Friday, May 01, 2009

Nelson Mandela Bay

Nelson Mandela Bay, originally uploaded by FlashyThingy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Kruger Park video features in You Tube Video Awards 2007

Last year I picked up a Kruger Park video on YouTube that was truly special. Clearly the YouTube community was of the same conviction as it was voted by the YouTube community as the best video of 2007 in the 'Eyewitness' category. The video was shot by American tourists on 'safari' in the Kruger Park. The sequence it documents is quite extraordinary. It features a unique encounter between lion, buffalo (a herd and a particular calf...) and even a lone crocodile - for more watch the clip below.

While very few people will ever witness this kind of wildlife spectacle in real life, it should be noted that it was filmed in a national park, The Kruger, rather than a private game reserve. While the latter will normally provide a much better wildlife experience, at a price, visitors who can't afford the private reserve option is not excluded from excellent wildlife sightings - as the video proves (at time other private vehicles can be seen at the bottom edge of the screen).

To view the other video clip winners click on the heading above, for Inside South Africa's selection from the winning video's go here.

Some accounts from visitors to the Kruger Park
  • Attie Heunis (Feb 2008)

    "...As expected it was a great trip. And yes; we did see the big 5. My personal highlight was a leopard which we saw on our last drive of the trip! Before this I had never seen a leopard in the wild in South Africa. He was very close to us - in fact he was so close that my 500mm lens wouldn’t focus! Despite this temporary setback we took some great photos..."

    More impressions from Attie here, Attie's photographs here.

  • South African National Parks website - unidentified user (March 2007)

    "...Within five kilometres, we had seen four of the “Big Five”! Three prides of lions, three leopards, hundreds of elephants, a few buffalo and a rhino. What a day! What an amazing way to end our fantastic, never to be forgotten, trip to the Kruger National Park.I love this place and hope we can plan another trip in the not too distant future..."

    More here.

  • David Fischer, a birder from Australia (way back in March 1997!)

    "Pafuri was full of birds. Around the borders of the picnic grounds, we heard and then saw Hueglin's Robins, Terrestrial Bulbuls, and a Wattleyed Flycatcher. An immature Crowned Eagle perched in a treetop on the opposite side of the river for nearly 30 minutes before vanishing into the forest. As the temperature climbed, vultures were seen rising in the thermals. While watching a Whiteheaded Vulture, we noticed several swifts which then dropped down to the river. These proved to be Bohm's Spinetails, a species which appears to be almost tailless. We heard alot of splashing in the river below us but initially could not see the source of the commotion. Eventually, a crocodile drifted into view and it was in the process of crushing what appeared to be a large catfish."

    For a detailed trip report on the amazing number of species they spotted during their trip, go here.

  • Amcan Travel staffers (Dec 2003)

    "...The wildlife experience in the park was so fascinating that we devoted almost all our waking hours to viewing animals. On our last full day in the park, we started out early, driving slowly on the dirt roads generally southward. We saw many more impalas, zebras, and buffalo. As experienced viewers, we didn't stop so often to observe the herds of impala.

    Barbara was not able to get over the beauty of the giraffes. To her, they are the epitome of elegance and grace, all long necks and legs moving in a slow and deliberate manner. She believed all the top models must have had giraffe training. For Richard, every time we saw wildbeeste (also known as gnu, apparently after a sound they make), he would belt out a silly song, changing Billy Holiday’s "What’s New" to "What’s Gnu?" The highlight of the day was spotting a lion couple relaxing after enjoying a meal of fresh gnu meat (photo, lion). We drove very slowly past them, lying in the shade less than 10 feet from us...."

    For more go here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

'World's best hotel' & more for South Africa in internet survey

There are many lists of top 10 and top 100 tourism destinations and establishments in the world. All are subjective and skewed in one way or another. However, it is really encouraging to see South African destinations and establishments consistently featuring in these lists.

The latest accolades appear in the results of a internet survey by Travel & Leisure Magazine (see article below). Once again South Africa shines, with Singita Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand having been voted as the world's best hotel. Cape Town was voted into the top ten "best tourism cities'. Remarkably it pushed New York down to seventh place, taking over its 2005 berth at no.6.

The marvel that is Singita
I am not surprised that Singita was rated so highly, although I'm sure other places on the list are probably equally deserving (it's the nature of this type of exercise). As a member of the tourism industry I get to 'sample' various products that our country has to offer. My wife and I stayed overnight at Singita in September 2003.

Perfect location in Sabi Sand
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve, within which Singita is located, consists of various large private reserves. All of these reserves have open borders to each other, i.e. no fencelines. Crucially Sabi Sand also has a 50km open border with the massive Kruger National Park. This means that it is part and parcel of a conservation area of approx. 20 000 square kilometers. Animals that you observe during your stay may literally have walked a few hundred kilometers to cross your path. The fact that some of the other reserves in Sabi Sand also feature in the top 100 list, e.g. Mala Mala and Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserves, bears testimony to the quality of Sabi Sand in general.

