South Africa 2012

Monday 27th February

We have arrived in Cape Town a little tired and dishevelled. Our British Airways Jumbo landed at 05.45 this morning after a flight that was as good as it could be. No turbulence or children and the cabin crew kept plying me with red wine and Sue had gin and tonic. Hurrah!

We were met at the arrivals gate by Oliver and were soon on our way to the hotel. The early morning traffic was the same as any other city in the world and I doubt we went faster than 20 MPH all the way.

Our hotel is called the More Cape Boutique Hotel and is very pretty and comfortable. We are met by a very friendly young lady (I think I am going to like it here!!). Our rooms are not ready but to fair it is only 07.30. We are offered breakfast which is excellent. By time we had finished our rooms are ready and we agree to have a shower and a change of clothes.

The plan is then to head off to the cable car for the ascent up to the peak of Table Top Mountain because the day is sunny with no clouds to be seen. Temperatures are expected to reach 30C.

Sue has sweaty palms already at the thought of going in the cable car and I am assuring her that it has never broken down half-way up or down. She doesn’t look convinced! Keep your eyes closed Sue.

Eager beaver Brian is tapping on our door and keen to go. Up up and away!!!

Monday 27th February (part 2)

On our travels we have passed quite a few of the infamous townships. They do look pretty horrific and to our eyes don’t look fit for human habitation. The Government here appear to be building alternative accommodation but progress is slow. I cannot help wondering if the people in these townships are happy and actually enjoy living in a tight knit community where everybody appears equal. I can remember in the UK when the slums were knocked down and lovely new spacious homes were allocated to the residents. The people I knew in this situation would not have thanked you for calling their home a slum and given the chance they would have chose their old “slum” home every time. Just a thought.

I realised that some of you may not realise who Brian is. We are travelling with our very good friends, still are as I write!, from Wakefield who are called Brian and Jill. We met quite a few years ago on a Garden tour of Tuscany and two years ago went together to India. We certainly have a good laugh and other folk must wonder how the bloody hell we understand

each other! Aye up lad, dost though want to go early doors? I might say ow bist boy, dost want a bevy before meal? Anyway I expect you get my drift.

Back to today’s activities, we did set off for the cable car after Brian had convinced us it was a twenty minute walk to the cable car and that it would be cold on top of the mountain. So armed with our woollies etc we set off. Thirty minutes later of walking uphill in a temperature of 30C it soon becomes plainly obvious you could not have driven there in 20 minutes! Fortunately we were able to hail a passing cab who could only laugh at our, sorry Brian’s, judgement. Sue is now becoming extremely nervous and asking such questions as to the tensile strength of the steel cable! I try to reassure Sue that all will be well but feel that maybe I am trying to convince myself. Excellent website for al the facts

We are lucky and there is no queue which may be just as well as it gives Sue less time to think about the 5 minute ascent. Before long we all, 64 people, bundle into the cable car and position Sue in the centre where there is less chance of her seeing anything. There is a sudden jerk and the car slowly moves forwards and upwards. Sue holds on to me for dear life and it is not long before the journey is complete and everybody scrambles excitedly off the car and onto terra firma. What with the heat and excitement it is decided a drink is needed so we scurry off to the nearby cafe for a beer. We sit admiring the most fantastic views enjoying a cold beer. You may wonder why we are having a cold beer in Brian’s predicted Ice-age. Well it is no cooler up here and the skies are clear and the sun is cracking flags (Yorkshire turn of phrase!). Everybody is applying sun tan lotion to stop the lobster effect before we set of for a walk around some of the top. Absolutely perfect day for the views and they must be some of the best in the world.

Sue was very brave and is now looking forward to the journey home! Not. No problem again with queue and we board the car without a wait. We thought it would be a good idea to go to Robben Island this afternoon - wrong! All boat trips booked up for the next few days so we have bought tickets for March 11th. It is very hot and sunny so we decide on a liquid lunch and a look at some of the shops before returning to our hotel for a siesta. I do love the Spanish customs.

Tonight we are going to a local restaurant after early doors. I bet Brian has the Tiramisu!!

Excellent meal and yes Louisa he did have the tiramisu!! In top three.

We are now all applying after sun before retiring. One last observation, our bathroom is like something out of “Ripples””!

One more, the people here are some of the most friendly we have met anywhere in the world.

Night night.

Tuesday 28th February

Today we make an early start after a lovely breakfast. The forecast says we are in for some light rain, 10% chance. I would rather say we have a 90% chance of sunshine! We are collected at 08.15 by our guide and driver for the day Danny. He is a cheerful black fellow and we set of to pick up some more guests making ten in all.

Our tour today will first of all take us through some suburbs of Cape Town such as Bantry Bay, Clifton Bay and Mount Bay. We drive down the coast road passing some very, very expensive properties (probably all lottery winners!). The scenery is breath taking and there are beautiful beaches and trendy seaside cafes and bars. Our first stop is for a photo shoot at Camps Bay where the vista is stunning with a few of the twelve apostles. There are actually seventeen peaks but Danny explains that five are not fully qualified apostles. Following this brief stop we continue on to Houts Bay. Here we have an option of a boat ride to see a seal colony. Houts Bay is an attractive small fishing village and the sun is still shining. Sue and I opt for the boat trip which is forty-five minutes long. Jill and Brian choose to stay on terra firma and have a stroll around the flea market which is all along the quay. Jill cannot resist the opportunity to do some shopping and Brian wants to practice his bartering skills.

Our transport to the seals is a large catamaran and it is great to be out on the water. We soon arrive at the seal colony and cameras are clicking away at the several hundred seals basking on rocks or playing to the crowd in the sea. We think of happy holidays on the Iles of Scilly and our trips to the Eastern Isles to see the seals.

We soon head off back to port and there to welcome us is a quartet of what you could loosely call musicians but they are great fun in their Las Vegas costumes and include in their line-up a one armed banjo player!

