May 17, 2011
A Tour of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Following Indaba, I set out with Rung Button of ITT (International Travel and Tours) and her partner Julius Le Roux of Julnic Tours for an in-depth exploration of KwaZulu-Natal, the province where the legendary King Shaka Zulu once lived and reigned. The province is a microcosm of what South Africa has to offer, with bustling cities like Durban, national parks like Hluhluwe/Imfolozi, private game reserves and plenty of upscale hotels and resorts.
For example, about 40 minutes from Durban is Fairmont Zimbali, a luxury property with both a resort on the beach (and a few residential homes) as well as a lodge up in the rainforest. (The beach, it should be noted, is not safe for swimming at all, but is great for walking along. There are several pools at the resort and lodge for swimming.) Shuttles bring visitors into Durban for shopping and urban life, and the resort is ideal for families. Up the hill, the Lodge is an older property, but is much more suited to honeymooners and couples who want peace and quiet and nature right outside their door. The main dining room’s windows look out onto a solid wall of greenery, and it has a much more classic, intimate vibe.
We spent the night at a property called Coco-de-Mer Boutique Hotel, which has some wonderfully high-ceilinged rooms (and is right off the beach), but also has only a part-time reception desk. (This makes it very difficult to schedule wake-up calls before going to bed. Also, Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby, so this isn’t an ideal property for business clients.) I didn’t get a chance to try the sauna tub in my open-plan bathroom, but it looked lovely.
Up bright and early the next day (well, early, anyway), we set off for Eshowe, a small town with a school sponsored by ITT’s staff. We visited Zulufadder, the school, and got to see how the project is helping kids get the education and care they need. (And seriously, there is very little more adorable than a group of kids gathering around to see what a white person’s hair feels like, and proudly showing off their ABCs, and singing any songs they know…including Christmas carols.)
Continuing our Zulu-themed day, we went on to Shakaland, which was built as the set for the 1986 TV miniseries Shaka Zulu, and was later turned into a tourist attraction and a three-star Protea hotel with 55 traditional huts for guests to stay in. We walked through the recreated village and learned about traditional Zulu life, and attended a performance of traditional dances by the locals. (Even the little kids got up to dance, and apparently, the only thing cuter than five-year-olds gathering to feel your hair is several two-year-old stomping joyously to intense drumming.) Arts and crafts by local artisans are available for sale in the village, and we all stocked up on jewelry and household decorations.
Continuing north, we stopped off in the village of St. Lucia, a tiny town on the coast with only one real street that, we were told, occasionally gets hippos from the local river. The local park is also a good place to see crocodiles and go birding, and there are plenty of nature reserves nearby. The highest-rated hotel in the town is the Elephant Lake Hotel, a three-star property with a very nice bar overlooking the swimming pool. (There is a photo of a hippo drinking from the pool in the lobby. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the hippo ourselves, but we were told that he comes around regularly.)
The next morning, we were up before dawn to go on a drive through the Hluhluwe/Imfolozi National Park, the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see all of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). Within the first 20 minutes, with our guide Trevor, we saw rhino, a buffalo and an elephant, as well as numerous giraffes and nyalas. A moment or two later, we had a close (very close) encounter with the elephant when it decided to assert its dominance over the car, and several other elephants got rather uncomfortably close as we drove on.
I’m going to pause here to note that visitors to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi can legally go on self-drive tours through the park. Your clients can, if they want to, rent a car and go exploring at their own pace. But they shouldn’t. They really, really shouldn’t because there are some huge animals in the park that can cause a lot of damage, and unless your clients know how far away to stay from a napping lion or what to do when an elephant decides to take a stand against a car, they could get seriously hurt. Tell them to hire a trained guide for the day. Whatever it costs will cost much less than hospitalization…and besides, a guide can take them to all the best spots in the park, or help them find whatever they want to see.
Trevor, being a brilliant guide, knew exactly what to do when the elephant got too close, and backed away perfectly calmly. The elephant decided that we had been suitably submissive, and wandered off to continue its grazing. After we took our pictures, Trevor casually mentioned that the previous week, a self-drive visitor hadn’t backed off when an elephant got too close, and got his car flipped over for his trouble. (You see what I mean?)
Also, the park has rest areas where guests can relax and even set up a cookout (in Afrikaans, a braai), and Trevor made a traditional lunch for us by a riverside. (It’s fun, but just a little disturbing, to eat chicken skewers while listening to a hippo snort somewhere in the reeds nearby.)
