Travels with Andrew, Heide and Lachlan. Stories, photos, tips and recommendations for family travel.
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On our previous trips to Japan we had always hopped on a train straight from the airport. We had never had time for a Narita stopover. However, on our recent family trip to Japan we were arriving a day before the friends we were going to travel with, so we had some time to explore […] The post Japan – A Narita Stopover appeared first on Airports and...
On our previous trips to Japan we had always hopped on a train straight from the airport. We had never had time for a Narita stopover. However, on our recent family trip to Japan we were arriving a day before the friends we were going to travel with, so we had some time to explore Narita before we headed to the first major destination of our trip, Kyoto.
Narita is the airport for Tokyo, but it’s a long way from the city, about an hour by train. Fortunately, the nearby town of Narita has some things to do and see. If you only have a few hours between flights, the Narita Airport Transit & Stay Program provides options to see Narita town or other nearby places. However, we had an overnight Narita stopover so we chose to explore Narita independently. We landed around lunch time, and after clearing customs we headed to our hotel which was a short walk from the airport terminal. See the “Where to Stay” section later on in this post for information about accommodation options for a Narita stopover.
By the time we had had showers and freshened up after our long flight from Houston, it was mid-afternoon. We realized we had to get moving while we still had daylight to check out Narita town. After a short train ride from the airport, we made it to Narita Station to start our exploration.
Exiting the station, we saw a small but bustling town. Narita is a good first experience for a trip to Japan, because it isn’t as overwhelming as suddenly arriving in Tokyo or Shinjuku Station and having to battle the crowds. The first interesting sight we came across, right outside Narita Station, was a statue of a kabuki actor which looks out over the town.
From the statue, we set off along Omotesando (the main street in Narita), heading towards the Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple. This is the main attraction in Narita, but the walk through town to get there is also quite pleasant. There are many souvenir shops and restaurants along the way. Unfortunately for us most places were closed, as it was late afternoon. This was probably for the best, because it meant we weren’t distracted so we got to the temple while there was plenty of daylight left.
In fact, the late afternoon sunlight was spectacular. The temple buildings glowed, and the golden architectural details shone brightly.
There were also interesting temple guardians and statues. Some of these looked fairly new. This is obviously a temple that is a part of the lives of the people of Narita, not just a historical or tourist site.
With the sun setting, we headed back towards Narita Station to look for something to eat. We had limited options as it seems that almost all of the restaurants along Omotesando operate for lunch rather than dinner. We read online that the local specialty is unagi (eel), but we couldn’t find an unagi restaurant that was open. This was a shame, because unagi is Lachlan’s favorite Japanese food, and his goal for our trip to Japan was to eat unagi every day.
Fortunately, we were able to find a sushi restaurant, which was a good start to our Japanese food experiences for the trip (the food is one of the best things about any trip to Japan).
After enjoying our sushi, we were really feeling the travel fatigue from our long journey from Houston. So it was time to head back to Narita station to get a train back to Narita airport and our hotel.
Note – this section contains an affiliate link. If you use it to make a booking we’ll make a small commission, with no extra cost to you.
With Narita town being a short train ride from Narita Airport, if your Narita stopover includes an overnight, there are feasible options in town and near the airport. We chose to stay right at the airport as we were meeting our friends early the next morning when they arrived in Japan to join us. We stayed at the Narita Airport Rest House, which was walking distance from the terminal we arrived at. This is an older property, but very clean and a good budget option.
We enjoyed our Narita stopover. Hopefully this post gives you an idea about what there is to do and see if you have some time to spare while passing through Narita Airport.
This post is an overview of our family safari in South Africa and Swaziland. It was a great trip and we covered a lot of ground in two weeks. This was enough time to see an amazing amount of wildlife, and also to spend some time seeing non-animal scenery. Each section below includes a […] The post Family Safari – South Africa and Swaziland appeared first on Airports and...
