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Our Product Director is currently preparing his itinerary for his April 2015 South Africa Tour.

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 2015
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What another trip to South Africa!

That's right I am off again to travel through South Africa. I have been to many of the places on this trip before but never in this order and never beginning with a simply stunning journey on board the Pride Of Africa. Ill keep you posted all the so check in regularly from the 9th April for a running commentary of this amazing trip and prepare yourself for booking your next adventure.

This trip starts with the stunning and five star experience aboard Rovos Rail's Pretoria to Cape Town service followed by a night in a Hotel in Stellenbosch. Then, 1 night in a hotel in Clan Willian, 4 nights in Cape town at the World Travel Market and finishing with a night in the beautiful coastal town of Hermanus.

Wednesday 8th April 2015
We have elected to fly this time with Turkish airlines from Birmingham via Istanbul to Johannesburg our first port of call. You might ask why, there are two reasons really:
  1. From the regions, (we are in the East Midlands) and in particular for people north of us including Scotland, effectively we always have to change plane to get to South Africa. Either an internal flight in the UK and downwards to South Africa with British Airways, South African Airways or Virgin or via an intermediate airport such as Dubai or increasingly Istanbul. Turkish airlines has been voted for the last 2 years the European Airline of the year and has a growing reputation particularly for its in-flight service. From the 1st November 2015, it will also operate a flight non-stop from Istanbul to Cape Town which will fit very well with many of our itineraries. We will let you know what the experience is like, with the current competitive flight pricing they are often one of the low cost flights to southern Africa.
  2. The reasons we are travelling to South Africa is for the World Travel Market Africa (WTMA). This is a Buying Conference, only open to real view trades, where we meet suppliers with the elements we put together to make your trips so interesting. It is a chance to renew old friendships, hear of any new developments on properties and negotiate rates for 2016 with our existing suppliers. In addition, it allows us to look for new destinations and properties to build into future itineraries. We are taking the opportunity to experience Rovos Rail, some would say the most luxurious train in the world and visit the area north west of Cape Town which is currently not experienced by too many British travellers.
Internet connection allowing we will try and post daily updates and photographs if we can. As usual there will be an area on the blog for you to post direct questions to me whilst I am travelling, which I will be pleased to answer to the best of my ability.

Thursday 9th April 2015
We have chosen to fly from Birmingham with Turkish Airlines as they are offering great fares from many regional airports which is a great help and much easier than Heathrow for clients north of us in the Midlands.

We used Drop and Go parking which worked out about £20 more than the off-site parking, however this saves about 40 minutes at each end of the trip and is an easy walk to the terminal. The signs at Birmingham Airport are a bit misleading. If you are flying with Turkish or United Airlines as many of our USA clients do, it is much quicker to go to the sign that says Departures on the outside of the terminal. Check-in itself was very smooth. Our flight left 20 minutes late due to some re-routing because of the French Air Traffic Controllers. A good meal was served (our flight left at 16.00 UK time) en-route to Istanbul. The arrival into Istanbul was a bit bumpy due high winds but the pilot did a good job in getting the plane down. We always knew we had a 3 hour wait in Istanbul. However, again, due to our friends the French Air Traffic Control, both the inbound flight and many of the connecting flights were delayed. The result was our flight was delayed. The result was a 02.30 (Istanbul time) departure.

rovos rail the pride of africa

Friday 10th April 2015
Today starts at 02.30 when we left Istanbul for Johannesburg. A full meal was offered but really too much food given the time of night. Some people have reservations about Istanbul Airport. Well it is very busy particularly around 22.00 Turkish time as they have about 40 flights leaving for long haul destinations within the next 3 hours. However if you are just a connecting passenger your boarding pass will have been printed in the UK so it is just a case of checking with the boards and going to the gate. There are lots of places to eat both Turkish and western food.

The food on the airline is very good and provided by the award winning catering firm DO&CO. Mediterranean in style rather than Turkish although we had a choice that included Kebabs. Turkish delight was offered to all! A real bonus!

Arrival at Johannesburg was close to 2 hours late. The good news was that by arriving 2 hours late there was nobody in passport control which can be an issue in Johannesburg. We were picked up by Lucky who has driven me before and is the favoured driver for one of our school groups. It is about an hour from the airport to Pretoria and where Rovos Rail departs from.

Most people were aware there are two luxury Trains in South Africa; The Blue Train and Rovos Rail. The Blue Train, which is the older of the two, departs from the main railway station in Pretoria. Rovos Rail has its own station on the outskirts of Pretoria. In a pleasant location, there is a comfortable lounge area and some very pleasant seating outside if the weather is good.

On arrival you are met and your baggage is labelled and delivered to your suite on the train. Inside your have a choice of tea, coffee or sparkling South African wine plus a selection of sandwiches and cake. You are welcome to take a look around the Loco Sheds and the carriage sheds where a lot of careful and loving restoration work goes on. It is my belief that Rovos Rail exists to fund Rohan Vos's passion for 'big boys train sets'. Each train journey is unique and we were travelling from Pretoria to Cape Town - this is the trip which fits for many peoples holiday plans.

