South Africa Week – Part 1

Golf Educational to South Africa

April 2017

In January I was invited to join a small party on a golf focused educational trip touring the southern-most coast of Africa from Cape Town via the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. The invitation was accepted for mid-April.  My first visit to Cape Town in (too) many years and my first as a pretty average 18 handicapper.

Since there is such a wide variety of carriers that service this route I began, as all should do, by looking at my flight options, i.e. routing, timings, and costs. The only carrier that flies direct into Cape Town direct – and they know it, are British Airways from Heathrow; their fair came in at just shy of £1,000.  Convenient – yes, expensive – most certainly. So indirect it was and since I live near Gatwick my next thought was Emirates via Dubai. Bingo! The timings were great, with good connections, and the fare…just £445, and they allow you to take 30kgs of checked luggage in two bags; so my golf clubs could come with me. Why so much BA? And why only 23kg of checked luggage?

The flight out was on one of Emirates new A380’s, a really comfortable plane and great in-flight entertainment. Food – the usual. The flight from Dubai to Cape Town was on an A320, so not as good as the A380, but as I slept most of the way – it did its job and arrived on time.

Cape Town International was rebuilt for the 2010 Football World Cup and is a friendly easy-to-navigate point of arrival.

Day 1

I was met by the Adam, the MD of Gilt Edge – the arrangers of the trip – and taken to my overnight hotel – the Cape Milner; a contemporary boutique hotel in the quiet suburb of Tamboerskloof, just to the south-east of Signal Hill and a 10 minute drive to the V&A Waterfront. The room was large and well equipped with a great en-suite behind glass walls.

After a quick shower and a quick beer (obligatory), we drove to the V&A and met up with my host (Warren) and the other participants on the trip. Certainly an eclectic mix, one Czech, one Dutch, a
Finn and me. They would turn out to be superb company and to each bring something different to the group. A lovely fish supper was had in heart of the Waterfront, which has seen a massive amount of development and is now a vibrant place with a real ‘buzz’ about it.

Day 2

After breakfast, our itinerary showed a surprise activity for half an hour; it had to be Table Mountain – didn’t it? How wrong was I, as we pulled up outside the reception area for NAC Helicopters. What a way to start the trip – a 15 minute flight to view the City from the clear blue skies. It’s a great way to get to understand the layout of Cape Town, the views are spectacular and it’s not that expensive. NAC Helicopters also offer 30 minute and 1 hour excursions in 3, 4 and 6 seater aircraft.

It was time to leave central Cape Town for our first round of golf (one of six on the trip) at Steenberg Golf Club in Tokai at the back end of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. The course is located on the Steenberg Estate, which has a long and esteemed history and now offers stylish accommodation in Cape Dutch style white washed and thatched buildings in the grounds of the old Manor House, all set within one of the oldest vineyard in South Africa. And yes their Merlot is awesome!

 

 

 

 

 
The course is within a parkland setting and despite the South Africans love of bunkers, it’s a playable course for most handicaps and great way to settle yourself into a golf holiday in South Africa, before you take on the challenge of the tougher courses you’ll experience. I managed to avoid a bunker until the 16th and water until the 18th. The odd par here and there and I sat in the clubhouse with a glass in hand feeling happy with my first outing.

Our overnight accommodation was at the Steenberg Hotel & Spa, a classically stylish property located between the course and the winery. We ate in the stylish and elegant the Catharina’s Restaurant in the old barn – the service was exemplary and the food exquisite.

Day 3

Another beautiful day dawned and following a Cape Malay omelette and strong coffee, we headed first up to the winery, where you can a have a tour, a sundowner or a full meal overlooking the vines and the mountains beyond before driving down to the district of Newlands situated at the back of Table Mountain where we visited the Vineyard Hotel. Set in 7 acres of parkland the hotel offers 208 en-suite bedrooms in a variety of grades of rooms, suites and cottages. Its location is ideal for those who want to stay neither in the heart of Cape Town nor in the winelands, yet close to both. Excellent coffee as well.

 

 

 

 

 
Leaving Cape Town behind us we drove towards the winelands town of Paarl and to Pearl Valley, home to Jack Nicklaus’s Championship Signature Course. Unlike my round at Steenberg, I found a bunker off the first tee and many more on my way round. Actually, it may have taken me until the 17th before I didn’t hit sand somewhere on each hole.  It just seemed as if Jack knew where my ball was going to land and put a bunker there for me!

