One of the most epic adventures I’ve ever been on was our visit to South Africa last year and for the last six months I’ve been putting everything I have into completing my largest travel guide to date. It’s packed with everything you need to know before you go to South Africa like what to pack, tips on rental cars and driving, the differences between the public and private parks, a highlight of the best parks and places to stay (and which ones to skip), plus so much more. I really hope that this is helpful to you and that you get a chance to visit this fantastic country. Just click below - enjoy!
There is truly no better adventure than going on a South African safari. I spent a month visiting as many parks and reserves as possible, but still barely scratched the surface. So in preparation for the full Type A Trips Travel Guide to be released, my friend Amanda O’Brien from The Boutique Adventurer is sharing her favorite luxury safari spots from her recent trip to South Africa. Enjoy!
Thanda Safari Camp
Thanda Safari Camp is in the Zululand region of South Africa. This 14,000 hectare property has a unique mix of topology – from the coast to mountains to inland. This means it has some particularly unique bird life as well as the big 5!
Thanda is a private game reserve and this is luxury safari at its best. The service levels are outstanding as is the food on offer! A light breakfast is served on the morning game drive. Upon return a full buffet awaits as well as a choice of hot meals. I usually skipped lunch as there was afternoon tea on offer pre game drive, snacks with sundowners and three course dinners – plus fantastic South African wine.
These aren’t rooms – this is your own private lodge! My hut/lodge featured a very large bedroom with a 4 poster bed and ceiling fan. I then had a giant central fireplace plus a good sized living room. The bathroom had a full tub as well as separate shower – additionally there was also an outside shower.
The rooms are beautifully decorated and the linens and towels are high quality. There is a mini fridge and the staff are known to leave little treats each day.
What I Loved
The free iPhone photography lesson on offer. Thanda is one of the only safari lodges in the world to have its own resident photographer Christian Sperka. All Thanda guests are offered a free 90 minute photography lesson with Christian. Make sure you let Thanda know that you want to take the lesson when you book – Christian gets booked up fast!
The Spa - Not many safari camps have a full spa offering! Thanda has developed signature treatments that combine ancient Zulu practices with the best of Western techniques. I very much enjoyed their signature Marula Balm massage.
The extraordinary amount of outdoor space I had at my villa. Not only did I have my own private plunge pool, I also had a large daybed in its own separate area and another private area in case I wanted to put together a barbeque! So decadent!
Things to Note
Thanda is about 2 ½ hours north of Durban. Transfers are offered but it would also be quite easy to drive here and there is parking available
The weather can change dramatically on game drives so it is best to bring layers. Whilst unattractive, trousers that zip off to become shorts are a great option.
Thanda has an extensive conservation program. There are some very unique offerings for guests – from visiting local communities to Rhino Tracking. Do make sure you let Thanda know when you book if these are of interest as they do need to be organized.
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
Kwandwe Private Game Reserve was voted Best Safari Experience in South Africa in 2018 by the Safari Guild. It is easy to see why! The reserve is located on the Eastern Cape and covers 22,000 hectares. Port Elizabeth is the closest airport.
Kwandwe offers a great deal of diversity when it comes to safari experiences. Every guest is encourage to enjoy at least one Big Game Walking safari during their stay. Fishing safaris and night drives are also available.
All guests have access to twice daily game drives as part of their stay. Kwandwe also offers everything from private photography safaris to a Rhino conservation safari to volunteering in the local community.
This is also the perfect place for a celebration! A honeymoon, a wedding, a proposal, a significant birthday, a big family event – Kwandwe has extensive experience in providing all types of occasion celebrations.
The lodges are just stunning! Upon entry the first thing to notice is the wonderful floor to ceiling windows that make sure you really know that you are in Africa. The furnishings are beautiful – a great mix of African design and modern luxury. There are both indoor and outdoor showers, a free standing tub, private plunge pool and outdoor lounges.
What I Loved
The amount of animals wandering around the accommodation. Walking to my room I would see kudu and anteloupe happily munching away at branches. On my second day I sat and watched a family of warthogs who were eating around my terrace. Many are lucky enough to end up with some animals in their plunge pools!
The amazing detail and service levels provided by the guides. I have been on many safaris in my time. However, I have never before had a guide who has been taught how to drive whilst looking back at the passengers! This is done to increase eye contact and make for more conversation – immersing the guests even further into the experience. This was just one example of many.
