Update: NZ luxury tour company

Update: NZ luxury tour company

*Wayne’s Waiatoto River Safari, a private river outing

Under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and voyage. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted travel. For those ready to travel now we are offering limited updates about destinations, properties and tours we featured in the past and whose representatives have responded to our questions and requests for updates. This series of updates began in 2021.

In 2019, following a trip to New Zealand and private tour, we profiled Aroha New Zealand Tours Intrepid, South Island. Three of the properties in that itinerary have failed to reply to our emails, two others have closed and one of the attractions is no longer in business. Lakestone Lodge and Cabot Lodge shared updates and responded to questions, see Update: NZ lodge near Fiordland National Park and Update: NZ lodge welcoming international guests.

We recently contacted Veronika Vermeulen, director, Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd. to ask about the bespoke luxury tour company and current travel conditions in New Zealand. Below are our questions and her answers.
Veronika Vermeulen, director, Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd.

Veronika Vermeulen, director, Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd.

LTR: Are you welcoming international travelers?

VV: Yes we are open to all travellers. Tours started back with neighbouring countries in July, and September in general.

LTR: A number of travel business across the globe have shut down post pandemic. Some travelers have been stranded as a result. What is the situation in this regard in New Zealand and with your company?

VV: Everybody was able to leave New Zealand with the help of our company and our government in the following month after the borders were closed. However, some people decided to stay for a month (some have yet to leave) to sit out the world crisis in New Zealand.

LTR: What, if any, policies and safeguards do you have in response to Covid-19?

VV: We have applied government Covid regulation and still provide today a Covid-19 Safety Plan. We are committed to keeping you safe.

On the other hand we are not taking long pre pays and only request a small down payment, to cover our original service cost. Main payment is only required 40 days before arrival (conditions apply with some premium luxury stays).

LTR: Is there flooding, a water shortage/drought or other condition(s) affecting facilities, guests amenities, safe and comfortable travel in New Zealand?

VV: No, none of this is affecting New Zealand for now.

LTR: Are there any updates to your services and tours you care to share. Do you offer private accommodations like rental homes or small lodges for extended stays (a week or longer) and for guest that want a private or isolated stay?

VV: We decided to stay even more unique and boutique with a concentration on customer services rather than the high turnover. We can offer private stays (boutique properties) for privacy and extended stays. However, we still concentrate on private guided tours as our primary sector.

LTR: Would you share details of any extended stay packages such as weekly or monthly rates.

VV: We 100 percent customised and have no standard rates!

See example pricing attached for 2 people.

LTR: New Zealand news of youth gangs, future earthquake risks and other severe weather events have been in the news this year. Would you comment on the likelihood that a visitor might be affected by one or more of those issues?

VV: No gangs are effecting any traveller!

Earthquakes are likely but no danger. Common we are called the shaky ales!

Floods like most other countries around the world.

LTR: Are Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door, Wayne’s Waiatoto River Safari, Tasman Helicopter, Underworld Rafting all operating normally?

VV: Yes all these are running normal again

*Photos were taken during a pre-pandemic trip, except for the photo of Veronika Vermeulen provided by Aroha New Zealand Tours Ltd.

Update: NZ lodge welcoming international guests

Update: NZ lodge welcoming international guests

*Lake and mountains seen from the common areas of Lakestone Lodge in New Zealand

Under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and voyage. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted travel. For those ready to travel now we are offering limited updates about destinations, properties and services featured in our pages in the past and whose representatives have responded to our questions and requests for updates. This series of updates began in 2021.

Earlier this year we reached out to the owners of Lakestone Lodge, originally profiled in 2019 following a South Island itinerary, to ask how the property is doing following the pandemic peak. Our contributor especially liked the family owned lodge’s sustainable practices. Also notable were the property’s intimate and serene setting with lake, and when the weather cooperated, mountain views. Below are updates shared by Mike Bacchus, owner, Lakestone Lodge.

The interior of a guestroom at Lakestone Lodge in the South Island of New Zealand

A view from Sealy, one of the guestrooms

The chef created a daily changing set dinner menu based on local products

Q & A with Mike Bacchus, owner, Lakestone Lodge

Mike Bacchus, owner, Lakestone Lodge
Mike Bacchus, owner, Lakestone Lodge

LTR: Are you welcoming international guests?

