There are holidays and then there are exotic holidays. I have always envisaged my dream exotic holiday to be in the back of an open-air vehicle, dressed in a khaki safari suit, on the lookout for nature’s most idyllic wildlife. So to experience a safari in beautiful South Africa is a dream come true. Seeing zebras, giraffes, rhinos and elephants up close in the wild is an enormous privilege, and certainly something I will never forget.
But if I’m lucky to experience such a holiday, I’m even more fortunate to do it in style. I fly return in Qantas Business from Sydney to Johannesburg, where cash fares start from $7,269. But these flights can also be booked for just $488 in fees and taxes, plus 189,800 Qantas Points!
As I get ready to board my Qantas flight to Johannesburg, it dawns on me that I will soon be face-to-face with South Africa’s animal kingdom. My excitement builds.
Flying to Johannesburg in Qantas Business
My trip starts off with a visit to the Qantas International Business Lounge in Sydney, a much-appreciated perk of holding a Business Class ticket. The lounge offers up stunning views of the Sydney Airport tarmac, and further afield, the city of Sydney itself. And today I can take full advantage of these views, with a piercing clear blue morning sky.
After digging into a traditional hot brekky, I park myself by the window for a touch of plane spotting. As a bona fide AvGeek, I find this a very soothing exercise. I immediately catch a glimpse of the ‘Red roo’ tail flying me to Johannesburg peeking out from the lounge roof. Not long now.
Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner Business Class
Before long, I’m boarding the Qantas Dreamliner. After a warm greeting by the cabin crew, I eagerly take my seat. I really love the Qantas Business Suites. Aside from looking well-appointed and modern, they’re just so practical. As a frequent flyer, I have a set procedure of where all my belongings go. With everything in its place, I settle back in my seat with a satisfied smile.
I’m feeling particularly adventurous on this trip (hey, I’m about to get up close with lions and rhinos!), so I branch out with my welcome drink as well. Rather than my traditional still water or OJ, I decide that a cocktail is in order. I choose a Bloody Mary and it’s love at first taste. In fact, I’ve just found my go-to welcome drink for all future flights.
Once we’re airborne, I peruse the in-flight menu. With a number of delicious-sounding options, it’s hard to choose. I settled on the zucchini and basil soup for entree, a personal favourite I’ve enjoyed on previous Qantas flights. And with its great flavour and perfectly thick texture, it doesn’t disappoint.
For the main, I choose the Humpty Doo barramundi, before finishing off with the vanilla crème caramel.
It’s a daytime flight, so there’s no real need to sleep. Instead, I recline my seat until I’m uber-comfortable and dig into the excellent Qantas entertainment. Time flies by and before I know it, it’s time to dine again.
For the second meal service, I enjoy the spaghettini with prawns for my main. It goes down a treat. The pasta is so fresh and there’s a real garlic kick to the prawns without it being overpowering.
For dessert, it’s tiramisu. My inner Mediterranean always gets the better of me for dessert. If tiramisu is on the menu, it’s mine! And I know that Qantas makes an excellent tiramisu. Perfectly creamy, not too dry or moist and full of flavour.
Hello, South Africa
Before I know it, we land in South Africa. If only all airports worked like Johannesburg Airport. As I approach immigration, the line initially looks daunting. But then I spot a priority immigration lane hiding on the left available to Qantas Business Class passengers. I make a quick detour and within a few minutes, I’m through immigration and on my way to bag collection.
What’s this? My bag is already waiting for me on the carousel! After a mere 30 minutes in the airport, I’m on my way to Sabatana Private Reserve, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north.
Sebatana Private Reserve
Sebatana Private Reserve is located two hours south of the Botswana border. The reserve is home to four different lodges and some of the most exotic natural wildlife you can find on our planet. To say I’m excited is an understatement.
I arrive at the Leopard Lodge, my spacious home for the next four nights. The cabin is huge! It contains all the usual amenities, but everything feels supersized. I especially love the walk-in shower, which I imagine will come in handy after a long day’s safari.
