Monday, March 31, 2014

James Blunt Live in Concert in South Africa

Its exciting news to hear that James Blunt is coming to South Africa as part of his 'Some kind of Trouble World Tour'. James Blunt will be playing on the 24th August 2014 at the ICC Durban Arena and on the 26th August at the Coca Cola Dome in Johannesburg. This is terrific news and follows on from other international artists that have played in South Africa this year including U2 and Neil Diamond.

It is really great to see artists such as James Blunt choosing South Africa as part of their World Tour. His latest album 'Some Kind of Trouble' has seen him team up with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder in terms of songwriting and James is really looking forward to getting back out on the road and infront of his fans. Tickets for these concerts can be obtained from Computicket.

If you are looking for accommodation for either of these events check out where2stay-southafrica.
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Friday, March 28, 2014

South Africa upgrades its Establishment Grading System

South Africa's Minister of Tourism has launched a new star grading system for accommodation establishments across South Africa. The new star grading system is an update to the current system which was introduced in 2002. Over the last three years the current system has delivered a world class standard in grading accommodation and provided visitors with a real level of comfort in booking accommodation for their holidays.

The new star grading system which was unveiled by Marthinus van Schalkwyk at the Kind Edward Hotel and Forest Hall Guest House in Port Elizabeth will increase the grading criteria and minimum requirements for establishments. The grading system is managed by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) and is an official measure of an establishments quality assurance. The changes to the new grading system will ensure that South Africa provides tourists with a promise of quality when booking their holiday accommodation. It will also ensure that South Africa remains a key destination for international visitors. The Minister of Tourism's aim is also to maintain South Africa as world leaders in terms of quality assurance.

Look out for the Star Grading on all venue listings on where2stay-southafrica.
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SPCA Carols by Candlelight in George, Western Cape

The annual SPCA Carols by Candelight is taking place on 2 December 2014 in George at the Hyatt Regency Oubaai Golf Resort & Spa.  This year’s event will be filled with caring and love as the proceeds of the event will be donated to the Garden Route branch of the SPCA to further the incredible work they are doing in our Eden District to educate people and assist animals in need.

The loving and dedicated staff members at the Garden Route SPCA are passionate about finding the right home for their furry, scaly or feathery friends and regularly place pictures of adoptable cuddle buddies in local newspapers. These critters have so much love to give and simply need to find the right home and the right people to take care of them.

What better way to shine a light on the plight of these poor deserted or abused animals than with caroling at candlelight at one of the South Cape’s most beautiful hotels, the Hyatt Regency Oubaai Golf Resort & Spa. The evening will be filled with entertainment and candlelit loveliness, accompanied by the lyrical prowess of Voldi George and the South Cape Children’s Choir conducted by Jan-Erik Swart.

Most of us grew up listening to “How much is that doggy in the window?”, and at one time or another we were all that little boy or girl, face pressed against the window of a pet shop, arm tugging on mom or dad’s coattails, and eyes mirroring the look of the puppy eyes staring from the other side. It was never about the “brand new” sticker or the label on the collar. It was the heart connection that made the question irresistible.

If you are considering giving a pet as gift this Christmas, visit the Garden Route SPCA in George at Ossi Urban Road, Tamsui Industria or contact them on 044 878 1990. How amazing would it not be to see all the little faces in homes filled with love this Christmas? Make a heart connection and come and light a candle for caring on 2 December at the Hyatt Regency Golf Resort & Spa.

Tickets are available at the event at R20 per person and include a candle. No bookings are necessary, so bring one and all so the merriment can increase whilst making a difference to the SPCA’s reach in the Garden Route. Pet gifts are welcome!

For more information contact the Hyatt Regency Oubaai Golf Resort & Spa on 044 851 1234.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Things I love about South Africa

Having moved to South Africa last year I thought it was time I shared my top 03 things that I love about living here. Living very close to the Indian Ocean on the Eastern Cape the deep sea fishing is fantastic. Sadly I cant go as often as I would like because of work but every time I go its always great fun. Generally there are three or four of us that go deep sea fishing off of the Port Alfred Coast. We normally leave early around about 6h30am and fish for about 6 hours or so depending upon how lucky we are at catching ! Of course there is nothing better than the taste of freshly caught fish cooked that evening.

