A RAPID-FIRE CATCH-UP with Luxury Safaris’ Michelle Stanvliet, one of the brains behind constructing your dream holiday. From her favourite luxury safari destinations to the jewels of her home region on the Garden Route, she gives us an insider’s take on travel in Southern Africa.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Somerset West and moved to Wilderness six years ago. I’m currently living in George and thoroughly enjoying the Garden Route! I’m so blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country.
What’s your career background?
I started my travel career as a consultant in 1995 and worked for Sure Livingstone Travel in Somerset West. As I progressed in my career I worked for Club Travel for many years and also Sure Maties Travel in Stellenbosch (with Luxury Safaris boss Pieter and his Dad). I took a career break to raise my two children for a little while and I am now rebooting my career as a home-based consultant.
How long have you been with Luxury Safaris/PG Tops?
I joined Luxury Safaris/PG Tops in February 2018.
When you are not at work, what do you do for fun?
When I’m not working, my free time is normally spent enjoying the outdoors. I thoroughly enjoy exploring the many forest walks and beaches the Garden Route area has to offer. Visiting all the superb little coffee shops that are off the beaten path is another favourite activity as well as kayaking trips on the rivers and lagoons. If the sun is shining, you’ll find me in the forest, on a lake or river or sharing coffee and cake with friends!
What are some of the biggest tourism misconceptions about South Africa?
In my experience, some common misconceptions tourist have about South Africa, besides the normal language and crime issues are:
- Distance. The size of the country is often underestimated and often guests are not aware of the distances between cities/areas and the time it takes to travel between them.
- The diversity in culture which can be experienced here is another misconception. We have a lot more to offer and experience than tourists are aware of.
What in your opinion are some of the most underrated destinations/experiences in Southern Africa?
I would have to say our West Coast area which offers spectacular scenery, the beach and the displays of flowers each year. Close by is the Cedarberg which offers us an experience I thoroughly enjoy for that getaway to the middle of nowhere to simply be – to reconnect with ourselves and family on hikes, around camp fires, swimming in rivers…and with no cell phone reception! The Baviaanskloof is also another hidden gem in the Eastern Cape. Further afield, Namibia deserves more consideration when choosing a holiday destination as it offers the stark beauty of desert and coastal scenery, relaxation, lots of adventure and safari experiences. While it’s not Southern Africa, for those seeking an unforgettable and unique wildlife encounter, trekking through the forests of Rwanda tracking gorillas and chimps will leave an impression for life!
Which of the Luxury Safaris lodges/hotels are your favourites?
A few of the lodges immediately made an impression on me and they are: Tongabezi in Zambia, Ivory Lodge and River Lodge in Sabi Sands and closer to home…has to be Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and Dwyka Tented Lodge at Sanbona. A few favourite hotels would include: Cape Grace, Le Quartier, and Tsala Treetops.
What are the must-see/must-do experiences you recommend to any visitor?
When visitors book a trip a to South Africa, they generally want to experience good food, culture, art, awesome scenery, something outdoors and a safari experience. Cape Town is always a must see when visiting South Africa and offers the client the opportunity to experience the good food offered by many spectacular restaurants, great shopping and the arts. Our Peninsula and winelands tours provides the unforgettable scenery and a cultural experience which is difficult to match. Don’t forget Table Mountain! You can’t come to Cape Town and not go up the mountain! Further up the coast, if you’re here when the whales are here, then that is a boat trip that should be on your bucket list. To witness the sheer size and beauty of these mammals is a memory you will treasure for a very long time. I feel that the Garden Route should never be missed while visiting South Africa. The few things I wouldn’t leave this area without doing are: the Cango Caves, an eco-hike in our forests, a sunset cruise on the Knysna Lagoon, a sunset walk with the cheetahs and I always recommend a visit to one of the wildlife rehabilitation centres to learn about the work being done and to support their much appreciated efforts. When visiting South Africa, always set aside at least 3 nights to experience an authentic safari and there are so many options to choose from to suit various budgets. It’s a must!
What are your three favourite places in Southern Africa?
I would have to say the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Namib Desert and the Garden Route!
What are your top three destinations globally?
I can only base this on places I have been fortunate enough to visit. Of those places I’d return to Italy, Greece and Portugal in a heartbeat. There are of still places on my bucket list: Korea, Peru and Rwanda and all the experiences these three places have to offer still await.
When you travel, what do you personally look for? Relaxation and luxury? Adrenaline and adventure?
When I travel I look for comfort, not necessarily luxury. The venue must have atmosphere. Relaxation is a must with a little adventure.
What’s your favourite view and your sundowner of choice?
My favourite view would be a lake surrounded by a forest, people busy with activities they’re thoroughly enjoying – while I sip on a Pina Colada!