This post is an overview of our family safari in South Africa and Swaziland. It was a great trip and we covered a lot of ground in two weeks. This was enough time to see an amazing amount of wildlife, and also to spend some time seeing non-animal scenery. Each section below includes a link to a more detailed post about each part of our trip.
We planned two nights in Johannesburg to give us a full day to recover from the marathon sixteen hour flight from the U.S. to South Africa. As it turned out, due to the evening arrival into Johannesburg, we got a great night’s sleep the first night, and had enough energy for a full day’s sightseeing the next day.
There is plenty to do and see in Johannesburg, including the Apartheid Museum and Soweto township tours, but we opted to drive a little way out of town to the Cradle of Humankind. Around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils have been found in this area and many of these are on display in a very interesting and educational setting. We also visited the Sterkfontein Caves, the site of some important fossil finds.
After our travel recovery time in Johannesburg, we were excited to begin our family safari in earnest in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy. This was a good place for Lachlan’s first safari experience as it doesn’t have a lot of predators like the Kruger area camps, so the game viewing is a bit more low key. However there are still plenty of animals to see and the scenery is spectacular.
Accommodation options are also a bit cheaper than the Kruger area lodges, and with a location between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, the Entabeni Safari Conservancy makes an ideal add-on to a Kruger visit, or a quick getaway from Johannesburg if you can’t make it all the way to Kruger.
Before we plunged into the full-on Kruger wildlife experience, we took a day to check out the famous Panorama Route. The Blyde River Canyon provides some amazing scenery, definitely worth a day away from the animals.
For this sightseeing day and our next day’s visit to Kruger National Park, we based ourselves in the small town of Hazyview, just outside the park. We stayed at the Rissington Inn, which we would definitely recommend.
On our second day in Hazyview we got up very early, picked up a picnic breakfast prepared by our hotel and drove to Kruger National Park. We arrived at the gate just before it opened, ready for a full day’s self-drive safari action. Although we didn’t see any lion, leopard or rhino, we saw plenty of other wildlife. We actually saw more than we expected, considering we had to spot the game ourselves, without a guide. The highlight was seeing elephants right next to the road on multiple occasions.
The highlight of our trip was three days on the Manyeleti Game Reserve. This reserve is right next to Kruger National Park, with no fence between the two places, so animals can roam freely between them. We saw four of the Big Five on our first game drive the afternoon we arrived, then completed the Big Five the next morning. We saw lions on a kill, lion cubs and even lions in a standoff with a group of hyenas protecting their kill.
It was all new to Lachlan, but Heide and I were particularly excited to see leopards. We had only managed to catch the briefest glimpse of one on our previous African safari experiences.
We stayed in the Honeyguide Tented Camps in the heart of the reserve. There are actually two different camps, we stayed in the family-friendly Khoka Moya camp. This was a very authentic bush camp experience, but with great food and tents with indoor plumbing. We saw three of the Big Five (lion, elephant and buffalo) at the camp waterhole.
After the excitement of the Manyeleti Game Reserve, we headed to the tiny land-locked nation of Swaziland. At the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary we had a more laid-back safari experience. This reserve lacks the lions and elephants of the other reserves we visited. This means that you can cycle or walk amongst the wildlife here. With only one day at Mlilwane we chose to drive around the park, seeing lots of different kinds of antelope, as well as zebra, hippos and crocodiles.
For the last couple of days of our trip, we moved to more comfortable accommodation at the Mogi Boutique Hotel. We checked out some of the sights of Swaziland and did a bit of shopping before heading back to Johannesburg for our flight back home.
The highlight of our Swaziland sightseeing adventures was driving to the top of Sibebe Rock, a massive granite monolith. We also learned about Swaziland’s history at the memorial park for King Sobhuza II and at the Swaziland National Museum.
I took a lot of photos on our safari trip. Even after narrowing down to the best ones there were too many to include in the blog posts, so here’s a gallery including a bunch of pics that didn’t make it into the posts.
