South Africa Inspection Visit October 2017

Drew Britton's picture

 

This past October, a team from Edwin Doran made the trip to South Africa for an inspection trip. Now with South Africa a destination we know better than any other, you may ask why do we need to go back? However these inspection trips are important for us to stay up to date with the best hotels, excursions and sights to see, not to mention the importance of catching up with old and new faces, continuing to strenghten our all important relationships we have in the Rainbow Nation. 

Take a look below at what the team got up to in South Africa this year!

Day 1

We met up at London Heathrow for our flight to South Africa with South African Airways, each member of the touring party excited by the prospects that lay ahead and many discussions on which of the ‘Big 5’ mammals would be spotted, what activities we would do and more importantly how many steaks we would eat!  So, 7 teachers and 3 staff members (including myself, our Head of Operations – Tom Brown and Sales Manager – Viv Ziar) checked in, boarded our flights and departed for the warmer climates of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Day 2

On arrival into OR Tambo Airport, after a long but comfortable flight, we collected our luggage and were met by the smiling faces of our Pretoria office.  Hillary Scholten, who runs the office in Pretoria, was there to greet us alongside my good friend Kevin, from our fantastic coach company, who took us out to meet our driver, who we came to love, Sampie! The staff were really pleased to know the support they would receive on the ground was to be mirrored throughout this trip.  After boarding the coach, we took the short ride across town to the Apartheid Museum where we journeyed back in time to learn about the effects of Apartheid and how the famous Rainbow nation has evolved through history. It was a truly eye-opening experience and a chance to understand a country we to were explore over the coming days.

From here we travelled out of Johannesburg and north to Lesedi Cultural Village where we enjoy a walking tour from the different homesteads, meet different chieftain and tried, but mostly failed, to copy the calls and language of the Xhosa people (try saying it with a click instead of the X!!!!!!).  During the tour, we had plenty of opportunities to take some cracking photos and felt a little bit like being on ‘I’m A Celebrity - Get me out of here’ when tasting some of the traditional cuisine (not for the weak of stomach).  After our tour and a quick refreshment, we were taken into the main hall where I can safely say I enjoyed one of the best dances shows anywhere in SA including the toddler who took centre stage, much to the despair of her mother, for half the show! As we boarded the coach from Lesedi the group were buzzing with excitement, considering the long journey before but we made our way across to the Lion Park for a spot of lunch and some relaxation.  A great place to sit and relax whilst Giraffe roam nearby and from what we were told sometimes come right up to the restaurant to be fed……fine dining for Giraffes!  So, with the afternoon ahead of us we made our way over to Pretoria and a short stop off at the fantastic Pretoria High School for Girls to meet Sandy.  She took us around some of the fantastic facilities the school has, talked us through the school system and helped the staff understand the sporting ethos across South Africa.

Finally, this evening we arrived, after our busiest day on tour, to check into the City Lodge Lynnwood for the night.  It was nice to hear some very tired but impressed staff in what was just our first hotel and certainly not the nicest!  We enjoyed a couple of hours to relax in our rooms and explore the hotel before heading out to Stephanie’s restaurant for our first steaks of the tour.

Day 3

As the sun rose on day three we gathered for our morning feast, with a wide variety of delicious treats available it’s hard to choose but everyone was starting to understand that in South Africa you eat like a King.  We then checked out of our hotel and transferred the short distance over to the High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria.  Now I had been describing this as the ‘Loughborough University’ of Gauteng but it was clear for all to see once we toured the facilities and accommodations that this was much much more! Fantastic training facilities, quality accommodation and food (standard in south Africa) as well as their own stadiums for both rugby/football and athletics’ – not to mention the indoor netball court with surrounding permanent stands! It was safe to say this place oozed performance sport and we were in agreement it was a great place to begin your tour.

 

After this we made the journey north past Bela Bela and out to see our friends at Mabula Game Reserve where we were greeted with refreshments and some beaming smiles from the staff. After another memorable meal, a quick site inspection we checked into our rooms and then headed straight for the pool.  A great place to relax before heading out on our first game drive that evening.  We met up with Sharon (AKA Shazzer) our ranger who would then take us out in search of the ‘Big 5’.  Whilst out we enjoyed some fantastic sightings of Giraffe, Elephants, Rhinos, Buffalo to name a few but the Lions, Hippos and Leopards escaped us for the evening.  At the end of the tour we then enjoyed a stop as the sun was setting for a refreshment or two……everyone’s first experience of sundowners on a game drive.  On our return to the lodge a quick shower and change saw us come back out for dinner held at the boma around a camp fire with you guessed it……..more steak. Day three complete and a very satisfied and full group were off to bed.

