It was this time last year, that we were journeying to the other side of the globe to meet our wee boy. I had hoped to share some travel tips and tricks much sooner, but to say that life has been hectic since our return home would be a bit of an understatement. So I’ve pulled out my journals, itineraries and receipts and I am going to do the best I can to share some of what worked, and what didn’t work for our family. I will also include some of our favourite accommodations, attractions and adventures while we were in Durban.
Some people may not know that Air Miles or Avion points are transferable between card holders. We were able to transfer Avion points to one card holder, which resulted in enough points to book return flights for 5 people and 1 infant on the way home. Such a gift! Keep in mind, to use travel points to fly you will have to book at least 15 days before your date of travel and run the risk of not being able to transfer or change travel dates, should you have to stay overseas longer than planned. At the time, our agency was recommending five and half weeks in country. I’m not a gambler and so we booked 7 weeks in country. As it turned out we would have needed EXACTLY 6 weeks. Adding that extra week to our timeline, definitely eased some stress as we waited for various documents to be approved.
We flew through London, Johannesburg and then to Durban. As we were booking flights we were picky about layovers. We didn’t want a ridiculous amount of time to kill in airports, nor did we want to have to rush through huge airports with our small tribe of children. Our 5 hour delay in the Heathrow airport gave us plenty of time to get through security, grab some lunch and freshen up before another long flight. We had a few close calls trying to make connections, but thankfully for delays, we didn’t miss a flight!
We were nervous about driving in South Africa, especially after thirty plus hours of travel. Our Canadian adoption agency recommends Tezz at Bonana Tours & Transfers to help at the airport, so we booked our airport transfer with her. Tezz and I had messaged a few times before we traveled, so it was so great to put a face to a name. I cannot say this enough; book with TEZZ! She went above and beyond time and again through the duration of our stay in SA. She became a dear friend and we all shed tears when we had to say goodbye. Tezz helped us with figuring out doctor’s appointments, navigating the Home Affairs office and understanding the cab service in Umhlangha. She took us on a few tours as well as going shark cage diving with Dan and another friend we met in South Africa.
We arrived in Durban, South Africa on a Sunday morning. There was a little grocery store right in the airport where we were able to purchase some food to get us through the next 24 hours. I was very thankful for those snacks at 2am when all the kids woke, wide awake with hungry tummies…ah, Jet Lag!
Monday was a driving day! WAHHH!! We were all pretty nervous about the next four hours. We packed into our Toyota Avanza and began the drive. Dan behind the wheel on the right hand side of the car, and sitting on the left hand side of the highway. We had written directions to the B&B we were staying at, as well as the GPS. We had heard several stories of malfunctioning navigation systems so that is why we had written directions as well. It gave us some peace of mind as we journeyed on. Though we were happy to trade in our vehicle after our week out of town, for more relaxed travel with Tezz, many families choose to rent a vehicle for the duration of their stay and manage just fine.
Our first week was spent out of town while we transitioned and then went to court to finalize the adoption. Friday we headed back to the city and went straight to Heaton Cottage. This is another recommendation of our agency. You will hear of other Canadian families who have been in South Africa, fondly refer to Heaton Cottage as “Shayne’s.” Shayne is the owner of this gorgeous B&B. Definitely, another beautiful person who went above and beyond to ensure we felt at home, were well fed and well cared for while we stayed in the cottage. She even drove us to a doctor’s appointment and waited patiently with us while we waited and waited…and waited. Most every week someone in our house declares, “I MISS SHAYNE!”
Heaton Cottage was “cozy” for our family of six, but we managed to fit. The cottage was equipped with a kitchenette, so when Shayne ran to the grocery store each afternoon, I could hop in with her and grab our dinner and a few snacks for the kiddos at the local grocery store. We have kept in touch with Shayne since our days in South Africa and it likely comes as no surprise to you that we all highly recommend that you spend your first week or two at Shayne’s to help you rest, relax and settle into life in a new country with a new baby by your side.
(One cannot go to Shayne’s without mentioning her 5 star breakfast that is included with your stay!)
After the reams of paperwork subsided a bit, we were able to move further away from Durban. We chose to spend a few weeks by the ocean in Umhlangha. We loved the walks along the promenade, the salty air on our lips and the ease of grocery shopping, dining and finding things to do in this area. It was only a short distance back to Durban if need be and we felt very safe taking cabs, going for walks and shopping in this area. Our favourite spot to stay while in Umhlangha was Cabana Beach Resort. The resort had activities by the pool for the kids each day, and a full service restaurant, We enjoyed sitting on our balcony each day to enjoy the ocean view. (Don’t let the photo fool you. Our days were busy with kids, and sunshine, but there was the odd nap time I may have snuck away for some quiet time)
We had one week left before heading home and we spent that back in Durban at the Palmiet River Lodge. The Palmiet was another recommendation of our agency’s. The Palmiet is tucked away in a well treed area, with a creek running through the backyard. It is a large house with a shared kitchen, dining and lounge area. Lucky for us there was another Canadian family there the same time as us that we really enjoyed. We were able to relax, visit and enjoy some laughs together in an incredible setting. At the Palmiet, we were only a short walk to a little mall, so we would often walk there. We were also in close proximity to Tezz, so if she was running to the mall, she would offer to take us along to run errands and pick up groceries.
We did stay at a few other places, but these were our favourites. We had to move A LOT, and I wouldn’t recommend all the moves if you don’t have to. Overall we found everyone to be very friendly and so helpful. We concluded that if you set out using the recommendations of your agency, you will be off to a great start on your South African journey.
I’ll be back this week, with some of the excursions and activities we enjoyed. I also hope to share with you what our first few weeks were like as a family of six. I will highlight some of our favourite moments and some of the hard times we encountered as we all started to figure each other out. I’d also love to hear from you. What are some things you are wondering about as you prepare to travel to South Africa to meet your little one? Do you have questions about your travel, accommodations, safety, transitioning your new child into your family or how it felt to meet our little one? I’d love to try and answer some of the questions for you this week on the blog, so stay tuned.
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