Based in Kloof

Helen Aitchison

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It's Nice To Meet You

Greetings from the leafy suburb of Kloof in Kwazulu-Natal!

My name is Helen and I've been with Travel Counsellors since April 2008. I made this move after spending the previous 15 years working for various airlines, tour operators and retail agencies in SA and London. It was here my passion for travel grew as I handled varied travel arrangements.

Travelling to many destinations has been a joy and a privilege which I am grateful for. I've visited many cities around the world spanning the continents of Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Experiencing diverse cultures, meeting people from different nations and my adventurous nature are some of the reasons I love to travel.

Cruising the Inside Passage in Alaska was incredible. Viewing game in the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater National Parks and the Okavango Delta is something I'll treasure forever. Historical Europe and iconic cities like Hong Kong, New York, London, Sydney all have been wonderful. There are many more, and the list of places to see still too long!

I want to help you gather treasured moments and memories with your friends and families. Assisting you to get to your preferred destination is what makes my job fulfilling and interesting and I can’t wait to plan it with you. I will guarantee you an exceptional level of personal service and attention to detail. Working from home puts me in the unique position of being able to meet you where ever and whenever it suits you. I am not limited by standard office hours so feel free to drop me an email or give me a call when it is convenient with you.

You are also covered by our exceptional Financial Protection Plan which protects your money against supplier insolvency. No other travel company in South Africa offers this. So peace of mind travel is a vital part of the service.

Specific training has qualified me as a cruise specialist, an Aussie Specialist and also an Irish specialist. Having skied a lot of top resorts in Europe and working for a ski tour operator, I have also excellent knowledge in this field.

I've also spent some time working at a game lodge and had numerous trips into the African bushveld, so really do know what to look for when it comes to planning the perfect safari.

Looking forward to hearing from you and turning your dreams into a reality!



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Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

Mpumalanga Magic

05 August 2020

I remember my first trip into Mpumalanga several years back like it was yesterday. I fell in love with this area of my country and have been back several times since then. It is a province offering some incredible experiences and some jaw dropping views. Most people around the world are familiar with this area for our famed Kruger National Park (shared with Limpopo province). This is South Africa’s largest game reserve which offers exceptional game viewing and leaves people longing for more. Alongside is the well-known Sabi Sands Private reserve which is home to some of our country’s most well-known and luxurious bush lodges. Names like Londolozi, Singita, &Beyond’s Ngala & Kirkmans Camp, Lion Sands, Leopard Hills and Nottens come to mind, but there are many more… Sabi Sands is said to have some of the best big cat viewing in South Africa and I can attest to that fact. Some of my best cat sightings have been in this area. This wilderness area has increased hugely in recent years as fences have been dropped between Kruger National Park and several neighbouring private reserves - Sabi Sands, Timbavarti (Kings Camp and Avoca Bush Camp my favourites here), Klaserie (Africa on Foot & nThambo Tree Camp) , Thornybush (Royal Malewane, Jacalberry Lodge for example), Bulele (Chacma Camp and Ezulwini Lodges) along some other smaller reserves to create the Greater Kruger National Park. As a result, the animals are free to roam as they wish. This results in a much healthier ecosystem that benefits not only the fauna and flora, but visitors alike. However, the province is not just all about the wildlife, as spectacular as it is! I really encourage visitors to combine their safari holiday with a few more days to explore the area. Self-drive would be the best option of getting around and discovering more of its beauty. The Panorama route is beautiful with lots of places to discover. From the small towns of Sabie, Graskop and Pilgrims Rest where local arts & curios can be found to the awe inspiring Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest “green canyons” in the world with its tropical foliage, this area is worth exploring. The canyon is certainly a highlight and you can take a boat trip across the Blyderivierpoort Dam and marvel at the vast cliffs towering above you. As part of the canyon, popular stops on the route afford views of the Three Rondavels and God’s Window. You can also view the unusual geological feature known as Bourke’s Luck Potholes from the walkways above. This area is well known for numerous waterfalls – Mac Mac Falls and Kadishi Tufa. It is truly all a feast for the eyes. If fishing is your passion, venture into the fly fishing meccas of Dullstroom and Lydenburg, Here trout fishing is exceptional with Rainbows trout being the most popular quarry, but Browns are taken from time to time. Whilst exploring the region, why not take a quick day trip into neighbouring Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)? Just make sure you have your passport with you as it is an international border and South African children under 18 years will also require their unabridged birth certificates! I would especially recommend it for those interested in the high-quality crafts found in this region, namely Ngwenya Glass and Swazi Candles to name just 2 of the well-known centres you can visit. Give Mpumalanga a thought for your holiday. I can assure you; she won’t disappoint! If you would like any more information then please get in touch with me.