The surprises on offer. Each day would bring a new unexpected treat. A bush bbq for sundowner. A bottle of sparkling waiting in your room at the end of the afternoon drive just because. One couple even got back to their room to discover a bath had already been drawn for them complete with flowers and candles!
Things to Note
Kwandwe has several accommodation options so make sure you review them in full before booking. There are two lodges and three villas. I stayed at Great Fish River Lodge which I loved. This lodge had 9 “rooms” (they are more like homes) but they were all sufficiently far from each other that it felt very private.
Don’t worry if you forget anything – Kwandwe has a fantastic shop! This is also a great place to source items made by local craftspeople – whoever is sourcing for them is doing a great job providing items that are unique to the region but will also appeal once you get home – especially the decorated ostrich eggs!
More about The Boutique Adventurer
My followers appreciate the finer things in life – but they are looking for authentic experiences when they travel. They have travelled before and most likely visited some of the biggest travel hot spots already. Now they are looking for unique experiences in interesting destinations. These experiences often involve food and wine – as well as sites both natural and man-made that are unique to their environment.
They seek accommodation with a real sense of place expressed through architecture and style. A genuine riad in Morocco, a tented camp in Kenya, a genuine farmhouse in the south of France. Where they sleep is as much a part of the experience as what they eat and photograph. As a travel blogger London based my core audience is from this city.
What better backdrop is there for a romantic photo session than the Canadian Rockies? With the contrast of the turquoise blue waters amidst the vast mountain peaks, there’s few places more stunning than Moraine Lake. During our recent vacation, we were thrilled to work with Celestine Aerden Photography, one of the best photographers in the Canadian Rockies, who gave us some of our favorite travel photos to date that we will cherish forever thanks to her mad skills.
If you’ve ever been on vacation, looked t your surroundings and thought, “I wish I had a sweet photo of us here”, but now all you have is a selfie where your eyes have wandered to the screen instead of the camera lens and your forehead looks way too big, so big it’s blocking the entire view behind you or half the shot is of your embarrassingly bright pink selfie stick- then this post is for you my friend.
There’s no better souvenir from an incredible trip than beautiful photos that represent your time there, that will always transport you to that place and that moment, so when my husband and I began planning our vacation to Banff and beyond, we knew this would be an epic opportunity to get some updated photos taken. It’s something that I highly encourage travelers to do, especially couples who don’t have anything more recent than their wedding photos on the walls or if you plan on sending out holiday cards at the end of the year. Today I am going to walk you through our photo session with Celestine Aerden Photography and my goal is to take you through the process of how to find a photographer and what to expect from start to finish.
Finding Your Photographer
First, you have to find the right photographer that represents your personal style and is within your budget. I started my search for a photographer on Instagram, using hashtags like #canadianrockiesphotographer #albertaphotographer #morainelake. This is an excellent place to start because you’ll get a variety of example photos that will hopefully lead you to a local photographer. You can quickly learn a lot about a photographer through their Instagram shots and can rule out who meets your needs and who doesn’t. I’m looking for shots that are unposed and natural, can capture the scenery and the people equally and evoke emotion, not just a smile. I also don’t love bright colors, usually a bit more of a moody tone so that’s something that I search out as well. When I scrolled through the gorgeous photos in Celestine’s page, I knew she was what I’d been searching for.
I then look through their work and if I like what I see, I continue on to their website. Most photographers will provide a pricing list, which is important because costs can vary widely from one photographer to the next, but you can usually expect somewhere from $150-350 per hour.
Schedule a Date and Time
Once I’ve found a photographer that I’m excited about and fits my budget, I contact them with my dates of availability, request a “mini session” (1-2 hours) and the specific location preference. Weekdays are usually easier to get scheduled because they don’t interfere with busy wedding weekends. Just don’t be too disappointed if your first choice is booked, just keep searching and reaching out!
When I reached out to Celestine, I let her know a bit about us, what we were looking for/hoping for in our photos and any specific shots or scenery that were important to us. I felt like we would hit it off just from our email exchanges, so that already made me feel at ease, like she would get me. I guess that’s what it’s all about, finding someone that just gets you.