We spent the night at the Ghost Mountain Inn, a four-star property with a lot of five-star elements (huge rooms, private verandas, floral gardens, deep soaking tubs and copious amounts of very tasty food). In the evening, local nightlife (cute little lizards and frogs) roam around the gardens and terraces (and, occasionally, the rooms), so warn your guests to watch where they step.
In the morning, we set off with Jean, a safari specialist at the inn, for a boatride on the nearby lake. Elephants, impala and buffalo were by the shore, and we got some terrific photos as we scooted around. Jean knows the animals of the area intimately (she called out to various elephants by name), and shared fun stories about various safaris she’s guided. (Jean is a really fun guide--ask for her when booking.)
After the boat ride, we set off to Amakhosi Safari Lodge, a five-star property on the Mkuze river. The cabins at the lodge are massive, with three rooms alone dedicated to bathroom facilities. (One room has a soaking tub, toilet and two sinks; another has a shower stall; and the third serves as a guest powder room.) The windows look out over the river, and wildlife (mostly warthogs--they’re cuter than you’d think!) wander around the site. We checked in and had high tea (no lunch at the lodge--more on that later) and set out on our evening drive.
While Amakhosi is a Big Five game reserve, we mostly saw zebras, impala, giraffes, nyalas and warthogs (they grow on you after a while) until we drove up a mountain to a lake, where two lion brothers were napping after finishing a meal. We were able to get right up close to the cats for pictures, and watched as their third brother strolled right past the car to get a drink at the lake. (Since the cats barely paid any attention to us, it was a much less nerve-wracking experience than the episode with the elephants the previous day.) We stopped for sundowners (cocktails) and listened to our guide converse with the birds--there are over 420 species on the reserve, and the game drives can really be excellent for birdwatching.
Before dinner, we were treated to a performance of traditional dances by some local Zulu students around a campfire. (Because what’s dinner without a show?) The meal was served in the lodge’s main cabin, and was just lovely.
A word about meals at Amakhosi: Because of the timing of game drives, meals are arranged a bit strangely. Tea and biscuits are served at 6am before the first drive, and a full breakfast (more like a brunch) is served at around 9:30 or so upon return from the drive. Since a noon lunch would be silly so soon after a large meal, a high tea is served at around 2:30 or 3. The evening drive runs from around 5 to 8, and dinner is served upon return.
Another note: Internet access is only available in the reception area, and there is no cell phone signal at the reserve. This is a place for your clients to get away from it all, so if they’re planning on doing work while on vacation, gently dissuade them. They’ll be disconnected from the outside world here.
We were up before dawn for the morning drive, and watched a rhino jogging along the reserve’s airstrip (yes, they have their own landing strip--great for VIP clients with chartered planes). We didn’t see any other of the Big Five, but we got to watch jackals running and see numerous exotic birds before heading off back to Durban.
On the ride, we stopped off for some quick shopping at Zaminphilo, an outdoor market organized by local artists in Hluhlue. Unlike many other markets in South Africa, the vendors here don’t hassle shoppers to their stalls, and the prices are non-negotiable. (Very comforting for tourists unaccustomed to haggling...like yours truly.) The prices are very reasonable, and the artwork is really lovely. Encourage your clients to leave time for browsing.
Back at King Shaka International Airport in Durban, I got to spend a few minutes in South Africa Airway’s business class lounge before my flight to Johannesburg. There’s a nice bar with name-brand cocktails as well as a convenient business area (with international plugs!) in the middle of the space. Even for a quick visit, it was a nice way to wrap up the tour of KwaZulu-Natal.
May 10, 2011
On Site: Wrapping Up at INDABA 2011
INDABA 2011 has wrapped up, and my feet are still aching from running all over the trade show floor. (Memo to self: Wear sneakers next time.)
May 08, 2011
On Site: Fair Trade Travel in South Africa
Fair Trade is nothing new in terms of food, textiles and other products, but it’s a relatively new concept for the travel industry. FTTSA (Fair Trade Travel South Africa) is looking to change that, and is implementing a system by which hotels, tours, activities and other businesses can be certified as a Fair Trade company.