Treasures of KwaZulu-Natal

07 May 2020

Kwazulu-Natal is a treasure trove for travellers and compared to popularity of other parts of South Africa, is often considered to be a bit of a hidden gem. With our Eastern boundary being the Indian Ocean and our North-Western border, the mighty Drakensberg, there is much to discover within her somewhat small surface area. As mentioned, to the North-West of the province is the UNESCO Heritage area of uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. This is a prime destination for visitors, offering a range of activities and accommodation in an area of outstanding beauty where diversity of habitat abounds. Hiking is the number one attraction, along with climbing, cave exploration, Bushman art, tubing, mountain biking, golf, zip-lining and many more adventure pursuits. Moving more towards the interior we find further treasure in the KZN Battlefields route and the Nambiti Private Game Reserve. The Battlefields route boasts some 82 battle sites and is a popular area for history buffs wanting to hear stories from legendary battles between the Zulu, Boer & Brit. Nambiti offers a fantastic safari experience to visitors to this area with a range of lodges within its fences with affordable pricing compared to other private reserves. The range of fauna & flora is extensive and includes the ever popular Big 5. A truly special way to experience this area is to take the Rovos Rail train route from Durban to Pretoria. Besides the 5* experience onboard, day trips include visits to Nambiti and the Battlefields area of Spionkop. Travelling a little further towards the coast, The Midlands Meander offers country charm, rolling green hills and farmlands and is the perfect place to discover boutique wine farms, micro-breweries and a plethora of local artists, potters and artisans plying their wares. The Nelson Mandela Capture site is in this area and is a great opportunity to hear this phenomenal man’s story. Durban itself is well known as a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures. One of the most diverse cities in South Africa with regards to the different nationalities represented on its golden shores. Well known for the rich Indian culture, be sure to enjoy a typical Durban curry in a famous bunny chow! The beaches along the coastline are endless and it is no wonder that water activities abound. Besides the surfing, sailing, fishing and kayaking, scuba diving is a big attraction with 2 of the world’s best dive spots on our shores – Sodwana Bay to the North and Aliwal Shoal to the South. More safari options abound as you head into Zululand on the North-East coast of the province, also known as the Elephant coast. The oldest of our National Parks, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, is in this area along with several private game farms so plenty of choices in accommodation. Here you will find also another UNESCO World Heritage site - Isimangaliso Wetland Park starting from Lake St Lucia and reaching all the way to Kosi Bay on the border of Mozambique. The Lake system of Kosi Bay is a magical experience. Snorkelling both at the mouth or in the mangroves is an incredible privilege, not to mention the kayaking through the side canals. Beaches are virtually untouched in this area too. So, whether it is nature, history, culture, sport or food, Kwazulu-Natal has something for everyone. and believe me when I say what I have mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg!

Okavango Delta Dream Trip

08 December 2020

I had been dreaming of visiting the Okavango Delta in Botswana since I was a young child. I remember watching BBC wildlife documentaries narrated by Sir David Attenborough and thinking this place was like paradise on earth. Fast forward about 25 years and I finally found myself on a plane to Maun for what was one of my best trips ever. I cannot wait to return It was February and this particular February Botswana experienced record breaking rainfall. It is not traditionally “flood time” but we experienced flood-like conditions everywhere we went. So much so, that one of the camps had to cancel our booking a week before departure and the airstrip we were supposed to land on to access our first lodge, was completely underwater! But in Africa, that just adds to the adventure. The lodge simply found space for us at a less water-logged location and instead of driving to our first lodge, we were whisked away VIP style in a helicopter. Did I mention that helicopters are my absolute favourite mode of transport!! A lot of the lodges cannot be accessed by road in the Delta, so you often get the unique opportunity to experience several short, scenic flights as part of the trip - another highlight for me. Minutes after take-off from Maun, you can start your safari as you peer out your window to see animals traversing the plains below. What a privilege. We split our 8 night trip between 4 lodges. I’d probably recommend rather spending longer times at fewer lodges. You want to really experience the destination and I’d say a minimum of 3 nights per lodge would be a better fit. In fact, in the current climate, I think spending longer in one destination is the way forward. “Slow safaris” I think will become popular as guests take a deep dive into nature and completely immerse themselves in the experience. The first 4 nights were spent in the Khwai Concession in the north eastern part of the Delta, alongside the Moremi Game Reserve. It is an extremely game rich area and each day brought just one amazing sighting after the next. The staff and guides at the two lodges where we stayed (Belmond Khwai River Lodge and Machaba Camp) were wonderful and I think trips to Botswana are made extra special just by the quality of people you meet in the camps. I’ll never forget this one particular sighting. We were the only ones on the vehicle with our guide and we were enjoying watching a young leopard recline in the tree above us and move about trying to catch the last of the morning sunshine. He asked us a few times if we wanted to move on, to which we simply replied there was nowhere else we wanted to be. By the end of the sighting, we had sat with this young leopard for about 90 incredible minutes. When we left, our guide who had been working in the area for 30 years, said it was the longest he had sat with a leopard when he had guests on the vehicle. Don't be in a hurry. These moments are rare and are to be savoured. The second half of the trip was split between the then Wilderness Xigera Safari Lodge and Sanctuary Retreats Chief’s Camp, which are both more towards the middle of the Okavango Delta's waters. As of 01 Dec 20, Red Carnation Hotel Collection re-opened the newly re-built Xigera Safari Lodge. A high-end, luxury lodge, it is completely solar powered, plastic-free and promotes true sustainable travel. The location boasts a combination of deep channels and lush vegetation within a remote area of the productive Moremi Game Reserve. For much of the year this incredible area epitomizes the permanently flooded areas of the Okavango Delta, with palm-filled islands, riverine forests, interwoven channels and expansive floodplains. Both land and water activities are available here and a trip through the water channels on the traditional mokoro is an absolute highlight. Last stop was Chief’s Camp on Chief’s Island within the well-known Mombo Concession, known to BaYei locals as “place of plenty”. The land is extremely fertile and as a result it is an exceptionally diverse and game rich area. We were treated to wonderful luxury here along with some special elephant sightings right at our room - they are certainly not shy when in pursuit of their favourite fruits! Again, these lodges were exceptional in every way and made the trip an extremely memorable one. There is something magical about the Okavango Delta that can be hard to describe if you have never been. It is one of Africa’s great sanctuaries, a pristine and rich wilderness area which is home to vast concentrations of wildlife. This area needs tourism to return to sustain this amazing place. I urge you to consider planning a visit. I have no doubt you will be mesmerized by it’s beauty, but more importantly you will help contribute to its survival.