The accommodation at Pearl Valley is not yet officially open but is of a high standard and consists of self-catering suites set in small blocks of 8 rooms just behind the practice green. If you do not want to self-cater, the clubhouse offers a range of meals, but a full service restaurant it is not.

Day 4

The sun was again in full attendance as we hit the road again leaving Cape Town behind us as we drove to the quaint wine-lands village of Franschoek (‘French Corner’). The village (it’s really a little too small to call it a town) is nestled between hills on three sides giving it an Alpine feel, and consists of a few top quality properties (e.g. Le Quartier Francais and Leeu House) and some beautiful vineyards. It’s ideal if you’d like a Cape winelands experience without the masses…for a few days…

From there we crossed over a mountain pass, with a magnificent view back over Franschoek and its vineyards, and dropped down (eventually) onto the N2, which runs along the length of the south coast through George, Knysna and Port Elizabeth before turning north along the Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu Natal passing Durban. It eventually runs out of tarmac at near Johannesburg; a distance of some 1,400. It’s quite some road.

Our next stop was game reserve on the outskirts of Mossel Bay called Gondwana. Having travelled widely on safari in Southern Africa I was a little concerned that the experience would fall far short of my previous experiences.  How wrong I was to be proved…

We had barely cleared the two wildlife security gates for the short drive to the Kwena Lodge, when we spotted some shapes just below the crest of a hill some 1,000 yards away. The call went up ‘ellies’ but they were too small and not moving like elephants. Rhino? We got closer, yes five white rhino were ambling gently down the track towards us. Warren wisely pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine and we sat as they walked up to the vehicle and then past us, almost within touching distance. A great introduction to Gondwana!

 

 

 

 

 
Our accommodation was a three bedroom house, a short distance from the main lodge – perfectly walkable but this is Africa so you don’t. Over the two game drives we came across elephants, rhino, a pride of lion and several different antelope species. The experience is a little ‘canned’ but in the context of the Garden Route golf & safari holiday, juts perfect for first-timers to Africa.

Day 5

Following our early morning game drive and yes, with the sun shining yet again, we bade farewell to Gondwana and drove the short distance down to Mossel Bay and Pinnacle Point Golf Club (Par72, 6,460 yarsd). Set on the edge of the cliffs, with the next landmass south being Antartica, I had identified the course as likely to be a challenge with seven holes teeing off alongside the cliffs or over the sea between the ‘pinncle’ of land jutting out to sea. Sadly, I was right. The course got into my head and a simple shot to a Par 3 became a nerve-racking shank into the ocean far below. So unnecessary!

The course is amazing and the 18th one of the best I have ever played. This course kept on giving right to the end. In my view, it’s a MUST play course when you’re in this part of the world.

From Pinnacle Point we had an hour’s drive to get to Herold’s Bay and Oubaai Hotel Golf & Spa for an overnight stay before playing the Ernie Els designed Oubaai course the next morning.

South Africa – Guide to the Rainbow Nation

This week’s blog is a South Africa special. South Africa has so much to offer its visitors with beautiful scenery, endless beaches, delicious food and stunning wildlife. With all of this, as well as some of the worlds’ best-kept golf courses offering world-class facilities, coupled with superb weather, it is really no surprise that this a much loved golfing destination. Courses such as Fancourt, Leopard Creek and Gary Player Sun City are known world-side and all host major tournaments. So, if you haven’t already booked your next golf escape to the sun then look no further than one of our superb packages to South Africa…
Rovos-Rail

Rovos Rail is a world-class travel experience and gives you the opportunity to take a journey through South Africa of up to 15 days. Taking a journey on the Rovos Rail is an unforgettable experience and it really isn’t hard to see why. Board the train in Pretoria and enjoy fine wining and dining, superb service and the chance to see some of the most magical spots across South Africa as well as get the opportunity to play some truly testing golf courses. There are three journeys specifically for golfers – the Golf Safari, Golf Collage and the Golf Adventure – but they book very early, so don’t delay. With everyday taking you to a new destination with new sights and courses to play it is not surprising that this is our shining star of golf escape to South Africa.
Fancourrt-Manor-House

