Our Product Director is once again travelling through amazing South Africa. Read his blog below as he discovers what's new for 2017.
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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Start to plan a trip like this >>> South Africa Blog - by Malcolm Peasnall - November 2016
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Friday 11th November, 2016
It was the last day at work today, before we headed to the airport on Sunday. The purpose of the trip was to visit some new properties and also to revisit some existing ones as part of our continuing quality control process. We started in the North, which included Kruger and Swaziland before we did the classic garden route. So besides the normal holiday trip items like tickets and vouchers, we had extra properties to check.
Saturday meant we had to attend to all those jobs around the house that needed to be done. At this time of the year, this included turning off the outside taps just in case of frost! Still the bonus was the weather in South Africa... a blissful sun with temperatures ranging between twenty-four and twenty-five degrees!
As always on trips like this I am happy to answer any questions ether the blog raises or indeed any other questions you have on South Africa. Email email@example.com and they will be forwarded to me. Next Update on Sunday.
Sunday 13th November, 2016
We set off for our travels to South Africa! The flight landed on time and it actually left slightly earlier than scheduled. The service was exceptional on South African Airways, with the food being the best I have ever had in economy on any airline to date. All three choices of food were excellent (four of us were travelling) and we tried all three between us.
We had paid extra for the exit row seats and being my height of over six foot high, this made a huge difference on an eleven hour flight. Breakfast was also outstanding!
Monday 14th November, 2016
The next day, we arrived about twenty minutes early however; Johannesburg Airport immigration area was extremely slow to go through.
We were met by our ground agent, exactly the same as our clients when they visit South Africa. While I went for a meeting, the others went with ‘Lucky’, our agents guide to visit SOWETO. When they returned, we did have an issue with the car hire in respect of it being the right size which took over an hour to resolve. This was due to the fact that we had asked for a certain type of car to accommodate our golf clubs.
We were heading to a new safari so that made things a bit more challenging, but we managed it. We were making good time, but then the sky turned black and it started to rain heavily. Afterwards, the lightening and hail started, about the size of golf balls! In the small town of Carolina, the main road was roughly eight inches deep in water as it ran down the highway. The weather altered our phone signals for rather a long time. We even tried to call the safari for about two hours without any success, just our luck!
It was now nearly pitch black with constant rain. It felt as though it was like a car wash! In the town of Badplass, there was a hotel part of the ‘Forever Resorts’ chain. We do not use the hotel in Badplass, but used another alternative in the chain. I spoke to reception, where they attempted to call the safari again, no success. I then made the decision to get two rooms in the hotel for the night. Please note, if you were a client, you would use the 24/7 numbers you have in both the UK and South Africa.
The hotel was a good, three star standard, extremely clean and offered a great buffet meal for dinner. This meal with a bottle of wine cost us near to £8.00 per head. Definitely cheap and cheerful! Please also note that we would never sent a client on a trip like this, without an overnight stay in accommodation to break up the journey.
That evening, we went to bed very early!
Tuesday 15th November, 2016
This morning, we woke up to sunshine and completely forgot about the awful weather we had the previous day. After a good breakfast in the Forever Resorts, we set out for the forty minute drive to Nkomazi Game Lodge. It was relatively easy to find, with a hard road right to the entrance. On arriving at the gate, it was a bit difficult to explain to the gate keeper why we were arriving at that time. However, we parked our car and were taken by 4x4 to the lodge. On the way, we saw quite a lot of plains game and Giraffe.
The lodge itself was perched above a river and some small falls. With yesterday’s heavy rain, the river was flowing rapidly. The lodge itself was well equipped, good lounge areas overlooking the falls and several areas to eat depending on the weather. We met with some guests, who had seen on the morning game drive both a cheetah and two lions on the kill.
We left the lodge to continue our drive to Swaziland which was an easy drive and a short distance away. We climbed up pretty high, almost reaching the clouds! We then had to exit South Africa and enter Swaziland. This took about fifteen minutes per country. On the way into Swaziland, you also had to pay a R50 rand road toll. For general information, Swaziland is a separate country to South Africa and is actually a kingdom with a king. Although it has its own currency, the South Africa rand was also used so there was no need to change money.