Vic Falls & Hwange exploring

14 February 2018

Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The smoke that Thunders” is such a fitting name for Victoria Falls. You don’t even have to visit in the height of the flood season to experience the wonder and majesty of this natural wonder, only an hour away from Johannesburg. The water flows powerfully year around and boy is there a lot of water. The difference is really only your percentage of saturation! Be warned, take a rain jacket whenever you are there, particularly if in April/May time. Besides seeing this mighty waterfall, Victoria Falls offers visitors and adventure seekers a plethora of activities. From the peaceful river cruises (the sundowner cruise being the one I would recommend) along the indomitable Zambezi River to the adrenalin pumping options of bunjee jumping, bridge swinging or white water rafting, it is not surprising that this destination never ceases to deliver. Topping the activity lists has to be the extra special ways of viewing the falls – from a microlight or helicopter. The famed “flight of angels” provides an unrivalled view of the area for a truly memorable experience. There are a lot of great lodging options in the area – Victoria Falls Hotel is the grand old lady with views of the bridge between Zambia & Zimbawe and offering a colonial experience. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is about 10 minutes out of town but there is a water hole on the premises where elephants are regular visitors and the famous Boma Restaurant is on site for a tasty experience for true meat eaters. A slightly different experience and further out of town can be found at Elephant Camp where luxurious tents are your home and you can have an elephant encounter or meet the famous “Sylvester.” If you have a bit of extra time, there are some wonderful add-ons I can recommend to explore other parts of the country. Hwange National Park is one of these, one of Africa’s great parks well known for their huge elephant population. Access is by road (about 4 hours from Vic Falls), by air (about 1 hour) or road/rail via the unique Elephant Express which links the Northern and Southern parts of the reserve. I was privileged to stay in Imvelo Safari Lodge’s Bomani Tented Camp, which is in a 5,000 acre private reserve. They have traversing rights into Hwange through their own private gate and here you feel like you have entered your own private wilderness in the deep south of the reserve which is far less populated with visitors, compared to the more frequented Northern and central parts. It was here I experienced my first underground hide situated at one of the watering holes. This unique perspective on animals and birds, particularly the grey giants is a wonderful opportunity for enthusiastic photographers. This area also boasts incredible bird life. The camp is simple, yet extremely comfortable with the most amazing staff making the experience one to remember. Another option is only about an hour by road from Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River just before the border where the 4 countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South African meet. Imbalala Zambezi Lodge is a special place where activities on the river or through the reserve on game drives start and end your peaceful lazy days. The camp is quite rustic, but what is lacks in luxury it makes up in leaps in bounds with their friendly staff and incredible location on this beautiful river. The local guides have tremendous knowledge and share this with pride. So many great memories were made on this trip. I can’t wait to go back!

Sensational Seychelles

29 September 2015

Seychelles has always been top of my list of places to go. Ever since doing a training course provided by the Seychelles Tourism board many years ago, I knew I would love it. When I got the opportunity to go, I jumped at the chance and proved my gut instinct had been right all along! The main attraction for me is the country’s attitude towards conserving their coastline and the plethora of marine life on their shores. They also boast a huge diversity in birds and flora. Comprising 115 islands, this archipelago has protected their reefs by strictly controlling motorised water sports and the evidence is apparent the minute you hit those crystal blue waters. You don’t miss the water-skiing or jet skis either as you are simply overwhelmed by the natural beauty of these granite islands and the numerous white sandy beaches with azure water teeming with life. Part of the charm for me is the fact that this is not an overly commercialised country. The island feel is evident the moment you land. Yes, there are plenty of resorts dotted about the islands, but there are no high rises. The capital, Victoria, on the main island of Mahe is the largest city with about a third of the population, but life still oozes simplicity and authenticity. It is well worth taking some time to visit the town, visit the market, view the Victoria Clock Tower and wander the colourful streets where the mix and influence of many cultures is evident. Another spot worth a beach for a wonderful beach restaurant experience is Chez Batista's where you dine with your feet in the sand! Since the Seychelles is made up of so many islands, ‘’island hopping’’ is recommended. All international flights will land on the largest island, Mahe and then other islands can be reached by a short flight, helicopter transfer, and private charter or by boat or ferry. Praslin is the second largest island and boasts one of the world’s best beaches, Anse Lazio. Although, I’m not sure I saw any beaches which weren’t absolutely beautiful. It is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vallee de Mai – a beautiful forest where you can see the unique Coco de Mer trees holding the heaviest nuts in the world. The ferry from Mahe takes about an hour and is very pleasant in calm seas. At certain times of the year, the 15 minute flight may be preferred. A short 15 minute ferry ride from Praslin is the unique island of La Dique. Also home to one of the most photographed beaches in the world, Anse Source d’Argent, it is an island where it feels like time has stood still. There are hardly any motorised vehicles with ox-cart or bicycle being the preferred modes of transport. When you arrive on the ferry, it is recommended to hire one of the many colourful bikes and take a slow cycle around the island, hopping from one pristine beach to the next picturesque cove. There are a couple of hotels on the island if you prefer to experience this slow paced life for an extended period. There are various sorts of accommodation on the islands, especially the larger ones. From 5 Star resorts to self-catering bungalows, there is something to suit everyone. Some of the more exclusive islands are North Island, Desroches Island and Fregate Island where there is only one resort to choose from. The islands are relatively small, so hiring a car for the day to drive around a particular island is very popular on both Mahe and Praslin. Another popular activity is taking to the sea on a boat charter for the day and visiting some of the smaller, uninhabited islands. Fishing and diving are also popular pastimes. Seychelles is a destination that is diverse and interesting, with some of the most impressive coastal scenery I have ever experienced. Definitely a trip worth doing.

