Product Director's

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 - May 2013
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What another trip to South Africa!

I am about to set out on another trip to South Africa as part of updating our product offering for the next 12 months. With South Africa being such good value for Brits travelling we have seen a very large increase in clients travelling over the last 12 months. With the exchange rate even more in our favour we would expect that trend to continue. To ensure that we can offer the very best rates we have contact bought enough South African Rand forward to meet our anticipated needs over the next 12 months. This means that we can quote you firm prices forward for the next 12 months and, coupled with our South African airlines deal, means that we can also guarantee the airfare portion as well with the exception of any UK tax changes.

So why am I going?

Well each year from all over Southern Africa over 2000 hotel and safari suppliers meet tour operators from around the world for four days in Durban at Indaba . We have a series of business meetings to allow us to source new product and maintain relationships with existing suppliers. Might sound like a jolly, but it is actually really hard work. This year both my wife and myself are going so that we can meet up with as many as possible of our suppliers and seek out great deals to pass on to clients.

The trip outline

We are flying down on South African Airways seven days before Indaba so we can actually visit properties in the Drakensberg Mountains and the Zulu battlefields that we already use or are considering using. Subject to suitable Wi-Fi access we will be updating the blog on a regular basis whilst away with our thoughts and the results of these inspections. Even properties that are already getting good reviews will be inspected, so we can ensure that as far as possible we provide the very best advice and tailor properties to individuals.

Sunday night at Ardmore - Sunday 5th May 2013

It is a short drive to Ardmore from Champagne Castle. You turn from a hard road onto a gravel road for about 10 kms. The road has been an issue in the past when wet but it is in the slow process (all road building in South Africa is slow!) of being upgraded.
I know I come from a farm background, but I was quite comfortable with the drive and can see that the upgrades being worked on will help on a couple of the steeper slopes when wet.

We were given a 2 bedroom unit as all the single rooms were full. These are the older units and comprise of two bedrooms with their own bathrooms and a lounge complete with log fire separating the bedrooms. They have a patio area with chairs and we were able to catch the last hour of the day’s sunshine (high today of 23C!). There is a lounge and a pub with an honesty bar and a big screen with access to major sport in the UK and SA. Dinner is served at this time of year (it is early winter) with a roaring log fire to warm us up. We were joined for dinner by Paul Ross who owns the property with his English wife Sue. This is farmhouse food! Soup and salad served at your table with fresh hot bread. You then went to the buffet, which on that night included honey roasted gammon, chicken in cream sauce with mushrooms and a vegetable bake. There was a choice of potatoes and rice plus 4 other vegetables. We were having a long involved discussion with Paul so we were the last to go up, but there was plenty left. Afterwards 3 deserts on offer including a lemon pudding made from lemons that grow less than 10 feet from the kitchen. You could also take as well a selection from a nice cheeseboard. Included in the rate is a half carafe of very pleasant white or red wine per person. Afterwards tea and coffee in the lounge. We went back to our rooms, lit the fire, as it was now getting quite chilly, and read for a while.

Breakfast was good the following morning with a really novel way of choosing your cooked breakfast. The menu has the choices printed on an encapsulated form. You then used a marker pen to indicate your choices. Great sausage!

Ardmore does what it says, offers really good value for money, in the right place to explore. If you are looking for 5 star rooms, service and food then we have other options. However we all have to balance budgets and this certainly helps.

Tuesday Springbok Lodge - Tuesday 7th May 2013

We woke up on Tuesday morning to a car covered in frost and the ground white over! However as the sun rose above the mountains the temperature really rose rapidly too. The night before Paul had told us that even in Winter on 9 out of 10 days they had bright sunshine with day time highs in the 16-24C range, but they do get quite sharp frosts. This is actually great touring weather and so today turned out.

We went to the town of Winterton, which is the hub of the central berg area, filled up with fuel (remember in SA you have to pay in cash) so also had a visit to an ATM. We wanted to visit the site of the Spion Kop battle and also the memorial. This is en-route to Springbok Lodge, so fitted in fine. What a climb in the car and you have to have good clutch control to get up! This a battle that the British lost quite heavily, but taught us much. The view from the spot is stunning, but I doubt the troops had any time to take it in. However as a tourist you should make the time. If you follow Liverpool F.C. then it is a must as the Kop at Liverpool's ground is so named in memory of the hundreds of soldiers from the South Lancaster and Lancashire Regiments that lost their lives. Both these Regiments recruited heavily from the Liverpool area so the loss was very heartfelt.

We were really spoilt or lucky in that we were the only two guests in house that night. Even on a busy day the maximum is 16. We were guided by head ranger Nichole and a new to the reserve ranger Greg who was learning the road system on this reserve having guided on other reserves before. The reserve is quite large and has a lot of game, including all the Big 5, however like many other places you know that Leopard are there, but finding them is another issue. The highlight was the great variety of game to be seen. They have a very strong Eland population, some Blesok which are two animals not seen on many other reserves. We returned to the lodge to find the bath run with rosé petals dotted around. We had an excellent dinner in front of an open fire together with an interesting discussion with our rangers.

This morning we dressed up warmly as we knew it would be cold. The reserve provides poncho's, which make excellent wind breaks. The first part of the drive was a bit slow with little game about. They clearly thought on such a cold morning they could get up later! It would have been nice if they had told us! Then things started to hot up. We saw some Nyalla and then another group came across 4 highly mobile Lions. The senior female, plus a junior female and the two 4 year old brothers that had recently killed the father to take over the pride. We managed to catch them up and got some great sightings before moving off to allow others to enjoy the sightings. The reserve regulates the number of vehicles on a sighting to two, which ensures the animals are never pressured. The reserve however now has a real issue to deal with. The dominant males that head up the pride now expect and will mate with their mother unless something is done. The solution will be to dart all the females and swap them with females in another resort. This will be done shortly and thus ensure that the gene pool is kept open and ensure interbreeding does not occur. Following on from the Lions we saw a lot of general plains game on our way back to the lodge for breakfast. After a quick shower and packing our cases it was time to leave the lodge and head for our next stop which will follow.

