The Changing Sands of Phuket

Visions of palm trees swaying gently on an island oasis had frequented my dreams in the weeks preceding our holiday to Phuket, Thailand’s largest Island. This picture however was shattered, when on arrival  the monsoonal trade winds buffeted us onboard our Jetstar A320  taking us for a complimentary circuit around the island. Eventually, our flight landed safely and we made our way from the airport to the island’s west coast and The Surin Phuket – our home for the ensuing week.

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After a very warm welcome by our hosts we were gifted flowers and  escorted to our beach suite. Set amongst coconut palms the cottages of The Surin cascade down a hillside overlooking  the private sands of Pansea Beach. The 16 spacious  beach suites are set far enough apart to afford guests enough privacy and are decorated with local fabrics and artworks. Our private sun deck led directly onto the beach but  what really impressed me was the attention to detail.  Apart from the normal luxuries found in a room of this calibre we were provided complimentary flip-flops and sun hats to use for the duration of our stay. Every evening edible treats were left for us to try and our tropical flowers were refreshed.

The Hotel itself  fits in beautifully with the environment and is well managed with immaculately kept  facilities . We spent many enjoyable hours by the swimming pool and lying around on sun  lounges drinking cocktails from the beach bar. The breakfast was amazing –  bircher muesli was in fact the best I have ever tasted and my son would polish off pancakes, eggs benedict and more pancakes at each sitting.  The library had a great selection of books and a pool table which was put to good use. Complimentary activities were offered each day such as the fruit and vegetable carving course which I attended and failed at dismally. Who would think it would be so difficult to make butterflies out of carrots!

During the week Management held a cocktail party for guests by the pool which we attended and were delighted with  the tasty canapés and selection of drinks available. All the staff we met were personable and seemed happy. The Hotel is on Pansea Beach but Surin beach itself is a 5 minute walk once you leave the Hotel grounds and is host to a number of restaurants and bars. Many of these were actually more expensive than eating at The Surin but is always good to have a variety and occasional change of environment.

Surin Beach
Surin Beach
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The view directly from our sun deck – room 344
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My son contemplating the power of the sea and the beauty around him

We are explorers at heart and so  we hired a car and drove to Patong which with its bars and subsequent massive drain on electricity might be doing its bit for tourism but is certainly not contributing to the environment. We visited Tigerland and wish we hadn’t – separate post to come on that one, and visited Old Phuket Town which we found very interesting and a delight to photograph and experience the atmosphere.

Totally enjoyed visiting Phang Nga Bay with John Gray Sea Canoes. The Hong by Starlight Tour was well run and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, delicious Thai food, and the  experience of canoeing through some very tight rock formations into caverns.

Unfortunately every night of our stay in Phuket the Andaman Sea was unrelenting – spewing forth flotsam and jetsam onto our stretch of island paradise. The Surin staff cleaned the beach every morning    (sometimes for hours) but the fact remained all that rubbish is floating out there in the water. I have travelled extensively but Thailand was where I almost stepped on a syringe nestled in the sand.  Of course the Hotel is not responsible for the filth in the sea , however it did impact on our stay.

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I would like to make it absolutely clear that I found The Surin to be a superb hotel and would recommend staying there in a heartbeat but Phuket in general – I think you either love it or not  – I am sure glad we visited but wouldn’t be in a hurry to return.

A Window Full Of Elephant

Today conversation at work centred on if South Africa was a good destination for the school holidays which bought to mind one of my favourite places  Tshukudu Game Lodge.  Tshukudu is  situated 45 minutes from Kruger National Park’s Orpen Gate about 470 km’s from Johannesburg in Limpopo Province. The Lodge  covers 5000 hectares and hosts all of the Big 5 plus runs an orphaned animal project.


I have been to Tshukudu Game lodge about 18 times – yes great places keep you coming back. Each visit has offered different experiences and been consistently worthwhile.  A Window Full Of Elephant which I have used as the title for this post is in fact the title of a book written by the former owner Ala Zofia Sussens.


Ala with her husband Lolly started the famous “Flame Lily Tours” in  Zimbabwe. Ala was a force in the hospitality industry, starting up “Sundowner Cruises” on the Zambezi and making  a success of the Chobe River Safari Lodge in Botswana before moving to South Africa where in the eighties they took over the running of
a former cattle farm and turned it into a  Lodge  where visitors were truly made to feel like family. Ala became like a second mother to me  and was much loved and admired by many. Tragically in April 2010 Ala was killed along with her eldest son Ian in a terrible car accident.

The running of the property has since passed to the remaining Sussens family who have had to face many challenges but are currently running the Lodge  with some great packages available. Maximum number of guests is 28 and children are very welcome, plus there is wheelchair access for anyone needing this assistance. The thatched chalets are comfortable with views over the bush and a small waterhole.  Tshukudu has always been a 3 star lodge delivering a 5 star experience.

Over the years I have bottle fed lion cubs, lounged by the pool with  purring cheetahs, swum in the river with an 18 month old hippo, hand fed elephants, shared my bed (not voluntarily) with a warthog called cutlet and had my eyes opened to how we must protect the habitat of these animals.

With rhino becoming endangered a very special moment by the pool
With rhino becoming endangered a very special moment by the pool

Tshukudu  is great value for money – Ala’s vision lives on. Would recommend combining 2 nights at Tshukudu  with a few days in the Kruger Park and/or a  Lodge such as Garonga in the Makalali Game Reserve, Ngala in the Timbavati or any of the lodges in the Sabi Sand.


