Signature Travel Network’s Educational Journey to South Africa with Rose Gray: Part 2

Rose’s adventure continues as she visits a luxury cliff top resort, goes on a bushwalk through Krugar National Park, sights a feeding leopard and much more.

 March 7 – After a fabulous breakfast, we departed for Hermanus, known for its scenic natural beauty, endless adventure options and the best shore based whale watching in the world (this is seasonal – June through November). Then on to Birkenhead House.  This luxury resort sits high atop a cliff overlooking Walker Bay and is perfect for guests looking for a sea-side experience. Just like La Residence, her sister property, Birkejcnhead’s rooms are all unique and offer eclectic art and furnishings.

After a fabulous lunch, we were on to the Hemel en Aarde Valley for a wine tasting at Creation Wines. This was absolutely delightful and a real treat.  Carolyn Martin, one of the owners, conducted our wine tasting and her stories and insights were an unexpected and very welcome enhancement to the experience. We returned to La Residence where Edward, the general manager, arranged dinner for us even though it was not listed on the itinerary.  He insisted that as guests of the hotel he would never allow us to “purchase” dinner….what a guy.

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March 8 – This morning after an early breakfast, we were transferred to CPT where our group of eight plus the SA representative was split into three groups and continued on to our respective safari lodges. My party of three flew on South African Airlink to Mpumalanga (MQP – Krueger Mpumalanga International Airport). Upon arrival at MQP we were met by a representative who escorted us to our connecting Federal Air flight, a twelve passenger Cessna.

We were welcomed at the bush airstrip by Nico, our guide and Solly, our tracker who were waiting with beverages and snacks and then transferred to our lodge, Singita Lebombo.

Resort 1This lodge offers 15 one bedroom suites which are situated on Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park.  This exclusive concession is 33,000 acres and is located on South Africa’s border with Mozambique. The architecture is wood, steel and organic materials, all encased in glass.  The loft-style suites are perched along the cliffs of the N’wanetsi River and offer spectacular views and complete privacy. Amenities at the lodge include a swimming pool in the main area, spa and fitness facilities as well as a boutique and gallery.  My words cannot do justice to this remarkable lodge (please check out link to website provided).

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March 8, 9 & 10 – Game Drives.  We had four game drives while at Singita; one the evening of March 8, a morning and evening drive on March 9, and a morning drive before our departure on March 10. The morning drives started bright and early with a 5:00am wake up call.  We met our guide, Nico for coffee and some light breakfast snacks and headed out by 5:45am. We met for the evening drives at 4:00pm and departed by 4:45pm. Our open air, eight passenger Land Rover was perfect for wildlife viewing.  There was a “flip down” seat on the front of the vehicle for the tracker but he could easily jump into the front passenger seat, should the need arise (and it did on several occasions).

We had very good luck when it came to wildlife viewing; sightings included elephant, giraffe, Cape Buffalo, impala, baboon, warthog, kudu, hyena, lion, hippopotamus, zebra, waterbuck, wildebeest, and numerous birds. But the most exciting and special sighting for me occurred on the morning drive on our last day. Everybody who travels to South Africa is hoping to see the “Big 5” – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant.  By the last day, we had seen three of the Big five: lions, elephants, and buffalo.  Nico told us that a rhino sighting was probably not a possibility based on reports from the other guides, but that a leopard sighting was not impossible.

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As we boarded the Land Rover for our final game drive on that last morning, we could sense the determination of our tracker, Solly.  He spoke very little during our three previous game drives, choosing instead to communicate with Nico via hand signals. And when he did speak to Nico, he used his native language, Sotho. But today he was more talkative and spoke in English. He let us know that he had been talking to some of the other trackers and he had a good idea where to look for the elusive leopard.  We drove the perimeter of the reserve and then ventured into an area where a vehicle like the Land Rover was essential; this was a true off-road experience. Solly’s eyes were glued to the terrain in front of us. As we slowly descended into a dried up creek bed, Nico gave us the “keep quiet” sign, stopped the vehicle about ten yards from a tree and pointed up.  There, somewhat concealed by the branches and leaves, was a female leopard, enjoying her previous night’s kill.  We stayed and watched her for about twenty minutes and it was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my life. 2

March 10 – We returned to the lodge after our morning drive, finished packing, had a hearty breakfast and then it was time to say good bye to Nico, Solly and all of the wonderful staff at Singita.  We were transferred to the airstrip and boarded our Federal Air flight back to MQP and our South African Airlink connection to Johannesburg. Upon arrival we were transferred to the Saxon Hotel Villas and Spa, our accommodations for our last night in South Africa.

This all-suite hotel is set on ten acres of land in a residential area of Johannesburg but is fully shuttered to provide total privacy. Each suite features HD satellite TV, Blu-ray DVD players with a movie library, lap tops with complimentary WiFi, and a high quality surround sound music system.

We had a great time at dinner that night trading safari stories and exchanging information about the lodges that each group was assigned to.

March 11 – breakfast this morning was followed by a Business Forum or “Educational within an Educational” as Signature Travel Network calls it.  This was a very informative three hour session where hoteliers and other suppliers had fifteen minutes to share their information with us. After lunch we visited the Apartheid Museum which gave us one final opportunity to share in and experience South African’s history and culture.

