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Our Product Director is currently on another 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 experiences below...

Start to plan a trip like this >>> South Africa Blog - by Malcolm Peasnall - Apr 2014
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What another trip to South Africa!

By the time you read this our Product Director, Malcolm Peasnall, will be on his way to London Heathrow for a 10 day trip to South Africa looking at additional product for our website and a brochure update.

There are two major travel shows for companies involved in selling Africa, and South Africa in particular. INDABA, which Malcolm attended last year and has also attended in previous years, is the established show. The second show is WTM Africa and is aimed at very specific areas from a highly selected exhibitor list of African suppliers and a highly selected exhibitor list of overseas buyers. The overseas buyers are also split into two separate camps: buyers and hosted buyers. Hosted buyers are ones who are perceived to be major players in South Africa and the cost of attending is met for those exhibitors. We are pleased that Malcolm is a hosted buyer and you will be pleased that the cost of his trip is not going to be built into your holiday! There are less than 10 hosted buyers from the UK.

Over the next 10 days the blog on the www.itissouthafrica.co.uk website will be regularly updated, subject to the limitations of Wi Fi availability. The first part of the trip will be along the fantastic Garden Route and the blog will contain lots of useful tips on how to best enjoy South Africa.

If you are looking for a destination that offers great value and great weather from September through to May, then South Africa is probably the destination of choice. Why not ask for one of our brochures by clicking on the button below, or alternatively click on the quote button, give us some ideas of what you want to do and we will put together an individual quote for yourself. Make sure you bookmark the website for the next 10 days to keep up to date with the blog.

Friday 25th and Saturday 26th April 2014

Good drive to Heathrow and, as usual, we used the meet and greet parking. It is so easy and when it was raining really hard, as it was then, it is so nice to walk into the terminal dry!

Check-in only requires your passport and we have normally pre booked your seats so that part is all done. The flight departed on time and the meal service was prompt and quite tasty. As usual, I then went to sleep! Just about 2 hours before landing, Breakfast was served. This was probably the best breakfast I have ever had on an airline. Good fruit bowl followed by sausage, mushrooms, tomato, potato and scrambled eggs. In addition, there was a yogurt and a bread roll with strawberry jam. All topped off with a piping hot coffee. Well done South African airlines and thank you!

The flight arrived 15 minutes early, which is great news, as this means you are one of the first long haul flights to arrive. This then means no queues at Immigration; which is great. If you have been through Johannesburg you will know how good that feels. We then went to collect our baggage. My bag arrived as soon as we arrived but we waited in vain for Jean's bag. While Jean waited to see, I went to baggage services. They scanned the checked bag receipt and told us the bag had already been transferred to our onwards flight to Port Elizabeth. This really should not happen. I am writing this while waiting for the flight to Port Elizabeth so we will see.

So with just one bag we cleared customs and followed the signs for re check-in. Your bags are already checked in to your end destination and your seats allocated at Heathrow. However, you do have to re-check your bags.

Then it is out of the door and up two sets of escalators to the normal domestic check-in area. Always check the Allocated gate, but about 90% of the connecting flights we use depart from the D gates; which is right at the far end of the terminal.

Our flight to Port Elizabeth departed 25 minutes late so the bag saga was delayed! On arrival, however, the bag was there!.

Thus a lesson to learn. We picked up car at the airport and set out to drive to Cape St Francis. Located about 60 minutes drive towards Cape Town on the coast. The weather en-route however turned quite poor with heavy rain and also very windy. Not the best way to arrive at any resort. On arrival we completed the normal check-in and were shown our accomadation; which turned out to be a 5 bedroom house over looking the sea. This is let either as a whole house, or, as rooms with a shared lounge area. The breakfast is prepared in your room at a time to suit you. The rain really came down but we drove down to the Joe Fish restaurant which is the resorts on-site restaurant for a really good meal. A good selection, and in UK terms, was very cheap for some excellent Fish. Then back to room for some sleep.

Sunday 27th April 2014

We woke after a great night's sleep to hear the waves breaking on the shore. Pulling up the blinds we were greeted by bright sunshine. After a shower a walk we took a walk directly from our house on to the beach, returning to the house where breakfast was being prepared. Hopefully pictures will be available for you to see, but suffice to say it was really good.