We find Brian and Jill and have a look at their shopping which of course includes presents for their grandchildren Luke and Isla Mae. Back on the bus and we continue our journey through Simons Town and Boulder’s Bay. Simons Town, we are told by Danny, is the safest place to live on the Cape mainly because it is a Naval base and there is only one road in and one road out. We arrive at Boulder’s beach and a small charge allows you onto a boardwalk along the beach to see the Cape penguins. There are plenty to see in all stages of life. This is also shark country because of the seals and penguins but we do not see any today! It is quite a feat for the shark to get the silver paper of the Penguin!! Sorry.

We are now half way on our journey to the Cape of Good Hope and Danny Boy gives us a running commentary of the history of South Africa and its politics. He explains about apartheid as well as telling us all about what we are seeing.

We soon enter the Cape of Good Hope Nature reserve and are surprised how big the area is. We see ostrich in the reserve but no zebra. Before we go to the Cape Point we go to the

Cape of Good Hope where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. These are notorious shipping waters and there are many shipwrecks in the area. This is an awesomely dramatic spot with massive sea cliffs and huge sea views.

We are to lunch in a restaurant on Cape Point which also has stunning views. The girls have crayfish, Brian has a burger and I have king prawns in garlic and ginger. The superb repast is washed down with a South African red and white wine. Position normal. Whilst we are sat in the restaurant the weather takes a turn for the worse and we are having some of the 10%. The sun has gone and we are having some Yorkshire drizzle but there is one difference in that it is still very warm.

On our way out of the reserve we stop to see a family of baboons on the roadside and Danny has pulled over so we can take some photographs. The baboons are a big problem here because they have realised that houses represent food and frequently gain access to the houses. The creatures were shot in the past but there is a programme of conservation now, after all they were here first! We pass a bakery that employs baboon wardens to deter the baboons from entering for their weekly groceries.

Our last call is to the famous Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. The gardens are a World Heritage site and they were created in 1895. Even in the light drizzle the gardens are magnificent and sit on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Probably because of the drizzle we are the only ones in the gardens but the conditions enhance the smells and fragrance from the plants as well as giving an eerie feeling to the views. We may try to revisit on our return to Cape Town.

So it is back to our hotel after bidding our farewells to the rest of the group. Tonight we are going to the V and A Waterfront where there are dozens of restaurants and bars. It is a £6 taxi fare to our destination and we choose our restaurant after a little customary shopping.

We all enjoy the meal and for the second time we are told, after enquiring, that waiters here do not get a wage. There is so much labour available that a job is valuable even if you do not get paid. Time passes all too quickly and it is time for bed. Tomorrow the hire car is delivered to us and we head of to Stellenbosch in the centre of the Winelands. Yippee!!

Wednesday 29th February

Today would have been my Mum’s 21st birthday! Mum was a leap year baby and today would have been her 84th birthday so Happy Birthday Mum and hope you are having a great party.

The day starts with a clear blue sky and a good forecast. Is it too good to be true? Well yes it is. The rental car company arrive with our BMW at 09.00 and it is plainly obvious that we would not get two suitcases in let alone four. There is a short discussion between Brian and

the lady who has delivered the car and I now think she understands the problem! Eventually after several telephone calls and suitcases going in and out of the hotel like yo-yos a large Kia car arrives. The initial news from Brian is not good as our poor porter attempts to load the bags unsuccessfully. I make a suggestion that we remove the load cover from the car and after this is done the cases are loaded. We agree that this is our only option and we then explain to the rental rep that the tank is empty. I don’t think she believed me but on looking she agreed. So all five of us now go the petrol station to refill the tank. At last we say farewell and start our journey to Stellenbosch. I am exhausted already!

We have only been driving ten minutes before we meet a traffic jam. There are police vehicles with blue flashing lights and Brian does convince me that he left the towels in the room. Eventually the problem shows itself as a broken down bus blocking one lane. Hurrah, now we are on our way and soon on the motorway to Stellenbosch. We did think that we would be there by this time but the sun is shining and we are all well and happy.

Not sure if it is a good idea but Brian is navigating, no Sat Nav but Brian would only argue with it anyway so perhaps it is just as well. We pass several of the townships that I have mentioned before, some worse than others.

It only takes us about 45 minutes and two wrong turns before we arrive at our hotel. Once again the most friendly and helpful of staff who check us in and take care of the luggage. The hotel is well positioned in the centre of town. We arrange for a local guide to take us to a vineyard for lunch and then on to one more for a tasting. The vineyard we go for lunch is called Dornier and it is in a location that is breathtaking. The vines are surrounded by mountains and the sky is clear and blue. It is one of the most spectacular vistas to accompany lunch. The food is all freshly cooked and we choose salmon and trout fishcakes and ravioli with butternut squash and smoked aubergine. It would have been rude not to have some of their wine wouldn’t it? It is becoming more like a Spanish lunch and we leave thirty minutes later albeit happier than we intended. A short journey to another vineyard that is also beautiful. We try the wines and the people who are serving are wonderful and everything is becoming a little hazy. It is decided to make a polite exit and return to the town.

The shops are still open, oh dear, and the girls are making slow progress up Church Street. You will have a job to understand our misfortune when I tell you that today in Stellenbosch they close of the street we are walking up. Several vineyards set up stalls on the side of the street with their wares. There is a guy playing some jazz on a keyboard but there is better to come. The system is that you pay twenty Rand for a glass, go from stall to stall, and drink the wine until speech becomes impossible, take the glass back and they return your twenty Rand. It does not get much better than this. It is still sunny and hot, I think. We sit in the sun with our wine and Brian entertains us with tall stories about Les and his eagle with the aid of a double-decker bus. Remind me to tell you one day, it’s a true story!!

We have a meal arranged for 20.30 in the hotel restaurant which is an award winning restaurant. Probably the best plan is to return to hotel for forty winks and a shower.

