Peter & Joan Roberts visit South Africa for the Perfect Holiday!

“Peter and Joan Roberts recently visited South Africa for an exclusive 3 week adventure packed itinerary, meticulously planned down to the last detail by our head of travel, Mandi Johnson-Aliverti, and our Travel Team. They share their incredible experience with us…”

“Peter and Joan Roberts recently visited South Africa for an exclusive 3 week adventure packed itinerary, meticulously planned down to the last detail by our head of travel, Mandi Johnson-Aliverti, and our Travel Team. They share their incredible experience with us…”

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What do you do when you are asked to organize a vacation to South Africa as the last big, self-conducted tour for a couple from Canada who have traveled to 48 different countries, but have not visited South Africa before? Mandi and her group at Travel Concepts were definitely up to the challenge when organizing what turned out to be a spectacular vacation. We wanted to get a diverse experience and see as much as possible so Mandi organized this as a vacation with infinite variety of places to visit, things to do and ways to do it. Not your “out of the brochure” group tour!

 

The “grand old lady of the Falls”, the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel, made for a perfect start to this trip. Edwardian ambiance, English afternoon tea, great meals and staff, plus terrific location, made this hotel a perfect spot to walk the world heritage Victoria Falls. Not to mention the daily visits by the wild warthogs on the lawn, kneeling to graze for their breakfast, with the bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia in the background.

 

A stay for a couple of nights in Johannesburg at the two year old Protea Hotel Fire & Ice, located in Melrose Arch Precinct, provided a great location to start our “private guide and driver” tours of the city and Soweto. There was also the added plus of fashionable retail stores and gourmet restaurants within a safe walk of the hotel.  While touring around Johannesburg, our driver was familiar with the neighbourhoods and took us to visit the local “doctor”.  This tiny pharmacy establishment located on a local shopping street was jammed with every natural medicinal ingredient imaginable, sitting on shelves or hanging from the ceiling. There were even mortars and pestles to grind up the stuff as well as a mummified, dried baboon.  During our tour of Soweto, we also saw what the driver referred to as “cockroaches”. There are hundreds of identical white vans used as taxis coming out of a station outside the largest hospital in South Africa, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. We had a delicious lunch at Sakhumzi Restaurant only a block away from Desmond Tutu’s home in Soweto.

 

Now we were off to what was to supposed to be the highlight of our trip, a safari just outside Kruger.   However, everyplace we visited, every turn in the road, was different and spectacular, so it was impossible to identify an individual highlight on this trip. The stay at Kapama Private Game Park, Karula Luxury Safari Lodge, was exceptional. Not only were we fortunate to see four of the big five game on our first two safaris, but we also stayed in both a luxury tent and a fabulous suite overlooking the river.   We were there for four nights, had a really relaxing time, went on a total of eight game drives plus a bush walk and bathed in the outdoor shower in our room. We even had a surprise, gourmet meal in the bush at night around a blazing fire. Black tie waiters, tablecloths, full cutlery and had to be wary of a hippo that was wandering near. Just fabulous. Not like our safari experience in India.

 

Now it was time to fly to Port Elizabeth to pick up our self-drive car for the Garden Route. Mandi did not just have us drive down the N2 to Cape Town, but we jogged up and down from the coast to inland through some spectacular mountain passes to visit different towns with different features and aspects of the Western Cape. What a drive this would prove to be. The roads are good and well-marked for destinations and we had the excuse to search out little local restaurants for lunch every day all along the way. This alone was worth the drive. One of these little local restaurants was on our first day, the Kitchen Windows, in Jeffrey’s Bay. Difficult to find but well worth it.

 

With many touristy stops on the way, we finally arrived at the beautiful town of Knysna (pronounced ‘naizna’). Our home here for 3 nights was at the Villa Afrikana, owned and operated by Ross and Bianca. What wonderful hosts. They have professionally turned this house into a spectacular small boutique hotel perched high on the hill overlooking the Knysna Heads and bay. The view alone is worth staying here, but the rooms are fabulous and breakfast served on your room balcony in the morning is to die for. You must walk onto Thesen Island and have a Mitchell’s beer where this microbrewery started. Our stay here also allowed side trips to places like Plettenberg Bay and The Crags. Here we had a good lunch at Enrico’s overlooking the surf breaking over the rocks.