MB: We are certainly welcoming international guests even though we have been well supported by domestic travellers over the past few years.

LTR: What, if any, policies and safeguards do you have in response to Covid-19?

MB: Lakestone Lodge is Qualmark Covid Clean certified

LTR: Do you clean common areas, guestrooms daily?

MB: All common areas are sterilised twice daily

LTR: Is there flooding, a water shortage/drought or other condition(s) affecting facilities, guests amenities, etc?

MB: No natural disasters affecting business

LTR: Any updates to the property you care to share such as redecoration, refurbishment especially any luxury amenities, improvements

MB: We have built a Night Sky Arena so guests coming to the largest international Dark Sky Reserve can relax in zero gravity recliners with woollen [woolen] blankets, a mulled wine and have the wonders of the sky pointed out to them

LTR: Do you offer private accommodations for those guest that want a private or isolated stay?

MB: We do offer full lodge (6 guest rooms) for exclusive use

LTR: Details of any extended stay packages such as weekly or monthly rates.

MB: We offer a pay 4, get the 5th night free for exclusive use bookings


From autumn 2021: Anna Bacchus (owner), Leon (sous chef), Kim, Issy, Kelsey (lodge attendants), Mike Bacchus (owner) and Steffen (head chef)

*Photos were taken during a pre-pandemic trip, except for the photos of Mike Bacchus and the Lakestone Lodge staff provided by Lakestone Lodge in 2022.

Update: NZ lodge near Fiordland National Park

Update: NZ lodge near Fiordland National Park

*The two story property had four guestrooms, including a two-bedroom suite.

Under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and voyage. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted travel. For those ready to travel now we are offering limited updates about destinations, properties and services featured in our pages in the past and whose representatives have responded to our questions and requests for updates. This series of updates began in 2021. We paused during the omicron surge and published our first 2022 update in May.

As New Zealand recently reopened its international borders for vaccinated travelers (see covid19.govt.nz/) we thought the following update of Cabot Lodge, a South Island family owned property we profiled in 2019 (prior to the pandemic) would interest some of our readers. The family owned lodge near the Fiordland National Park (see Fiordland, New Zealand by helicopter) was one of our contributor’s favorite properties on that trip thanks to the owners’ warm welcome and professional attitude, comfortable room, local sourcing and earth friendly policies, and many amenities, including an ample supply of delicious homemade toffee. Below are updates recently provided by Breidi Alexander, owner operator, Cabot Lodge, who responded to our questions via email.

Breidi and Brad Alexander, owners, Cabot Lodge

LTR: Are you are welcoming international guests?

BA: Yes – with New Zealand’s borders now open, we are thrilled to be welcoming back our wonderful guests from around the world.

LTR: Have you adopted policies and safeguards in response to Covid-19?

BA: Yes, we are Covid-Clean Certified by Qualmark NZ, implementing extensive cleaning and health and safety procedures for Covid-19.

LTR: Do you clean common areas, guestrooms daily?

BA: All common areas are cleaned three times daily. All guest rooms are serviced once daily, with an additional evening turndown service if requested.

Pomona Deluxe Suite, a 41 square meter room

LTR: Is there a water shortage ordrought or other conditions affecting facilities, guests amenities, etc?

BA: No – thankfully water shortage is not an issue for us, with two rivers crossing through our property, and the Lodge sitting on the boundary of Lake Manapouri and the stunning Waiau River. We are operating business as usual.

LTR: Are there updates to the property you care to share such as redecoration, refurbishment?