Second on my list is walking our dogs on the endless sandy beaches. Our miniature schnauzers absolutely love running up and down the enormous sand dunes and then playing in the waves. Dudley, the grey one in the photo, generally tires himself out so much that we some times have to pick him up on the way back. The best time of day for a walk is first thing in the morning or late afternoon. You can't beat paddling along in the waves while your dogs wears themselves out. Walking back home watching the sunset infront of you is just pure delight and a perfect end to any day.
Third on my list is the view from our offices which overlooks Port Alfred Marina. You never tire of staring out across the marina on a sunny day watching the boats come and go. The marina even has its very own seal - Sammy the Seal - which can be seen frequently playing in the marina. Just the other week a dolphin was even spotted swimming around the waters. The marina is a real tourist attraction in Port Alfred with a number of charter boats taking people up the Kowie River or out to sea to fish.

Next up is the traditional Braai - of course where I came from it was known as a BBQ but to be honest a Braai is a very traditional and social activity in South Africa. We often get together with family or friends to enjoy a Braai. I have to say that the quality of meat on offer here is of a much higher quality than I was used to in the UK and our local butcher supplies excellent steaks, sausages, boerwors and ribs. Its just lovely to sit together outside enjoying a few drinks and the amazing smells coming from the Braai.

South Africa is a country rich in wildlife with an abundance of Game Reserves with a range of accommodation options. There are Game Reserves to be found all over South Africa and not just in provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The Eastern Cape now has some of the best private Game Reserves in South Africa. Its great to be able to just plan a short trip to stay on one of these as we did recently at Pumba Private Game Reserve situated between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. I never seem to tire of seeing the magnificent Big 5 in their natural surroundings and feel very lucky to be able to do so.

South Africa is a country full of natural wonders such as Table Mountain, the Drakensberg Mountains, Cape Point, the Garden Route, Cape Winelands and many more. Its a joy and a pleasure to be able to visit these wonders and to share these with friends and family that visit us. There are many great hiking trails and walks that pass through some of the most beautiful countryside and include some spectacular views.

For more travel advice on where to stay, what to do and what to see in South Africa visit Where2Stay-SouthAfrica.
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Prince and Duchess to visit South Africa

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be visiting South Africa next month which intends to take in a number of visits to local and community projects. The Prince of Wales is now the president of the WWF in the UK and his visit to South Africa is intended to focus on the work of the WWF in its fight against fragile ecosystems and the protection of endangered species. They arrive for their visit on the 2nd November and
will be staying for about a week. During their tour they will be visiting townships and community projects across South Africa. The Duchess will also be going to see some of the child literacy programmes as well. The royal couple's tour of South Africa will include visits to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal. Their tour is timed to take place just before the start of the Durban Climate Summit.
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Saturday, March 15, 2014

There's more to South Africa Game Reserves than just visiting Kruger National Park

We visited Pumba Private Game Reserve and Spa for a weekend in March 2014. Pumba Private Game Reserve is the 3rd largest privately owned Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. We drove from our offices in Port Alfred taking the Alicedale turnoff on the N2 between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth. Pumba Game Reserve is signposted off to the right off the Alicadale Road.  As you turn into Pumba you follow a gravel road for about 1km and then take a left into the entrance to Pumba.  Once through the gates there is a further track leading up to the Main Lodge at Pumba. As you head up to the Main Lodge you will start to see animals immediately with Blesbuck, Warthog and Blue Wildebeest grazing close to your track.

Pumba Main Lodge is an impressive thatched set of buildings joined by wooden paths. Pumba has two lodges the Msenge Bush Lodge and the Pumba Water Lodge where we were staying. The Pumba Water Lodge has the advantage of overlooking a beautiful lake which each cottage can enjoy from their balcony. The lake is a haven for birds, a variety of buck and of course the hippo which you can see and hear grunting in the lake. Occasionally these lumbering giants will come out of the water close to your accommodation which is an amazing sight. We even caught sight of a giant tortoise across the other side of the lake as well as two of the white rhino that roam around.

We went on four game drives during our stay at Pumba which were a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Our guide was called Peter and he had recently joined Pumba after working at Amakhala Game Reserve. Morning game drives started at 01h30 and finished at approximately 02h30. After each game drive you are welcomed back at the lodge with a hot or cold towel to freshen up along with drinks in evening. On each of the game drives there is a chance to stop and have a hot drink in the mornings and a sundowner on the evening drives. Pumba Private Game Reserve has a lovely relaxed feel to it along and along with the Big 5 that are on offer to see here it makes for a real alternative to travelling up to Limpopo to Kruger National Park. Pumba has white lions as well as normal lion and we were lucky enough to see the male and female who are simply magnificent. Late on during one of our evening game drives we caught sight of four Bat Eared foxes which is quite a rare sighting.