If travelling by train is not the way you want to spend your golf trip to South Africa, then we have a fabulous alternative; Fancourt Estate. The five star estate offers stunning scenery and surroundings as well as two very different but equally beautiful hotels and three superb golf courses. The Manor House is just that, a remodelled manor house to create a stunning boutique hotel which is perfect for those of you looking for a quieter holiday in a beautiful place. This boutique hotel offers guests the ultimate luxury and a stay here could never be a disappointment.
Fancourt-Hotel

The Fancourt Hotel features 115 beautifully decorated bedrooms and suites with all the amenities that you would expect from a hotel of this standard. There are a range of facilities for guests to enjoy from the spa and gym to the range of swimming pools and of course, the three brilliant golf courses. The Fancourt Estate is beautiful, with the breath-taking Outeniqua Mountains providing the backdrop for your stay.
Fancourt-Links

Fancourt’s Outeniqua and Montagu courses have become known as two of the finest parkland courses in the country. Getting the opportunity to play a round of golf on each of these courses is a remarkable experience. However, the shining star of the Fancourt courses is The Links course, which is rated as the best in the country. The course is perhaps the most impressively designed course in South Africa and presents players with a unique and tough South African golfing experience. The land across the golf course is so vast and rolling that it feels like there is a change in elevation at every hole and the course blends effortlessly into its natural landscape. Each hole presents you with a new challenge but you will definitely remember every one, which just shows what an experience you will have. However, there is no doubting that this is an exceptionally tough course with fast greens and lots of rough. The course allows little leeway for wayward shots so if you are a golfer with a high handicap you may find this course a little frustrating. In the area there are some other amazing courses to play such as Oubaai, Simola and Pezula.
Pearl-Valley-Hotel

Another fantastic package to South Africa awaits you at the Pearl Valley Hotel. The hotel, opening soon, will be one of the most luxurious hotels in the area and, when combined with Pearl Valley’s championship golf course, will make for an enchanting stay. The hotel is situated on the Pearl Valley Estate which has stunning scenery. The new hotel will offer luxurious and spacious rooms as well as an onsite restaurant and bar and a large outdoor pool area for guests to enjoy.  If you’d prefer there is an option for you to rent a resident’s lodge, which gives you access to the course as well as the other facilities on site, which is great for golf groups or families.
Pearl-Valley-Golf

Undoubtedly, one of the best things about the new Pearl Valley Hotel is that now you have the opportunity to stay and play one of South Africa’s finest courses – Pearl Valley Golf Course. The course is nestled between the dramatic Simonsberg Mountains and the Berg River Valley. It has been recognised as the Best Conditioned Course in South Africa several years running. The course is a parkland course and has many water hazards which can shake up your round a little if you’re not careful.
Pearl-Valley-Golf-Club

The clubhouse here has a sophisticated atmosphere where you can soak up the beautiful surroundings and enjoy some lovely food and drink.

Enquire now as this new on-site accommodation and golf combination is bound to attract a lot of attention.
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We hope that you enjoyed getting to know a little more about the fantastic packages that await you if you choose to venture out to South Africa…Blog - feedspot

South Africa – truly a World in one Country!

At the far southern tip of the continent of Africa, lies one of the most amazing countries that you will find anywhere on Earth. There are many reasons behind this bold statement and certainly the current strength of the pound against the South African rand is massive plus. Being five times larger than the UK, South Africa has such a breadth and depth to offers its visitors. It certainly a country where you can keep all members of the family or group happy whatever their needs and wants are.

History

If we start with the history of the country which is characterised by racial and political violence, territorial conflict, wars of conquest, and inter-ethnic rivalry, the latter of which still exists to this day. The bush-men (Khoi and San) were the original inhabitants having had roots in the region for millennia with a nomadic lifestyle, and empathy to their environment similar in many ways to the aborigines of Australia. Most of the rest of the population trace their history to later immigration. Africans in South Africa are descendants of migrants from central Africa, who first entered southern Africa about 2,000 years ago. White South African were descendants of later European settlers, mainly from the Netherlands (the Boers), Germany, France and Britain. All have left their mark on the country making it the special place it is. The much used term “Rainbow Nation” was first coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe South Africa after apartheid rule had ended in 1994, and more than 20 years later the country is so different in many ways. As an example, according to the South African Golf Association, the country now has over 450 affiliated golf courses which service more than 125,000 golfers, the majority of the newest ones tend to have been built in the Western Cape.

african-sunset

So with the history lesson finished and us being fully up-to-date on to South Africa today let us discover the regions in more detail. What better place to start than the world famous city of Cape Town, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the south and east. This is Africa’s most southerly point and the convergence of two major oceans close to Cape Town gives it changeable weather patterns that are generally Mediterranean with hot summers and warm but wet winters.

