Malcolm's South Africa TravelBlog

Our Product Director is on a special trip around South Africa on a journey of discovery.

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 May 2017
by Malcolm Peasnall
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Friday 12th May 2017

As always there is a lot to do before a trip like this one. Been a bit complicated by a late request to help out with a group booking that was not anticipated but very welcome!

I have a busy weekend at home and on my allotment before I head out on Sunday at 11.00 on the National Express bus to London Heathrow. My wife is joining me for the Namibia part of our trip so flying out a week later and we will meet up in Windhoek .She will drive to Heathrow so we have the car when we get back.

Why am I going?

Indaba is the largest Travel Show in Africa. The word means important meeting in the Zulu language. Close to 10000 people will be in and around the show discussing the direction of Southern African tourism over the next 12-18 months. My focus at the show will be to refresh our offering to our clients with exciting new options. During the show I will share what I am seeing and anything that catches my eye. The way it works is that from 08.00 to 18.00 each day you have a series of pre-set meetings with new and old suppliers alike. However unlike many other such shows it does have a laid back African feel and towards the end of the day it is not unknown to be offered a glass of wine to aid the discussions!

My aim is to update the blog daily but pictures might be slower coming as you do need good signal strength to make the at work.

Watch this space!

Sunday 14th May 2017
This morning, I travelled to London Heathrow on the National Express bus, to begin my adventures in South Africa. We live only a ten minute drive from East Midlands Airport which was one of the pick-up points. The journey was about two and a half hours in total, so roughly forty minutes longer than driving but you were dropped off right at the central bus station.

Check-in was extremely efficient and the self check-in pods in Terminal 2 were great and easy to use. The South African Airlines staff were pleasant and most useful as well. Going through security, I was surprised at how quickly I made my way through, as the airport was fairly busy today. I have experienced the Plaza Premium lounge in Terminal 2 before. This was an option when flying economy, if you wanted a quiet and comfortable area to sit in while you waited.There was also a good choice of food, wine and beer included. Please note, the new Queens Terminal was really nice but would only appeal to those of you who enjoy walking as it was a fair walk. I would advise requesting a buggy, if you have any mobility difficulties.

The flight boarded perfectly on time, with a lady Captain and we actually left around ten minutes early. There were some lovely food options and I tried an excellent fish dish. After a good night’s sleep, I arrived into Johannesburg fifteen minutes early!

Having landed into Johannesburg airport, I made my way to passport control... not something I would describe as organised but something you would expect. However by arriving early, we managed to squeeze in-front of many other passengers flying with airlines such as, British Airways.

I made my connection to Durban, but could safely say time was of the essence! On arrival into Durban, it was unfortunately raining and quite wet. However, everything was well organised run by some very enthusiastic young travel students who registered you right at the airport. I hopped onto a shuttle bus which took me to my hotel.

I am a hosted buyer from South African Tourism. This meant that the company sponsored me to go on this wonderful trip, by providing the flights and hotel accommodation in Durban. This however, is only available to Tour operators who provide a good volume of business to South Africa. In return, we have to do a heavy work-load of appointments and attend multiple functions. As soon as I finished this sentence of the blog, I dashed to begin the appointments.

Stay tuned, further updates on Tuesday!

Monday 15th May/Tuesday 16th May/Wednesday 17th May 2017
After check-in at our hotel in Durban, running along the scenic beach-front, (which is also the Garden Court Marine Parade) the British group were hosted for dinner at one of the TOGO Sun hotels. It was great to meet the rest of the group and begin forming a bond. We all happened to be competitors in the travel industry, but instantly became friends. In my opinion, I think that travel in general, is incredibly fortunate to have so many good people, working hard to provide customers with brilliant holiday experiences at affordable prices.

Tuesday and Wednesday were full-on with meetings from 8:30am to 6:00pm each day however, they were very enjoyable and interesting. Tuesday was an extremely long day, because as well as meetings, we had to attend an opening event which in true African style, did not initially start on time and ended later than what I had in mind.