Imfundu’s Beef Curry

How I love this curry  summer or winter – made from scratch and so easy
Will be enjoying it on my next sojourn to the Kruger Park for sure

1 kg diced chuck steak
1 onion sliced
1 tbspn grated ginger
4 crushed cloves garlic
1 tspn turmeric
2 tspn’s garam masala
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tspn ground coriander
4 tspn’s hot curry powder
400g can tinned tomatoes
coriander to garnish
Serves 4-6 with rice, pappadums and chutney

Saute onion with ground coriander & cinnamon.
Add curry powder, turmeric, ginger, garlic & tomatoes.
Add meat, simmer for 3 hours adding a little water if required.
When meat is tender add garam masala.
Garnish ,serve and enjoy.

My  recipe to which I often add a potato in the last hour of cooking

Xaranna – Island Paradise

Xaranna tented camp situated on a small island within a private           25 000 hectare concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta is the most stunning  property I have stayed at in Southern Africa – not only because of the amazing scenery and luxurious tents but due to the amazing team of staff .
 The attention to detail, friendliness, knowledge was just superb. & beyond have exceeded their reputation as one of Africa’s finest Safari Companies with this Camp.

View was spectacular from our tiny 12 seater plane
View  over the Delta was spectacular from our tiny 12 seater plane




lechwe grazing below us
lechwe grazing below us

Xaranna  situated  in the Okavango Delta  is 20 minutes by air from Maun. The Camp overlooks a permanent channel and is an absolute vision from the minute you glimpse the spacious tents. We visited in May and the water was at a high level so the only access in and out was by small boat. Our guides MD and Mot collected us by land rover from the airstrip,  we were driven 5 minutes to a waiting boat which then transported us for 45 minutes to our island paradise .

Approaching Xaranna by boat for the first time - what a vision- what a treat
Approaching Xaranna by boat for the first time – what a wonderful vision to behold
A pod of hippo greeted us from the lagoon  just near our tents no 1 and 2


On arrival our greeting  was literally music to my ears – the whole contingent of staff sing  a greeting song as you approach the jetty and disembark the boat.

Xaranna's welcoming committee singing a beautiful song
Xaranna’s welcoming committee singing a beautiful song

Xaranna is decked out to reflect the  colours of the waterlily. Pink and green is everywhere – cushions, stools, marshmallows, lights, even the floaties for the plunge pool. It is aesthetically beautiful, soothing and  the colours work brilliantly together. Each of the 9 tents are equipped with a private sala,  large plunge pool, and al- fresco shower.

The tables for dinner, lunch and breakfast are set up in stunning locations on the Island  and the food is simply sensational. Even the dietary requirements of a six year old were taken into consideration.

lunch setting - magnifique!
lunch setting – magnifique!

The short time we spent in this Delta paradise went too quickly. 
Our guides MD and Mothusi(Mot) – we loved , they were so engaging , enthusiastic and knowledgeable . 
Saw buffalo, elephant, plenty of general game and a impala hanging in a tree(no sign of the leopard unfortunately just tracks). Little owl near our tent was a highlight.

The view from our sala and private plunge pool was so divine it seemed unreal
The view from our sala and private plunge pool was so divine it seemed unreal


Mokoro trip was bliss with MD and Mot pointing out the tiny frogs and bugs for us to photograph. We paddled to a tiny island for sunset drinks where my son found some catfish skeletons.  We were invited by Mot to swim in the “safe” channels of the Delta but I opted out on that idea….decided to just leave our footprints behind!

One evening after fishing my husband and I had a candlelit bath drawn for us and leaves were placed on the bed spelling our names next to a bottle of champagne. Such a wonderful surprise. Our Botswana Safari was self- planned consisting of a night in Maun, 3 nights at Sandibe Camp, 2 nights at Xaranna and 2 nights in the Makgadikgadi Pans. We took advantage of cheaper rates in the green season as Botswana is an expensive destination within Africa.


We left for our trip back home with tears in our eyes as we were sad to leave such a beautiful land but have vowed to return . If your not confident planning your own safari contact Swagman Tours for some assistance as their staff are experts on Africa or alternatively  <>

Oasis in Maun

Maun the gateway to the Okavango Delta is a very basic town with  a couple of stylish gift shops and cafes. Pretty much everything there revolves around the tourism industry.  I always like to see what a city/town has to offer when I am passing through so on my week long Safari to Botswana I booked a night at Royal Tree Lodge.


After arriving from Johannesburg at Maun International Airport we easily cleared immigration and were collected from the airport by the driver from Royal Tree Lodge in their very comfortable safari vehicle. The half hour journey  to the Lodge along a 15 km dirt road was bumpy yet extremely interesting. We drove past numerous stalls, donkeys, goats and horses lining the roadside. On arrival into the game reserve surrounding the Lodge we saw giraffes and later on a walking trail during the afternoon plenty of eland and impala.


The grounds were really beautiful with a number of scenic water holes. We were actually the only guests staying the night and were allocated tents 1 and 2 both of which were fabulously appointed and extremely comfortable. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch on the teak deck overlooking the swimming pool before embarking on one of the walking trails. Our relaxing half hour walk turned into 2 hours plus as due to the lack of any paper map and a few missing signs we took a wrong turn and became hopelessly lost. Not a good situation to be in with a young  child and no water. Lesson learnt – always carry water. Trying to remain calm, after analysing our situation we decided it was best to retrace our steps. Foot sore and tired we arrived back in time for afternoon tea collapsing under the shade of the lead wood tree where we devoured scones with copious amounts of jam and cream. No one had even noticed we had been gone longer than expected …





That evening we enjoyed a delicious dinner outside under the large leadwood  tree where a family  of spotted genets supervised our meal. I am sure they were ever hopeful for some meat to just drop off the plate.


Despite our misadventure on the walk we absolutely loved staying at this delightful Lodge which has just 8 tents and would thoroughly recommend breaking up a Botswana Safari with a night in residence.


Reach Out and Embrace Africa