The first few hours are not the most scenic as the train widens its way effectively around Johannesburg to start the journey south. The train carefully picks its way through the heavily packed commuter trains taking workers back to their homes. While I would never pretend that things are perfect in South Africa it is quite clear that progress is being made towards a better future for all its citizens. That progress is slow in some areas and much quicker in others but it does take time to turn the ship around.

We were booked into a deluxe suite which is the middle suite of the Rovos range. It comes with either two single beds or a King size bed and a bathroom and shower. The rooms are extremely well appointed and comfortable with lots of luggage space. They would compare very favourably with most 5 star hotels. Rovos Rail has always had a great reputation for its food. Supper was the first chance to experience what can only be called first class, served with great style and some great South African wine pairings. Given the excellent quality of the wines why would you look elsewhere! So ends the first successful day in South Africa.

Saturday 11th April 2015
rovos rail the pride of africa Woke up after a good nights sleep on the train. The trains motion really does rock you to sleep.

Breakfast is served from 07.00 till 10.00 so lots of time to enjoy a first class breakfast experience. I have a theory that good restaurants can serve great poached eggs. On that basis I am happy to report that this is more than a good restaurant! Just before 10.00 we passed a lake with over 20,000 Lesser Flamingo's. Quite a spectacular sight.

Our first stop was in Kimberley famous as being one of the Diamond hot spots in South Africa and home to the De Veers Diamond Company. We had an interesting visit to the Big Hole and an exceptional visit with our guide who had worked in the mines for many years. Diamonds are an interesting story and it was well told. This is an included excursion with Rovos Rail and one not to be missed. We returned to the train for an excellent lunch and I am now writing this late on Saturday sitting on the covered balcony at the rear of the train.

Dinner on the train was a real feast tonight, including lobster tails and a spectacular chocolate brownie! At the back of the train is a nice bar area and lounge plus some open seats under a shade which has been really nice given the excellent weather we have had.

Sunday 12th April 2015
Early breakfast today as I wanted to do the 5kms walk this morning. The train stops in a siding and let's off all those you want to do the walk to Masfindtein. I did approximately one third of the the walk and I certainly felt a lot better for this exercise!

Mastfontein is a unique museum town, the train stops for about 3 hours for the walkers like me to catch up and a chance to see some interesting exhibits. It is a bit worrying that as you get older the more things you see in museums you used to see and use when you were young! Sunday lunch was just after travelling through a 13km tunnel which saw us enter the Hex valley which grows a lot of the table grapes you buy in the UK supermarkets.

Lunch was a very South African meal today and like all the food on Rovos, it was first class. We were picking up a car at Cape Town railway station so the excellent wine selection sadly had to be passed! Your bags are taken by the staff to an area outside the station and carefully watched by them until you are ready to collect them. On the train they double check all your onward connections and pick ups. One surprise was Rohan Vos's was at the station to greet all the guests with a simple question 'did the trip meet your expectations ?'

Well my summary is as follows:
  • Service and style are delivered and every expectation met and exceeded.
  • The bedrooms are very spacious with excellent luggage space and en-suite facilities again with lots of space.
  • The onboard food was the best of South Africa which is always excellent anyway.
  • Each course was paired with a really good choice wine.
  • The attention to detail perhaps illustrated by making sure that each person was being met at the station and ringing all the suppliers to ensure everybody was in place. Many people would take the attitude that once we left the station that was the end of their responsibility. Rovos do not leave things to chance.
  • However all this cannot be delivered without great staff. Rovos staff are dedicated and all seem to enjoy their job.
  • If you enjoy rail journeys then you should do this trip or the trip from Pretoria to Victoria Falls. Why not now, while the pound is so strong against the rand.
We picked up the car a Toyota Corolla which is the standard car for most of our clients. The boot easily took two big cases and two airline hand bag size bags, the car is also quite roomy inside , I am over 6 foot tall and had no issue in terms of space. As most people know cars from car rental companies are sold in car groups and you can never be sure as to the make of car delivered or picked up. In the same group is the Nissan Tilda which we have had in the past and that was a nice roomy car. On another occasion we were offered a free upgrade to a Chevy Cruise. Although a nice car for size the car had no pulling power at all.

stellenbosch, south africa

It is about a 60 minute drive to Stellenbosch and quite easy drive out of Cape Town as you just follow the signs to the Airport at least to start with. Given the train arrival time we had to find the hotel in the dark. This is something we never plan for clients but we wanted to try and experience River Manor Lodge which we discovered last year at the WTM Africa event we are heading towards. Stellenbosch is the home of the oldest University in South Africa as well as being in the heart of the wine lands. River Manor is about a 5 minute walk to some great restaurants and it is and feels quite safe to walk around. We had a slight problem in finding somewhere to eat given that after 3 days on the train we we very full and only wanted a light meal. Our first choice was just closing, something to keep in mind in SA that many restaurants do close early on Sunday night.

We found a place popular with the students, quite lively and where we certainly increased the average age! We had a hamburger, chicken strips plus two drinks and two coffees for less than £10!

