Our Product Director is currently on an amazing tour of South Africa on a fact finding mission and also to sample the accommodation we carefully select for our clients.
We'll keep you up to date here every few days on how he's getting on and show you a few pics from his trip so stay tuned
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See what he experienced below.
Start to plan a trip like this >>> South Africa Blog - by Malcolm Peasnall - November 2012
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Friday November 16th
Last day at work before setting out to South Africa on Saturday. Last minute packing well underway. Why does the wife decide that shorts that have done great service are no longer suitable!
The trip is primarily my holiday which we are doing in the company of two of our friends and follows the Garden route fly drive which is featured in our brochure and on this website. Hopefully if you chose to read it will give you lots of ideas.
Like everybody else I love a bargain so we booked our flights on a South African seat sale. Quite a lot of our clients are in South Africa on the same seat sale deal at the moment and I expect to come across one or two of them. Updates and pictures will be post on a regular basis subject to wifi access.
Lavendar Manor - Our First Hotel
Saturday November 17th
An easy journey to Heathrow. We used the meet and greet service on arrival which works extremely well at Terminal 1. Why not ask us to quote you for your trip. You will really appreciate the difference it makes.
Check in was really quick and easy and they even found an exit row seat for me! We left Heathrow on time and the meal served was of a really high standard. South African Airlines is still on of the few airlines that still does not charge for drinks on its long haul flights.
On arrival at Johannesburg the arrivals haul was jammed due to flights like ours arriving early and some from the Far East arriving late. They did however call us forward so we made our connection to Cape Town. Baggage arrived safely including our golf clubs which again are carried free of charge. Most clients are normally taken by our ground agents to their Cape Town Hotel.
Sunday November 18th
As we needed to go to Hermanus to see the whales before they set out for Antartica we picked up the car in Cape Town Airport. We efficient at Budget. Little tip even if your case has wheels make sure you get a trolley as all car is a long way! The drive is very easy and is straight down the N2 and takes about 90 minutes. However we choose to take the slower but much prettier drive along the coast.Takes about 45 minutes longer but the views are stunning. On Sunday afternoon in bright sunlight and 30 degrees what a way to start.
Arrived in Hermanus and arrived easily at the wonderful located Lavender Manor. A very warm welcome and within15 minutes we had been shown our rooms, a restaurant booked and the Put Put booked to take us to eat. We then had a cup of tea on the terrace overlooking the Ocean with whales playing on the edge of the breakers. We ate at Lemon Butta. If you like Seafood you have found your home.What a choice and all that with whales less than a 100 yards away!
Every thing was good but I had the King Klip which a local fish. Do try it if you are in South Africa. The meal with an excellent white wine was just over £16.00 per person. Easily £30.00 per person in the UK. The restaurant rang for the Put Put and we retired to our spectacular rooms and sleep
Monday November 19th
After breakfast outside, overlooking the Ocean(hard I know but somebody has to do it!) we drove the 5kms to the new harbour in Hermanus. We use Southern Right Charters as our preferred supplier and they have just been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag Award as a tourist attraction, one of the first in the world to achieve this designation.The reason is quite clear, their knowledge of the local whale population and their commitment to protecting the environment is clear for all to see. The trip starts with a half hour briefing on Whales and the Southern Right Whale that spends the months of July to November in this area. As we set out with a clear blue sky and the blue ocean in front of us, we headed north to an area of Walker Bay frequented by the whales. Mid November is late in the season and more than 80% of the population has already departed for Antartica. Having said that we had already seen whales from the beach and the Captain said that from July to the end of November they see whales on every trip. On route to the whale area we saw plenty of penguins and seals, basking in the early morning sunshine.
On arrival it wasn't long before we found a mother with a 4 month old calf. The mothers and calves do leave a little later for Antartica , allowing the calf to build up its strength for the long swim south. Whale watching is strictly regulated in South Africa and Southern Right Charters are one of only three companies licensed to be less than 100 metres from the whales. We certainly made good use of the privilege and hopefully, if the technology works, you will be able to view some of the photographs we have taken. The whales then decided to give us a show and the young one in particular began to show off, just like a naughty child! He started to breech right in front of us and although I have seen many whales in other destinations around the world, I have never seen such a performance close up. We must have spent a full 45 minutes enjoying this spectacle. After a while the mother decided she had had enough and started to swim away. Mother and calf swimming side by side so effortlessly and gracefully belies the fact that the mother weighs the equivalent of 10 fully grown elephants.