Because I arrive late at night, I’m unsure of the landscape awaiting me the next day. But the grounds are stunning, with the area’s natural beauty on full display. Other amenities include a picturesque outdoor swimming pool, a fully-manned bar and cosy communal areas to relax. Other lodges within the reserve have the same amenities on offer, but with their own unique style and feel.
Safaris at Sebatana Private Reserve are generally booked as part of a package deal, which includes predominantly buffet-style meals. And I hope you like meat, because there’s plenty of it! Though the Reserve will happily cater to any dietary requirement.
Getting here on points
Has the thought of jetting to an African safari in Qantas Business piqued your interest? Then you’re probably wondering how much all this is going to cost. Paying in cash would set you back $7,269 return – and that’s if you can snag a sale fare.
But booking a flight using Qantas Points is an entirely different matter. Return Classic Flight Reward Business fares between Sydney and Johannesburg can be booked for just 189,800 Qantas Points and $488 in taxes, fees and charges. That’s a substantial discount on the cash fare.
Just remember that Business Class Classic Flight Reward availability can be limited, though seats are out there. For example, I found availability on QF63, the direct Sydney to Johannesburg flight around 3-5 days in the month when searching around 3-6 months out. The same applies to the return flight QF64. Of course, availability is always changing, so never give up if you don’t initially find any seats.
And there are a ton of ways to earn Qantas Points. First, check out the credit card deals below, which will serve you a chunk of points after you’re approved and meet the minimum spend requirement.
Then there is Qantas Wine. This is another great way to earn a substantial number of points in one chunk, especially during bonus point promotional offers. Better yet, points are credited fast – often within 2-3 days. And if you’re a Points Club or Points Club Plus member, you’ll also enjoy free delivery.
If you’re looking to replicate this experience in a complete package, make sure to check out TripaDeal. This online travel agency offers the Ultimate South African Safari package. And the best bit? You can use Qantas Points to pay for the entire thing!
Keep reading as I share the thrilling details of my African safari. Spoiler alert: if you like adventure, you’ll love this.
Now, this is the part of the trip I’ve been waiting for. Nothing epitomises a safari as much as an open-air vehicle, and ours is a beauty. It’s optimised for perfect viewing, no matter where you’re sitting. I feel a much closer connection to nature as the fresh air rushes in. And it’s this vehicle that will whisk us around the Reserve for the next four days.
Before long, I spot my very first African wildlife – a giraffe. This moment will be etched in my memory forever. The giraffe races in front of our vehicle at speed and one of my travel companions lets out a high-pitched squeal of excitement! The thrill is real.
From this point on, wildlife emerges from everywhere. It’s nothing short of awe-inspiring, and my fear of seeing nothing quickly dissipates. I see zebras, giraffes, elephants, African buffalos, rhinos, wildebeest, water hogs, antelopes and crocodiles – and a collection of all of these come feeding time.
From an incredible four days, here are my ultimate highlights.
Seeing giraffes fighting in the wild is really something (as you’ll see in the video I captured below). I’m astounded by the flexibility of giraffes’ neck muscles. If only my neck muscles were as flexible, I could stop seeing a chiro! The giraffes fight by banging their heads together in what looks like a synchronised head pirouette. I’m still not sure who the winner was, though at the fight’s conclusion the giraffes seem crystal clear.
And if that’s not astonishing enough, giraffes have another endearing habit. I notice that as we approach them, they like to ‘spy’ on us by hiding their heads behind a tree. They think we can’t see them, though of course their whole body and huge gangly legs are protruding everywhere! It’s hilarious to see. Giraffes may not need a chiro, but they’ll never be spies either.
Then there are the zebras. I’ve never seen an animal that poses so much for the camera. They definitely see themselves as stars and are happy to stop and make eye contact with passersby. And given they’re such beautifully designed creatures, why wouldn’t they? It’s like an artist went and painted the flowing black and white stripes on each and every one, and the zebras seem hugely proud of them. That’s how I see it in my head, anyway.