So Many Animal Photos … There are usually many uncertainties and surprises involved with travel to Africa, but one thing for sure is that you will take a lot of photos, especially on safari. Even after editing and narrowing down to the best ones, we had more photos than we could use in our blog […] The post Animal Photos from our Family Safari appeared first on Airports and...
There are usually many uncertainties and surprises involved with travel to Africa, but one thing for sure is that you will take a lot of photos, especially on safari. Even after editing and narrowing down to the best ones, we had more photos than we could use in our blog posts. So here is a post with all of our animal photos, organized by animal. Let’s start with the Big Five:
There are other animals that don’t make the cut for “Big Five” status, but are just as iconic and must-sees on safari in Africa.
We saw so many different types of antelope that I’m not going to do a separate gallery for each one.
As well a four-legged creatures, we saw an incredible range of birds, from tiny bee-eaters to majestic eagles.
Pictures from game drives and game lodges – the friendly guides and staff as well as the awesome scenery helped make our safari experiences great.
Swaziland Sightseeing After the final wildlife experience of of our trip in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, we planned to spend the last couple of days in Swaziland sightseeing. We also planned to spend some time in more luxurious accommodations after “roughing it” in game lodges and even a backpackers hostel. After a lot of early […] The post Family Safari – Sightseeing in Swaziland appeared first on Airports and...
After the final wildlife experience of of our trip in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, we planned to spend the last couple of days in Swaziland sightseeing. We also planned to spend some time in more luxurious accommodations after “roughing it” in game lodges and even a backpackers hostel. After a lot of early mornings for game drives, we also planned to sleep a bit later each morning.
For our couple of nights of luxury at the end of our trip we chose to stay at Mogi Boutique Hotel. It lived up to the “boutique” label by being small and comfortable, with friendly staff and a great breakfast served each morning. It is built into the side of a hill, so the view from the deck outside our room was spectacular.
After we arrived at the hotel, we spent some time exploring the lush gardens, which featured a stylish pool built into the hillside. Unfortunately it was too cold to swim. The view from the rocks next to the pool into the Ezulwini Valley was spectacular.
A highlight of our Swaziland sightseeing adventure was the memorial park for Swaziland’s beloved King Sobhuza II. Sobhuza reigned for more than sixty years, and led Swaziland to independence from the British. The park includes some nice gardens and the obligatory statue of the great man.
There was an interesting display about Sobhuza’s life and times, which did a good job of giving a sense of the man beyond his ceremonial and political roles. We particularly enjoyed the car collection. The King enjoyed trading up to the latest model of Cadillac every couple of years.
Swaziland is known for the availability of a wide range of reasonably priced arts and crafts. It’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs of your African travels. We only bought a couple of small items as we were traveling with carry-on luggage only and we already have a lot of African items in our house from the time we spent living in Africa. Nevertheless, we spent some time browsing the Swazi Candles Centre looking at some interesting things.
The Swazi Candles factory and store is the main attraction. It sells an amazing array of candles in all shapes and sizes. The most impressive and uniquely African are in the shape of various animals – you can choose your favorite.
As well as Swazi Candles itself, there are open air stalls selling the standard African souvenirs that we had seen all over South Africa. The selection and prices were pretty good.
More interestingly, there were some stores selling higher quality and more contemporary arts and crafts. There’s definitely something for everyone here.
This is an obvious must-see for any Swaziland sightseeing program. However, I would recommend that you don’t set your expectations too high. The exhibits are a bit dated and the building is tired. They have some more of King Sobhuza II’s cars there, but they are in need of some repairs.
It’s still definitely worth a visit. You can find some interesting information about the history and people of Swaziland, and the displays have a retro kitsch vibe that is entertaining.