I have some interesting new hotels and excursions to add to our next South Africa brochure, so please watch this space!

Thursday 18th May 2017
Today, we had our last full day at Indaba. Some very productive meetings, as this particular day was reserved to look at new, potential ideas that could be incorporated into our next South Africa brochure. Each morning, I attended an extra event from 8:30am till 10:00am. Here, we watched fifteen, short presentations on all sorts of different products.

I thought that the presentations were very useful and opened up some new and exciting options that we will be pleased to showcase to you in the following months. The show has been productive and allowed me to make contact with old friends and suppliers, whilst searching for various items to put into the marketplace.

An extremely interesting day!

Friday 19th May 2017
At 4:00am, we received a wake-up call to catch a 6:30am flight from Durban to Johannesburg. Our original plan was to fly down to Polakwane and drive to the lodge. However by luck, we were able to get a ride on an empty leg on a charter flight directly onto the reserve… wonderful news!

There is always an option to save the long drive and for four people, it does not add greatly to the cost. We by-passed all the normal queues and went straight to the gate. After a short wait while the pilot completed his paperwork, we went by a crew van, directly to our seven seater Cessna aircraft.

Normally, these types of aircraft require you to travel with soft bags as the luggage fits into the nose-cone of the plane. However, there were only three of us so our large bags fitted perfectly fine. The aircraft had two engines. When booking these, I would advise that you take extra care; some life insurances require that you do not travel in a single plane. The flight was just over ninety minutes from take-off.

We overlooked some great views along the way, before we swooped down into Limpopo Valley Airfield.

The rooms at Mashatu are virtually all the same, with most rooms having a single bed plus a UK size double bed and sleeper couch. There are two rooms with a King bed, which if required should be booked well in advance. They also have two rooms that connect, which is ideal if there is a family staying. Rooms have ceiling fans and AC, but as the temperature is much like our October in the UK at the moment, I am personally not using it.

The weather is actually almost perfect for most in the UK, about 23-25 during the day and about 12-14 at night.

we were treated to a scrumptious high tea and then we set out on our first game drive with Eric our Ranger and Aaron our tracker. Aaron also looked after my wife and I when we visited 5 years ago.

I am this time traveling with Sue Rothwell from Ethos marketing and David an Irish journalist. Ethos represents quite a few of the best options in South Africa to the UK travel trade and provide us with an essential link for information and ideas. We set out and within minutes we started seeing plains game, impala, wildebeest etc. We had some good giraffe sightings and a leopard with a kill. We also met up for the first time with the 6 juvenile lions and the 2 sister mothers.

Sundowners were served as is normal before returning to camp for a quick wash and brush up. Supper was served under the stars in the boma and included a very tasty Oxtail stew. It had been a long day so retired to bed. More of my blogs to come!

Saturday 20th May 2017
Early morning start as we had been granted access to a Photographic Hide. This is something that can be pre booked at Mashatu. Your ranger takes you to hide with the resident photographer Janet or her husband. The hide was created by semi sinking a container in to the ground, then with branches and rocks placed on top, with access in the top via a small trap door. Inside, a fold down slot has been cut, which acts as ledge to place cameras, together with bean bags and rotating tables all enable you to take great photos.

Outside a waterhole was dug and a small solar powered water pump feeds the waterhole. The hide takes 6-8 people comfortably so we were spoilt with space, with only 3 of us.

When you arrive Janet gave us all some great tips depending on the type of camera that we had. If you have your Ipad with you, she can also give you great tips on how best to great photos. Then it’s a waiting game. Around 07.30 the solar pump starts to work and the Elephants much prefer fresh water.

They started to come down first in 2 and 3's and later in much larger herds. You are actually less than 5 feet away from them at some times . For the next 2 hours we had great sightings and these will be the subject of a special e-blasts after the Bank Holiday. Watch this space for the date, as the photos are something special. We then returned to Lodge for brunch.

Following brunch we travelled the 30 minutes to the tented camp, so we could see the difference. These are typical safari tents with hard wooden floors and en-suite facilities. There is also a main lodge lounge and dining boma.