We move on tomorrow, hangover permitting.

Thursday 1st March

Today we awake to the sunshine coming through the window and remember to say “White Rabbits” for good luck!

Last night’s meal was the usual riotous affair and we were all exhausted from laughter. Our waiter for the evening was an absolute star. Following an interrogation by Brian we discover that he has to make two train journeys to get to work and another two to go home. The man has a lovely South African name which I cannot recall!! He tells us he is a musician and a poet and he has the biggest smile in Africa. He tells us later that it is the best night at work he has ever had! I cannot but help to be reminded of the character Sixpence in the Tom Sharpe novel Indecent Exposure. We all ache with laughter after his description of a Kudu which Brian and Jill have for their meal. They both thought the Kudu was beautiful, to eat that is!! It had been a long day and I think we all looked forward to a nice sleep.

Later this morning we have to perform another trick from the magic circle and get the luggage back into the car. After breakfast we are driving to Franschhoek for a short visit and then onwards to the coastal town of Hermanus. We have heard a lot about these two towns because of their beauty, especially Hermanus, where our hotel promises a superior room with a sea view balcony. Bring it on.

The drive to Franschhoek takes us through some fantastic mountainous scenery and we arrive after about forty-five minutes and one wrong turning!! The town appears to be on one street that consists of little shops, cafes and restaurants. The girls get into shopping mode and we all head off to the shops. There was a close call in a shop called The Diamond Works but Sue was undecided about a pair of black and white diamond earrings and no purchase was made.

We now start travelling in the direction of our overnight stop. There are two places on route that the guide book advises we stop. The first port of call is Gordon Bay. I am beginning to run out of adjectives for this holiday as the drive was along a coastal road with stunning scenery. Gordon Bay is a delightful little bay with a lovely near white beach. We park up and sit in the sun for fifteen minutes. There are a lot of young school children having their school swimming lesson in the sea and it sounds if they are having great fun.

Our next stop will be Betty’s Bay and Brian tells us there is a botanical garden here called Harry Potter’s garden. It is easy to find and we decide to have lunch here. It is actually called Harold Porter’s Botanical garden!! After lunch we walk around this magnificent garden in an idyllic setting. This beautiful, secluded garden is set between mountain and sea, in the heart of the Cape Fynbos region within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. It consists of 10 hectares of cultivated fynbos garden and 190.5 hectares of pristine natural fynbos. The main fynbos families (proteas, ericas and restios) are present as well as other important families such as irises, daisies and orchids. The Garden Estate is the natural part of the garden with several kilometres of nature trails providing scenic views of forests, mountains and coastline. It is agreed we have time to backtrack a couple of kilometres to see the penguin colony. They are stood to attention on the rocks watching the waves roll in.

We decide it is time to set off to our hotel where we will spend the night in Hermanus. The journey takes about an hour but it is no chore as the views are again absolutely spectacular. We find the hotel easily and after I managed to drive over some poles around the edge of the garden we enter the security gate. The hotel is called The Abalone and it certainly has the WOW factor!! There is a photo of our superior sea view room on this website

Another very friendly South African called Rosa welcomes us and we are invited to sit outside with a glass of wine. It’s a tough call but we accept the invitation! Rosa gives us some advice on restaurants in the town and we all decide that it would be a good idea to have fish. So we are booked in to the best fish restaurant in town and the taxi will collect us at 20.30. Time for a little doze before a shower and putting on the glad rags.

Friday 2nd March

The restaurant last night exceeded our expectations for quality and cost. The food and wine was beautiful. We had prawns and a local fish called Cob. Rosa did well to get us in as it was full and even then we had the best table in the place with great sea views. We have not found anywhere really expensive and these meals, wine and drinks came to around £18 a head! Also the taxis have been very reasonable and on time. Another great night and we return to our hotel full of lovely fish and tired (perhaps a little tipsy as well!)

We sit on our room balcony listening to the sea and looking at the stars in the Southern sky. It would be nice if we could stay awake but the eyelids are closing!

We awaken to the sunrise and the sound of breaking surf; this really is a little bit of heaven.

Before breakfast we take a walk along the cliff top for an hour. Yesterday evening some nine whales were seen. It is not the time of year for whale watching and Rosa suggests the water is colder this year. We have no luck with the whales but there are plenty of seals and

sunbirds. Once again the views are stunning and I am told that grandson Luke would say “Awesome dude”! Spot on Luke.

Breakfast is taken on the terrace outside in the sun. It is already very warm and the forecast for here in Hermanus is 30C. A lovely breakfast (full English!) is eaten and we are ready to depart.

It has been decided that we will go into Hermanus so the girls can have an hour in the shops. The town is full of little boutique and craft shops. An hour soon passes and Sue manages to purchase some items of clothing which I must say all look very nice indeed.

The rest of the day will be mostly driving so we fill up and another nice surprise is the cost of fuel, approx 95 pence for a litre of unleaded. What is there not to like about this place! Only one mistake and its when we see a sign for Cape Town we realise we are going the wrong way!!! Never mind, no timetable and we have seen a bit more of the country than we thought we would!

We drive for about five hours with a short stop before we arrive in Mossell Bay. The Bay is about one hour from our final destination of 0udtshoorn. The scenery on the first leg has been mostly arable farming landscape with a big sky. Looks as though the cereal crops have not long been harvested giving the landscape a dry and arid appearance.

We have a drink alongside the Bay looking at the sea and rocks. We are now ready and head off towards the hotel for the night. The scenery changes dramatically as we are now driving up through the mountains and there trees and everything looks green and fresh. Incredible views once again on every bend.

Despite the directions we have been given we manage to arrive at the hotel. The car dash shows it is 37C outside!! We all think that Brian has done enough to earn his “Pathfinders” badge!

We check in and order a long cold beer. This is a very pretty small hotel and the accommodation is lodges set around a lovely garden and swimming pool.