We tried to catch up with two other whales heading due north but their speed was such that even with a powerful boat we could not make an impression and had give up. The Captain informed us that he thought they were Humpback Whales just returning from their migration north. During our time out at sea we saw many other whales but what could top such a spectacular performance?
After returning to the harbour we have spent a lazy day in the early summer sun, enjoying Hermanus and the surrounding area. Now just off for a meal at The Burgundy restaurant overlooking the harbour in Hermanus.
Tuesday November 20th
A day off some Jean and I went to play golf at the Hermanus Golf club while of friends got up little later and took the coastal walk from Lavender Manor to the centre of Hermanus. They saw whales from the path and had pleasant lunch at the Tapas bar in the town square.
We had pleasant round of golf until playing our second shot onto the green at the 18th hole when the heavens opened ! Yes it rains and when it does it rains hard! Luckily we had just finished and our friends were stranded in a bar!
The rain came down for about 2 hours and although quite warm we spent a couple of hours in the fantastic lounge at Lavender Manor watching the storm cross Walker Bay. In need of a good meal we went to the Burgundy restaurant in town and used the Tut Tut to take us. Meal was great and the fillet steak out of this world and served on a hot rock to keep it warm while you ate.
Wednesday November 21st
This morning with great sadness we left Lavender Manor. The comment I wrote in the guest book was' The attention to detail makes the difference' Everything has to be just right. We have driven out of Hermanus along the Blue Crane Route. The Blue Crane is South Africa's national bird but is now quite hard to find. However as you drive towards the N2 I have always seen then. We then followed Highway 62 from Montague to Oudtshoorn. Many travellers miss this gem of a road and in my view it is one of the best drives in SouthAfrica. We stopped in Montague for an excellent coffee and some lovely ice cream.
The vista's are tremendous and the sky seems to go on for ever.It took about 4 hours to drive along traffic free roads.What a pleasure to drive compared to the UK. We arrived at Mooiplass guesthouse located on working Ostrich farm. Again out standing rooms and what view! Dinner tonight on the farm with as you might have guessed Ostrich! Full report on the meal tomorrow WIFI permitting
Thursday November 22nd
Just to finish last night had a very good meal featuring Ostrich as you might expect on a Ostrich Farm. Woke up this morning to bright blue skies and the cooler wind from last night replaced by a warm wind. After breakfast we set of to drive the 30kms to Cango Caves the largest accessible cave complex in the Southern Hemisphere. Spent a really interesting hour in the caves on a guided tour. You travel 600 metres along 3 impressive cave complexes. Just a warning there are over 169 steps to go up and down so please be aware that you need to be mobile to enjoy the visit. I have done it before but was perhaps even more impressed on the second visit.
Next we did one of my personal favourite drive up and over the Swatzberg Pass. it is the height of Ben Nevis and climbs very steeply from the caves on a gravel road. You travel across the great mountain range with stunning views often on either side. Hopefully we can send you some pictures back as words cannot do justice to what we have seen. A word of caution the road needs to be driven carefully and if you have a fear of heights perhaps you should take the alternative route. We have had so challenges in sending photos as some WIFI does not seem to be able to handle the file size. Hopefully last night with strong WIFI we managed to send a whole series of photos not sure that tonight will be as good. After the pass we travel across the Great Karoo which is a semi desert stretches for miles in front of you. This area is know as the Mohair route as it is home to many Angora Goats that provide the raw material. The other animals found in quantity are sheep and we are hoping tonight we will be tasting Karoo Lamb know as the best in South Africa.
We are staying for the next two days in Graff Reinet which house some of the best Cape Dutch architecture. Tomorrow we have a walking tour and then the Valley of Desolation.
Friday November 23rd
Our meal last night was as good a it promised. The chef owner Gordon Wright talks to the guests assembled in the lounge area The menu is fully explained with not just a description of the disk but the thought process behind the dish.Everything used is grown or harvested locally and sourced responsibly. Last night the choice was Butternut squash soup with a hint of mild curry or Aubergine stuffed with onions,garlic and cheese served on a garden salad. Free range chicken breast stuffed with cheese and herbs or Lamb from the Snow drop Mountains just a short drive away server with fresh seasonal vegetables. For desert the choice was nougat (like a soft meringue ) served with mango coulis or a crisp pear tart with cinnamon ice cream.