After breakfast we were shown around the rest of the resort, where they offer a range of room types. The five beach houses like we had are either sold for sole occupancy or are often sold on a B&B basis on a room by room option with the common space shared. These all have breakfast served in the property and all offer a fantastic direct access onto the beach option. There are two other options: some 2/3 bedroom units with lounge and kitchen and some more standard rooms with two double beds and a small kitchenette. These units are just a short walk to the beach and the occupants are served breakfast in the Joe Fish Restaurant. There is a choice of several swimming pools and the beach properties all have their own pools.

We were then treated to a visit around the area. The property has strong links to a local school and local project where some local ladies have formed a knitting cooperative and are now selling hand made products both locally and around South Africa. The South African long board surf championship are all set to start on the beach this coming week, so many surfers out on the waves.



The area is really three areas: Cape St Francis, Port St Francis and St Francis. Our area tour continued by taking the short drive to Port St Francis, the home of about 40% of the South Africa calamari fishing fleet. The port is really pretty and well worth a visit. There are several really excellent restaurants and for a small fee the resort will transfer you if you want to eat out of resort. The other area is St Francis Bay. This is a very upmarket area and one of the 'places ' to be seen over the holiday season. The area has fantastic houses built around a canal system. It is also home to two great golf courses with very affordable green fees. The resort offers a one hour cruise on the canal system for about £10 per person or a six hour cruise, which also takes you up the river for a Bria (South African for barbecue). This costs £25.00 including lunch and a drink. We then returned to the resort to pick up our car. As we had not seen this property previously we had not used it much in our trip planning, but following our inspection it will be used much more.

Then the short 25 km drive back towards Jeffries Bay. The drive is quite scenic and the weather by now is quite hot. Jeffries Bay is a large more concentrated seaside area with miles of great beaches. Diaz 15 is located directly on the beach and again we had another bauxite overlooking the beach. The property has direct access to the beach with several miles of safe, clean and soft sand. The suite we had was a two bedroom unit with separate rooms and bathrooms, again with a small kitchen. All guests receive a small bottle of champagne to drink whilst taking in the great sea view. After sorting out our bags we change into shorts, and yes I know a frightening sight for the locals!

We then take a very pleasant walk on the beach, followed by a nice cup of tea before going out for dinner. In South Africa many restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings. It is common for them to serve lunch, maybe to about 16.00, and then close. The owner had booked us into a Greek restaurant in town that is open. Most owners of the B&B's we use will do this for clients or ring for a table once you arrive. However be aware that eating later on a Sunday night can be more of a challenge. The meal was very good and again including drinks and tip came to less than £15.00 per person.



Monday 28th April 2014

Breakfast was served in our suite this morning with bright sunlight streaming through the windows. There is no doubt Diaz15 delivers a high standard of service and standards.

We left the property after doing some housekeeping we drove back towards Port Elizabeth and past the city towards Grahams town. Then the short drive towards Addo National Park. Addo the the third largest Park in South Africa. Each Park is in a carefully selected area and features a unique Eco system. Unlike some of the private game reserves the Parks board only allows animals that would have been found naturally . This means that for instance there are no Giraffe in the park and no white Rhino. There are however black Rhino.

However getting slightly ahead of ourselves. For clients who do not want the full safari experience then we use some selected properties in the area with the clients doing a self drive through the park. Enroute to our lodge we took the opportunity to inspect Woodhall Lodge. This is beautiful peaceful property on a working citrus farm. In fact it supplies a major British supermarket amongst other markets. The property is built around what was the old farmstead. Really tastefully developed with some exceptional rooms all featuring outside showers. Just in case you are wondering they also have the normal inside ones as well! Should you chose not the full lodge experience then Woodall lodge is a very viable alternative.

It is about 10 Kms from Woodall to the entrance to the park. We are staying at River bend Lodge which is in a 14000 hectare private concession attacked to the main park. The animal inventory is exactly the same but in the private reserve you are allowed to go off road for big 5 sightings. River Bend has a private gate .it is in a really good setting with lovely views across the valley. On arrival we were taken to our room very well equipped and a short walk to the main building. River Bend is fenced safari which means the whole camp is surrounded by an electric fence. These means that it is save to walk around the camp at night. Some safari is not fenced. We will always tell you at the point of quoting so you can make an informed choice.