New SA Immigration Act for Children under 18yrs

24 June 2016

From 01 June 2015 all children under the age of 18 will be required to produce an unabridged birth certificate in addition to their passport when entering, departing or transiting South Africa. Airlines will be forced to refuse travel to families not in possession of the unabridged birth certificate and this will happen regardless of the child’s nationality or regardless of whether the child is travelling with parents, or with other adults or unaccompanied. If a child is denied boarding by an airline then this ultimately means that the family can’t travel. The purpose of this new law of the unabridged birth certificate requirement is to create additional verification to stop child trafficking. My Top Tip: If you have children under the age of 18 (even if you are not currently planning a holiday) can I suggest that you apply now for an unabridged birth certificate from Home Affairs. The application process varies quite dramatically from case to case, so best to be prepared. If you need any urgent assistance, please contact me as there are companies offering services in this regard. In the case where only one parent is travelling with the children, consent in the form of an affidavit from the other parent registered is required. There is a template from Home Affairs that can be used, so again if you need a copy, just let me know and I will send to you. This would also be required if child were travelling with other family members or friends. Parental consent is required. There may be additional documentation required depending on your personal circumstance. A handy website for more information is:

Facinating Dubai

28 June 2012

As a Dubai Xpert, I was recently hosted by Dubai Tourism on a whirlwind trip to Dubai. Having only transited through the city before, I really appreciated this opportunity. Dubai surprised me at every turn. Considering its monumental growth to a modern, vibrant city in the last 60 years, it is remarkable to see it today. Our base was the 4 Star Majestic Towers Hotel in Bur Dubai, the historical district of Dubai, where everything is very easily accessible. The trip began by visiting the Dubai Museum in Bur Dubai. It is situated in the al-Fahidi Fort where traditional reed houses and wind towers are on display. Beneath the surface, you travel through time seeing the speed of development from fishing villages, to Dubai as we see it today. It was then on to the historic souks – the textile, spice and gold souk; fascinating markets in the Creek area, where your bargaining skills are certainly put to the test. We reached the spice and gold souk by crossing the Dubai creek on a traditional Abra, a really great way to travel very cheaply. After experiencing the older, historic Dubai, we headed to the modern part of the city in downtown Dubai and the Dubai Mall. This mega structure is the largest mall in the world and offers spectacular entertainment facilities. With the Burj Khalifa towering beside it, it boasts 1200 shops and the musical fountain provides an amazing show. Housed within the mall is the Dubai Aquarium having the largest suspended tank in the world! Another fantastic attraction for children is Kidzania – a village run by kids where they can be any profession they wish. The fun then continues on to Sega World, an indoor fun fair and games attraction. The following day we headed to The Top of Burj Khalifa, made famous in Mission Impossible III Ghost Protocol and the highest building in the world. At the 124th floor, the viewing deck is the highest in the world and offers phenomenal views of the city. The Sheikh Mohammad Centre of Cultural Understanding was our next stop where we enjoyed a tasty lunch while hearing of the local culture. This is a very popular stop for tourists and business traveller’s alike promoting cultural harmony in this diverse city. More family fun waits at Wild Wadi Water Park in Jumeirah. With the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and famous Burj Al Arab alongside, this water park is a welcome relief from the very hot weather. During the summer months, they offer extended opening hours so you do not have to be outside in the extreme heat of the day. Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates was next and that certainly is a cooling experience, with the indoor temperature set to -2C. For skiers/snowboarders, it is an amazing opportunity to brush up on some techniques on the slope with real snow! If skiing or snowboarding is not your game, then head to the snow park and have a laugh in the zorbing balls or go on an inflatable tube down something similar to a toboggan run. If you need to warm up, head up the chair lift to the restaurant for a traditional hot chocolate! A trip to Dubai would not be complete without a visit to the desert and there is no better way to experience it than to go on a Desert Safari. About an hour out of the city, you make your way through the desert in 4WD vehicles. The tour includes a falconry display and an adrenalin pumping drive over the dunes until you reach the desert oasis. Here you experience some traditional Bedouin culture followed by a delicious meal. Travelling around Dubai is easy and inexpensive. Taxis are readily available and moderately priced, except for peak periods. Buses also operate a good network and even the bus stands are air-conditioned! Probably the easiest way to travel through modern Dubai is on the Metro – the longest automated metro in the world (no driver!). Fares are very reasonable and you can pay a little extra for a Gold pass, allowing you into the front carriage where you get an uninterrupted view as you travel through Dubai on the raised monorail. We saw and experienced much of what Dubai has to offer in our short 3 day trip. However, there is so much more. Dubai has something to offer everyone, is a great stopover destination on your way to another country, but is also a destination in itself.

Mauritius - Tropical Island on our doorstep

30 May 2012

After being in the travel industry for over 15 years, it is hard to explain why Mauritius has eluded me until now. Thanks to our annual travel conference being hosted on this beautiful island, I can now see why it is such a popular travel destination for anyone. Mauritius is a mere 4 hours away by flight with Air Mauritius, SAA or BA Comair. One minute you are in the routine of your busy, stressful life and the next you are walking along white sandy beaches, sipping a cocktail and enjoying the laid back nature of an island paradise. With a moderate to warm climate all year, Mauritius is a year round destination. Hotels are in abundance and are dotted around the coastline and in the capital, Port Louis. There is indeed a hotel to suit every individual. It is important to take note of transfer times from the airport to the hotels. On average most hotels, except those in the South East, are 45 minutes to 1 hour away. Grand Baie is the tourist hub in the North and I was able to visit this area, staying at Beachcomber’s Le Mauricia Hotel. The location is perfect for Grand Baie – 5 minutes’ walk along the beach and you are in the heart of the bustling town. Don’t miss the Grand Baie Bazaar but make sure you have your bargaining shoes on. This is a shopper’s paradise and the perfect place to pick up gifts for home. If self-catering, then a visit to Super U is a must. This is a large supermarket where you can get pretty much anything you would require for your holiday. Le Mauricia’s staff is friendly and helpful and although the beach is small, the 2 large swimming pools are lovely and ideal for families and couples alike. Rooms are light and bright and for those looking for the ultimate in relaxation, the wellness centre is tranquil and calming. From the North of the island, we then ventured South East to the beautiful Shandrani Hotel. This resort is large and open, offering 3 amazing beaches, a marine reserve and the incredible all inclusive serenity plus package. I don’t think you could ask for a more perfect location to hold a conference. However, it is not just a conference venue. There is a myriad of activities from glass bottom boats, water-skiing and snorkelling to tennis, a 9-hole mashie golf course and not just one but two amazing spas! The rooms are currently undergoing a soft refurbishment which will bring a modern update and this should be completed over the next 4-5 months. Mauritius wins on every front. For honeymooners or couples it is a romantic paradise where you are treated like royalty. For families there is something for the entire family and many hotels offer extremely well equipped kids clubs, helping parents to get some time off. For singles or friends travelling together, there are not only the activities at the hotels and the beautiful beaches but also shopping, sightseeing to rum distilleries, zip-lining, quad biking and many other excursions. I look forward to helping you plan your holiday to the beautiful island called Mauritius.