This is a cheaper option and exactly the same land is traversed as main camp. Food and beverages are also of the same standard. Back at Main camp , time for shower and sort out before we had high tea and then out on safari again. Great viewings this afternoon in including, Lion, Leopard, plains game including the Eland .

Sundowner tonight also gave us some great star viewing. This area has very low light pollution so the star gazing is fantastic. Tonight we had a special treat in that we had a drink and dinner with a researcher who is looking at Hyenas . This sometimes forgotten animal is actually highly intelligent. Shortly we will feature an article on his work . This was a magical evening under the stars with good company and great food.

Sunday 21st May 2017
Besides the Hide Mashatu also offers the chance to ride in the bush on horseback and also cycle using mountain bikes. The horse riding is only for the more experienced riders, as you are riding in country with real life predators.

Sue and I elected to try the Mountain biking. Suitably fitted out with the cycle helmets that were guaranteed to protect us from Lion attack, we set out with our guide Mick. I suspect his rifle was the real time protection from Lions.

Neither of us had ridden for our 30 years and never on a Mountain bike. We actually did quite well and over the next hour and a half covered quite a lot of ground. Along the way we encountered Wildebeest, Giraffe, Impala and a large group of baboons. Our ranger was always in contact with our cycle guide throughout, and were routed well away from any known predator sightings. We dropped the bikes at the morning coffee stop and completed the game drive in the more normal manner. There are options to do a 3-5day cycle package, which includes sleeping out under the stars. See the next section for details of that camp In the afternoon we set out to the furthest section of the reserve. Over an hour by 4X4 to get to that section and having to cross the access road that runs north from the border crossing at Pont Drift.

This section is normally not traversed by Main camp but is used more by the cycle and horse safari groups, however from time to time Main camp does go there as there is a great rock escarpment that provides some spectacular sunsets In this section we saw Eland, Kudu, Bat Eared Foxes, black backed Jackal, Ostriches and Kori Bustards. This is quite significant as Mashatu is the ' Land of the Giants.

- The Mashatu tree is the largest tree
- The Elephant is the largest mammal
- The Kori Bustard is the largest bird that can fly.
- The Ostrich is the largest bird that can fly

So we had completed the list.

En-route to the escarpment we stopped in at the ' camp under the stars' used by both the cycle and horse safaris. They sleep under the stars in a boma with no roof. However there is an armed guard just in case a predator comes to join the group. There are basic showers and toilets. The showers are the old fashioned, with wood burners heating a tank just like out of Africa.

After our inspection we travelled on to the escarpment for sundowners. The photos do not do it justice but it brought the Safari part of this trip to a fitting end.

Supper tonight was a rib of beef and a fantastic lemon meringue pie. A wonderful day was had.

Monday 22nd May 2017
Wake up at 06.15 with breakfast 07.00 We checked out and headed to the Pont Drift border post. En route we visited Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris, who you might remember I mentioned yesterday. We went to the yard where the horses are kept, when not out on safari. We also saw several being put through the daily work out to keep them fit to work. They were all in great shape.

Our sister company Ranch Rider sells this experience, so it was good to see the base camp and also the sleep under the stars camp as well. After border formalities on the Botswana side, we had to cross the Limpopo River which marks the border. After the rains, there was still good flow on the river but possible to get across in a safari truck. However when the river is in full flow they cannot get across at all. The access is then by a cable car operated by Mashatu. Just for fun we tried it and it was great.

After reentering South Africa we said good bye to Peter, the lodge manager and Eric our ranger. We then had a 2 hour drive to Polokwane Airport. I then checked in for my flight via Johannesburg to Windhoek in Namibia.

However I had a long layover in Johannesburg, which gave me the chance to meet with our ground agent. We had both been at Indaba with separate meetings. This was a chance to compare notes, and discuss options for a new brochure.

I eventually landed in Windhoek at 20.30, where I was met by our ground agents and transferred to Suricate Town Lodge. My wife had flown in earlier during day from Heathrow via Johannesburg, and had a great dinner cooked by the owner! I had a really nice Oryx pate and some fresh bread, which was enough for me, but the way she described her meal made me very jealous.