BA: We are delighted with the addition of our outdoor spa pool nestled among our Beech Trees above the Lodge, with stunning views over the mountains and Lake Manapouri. We now also provide fishing rods for guest use at our private fishing jetty on the Waiau River, which boundaries the Fiordland National Park. We have increased our staff to a team of five, with a new chef preparing our farm to plate cuisine. With the extension of our glass houses, even more of our ingredients are sourced directly from the farm. Our locally sourced ingredients don’t stop with our meals however – we are also providing homemade soaps and bath salts in each of our guest suites. With Fiordland’s move to become a Dark Sky Sanctuary, we have also overhauled our exterior lighting and undertaken an astronomy course, to ensure we are a Dark Sky Friendly Lodge, perfect for star-gazing enthusiasts. We received a number of accolades for the property recently, including two Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Awards, a Qualmark 5 Star Gold Certification for Boutique Luxury Accommodation, we were named as the top luxury escape by Stuff.co.nz, and we appeared on national television in season two of ‘Lap of Luxury’, a show celebrating the top Lodges across New Zealand and Australia.

There were two patios facing Lake Manapouri and a central courtyard.

LTR: Do you offer private accommodations for those guest that want a private or isolated stay?

BA: The Lodge can be booked exclusively, with rates for 1 – 4 guests, or 5 – 10 guests, perfect for couples who want to travel with the safety of complete seclusion. We are more thankful than ever to be operating a remote and small boutique lodge post-pandemic. Surrounded by a working sheep, deer and cattle station on the boundary of the World Heritage Fiordland National Park, Cabot Lodge is a private and luxury escape.

LTR: If you offer extended stay packages such as weekly or monthly rates provide details.

BA: We provide discounted rates for stays four nights or over, please get in touch with our team for rates and further information.

Cabot Lodge borders the Fiordland National Park

*Photos were taken during pre-pandemic trip, except for the photo of Breidi and Brad Alexander provided by Cabot Lodge in 2022

Botswana safari lodge, camps update

Botswana safari lodge, camps update

Photos* taken during pre-pandemic trip

Under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and voyage. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted all travel. For those ready to travel now we are offering limited updates about destinations, properties and services featured in our pages in the past and whose representatives have responded to our questions and requests for updates. This series of updates began in 2021. We paused during the omicron surge and recently published our first 2022 update (see South Africa luxury safari property update).

Photos* taken during pre-pandemic trip

In November 2015 our contributors stayed at several Desert & Delta-Safaris properties, five in Botswana and one in Namibia. On their return home we published their impressions and photos. Follow the links to read their overall trip impressions in Why we liked Botswana, Namibia safari circuit as well as their thoughts about Camp Moremi in Luxury Travel Review. Find detailed profiles in Simon and Baker Travel Review of Savute Safari Lodge, Xugana Island Lodge, Leroo La Tau, Chobe Savanna Lodge and Chobe Game Lodge. Below are updates provided by James Wilson, marketing director of the property last month.

Photos* taken during pre-pandemic trip

James Wilson, marketing director, Desert and Delta

James Wilson, marketing director, Desert & Delta-Safaris

LTR: Are you are welcoming international guests?

JW: Yes – most certainly

LTR: What policies and safeguards have you adopted in response to Covid-19?

JW: Please see attached documents for information and the following link: Desert & Delta-Safaris COVID-19 Health & Safety Info (readers can find contact information for Desert & Delta-Safaris in the property profiles to request the document)

LTR: Maximum number of guests per game viewing vehicle

JW: 6 per vehicle unless a family group who wish to be together.

LTR: Do you clean common areas, guestrooms daily?

JW: yes. We have strict sanitation and cleaning schedules in place.

LTR: Is there a water shortage/drought or other conditions with the high probability to affect facilities, guests amenities, guest stay, etc?

JW: No.

LTR: Any updates to the property you care to share such as redecoration, refurbishment

JW:

LTR: Do you offer private accommodations for those guest that want a private or isolated stay?

JW: Depending on the guests needs we can offer private dining and private activities during their stay. Private activities are at an additional charge. Enquiries can be made into Xugana Island Lodge and Chobe Savannah Lodge for an exclusive island stay.

LTR: If you offer extended stay packages such as weekly or monthly rates provide details.

JW:

*Except for the photo of James Wilson provided by Desert & Delta-Safaris in 2022

South Africa luxury safari property update

South Africa luxury safari property update

By Elena del Valle

Under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and voyage. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted all travel. For those ready to travel now we are offering limited updates about destinations, properties and services featured in our pages in the past and whose representatives have responded to our questions and requests for updates. This series of updates began in 2021. We paused during the omicron surge. This is the first update in 2022.