Ultimate beach and bush experience - Tanzania

24 June 2016

To be given the opportunity to visit Tanzania – land of iconic destinations like Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater and Zanzibar, was an experience that I will treasure for years. We flew into the capital, Dar es Salaam on the direct SAA flight from Johannesburg and took a 45 minute transfer to the Sea Cliff Hotel. This 5 Star hotel offers excellent accommodation if you are stopping off en route to another destination. The hotel commands impressive sea views and food is outstanding. Selous National Park was our next port of call by private charter. This National park is a Tanzanian treasure, 4 times the size of the well known Serengeti and a UNESCO Heritage site. Closed during the wet season of April/May, this park offers prime game viewing in an unspoilt environment with top class lodges to cater for every need. It was then on to Zanzibar, the spice islands. White beaches and aqua marine waters fringe these islands, which are filled with a colourful history of traders, raiders, travellers and colonisers. The Serena Inn offers comfortable accommodation and a perfect spot to explore the tiny alleyways of Stone Town, the cultural heart of Zanzibar. Brace yourself for a moving experience at the former slave market, learn the reason behind the interesting doors and bargain to your heart’s content at the local market. Pristine beaches surround the island offering the ultimate in relaxation and water sports. Another short flight and we found ourselves in Arusha, the start of the safari part of our trip. As we passed the rural villages, the call of the bush grows louder and we arrive at Ngorogoro Crater, the largest unbroken caldera in the world and home of up to 30000 animals. This natural amphitheatre is a UNESCO a World Heritage site and provided some remarkable game viewing. Cheetahs and lions hunted; wildebeest and zebra grazed, hyenas walked along a lake lined with flamingos passing buffalos happily wallowing in mud and elephants stood by majestically. The sights continued. At every turn there was a feast for the eye combined with the spectacular views of the steep crater walls. At this stage, I thought it could not get much better. However, Tanzania proved me wrong as we headed north towards Serengeti National Park. As we passed through the Masai lands and Ngorogoro Concession land, it was a continuous game drive. First giraffes and then antelope of all kinds in abundance and then the first glimpses of the migrating wildebeest. Nothing prepares you for the awesome sight of thousands of animals running in one direction blindly following the one in front. This is what we encountered when we hit the endless plains of the Serengeti. Not only has that, but a short time later we encountered two paired of mating lions all in one sighting. Spectacular viewing ensued and by the time we reached Serengeti Serena Lodge I was convinced that this day had been the very best the bush could have offered. After a good night’s rest, we continued out to the Western Corridor, the area where the well known Grumeti River crossing part of the migration takes place between June/July. Since the herds were migrating over the southern plains while we were there, we did not see a large volume of animals in this area. However, we still viewed plenty of crocodiles and hippos in the river along with a few silver backed jackals, bat eared foxes, giraffes, topis and several other antelope. Hardly a bad day of game viewing! It was time to leave this world class wildlife sanctuary and head to our final stop, Lake Manyara National Park. On the way, we stopped at Olduvai Gorge and a Masai village for some cultural input. Arriving at Lake Manyara, we were met by trees lined storks and a few pelicans. It is the home to over 400 species of birds. This National Park nestles at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment and one of incredible beautiful. It is known for its flamingos, tree climbing lions, elephants, numerous troops of baboons. We were privileged to see all but the lions on our visit. The soda lake is massive and forms a perfect backdrop for the setting African sun. We culminated our incredible week in Tanzania at Serena’s Lake Manyara Safari Lodge over excellent food, recalling our fondest memories. Wild Frontiers driver guides were outstanding as were all land arrangements and flights. I strongly recommend a visit to this beautiful country to nourish your soul and inspire your mind. For more information give me a call. Regards Helen

Marbella & Madrid

23 August 2011

Visiting a new destination is always exciting, so when I had the opportunity to attend our Annual International Conference in Marbella, Spain, I jumped at the chance to finally set my feet in Spain. I was not disappointed and in a relatively short time, I managed to take in a few of Spain’s beautiful cities and get a feel for what is truly a remarkable European country. First stop was Marbella which was reached via Malaga, about an hour’s flight from Madrid but also served by several direct flights from the UK. I stayed in the 5 Star Guadulpin Marbella Hotel, a short stroll from the golden beaches. The service was excellent, staff friendly and my room spacious and tastefully decorated. The balcony Jacuzzi was sublime, with spectacular views of the ocean. Marbella consists of 3 areas – the long stretches of beach with a promenade affording pleasant strolls and dotted with cafes and restaurants along the way; the modern part of the city with boutiques and a top class conference centre and the Old Town. The Old Town was my favourite part as walking along narrow cobbled streets and being passed by a horse cart made me feel like I was in a time gone by. The traditional Spanish architecture was lovely and it had a wonderful feeling of family and contentment with life. On Sunday’s the shops do not open, streets are quiet and all you hear is the sounds of families gathering together for lunch. Worth a visit but if you want to experience the unique little shops and cafes, return on a weekday. A must if you are in the area is a visit to Mijas, a small, traditional white-washed Andalucian village up in the mountains. Donkey carts, cobbled streets and plenty of shopping awaits as this village opens its arms to tourists. You can visit the wine museum and enjoy wine tasting in quaint surroundings. Another stop worth making is Puerto Banus, 15 minutes from Marbella itself. This is the equivalent of Monte Carlo on the Costa del Sol and a playground for the rich and famous. The marina is dotted with vessels that can only be termed as super yachts and the shops lining the small streets and walkways are only the elite of the fashion and cosmetic houses. Some things to bear in mind regarding the Costa del Sol: the weather is fantastic – 320 days of sunshine per year and winter is very mild. The hotels are in abundance and range from 3 Star to outstanding 5 Star and there are numerous top golf courses in the area, plenty of other activities and excellent shopping. After these lovely few days on the coast, I headed inland to the capital of Spain, Madrid. Here we encountered a bustling, cosmopolitan city with more of the traditional European city feel. My hotel was the 4 Star Hotel Victoria 4, which was located right in the Sol district. This was very central with Puerta Del Sol and Plaza Mayor a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, as was Gran Via. I would highly recommend the hop-on, hop-off Madrid Sightseeing bus when in Madrid. You can purchase a day pass for EUR16 and this will take you on 2 different routes – the Historic and Modern Madrid. They stop at all the major sights and it’s a great way to get the lay of the land with commentary as you go. You will see some outstanding architecture and view the spectacular fountains Madrid has in abundance. If you are interested in art, visit some of the many art museums in the city – the Prado Museum is the most well known and entrance is free from 6-8pm. Shopping is amazing and due to the traditional Spanish siesta time, shops are open until about 10pm every night! An excellent rail network connects Madrid to well know cities like Barcelona, Seville and many more. The medieval, walled town of Toledo is also easily reached in just 30 minutes and well worth a visit. There were some great markets outside the city gates but upon entering we were taken back to medieval times when the Christians, Jews and Moslems lived here. Take the tour bus from the station as this includes commentary and your return trip to the station. I loved my trip to Spain. There is something about the Spanish people that made the places I visited feel warm and welcoming. I look forward to my next visit.