We have booked a restaurant within walking distance and tonight we are all going to have ostrich.

Not so much driving tomorrow so hopefully a more leisurely day!!

Saturday 3rd March

The restaurant last night was called the Pajua and we were told it was only 10 minutes from hotel. I know these South Africans are good athletes but I do not think that Bolt could have got there ten minutes! We returned to the hotel and ordered a taxi. All had ostrich and all were very pleased with the meal and of course the wine. The ostrich meat was very tender and there was nothing to dislike about it.

Our first port of call today will be the Kango caves. It is only a twenty minute drive Brian assures me. En route we pass an ostrich farm/sanctuary but decide to give it a miss. I am not too sure that I can explain to them that we ate one of their relations last night! We arrive at the caves just in time to catch the ten o’clock tour. The tour will take one hour and the cool air will be welcomed.

Many of the most significant discoveries in the Caves were made by its first full-time guide, Johnnie van Wassenaar. – who served for 43 years: from 1891 until his retirement in 1934. He opened many side chambers and introduced thousands of people to Cango 1, which remains the only part of the Caves which the public may visit. Importantly, though, it is clear that the Caves were known to man long before Europeans first landed at the Cape: recent finds – of some tool left behind in ancient hearths in the Cave mouth – prove that humans have lived and sheltered here for at least 80 000 years.

There some huge chambers in the caves and the stalagmites and stalactites make for some beautiful rock sculptures. We have a good guide and the one tour is over all too soon.

We leave the cool of the caves and come out into severing sunshine and a temperature of 40C.

The cab of the car soon cools down with air-con blowing full blast and we are on our way once more. We now have about two hours drive to Knysna. Needless to say the mountain scenery is breathtaking as we wind our way down toward the coast. We take a small diversion (on purpose honest!) at a place called Wilderness. Here there is the most fantastic beach. It must be about ten miles long, golden sand and breaking waves crashing onto the beach. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, it is a Saturday and apart from two people strolling we are the only four people on the beach. Sue takes a paddle and says the sea is lovely and warm. This must be the most beautiful beach we have ever seen.

Now looking for a place to have a snack and drink and shortly after returning to main road we stumble upon a delightful little cafe that boasts it is organic and is concerned about saving the planet. They are very nice people and our waiter is a dead ringer for Rob Parker, a friend of ours in Totnes.

Ten more minutes and we arrive in Knysa but it takes us thirty minutes to find the hotel!! We are blaming the directions we are given, or perhaps it is because we have all got too used to using SatNav!

By a process of elimination we do find our hotel and this is definitely a WOW factor place. We have a luxury suite with veranda and personal butler. The “room” is like a large apartment and there is nothing that is not here. Fantastic views from our veranda. Our butler tells us that there is only one thing to be aware of – baboons!! Unless we are on the veranda we need to keep the doors locked. They will open the doors, enter the room, and steal any food and leave! It’s true.

Our good friend Steve Pillinger said to us before we left that he played golf here once and it is everything as you described Steve!

I hope those lottery numbers come up soon, I could handle this life style! You might like to have a look yourself

Sue has just read out from the information book that there is a choice of five different pillows!! There is a fireplace in the bedroom and if it turns in chilly our butler will come and light the log fire. I’m only a poor lad from Twerton.

The meal is booked for this evening and we are staying in the hotel to eat.

Looks like Bath RFC are going to win easy with a bonus point for four tries so a great day had by all!!

Sunday 4th March

We started our evening yesterday with a drink in the bar where the barman tells us that only a few weeks ago the great Nelson Mandela stayed in this very hotel. Brian had told the barman to tell me that Nelson stayed in his room, and I nearly fell for it!!! We are told that Nelson is a hero and he changed this country for the good of the black man. He also tells us that two years ago because of a custom for his local people he had to spend three months in the forest and three weeks without drinking any water. During this time he is circumcised and only has an antiseptic plant leaf to heal his wounds. This means he has moved from a child to a man. There was me thinking he had a limp!

Our meals last night were superb and we are beginning to run out of superlatives. All the staff are extremely friendly and pay every attention to detail. We cannot believe how reasonable the meals and the wine are in a Hotel of this standard. After a nightcap back in the bar we decide to retire.

Morning brings the sunshine and breakfast will be outside. This is the most remarkable way to start a Sunday as we look at the most sublime view whilst eating a full breakfast and fabulous fruit.

Brian and Jill are telling us that they were awakened from their sleeps by a rattling on the patio doors. Brian put on his shorts to see a very large baboon trying to open the doors! Not

a good alarm call but we did all have a lot to drink! Brian assures me it is a true story and we believe him. We did witness yesterday a troop of about twenty baboons making their way across the golf course about four hundred metres from our room.

The weather has taken a turn for the worse and clouds have appeared and a light drizzle is falling. We ask for our car to be brought round to the hotel entrance, well of course it is valet parking! We are going to Plettenberg Bay first. This beach is renowned for its beauty and seen as the gem in the Garden route. Although it is still drizzling we have a walk on the beach and indeed it is very pretty. On an adjacent beach are some children enjoying inter town water sports in the sea. We sit and watch for thirty minutes whilst drinking a cup of coffee. All this activity has made us feel exhausted and we set of for the Elephant Sanctuary at The Crags, about twenty minutes away.

It is a small concern where they rescue elephants, for instance one of the elephants was kept by a private owner for twelve years. The owner decided he could no longer afford to keep the elephant in food. Two others spent two months in the airport because they were being exported to Thailand but the paperwork was incorrect. We all enjoy walking with the elephants and our guide gives us a lot of information about the work carried out here and the elephants.

The drizzle continues and we decide to return to the hotel and take advantage of the Spa facilities. Following visits to the steam room, sauna and swimming pool we are ready for a trip to the bar for early doors. We are to have our meal in the hotel again tonight.