We had a light lunch( our choice ) and then short time by the pool before getting ready for our afternoon drive. At this time the temperature was over 25C but experience tells us that especially early and late in the season the temperature drops very rapidly when the none sun sets so multiple layers at the ready but not many deployed when we left. We had a good game drive seeing many plains game plus Buffalo and black Rhino of the big 5.

True to form after our sundowner the temperature really dropped and by now all layers were deployed plus the blankets. As is usual in South Africa you do the last hour of your evening drive are done under lights. Arriving back at the lodge we were greeted with hot towels and hot chocolate .

A quick change and in for dinner. The food standard and presentation at River Bend is exceptional. Dinner would have graced many really top restaurants. Good choice and really well cooked.
Then off to bed because 06.00 will soon the knocking on the door.

Tuesday 29th April 2014

As predicted at 06.00 there was a knock on the door as our wake up call arrived with our morning tea. Time to get up and get ready . Another tip always add a layer to start first thing in the morning more than you returned to the lodge in last night. If you have ever camped you will know the coldest time is just before dawn. In the morning it is the reverse of the afternoon, start with the maximum on and take off as the sun warms up.
The plan had been to go to the main/ public section of the park so we could see the difference. Normally guests at River Bend do not go into the public sector unless there has been very heavy rain which can make driving more difficult on the private section.

However as we were about to get on to the safari truck there was an almighty roar from the male lions which boomed out across the valley. Unless you have heard this call at first hand it is hard to explain just how chilling it can be. Not having seen them the night before we set out to try to find them. Being so close it surely could not be that hard. Long Hope Villa is a separate camp sold for sole use often by families that is run by River Bend. There truck was also mobile so we set off to find the lions. Well they had over ideas! After about an hour we gave up and headed the 6 Kms into the main section.

Just a little about the National Parks system in SA. Set up in the 1930's the idea was to provide an affordable safari option to all. Kruger was the first park and has grown to the biggest now being the size of Wales. Like most National Parks around the world there mission is to show but not alter what happens in the natural world. Therefore no native species are taken out and hence the reason this area has no Wilderbeast or Giraffe. The park has a road system and all viewings are done in your own car and from the road only. This as you will see shortly has some issues. In a private reserve or lease such as River Bend you can go off road for Big 5 sightings only. There is accomadation in the park which is quite simple but very cost effective. You can also camp but only in properly fenced areas. Food service is provided mainly cafeteria style.

We set out to go to a high spot to see what we can see. What we found was that two male Loins had also had the same idea and it was those that had probably challenging the River Bend lions earlier in the morning. Good sightings as they lie in the morning sun which was rapidly gaining strength by now. We then went to the look out point and saw a lone elephant in the distance. We then ventured around the loops go to the other side of the mountain to another look out point. En route we spotted the wingless Addo dung beetle. At first sight exactly the same as an ordinary dung beetle but when you pick it up you can see the wings are fused together. Shortly after this we found large amounts of Elephant droppings that were very fresh. Then we saw fresh tracks of a large Elephant who must have walked down the room less that 20 minutes before. You can tell this as the urine marks were still clearly seen. However no sightings of an Elephant!! About a mile further on in a small clearing we saw a freshly killed Kudu. First thought was that the Elephants must have scared the lion away from the kill. Looking at the tracks it was evident that the Lion had been scared by the Elephants and the elephants had been scared by the Lion as they had all disappeared into the bush. We then caught sight of two lionesses in deep cover about 20 yards from the kill. However remember we were now in the public part of the park so we could not go 'off road' to get a better view. However it was a great sighting and also piecing together what had happened was really interesting.

We drove a safe distance away for our coffee stop before we set of back to the lodge. As we went back we saw what we presume were the Elephants who had the skirmish with the lions at a distance as they made there way down the hill towards water.

We arrived back at the Lodge only an hour late to have a great breakfast on the verandah in some really hot sun. We were sad to leave River Bend, excellent accommodation , first class food and one of the best rangers in Elias's we have ever had. We are lucky enough to have done a lot of safari but he added much to our in depth knowledge. We were lucky to have him to ourselves so he was able to tailor the drive to what we wanted without having to concern himself about other guests.