Alaskan Cruise - trip of a lifetime!

28 July 2008

What a joy to have a chance to share with you some of the highlights of possibly one of my best holidays I have ever had! I was fortunate to have been invited by Princess Cruises to board Diamond Princess for a cruise of the Inside Passage in Alaska. Clearly, dreams really do come true. My cruise was a round trip from Seattle, a fantastic city to begin with and I would highly recommend you add on to your cruise holiday and take in some of its sights. The Space Needle offers spectacular views of the city and a visit to the Pike Place Market is worth every minute. Do stop by the Pike Place Fish Co. and see the world renowned singing fishmongers throw their fish! However, to Alaska was calling and we were eager to set sail. The cruise ship itself was magnificent with a list of activities and facilities that could keep you busy for days on end. The evening shows were fantastic, not to mention the mouth watering food available all day. The spa was exceptional and several pools ensured that there was never over-crowding. I had an outside cabin which was extremely comfortable and had a picture window, well worth the additional expense on such a scenic trip. However, if money is an issue, rather take an inside cabin and utilise the funds on the excursions. You will not regret it! Our first stop was actually at the farthest port and the capital of Alaska, Juneau. Interestingly, you can only access this port by sea or air. Here I took an excursion trip to Mendenhall Glacier, part of the 1,500 square mile Juneau Ice field. A walk through the education centre is extremely informative and makes you realise how quickly these glaciers are melting! This was followed by a wildlife cruise where I saw whales, seals and a pair of crowned eagles! The day was finished off with a beer at the local Red Dog Saloon, the oldest man-made drinking establishment in Juneau. Next stop was Skagway where I chose to board the White Pass Scenic Railway for a trip to the White Pass summit. Whilst seated in the comfortable railcars, you hear the fascinating history of the Gold Rush days and learn of what life was like during those perilous times. This unforgettable journey also shows the incredible engineering feat of building this railway in 1898 through some of the most rugged terrain in Alaska. It was then time for some adventure as I boarded my helicopter for a flight over numerous glaciers before landing on Denver Glacier and heading to the dog camp. Here I met a professional musher and his dogs before getting a chance to try my hand at handling a sled with my very own team of dogs! It was such an exhilarating experience, albeit a chilly one! The following day we experienced what the Diamond Princess was really capable of, by cruising the waters of the Tracy Arm Fjord. Sheer walls of snow & ice covered mountains enclosed us on both sides as we moved up the fjord, bumping into small icebergs along the way. Quite daunting, but absolutely spectacular and highlighted by our resident naturalist’s insights into the area as we passed through. Alaska’s “first city”, Ketchikan loomed and here I started the morning with a seaplane trip over Misty Fjords, made even more enchanting with it being a misty morning! More breathtaking scenery followed as we flew over this immense wilderness area which is actually a national monument, landing on one of the many lakes only to be awestruck by the sheer tranquillity. Following this, I took to foot transportation and explored some of the many shops in town. Do not miss an opportunity to head to Creek Street, the home of several bordellos in Prohibition days. Finally our Alaskan ports of call had ended, but up ahead was Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, Canada. This charming city is best viewed from the back of an open horse-drawn carriage. As evening dawns, enjoy the city lights especially over the impressive city hall. Even as I recount this journey, I am struck by the privilege of experiencing such a trip. If you have ever wanted to embark on a trip of a lifetime like this, why not get in touch and let me help you plan it.