Monday 5th March

I will try and set the scene for you. You are now probably aware by now that if anything is going to happen it will happen to Brian!

Jill and Brian were returning from the Spa to their room. This entails a short walk outside along a path lined by various bushes. It was dark albeit the path is illuminated by soft ground lighting. The conversation was of baboons and Brian was checking the bushes for hidden baboons. On reaching their room and opening the door the suite was in darkness. Suddenly right in front of his face appeared a set of white shining teeth. He and Jill both screamed and Brian nearly had a brown haemorrhage! Jill was clinging to the ceiling and their hearts were leaping out of their chests. It transpired not to be a baboon but the black housemaid who was just about to leave after completing the turn-down in their suite. A stiff drink was required by the pair of them!

Yesterday’s evening meal did not disappoint and all I can recall is that the four of us were rendered helpless with laughter and tears were rolling down our cheeks. I think the hotel staff thought we were the victims of care in the community.

This morning we awake to what the Irish call a soft morning. It is overcast with a slight drizzle but it is still warm enough to wear shorts. Breakfast inside today. The sun does break through by 10.15.

We are to catch the hotel shuttle so we can go and have a look at the private beach. The name of the beach is Noetzie beach. It takes fifteen minutes to arrive after passing through three security checkpoints. Overlooking this beach is Pezula Castle and this is where Nelson Mandela stayed. I have an apology because I did say it was two or three weeks ago but I either misunderstood or misheard what was said. It was in fact two years ago when Nelson was the guest of the hotel owner for eight days. The castle is overlooking what could easily be the best beach in the world and it is built into the rugged coastal cliff-space. It gives breathtaking views of the beach and the ocean. The castle has resident chef, housekeeper and butler. It is not very often Brian or I are lost for words but we are rendered speechless with mouths wide open. If there is a heaven then it must look like this. We take a walk on the beach down to the ocean and the sun is shining for us. Nobody else in sight apart for a golden Labrador who seems to be asking us what we are doing on his beach. We only intended to stay for one hour but purely by chance we are offered a tour of the castle and an adjacent smaller castle advertised for honeymoons.

We are introduced to the castle housekeeper who looks after the two buildings and she tells us that she is very proud to have this position. She shows us where Nelson slept and where he worked etc. She gives us a complete tour and plenty of anecdotes. She tells us that just before the great man arrived the management told her to expect an important guest and to give everything a special clean. Then the management told her to go and shower and put on a new uniform for this special guest. She waited to welcome the unknown guest and the car drove down. She could just see the side of his head and his shoulder and she thought Oh My God it is Mr Mandela. He came into the castle and she was introduced to him and he put his hand on her shoulder. She was so in awe she tells us she could not walk!! She was a lovely lovely lady and it is quite emotional listening to her memories of Mr. Mandela’s visit. The property itself is absolutely wonderful with outside, heated infinity pool, three double en suite bedrooms, dining room for ten, kitchen, lounge and fully fitted gym. The smaller castle used for honeymoons is just as luxurious and we think of getting married again. Jill thinks it would be nice for when Louisa gets married – so come on darling before they spend all the inheritance! We have a cup of coffee and the shuttle has been waiting for us whilst we have been privileged to have a tour of these buildings. Brian did ask at reception how much it cost to stay in the castle and he was told about £8000 a night should cover it. How long is your honeymoon likely to be Louisa?

We return to the hotel quietly and stunned by what we have seen. We collect our car and it is only a short drive down into the town of Knysna. It is a pretty little touristy town with a harbour where some nice yachts are moored. There are some little shops selling good quality souvenirs, clothes and jewellery. The girls soon disappear and before long purchases

are being made. It is time for lunch and we take it in a restaurant overlooking the quay. We experience excellent service and meals once again.

We are going to return to the hotel early because we are going to sample the Spa treatments. Sue is going to have a facial and they are going to try and make her more beautiful. They have set themselves quite a task. I am going to have a neck, shoulder and back massage, Brian is having a Swedish massage and Jill is having an aromatherapy massage. It is a first class experience and we all feel like a million dollars.

The skies are now all cloudless again and the forecast is back to normal, sunny and hot. Tomorrow we have a fairly long drive of about two hundred and fifty kilometres to Shamwari Game Reserve where we will stay for two nights. We are hopeful our luck will continue and we will see the Big Five.

Tuesday 6th March

The day starts with sunshine and we are on our way by 09.30. The journey to Shamwari Game reserve takes three and a half hours and passes without incident. Once again the Garden Route scenery is beautiful.

We receive a warm welcome on our arrival at the game reserve and shown to our rooms. We are in the Longlee Manor which is reminiscent of a colonial house.

It is a beautiful house and our rooms are once again large suites. We have two televisions, one in the bedroom and one in our lounge! The bathroom is huge and the shower could take six people, I will see who I can find tonight to prove it! Our rooms have magnificent views over the game reserve.

We have arrived in time for a three course lunch with wine and our first safari leaves at 16.00. The lunch is absolutely beautiful and I have smoked ostrich to start and venison to follow. We take it easy on the wine as there are no toilets in the reserve! At 15.30 we are introduced to our ranger who is a young black female called Xavi. She is a slip of a girl and does not look strong enough to drive the eight seater land-rover. We are invited to have coffee and cakes before we leave. In no time at all we are off and enter the reserve all excited and with great expectations of seeing some animals.

We soon see springbok, impala, zebra and giraffes. It is really wonderful to see wild animals in the wild. There are countless species of colourful birds as well. It is not very long before we chance upon a rhino with a youngster. We later see a group of five rhinos in a clearing

and they take little notice of us. At a waterhole we see the eyes of a two hippos above the water but they are not keen to show themselves. We wait a while but Xavi says we will probably be luckier in the morning. After two hours we stop at the highest point in the reserve and disembark the vehicle. Xavi produces bottles of red and white with cans of beers. There are some nibbles to accompany the alcohol and we look at a panoramic view and sunset. Awesome Grandma.

