

That is the way of life for those of us who came to ­Johannesburg to pound the pavement for gold. Forget ­exotic destinations and ­overseas trips; family holidays are about bringing the money home, slaughtering something, and basically spending two weeks fobbing off lay-about neighbours and relatives ­constantly asking for “cool drink” and “loose ones”. Also, there are generally so many close family members you’d have to be a Lotto millionaire to be able to take them just on a weekend away to the Kruger National Park!

So it was with pure joy that I received an invitation to the Sabi River Sun resort in ­Mpumalanga for four – and I only had my daughter, niece and nephew visiting for the winter school holidays. The Cape Town trio were ecstatic because, other than Gauteng and KZN, they’d never had an opportunity to explore their country.

The night before the big road trip, everyone was glued to the seven o’clock news ­bulletin just to see what the weather would be like “up North” as they put it. By the time we punched the ­coordinates into the satellite ­navigation system, the gang was extremely excited.

The road trip itself was slightly eventful, with the two older kids – 16 and 21 – ­constantly snapping pictures with their cellphones and ­marvelling at the open spaces. It was when we stopped at some small town full of ­potholes and people drinking beer in the afternoon – ­Carolina, I think it was called – that some of the excitement ebbed a little bit.

We’d stopped at a petrol station with an ­annexed restaurant and ­decided to sit down for lunch.

The woman steadfastly refused to move from her post where she and the three ­farmer-like men were alternately ignoring us and shooting hostile looks at my six-year-old. We left.

The resort
The Sabi River Sun is going through a Paris Hilton phase – it’s no longer the hot property everyone wants to be seen in, but it’s not quite over the hill either. Which places it in the not-so-sexy lower middle- ­income family bracket.

My gang and I stayed in the family room, which is ­essentially two standard rooms with an adjoining door.

The resort has a family camp get-away feel to it, with ping pong and foosball tables, a mini-jumping castle near the pool and lots of kids running around.

The self-catering chalets were my preferred choice of residence; they sleep up to six.

There’s something about ­enjoying a braai while watching hippos make their nightly pilgrimage through the Sabi river that just speaks to me.

Besides the hippo attraction, Sabi River Sun has a thriving number of bird species has seen a trickling of bird tourists.

The afternoon entertainment by the pool kept the kids from being bored and ensured parents got some time out for a spot of golf or reading. The grounds allow for endless walks and hours on the green, while the mountain view make a burger-and-chips lunch feel extra special.

But the spa venture left a lot to be desired. These days, a resort simply cannot function without a spa, and to discover that Sabi Sun was only now thinking of building one was puzzling.

At the moment, the Eden Spa consists of a couple of tables in a small conference room where the oils are cold but the treatment warm. A massage in a marquee overlooking the river would be perfect – and drag the resort into the 21st century!

Fun in the sun
Mpumalanga is undoubtedly a gorgeous province, and the tourism industry feeds off that. But it’s also quite poor, so there isn’t much of an urban lifestyle. What you can do there, however, is get up close and personal with elephants.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Hazyview is an experience to behold – you learn about these majestic animals.

At R150 a person for an hour of interaction and R300 for a ride, it’s a bit hefty considering you still need to tip the handlers and guide.

My family were excited enough at the Aviation Adventures’ Flying Club to dare venture onto the microlight plane.

Now, I love adventure just as much as the next person, but being suspended in the air with only a flimsy canvas and scooter engine between you and death was not my idea of fun. But the kids loved it, and that’s what family holidays are about...right?

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