We then started to drive back the way we have come past Port Elizabeth along highway N2 towards Cape Town. Our next stop is to be Kynsna, central in the Garden Route ANSI the centre of so many things. We are staying at Kanakop which we have just started to use and a property highly ratted by Trip Advisor. We find Trip Advisor all to be used with caution. Trends are often right but do times individual clients views only reflect there own agenda.
Along the drive it started to rain heavily again and did not stop till we arrived in Kynsna. Kanakop is situated high above the town with stunning views of the lagoon. The property is family run with a real sense of pride in the way it is operated . Everybody is in voted for a welcome drink with one of resident owners and you do get the sense of staying with friends rather than in a guest lodge.

More about the rooms and views in the morning but we has dinner at the Olive Tree in the centre of town and this is a ' locals' restaurant. Great food and really sensible prices. We return to sleep but the following is something to note. As we left the restaurant the local police were stopping a sample of cars at random for licences and road tax checks. In South Africa you must carry photo ID if you are driving . There licenses are photo so no real issue if you are from SA. If you are British and have the old paper only license then you would need to carry your passport.

Wednesday 30th April 2014

Woke up this morning to bright sunshine and a wonderful view of Kynsna Lagoon. Hopefully we will be able to send you a great photo I took with the mist rolling into the Heads ( the entrance to the lagoon).

Breakfast is served family style and 3couples were staying last night. German and 2 British couples. This is the nice thing about staying at these smaller lodges and B&B's is that you not only meet the local owners but many other travellers from around the world.. Kanonkop is a great experience and will add to the range of properties we feature in Kynsna. You will not be disappointed if you stay here.

10 years ago when we stayed in Kynsna we saw the very start of the development of Simola golf course. When we went to see it the foundation of the club house had been laid and the first tee and green laid. We decided that we should go back and take a look at the course now. This is Jack Nickcalus course which will mean something if you are a golfer. Now it is a golf complex with its own hotel, spa and great club house and top ranked course.



Jack stayed at Kanankop while supervising the building of the course. Kynsna has 3 good courses, Simolau, Pezula and Kynsna Golf Club. The is also a good course at Plattenburg Bay and the renown courses at George are only 40 minutes drive away so a great spot to combine beach and golf.

We then took a detour via Brenton on. Sea a with its great beaches to take a look at small development that is taking place there which mY in the future other another option in the area. Then we set off on the drive along the N2 towards Cape Town . It is about a 5-6 hour drive to Cape Town and you drive through some great farming country. Small rural towns with often towering mountains to the west. As this is the main route we have done it countless times and still never tire of it. Our end destination tonight is Franshoek which is in the wine lands. The area between Stellenbosch and Franshoek produces some of the best of South Africa's excellent wines. Franshoek has also become a hot bed of culinary delights. Some of the nations best restaurants are located here. Great local ingredients and an easy week end destination from Cape Town.

We are staying at Auberge Clermont which is just outside town and located on a working wine farm. The rooms all overlook the vines, so close to town but yet in an I lovely rural position. We have used this property for a long time and it always exceeds people's expectations

Thursday 1st May 2014
A lot of wind last night but woke up to a real autumn morning. Bright sunlight but there was a chill in the wind. The setting of Auberge Clermont amongst the vines really adds to the experience . Breakfast during the summer is served outside in the courtyard but as winter approaches more and more they are served inside. A really well thought out fruit plate plus cereals and some lovely croissants completed the cold section. Five separate choices of cooked completed a great breakfast experience Sent some photos back to the office both for the blog and for some upcoming adverts. We took the scenic drive to Cape Town via Stellenbosch. This what is called the wine lands.

In very simple terms the better wines are produced in the Franshoek area while as you travel more towards Stellenbosh and Paarl that is where the great standard every day drinking are produced. On arrival in Cape Town we did a site inspection at the Portswood Hotel. Located within easy walking distance to the V&A Waterfront this and it sister property are being added to the hotels we offer in Cape Town.

We then checked into the Southern Sun. Cullian Hotel located right in the heart of Cape Town and easy walking distance to the Cape Town Convention Centre. We had an afternoon meeting with our South African ground agent to discus the last year and our plans for next year. This evening an opening reception at the Raddison Blue hotel tonight. It will be good to see this hotel after it's recent refit.

Friday 2nd May 2014

My birthday today but it promise to be a hard day at the travel show. 08.15 start and a 18.00 finish followed by an exhibitor party. The purpose is to meet and discuss both old and new product with suppliers. Rates set at these meetings enable us to offer our clients a keen price while ensuring that we only supply well proven product. The first 90 minutes are a speed dating session which I am getting a bit old for! I will report back probably on Sunday on the results of these two days and any new and exciting product.