Light is fading now and we are heading back through the reserve with the aid of land-rover headlights. Just when we thought we had seen everything today there is a big male lion in the head lights. He is a magnificent creature and everybody is so excited. He does not seem too concerned but I am not going out to smooth him. We leave him in peace after taking some photographs and head back to the Manor House for a barbeque.

Tomorrow our morning safari starts at 06.00 and we are ever hopeful we will see a hippo, elephant, cheetah and leopard. Two out the four would be brilliant so we will keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday 7th March

The alarm wakes us at 05.15 and already I am beginning to wish that the wine had not been as free flowing as it was last night. At the time it was a very acceptable South African Merlot that accompanied the BBQ. We were sat with a very pleasant Austrian couple and a good time was had by all. Now, where did I put the paracetamol?

It is very humbling to witness the sun rise over the game reserve and we can see warthog and Impala at the water hole. It is a spectacularly beautiful day with a cloudless sky and no wind.

We meet Xavi and are on our way at 06.00 in our Toyota Land cruiser (not a Land Rover!). It is a little chilly but the sun’s rays are soon warming us.

After about an hour we approach a bend in the road and there right in front of us are two female lions padding towards us. Xavi turns off the engine and asks us to make no sudden movements – don’t need telling twice! Within a few seconds they are followed by a young male lion. The three of them are within a few metres of the vehicle as they slowly stroll past us. Then the dominant male lion appears and is only two metres from the vehicle. He is absolutely magnificent and doesn’t look as though he has a care in the world. He also pads slowly past us and the four of them disappear into the thicket. We cannot believe our luck and it was another emotional moment. Are we lucky or what?

Our luck is to continue as we progress down the track to a water hole. Zavi stops by the “hippo” waterhole and one does put his head above the water level. Zavi explains that they spend nearly all their time under water because their skin was very delicate. Then two

female black rhinos come into full view. We have only seen white rhinos up to now. Zavi says we are very privileged and lucky as the black Rhino is an endangered species and are rarely seen as they spend most of the time in deep thicket. There are only 3000 left in the world whereas there are 16000 white Rhino. The black Rhino is a very aggressive animal and it is not unknown for them to charge vehicles. Fortunately these two seem more intent on feeding than charging at us! They are super specimens and we watch them for five minutes or so.

I cannot name everything we have seen but we did see a Scrub Hare, Mongoose, black Wildebeest, Kudu, Waterbuck as well as the Rhino, Hippo, Warthog, Giraffe, Springbok and Impala. A bonus was that the Warthog, Giraffe, Rhino, Springbok and Impala all had youngsters with them ranging from a three day old giraffe to a few weeks old Rhino.

Some of the birds we have seen were Buzzards, Grey Heron, African Hoopoe, Secretary bird, Sunbird and Starling. The Starling here is a magnificent multi coloured bird whose colours reflect in the sun.

Before we return for breakfast we are going to visit the Born Free Foundation Centre. The centre provides a sanctuary for lions and leopards rescued from appalling captive conditions. These big cats cannot be returned to the wild and will be looked after for the rest of their lives. They have spacious bush enclosures that can be viewed from platforms. The vegetation has been left natural as it would be in the wild.

We are given an explanation of the work carried out here and a short video presentation. A short walk takes us to the enclosures and we are lucky enough to see two of the three leopards here. These three leopards were rescued in 2001 after being found in the Sudanese bush by soldiers. Some of the stories are very sad but at least there is hope for some of the mistreated big cats in the world.

We have been up now for nearly five hours and ready for breakfast! Breakfast is taken as soon as we return to the manor. It has to be the full South African! The sun is still shining from a clear blue sky and sun beds by the pool are going to be our next port of call. It is hot now and sunscreens need to be applied. Not too sure who is making the most noise within fifteen minutes, the warthogs or us snoring!

The tables for lunch have been laid up in front of the Manor House overlooking the reserve. A three course lunch is too much of a challenge so we all decide to skip the first course. On the menu is Homemade Beef Pie and Brian is already salivating. It sounds a perfect match also for my Merlot and we wait with anticipation. The meals appear and the pies look great served with fries. Brian dives in and exclaims that there is no beef! I tackle mine and have to agree I have seen more pork at a Jewish wedding than beef in this pie. We wonder if we have read the menu correctly because, albeit very nice, there is no beef in this pie. A

suggestion is that they could not spell Vegetarian Pie so opted to call it Beef Pie or the word “surprise” was missing after the word Beef! It would definitely be a life threatening moment to serve this as Beef Pie to a sixteen stone Yorkshire miner. Sue spots somebody else having the Pie so proceeds to ask if there is any Beef and yes the lady had pieces of beef and it was delicious.

A little later whilst we were on the sun beds the head waiter made himself known to us and asked if we were the two gentlemen who had the No-Beef Pie. He apologised profusely and said there had been a mistake in the kitchen which rendered the pies beefless. We all had a good laugh about it and said there was no harm done.

We have decided to give this afternoon’s safari a miss as we feel that two has been enough and we are enjoying our down time in the sun. Probably all we could see that we have not already seen would be an elephant and the chances of a leopard or cheetah are a million to one. We saw elephants earlier in our holiday so we are more than happy with our safari experiences.

I am sat on our balcony overlooking the reserve as the sun goes down, this will always remain in my memory – I hope!!

Tonight we are going to have “early doors” before our evening meal. It has been a long, spectacular and leisurely day and it is not over yet! Tomorrow we are travelling again. We have a one hour drive to Port Elizabeth airport and a flight to Johannesburg. We have a transfer to Pretoria for a one stop before we catch the Rovos train to Cape Town.

Thursday 8th March

Our meal last night was marvellous. It was “Michelin Star” with different wines for each course. Our choices ranged from prawns and beef fillet (may have been the beef that should have been in the pie!) to chicken and it was a memorable last supper at Shamwari!