Katarina Mancama, FTTSA Project Manager, spoke at Indaba about how the company operates and what it guarantees. When a business wants to be certified as Fair Trade, they apply to the company and an assessor spends two to five days at the business to confirm that everything is…well, fair. A total of 14 operational areas are covered (including employment equity, community benefits, health and safety issues, workplace culture and even HIV/AIDS Awareness) before certification is granted, and the business is re-assessed every two years. (A paper audit takes place in alternating years.)
FTTSA has begun certifying whole packages, with financial support from the Swiss government. Every single aspect of the package has to be certified, Mancama said, from transportation to tour operators to the hotels. Some tour operators had to lower their commissions in order to earn their certification (for example, taking less money from a bed & breakfast than from a major chain hotel), and arranging reasonable cancellation fees. “We’re not saying tour operators shouldn’t make a profit,” Mancama said, “but everyone needs to get their fair share along the chain.” The first two packages were launched in Zurich last year, and a Germany-based package was announced at ITB in Berlin. Mancama said that the company is hoping to certify packages from the UK, France, Sweden and the Netherlands soon.
The cost for certifying a package is currently around €3,000, though larger companies will pay more to subsidize smaller ones. (The smallest certified company pays 500 rand per year—approximately $65.) Even better: Five percent of each fee collected goes into a central fund for social development in communities.
And in case your clients think that a Fair Trade vacation means sleeping in hemp sheets, you can tell them that luxury properties like Sabi Sabi are FTTSA-certified.
May 08, 2011
South African Tourism's Thandiwe January-McLean Opens Indaba
We’ve been running from press conference to meeting to press conference here at Indaba, but among the speeches was last night’s statement by South African Tourism CEO Thandiwe January-McLean. I’ll let the lady speak for herself, but her speech is very inspiring and well worth a listen (please forgive the shaky camerawork), and the video that followed is equally moving.
May 06, 2011
On Site: Arriving in South Africa
When I came to Indaba last year, South Africa was gearing up for the World Cup, and getting ready to have the world’s eyes on its major cities for the better part of a month.
It’s safe to say that South Africa came out of the World Cup looking just fine, but now the vuvuzelas have quieted and only time will tell where the country will go from here. The infrastructure enhancements are still there, the new hotels are still standing, and significant improvements to airlift have been put in place recently—chief among them, South African Airways’ new direct nonstop flights from Johannesburg to New York, without a stop in Dakar, Senegal.
Speaking of SAA, my flight from New York to Joburg (and from there to Durban) was much the same this year as last year’s (comfy flat beds; very nice food and wine—try the cheese pancakes!) with the major difference being a quick visit to the domestic business class lounge in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. It’s quiet and calming, and even has a smoking lounge. Important: Tell your clients transferring from a business class flight to Joburg that they can use an arrival lounge in the international terminal, but unless they have a business class ticket for their domestic transfer, they cannot use the domestic lounge.
Once in Durban, I transferred to the Southern Sun Elengeni Hotel, where I could see how the construction projects I saw underway last year ended up. The first picture below is from last year, and the second is from today. The pit to the left (with a crane nearby) is now a skating rink, and there are several other structures that I don't remember from last year. (The view from the hotel, of course, remains as lovely as ever.)
The trade show starts tomorrow, so I’ll let you know what’s new and what’s happening throughout South Africa. From what I’ve seen so far, things look very nice indeed.
June 11, 2010
2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: Play Ball!
True confessions time: I'm probably the least-knowledgable person on the Travel Agent staff when it comes to football or soccer, or any sport other than baseball. (And even then, I sometimes find myself asking my friends, "Did Derek Jeter just score a touchdown?")
But after two weeks in South Africa last month, and after touring the brand-new Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, it's impossible not to get caught up in World Cup fever now. Even I'm paying attention and getting excited about the games, and about what they mean to South Africa as a nation. For the next month, the whole world will be watching the country's major cities and towns and getting a taste of this gorgeous country— some of them, possibly, for the first time. With luck, the games will spark more interest in tourism and bring a whole new generation to a place they never thought they'd visit.
So, who is this decidedly un-soccer-savvy traveler cheering for in the games? Well, the U.S., naturally, but having just come back from Australia, I wouldn't be too sad if the Socceroos took home the trophy. But how wonderful would it be if an African nation won the World Cup at the very first games to be played on African soil?
Here are some pictures of Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, where Germany will play Australia on Sunday; and—from a distance—of the new Cape Town Stadium, where Uruguay will play France today.