Evenings at Pumba are so relaxing as you sit and eat your delicious dinner whilst looking over the lake. A warm fire is always on the go and creates a lovely atmosphere. We got to know our fellow travellers on our game drives and on our last evening we enjoyed dinner together. It was lovely to exchange stories of other trips whilst listening to the hippos grunting in the lake below us.

The accommodation at Pumba Water Lodge is first class with lots of space, a large balcony and even a plunge pool to enjoy. There is an excellent choice of Game Reserves in South Africa and Pumba in the Eastern Cape offers a real alternative to the more traditional Kruger Reserves. For more information on South Africa and what to see and where to stay visit where2stay-southafrica
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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Top Ten Natural Wonders of South Africa

Cape Winelands
Exploring the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape of South Africa is an indulging affair. The sheer number of Wine Farms and Wine Estates on offer is a treat for any budding wine connoisseur. The Winelands are located in a beautiful setting with undulating hills and imposing mountains particularly around Franschhoek. Vinyards stretch across the land hugging the bottom of the hills creating a patchwork of neat parallel lines.  The Franschhoek Mountains are not to be missed first thing in the morning as you will often see the clouds dripping over the mountain tops like a huge tablecloth.  Many people of course visit the famous Wine Estates of Boschendal, Laborie, Spier and Simonsig to name just a few but it is well worth exploring some of the smaller and lesser well know wineries. There are some excellent restaurants in the Winelands serving some delicious food and places like Franschhoek have a number of the Top 50 restaurants in South Africa located there.

Garden Route
Probably one of the most visited areas of South Africa after Cape Town the Garden Route stretches for 200km from Mossel Bay all the way up to Plettenberg Bay. There are two sides to the Garden Route – one is the well-developed coastal resort towns like Knysna, George and Plettenberg Bay while the other is the wilder areas such as Tsitsikamma and Wilderness and the famous Otter Trail which runs along the coast through the Tsitsikamma National Park. The main N2 road takes you through the Garden Route crossing bridges over rivers that flow down from the mountains to the north and passing through lush forests. To really see the Garden Route though you will need to take detours off the N2 and down towards the sea discovering places such as Nature’s Valley and Victoria Bay. This whole area is teeming with things to do such as the famous Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jump which is the highest commercial jump in the world. At Tsitsikamma you can enjoy a Canopy Tour through the indigenous forest or take a zipline ride over waterfalls. Other popular things to do are horse-riding, abseiling, mountain biking and hiking.

If you are into walking or hiking then the dramatic Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal are simply not to be missed. Stretching for 032 miles this impressive mountain range has become hugely popular with mountain climbers. The best time to visit is between May and September when the weather is dry and despite snow on the highest peaks the temperatures are still quite warm. Probably one of the most popular areas to visit in the area is the Royal Natal National Park which has over 80 miles of walking trails. The walks here are set against a stunning backdrop of the Amphitheatre created from an impressive rock wall that stretches across the skyline for about 4km. Other highlights include the famous Cathedral Peak where after hiking the 6km to reach the top you will be rewarded with some of the most stunning views of the Drakensberg.

Addo National Elephant Park
We have visited Addo National Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape a few times now and never tire of seeing these amazing creatures in such wonderful surroundings. There are over 500 elephants in a park that covers over 30,000 acres as well as lion, rhino, buffalo, leopard plus many others.  The great thing about Addo National Elephant Park is that you can drive yourself around. You are provided with a map when you enter the park and they will also tell you where various animals have been spotted that day. There are a number of water holes in the park that are a great place to spot animals. The park also has a special braai (BBQ) area set aside with places to braai, sit and eat. All you need to do is bring along some charcoal and some food and drink. Just watch out for the monkeys while you are there as they are very cheeky and will steal your food!

The Whale Coast
South Africa has some of the best whale watching opportunities in the whole world and the great thing is you don’t even have to go out on a boat to do it! The coastline which stretches from near Kleinmond all the way up the Western Cape coast to the De Hoop Nature Reserve is known as the Whale Coast.  From about July to October each year up to nine different whale species frequent the Indian Ocean waters off this coastline many to come and calve and then to rear their young. The most common type of whale you will see is the Southern Right Whale which is common to the Cape Town area. Hermanus has become world famous for visitors being able to stand on the cliff paths and watch these amazing creatures out to sea and even has its own annual Hermanus Whale Festival. However for perhaps a less crowded experience why not head to either the De Hoop Nature Reserve or De Kelders which are considered to provide even better places to watch the whales.