Excellent wildlife (leopards galore)
First and foremost visiting a game lodge / reserve is all about the wilderness experience. If that is not up to scratch no amount of luxury in accommodation will ever remedy the situation. Singita provides a wilderness experience that is equal to anything else in Africa. Of course, various regions do have their own attraction to visitors. The Sabi Sand reserves are located in the Mpumalanga Lowveld. This means that the veld mostly consist of acacia thorn tree interspersed with other medium-sized and some large trees. Open grassland occur in-between. This is not the open Savannah country of East Africa.

In a three night stay at any of the lodges in the area your chances of tracking down all of the big five is excellent. Where Sabi Sand beats any other wilderness area hands down, is the frequency of leopard sightings. I cannot remember a visit to any of the lodges in the area where I did not get to view these magnificent creatures up close. Elsewhere visitors may, if they are lucky, catch a quick glance or a leopard before it disappears from view. The experience is worth traveling half-way around the globe for (although fortunately its but a 2-hour flight away for me...).

We chance upon an unheard of spectacle
By far the best Leopard sighting I have ever had was at Singita. Granted, luck plays a big role and I could have had this experience in one of the neighboring reserves as well. We were out on a game drive when our ranger received a message over his two-way radio. I could not hear the voice-traffic, but I imagine it must have been something like 'get your guests over here NOW!!'. We joined one other vehicle with a third arriving soon thereafter. At Singita a maximum of three vehicles are allowed at any sighting -although your vehicle is mostly on its own-, as exclusivity is part of the appeal of the place. However, this sighting was so special that with the consensus of the guests a fourth was allowed in.

What we witnessed is extremely rare... I have in fact never heard of a similar occurrence. In front of the vehicles, which were spaced over about 80 meters in the bush, a huge dominant leopard male was patrolling from one side to the other - interrupting the awed silence from time to time with a surprisingly loud and intimidating growl, delivered in a bark-like fashion. In the tree line beyond the parading leopard, chased up and cornered in different trees, were four frightened leopard... Five leopards in one sighting! I had to check if I wasn't dreaming. You may not be aware of this, but apart from leopard being very difficult to track, they are not pack animals at all. In fact, leopards are the consummate loners. They only meet up to mate and females look after their young, normally one or two cubs, only until they're ready to face life on their own (which happens within a short time).

Seeing so many leopard in one go could be called absurd, but we were too busy drooling to ponder on such thoughts. As the dominant leopard would reach the one end of its patrol path the leopard furthest from it would carefully escape from it's tree and tip toe in a direction directly opposite to the offending beast. However, it would not go unnoticed for long. If lucky it made it to the next tree, going up to a safe corner like a rocket - with the muscle house in hot pursuit. It was incredible to see the dominant leopard launch itself three to four meters into the air as it jumped up a tree trunk in pursuit of the escapee. As it reached the incredible height and touched the tree trunk, it allowed gravity to pull it back to earth, forming a majestic arc. The moment it hit the ground it would immediately head back in the direction it came from, less the other leopard may believe they've been let off.

I have no idea how long the show lasted, but I would not have minded if it lasted all day. Eventually all of the cornered leopard managed to get out of danger's way. We followed one as it slowly followed a small stream to wherever it was heading. It was a female that has recently raised two cubs. Our game ranger's theory for the extraordinary occurrence was as follows.

A young male leopard probably managed to trespass onto the huge male's territory. The latter had to enforce his dominance and protect its territory. The former was chased up a tree, accompanied by intimidating and loud growling. The two teenage leopard, who recently left their mother (the leopard we were no following), heard the commotion. As it typical with younger ones of all species, their curiosity got the better of them. Two more leopard ended up in separate trees... Lastly the female also heard the noise and probably recognised scampering frightened noises from her offspring. She inspected the scene... Walla - four leopard in separate trees with a raging maniac patrolling beneath. To be there when nature contrived this extra special show was an incredible honour.

The 'hotel' bit
In a survey as the one that awarded Singita you have to call the Game Reserve / Lodges something, although calling the destination a hotel does not do justice to what Singita is about. First and foremost it is a wilderness experience. The architecture of the accommodation and general facilities at Singita focus on the outside, keeping its occupants close to nature throughout. Virtually everything at the lodge is arranged and designed to maximise the experience of nature.

For us the highpoint of the lodge itself was our suite. The Lodge is in fact two neighboring lodges, approx. 300m apart, called Singita Boulders & Singita Ebony. We stayed in the former. However, they're virtually mirror images of each other. Boulders is slightly more modernistic and Ebony's interiors slightly English colonial. Both lodges are thatched and both have 9 suites.

The suites are very private and are reached by wooden boardwalks. Ours was at the far end to the east of Boulders. You enter your suite, more like a villa, from the back, which enhances privacy (it faces away from the lodge). Each suite features, amongst other things, a lounge area with fire place, a room with a modern four-poster bed and a large bathroom - all glass fronted and facing the bush across a outdoor wooden deck. Most 5-star lodges I get to visit features an outdoor splash pool, like a deep jacuzzi without the water jets. At Singita it's really more like a small infinity pool (swimming pool). The deck also features deck chairs, an outside 'mattress" and outdoor shower. Features inside the glass-fronted suite includes a stocked mini-bar, room safe, remote-control climate control, ceiling fans, telephone, his and her vanity slabs and more.