Cape Town Stadium
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Inside the Moses Mabhida Stadium
May 20, 2010
South Africa, Day Seven: Lions, Leopards and Lodges
Every good experience should have a grand finale, and this trip to South Africa had a great one: two days at the Lion Sands Game Reserve, just next to Kruger National Park. The family-run camp has been a safe haven for the area’s wild animals for nearly 80 years, and was forced to undergo a massive renovation 10 years ago when a flash flood washed away the existing cabins. Using the disaster as an opportunity, the family recreated their camp as a luxury destination right on the Sabie River, and are still making improvements to the infrastructure.
Among those improvements is a recent commission of an extra plot of land across the river in Kruger, bringing the total acreage under the Reserve’s control to 22,000. Owner Rob More said that the team is still working out the logistics of bringing guests back and forth between the Reserve and the Park. For example, Range Rovers in Lion Sands are open for unobstructed views, but cars in Kruger must be covered. However, they expect to start expanding the trips soon.
Other improvements include rebuilt and renovated cabins (24 in total) in two connected sites: River Lodge and Ivory Lodge. When we arrived, our group was divided between the two areas (which are linked by a footbridge), and I was brought over to Room 15 at River Lodge, which completely reinvents the “little cabin in the woods” concept. Yes, the roof is thatched, and yes, there is mosquito netting around the bed, but there is also a gorgeous open-plan bathroom, an outdoor rain shower (and one indoor, just in case), huge sliding-glass doors with views of the river and the wilderness beyond, and a patio for sitting outside and enjoying it all. To help make a cabin in the middle of nowhere seem not quite so scary (at least to city gals like yours truly), the lodges also offer baskets filled with bug sprays, citronella face wipes, candles, matches and an emergency whistle. Animals can, and do, get close to the lodges (I got some great pictures of springboks and monkeys on the boardwalks), and the camp insists on escorting guests around outdoors after dark.
(It’s worth noting here that the lodges do not have TVs or Internet access. For those who need to feel connected to the rest of the world, both are available in the lounge areas of each group of cabins.)
I barely had a chance to unpack before I was off on my first game drive. Our tracker, Ranios, sat on a platform in the front of a Range Rover while our driver and ranger, Stanley, told us about the Reserve and the animals we could expect to see. After passing a family of giraffes, we continued searching for the legendary Big Five (lion, rhinoceros, elephant, leopard and water buffalo) as the sun went down. We noticed some vultures in a tree just off the road, and decided to see what they were watching. As we drove off-road, we saw broken branches and matted grass all around—the signs of a big fight, Stanley said. And suddenly the Range Rover’s headlights showed us how the fight ended: There was an enormous male lion, crunching noisily and very happily on the smelly remains of a water buffalo. It was maybe 15 feet away from us, and wasn’t bothered in the least by our presence (or the constant click of cameras). We decided to name the lion Fluffy, and drove on to meet up with the rest of our party for cocktails in the savannah before returning to our lodges for dinner.
Dinner was served al fresco in the main reception area by our dedicated butler Rodnick. The duck was delicious, and my companions devoured their soles, leaving just a handful of bones behind. Exhausted from the day, we went back to our cabins for the night.
At 5:30 a.m., we were roused by knocks on our doors to get us ready for the 6 a.m. sunrise drive. In quick order, we saw some rhinos napping, an elephant walking down one of the main roads of the Reserve and causing a great traffic jam (can you imagine calling in to work late because of an elephant in the road?) and a hippo wallowing in a waterhole. We also went back to the dead water buffalo to see the lions in the daylight, and they posed most graciously for us. (The water buffalo didn’t smell any better, though.)
Once the sun was up and making the rides just a little too warm for comfort, we went back to the lodges for spa treatments. Therapist Sthandiwe’s head, neck and shoulder massage did wonders for my tension, and the intimate treatment room is partially open to the elements, giving it a wonderfully natural feel.
Those of us in River Lodge were transferred over to Ivory Lodge, which offers a much more private-escape experience than River does. Each cabin is a suite, with the living room and bedroom separated by a patio with a plunge pool and a telescope for looking across the river. Guests in these rooms usually take their meals in the living rooms rather than in the main dining areas, so it’s ideal for honeymooners (or any other romantic getaway). A hutch in the living room wall lets the butlers bring anything to the guests without having to open the door—great for early-morning tea or coffee.