I will leave the choice to you but between us we tried everything and argued as to had made the right choice. If you stay in Graff Reinett then I suggest you eat once at Andreis Stockenstrom. As you would expect breakfast was just as good and the free range eggs went well with some excellent bacon. The home made lemon curd was fantastic on the toast! Just as well the planned adventure for this morning was a walking tour with David from Karoo Adventures. David has been escorting our guests for quite a period and it is easy to see why they love this tour.
David is both very knowledgeable and easy going. He is willing to let the tour to follow your interests under a loose structure.The town has an interesting past with many tales to tell and I believe and interesting future as well. We were engrossed for nearly 3 hours with a short break for coffee and came away feeling we knew something of what makes this town tick. We then spent sometime exploring the town by ourselves under clear blue skies and a very pleasant 30 degrees. After walking back to the guesthouse we took the car and drove the 20 Kms to the Valley of Desolation. We could have spent the afternoon by the pool but what treat we would have missed. There is a 70 rand per person entry fee to visit this area of the National Park. Worth every penny and the views are stunning. To get the best views you do have to walk a little but once there the photos give an impression as to what you see.However the camera lens cannot really show you how great the vista really is. If you come to Grafff Reinett then you must make this trip. I am now sat writing this by the pool with a beer( well it is 5 o'clock some where!).
Tonight in the true spirit of research we are forgoing another meal at the guest house and trying another highly recommend restaurant called Polka. Tomorrow I will update you as to what the results of our research are.
Mon 26th to Wed 28th November
No blog or access for three days as we have been on safari with no signal. The drive from Oudsthoorn is three hours and brings you down through the Mohair area and the area that grows Outspan oranges seen in the UK around Christmas time.
Amakhala is a collection of 6 small lodges on 11000 hectares of very varied bush types. The area north of Port Elizabeth was developed or perhaps more correctly re converted natural bush about 20 years ago. There was and still is a strong demand for malaria free safari as some people have problems or issues with taking anti malaria tablets. Unlike areas like Kruger, Madikwe or Botswana game has to be more highly managed. However the lessons learnt have also been widely used in the areas above in helping to manage game populations in these areas too.
As we approached the weather changed and the temperature dropped 20 degrees and a strong wind built up as well. Wind is never great on safari as the animals are always more cautions as they cannot see or hear the predators. We are staying at Bush Lodge which is a tented lodge. However forget Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. These tents are extremely spacious have polished hard wood floors, proper beds complete with mosquito netting. Lovely outside showers and a wood burning stove. On safari it is full board and the meals are really first class. You start with lunch on day of arrival. After lunch we set out on our first game drive we'll wrapped up with lots of layers on. We saw lots of game especially when we dropped on to the more sheltered plains next to the Bushman river.Cape Wilderbeast that area cousins of the more plentiful Blue Wilderbeast seem in Kruger. These were nearly hunted to extinction by the Zulu as the white tipped tail is there favourite fly swat. Thankfully now due to work done by Amakhala and Shamwari amongst others the population is healthy and stable again. Just an example of how these game reserves are helping to preserve and protect endangered species. The reserve also has a great supply of Red Heartebeast. With horns in the shape of a heart, rounded shoulders and a lovely deep red colour they roam the main part of the reserve on large numbers.
We also saw over 30 giraffe all in a group which is unusual but again the wind meant that they were safer closer together. As the game drive progressed the weather turned even worse and the rain set in.Normally the afternoon game drive is 3.5 hours long with a break for a sundowner. We all agreed that to cut out the sundowner and have the drink back at the lodge by a roaring fire. When we returned to the rooms the wood-burning stoves were lit and a hot bath run.
2nd day on safari was still windy but less cold. ads good variety of game on the morning drive (05.30 wake up call). After a really good breakfast, I set out to inspect the other lodges on the Amarakal reserve. Very pleased with what I saw with a good selection of lodges all on the same site. Woodbury Tented Camp, although the cheapest option, is still excellent and the view from the lodge is fantastic. After the afternoon drive with took up the option of a night drive which is 3 hours under lights searching for night time animals. I have always said the bird life is always the biggest surprise when you visit South Africa. We were rewarded with some great viewings of a large variety of Owls.