Photos taken during pre-pandemic stay at Chitwa Chitwa

“Chitwa Chitwa’s outstanding combination of a stunning waterside location, beautiful room, Big Five game viewing and luxury features made it a Sabi Sand favorite,” summarizes our team’s impression of Chitwa Chitwa Private Game Lodge in 2011 in South Africa’s famous Sabi Sand Game Reserve near Kruger National Park when we first profiled the property that year. Several years later our team was also pleased with the property. “We would recommend the lodge to friends and acquaintances who are fans of boutique safari properties, fine meals with a liberal dose of hot spices, and Big Five game viewing,” they said in our most recent profile of Chitwa Private Game Lodge 2015 published in 2016 following a three night stay late the previous year.


Photos taken during pre-pandemic stay at Chitwa Chitwa

Matthew Brink, marketing director, Chitwa Chitwa

Matthew Brink, marketing director, Chitwa Chitwa

In October 2021 Matthew Brink, marketing director at Chitwa Chitwa, replied to our questions about the property via email. Earlier this month he confirmed the information is still current.

LTR: Are you are welcoming international guests?

MB: Yes, our source markets are now able to travel to South Africa with better ease. This includes the likes of Europe, UK, and the US.

LTR: What policies and safeguards have you adopted in response to Covid-19?

MB: We have adopted new policies for Covid-19, I have attached our Covid protocol and policy below. (LTR readers can reach out to the property to request a copy – email information appears in the property profile on SimonAndBaker.com)

LTR: What is the maximum number of guests per game viewing vehicle?

MB: 6 guests per safari vehicle

LTR: Do you clean common areas, guestrooms daily?

MB: Yes, stringent health and hygiene protocol are followed

LTR: Is there a water shortage/drought or other conditions affecting facilities, guests amenities, etc?

MB: None

LTR: Are there any other updates to the property you care to share such as redecoration, refurbishment?

MB: We have been proactive throughout the various lockdowns and have maintained where necessary with skeleton crew at all times. All of the special Chitwa Chitwa experiences as if the environment was still normal, are offered in the safest way.

LTR: Do you offer private accommodations for those guest that want a private or isolated stay?

MB: All suites at Chitwa Chitwa are very exclusive and private, however for the very best exclusivity and privacy that money can buy, we offer the Chitwa House which is our Private Villa.

LTR: If you offer extended stay packages such as weekly or monthly rates provide details.

MB: We offer a pay 3 stay 4 special which offers free accommodation to one child under the age of 12, and it is applicable to one child per family sharing and children of all ages are welcome.

Photos taken during pre-pandemic stay at Chitwa Chitwa

Our teams stayed in rooms 1, 5 and 9. The 2016 property profile includes many photos of their rooms, common areas, meals, game vehicles, staff and some of the birds and game they sighted as well as their website address and contact information: Chitwa Private Game Lodge 2015

Iconic Africa company offers options for safari isolation

Iconic Africa company offers options for safari isolation

Lunch at Singita Ebony in 2017
We loved the riverbed side setting at Singita Ebony Lodge, photo from 2017.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this update series under normal circumstances our articles are based exclusively on the experiences and photography of our contributors at a destination and property. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic we have halted all travel. For those ready to travel before we are we are offering limited updates about properties we have featured in the past. To that end we are reaching out to properties our contributors have visited (often more than once) and requesting news and updates.

Over the years we have profiled Singita properties in South Africa and Tanzania. In 2004 we featured Singita Lebombo within South Africa’s well known Kruger National Park. In 2006 we featured Singita Boulders Lodge in the popular Sabi Sand Game Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. In 2008 we published an updated feature of Singita Lebombo. It was followed by a profile of Ebony Lodge, also in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in 2011, and in 2017 we published new impressions following a stay at Singita Ebony Lodge.