The directions to Forsters Arms were fantastic and relatively accurate. There was a clue in the name and the property happened to be located in the middle of a large forest. The area was great and the gardens were extensive and well looked after. Lots of walks were on site, as well as boules and croquet. The rooms were large and had wood burning, each equipped with stoves. The hotel rooms only had baths and a shower, which were hand held. This was slightly different to what we had expected. We all had our very own verandah with chairs overlooking the pool. The main lodge rooms were lovely, authentic and British country hotel style. There was a wonderful lounge area with a separate bar and a dining room. The food was super!
More blogs to follow!
Thursday 17th November 2017
We left Swaziland to drive north to Hazyview, which is the gateway to Kruger National Park.
Usually, we use a variety of hotels and lodges in the area but due to the large number of clients we send, this often incurs issues finding rooms to meet our standards. That being the case, we decided to stay at a hotel new to us.
Kruger Park Lodge was about ten minutes from the main shopping mall in Hazyview. It was a gated golf resort/time share. The house around the estate, included two bedrooms upwards and owned but rented out when the owners did not need them.
We shared a three bedroom/three bathroom unit for the four people travelling. They were extremely well equipped, with their own pool, fully equipped bar and kitchen. On site besides the nine hole golf course, there were tennis courts, a swimming pool and many more activities to do. It would make a great three or four day break in a trip, if you had the time.
The packages we will be including for our clients, will offer breakfast and dinner in the resort restaurant as the food was extremely good and had great choices to choose from.
A word of caution, the road from Swaziland towards Kruger on the South African side is undergoing major road works for about fifty miles. This is a regular occurrence In South Africa, as they often take large chunks at a time. As a result, this adds about an hour to a four hour journey.
Friday 18th November, 2016
On Friday, we used the day to do the circular drive around the Blyde River Canyon. This canyon, is the 3rd largest in the entire world! It is a great sight and one many miss in their hurry to get to Kruger National Park.
We recommend visiting the historic mining town of Pilgrims Rest, which is a small town in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. It is protected as a provincial heritage site. Therefore, it is well worth a visit!
Later that afternoon, we played nine holes of golf on the very pleasant course on site. Thankfully, we just finished, before the thunder storm hit with a short, sharp rain.
It is worth remembering, that South Africa splits in half in term of weather. The North is dry from, April/May to October/November and wet from November to March. The South, (the Garden Route) is dry from October/November to April/May and wet from April/May to October.
By this, I mean that there is a slight chance of rain… not that it rains all the time!
Saturday 19th November, 2016
Today, we headed to the Timbavati section of Kruger National Park. Timbavati and Sabi Sands were widely thought to be some of the very best Leopard viewing in the world. The route heading north, was very busy with crowds going to a big ANC (African National Congress) party rally.
Before going into the park properly, we visited a reserve that joined the main park area. Although the reserve did not have the ‘Big Five’, it was a good opportunity to consider, if you were traveling with small children as it was child-friendly and very cost effective.
We then set off for our three day stay at Umlani. This had been one of our favourites for a long time but my wife had never visited, although this happened to be my 4th visit to the lodge. We entered the area by going past Hoedspruit airport and through the main gate. There was a conservation levy to pay of R140 per car which was approximately £7.50. Further to this, we drove for about ten miles along a tarmac road before turning right for about three miles of dirt road through the bush. Keep your eyes open for game!
On arrival at the lodge as normal, you signed a piece of paper to say that you were not responsible if a lion ate you…of course, that’s highly unlikely! We were then shown the camp. This was what was called an open bush camp, being rustic with no electric power other than some solar charging stations. The showers were located outside which most of our clients love! Some ladies however, miss the access to hair dryers!
Being an open camp, this meant that animals could walk through the camp at any time of the day. As a result once it was dark, you needed to be escorted from your rooms to the main areas. There was an elephant wire to stop large elephants walking through, as they enjoyed exploring huts!