 

Now we motor past George and then north through the Oueteniqua pass to the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn.   We then head west on R62 through Montagu to Robertson. There is everything on this drive. Great mountain scenery, beautiful valleys and ostrich farms beside the road. Now Mandi shows us her next secret. The Robertson Small Hotel has all the character of the original home it is based on to provide registration, bar and dining. Then, adjacent behind the main structure, they have added separate, luxury suites which feature a common swimming pool directly off the guest room balconies. Unique and very comfortable.

 

Now we are going back down to the ocean and our stay at the Mosselberg on Grotto Beach Guesthouse in Hermanus. We are welcomed by Linda and again we encounter a unique, well equipped guest house that is lovely.  Next morning, another great breakfast, but we are eating far too much, so we have to cut back. The food is sooooo good!  We did the cliff walk right from our room all of the way from the end of Grotto Beach into the main part of the town of Hermanus. A spectacular walk for 7 kilometers through the bush and along the cliff edge high above the ocean.  It is paved most of the way.  We watched in awe as Southern Right whales played and swam less than 100 meters from the shore.   Luckily I had lots of room on my camera memory card so I could video and photograph these creatures for a long time. What an experience, not once but several times. I think we had the same luck here that we experienced on our safari south of Kruger.  I don’t believe the tourist brochures make enough of this experience. With Linda’s recommendation, we hired a ride back to our hotel in a Tuk Tuk, a 3 wheeled taxi like they use in Bangkok.

  

Now we have to drive back away from the ocean to Franschhoek. Going up the road on the mountain pass we see two youths skateboarding down the highway. They are going faster than the cars. What a rush they must have on this perfect hill. When you get to the top, there is a terrific view down into the valley where Franschhoek is situated.  Here we are staying at a working winery, Auberge Clermont and Vineyard, and have been assigned the honeymoon suite.  The place and staff were wonderful.  You could get your exercise by walking around the Vineyard and we made the farm dogs bark at us every time we went past. We even bought some of the wine the winery produced to carry us through the remainder of our trip.  Franschhoek has a busy, touristy main street loaded with shops, street vendors, souvenir market and lots of restaurant choices.

Now we are headed to our final stop where we will hand in our car. We had trouble locating The Queen Victoria Hotel.   This hotel is so new that it is not on the GPS maps, but we knew it was on the V&A Waterfront.   We finally succeeded after asking for directions from three different people. Mandi had given us very specific directions, under the Portswood Hotel, but you know the “man thing” about asking directions, so the driver ignored this. We check into this great hotel and all is perfect.   This hotel is situated right across the road from the V & A with all of excitement. They also are affiliated with two other hotels and permit transfer of charges between the hotels.  Our second night here we said we would go the Victoria and Alfred Hotel for dinner. They made the reservations, escorted us to the Victoria and Alfred Hotel, introduced us to the maitre’d, and after a fabulous dinner, drove us back in a black Mercedes to our hotel. Service or what!

I don’t need to tell you about all of the things to do and see in Cape Town. The first day, Mandi set up a private guide for a half day tour of Cape Town and Table Mountain. We were fortunate it was a nice day, no clouds. The next day, Mandi had set up to travel to Stellenbosch to visit several wine cellars and wine tastings. We were fortunate to be joined in our van by a couple from England.  This made the tasting so much fun, especially as the day wore on. The wine tasting was a really enjoyable and unique experience for us.  Next day we had all day with Susie. The following day we again had a private guide and driver for our Cape Peninsular tour.

Not only did Mandi set up a perfect holiday, she also has influence with the weather gods. We had sunshine every day except one cloudy day and one day with slight drizzle. Thanks again Mandi and your group for the trip of a lifetime, without any glitches, from those who know what to expect when traveling.  This now puts our different country count visits at 50 and memories we will treasure for a lifetime.