Cleopatra's Mountain Farmhouse

In the main the roads in South Africa are really good. One has to say that the drive from the Battlefields area to Cleopatra's is in honesty not in this class. It took us close on 4 hours that if the roads were in a good state of repair should take 3 hours. There are sections that have really bad potholes which must be made by the logging trucks from the Forestry area you pass through. So why are we making this journey? Cleopatra's is a beacon of food excellence in a country that has great food. It is also in the ' Midlands' a really pretty farming area and one of the few places you can actually drive right onto the Berg.

When we left the battlefields it was 29 C as we travelled we hit a cold front coming in from the sea and it was 14 C when we arrived. It is autumn here and the early settlers many from the UK planted many trees including Oak trees. The autumn colour was really very pleasing .

On arrival the food experience starts straight away. Tea, scones,chocolate cake and cheese and biscuits . You meet for dinner at 7 o'clock and after a drink the nights menu is explained. Richard Poynton the owner is now semi retired but tonight he was present and did the presentation himself. 6 courses to tackle each lovingly crafted and deliver to your plate.Richard's food is all about flavour and does he deliver.

We started with a fresh trout and salmon combination, then a roasted Pumkin soup. The next course seems really simple as described but the flavour was outstanding , prawns with noodle and served with a beure balance sauce enhanced with soy and fish oil.

A little rest as we had a refreshing Italian version of a sorbet made with orange. The main course was a piece of twice cooked beef in a port sauce, served with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and asparagus. To finish with a chocolate tart served with orange ice cream and blueberry sauce. I am not a great fan of chocolate tart it is often to dense for me but this was fantastic. The combination with the other ingredients made this a spectacular dish.

We retired to bed only to find chocolates waiting on the bed! Next morning woke up to find it had rained overnight and the mountains behind covered in mist. Breakfast at Cleopatra's is not a light meal. A nice compot, followed by fresh fruit salad. The main course today was bubble and squeak , with a cooked tomatoes , ham topped with a poached egg with a mustard and horseradish sauce. In addition there are the normal cereals , breads and toast and fruit juices.

From here we drive down to Durban to start our series of meetings at Indaba. This major tourist event brings together hotels , safari operators etc from all over Southern Africa to Durban to meet with tour operators from all over the world. It is well organised and does enable us to meet and discus arrangements and coatings for the next 12 months. It might well be no further updates to the blog for 2 days as the whole event is so hectic. We will start with a meeting with our ground agents tonight who so ably look after our clients on the ground.

The Dolphin Coast

After leaving Durban and the show we travelled up the north coast past the airport to what is known as the Dolphin Coast. This area offers some superb accommodation options, great beaches, a slow pace of life, a wide selection of top golf courses and as the name suggests a chance to see the dolphins that are resident in this area. After a show like we have been to it is always a good idea to be able to spend a little time to reflect before you get back to the office. At the Independent Traveller we have a great staff and I always know that when I am away then everybody will be well looked after. However when I return from a trip like this there is always a pile of my work to do!

We first looked at a property, The Boathouse in Balito, which is currently in our portfolio. It has in the last 12 months been taken over by new owners so we wanted to ensure that standards were being maintained. We were pleased with what we saw. The property is directly overlooking the beach with great views. With 19 rooms it offers a variety of rooms in a superior 4 star grade, lovely common areas with an on-site restaurant and bar. It is easily within walking distance of the village centre that also has a variety of small shops and restaurants if you want to try other options. There are safe shark netted swimming areas and a tidal pool which is great for children. We were pleased with what we saw and will continue to use the property.

We have been looking for another property in the area of a slightly higher category. There is choice, but we wanted something slightly smaller and more personal. Our ground agent has arranged for us to stay at the 5 star Guesthouse Lalaria. This property is not directly on the beach, but a short 5 minute walk. However it has commanding views from the bluff on which it is situated. This is no doubt that this property lives up to its 5 star rating. Everything is done to a very high standard and the resident owners ensure that standards are maintained and exceeded.

We were here in the South African winter. The day time temperatures were in the 22-25c range but it does cool off in the evening. For many British travellers this is a great time to come. There are swimming beaches within 5 minutes walk.

The owners are a fountain of information about what to do in the area and made numerous recommendations about which restaurant to try. As this was the last main meal of this trip we selected the highest recommended one and were not disappointed. The bill came to under £20.00 per person including wine and tips for a superb meal. When you visit South Africa you will get great value.

Please feel free to ring me on my direct line 01509 618805 if you need any further information on any aspect of this trip or any other you might be planning. We are all here to ensure that you get the very best from your trip and that it meets and exceeds your expectations.

Sardine Run

Along the Dolphin Coast each July a major event takes place that is one of natures true wonders. The Sardine run or migration is in its own way as spectacular as the Wilderbeast migration in the Serengeti. A tremendous mass of sardines move northwards , billions and billions of them. This provides a feast for not only the sea birds but the Dolphins and whales as well. The human population also enjoys the chance to enjoy this free meal! Like many areas in this part of South Africa the weather in the SA winter is bright and sunny with day time temperatures similar to the a UK summer. However the temperature will drop when the sun goes down. You can combine a trip to Kruger with this part of the coast at a time when many believe that the game viewing and the end of the dry winter is at its best. You will be pleasantly surprised how cost effective a trip at this time can be.

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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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