The timetable of the day below, was about the same as most South African camps:
12.30 Guests arrive for check in and briefing
13.30 Lunch is served normally salads and some type of meat or cheese and home-made bread
15.30 Tea and coffee
16.00 Game drive starts, along the way you stop for a sundowner
19.30 Arrive back at the Lodge, quick wash and brush up before having dinner
O4.45 Wakeup call with tea and coffee
05.30 Set off on game drive with coffee stop along the way
09.00 Return to camp for breakfast
Then the cycle begins again.
South Africa and Kruger in particular, had been in the grip of a drought close to a year. This has had an effect on all animals but in particular the buffalo. However, the recent rains had brought some great relief and things had been growing again. Buffalo being grass graziers, had become the most distressed. Having said that, for the predators it had been a great time as the prey had been weakened by the lack of water making them easier to catch.
Sunday 20th November, 2016
We had hoped to send some more exciting photos, but the WIFI was not quite good enough out in the bush. We had just completed four game drives and a game walk. We had seen all the ‘Big Five’, several times over and saw four of the five on this morning’s drive and walk.
We were also lucky enough to have seen wild dogs this morning, after a drive that Lewis Hamilton would have been proud of! Wild dogs were probably the hardest to catch a glimpse of for several reasons. They normally have a wide, traversing area. Additionally, they can move over thirty-eight miles in a day at a time and they move fast, loping along at over seven miles per hour for long periods. We had been fortunate in that this pack denned in this area and had five pups, roughly five months ago. The six adults and pups were now very familiar with this area and its high game population. They travelled away, but seemed to come back every few days. We have several pictures to show and will hope to get then to you soon.
People do have an understandable desire to see the ‘Big Five’, but it is often the smaller game that provides real interest. We had seen great sightings of steenbok, duiker, nyala and giraffe, among other game such as wildebeest, kudu and waterbuck. The bird life was also great with a wide variety.
We also managed to see two leopards mating. The male and female were normally together for about three days, mating on multiple occasions. In three months’ time, the female would return to the same area she mated to give birth. This way, she will be in the area controlled by her mate. We are often asked about picking a safari and it is important to get it right. As a company, we do not sell a safari if we have not visited them and like to think we offer a range from bush camps to five stars or more in the bush. Safari is not a cheap option and you should take into consideration what is included in the cost. Normally, food and two game drives a day are included, some include all drinks and a walking safari. However, some charge extra for these.
Umlani is a three star bush camp which included all local drinks and walks. The food was great, providing a good breakfast. Lunch was usually meats and cheese with salad or a tasty ham and pasta dish. Dinner for instance was oxtail stew, mashed potatoes, green beans, green salad with fresh bread rolls and a chocolate mousse for dessert.
In the same area, we also feature Motswari which is a four-five star lodge. This features upgraded accommodation in the same area. As I write this, we actually have clients in both lodges.
As with all these blogs, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or queries about South Africa or anything that is not clear. We look forward to sharing our next blog!
Tuesday 22nd November 2016
Today, we travelled via Cape Town to Hermanus taking in all the wonderful sights along the way. The weather was actually fairly cool and we had a slight drizzle of rain on the two hour drive.
We then checked into Lavender Manor; one of my very favourite B&B's in South Africa, rated 4 stars but really offers a 5 star experience in my opinion. Our clients would often stay here to experience the whales. We would really recommend a visit! The bad news for us was that the whales had left early. The thought being, that climate change had caused so many changes in Antarctica, leading to so much variation in animal migration patterns. This had meant that the whales could not feed as much as normal.
That evening, we ate at Lemon Butta, which I thought was possibly one of the best fish restaurants in South Africa. We all ate Kingclip, a fish only found in South Africa and one you must try!
The next day, the weather was much improved but with no sight of whales, we had the morning free to explore Hermanus, We did the coastal walk which was truly stunning. Well worth experiencing if you have time!??Some people say Hermanus is a place to visit in whale season, however in my view; there is a great deal to do all year round. More recently, several wineries have been established as well as a great golf course, wonderful walks and exceptional restaurants.
A must-do on your next African adventure! Thursday 24th November 2016
This morning, we left Lavender Manor with much regret. Our aim today, was to visit Cape Agulhas; this is the most southerly place in Africa. The weather was good and we have been able to sort out a new route with some real interest. Watch for an update on a Friday e-shot shortly! It was a special moment for me, to be able to stand in the most southern point of a country which I have been visiting for years. This was a magnificent experience!