Day 4

Day 4 began with an early start! After a relatively early night had by most, a group of fresh faces rose around 5am for a quick coffee and some biscuits before heading out for the early morning (sunrise) game drive. We saw a few of the same game as the previous day but crucially also the hippos which were sleeping in the shallow waters (they sleep on one another’s backs to keep their head above water which is pretty cool) and then the lions which are kept in a separate enclosure away from the other animals. They don’t move around much and stick to the shade once the sun comes up but still make fantastic early morning viewing.

We checked out of Mabula after a hearty buffet breakfast and headed south west in the direction of Rustenburg. We stopped after about an hour of driving at the market stalls of Chameleon Village, just west of Pretoria. It was quite a stressful experience being spoken to (handled!) by all the shop owners who all seemed to be selling the same stuff but claiming they each had made their own originals. After some advice from Sampie to barter there was some excellent work done our tour members, including one reduction from around 4000 to 500 Rand! Our advice to teachers wishing to take their children here would be to ensure the children don’t take too much Rand into the market stalls and perhaps even have a competition to see who can get the most bang for their buck.

We then made our way onto Konka Camp which is a great place for the start of tour training camp with two good quality rugby pitches, free weights gym, swimming pool and some netball courts. We were welcomed by Eddie and his dogs, Gizmo and Simba who ran around the entire estate with us whilst we were driven round on the safari truck (even the springbok were scared by the dogs). Konka has some game of its own although clearly not in the same league as Mabula and not worth doing if you are visiting a proper game lodge. During the tour, the group attempted to conquer the (pretty challenging) assault course…with some more successful than others!! This is something our groups would love and give them a real outdoor adventure challenge! We then did a couple of other team building exercises which involved getting soaked and then Viv led all the lads to play a game of football with the staff who were playing on one of the pitches. We had a ridiculously good goalkeeper in our team who will (almost) certainly be playing for SA sometime soon, I’m sure, and that’s the main reason, apart from my little hattrick, we ran out 7-1 victors over the other team which included some of our own!

Dinner in Konka was simplistic but actually very good – the steaks probably being the best we had in the north of SA. We were then taught some drumming moves by ‘Bazooka’ who is very talented as he also ran riot on the football pitch a little earlier, showcasing some ridiculous skills. A few drinks were had after dinner (and the odd Springbok/Soweto Toilet shot) in the excellent rugby-themed bar full of touring schools memorabilia before heading to bed.

Day 5

We departed to Johannesburg airport, after some breakfast, for an 11.50 internal flight with Kulula to Cape Town. We said goodbye to our driver Sampie (who was excellent throughout) and checked in for the flight which is just under two hours and was all very smooth although the airline didn’t particularly seem to be expecting us at check in.

Upon arrival into Cape Town we were met by Sean Kraft, who arranges all our fixtures and runs our Cape Town office, as well as our new driver, Grant, before being taken to our minibus.  We then went straight to Wynberg High School for Girls who were hosting an A and B netball fixture against the Grammar School at Leeds (GSAL). We watched GSAL playing for a few minutes whilst I went and said hello to a very surprised and pleased Cath who was unaware I was going to be seeing her in SA.  After watching some quality and well-matched netball we then went to see the facilities at Westerford School where we have a fantastic relationship. They have a superb backdrop against Table Mountain.

We then headed to Stellenbosch (about an hour outside of Cape Town) and checked in at the Protea Hotel Stellenbosch which is about a five-minute drive from the centre of Stellenbosch. We got a taxi into Stellenbosch to the excellent Helena’s for dinner, but not before a few Steins of beer and ‘taster paddles’ of gin were enjoyed by the guys and girls respectively! Helena’s is one to remember for any nights when students are hosted as it’s not the cheapest but is a pretty sophisticated place with great food and the Pinotage went down very nicely! This evening actually turned out to be the biggest night of the week for many – who knew a Wednesday night in Stellenbosch got so keen?! We found a semi-ok pub and semi-ok club next door which both seemed to go down a treat.

Day 6

We checked out of the Protea after a good buffet breakfast and headed to the Somerset West Cheetah Sanctuary which was only about 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel. A few of the teachers were slightly underwhelmed having recently come from the game reserves in the north but we did explain this is a sanctuary so it’s necessary that the cats are kept in cages and treated, rather than let to roam free.

Afterwards we moved onto Muizenberg beach for a surf lesson at Roxy’s Surf Emporium. Roxy wasn’t there but we were warmly met by her husband. We were raring to go and wipe out our hangovers with the salt water when we were informed that we were delay because a SHARK HAD BEEN SPOTTED! They flew the shark flag for about 20 minutes before it was pulled down, presumably because the shark was no longer in the area or maybe it was a seal though it did demonstrate the world leading shark spotting system they have! The lesson was great – firstly some practical stuff with boards on the beach before trying our hand in the ocean. Some got the hang of things pretty quickly and were standing in next to no time, some were a bit hungover and never really got to grips (naming no names…!). The lesson lasted about 90 minutes in total and after we enjoyed some delicious fish and chips which everyone really enjoyed.