Amarakal has two lions which are currently in a separate part of the reserve (still hunting for their own food) Shortly they will be released into the main reserve. Having just eaten they were under a large tree sleeping. However the male lion did give us great view before turning over a starting to sleep again. Lions do sleep for between 18-20 hours per day when game is around and will only hunt every 4-5 days if they do not have cubs to feed. You have a game drive on the morning you leave and were we rewarded with some great views of the Cheetas.
Sorry to be off line for so long but Internet issues have only just been resolved. We left the Reserve with a far better understanding of how things all fit together and have to thank our Ranger Tim for working so hard to get us some great views of the wildlife and explaining so much.
Thursday 29th November
We left the reserve about 12.00 and drove to Kynsna along the N2. This road takes you via Port Elizabeth and then along the classic Garden Route. The drive to Port Elizabeth Airport is just over the hour. The total drive from the reserve area to Knysna is just over 3.5 hours along some really pretty country. There is a good rest area at Storms River for fuel, coffee in and coffee out! The driving in South Africa is very easy, they drive on our side of the road, the roads are empty, fuel costs less than 80 pence per litre! We are keeping a count of the total cost of fuel which we will share at the end of the trip. We are staying for 3 nights at Belvidere Manor that has been welcoming people to stay since 1849. We have a 2 bedroom cottage which has ensuite in each bedroom plus a nice lounge area, a fully equipped kitchen and a veranda that overlooks the Knysna lagoon. Geoffrey is a legend at Belvidere Manor and seems to do most jobs from helping you to your cottage, serving at breakfast and in the Bell Tavern at night. Take a look at the Belvidere website to see a video on this remarkable character. We ate in Bell Tavern, 4 people with drinks came to £32.00!
The following day we all played golf at Knysna Golf Club.This club was founded in 1909 the same year as the club we all play at in the UK. We have an arrangement that members of both clubs play free which is an added bonus. My wife is Lady Captain and made presentation to the secretary manager on behalf of our club. The golf was very enjoyable and made even more so by the fact that Castle Beer were sponsoring the afternoon competition with free beer stops around the course. As we finished the course the girls thought we were part of the groups so we were able to sample the local brew! We decided that we would have a change and eat in in our cottage. Not a popular idea with the ladies who assumed they would have to cook. However being true gentlemen the meal and the washing up were all all male production. Shopping was quite interesting. As you would expect certain things were dearer and some cheaper. The bill for the shopping was about what we spent in the Bell Tavern but did include some staple items that we will use in Cape Town where we have an apartment for our last 4 days. We ate outside on the veranda and the meal was great.
Today we have had a lazy day. Later start for breakfast and then a short 7 Kms drive to Benton on Sea. what a great 4 mile long beach. We went for a long walk along the beach to try to walk off some of the food we have been eating.We then drove back into Knysna and visited the Eastern Head that guards the entrance to Kynsna Lagoon. After a short coffee break with a rather nice helping of Apple Pie we visited the Kynsna Quays area. This nice development around the Marina area house some great eating spots. My wife also said I needed to mention the shops. I am not really quite sure why but I always do as I am told! Returned to the Manor for some pool time but I had 6 days blog to catch up on.
Our next and last stop will be Cape Town from where the next edition will come from.
Friday 30th November
We left Kynsna on Friday with just over 500 kms to travel to Cape Town. Please note clients would never do such a trip but we had to make some amendments to deal with timing issues and our desire to see the whales. South Africa is blessed with open roads, well maintained and in UK terms very little traffic.The day was a bit dull and slightly windy when we set out so the prospect of a few hours in the car was not too bad. It actually took us just over 4 hours and 30 minutes to drive the 500 kms. We did stop for 2 separate 30 minute breaks( Coffee in and coffee out as one of our tour guides always says!).