We had lunch in Cape Agulhas before getting back in the car to drive to Knysna.
During our stay in Knysna, we stayed at Waterfront Lodge. This is one of our must trusted hotels to send clients to as we have been sending people here since we first opened! The view was fantastic of the lagoon and they really take care of you.
Sunday 27th November 2016
We had been at Cape St Francis resort for the last three nights and had one more night left. The resort comprised of some 3/4/5 star accommodations, but rather than rooms, they were apartments or houses. You were able to rent them by the day, week or month and were all fully serviced. You had the option of B&B or self catering and there was a pub/restaurant on site. The breakfasts were great and we always include this however, there were kitchens equipped with fridges and freezers so you had the option to cook later in the day if you wanted to.
Cape St Francis village which was about a ten minute drive away had a variety of shops, a local market on a Saturday morning and a number of spectacular houses to view.
There were two golf courses, the St Francis Links was relatively new but was currently ranked the 6th best course in South Africa, the other was much older and a members course. We played later in the day and found that particularly challenging in the warm wind. The greens were very fast, especially after the cold wet ones left behind in England.
It was a different eating experience dining at ‘Balobi’. As it was a seafood market and deli, you had to go in and were given the menu of the day or season. You then had to go to the order point, pick up which beer or wine you preferred, order your meal and return to your table with a numbered wooden spoon. Your food would later arrive at your table in little cardboard boxes. It gave the restaurant a sort of vintage theme as you don’t normally see that in the UK! However, the fish was outstanding and the onion rings were some of the best I had ever tasted.
Monday 28th November, 2016
Today, Monday, we had been on a boat trip through the canals and then up the river to the farm owned by the resort. The trip started in the canal system, where many of the best houses in the area were built around. In many ways, it looked like similar parts to Miami. They were mainly owned by the rich and wealthy from Johannesburg but some were owned by Europeans including Sir Alex Fergusson. We set off around the tidal waterway and then onto the main river. This caused us some problems as we picked our way through the ever shifting sand banks. At one stage we became suck! So, we had to get out of the boat to dislodge from the sand bank.
Further up river yet another adventure. We spotted a bush buck, like a small deer that was stuck in the mud. We beached the boat and managed to get it out of the mud. It was eventful! We left it in the sun to recover and when we came back down the river, the buck was gone and no doubt it would be a while before it ventured back into the river. When we arrived at the farm which was our braai location (that was South African for barbeque) what a sight it was!
The farm was right on the river, had a swimming pool and grass lawns to sit on the loungers. The food was great cooked on an open fire, a great variety of meats, breads etc, plus cheeses. The return trip was less hectic than the outward trip, as the sand banks that caused us previous issues earlier were now covered in water. This was a great way to spend the day and was enjoyed by all that went on it.
As an ethical company, we support a local school project in the St Francis Bay area. It was my pleasure to deliver a cheque which will make a difference to these children. We encourage all our visitors to South Africa to 'pack an extra kilo'. What we mean by this, is to take some school books, pens, colouring pens etc to leave to support this work.
Tuesday 29th November, 2016
We left Cape St Francis with heavy hearts as we thoroughly enjoyed four nights in one place. I decided to take some time to stand and admire the scenery around us.
You had to raise your hats to the early settlers who travelled across specific land by oxen wagons. We were averaging sixty miles per hour and they travelled at sixty miles per week as an estimate. Graff Reinet was at the heart of the Great Karoo and at one time, was the 4th most important town in early South Africa. The Karoo happened to be the centre of the Mohair industry in South Africa as well as the sheep farming area. Karoo lamb was to be found on many restaurants menus but what better place to eat it than in the heart of the region it came from. Extremely fascinating!
Part of the reason to revisit the area was to take a look at the completely renovated Drostdy Hotel. This was the original dwelling of the regional governor. It traded as a hotel for many years and then started to fall into disrepair. Eventually, it closed and caused a big hole in the availability of rooms in this town with a growing tourist interest.