The biggest thrill of the suites? The fact that wildlife can walk past right in front of you. We saw a huge family of elephant walk leisurely past in the riverbed below.

Meals are superb and the service excellent. I could continue for pages about the facilities on offer. Suffice to say that it includes an indoor and outdoor dining area, a very impressive gym and spa, a general swimming pool, a relaxed lounge area, a wine cellar and library. The main thing is that you experience the African wilderness up close, but pampered in luxury.

Is it worth it?
Having read the above, you already know my answer. For those who can afford the hefty price tag, which I can't..., I not only recommend the experience - I urge you not to let it pass you by. This is a must-do for anyone who can afford it!

Singita's lodges in the Kruger Park is also exceptional, but more on them at a later stage. I will also write a lot on Cape Town in this blog at a later stage. It is a very special city. One visit will never suffice, it's the kind of destination that always draws you back for another visit.

Singita voted top hotel in the world: "Cape Town - Singita Private Game Reserve
in Sabi Sands has been voted as the world's best hotel, while Cape Town ranked
among the top ten 'best tourism cities', according to an internet survey conducted by Travel & Leisure Magazine.

Cape Town was ranked sixth worldwide in the travel magazine's annual survey for 2006 on tourism criteria such as sights, culture and arts, restaurants/food, people, shopping and value for money. Florence topped the list, followed by Rome, Bangkok, Sydney and Chinag Mai in fifth place. Cape Town replaced New York, which ranked eighth is this year's survey. Buenos Aires was rated 7th, Beirut 9th and San Francisco 10th.

Travel & Leisure, a publication of American Express Publishing Corporation, also ranked four other South African hotels on the list of the top 100 hotels in the world. They are MalaMala Game Reserve, Sabi Sands (32); Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal (45); Cape Grace, Cape Town (52) and Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sands (97).

Cape Town was also ranked as the number one city in Africa and the Middle East, followed by Beirut, Jerusalem, Marrakesh and Morocco."

Monday, July 31, 2006

Flickr pics up and running

Cape Town city bowl, originally uploaded by InsideSouthAfrica.

I've just created a Flickr account. It's purpose will be to support the image side of this blog, as well as providing an outlet for my creative side. This is the first picture from that account to be blogged. It was taken during a visit to Cape Town earlier this month.

The picture captures a view of the Cape Town city bowl as seen from the lower station of the Table Mountain Cable Way. It was taken mid-morning and a light mist is moving through the city. Beyond the city you can see some of the Cape Town harbour breakwalls.

An exploration drilling platform was anchored in the harbour for maintenance (the tower-like shape at the left-back of the city bowl). The V&A Waterfront is located along the basin to the left of the drilling tower.

Beyond the harbour you can see Table Bay. The shoreline on the far side is home, to amongst others, Bloubergstrand. The latter is Afrikaans for 'Blue Mountain Beach', referring to the stunning views of Table Mountain to be had from there. Robben Island lies just out of picture on the left, a 30-minute boat cruise from the harbour.

This image provides but a small sample of what makes Cape Town so special.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Inside South Africa: Johannesburg Rises Above Its Apartheid Past - New York Times

This is the second blog I've started. The first was started late in June and is also still in its infancy. I posted the topic below in that blog before I decided on this second blog. It really should have been posted here. If you're interested in what follows below, follow the link for the rest of the posting and a link to the New York Times article... I'm hoping to complete this blog's template during the weekend. Original postings to follow soon!

Inside South Africa: Johannesburg Rises Above Its Apartheid Past - New York Times: "Johannesburg Rises Above Its Apartheid Past - New York Times
I'm a great fan of the New York Times (NYT) - online edition. Their articles are often on the long side, but very informative. While some may be put off by the fact that the NYT definitely caters for Democrats (as in supporters of the USA's Democratic Party), it mostly provides ample exposure for various conflicting opinions on the same issue - where applicable.

As a South African, active in our tourism industry, I'm always very curious to read foreign perspectives on our product in general, or specific attractions / destinations within South Africa or the greater region (Southern Africa).

Sometimes, with some of the enquiries we get at Africa Deluxe Tours for South African tours, potential clients will clearly state that they want to avoid Johannesburg at all cost. This is due to their perceptions of it being a very dangerous destination, because of high crime levels.

Truth be told, it can indeed be a very dangerous place - especially if you don't know it. We normally recommend visitors to include Johannesburg in their itineraries (depending on what they want to get out of their travels of course), but that they make use of a reputable operator in doing so. Otherwise they may well run into trouble. The main reason for using a reputable operator, in this case, has to do with safety considerations. However, a tourist guide -if (s)he's worth his salt- will also add a lot of value in unlocking an unknown city for you. This is especially true of a destination like Soweto (part of Johannesburg), which features a culture and way of life alien to most non-African visitors."