Once all showered we left Roxy’s and moved on to Paarl Vallei High School in the same area and were met by Eunice, head of girl’s sport as well as Sean. Eunice was great and very accommodating to us and she is to all our groups that play or are billeting by Paarl Vallei.

From here we took the staff for a little treat and to enjoy some Wine Tasting at Lourensford Vineyard. We then were taught a thing or two about their wines, and tasted them along with a chocolate to really bring out the specific flavours of each.  Some just went for the wine and other just for the chocolate. It was good fun though and any lingering hangovers were soon forgotten! We drove about an hour to Lagoon Beach Hotel, a really nice 4**** resort-type complex with a nice outdoor pool in the middle and awesome views of Table Mountain from the beach which the hotel sits on. We got a taxi into the V&A waterfront (about 10 minutes) where we were hosted for a superb meal at Belthazar which included HUGE platters of seafood and meats which everyone really enjoyed. We then went for a drink in Ferryman’s before a few of us headed to the Dubliner in Long Street for a night on the tiles dancing away to some good old school rock/pop tunes.

Day 7

After a late night had by a few the buffet breakfast was a welcome start by the group. Most seemed to head for the fried options which suggested that there may have been a couple of sore heads. A couple of coffees and waters later it was time to jump back into the minibus and head into the hills for the Cape Canopy Tour. The journey took about 1.5 hours and when I glanced around all I could see was a bunch of sleeping beauties except Tom, who as per usual was busy typing on his phone – he claims it was work but I think he was keeping his wife happy. Arriving at the Cape Canopy office we were ushered off to the safety briefing. As we were a group of 10, there were 8 of us to go first in one group, then followed by Viv and Tom in another group. After kitting up with tight fitting harnesses, rain jackets, hair nets and helmets we were on way… or at least we thought! As it turned out, the vehicle that was supposed to take us the 20-min journey up the rocky mountain track decided to break down so we had to wait and drink coffee. In the meantime, the weather took a turn for the worse. So much so that the manager came along and asked if we wanted to reschedule. Unfortunately, we had no more days in South Africa so this was not an option. And after all, a bit of rain and drizzle seemed stereotypically British so we said that we would do it anyway. After about an hour waiting our vehicle picked us up and took us on our way. By this point the rain was coming down quite hard and we reached the top a little cold and wet. After shaking ourselves off a little we fired up some enthusiasm and headed out for our adrenaline fuelled adventure. The zip wires are fast, high and amazing which combined with some stunning views meant everyone had a fantastic time. I do however think that the part that they enjoyed the most was the hot chocolate and biscuits half way round… and the pie back at the coffee shop.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we were ready to head back to the hotel. Once again, the journey was made up of many sleepy people. We got back to the hotel and I told the group that they had a couple of hours to rest before we were to head out for the Dine Around. It was certainly needed but flew by and before we knew it we were back in taxis heading to The V&A Waterfront. Our first stop was shopping for some last-minute souvenirs, before we marched on to The Greek Fisherman. Misha, a good friend and the manager greeted us with open arms and then a platter of starters. Everyone tucked in and before long everyone was full to the brim and we hadn’t even got to the main course. We got up, walked outside, down the stairs and into City Grill. I’m not sure how, but everyone managed to follow up with a large steak (ostrich, springbok you name it!). However, when I asked if they wanted to go Meloncino for dessert the resounding answer was ‘no’! Most went back to the hotel but others wanted to continue into the night.

Day 8

Today was our last day in South Africa. The plan was a little jaunt up Table Mountain before heading off to the airport for just after midday. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was once again not on our side. The skies were clear but the wind meant that the cable car was not running. It just shows that things don’t always go to plan. We did however head over to Signal Hill where the views of Table Mountain are just stunning. Everyone got the stock photo within the yellow frame before I gathered everyone up and we headed for the airport. On the way, we stopped off at Canal Wharf Century City, a big shopping centre, for more last minute souvenirs… and plenty of Biltong.

We continued to the airport where we checked in and everyone was pleased when I told them their bags would go all the way to Heathrow. The whole group wandered off around the airport for an hour before we boarded our flight to Jo’burg. We touched down, and while waiting for our next flight the group again split to enjoy some of the finer things in life - Nandos, burgers and even visiting a nail bar! Once through immigration we boarded our flight, which was on time, and then it was an evening meal followed by a movie then sleep (x10).

Day 9

We arrived into Heathrow at about 6.30am and on time. Another queue for passport control and the end of a long day and night’s journey. This was the end of the road for some but another few hours for others. We grabbed our bags, there were hugs all around and the teachers thanking the Edwin Staff for everything. It was sad to see them go but another very successful FAM trip completed. 

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