This morning brings another clear sunny day and we are all packed ready to leave. The usual elusion was performed and our entire luggage was back in the car. One of the hotel staff said now it looked like a real Soweto taxi! The staff gathers at reception to bid their farewells I am convinced that they want to make sure we have left the building! It is only a one hour drive to Port Elizabeth airport.

Surprisingly the airport is a small one on a par with Murcia. There are only a few souvenir shops and a cafe to pass the time. Security is amazingly lax and it all seems too much trouble. They do not ask for the liquids in a plastic bag, coats and belts were kept on and there was no one on duty when you walked through the metal detector! I asked if they wanted me to remove the computer and the answer was “if you want “!!! Should we be

worried? Our flight is announced as having a thirty minute delay and there is little in departures to pass the time.

The flight passes without incident and is full of passengers of all races. The catering ground staff are on strike and our in-flight meal consists of a packet of crisps, small cereal bar, small bottle of water and an apology. Probably the best aeroplane meal we have ever had!!

We land at Johannesburg and it has been raining. Our driver is waiting for us and within forty five minutes we are in our hotel in Pretoria. There is a whole different feel in this city to the rest of South Africa we have been. It is a typical busy city landscape with no white faces to be seen. Looks like dinner in the hotel tonight. Our accommodation is “normal” hotel accommodation for tonight, normal dimensions! We have just left a room where the shower on its own was bigger than the whole bathroom here.

Sue has managed to acquire an ironing board and is busy ironing our best bib and tucker for the Rovos train journey We have luxury suites booked and it should be some experience. There appears to be internet access on the train so should be able to continue with the blog.

Friday 9th March

The Holiday Inn provides a means to an end and is nothing exceptional or memorable except Brian could not get in his safe and the toilet seat was disconnected from the toilet. Must remember to bring some kit on the next holiday!! We have a wander around an adjoining shopping arcade which looks new and follows the pattern of most shopping malls in the world. Shoes purchased by Jill and it will soon be time for our transfer to the Rovos train station. It is only twenty minutes away and our driver Amos is keen to show us some better architecture than we have seen so far. He says that Pretoria is safe to walk day or night but Johannesburg is a no go city at night – very dangerous.

We are made welcome at the station with champagne and canapés. The station lounge is a beautiful room. Before long a magnificent steam engine pulls up outside. I have brought some photographs of my Dad taken in the fifties when he was a newly qualified train driver. The photographs show him on a steam engine in his uniform. I ask our driver if he would like to see the photos and he invites me onto the footplate. He tells me he has always worked on South African railways and is a steam fanatic. We talk about Dr. Beeching and his axing of branch lines in the UK and he tells me that S.A. railways have suffered the same demise. He also tells me his father was a train driver and he is 93 years old. He says he is now a little frail but still manages to ride his motorbike and occasionally rides a horse! The driver did not mention his age but was no spring chicken himself. He officially retired in 2001. He said he has always loved his job and would not have done anything else. His fireman was a young black lad and was fascinated to have the photographs explained to him. The driver was an

interesting character and I would have loved to hear my my father have a conversation with him.

We board the train and are shown to our suite by our train manager. It is really beautiful and harkens back to the Victorian era. Our bedroom is en suite with a good sized shower. The bedroom is dark wood panelled and is very comfortable. There is no internet connection and explains the late arrival of this daily blog. True to form Brian has already called the maintenance man as the bathroom door has come off in his hand!

The train pulls out the station and we are all like excited little children! We are keen to explore the train and make our way to the observation car at the back. It is very comfortably furnished and within seconds we are being asked what we would like to drink! If we must!

It is already apparent that there is an endless supply of complimentary alcohol, could be dangerous!

Dinner at 19.30 and tonight it is crab, lamb shank, cheese course, palmiers (I didn’t know what they were either!) and coffee. An exquisite meal with a well informed sommelier on hand to assist us on wine choice.

We enjoy the company of an Australian couple who have travelled most of the world. It is all too soon for bed and we retire to our room. We are now moving out of the urban views and starting to cross the South African plains and watch an awesome lightning display as we travel south.

Saturday 10th March

We awake to a sunny morning and big big skies. The train has been moving through the night and will arrive in Kimberley shortly after breakfast. Shortly before we arrive in Kimberley there is a shallow lake where there should be some Lesser Flamingos, It is said there are 23000 but there are nowhere near as many as that today. The bird is about a half the size of the flamingo we are familiar with.

We disembark at Kimberley and proceed by minibus to the “Big Hole” and the Diamond Mine Museum. Our guide is called Frank and he makes the history interesting with his dry sense of humour.

The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres (1,519 ft) wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 metres (790 ft), but then partially in filled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 metres (705 ft). Since then it has accumulated about 40 metres (130 ft) of water, leaving 175 metres (574 ft) of the hole visible. Once above-ground operations became too dangerous and unproductive, the kimberlite pipe of the Kimberley Mine was also mined underground by Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers Company to a depth of 1,097 metres (3,599 ft).

In 1872, one year after digging started, the population of the camp of diggers grew to around 50,000. As digging progressed, many men met their deaths in mining accidents. The unsanitary conditions, scarcity of water and fresh vegetables as well as the intense heat in the summer, also took their toll. On the 13 March 1888 the leaders of the various mines decided to amalgamate the separate diggings into one big mine and one big company known as De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, with life governors such as Cecil John Rhodes, Alfred Beit and John Rhodes. This massive company further worked on the Big Hole until it came to the depth of 215 metres, with a surface area of about 17 hectares and perimeter of 1.6 kilometres. By 14 August 1914, when over 22 million tons of earth had been excavated, yielding 2,722 kilograms (14,504,566 carats) of diamonds, work on the mine eased after it was considered the largest hand-dug excavation on earth. I hope you enjoyed the history lesson and paid attention as there will be questions later!!!