More about River Manor in tomorrow's blog

Monday 13th April 2015
I woke up to a cooler morning with what we would call in the UK as “an Autumn haze”. My accommodation at the River Manor is well situated in Stellenbosch and has two wings and some rooms built in what would once have been the gardens of two houses. Not only does this hotel have two swimming pools, it also has a spa. The hotel will, at your request, make reservations at the many good restaurants that are within walking distance. These include the restaurant owned by Ernie Els, the golfer, who uses wines from his own winery. We can also send requests ahead of time should you wish.

Breakfast was pleasantly served with the option of having it outside in the garden. We went for a drive around the centre of Stellenbosch before we left and as a destination it does have quite a lot to offer particularly in the winery world! We then took a lovely rural drive through the wineries and then some rolling farmland as we headed north west towards the sea. The early morning mist really burnt off quickly to leave a lovely day. We were heading to Paternoster which is one of three small seaside towns that the South Africans like to keep to themselves! We had a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate cake in a little restaurant located right on the beach, it was a great setting and so relaxing, a highly recommended area to visit. With some great guest houses and some self catering flats and apartments, this is definitely a place we will return to. Then the drive to Bushmans Kloof. It is located at Clan Willian which is about a 4 hour drive north of Cape Town on the main room to Namibia. The N2 or The Cape-Namibia route as it is called is currently undergoing some major upgrades so there are some quite long delays at times. In SA they seem to work on about a 5 mile stretch of road at a time, so if you miss the lights you have a 10 minute delay. Bushmans Kloof is 43 Kms due east of Clan Willian and you climb through a steep pass to get to the property. The last 7 Kms are on a dirt road as you enter the gates of the property. The question often asked is what is Bushmans Kloof. We'll see tomorrow’s blog for the answer!

Tuesday 14th April 2015
Last night we had drinks in an outdoor boma and then a delicious dinner served under a covered but open fronted restaurant. The meal was first class and really well served. The rooms here are very nice, with large spaces and feature your own private outside sitting area.

So what is Bushmans Kloof?
Well it is a Wilderness reserve and wellness retreat, with what is known as plains game, e.g. nothing that would eat you! On our drive to see the Bushman’s Paintings, we had the added bonus of seeing Springbok, Oryx and Eland. They also have the Cape Zebra in the area, but we didn’t see them on this occasion, which was a pity.

The icing on the cake though is the Bushman paintings. It isn’t just the paintings themselves, but the interpretation and the meaning of the artwork done 2000-10000 years ago. We found it a fascinating experience and they were definitely worth the trip to see them.

There are also good bushman paintings in the Drakensberg Mountains but they aren’t as easily accessible as those here at Bushmans Kloof.

Bushmans Kloof has an excellent spa facility, offering good walking and running tracks around the resort, plus both an indoor and outdoor pool. If you are looking for an extremely restful location, fantastic accommodation, great food and excellent facilities, then Bushmans Kloof fits the bill.

We left the lodge at 08.00 and came back at around 10.00 for an excellent breakfast. We then packed up our things and said our goodbyes around lunch time, arriving back in Cape Town around 4pm.

As part of WTM Africa we are provided with a host hotel. We were allocated the Southern Sun Waterfront, which is more of a business hotel in some ways but is just 5 minutes walk to the convention centre. The staff are excellent and extremely helpful. More on the show in the next blog.

Thursday 16th to Friday 17th at the Show
The main purpose of this trip is to attend the World Travel Market Africa. This is a trade only event where South African suppliers present their hotels, game lodges and more to international buyers. Ranging over 3 heavy working days, pre-scheduled appointments keeps you on your toes. It is a chance to meet, in one place, current suppliers plus the chance to look at and re-evaluate and engage new potential suppliers. We are what is called a 'Hosted Buyer' which given our volume to South Africa means that we get certain privileges and advantages in terms of priority in meeting selections.

We have added new products that we think may appeal to you, our clients. For example, walking trips where your luggage is moved from the hotel for you so you can then walk without the hassle. We now have these right across the country. If you saw Julia Bradbury when she did her walks on the South Africa TV program, then we can now offer these type of experiences. We are busy currently adding a lot of product to our Namibia section of our trip and we will be making a big announcement soon; so special offers available shortly. Please email holidays@uni-travel.co.uk if you want to be specifically kept informed to these developments. Already added are mobile camping tours that offer the excellent game viewing but at a lower cost. Unique to this product is the fact if you want an odd night in a lodge rather than in what is quite a posh tent that can be worked in as well.

Tonight we are trying out a dinner theatre in Cape Town as we feel this might be something that would appeal to many clients during their stay. So where do we eat when we are in Cape Town? Well, the good news is, there are lots of good and well priced food options in and around the area. In the V&A we like The Harbour House, TASCA and the City Grill. On Thursday night we had a really good meal in the City Grill and it is a dinners club recommended wine list but we had a bottle of fantastic wine for less than £8.00!

The last Blog of this series will appear over the weekend at some point. If you have specific questions about anything in the blog or indeed South Africa as a destination as a whole please email directly on malcolm.peasnall@uni-travel.co.uk. I'm not sure I will know all the answers but I can certainly try to assist.

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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.
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