Just as I was exploring the cabin, I heard a commotion outside, and saw a family of elephants running around on the other side of the river. Logically, I knew the elephants wouldn't come my way and that I wasn't in any real danger...but it's hard to remember that when it feels like they're bellowing right in your ear (...from quite a few yards away, but still!).
We set out on our third drive (and my last, alas) and immediately spotted a water buffalo relaxing on the far side of the river. As we set off again, we heard on the radio that a leopard was walking down one of the roads, so we drove as fast as we could over the dirt roads to find him. We turned a corner and there he was…just walking down the street as calm as could be. And if you’re keeping count, that’s all of the Big Five: We saw lions, rhinos, an elephant, a water buffalo (two, if you count the dead one) and a leopard.
A word about the radios: The rangers stay in touch to let each other know where animals can be found for optimal viewing, but will take turns bringing their guests around so that it’s never a crowded experience. When leaving a spot, they will leave some sign—a broken branch, usually—in the roadway to let the next rangers where to turn to see the animal.
For dinner, we attended a special bonfire hosted by the owners of the camp at the 1933 Lodge (named for the year in which the Reserve was purchased and first organized)—a lovely send-off after an incredible stay, and an amazing two weeks (well, almost) in South Africa.
May 18, 2010
South Africa, Day 6: Cape Town
We arrived in Cape Town on a cold, windy and drizzly afternoon and checked into the gorgeous Cape Grace Hotel. The hotel is right on the waterfront, and looks out over a cozy little harbor that would make any New Englander feel right at home. The rooms are huge, and have such nice little touches as a drawer full of cotton swabs, tissues and nail kits; fabric soap (for washing socks in the sink); air freshener in the toilet; and bath salts. (Really, it’s the little things like these that make a huge difference.) The hotel also has several BMWs to drive guests around the city (complimentary!) within a 12-mile limit.
The spa at Cape Grace is surprisingly small for all the hotel’s grandeur and opulence. The sauna and steam room can only fit about four people comfortably, and instead of a Jacuzzi they have a mineral bath…in a bathtub. Some ladies in the group did try the treatments at the spa, however, and had nothing but good things to say. The hotel’s fitness room will open next week, and sounds like it will be very nice.
Close to the hotel is a lovely little shopping district with a large mall that includes the usual shops one would expect in a normal shopping center, and a few one wouldn’t. (Hugo Boss, Evita Peroni, L’Occitane en Provence, etc.) Our guide, Owen, from Roots Africa Tours is a local of the city, and clearly loves his hometown. His insider knowledge was very useful, and he had great stories for every spot we visited. Really, ask for him by name. He’s excellent.
On Friday morning, I woke up with what I can only assume was a massive case of food poisoning (for charity’s sake, I won’t mention the name of the restaurant we dined in the night before), and wound up spending the whole day in bed. Bless the staff at the Cape Grace, though—they called in frequently to see how I was doing, offered to call for a doctor and brought some tea to my room before I could think to ask for it. (When you’re feeling rotten in a foreign city, it’s good to know people are looking out for you.) I missed out on a tour of Cape Town (d’oh!), wine tastings (D’OH!!!), a helicopter ride (Argh!!!) and a spa where fish eat away the dead skin from feet (wait, what?).
On Saturday, I woke up feeling much better (roiboos tea is wonderfully soothing), and was able to rejoin the group for a tour of the very scenic Hout Bay (with a great collection of tchochkes for purchase—again, haggle!). We crossed the peninsula to visit the penguin colony at the Boulders—and, really, is there anything cuter than a bunch of penguins running all over a pristine beach? (Though the mama penguin we saw guarding her chick and egg was less cute and more “If you come near my babies I will cut you!”).
For lunch, we went to Noon Gun, a mom-and-pop Malaysian restaurant that really feels like a family-run place. Everything tasted home-made and wonderfully flavorful. (Try the lamb. Or the beef with sweet rice. Or the snoek. Or…really, anything. We sampled it all, and nothing disappointed. Just be certain your car can handle the steep ride up the hill.)
Needing to work off lunch, we decided to tackle Table Mountain, which looms majestically above the city. Since time was tight, we opted to go up via cable car instead of hiking (though we were assured that the hike was fairly easy, and takes only about two hours—a great way to spend an afternoon, if we’d gotten an earlier start.) The cable cars are circular, and rotate so that everyone inside can get a view.