A local figure, Anton Rupert, was born in Graff Reinet and his foundation now runs within the hotel by his son. He has in fact been involved in many good things that have happened in this town over recent years. His son was also an additional co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund. However one of the things he was most proud of was the, ‘South Africa College of Tourism and Tracker development’. This was based in Graff Reinet and took over ninety students who otherwise could not afford an education and trained them in the skills needed to work in this growing industry in South Africa.
The Rupert Foundation also realised two important points:
Firstly, Graff Reinet needed a leading hotel in the area, just like the Drostdy, so that smaller properties could also flourish. Secondly, the students who graduated from the college needed jobs to hone their skills. From this, came the rebuilding of the famous landmark hotel, now managed by the Newmark Group. We use several properties from them in our offerings. Thus thirty students per year started their working lives in this property. We found this particularly interesting to learn about!
Wednesday 30th November, 2016
We started this morning with a walking tour of Graff Reinet with two of our clients who were also staying at the hotel. David had been doing our tours for years and always achieves excellent reviews. The new Rovos Rail experience the Shongololo Express, had their first trip into Graff Reinet fairly recently and David organised the tour which the participants voted the best part of the trip. We visited a wonderful garden, run by a retired lawyer, full of cactus and succulents. If you have the chance to visit Graff Reinet, we recommend including that on this tour.
In the afternoon, we decided to play nine holes of golf on the local course. We had gone out the day before and they said they would be holding a tournament, which we really wanted to take part in. The driving experience was certainly different as it was such a unique golf course! I concluded that it was quite an experience, with local caddies who were enthusiastic about every shot. The weather was incredibly warm, ranging over thirty-five degrees!
In the evening, we ate in the Drostdy restaurant called ‘Polka’ with our clients and you wouldn’t be surprised… I chose lamb again! It was delicious!
Thursday 1st December, 2016
On Thursday, we travelled to Oudtshoorn and drove through the Karoo. We advise our clients to fill up their vehicle before they set out. I experienced miles of semi-desert and a working pivot irrigator with a few green areas here and there. Goats, sheep and wild life scratched a living from what at first glance seemed nearly nothing.
Then you climbed through the spectacular Swartberg Mountains. If you take a look at my blog from four years ago, you will notice that we travelled to the same town across the Swartberg pass. However, on this trip, we decided to spend some more time in Outdshoorn itself. The phone network coverage in South Africa was great in most places but poor on safari (this should be expected). As if to prove that our mobile phone worked so well, we happened to receive a text message right in the middle of the Karoo about a supply of a certain spice that was only available in South Africa. We spent roughly two hours searching for this spice in Oudtshoorn and started to believe that predicted text had not been corrected! Stay tuned, as we will return to this spice later.
We were staying at La Plume, probably the most used by ourselves in this area. Located on a working ostrich farm, the old house and buildings had been converted into lovely Victorian-style guest rooms with a spectacular view across the Swartberg Mountains. The meal was as you might expect, based on Ostrich, tasted extremely fresh and flavoursome!
We headed early to bed tonight, as we had an appointment with the Meerkats in the morning; it was fair to say that this would be a big highlight of our trip!
Friday 2nd December, 2016
Before a popular advert came about, tourists came to the Oudtshoorn area to see the Ostrich, Cango Caves and the port production at nearby Calitzdorp. Now, our number one activity was to book to see the Meerkats. So, why here? Well, there were Meerkats all over the Karoo. As you drove across this area, you were never more than four hundred yards from a Meerkat. On the other hand, finding them was another matter!
Our guide spent over four years habituating a large family of Meerkats. However, the problem was that once the sun had risen, they would travel all day in search of food. Furthermore, I decided that the only other option was to get up at 04.00am and travel to the spot to be in place at 05.00am. It sounded hard work, but it really did more than exceed our expectations! It was only the dominant female that had babies and she had around three litters per year. In fact, she had six more young just over four weeks ago, so we respected her decision to show off a little. If you happen to be in the area, please trust me because it was well worth the effort.
The good news was that you returned in plenty of time for breakfast!
Today, we travelled to Cape Town for some relaxation and realisation of our trip to South Africa. On the way, we stopped at ‘Noop’, for lunch. It was great and I would definitely recommend it. After four days in Cape Town, it was back to the airport for our flight back to the UK.
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