Tuesday 23rd May 2017
After a good night’s sleep, a great shower and a good breakfast ,our ground agent in Namibia came to the hotel. We do this with every client. They then take up to 2 hours briefing our guests and going through the detailed packs. Then it is off to the car rental depot to pick up the car.

All our clients have a 4x4 or a 2x4. Only 30% of the roads are tarred so to drive gravel roads you need the height off the ground and the better suspension that comes with these cars. Also we provide 2 spare tyres, just in case and every car has a cool box so you can always have enough to drink.

Why come to Namibia?
Well besides the increasing number of clients who fly drive, Shongololo Express train also does a trip to Namibia. Although it does only the south of Namibia well, it really does not do the north.

We are looking at an add on trip to show case the north, that could be incorporated. Also we are looking at some new properties for the new brochure.

So we set off in a brand new Ford Ranger pickup 4x4 with a fitted cab over the pickup body What they do not tell you is that they are not properly dust tight!

The first town is about 2 hours drive up good tarred road. We stopped at a Spar, in Southern Africa they are full size super markets . We bought water, ice and plastic bin liners to cover the cases plus some other bits and pieces.

We then drove to our second nights stay in Hohenstein Lodge. You turn of the tarred road and head 30 kms along the dirt road to this lodge. Now the plastic bags earn their keep! The lodge is on a private reserve of about 2000 hectares but more a walking reserve rather than game reserve. However we did do a sundowner drive and were rewarded by seeing Spring Bok and Red Hartebeest. Dinner was outside and featured Oryx steak!

Wednesday 24th May 2017
Breakfast was severed inside as it was winter, however for us Brits it could have been outside Breakfast across Southern Africa is basically the same, with Cornflakes, fruit, yogurts, etc. Meats and different cheeses were also part of the breakfast. You are then offered a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon. In larger hotels this often a buffet, with a station cooking eggs to order.

In Namibia with its German history you do find a wider choice of cheeses and meats than in say South Africa Whatever your breakfast choice you will not leave the table hungry.

This morning we headed to Swakopmund, which is on the Atlantic coast. This is a very German coastal town and although ' out of season' was still very busy. We found our hotel ,The Strand, which is right on the coast. Had a pleasant cup of coffee watching the sea sweep up the sandy beach.

We did not check in then, but drove to Walvis Bay which is about 30 kms south along the coast. Walvis Bay is the major port of Namibia but the coastal drive is very pretty to get to it.

After some difficulty we found the railway station, Namibia is not great on directions within the towns! The Shongololo Express was parked up to depart the following day back to Pretoria.

This journey takes 12 days and covers the southern half of Namibia and then across central South Africa. An interesting and ever changing route. From there we drove to Dune number 7 the last of the great sand dunes of which Namibia is so famous for. Top Tip- Given more time we would have taken the 2 hour flight over the dunes and back along the Skeleton coast. The name, Skeleton coast actually applies to the whole coast of Namibia not just the section north of Swakopmund to Terrace Bay. The best wreck sightings are along the coast south of Swakopmund but are only accessible by air. The reason for so many ship wrecks along this coast is the due to the cold Atlantic Ocean meeting with the hot land mass, which is Namibia. This can cause think fog, particularly in the early morning.

This soon goes in the morning, but not without luring too often ships into the shallow waters and reefs along this coast line. Modern navigation and echo sounders have helped to reduce the wrecks but some of the best commercial fishing is close to these reefs and just a few years ago fishing boat from Angola ran aground.

Anywhere in Southern Africa there is an intense interest in soccer and English soccer in particular. It was no surprise then the Europe Cup final was live on television. As a Man U fan it was a great night if not a great game.

Dinner tonight was King clip. If you have read by previous blogs you will be aware how much I like this unique Southern African fish. Tonight’s meal was good but the fish at Lemon Butta in Hermanus is still top of the table in my books.

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.
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