Namakwa (formally known as Namaqualand)
For something a little bit different why not travel out to the arid north-west corner of the Northern Cape of South Africa. From late July to November each year this normally arid region explodes into life with a sea of colourful flowers that can stretch for miles. This area of South Africa is best explored from the comforts of a 4x4 to fully appreciate the scenery. Springbok which is actually the capital of Namakwa is probably the most suitable place from which to base yourself as it has many of the amenities you require when on holiday. What is normally a sleepy part of South Africa truly comes to life with the large number of visitors that flock to the area during flower season. North of Springbok is the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park where with a 4x4 you can discover some of the most beautiful scenery to be found in Namakwa. The rugged terrain and wild flowers during the flower season attract many keen botanists.

Augrabies Falls National Park
After visiting Namakwa why not then move further north to visit to the Augrabies Falls National Park where you can find the sixth largest waterfall in the world. The falls here are fed by the Gariep River which drops down via a series of cataracts culminating in the 300 foot drop that creates the Agrabies Falls. The Gariep River provides some excellent white water rafting opportunities both above and below the Augrabie Falls. The park here is located close to the border of Namibia and is probably best visited between the months of March through to October when the day time temperatures are bearable although the evenings can be quite chilly.  You can view the waterfall best from the south side of the gorge and a particularly good time of day to visit is at sunset when you can see swallows and then bats flying around.  Hiking is extremely popular in the area especially the 2-day Klipspringer Trail. There is a charge to enter the National Park and the gates are open from 0130am to 03pm daily.

Blyde River Canyon
The spectacular Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga extends for some 26km and the depth of the canyon reaches up to 2,400 feet in some places. There are so many viewing spots it is impossible to list them all but some of the best places to view the canyon are from God’s Window where on a clear day you can see as far as Kruger and from the Three Rondavels where the canyon opens up and you can see the amazingly blue waters of the Blydespoort Dam way down below. You can learn all about the creation of this canyon, some 60 million years ago, at the Bourkes Luck Potholes visitor centre. The Bourkes Luck Potholes are the point where the Treur and Blyde rivers meet and where truly unusual rock shapes have formed from the swirling whirlpools creating a Swiss cheese type effect. There are a number of viewing spots here including World’s End and Lowveld Lookout which are easily reached from the R534 road.

Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is so big, measuring 60km wide by 350km long, that it actually stretches across Mpumalanga Province and Limpopo Province – 2 of the 9 provinces that make up South Africa. Kruger Park has an extensive network of roads that join the numerous camps dotted about. Accommodation in the park varies from the simple (and cheaper) self-catering accommodation to top of the range private game reserves. Hiring a car is essential to getting around but don’t worry you won’t be alone as the park attracts some 1.5million visitors every year. Of course the larger the park the easier it is for the animals to remain hidden from view so patience is a necessity here. The southern area of Kruger Park has the highest concentration of animals and with it most of the larger Kruger accommodation camps. The central Kruger Park region is a lot quieter with fewer camps and a lot less vehicles on the road and is more appealing to some visitors. You can still find all the Big 5 here although they are elusive especially the cheetah. The very northern section of the Kruger is very dry and quite remote. This area has very little water and hence the environment supports less animals.

Cape Peninsula
The Cape Peninsula incorporates some of the most visited spots of South Africa including Table Mountain, The Cape of Good Hope, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay & Clifton, Boulders Beach, Robben Island and False Bay.

From the top of Table Mountain you can see nearly all of these attractions in the distance. Make sure when you are staying in Cape Town to head to Table Mountain at the first sight of good weather. Planning Table Mountain into an itinerary can be a big mistake as you need to be flexible and go when the weather is good. Often the top of Table Mountain can be shrouded in what is known locally as the ‘tablecloth’ – low cloud that drips over the top of the mountain rendering sightseeing impossible.  Remember to keep an eye for the Rock Dassies when you are up there. A walk around the V&A Waterfront is extremely popular with lots of bars and restaurants for you to sit at and do some people watching. From the V&A Waterfront you can catch the boat to Robben Island for a half day tour. It is essential to book your tickets for this well in advance as these trips are very popular. Trendy Camps Bay and Clifton are a short drive from Cape Town and has some excellent sandy beaches. At lunch time and in the evenings the main promenade is the place to be seen and the place to eat – booking ahead is essential.  Take a drive along the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive which hugs the Atlantic Coast and provides some amazing views of the Twelve Apostles and a great driving experience. Continue on to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point but remember to hold on to your hats and sunglasses when you get to the top of the lighthouse as the winds here can be pretty strong.  Finally don’t forget to pay a visit to see the wonderful penguins on Boulders Beach about 2km south of Simon’s Town.
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Trip to Addo National Elephant Park