We said good bye to our wonderful African Travel guide, Michael, checked in at the South African Airways ticket counter, spent about three hours in their Business Class Lounge and then boarded our non-stop flight to JFK.  This trip was truly outstanding and ranks in the top three trips of my life!!

http://www.saxon.co.za/

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Signature Travel Network’s Educational Journey to South Africa with Rose Gray

Signature Travel Network’s Educational Journey to South Africa Sponsored by South African Airways and African Travel ~ March 1 – 12, 2015 Rose Gray

March 2 – Our adventure began as we flew from JFK to Johannesburg in Business Class and then JNB to Cape Town in Economy Class on South African Airways. The front-facing business class seats were configured 2 x 2 x 2 and reclined fully into a flat bed. The mattress pads, full size pillows and duvets made the seats/flat beds very comfortable.  The latest movies and TV shows were available on demand on a personal twelve inch screen. Ala carte dining was offered as well as a selection of South African wines; both were quite good.

March 3 – Upon arrival in CPT, we were met and transferred to our hotel,  Resort 1Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.  Due to our delayed flight, we would be staying one night which was unfortunate because it would have been nice to take advantage of all that this luxury hotel has to offer. The hotel has six individual accommodation wings, each with its own unique character, private gardens and facilities. The 201 spacious rooms and suites are individually decorated.

Mount Nelson rooms_02 Junior Suite1My deluxe junior suite was located in the Helmsley, one of three buildings that were acquired, restored and converted into guest accommodations in 1996.  It was the site of the first Jewish Synagogue in Cape Town.

Fun Fact – Cape Town was the hottest place on earth on March 3, the day we arrived; 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Dassie
Dassie

After freshening up, we were transferred to the cable car which would transport us to the top of Table Mountain. We were lucky to have been able to experience Table Mountain on this day, as there were wildfires that were still burning which had caused the cable car to stop operating several days prior to our arrival. We spent about an hour hiking, enjoying the views, and checking out the wildlife including lizards and dassies, a cute little African rodent (dassie translates to badger in Dutch).

March 4 – After an early breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and had an orientation tour of Cape Town.  After lunch we took a tour to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years in prison. This prison 2island is now a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Access to the island is via ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The tour was quite moving as all guides are former political prisoners and their stories and commentary contributed to the experience. Photos and stories hung on many of the cell walls, describing the inmate who occupied that cell and his “crimes”.  It was especially emotional to see the narrow cell where Mandela spent 18 years and the limestone quarry where he and his fellow prisoners worked in the hot sun.

We were scheduled to have an afternoon free, however, Thompson’s Africa was able to re-schedule the helicopter ride that we were supposed to have on our first day, so we transferred to the V & A Waterfront where we all enjoyed a 15 minute helicopter flip and got a bird’s eye view of the sights and grandeur of Cape Town.

resort 2Next we were transferred to the One and Only Cape Town, our accommodations for the next two nights. This unique 5 Star hotel is truly an urban waterfront resort in the heart of Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront. The Marina Rise is a seven-story resort which affords marvelous views of Table Mountain and Signal Hill from spacious rooms and suites. Or you can choose to stay in one of the 40 Island Suites which are

March 5 – After breakfast, our Thompson Tour Guide, Michael and driver, Wally, collected us for a spectacular day of touring and exploring the pristine coastline and quaint towns of pn“The Fairest Cape”. We drove past the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton and then made our way along the coast, past Bakoven and Llandudno to the charming fishing village of Hout Bay, a functioning harbor and the heart of the local crayfish industry. Here we boarded a boat to Duiker Island to view the Cape Fur Seal colony. From here, we traveled to Chapman’s Peak Drive and then on to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where we spotted mountain zebra, bontebok (a South African antelope) and baboons. Next we visited the beautiful Boulders Beach where we spent time observing and photographing the colony of penguins there.

Our next stop was The Flagship.  This unusual four bedroom B & B is known for its fabulous interactive seafood lunch which we were fortunate enough to enjoy. Chef Bruce Robertson was known for his support of sustainable fishing and the new host, Duncan Doherty who took over after Chef Bruce’s recent passing, is carrying on in that same way. This truly was one of the most memorable and delicious meals that I have enjoyed in my lifetime.

12A-Accom-Presidential-002-1400x568After lunch, we returned to the One and Only Hotel where we had just enough time to freshen up before departing for The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa for a site inspection, “sundowners” (the South African equivalent of happy hour) and dinner. This Red Carnation Hotel features two swimming pools, a sixteen seat cinema, a helipad, fitness room, complimentary wifi throughout and complimentary shuttle service to the V & A Waterfront.  There are 70 rooms here ranging from Classic Rooms to One Bedrooms Suites and they are all elegantly appointed.

March 6LaR_room11_021After breakfast and check out, we traveled through the beautiful wine lands to the charming town of Stellenbosch. We took a walking tour of this old university town which the tourist board offered called Bites and Sites.  This was a great way to see the town and to sample some of the great food and wine offered here. Then it was on to Franschhoek Valley and La Residence (one of the hotels in The Royal Portfolio collection), our home for the next two nights, situated on a 30 acre estate. We arrived in time for lunch. Each one of the sixteen suites is uniquely decorated with its own theme and color scheme. La Residence also enjoys a reputation for its superb cuisine and this reputation is richly deserved. Both lunch and dinner were exceptional and the wine pairings were outstanding.

Stay tuned for part 2 of Rose’s South African Adventure to be posted next week!