Hong Kong - Cosmopolitan Surprise

26 July 2008

Hong Kong is a city that leaves the senses completely overloaded. With a multicultural population, everything from food to shopping, entertainment to relaxation is varied and cosmopolitan. Flying to Hong Kong in Business Class on British Airways was second to none. The flatbeds and exceptional service made a 12 plus hour flight from London quite enjoyable! I stayed on Hong Kong Island in the North Point area. Whilst this afforded me easy access to the MRT (Hong Kong’s underground train system) and taxis were readily available, I would suggest a hotel in the Causeway Bay area if staying on this island. Alternatively, if based on Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui is the ideal location. On a first time visit, I would recommend taking in a Hong Kong Island Tour. Our day trip began on the Peak Tram that took us to the top of Victoria Peak, a spectacular spot to take in the amazing views of the Hong Kong skyline. After that great start, we meandered our way to Aberdeen, a floating fishing village of houseboats. A 20-minute sampan ride (traditional boat) gave a fascinating insight into a community who live afloat. Whilst on this traditional form of transport, we passed Jumbo, one of the largest floating restaurant. The coach then took in Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay before making a stop at the well known Stanley Market, where we were able to test our bargaining skills. By night, Hong Kong becomes the veritable Christmas tree with the city lights being a sight to behold. There is even a light show displayed across the buildings of Hong Kong Island in the Central district which is well worth a look. We found that possibly the best way of viewing the city skyline, by day or night is from the deck of the famous Star Ferry as you embark on the short trip across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon. On Kowloon, we headed for Nathan Road and the Jade Market for some retail therapy, and stopped for a drink at the rooftop bar in the colonial style Peninsular Hotel. Make sure you make a stop in the ladies or gents facilities to experience a truly unique room with a view! To my surprise, Hong Kong is not just a bustling metropolis of busy streets and shopping. For the family, there is now Disneyland Hong Kong (still under construction on my visit) on Lantau Island, easily accessible on the MRT. For every visitor, a must is a trip to some of the outlying islands. I was able to go by private charter to Cheung Chau and Lamma Islands; however ferries depart with daily regularity from Hong Kong Island. Cheung Chau Island offers cultural and historical insight into the area with a visit to Pak Tai temple. Here you can take in Tang Wan beach. Yes – Hong Kong has some spectacular beaches! Lamma Island on the other hand is best known for seafood and the Lamma Island Hike - very enjoyable coastal walk from one side of the island to the other. This offers breathtaking views and island information points along the way, ending in a delicious seafood lunch! I alluded to the food earlier, but I feel I need to emphasise this point. Hong Kong is a gourmet’s paradise. Still with strong colonial influences, English High Tea is a traditional institution in some of the hotels, one of which is the Excelsior Hotel. I don’t think I have ever seen such a display of sweet treats, and the chocolate fountain is definitely worth a mention! Knutsford Terrace, a food themed street behind Nathan Road, is a place where you can sample food from around the world and no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without sampling a selection of traditional Dim Sum or some of the local flavours at the many market cafes. To end off the evening, make your way to Lan Kwai Fong and experience this premier nightlife neighbourhood in the heart of Central where bistros and bars spill onto streets friendly to ambling pedestrians. All in all, Hong Kong was more than a city for me and definitely a spot I’d like to visit again. If you need further enticement to visit, why not give me a call.

My customer stories

Sent by Donna Fleck

Helen is a pleasure. She was most helpful in making our arrangements, and when there were different options, clearly presenting them all for us to decide what suited our budget and timing. So glad we have her to assist us in planning our trip from the other side of the world

Sent by Catherine Cleary

Helen has been our agent for approximately ten years and we've had outstanding service from her on the many trips she has arranged on our behalf. We've been so impressed at her level of cllient service that we have recommended her to several of our friends

Sent by Gloria Bryen

Helen is fabulous! She can help with all your needs.

Sent by Renier Geldenhuys

I had the most pleasant and helpful experience with Helen Aitchison, our Travel Counsellor. She was always readily available, and went the extra mile with our enquiries and requests, not to mention incredibly patient with my wife and I as we we're considering all our options, including financial ramifications before finalizing our travel arrangements. Thank you, Helen!

Sent by Lisa Philpott

Last year in June, we were lucky enough to visit South Africa and spent time with family. With Helen's help, she made our trip unbelievable. She arranged the best experience at Avoca Bush Camp in the Timbavati Nature Reserve. She helped us with our amazing beach trip. She was only a phone call or WhatsApp away for any question. She has a wealth of information. There were special treats along the way and she added special touches. We will most definitely be using Helen's services again. Thank you!

Sent by Kerry Harrison

There are not enough words to truly articulate how incredible Helen is as a travel agent. Our entire family has used her for our international trips, I have used Helen for my work trips and most recently we used her to book a local Bush getaway for visiting USA family joining us. Helen booked us at a Camp in the Timbavati - the sightings and Guide was incredible and it truly was an experience of a lifetime! We all left mindblown! Helen has a way of understanding your budget needs and sourcing specials suitable to meet these as well as ensuring the quality and expectations of your trip are matched (within reason of course). I will continue to recommend Helen to anyone I come across requiring any travel agent services. She constantly goes above and beyond, with little touches making the trip extra special, and she knows your needs even before you do. She is a true gem and incredibly rare!

Sent by Lara Olson

Our family travels a lot for work and pleasure - both in SA and internationally. We often need last minute tickets or have specific routing requests, but Helen always finds what we need. Even if our flights are not originating in SA, we have Helen book all our flights and car rentals. She saves us so much time knowing our seating preferences and checking us in before our flights. She is worth her weight in gold!

Sent by Dean Barnes

Helen is exceptional, professional, with attention to important details, very knowledgeable, able to think with excellence for our travel needs, whether business or pleasure. Helen is absolutely consistent in all she does for us. Helen has now handled all our travel needs for over 20 years. I obviously recommend Helen for any forms of travel due to her vast experience and ability to quickly and efficiently give you excellent options to choose from. Helen will not disappoint you or let you down, only produce excellence.

Sent by Maureen Casey

Having Helen as my personal travel agent over the last ten years has relieved me of all the stress of booking flights, accommodation and tours. Her service is beyond excellent. Her response time to any email query is fast and quotes are prepared on the same day. Her assistance and advice for visa applications is another service I really value. I love the fact that she knows my preferences, isle seats for international flights and window seats for domestic! I never have to worry about boarding passes as she emails them to me the day prior to flying which is wonderful. I appreciate her thoughtful emails or hand written cards prior to leaving, wishing me safe travels and welcoming me home on returning. I can with 100% recommend Helen to anyone looking for a personal travel agent. In fact, many of my friends are now clients of hers and like me, appreciate her vast knowledge and excellent service.

Sent by Sya Russell

Helen has been booking our travel for over 10 years now. As efficient & reliable as ever, always going the extra mile & exceeding our expectations. Helen has also done the bookings for our foreign guests who have always been blown away by her level of service, attention to every possible detail you could EVER imagine & the care & consideration which goes in to every booking. Helen anticipates the needs of her customers even before they do!