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Malcolm's Mail
Question from Mr ST from Durham : Do all hotels have free WIFI? This is a question that over the last 3 years has become asked on a very regular basis. The position has changed so much over that time. The answer is now virtually every property we sell offers free WIFI to our clients. In some areas there can be a useage limit due to the quality of the line but, as we live in a small village in the UK, we have that issue to live with every day anyway. Remember however, that on some very rural products, such as safari, they probably do not have WIFI at all and many also do not have mobile reception either. If this is something you just have to have, make sure you let us know when we are working out your trip plan.

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Malcolm's mail
What is the cost of fuel and is it safe to drive. Currently fuel is costing approx. 82p per litre as opposed to and average cost on the UK of approx. £1.25-£1.30 per litre in the UK. I have driven in South Africa now for close to 30 years. Never in that time have I ever felt that I have been in any danger. As in the UK there are areas that are not safe but you should never be routed even close to those areas. People do try to sell you things if stopped at a set of traffic lights but then they do in the USA as well. The other big bonus is that they drive on the left hand side and the traffic laws/ rules are the same as ours.


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Malcolm's Mail
We asked if any of you had questions we could answer while on our trip. Some I will answer just to the person concerned but others are more general so perhaps best answered on this blog.

Mrs J.D. From Exeter Devon asks is late April/early May. Good time to travel along the Garden Route?
Great question. The weather is like late September in the UK so can be more variable and we have already said we have had some real hearty rain. However we have also had some lovely hot sunshine as well . If you accept that the evenings will be cooler around 12C and you can get rain then there are some bargains to be had.

Many hotels and B&B's reduce price or offer added services. If the weather is not an issue it is. Great time to visit.

Hope that helps.
Malcolm

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Malcolm's mail
This question has come up several times about beaches in South Africa. We are often asked to quote a trip around South Africa and then fly to Maritius or Dubai for a beach holiday. For most of the time that our guest travel in South Africa the beaches in South Africa offer everything that the two other destination do without an extra flight. Along the Garden Route there are fantastic beaches and on this trip we have seen: Cape St Francis Jeffries Bay. Plattenburg Bay Brenton on Sea. Wilderness In addition there are lots of extra beaches at places such as Hermanus and Anniston Bay as well. If you are in the north then the beaches north of Durbun and even higher up into KWN offer subtropical temperatures and fantastic beaches. We have always thought that SA tourism do a poor job of letting people know how good these beaches are. Try them for yourselves you will not be disappointed.


Hope that helps.
Malcolm


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We have set up a facility for you to email any questions you might want addressing as we proceed on this trip. We will do our best to answer them. Please email holidays@uni-travel.co.uk with your questions.

More to follow...

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Things to remember about planning your own fly drive or safari
1. Select the right size of vehicle for your party. Distances are a little further than you perhaps expect in South Africa.

2. Think about a good mix of accommodation and we strongly encourage use of some of the smaller guest house accommodation, which you will find is first class.

3. The information you will be provided with will give you detailed directions to your hotel/safari and we provide maps for your whole itinerary.

4. Please allow time for excursions along the route.
Excursions to consider
1. Whale watching. Hermanus has amongst the best land-based whale watching in the world. However many clients enjoy going out by boat to view these magnificent creatures. Strongly recommended in the whale watching season.

2. Shark Diving. In the same area inhabited by the whales there is some of the best great white shark viewing in the world and some intrepid travellers enjoy the cage diving experience.

3. The Outeniqua Choo Tjoe. For railway enthusiasts to travel on this vintage railway is a great half day excursion.

4. Walking tour in Graaff-Reinet The historic town of Graaff-Reinet includes some of the best Cape Dutch architecture in South Africa. Our walking tour allows you to explore and experience some spectacular architecture whilst learning of the development of this town.

5. Destination Valley Tour. Destination Valley, located near Graaff-Reinet, is South Africa’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon.
BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: For your financial protection and peace of mind, The Independent Traveller is a full member of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) membership No. 96395/V9150 and a licensed and bonded tour operator. Our tour operating licence is granted by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) through their ATOL scheme. Our ATOL licence number is 4660.
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