And then there’s the top, where the city and the sea stretch out for what seems like ever. There are no words for describing the views from the top of the mountain, and pictures can’t do it justice. It’s just amazing.
For dinner, we went to Mama Africa’s, a homey little joint with loud music, funky drinks and eclectic food. The vegetable samoosas and chicken-peanut-and-spinach stew were quite tasty, and I heard good things about the grilled prawns and lamb chops. The restaurant is on Long Street, which is the heart of the city’s nightlife district. Lots of loud bars and pubs line the avenue—several members of our group stopped by at Grand Daddy’s, a nightclub attached to a four-star hotel. (Hey, at least guests aren’t drinking and driving!)
A word of advice: When visiting Cape Town, get all the cash you’ll need for your visit at the airport, because ATMs are not plentiful on the streets, and many of the little shops and stands are cash-only. The hotels (or at least the Cape Grace) charge a substantial commission for changing cash, and will refuse to change any money that is marked in any way.
May 13, 2010
South Africa, Day Five: Knyssa
The lobby of The Views Hotel
After a second report from the trade show floor of Indaba in Durban, South Africa, Jena Tesse Fox takes a quick flight to Knyssa, for some unique property tours and, more, wildlife encounters.
Airlines throughout the United States, please take note: Even when flying short distances of two hours or less, South African Airways checks bags for free, provides at least two drinks onboard and offers at least a sandwich. It can be done, guys. I’m just sayin’.
So after several days of running all over Durban, we caught a quick flight over to Knysna (the “k” is silent, I’ve learned, and the name rhymes with “Liza,” but with an “n”) in the Western Cape Province and headed over to The Views Hotel, a brand-new property right on the beach that really lives up to its name. (From my window, I can see nothing but ocean and sky. It’s wonderfully Zen. From my balcony, I can see the beach. It’s still Zen.) The boutique property has just 19 rooms and suites, only five of which don’t face the sea. The rooms themselves match the sea-and-sky-theme of the view, with polished driftwood for the flooring and tiny, smooth pebbles in the open-plan bathroom. (General Manager Jackie Joubert can be reached at Jackie@viewshotel.co.za.)
The main restaurant at The Views, Sails is headed by executive chef Craig Bloemsma, who creates a new menu each day depending on what is fresh and available. Generally, he limits the menu to four starters and three entrees, though he did say that he’ll accommodate any special requests possible. (My beef fillet with mustard sauce was quite tasty.) For breakfasts, the hotel offers a first course continental buffet and a hot second course—no one in the group tried the bacon-and-eggs ice cream, but it certainly sounded intriguing. (If anyone does try it, please drop me a line and tell me how it is…or what it is, for that matter.)
A Suite's bedroom at the Pezula
We also checked out Pezula, a six-year-old seaside resort that will be hosting the French team for the World Cup. (Ha! You thought I’d get through an entire post without mentioning soccer, didn’t you?) The property has fireplaces everywhere, and—with low buildings set into hillsides—gives off a comfortably luxe vibe. The wine cellar (90 percent of which is local vintages) doubles as a tasting room; the spa has a post-treatment room with massage waterbeds; guests can borrow bikes for getting around; and there are champagne, whiskey and cigar bars for various tastes. All of the suites (both the Villa and Studio) categories have balconies, heated floors and (of course) fireplaces. Cool touch: The Presidential Suite has a dedicated butler.
If a dedicated butler isn’t enough, the ultimate place to stay at Pezula is a complex down the road from the main resort (accessible by free shuttle) called The Castle, made up of two full apartments that can be rented individually or together. A private chef and butler are included, as are all meals and activities. Ten adults can stay in the complete complex, and rates for the full property start at about $11,885 per night. For more information or special requests, agents can contact Russel Binks, director of hospitality at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Within an hour’s drive of The Views are two sanctuaries for wild animals: Elephant Sanctuary and Tenikwa. We started at the former and learned about their six elephants that have been rescued from Kruger National Park. Patrick, our guide, explained that each of them have disadvantages that would have made their survival in the wild very difficult if not impossible. (Ironically, a genetic condition that prevents tusks from growing has saved many elephants from ivory-hunting poachers, but keeps them from digging out roots in winter. What saves them from one fate condemns them to another.) I got to walk with Thandie, who let me pet her and explore her tail and feet…in exchange for peanuts, apples and veggies, of course. (Quid pro quo.)