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For the wine fanatics, the Cape region is famous for the wine producing regions including Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek as well as the Karoo, a semi desert region and the Garden Route, an area of coastal vegetation called ‘fynbos’ which is found only in South Africa. The route from George through to Port Elisabeth is known as the ‘Garden Route’ and offers some spectacular scenery and flora especially in their spring which is from late September to early November. This is a must visit location on any itinerary

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 Western_Cape

The Western Cape

As well as being home to the Mother City of Cape Town as mentioned this is included in most itineraries usually at the start or end. As also mentioned the Western Cape is home to the majority of South Africa’s vineyards with such well-known name as Franschhoek (“French Corner”), Paarl and Stellenbosch. A tour to at least one of these areas, with a driver/guide of course, just has to be one of your days out and perhaps the perfect opportunity for a day away from the golf course. Likewise a trip to Boulders Beach to see the penguins, followed by a drive round Chapman’s Peak and a visit to Kirstenbosch also needs to be on your bucket list. But then there is also Bo Kaap, Robben Island, Hout Bay and, of course, Table Mountain.

When it is time to think about getting your clubs out, the golf courses in the province are some of the best in South Africa and offer a challenge to golfers of all standards. And the green fees are such good value!

Just a few miles to the east is the coastal town of Hermanus, famed for its very particular flora, found only in this region, called ‘fynobos’. But is flora is not your thing Hermanus is famed for being the location where the Southern Right Whales come so close to the shore that all you need to do, is sit on the cliff top with a glass of the local produce. If that is still too tame, then take a short trip to Dyer Island and go Great White Shark cage diving. There really is something here for everyone.

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Eastern_Cape

The Eastern Cape

So, that is Cape Town sorted and now is the time to strike out and discover more of the real South Africa. Three choices of quality reveal themselves to the first time visitor. First up, hire a car and drive towards George (it’s scenic in an M4 through Wiltshire sort of way) and the Garden Route unless you cut inland and route through the Karoo. Best visited in their spring (October & November), the region has some quant Cape Dutch homes and beautiful scenery with the lagoon around which Knysna is built being a particular pull.

The golf courses are simply superb, with the likes of Simola, Oubaai and Fancourt courses that you just have to play. Beware Fancourt Links unless you’re serious golfer or your confidence could take a battering.

Head further east through Tsitsikamma and onwards to Port Elizabeth and the malaria free game reserves awaits with names such as Addo, Amakhala and Shamwari, home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant).

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Mpumalanga

Mpumalanga / Limpopo

A two hour flight from Cape Town will take you to Kruger Mpumalanga Intl Airport and another of the major pulls for visitors to South Africa – the Kruger National Park. Named after Paul Kruger who was instrumental in its formation. The park is the size of Wales and borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kruger has such varying topography that there is a habitat all the major animals you can think of and several hundred more besides. You can self-drive and camp in the Kruger, its great fun and very social but I would also advise spending a little bit more for a few days and finding a rustic lodge in one of the many private game reserves that abut the park.

For some relaxation after the early morning safari starts, head west for an hour or two and visit the area around Pilgrim’s Rest, set in the Drakensberg Escarpment, was one of the Transvaal’s goldfields that drew prospectors to the area in the 1870’s. The scenery is the area is simply stunning with hill walking, white water rafting, hang gliding and horse-riding just some of the activities on offer. Your bucket list in this region has to include visiting the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window.

The golf courses in the area are not as plentiful as the other provinces but what is lacked in quantity is made up by their quality. Leopards Creek has views into the Kruger and is arguably the No.1 course in South Africa, whilst further into Limpopo is Legends which houses two courses of such quality that is needs to be on every golfers list of courses to play. And then there’s its famous 19th

hole – not the bar but a 400m Par 3 (yes Par 3). Have you ever taken a helicopter to a tee box? The region is malaria free and being at a higher altitude, your ball will travel further in the thinner air. It is an ideal destination for a golf & safari combination and, now, also to some incredible island and resorts of Mozambique, with direct flights from the Kruger to Vilanculos.