The most unexpected part of our Swaziland sightseeing was Sibebe Rock. This is basically a gigantic piece of granite, but is impressive and important enough to be on the label of one of Swaziland’s most popular beers. Our plan was to find a place to gaze up at it in wonder, however our day took a different direction when we stopped at the information centre to ask about the best viewpoint. A guide told us that we would be able to make it to the top of the rock in our rental 4X4 SUV.
This sounded like a fun adventure, so we all got back into the car and our guide directed us up the steep and rough road to the top. There were a couple of rocky parts where we thought we might have made a terrible mistake, but we made it to the top, and it was worth the effort. The views were spectacular.
We got out of the car and went for a walk amongst the huge boulders that looked like they had been tossed around like pebbles.
The highlight of our Sibebe Rock experience was climbing up to a secret cave (at least our guide claimed he is the only one who knows about it). As you can see it was quite a climb, then we scrambled trough the cave for the best views yet.
Our final Swaziland sightseeing stop was Ngwenya Glass. We stopped here on our way out of Swaziland heading to Johannesburg to catch our flight home. We watched some glass items being made, including some items being blown, which was fascinating. Even though the viewpoint was fairly high above the factory floor, we could really feel the heat from the furnace. It must be really hot work during the Swaziland summer.
Of course there was a showroom with all kinds of glass objects for purchase. Similar to Swazi Candles, the most interesting things were the objects shaped like African animals. The skill required to make these is impressive. with our limited luggage space we limited our purchases to one small rhino bottle stopper.
We were glad that we experienced Swaziland. Although we only had a few days there, we saw enough to get a good feel for the place. It’s quite interesting to be in a tiny country surrounded entirely by another country (South Africa). Swaziland is definitely worth a visit as an add-on to a South African journey.
Note – some links in this post are affiliate links. If you use them to make a booking, we’ll make a small commission (at no extra cost to you).
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary – Swaziland After our adventures in Kruger National Park and the Manyeleti Game Reserve, we headed south to Swaziland. We planned to finish our African family safari with a bit of luxury and some Swaziland sightseeing. However, we still had one more wildlife safari experience to go, the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary. Sondzela […] The post Family Safari – Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary appeared first on Airports and...
After our adventures in Kruger National Park and the Manyeleti Game Reserve, we headed south to Swaziland. We planned to finish our African family safari with a bit of luxury and some Swaziland sightseeing. However, we still had one more wildlife safari experience to go, the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
To help offset our expensive accommodation costs in the South African game parks, we decided to stay at Sondzela Backpackers. This is a very unique place, being a backpackers hostel inside a game reserve. However, we didn’t go so far as to stay in a dorm room, they have private rooms in a classic African rondavel style.
These private rooms are located up the hill from the main hostel building, with a nice view into the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.
We could even see some wildlife from our room.
We did have a bit of trouble finding our accommodation. We ended up having to ask at the main Mlilwane gate, where a ranger offered to show us the way. It was a win/win situation as we were able to give him a ride to somewhere close to his home, saving him a long walk. The way he casually slung his rifle into the back seat next to Lachlan was a bit disconcerting, but he was very helpful in getting us to Sondzela.
Unfortunately, the advantage of Sondzela Backpackers being in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary was negated somewhat while we were there by the fact that a bridge was under construction. This meant that we had to drive outside the sanctuary and enter via the main gate instead of being able to drive directly into the park from Sondzela.
Following a good night’s sleep we were up bright and early the next day. After breakfast cooked over an open fire we were ready for our day’s adventures.
There are a number of activities you can do in the park. Because there are no lions, rhino or elephant it can be explored by bicycle or on foot. There are crocodiles, so swimming is not on the agenda (except for the pool at Sondzela Backpackers). However, because we only had one full day in the park we decided to drive. The weather was beautiful, and due to the lack of dangerous animals we could drive with the windows down, which was pleasant.
The first animal we came across was a warthog. It interesting to see that his coloring was different to those that we had seen in South Africa – more brown.