Thandie enjoys a a drink
We then headed to Tenikwa, which is working to save endangered animals from extinction by rescuing abandoned, orphaned or injured birds and cats and either rehabilitating them to return to the wild or keeping them to maintain the gene pool. (Pamphlets in the reception hall offer suggestions on responsible wildlife touring.) Our guide, Sizwe, showed us around—and then into—the large outdoor pens that contained rescued cats, many of whom had been raised in the sanctuary and were not afraid of people. A leopard normally prefers to stay hidden in the brush, Sizwe told us, but their leopard was perfectly comfortable sitting around…and even stalking us through the fence. (We were warned not to get too close.) Next door were two young cheetahs, who seemed very eager to stay around us when we entered their pen, and even let us pet them. Turns out, leopards and cheetahs are natural enemies in the wild, and their pens are next door to one another. The cheetahs wanted us around for protection from the nearby leopard…or maybe for a snack; I’m really not sure.
An eager cheetah at Tenikwa
For a light meal in the late afternoon, we went to Bramon Wine Estate, reportedly the first successful wine estate “this far east” on the Western Cape in the community of Plettenberg Bay. We sampled two of their most popular vintages—a wonderfully dry and gently fruity Sauvignon Blanc (the first wine produced in Plettenberg Bay)--and a Pinotage, which we were told used to be exclusive to the region before being produced in California. We ate our tapas (try the springbok or ostrich carpaccio—delicious!) outside among the vines, which are dotted with red or white rose bushes to indicate what kind of grape is grown there. There are probably better ways to spend a warm afternoon, but at the moment, I can’t think of any.
May 12, 2010
South Africa, Day Four: South African Airways & More Indaba
Today began with a breakfast hosted by South African Airways (and with speeches by representatives of same), followed by a media panel with several members of the SAA team.
Siza Mzimela, CEO of SAA, was excited about the airline’s growth, and mentioned two new routes that the airline will be flying (she wouldn’t say where, however, until the deal s were inked), the new planes they would be getting, and the new partnership with JetBlue. (This partnership means travelers can check their luggage in Los Angeles, Las Vegas or Seattle and pick it up when they arrive in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. Pretty cool.) Staff and crew are being increased (especially in preparation for the World Cup—had you forgotten about that yet?), security is being improved across the board (especially in the baggage departments, we heard), and plans are in place to expand into South America.
When the airlines meetings were finished, we headed back to the trade show floors for one last spin. A few highlights:
* Namibia recently received an impressive grant to boost their infrastructure, and several million of that has been earmarked for tourism. A comprehensive Namibia Tourism web site (www.mcanamibia.org.na) is in the works, and should be complete in a year. A new Hilton is scheduled to open around September in the capital city of Windhoek, and a new Kempinski will start construction later this year. Beyond that, Shareen Thude of the Namibia Tourism Board (www.namibiatourism.com.na) said, existing hotels are upgrading and renovating their rooms in hopes of becoming the hot new destination.
* The word “safari” apparently means “journey” in Swahili (my hotel has awful internet access, otherwise I’d look it up and confirm, so I’ll just take Kenya Tourism Board rep Anne Kanini’s word for it). In Kenya, there are lots of different kinds of safaris, and—from the pictures Kanini showed me—some pretty impressive sights to see while on them. The country sits on the equator, and certain species—like giraffes--are divided by the line. Visitors can see the “Big Five” within a four hundred-meter drive, she added, especially at the Maasi Mara. She also mentioned the “Obama Effect,” with tourists coming to the village where President Obama’s Kenyan family still lives. Serena Hotels are popular throughout the country, and there is a Fairmont in Nairobi. (www.magicalkenya.com)
* Cullinan Diamonds offer tours of their diamond mines as well as completely unique and exclusive jewelry designs. (And when they say exclusive, they mean copyrighted. You’ll never have to worry about someone else showing up to the party wearing the same necklace!)
* Here’s a unique option for animal-lovers who want a different kind of safari: Dr. Peter Brothers runs African Vet Safaris, which brings visitors out into the wild to help tag and care for endangered species. There are different kinds of trips available for different people, from casual interest to veterinary students looking for hands-on experience. The guests’ funding of the trips, Brothers said, helps the company’s conservation efforts, and the excursions offer a new perception on the issues facing the environment and the animal kingdom.
Tomorrow, we head off to George, Knysna, and the Views Hotel.