The drive is straight down the N2 and is very scenic. Cape Town is in a bowl with the sea in front and the mountains forming a full ring to the sea. The drop from the mountains and the vies are just stunning. As we approached Cape Town the wind increased. The wind in the summer months is called the 'Cape Doctor'. It cools the city in the summer and in days gone bye helped to prevent disease by blowing the bad odours away. We had selected to stay at the Glen Apartments that are situated in the Camps Bay area of this remarkable city. Our two bedroom apartment had a massive lounge and dinning area, full kitchen, two ensuite bedrooms plus another area with couch beds that could be used to sleep two younger children. We had two balcony's one other looking the sea with a full dining table and another at the rear of the building that caught the morning sun. The kitchen was very well equipped and also included a washer and dryer. The ladies thought it was a great chance to return home with clean clothes so off to the local supermarket we went and then decided to eat in as by now the windy had really got up to over 45 miles per hour.
Saturday 1st December
What a difference a few hours makes. We woke up to bright sunshine and no wind! After breakfast which we cooked in the apartment we set out to take the drive down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Driving down through Hout Bay and Llandudno( yes they have one too!) the views were stunning and you will see some of the great underused beaches like so many in South Africa. The Cape Point National park is more than just the point itself but a massive and unique biosphere. Many plants found here are only found in this area and there are some stunning wild Protea's growing amongst lots more. The Point and Cape are always windy and today was no exception but it is an awesome experience to think that early sailors passed this land mark knowing that perhaps the most critical point of their journey was achieved. In Cape Town they always say if Table Mountain is clear go up it! Normally we suggest clients drive back via Boulders to see the Penquin colony but we had been fortunate enough to see them swimming out a see when Whale watching right at the start of the trip.
We give as a tip that the numbers going up on the cable car are lower between 14.00-16.00. This proved to be the case and with only a short wait we were able to go up what has just been chosen as one of the new Seven wonders of the Natural World. Table Mountain has over 1500 plant specis which is more than all the UK. We then returned to Camps Bay and a super meal watching the Sunset over Camps Bay.
Sunday 2nd December
No breakfast this morning as we had received an invitation from Winchester Mansions one of our Cape Town partner hotels to attend their Sunday Jazz Brunch. We were told do not eat before and come hungry! Winchester Mansions is located half way between Camps Bay and the V and A Waterfront at Sea Point. The sea is across the way and the views from the public rooms and the sea facing rooms make a stay here extra special. However one of Cape Town's best kept secrets is the Sunday Jazz Brunch at the Winchester. Held in the court yard with fantastic Jacoranda flowers cascading down the walls the warm wind and bright sunshine laid the foundation for a great time.
You arrive at 11.00 with a welcoming glass of South Africa sparkling wine and the band finishes playing around 14.00. Tables are booked and need to be booked in advance. We saw many people being turned away. The food is breakfast,lunch and high tea all rolled into one.
Start where you like, fresh fruits, cereals, wide choice of fish both hot and cold, eggs cooked any way you might want, bacon. sausage, baked beans and mushrooms. There is also a great selection of cheese and ham as you might expect given South Africa's Dutch heritage.Then a choice of hot fillet of beef and pork with potatoes and vegetables plus salad's.
Just when you thought it could not get any better out came one of the widest selection of sweets I have ever seen plus fruits as well. Through out the band played great Jazz and all this for around £20.00 per person!!!! If you are going to be in Cape Town on a Sunday do yourself a favour and get us to book this for you. Afterwards I did a site inspection of the hotel and as you might expect from what has gone before I was really pleased with the room quality and the two different styles that will appeal to different clients. I was not expecting that as all the rooms are entered from balcony's overlooking the courtyard that the carpet would be Astro turf complete with golf holes!
Afterwards the men were told we have to visit the V and A Waterfront for some retail therapy. We concluded the evening back in the apartment but with no food in sight!
Monday 3rd December
This was our friends first visit to Cape Town so we split up today. They visited the main areas like the craft market, the castle, the Company Gardens while we went out to visit Kirchenshof Gardens.
We both like gardens and trying to make ours better but this is something else. The entry cost is about £3.50 per person and you can spend a whole day there. Great tea rooms and a really good gift shop if you are looking for something a bit different. However it is the gardens you have come to see. Founded in 1913 so next year will be there 100 years celebration. So many different sections but as you might expect a large section given over to the varied members of them Protea family. The photos do not give the full picture. We spent a really relaxing day walking around this very special place. We spent our last evening at a nice place in Camps Bay. Like everywhere we visited in South Africa; its great value, well served and massive portions.
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