We soon came across a lake, formed by a weir on the Mhlangeni River. Getting out of the car to stretch our legs and we saw a nice view. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous lurking in the water, but later we would see why there wasn’t anybody swimming.
There were a few zebras in the park. Without any predators they were fairly relaxed and we could get closer to them than we had been in any of the South African reserves.
There was quite a lot of birdlife in the park, with the most plentiful bird being the white-fronted bee eater.
As well as seeing lots of these little guys out and about, we came across a creek bed where they made their homes. We were surprised to see they lived in holes, not nests.
We followed the road up to a viewpoint that looked out over the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Ezulwini Valley that surrounds it.
A feature of the park is the variety of antelope species that can be seen. We saw quite a few here that we hadn’t seen in South Africa.
Interestingly, it was in Swaziland that we saw springboks, not South Africa.
The sanctuary has a program helping to preserve the roan antelope. Although not endangered yet, habitat loss and poaching are threats to this species, and population is declining. They are one of the largest antelope, and are quite an impressive sight.
Towards the end of our day’s adventures, we came across a series of viewpoints that overlooked the water. This was on the opposite side of the lake from where we had been early in our drive. This is where the hippos and crocodiles were lurking (or maybe just lounging in the sun).
We enjoyed our day in Mlilwane. It was definitely a different experience to the private game reserves we visited in South Africa (the Entabeni Safari Conservancy and the Manyeleti Game Reserve), and also quite different to Kruger National Park. Without the “superstar” animals like lion and elephant it was a more low-key experience, but it was nice to get close to the animals. If we had more time there than one day, walking or cycling through the animals would have been a unique experience.
I wouldn’t recommend this place as the only safari experience on your trip to Africa, but it is a good addition to an itinerary where you are covering the Big Five and other predators in other places like Kruger National Park or a private reserve. The lack of dangerous predators and options for activities beyond riding in vehicles also makes it a great place for kids.
Three days on the Manyeleti Game Reserve After our do-it-yourself safari in Kruger National Park, we headed north to the Manyeleti Game Reserve. This is a private game reserve that borders Kruger National Park, so the animals can roam freely between the reserve and the park. We had three action-packed days at Khoka Moya, so […] The post Family Safari – Manyeleti Game Reserve appeared first on Airports and...
After our do-it-yourself safari in Kruger National Park, we headed north to the Manyeleti Game Reserve. This is a private game reserve that borders Kruger National Park, so the animals can roam freely between the reserve and the park. We had three action-packed days at Khoka Moya, so it’s hard to sum it up in one post. Instead of a chronological description of our time here, this blog post will be organized by the animals we saw, starting with the Big Five.
Before we get to the animal photos (scroll down if you you want to get straight to those) – a few words about where we stayed on the reserve. After a lot of online research, we booked our stay at Honeyguide Khoka Moya Camp. There are two Honeyguide tented camps in the Manyeleti. Khoka Moya is the fully family-friendly option, while the Mantebeni camp has a minimum age of 12 years. The Honeyguide camps offer an authentic bush camp experience.
Although the tents have all the conveniences (e.g. plumbing), there’s nothing like the sound of a lion roaring in the night with just canvas between you and it to make you truly feel like you’re in the African bush. These camps are more expensive than a regular hotel, but they are all-inclusive (including two game drives per day). They are a lot less expensive then some of the ultra-luxury safari camps in other nearby reserves.
We knew we were in for an intense wildlife experience as soon as we arrived at the camp. We had to wait (at the bar, of course) half an hour to get to our rooms while a group of buffalo enjoyed the camp waterhole.
During our stay at Khoka Moya we ended up seeing three of the Big Five at the camp waterhole. As well as the buffalo that greeted us when we arrived, we had a group of elephants come through the camp one lunch time.
Most excitingly, we had an after-dinner visit from a lion.