We left on Friday morning and entered from the N2 at the Colchester Gate.    The park has just about doubled in size in the last couple of years and the fence between the main Addo and the Colchester side has been removed, so the animals have much more space to roam. We immediately saw what the unexpected June/July rains had done – Addo looked like pictures you see of the Cape Flowers.    Beautiful long green grass and flowers everywhere and the animals looking very contented.

We arrived at about 2 p.m. and drove around the Southern part for quite a while – lucky to see lots of Buck, including the Eland, Red Hartebees and Kudu.   We also saw a lot of zebras – the number in the park of all the animals seems to have increased a lot – not sure if this is because they used to hide away more.

The new drives in the Southern Area are quite beautiful and very different from the original Addo with some breathtaking views over the whole area. We saw a lot of Buffalo – quite amazing how expensive they have become, heard on the radio the other day that one was sold on an auction for R18,000,000.00.   

The main attraction of Addo is of course the elephants and the number of herds seem to have grown as you see small groups of them all over.   The weather was not very hot with a chilly wind, so they were not all over the waterholes, guess they are also getting a lot of moisture out of the leaves and grass.

About half way between the Colchester Gate and the main rest camp is a picnic spot – called Jack’s spot.   This is well placed as the ablution blocks are spotless and a great spot to stretch your legs, have something to eat and drink.   The one thing to remember is that the only shop/restaurant is in the main camp, so when you go to Addo you need to take your own refreshments.

We spent 3 nights at the Addo Rest Camp – main camp – in a small chalet.    The Chalets are always immaculately clean and they have all the mod cons you need, including quite a large fridge, stove and  microwave, plus fully stocked as far as crockery and cutlery are concerned.    They also have convenient braai areas. The chalets are cleaned daily and new towels provided, so even if you are self catering you don’t have to wash all your own dishes etc.

On our first morning we were up bright and early, thankful that we were in our car with a heater as it was rather cold and windy.    The gates open at 01.30 a.m. and we were there, ready to enter at 01.30.    We saw a lot of Kudu – they are really beautiful and I know that most people think the males are the best with their spectacular horns, but the females are just so sweet with their big eyes and ears that stand up straight.
We decided to drive back to the Southern parts as there seemed to be more animals there the day before, so were really lucky to see a family of lions sleeping near the road – very satisfied with their lives.

Zebras must be the most sociable animals, you always seem to find them with other animals – that day we came across them with a whole flock of ostriches. We have noticed over the years that the number of warthogs have diminished, evidently the lions are very fond of warthogs. The amazing thing this time was the variety and colour of all the flowers, absolutely awe inspiring.    Of course the advantage of these flowers is that you also see the different animals in amongst them. We were lucky to see a couple of jackals as well as a whole family of meerkats – they are just so funny, they way they run through the grass.

One of the good things about Addo (or any Game Reserve) is that you get up early, do your game watching thing and then go back and have a midday rest – you don’t feel lazy as you have already done what you are there to do.

We have found that when we go to Addo it is better to take our food with us – the restaurant never used to be the greatest and when you have your food in the chalet, you can eat what you want to, when you want to.   There is a shop at the main camp, but also a very good Spar at Colchester, so self catering is very easy.   It is also a good idea to make sure you take something to eat and drink on game drives – sometimes they last longer than your originally planned.   A great idea is to make a picnic and have it about half way though your morning drive – lets you stretch your legs and by that time the food really tastes great.

To learn more about what to do and see in South Africa visit our South Africa Accommodation and Travel website.
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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Congratulations, Kosovo!

It was announced yesterday, or at least reported in the New York Times, that Kosovo has finally been given a chance to form their own soccer team and compete in international "friendly competitions."  This may or may not make them eligible for the next World Cup, but it's still a big step and we felt inclined to post a big congratulations to the country.  We watched the final matches of Euro Cup 2012 in Kosovo - mostly outside on pull down projection screens, on computers, on sides of buildings.  It was fan-demonium punctuated by calls to prayer and we wondered just how into it they would be if they had their own team to root for.  We wrote about the experience here.  Good luck Team Kosovo!

Read Euro Cup Runneth Over from our travels in Kosovo.
Look through our Kosovo archive.
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