Mpumalanga

Kwa-Zulu-Natal

Kwa Zulu Natal

And finally to an area that in my opinion is the pivotal region in South Africa from a historical viewpoint and my particular favourite. The name itself evokes the history of the region – Kwa means ‘place of’, Zulu after the warrior nation who under King Shaka shaped the nation. Then there’s Natal, a shortened version of Natalia, that the Portugese called the region after landing here on Christmas Day. Nowadays it is usual shortened to just KZN.

The region is where most of the battles that forged the nation of South Africa took place between the Boers, the Zulus and the colonial British. You cannot have not seen the film ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Caine, it was a real engagement and you can visit the site of the battle.  This one has to be on your bucket list.

The Drakensberg Escarpment continues in an arc from Mpumlanga and provides a stunning backdrop to the hinterland of KZN, a place to take a picnic and hill walk, or horse-ride, or mountain bike or fly fish. Or just relax and breathe in the clear crisp mountain air. A trip to Cathedral Peak and Giant’s Castle is a day not wasted.

Inland from Durban the country opens out into the rolling hills of the Midlands, rising up to the Drakensberg Mountains and the land-locked nation of Lesotho. There is so much to do in this province that you’ll never have time to be bored, whether playing on some of the hidden gems of courses, relaxing on a beach, listening to the stories of its colourful past or tasting the wonderful fusion cuisine offered.

Moving to the coast KZN has some of the best beaches in Africa, stretching up from Richards Bay to the Mozambique border with names such as St Lucia, Kosi and Rocktail. These are wild and remote beaches with superb diving and space to relax – but do not think loungers, club sandwiches and waiter service.

The game reserves are some of the oldest in South Africa, home to a wide variety of wild life and quite close to the coast; it is perfectly possible to have a game drive in the morning, a dive in the Indian Ocean on the afternoon and drinks at Lake Sibaya as the sun sets. What a superb day!

Golfers are well catered for with several superb courses, including some championship ones, both north and south of Durban and in the Drakensberg. I would definitely recommend Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Prince’s Grant and Cotswold Downs..

KwaZulu Natal

RovosRail

Rovos Rail

If all the above seems a bit too much like hard work and you instead want the height of luxury then we also have the answer. Since its establishment in 1989, Rovos Rail has rightly earned an international reputation for its world class travel experiences, with discreet, friendly service, supeb cuisine and some of South Africa’s finest wines.

In a series of journeys lasting from 48 hours to 15 days, Rovos Rail links some of the sub-continents greatest destinations from Cape Town at its most southerly tip to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the desert landscapes of Namibia through Kwa Zulu Natal to the wonder that is Victoria Falls. Our personal favourite experience sees the train traverses the spectacular Garden Route to the winelands for a brandy distillery visit and across the Cape Fold Mountains before this magnificent expedition ends in Cape Town. Golfers play Leopard Creek at Kruger, Durban Country Club, Humewood in Port Elizabeth, Fancourt in Knysna & Ernie Els Oubaai in George.

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Whale-Tail-Classic

Whale Tail Classic

Finally, if it some serious competitive golf that takes your fancy then it is with great pleasure that Golf Escapes invite you to the take part in the 2nd Whale Tail Classic, Hosted by Arabella Hotel & Spa, South Africa at the end of September 2016 for 5 wonderful days.

The hotel itself offers the ultimate in five-star luxury and a wealth of leisure and business options. The hotel staff will go out of their way to create a memorable and unique event this September. The fabled 18-hole, Par 72 Championship Arabella Golf Course has once again been ranked number 1 in the Western Cape and Top 5 in South Africa. This rugged stretch of South African coastline snakes along the Atlantic Ocean, with magnificent mountains rising up on the other side. As part of the tournament package, you will have the opportunity to see the region’s namesake – whales – cruising and wallowing in the coastal waters. We envisage guests wanting to add on to this 5-night programme, with pre or post tours to the likes of Cape Town, Fancourt or a safari destination and are happy to provide further details as requested.

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So, that’s our synopsis of South Africa. What more could you ask for, great scenery, stunning diving, challenging golf, endless walking, delicious wines and nation forming history. Want to find out more then get in contact with us today.