The food and drinks at Khoka Moya were up to the usual game lodge standard, and the service was friendly. However, the main reason for being there was the wildlife experience, and the game drives did not disappoint.
Read on for pics of the incredible amount of wildlife we saw on our game drives.
On our first game drive we headed for a large waterhole. Reaching the waterhole, we came across a large group of elephants who had gathered to drink.
After a while the herd decided they had drunk their fill and moved off. It was then that we noticed a very young elephant in the group.
The other times we saw elephant they were away from the water foraging and eating trees. It’s amazing how much damage a herd of elephants can do to the small trees they like to eat. They rip them apart.
Not far from the herd of elephant we saw on our first drive was a solitary rhinoceros. It was also enjoying the cool of the evening at the waterhole.
We came across a few more during our time on the reserve, but they were definitely less plentiful than the elephants. Poaching is always a concern with these guys, and the rangers work with the South African authorities to try to prevent it. Unfortunately, they are not always successful, and rhinos continue to be lost.
On the Entebeni Safari Conservancy we didn’t see any lion, although we spent time trying to track one that had reportedly moved onto the reserve. Our guide there told us not to worry because we’d see plenty of lions (and much more) on the Manyeleti Game Reserve. He was not wrong, starting with our first game drive, where we came across this battle-scarred warrior.
This was just the beginning. The next day we came across the whole pride (including some very cute cubs) hanging out at the site of a kill.
The most exciting lion sighting was when we came across some lions defending their kill from a large group of hyenas who were looking for an easy meal. One hyena managed to grab a tiny morsel (which was then fought over by a group of its friends), but mostly it was an uneasy standoff. We knew this was a very special sighting when we saw that our tracker had his phone out taking pictures.
In another very special sighting, we came across a mother and her cub on the move late one evening as were headed back to camp thinking our wildlife viewing was over for the day.
With lions being the main attraction on the reserve, it was fitting that our last sighting on our last game drive was a pair of bachelor brothers moving in to try and claim some territory in the area. The guides seemed interested to see how this would turn out, with the potential for some clashes between them and the existing population.
On our first game drive, we saw four out of the Big Five, with the last sighting for the evening being buffalo. They were traveling in a typical large herd.
The other time we saw buffalo was one evening when we came across an even larger herd right around sunset.
This was the Big Five member we were most excited to see in South Africa. We went on safari a few times when we lived in Africa for a few years in the early 2000s, seeing pretty much everything except leopard. The closest we came was a glimpse of a paw as it dragged a freshly killed baboon up a tree.
We had to wait until our second game drive before we saw a leopard, but it was an excellent sighting, right out in the open. We followed it for a while until it disappeared into some impenetrable brush.
We had a couple more leopard sightings during our time on the reserve. The most memorable was when we came across a leopard keeping guard under a tree where it had stashed a kill. We got to see it play with some leaves (like a giant kitten) before it climbed back up the tree when it decided to go back up for a bit of a chew.
Although the focus of our games drives was the incredible frequency of Big Five sightings, we also saw other things. We saw plenty of birds, including an unusual daytime sighting of a spotted eagle owl.
Because we spent quite a bit of time at sights where lions had killed some prey, the birds we saw most often were vultures.
We also saw the usual assortment of antelopes, although they seemed to be a bit shy compared to other reserves. I guess this is understandable given how many predators were roaming the place.
There were also a fair assortment of animals which aren’t part of the Big Five, but are iconic safari sights in their own right.
As well as the wildlife on display, each evening we stopped to admire an amazing sunset. Of course we marked these sunsets with a beverage, in a scenic (and safe) spot chosen by our guide.
We had an amazing experience on the Manyeleti Game Reserve. We saw an amazing amount of game, with multiple sightings of all of the Big Five. The guides and staff at Honeyguide Khoka Moya Camp were great, and the deluxe tents provided comfort and an authentic African bush experience. If you’re looking for a family-friendly private game reserve experience, we’d highly recommend following in our footsteps.
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