Finding the Perfect Outfit for Your Photo Session
After you’ve solidified a photographer and agreed upon a time and place, you’re ready to go shopping. Picking what you’re going to wear is essential to getting the right look and feel. It’s best to avoid thin stripes, overly matching outfits and anything too big or not flattering to your figure. It’s important that you feel beautiful and comfortable, but it’s a time to dress up in more than you would in your day to day. Accessories like hats and chunky jewelry add character to your photos, so don’t be afraid to layer on the look and add a pop of color. Just be sure to pack the perfect outfit rather than waiting to find something when you arrive - like I did in Canada as I wasted way too many vacation hours scouring stores for an eye-catching maxi-dress. Also ask your photographer if they have any recommendation, especially since they are familiar with the area. Celestine was awesome about answering my questions and ensured we had all the info we needed for a successful shoot.
The Day of the Photo Shoot
Now that all the hard planning is done and you’ve convinced your husband to put on a fancy outfit and actual shoes (non-sandals for once!), the intimidating part of actually getting your photo taken is finally here. I’m someone who doesn’t really like to have my photo taken… I become all awkward and sweaty and do weird things with my face like tilting it way to far to one side and finding it necessary to cross my feet or do something equally as unflattering no matter how many times I tell myself to just stand normally! But when we were with Celestine, all of that stress and anxiety melted away and within minutes felt very relaxed as if I was just taking a stroll with a friend. That’s the gift of great photographers, they help you to feel at ease and it’s like they are there to hang out with you and just happen to be taking your photo.
She started us out with an easy stroll to ease us into the process as we talked about her journey into photography and her experience being a new mom. Celestine was extremely easy to talk to and we found ourselves lost in conversation. Fun fact about Celestine - she loves photographing intimate ceremonies like elopements where just a few people share in such a special time.
While we walked she would give us just little bits of direction like where she wanted us to stand or what way to turn, which was super helpful so we weren’t fumbling around aimlessly. She was also encouraging and sweet, genuine and kind - overall just a pleasure to be with, completely distracting me from our little rock climb.
As we continued up this rock mountain, it was hard to know exactly where we were going or what the background was going to be like, but Celestine knew exactly what she was doing. She knew right where to place us to capture the perfect light and she would move around so that she could get the entire mountain range behind us - but we had no idea! She was like a little billy-goat, hoping around from rock to rock to get different angles.
We would just kind of mosey along and she would stop us and tell us to kiss or hold hands, but when you’re standing there you don’t realize the magic going on around you.
To help us switch things up get us to giggle at times, Celestine would ask us silly questions like - “Colin, tell me about your first date in your best British accent” and it was hilarious! Mainly because his British accent is an atrocious combination of Russian/German and painful to listen to.
And then she would ask me about how he proposed or how I knew he was the one and I was nearly in tears. She was doing more than just getting us to laugh or smile, she was creating moments filled with real emotion between us.
We really had a lovely time with Celestine, looking down at Moraine Lake as he whispered romantic somewhat-British nothings into my ear and starred longingly into each other’s eyes. It was easy, it was fun and it was worth it.
Here’s a couple personal tips from my experience:
Don’t be afraid to move around and change up your pose, try different things
Take time to reset if you need to, smiling can get tiring
Don’t think too much about getting it right or perfect, your photographer is an artist and will be able to capture the right moments
After the Photo Shoot
When its all said and done, you go home and wait anxiously for your photos to arrive in your inbox. Usually somewhere from 3-6 weeks later they arrive (often as a link to your private gallery) and if you’re lucky enough to work with a photographer as talented as Celestine, you’ll have a hard time narrowing down which photos are your favorite and will have plenty of shots to last you through an entire year of #TBT on Instagram! Just remember to tag your photographer in your posts, that’s a great way to thank them for their great work.
Be sure to download all of the photos to your computer or external hard drive because they won’t stay up forever and you won’t want to lose them. You should also receive a release from your photographer so that you won’t have any problems when you go to print them out.
We really had a lovely time with Celestine Aerden as our Canadian Rockies photographer for the afternoon. Hovering above Moraine Lake as Colin whispered romantic, somewhat-British nothings into my ear and starring longingly into each other’s eyes, it will be an experience we will never forget. It was easy, it was fun and it was absolutely worth it. I’m so thankful that I have these memories to look back on and updated, non-wedding photos up on the walls.