Something we certainly did not know is that the majority of diamonds found in the world are sent to Shannon in Ireland. Here they are all mixed in together and put into “blind” lots of 5, 7 or 10 million pounds. The lot will not be sold for less than the marked price and if inflation is 6% next year then the amount of diamonds will be reduced by 6%. These lots are then sold by auction and the buyer does not know what he will get in his lot. It is all done on trust and the De Beers Company has sold diamonds like this since 1888. So if a shop tells you that you have a South African, Australian or Brazilian diamond then they are bluffing because they will not know its origin.

The tour of the mine was excellent but now the men could be seen sweating and frantically trying to hide their plastic cards as we approached the diamond jewellery shops. Sue knew exactly what she was looking for and had been quizzing Frank as to which were the best diamonds and how one could tell. The perfect pair of earrings was found and all I can say is that the girl deserves them. The plastic nearly melted in the machine but the transaction was completed we headed back to our minibus.

At the railway station we were welcomed with more champagne! It is lunchtime again and another four courses. Once again a different wine with each course and a delightful port with the cheese course. The afternoon was spent looking at the back of my eyelids!!

I have explained that I am only a poor boy from Twerton and have to admit the life of luxury did take its toll. I needed to take a “time out” and have a rest from all this rich food and alcohol. I decided to take a rain cheque on dinner and retired early. I did not feel ill but felt I might have been if I had eaten another four courses and more alcohol. My decision was justified as in the morning I was back on good form and ready for a good day.

Sunday 11th March

Another beautiful day and we speed through the African veldt. The train will stop at 08.00 hours for those folk who want to walk or jog 5 kilometres into the small town of

Matjiesfontein. I said I felt good but not that good! It is a strange little town in the middle of nowhere and has a Marie Celeste feel about it. Jill thinks it is where they filmed Stepford Wife’s!!

Matjiesfontein was founded as a refreshment stop in 1884 by the legendary James Douglas Logan. It has become well known for its splendid historical buildings and in testament the entire Village was restored in 1970 and declared a National Historic Monument.

Sorry but more history!

David Rawdon was the owner of Matjiesfontein and was an avid collector. He established a museum which houses an eclectic collection of Victoriana. It includes some of the beautiful dresses that once belonged to Emma Logan. The museum gives a fascinating picture of days gone by with its primitive domestic machinery, penny farthing bicycles and royal memorabilia.

The cellars of the museum are packed with the lifetime acquisitions of a man who had a taste for the beautiful, the old and the amusing things our forefathers were making. It is a fascinating mixture of bygones and real treasure. The apothecary’s shop is complete with Victorian gothic furniture and apothecary jars with their original contents. Standing in the same room is an extensive collection of cameras, magic lanterns and photographic paraphernalia that is rubbing shoulders with a macabre looking dentist surgery in one corner and in the other corner is a cut-throat barbers shop!

The town also possesses the recently established Marie Rawdon transport museum. Here is housed a remarkable collection of vintage American and English cars along with Victorian trains.

The curious part of all this is that there is not a local being to be seen in these museums, nobody to take the money or ensure nothing is stolen!

One other claim to fame for the town is that the first International game of cricket to be played in South Africa was played here with Lord Hawke’s team.

The sun is now very hot again and we return to the train for lunch. Just before lunch the train goes through a 13 kilometre tunnel. Once through this tunnel the scenery changes from flat, scorched veldt to mountains and vineries. It is an extraordinary way to have lunch, speeding towards Cape Town on a train looking at vineries and mountains set against a clear blue sky. Magical.

The rest of the afternoon is spent packing and having a little sleep!

Monday 12th March

Our last day and this morning we are going to Robben Island. Another glorious day and it will be great to get out on the water. There is time for an hour’s shopping in the V and A Waterfront before we board the catamaran ferry. It is a beautiful shopping mall and last minute purchases are completed. It takes thirty minutes for the ferry to arrive at Robben Island. We shall be on the island for about two hours and we board a bus for a tour of the island. Our guide is very knowledgeable but a bit full of himself. All the guides here seem to have been political prisoners on the island. Our guide spends a lot of time telling us who he has shown around the island e.g. Obama, Clinton Blair etc. You get the impression that these guys went from villains to heroes overnight. Somebody once said that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Apartheid was evil and I do not know enough to pontificate further. Our second guide was a political prisoner and was sentenced to fourteen years on Robben Island but was released under the amnesty after four years.

Robben Island Museum goes way beyond a prison and the telling of its history; it has symbolic significance not only for South African society with its great diversity of cultures, but for the world. Over and above its emotional story stretching back to the mid-1600s, it is a symbol of justice, human rights and self-sacrifice.

Nelson Mandela is Robben Island's most famous former prisoner. The former South African president spent 18 of his 27 years in prison here.

While Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists have assumed centre stage in this tale, few people realise that the island's history as a place of incarceration began 350 years ago with Autshumato, a member of the Khoekhoe, an indigenous group of people - now vanished. The first Dutch settler to arrive in the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck, depended on Autshumato as an interpreter, particularly in the cattle trade that supported the colonial settlement. Cultural misunderstanding resulted in the interpreter's banishment, but he escaped - the only Robben Island prisoner to do so.

After a half-hour ferry ride, visitors are guided through the maximum security prison, often by a former political prisoner. A 45-minute bus ride around the island details its history as a mental hospital, military base and leper colony. We also explore Murray's Bay harbour with its Muslim shrine and museum shop.

The fauna and flora of Robben Island are extremely interesting, and their conservation is another goal of the museum. There are 132 bird species on the island, some of them endangered, as well as small herds of antelope.

Robben Island Museum has World Heritage status and is a South African National Heritage Site.

Back on terra firma and we taxi back to the hotel to pack for our onward journey to Heathrow. The holiday is drawing to a close now and we reflect on what has been a wonderful experience shared with the very best of friends.