Sabora Plains pool in 2007

Sabora Plains Tented Camp pool in 2007

In 2007 we featured Sabora Plains Tented Camp and Sasakwa Lodge in the Grumeti Reserve in northern Tanzania. Faru Faru was under construction. Soon after our team’s departure the Grumeti properties entered the Singita marketing umbrella. According to Lisa Carey, manager, PR & Communications, Singita in Cape Town, South Africa, who responded to questions via email, during the Covid-19 period Singita Sabora Tented Camp “has been completely rebuilt.” In addition the company introduced seven stand alone luxury safari rental properties across Southern and East Africa as the Singita Private Villa Collection (new website: singitavillas.com/).

Kataza House has its own wine cellar, cinema room and massage area. A stay there requires deep pockets. For example, as of this writing a 12-night two country package including Kataza House and Serengeti House Private Long Stay Package in Rwanda and Tanzania for up to eight guests starts at $209,239 or $26,155 per person. It includes accommodations, meals, drinks, game drives, onsite activities, private guide, private host, chef and house staff. The properties in the Collection are: Singita Kataza House, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda; in South Africa Singita Lebombo Villa, Kruger National Park (257,300 South African rand per night for up to eight guests), Singita Castleton (between 266,400 South African rand and 315,000 rand per night for up to eight guests) and Singita Ebony Villa, both in Sabi Sand; in Zimbabwe Singita Malilangwe House, Malilangwe; in the Serengeti in Tanzania Singita Explore, Serengeti and Singita Serengeti House, Serengeti.

Singita outlines its pandemic policies in a section on its website (see undated Covid Fact Sheet https://singita.com/singita-covid-19-protocols). According to Carey there is high speed internet access in the rooms and common areas “at all lodges, except Singita Explore – one of our villas, tented on the Serengeti plains.”

When asked about the decline in hotel services and amenities many travelers and travel articles report she replied: “To be honest, we have not had this problem at all. During lockdown, we went through an internal process of assessing every facet of the guest experience and refining, simplifying and making it better. Therefore at the moment, we have adapted many areas to be more in line with what the modern traveller values most – sanctuary, wellness, health, safety, connections in nature.”

Roosevelt's Cottage bedroom in 2007 at Sasakwa Lodge

Roosevelt’s Cottage bedroom in 2007 at Sasakwa Lodge (now Singita Sasakwa Lodge)

Singita Private Collection properties vary in size and amenities. Some have more than one pool. Prices fluctuate with the demand and season, according to her. Singita welcomes extended stays. When asked about weekly and monthly rates Carey said, “we will look at monthly requests on a case-by-case basis.”

Last month two provinces in South Africa suffered widespread rioting, looting at hundreds of locations. There were more than 300 dead (according to a recent article in The Washington Post) as a result of political unrest following the jailing for the nation’s former president. Further media coverage and reports from Singita representatives and other contacts in South Africa indicate the situation has stabilized.

Lindy Rousseau, chief marketing officer, Singita

“The protests were localised in the Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces and were not near Singita’s access points or lodges,” said Lindy Rousseau, chief marketing officer, Singita, via email (forwarded to us by Carey). “Singita’s five lodges in the Mpumalanga province (Sabi Sand and Kruger National Park) were not affected and operated normally during the unrest. Logistical access to the lodges was not impacted. The South African Defence Force and SA Police have restored order and security forces continue to be present in some areas.”

Singita Lebombo swimmingpool (2008)

Singita Lebombo swimming pool (2008)

Our Ebony and Boulders lodges visits in 2011 are described in Singita Sabi Sand properties in South Africa offered gourmet features, raised climate change awareness. We best remember Singita stays for distinctive, comfortable and luxurious accommodations. Our Singita Ebony experience in 2017 comes to mind. Our adjoining twin suites with private heated plunge pools in each were memorable. We liked the luxury property’s two full size swimming pools as well as onsite workout and spa facilities. The staff stood out for their friendliness and customer centered service. Ebony’s riverside dining area was a safari favorite. We also appreciated that property’s emphasis on conservation including a dedicated anti-poaching team.

From South Africa this week the latest update from Singita is that all is well. Carey indicated that there are “no problems getting to/from our lodges. It’s quite cold at the moment, so guests should dress warm!”