The night safari
What better way to follow up a day safari than with a night safari? It’s utterly amazing. Travelling in pitch blackness aside from one torch aimed at the side of the vehicle really connects me with nature. It’s remarkable and downright scary all at the same time.
We slowly traverse the wild bush with nothing but a single bright light and wide open eyes. The only indicator we’ve encountered an animal is when the light catches the animal’s eyes, which illuminate a bright green. I can feel the concern in the animal’s eyes as they fixate on the light. And I must admit, seeing the bright green illuminated eyes is a tad freaky. It’s the type of look you see when something is about to pounce during a movie thriller.
And on the topic of fear, I can’t get over the spine-chilling feeling I get when we stop to observe an animal. I can hear a rustling on the side of the jeep next to me, but I can see exactly nothing as the light is trained on the other side of the vehicle. It doesn’t help that I decided to be the ‘back seat bandit’ on this particular safari!
The crocodiles and antelopes
We drive to a swamp area where I immediately see a crocodile sunbaking in the sun. Our guide, being the daredevil that he is, parks as close as possible to the crocodile and requests for volunteers to have a photo taken next to it.
The most courage I can muster is to get sort of close to it by hopping on the bonnet of the vehicle. Employing a three-steps forward, two-steps back strategy, I eventually reach the front of the vehicle, where I get my happy snap (pardon the pun!). But as you can see from the photo, I’m hardly projecting confidence.
I’m horrified to see some antelopes approach the swamp for a quick drink. I am positive that I’m about to witness a mass murder. But thank goodness, that is not to be.
We drive to the other side of the swamp, where I take some time looking at the gliding crocodiles. I can’t believe my eyes when I see a baby crocodile on the head of its mum. Our guide tells us that the mum is actually very protective of its young, as the dad can sometimes get a bit peckish and decide to eat it. Can you believe that?
But the greatest highlight of all? That honour goes to the mischievous elephant. We clearly approach him at a time, shall we say, not of his choosing. With a quick flap of ears and a bellowing trumpet sound, he begins to approach. What starts off as a slow stroll towards our vehicle becomes a full-on charge towards it. We’re forced to reverse rapidly lest we become mince meat.
To say that this is an experience and a half is an understatement. My thoughts are split between sheer appreciation of this incredible moment – and the blind hope I come out of this without any broken bones. But would I like to live it again? Absolutely!
Johannesburg, a city of contrasts
It’s now the final day of my trip and I’m heading back to Johannesburg from Sabatana Private Reserve. I have just 24 hours in the city. It’s a shame I don’t have longer as I will be visiting the Apartheid Museum, which I know I will love given my interest in recent political history.
Now here’s a word of warning. This museum is massive. I could easily spend five to six hours here. But unfortunately, I have just two. Channelling all the speed-reading skills I can muster, I try and see as much of the museum as possible, but I only scratch the surface. Next time, I’ll leave plenty of time.
From the museum, it’s off to Soweto – the hometown of Nelson Mandella. I’m excited to get a glimpse of Mr Mandella’s childhood house. It’s then back to the hotel to get ready for my return trip to Sydney.
South Africa, you’ve won me over.
Time to get booking!
An African safari is something everyone should experience at least once. My four-day adventure will forever be etched in my memory. What I see, what I feel, the reactions of the wildlife, the feeling of fresh air and that intimate connection to nature. It’s all there, and it’s so far removed from everyday life that it’s almost hyper-real. I can’t wait to go on another one.
But you don’t need to fork out mountains of cash to fly to South Africa for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the smart use of Qantas Points, you can travel in style flying Qantas Business return from the east coast of Australia to Johannesburg for just 189,800 Qantas Points and $488 in taxes, fees and charges. If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is.
For me, my highlights were fighting giraffes and charging elephants. What will yours be?
Photography by Daniel Sciberras, who travelled as a guest of TripADeal and Qantas.