Product Director's

Our Product Director is once again travelling through amazing South Africa. Read his blog below as he discovers what's new for 2018.

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 2017
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Discovering more of South Africa - by Malcolm Peasnall

As the winter approaches I feel the need for so warmth and South Africa at this time of year fits the bill!

This trip was supposed to be a holiday but we recently had water from the offices above pour into our brochure store and destroyed a large quantity of our current South Africa Brochures.

The good news for you is that just after Christmas we will have a brand new and larger South Africa brochure. The bad news for me is that a holiday has become a work trip as inspect some new product and add some new features to the brochure.

On Thursday night we will head south on South African Airways to Johannesburg and Connect straight through to Victoria Falls. Some new lodges to look at in the that area and across the border in the Chobe River area of Botswana.

Then we board the Rovos rail 3 day trip from Victoria Falls to Pretoria to include a game drive in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. After that we head to Northern Kruger National Park and then via Blyde River Canyon and as short flight to Cape Town.

We are adding some hotels in this area so watch this space for further details.

Further blogs to come so watch this space. Might be a bit spasmodic at the start as in some remote areas. Hope you want to follow and get the real low down .

UPDATE: Lots to report but for next 3 days on the train no WIFI. All safe and happy in Zimbabwe and all happy with what is going on!

Good drive down to Heathrow, meet and greet parking which is so good at this time of the year as you do not need UK winter clothes outbound or on return. You drop off under cover and pick up under cover.

Check-in very easy with new pods and if seat selection already done it makes on line check in redundant!. The news pods drive your boarding passes and baggage passes in one go.

We used on of the paid for lounges as it is great to have access to free WIFI and a place to relax pre flight. The flight left slightly early and was close to full. The Captain told us it would take an extra 20 -30 minutes in flight as due to French Air Traffic controllers being on strike we had to route via Germany!

Friday 17 November
In-flight good service and food on this South African Airlines Airbus A330 was very good. We arrived in Johannesburg about 10 minutes late.

We were connecting straight through to Victoria Falls which is another International flight we had no need to clear customs so followed the International Transfer signs to International departures.

Very strangely although in theory we had not entered the country we had to go through the exit procedures and get a stamp in our passports!. We also had to have our bags re-screened which is bit strange.

Good tip
After doing all this you see a South African Airlines desk. Recheck in as they can give you the up todate gate number. The gates in this terminal often are shown quite late.

We also used the paid for lounge as the connecting time is 3 hours , space to sit and work or read and a shower if you want. When you work out the cost of a couple of coffees and a snack then the add on cost is very low.

The flight left about 10 minutes early with a 1 hour and 20 minutes flight time. Drinks and a good sandwich served in flight.

Victoria Falls Airport has had a major make over and the runway extended. This allows much larger aircraft to fly iin although currently none direct from the UK.

However the entry procedures are a shambles. You cannot get the forms ahead of time so you have to scramble to get one and get it filled in You can get various visas but the best is the K UNI visa which currently costs $50USD per person. This allows no added cost to trail between and return to Zimbabwe to all the adjoining countries.

From landing to getting to your bags is about 1 hour. After you get your visa which takes a whole page of your passport you then collect your luggage but it then still has to go through a scanner before you exit the airport.

Your transfer driver will have a board with your name on. Please remember that everything in Zimbabwe is priced in $ USD.

We were staying at a new lodge built just over 18months ago so the first visit by ourselves or our ground agents. We do not sell properties we have not seen.

Batonga Lodge is about 20 minutes from the airport and 5 minutes drive to the Falls itself. It has 22 rooms and it is really excellent.

453 Trip Advisor comments all Excellent!

In the words of Craig from Strictly 'Fabulous darling'!

We were checked in sat on comfy chairs, full run down on what we were doing during our stay. The rooms are spacious, with excellent bathrooms as you would expect from a new property. We had a swim in warm pool before our sunset cruise on the Zambezi river.

The boat had three levels and as you cruise the area we saw, Hippo, Crocs and Elephants. All your drinks and some good nibbles are included in the price as is the return transfer to the hotel. All the excursions in Victoria Falls include transfers to and from your hotel.

Saturday 18 Nov
Back to work as we were picked up this morning to head to Botswana just over 1 hour away.

The border formalities are what might be called 'African' lots of paperwork and queues aided by the fact we had the multi entry Visa.

We went to visit 3 lodges that will be in the new brochure. All were really good but quite different. You will have to see the new brochure for details but here are some pictures to tease you.

Victoria Falls and Rovos Rail.
On Sunday morning we had a tour of Victoria Falls with the very able guide Ernest who looks after most of our guests. This time of the year is the low water over the Falls but as there is less spray you can get great photos. The main flow is from January to April and in those months the noise and the spray are fantastic but you have to be very careful to ensure your camera does not get wet! Another thing go remember is that it is about a mile walk to get around the various view points with some changes of elevation. It does mean that a reasonable degree of mobility is needed.

We were in Zimbabwe at exciting times and everybody we meet were hopeful for a better future. Ernest gave us a real good insight into live for the normal citizen.

We then did another inspection of another hotel we use in the area before we returned to Batonga Lodge for a light lunch and a rest at the pool. We transferred to the Grand Old Lady of Victoria Falls The Victoria Falls Hotel. The station is adjacent go the hotel but Rovos do the checkin at the hotel. Your bags are then taken to the train while you are offered a drink in the Rovos Private room in the hotel.

We would suggest that you leave your hotel 90 minutes before the train departure time as this gives time to check in and settle in without any rushing around.

The train manager conducts a train briefing before you head for the train, during this time your bags are taken to your suite on the train. The train is loaded by your cabin attendant taking their charges to the train, they then explain how everything works in the cabin. The train departed on time and dinner was served at 19.30.

Everbody sits down at the same time and the menu is set. However as part of the booking process you can inform of any allergies. All courses are wine paired with some of South Africa's finest wines.4

Onboard all the South Africa produced drinks are included in cost.

Next morning we had 05.00 wake up call, light breakfast and then we had a game drive in Hwangwe National Park On this drive we saw, Cheetah, Lion , Elephant, Giraffe and plenty of plains game.

The group were severed coffee and snacks in the bush before rejoining thd train. After a shower and change a change to the normal Rovos food pattern in that an excellent brunch was served.

Two more days of pampering before arriving in Pretoria and being greeted by Rohan Vos the owner who try's to meet and greet as many guests as possible.

The question we are always asked is whether the cost is worth it? I personally have to pay! and feel that you get great value for money. The service level is great and everything is done to to the highest possible standard.

What to do next

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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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