Sent by Yvonne Bright

Helen has always given us professional, exceptional service, always going the extra mile, and finding us the best deal possible. My business will only use Helen for our travel arrangements.

Sent by Lorraine Kemp

Thank you Helen - over the past few years you have handled my business and personal travel arrangements with utmost professionalism - your service and extensive knowledge has been something I have been able to rely upon.

Sent by Lorraine Davies

It is an absolute pleasure to work with Helen, she is always so helpful and willing to assist. She comes back promptly with any information required and willing to find out anything I want to know. I will always come back to her for any further bookings I need to do, or any queries I might have. Keep up the good work Helen

Sent by Michael & Bernadette Diamond

Having dealt with many service providers, very few have performed and only a handful matched up to Helen's service. From the outset, after our very first meeting we realised that we were working with a professional. There is no doubt that Helen is passionate about her work. Her communication skills were key to instilling confidence in decision making. She indeed turned our dream into reality.

Sent by Roelof Brink

Holiday to Thailand: Out of 10 travel agents that I contacted in 2011, for my 1st international holiday, Helen was the only one that listened and answered all of my questions. She is sharp and her knowledge on travel and the destination impressed me. Dear Helen, I will never forget. I hope that you are still a travel agent come 2013. Hong Kong and Vietnam, here I come!

Sent by Lynne Nell

I had a crisis where I had to get my daughter back to South Africa from the USA in a hurry. Emotions were running high and we were in a flat spin. Helen was the voice of sanity and reason amidst the turmoil. She arranged a very reasonably priced ticket, kept in constant touch with me and even sent very explicit instructions to assist my daughter at each step of the way. She is an absolute STAR!!!

Sent by Sidney Rash

Helen really helped me to get the flights that I needed, on very specific dates. In addition she helped me set up my SAA voyager miles account and my USA visa along with my travel insurance. She was incredibly helpful and reliable, and I have been extremely happy and satisfied with my trip and the business from her! She even helped me with aspects that I hadn't even thought of. :)

Sent by Cindy Corbitt

I recently dealt with Helen to book my holiday to Mauritius, at short notice. Helen listened well to my requirements & then offered various appropriate options for my holiday. Helen was honest with her advice & her service was prompt & efficient. Helen went out of her way to help me & her communication & follow up was superb. I'll definitely use Helen again in the future, should the opportunity arise.

Sent by Anne Balmer

Helen is a real pleasure to work with. Over the past three years she has booked trips for me to India (3 times), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Germany and Rome. All trips have run like clockwork, due to Helen's incredibly efficient organization and meticulous attention to detail. Her communication regarding every aspect of our travel has been outstanding. She is excellent and I highly recommend her.

Sent by Philip Tennet

Helen has organised two holidays for us. One was a month in the US for a family of four and the second a two week holiday in Italy. Both were superbly arranged with every last detail taken care of. Helen's attention to detail does not stop on return from overseas, she checks that everything was as expected and resolves any small issues that may have occurred. We will continue to support Helen.

Sent by Sarah Wait

Helen helped us plan an absolutely magical honeymoon to Croatia. She assisted us with ideas, visas, tickets and the most perfect itinerary. The best part was her completely personalised service, which included meeting and seeing us at home and delivering everything to us in the comfort of our own home. We will never use any other travel agent and she has become a personal friend.

Sent by Elaine Korck

Helen has offered us service beyond the call of duty. We place confidence in her findings, and feel thoroughly spoilt when she constantly fetches, carries things, and reminds us of details we so easily overlook. We are thrilled with the years of service she has offered us.

Sent by Mark Milne

Absolutely fantastic!! By far the best service I have ever received. Helen went the extra mile on more than one occasion. I highly recommend her...and to top it all, she provided very competitive prices.

Sent by Keir Tayler

My wife, Callie, I have known Helen, for 16 years and found her to be warm, jovial, and interesting as a friend. We know she has experienced the globe as a traveller and knows the receiving end of what a lot of travellers request. We have asked difficult manoeuvres in air-travel being missionaries and found her advice and counsel extremely accurate, efficient and reliable. Simply the Best!

Sent by Peter Martin

We recently used the services of Helen Aitchison to book a trip for us from Durban to London via Dubai. We found all the arrangements made by Travel Counsellors, represented by Helen, were exactly as she had advised us. The trip therefore, went very smoothly and we were very happy with the service offered by this Company/Helen. We would have no hesitation in recommending this company and Helen.

Sent by Edgar Tennant

This is to confirm, that we have had only excellent service from Helen who is always prepared to go the extra mile in order to please her customers.

Sent by Jenny Casey

I do a lot of travelling and have had experience with many travel agents and Helen really stands out from the rest. Her knowledge, patience and 'can do' attitude really makes working with her such a stress-free and pleasant experience. She has gone above and beyond in each booking I have made. I am especially grateful for her informing me of the complimentary Avis point-2-point transfers!

Sent by Chris and Gill Howie

We have always received the most amazing service from Helen .She is always ready to go the extra mile and with great patience many times! Always calm, with a smile on her face. A truly GREAT travel consultant to have.

Sent by Jessica Uys

I would highly recommend Helen as a travel advisor - her patience and flexibility is amazing and nothing is ever too much trouble. I was particularly impressed with her quick response to problems and the personal time and effort she put into ensuring resolution. It was good to know that everything was 100% taken care of.

Sent by Angela Raw

Dealing through Helen for your travel arrangements is highly recomended. She gives you the best deals available, is quick in her responses to your requests and gives you great advice and lots of tips. I really enjoyed the personal touch. Thank you Helen for helping me plan my trip of a life time!

Sent by Mike and Jean Korck

There is only one word for Helens service and that is EXCELLENT....Helen goes the extra mile for your holiday to ensure the best holiday you have ever had. Thanks Helen. We sure will be booking with you again.