South Africa in 2010

I wrote this article for Spill the Beans magazine last month and am now publishing it here.
Hope it gives you some cool ideas for traveling around SA in 2010, seeing as everyone else is!

“From shoestring to splurging – plan a getaway that suits you this year” 

When the clock struck midnight and it became 2010, you made all sorts of resolutions which would only last a week or perhaps a whole month, but suddenly the year South Africa has been waiting for was here.

2010 has become its own entity in South Africa and in just 3 months time, the FIFA World Cup will kick off in Cape Town, along with an influx of visitors, the likes of which we’ve never seen before, all here to eat, drink and sightsee (oh and watch soccer!)

They’ll travel to our cities, visit our attractions, drink our beautiful wines and eat at our top restaurants. And they’ll be spoiled for choice.

There are very few countries in the world which have such a diverse spectrum of attractions on their doorstep, from beach to bush to berg and on to wine farm, game farm or dive reef!

So if your resolutions included taking advantage of what South Africa has to offer, but now its March and the daily grind is already getting you down, but you still have no clue where to go or how to go about planning, then this run down is perfect for you.

Whether you’re after a getaway with all the bells and whistles or just a whistle stop tour on a budget, these are a few tips and ideas to help you plan.

Access to the internet is first prize, sites are very user friendly and you can book everything online yourself without having to pay booking fees. It’s also fun to plan your own holiday, so don’t let the internet scare you – you can’t break it!

If you prefer speaking to someone and have them make all the plans for you, then I’d recommend Flight Centre, Pentravel and STA Travel for good agents to do the bookings for you. They’ll do all the leg work for you, so for hassle-free organization, this is a good option.

We’re extremely privileged to have a plethora of places to visit, right on our doorstep, whether you drive, fly or even just take a walk, you can soon be caught up in another world of senses, sounds and scenes. And don’t let money, time or the lack of a travel companion be your excuse not to travel, there are so many options to choose from – an afternoon escape to your local botanical gardens, an overnight stay in the midlands, a weekend getaway to Clarens, a week in the Drakensberg or a fortnight traveling the Garden Route down to Cape Town – you’ll soon be on your way to an experience you’ll never forget and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it ages ago.

I’ve always categorised things into what I call the ‘small’, ‘medium’ and ‘oh my god’ categories and these 3 incorporate pretty much anything and everything, every time. For the purposes of this travel rundown, ‘small’ equates to shoestring, ‘medium’ to middle of the month and ‘oh my god’ to splurge. There are obviously so many options and so many places to choose from, so I’ve recommended based on my experiences and those of close friends. Do a bit of browsing on the internet and let your findings lead you as well though…

We all know what that end of the month salticrax feeling is like and planning a getaway needn’t cost you the earth. If you’re strapped for time or cash, then a quick day visit to one of these places right on our doorstep is all you’ll need to feel like you’ve been away. You’ll be amazed at how a few hours over the weekend or an afternoon mid-week can make such a difference, so explore your local parks, museums, shops, bars, theatres, markets and restaurants.

The Botanic Gardens – pack a picnic, take a blanket and some of your favourite books and people and just lie under the gorgeous old trees and relax. Or take a walk around and marvel at the beautiful orchids, bird life and listed trees. Entrance is free.

Another great free option is to watch the swallows at sunset at Mount Moreland, again take a picnic and remember your mozzie repellant!

And for only R50, the sky car trip up the Moses Mabhida Stadium arch has got to be the highlight in Durban right now, with 360 degree views over our beautiful city, it’s hard to beat.

Other options: The Marianhill Monastery, Beachwood Mangroves, Hazelmere Dam, Giba Gorge.

For options that are still within a shoestring budget, try a day spa, a day visit to Tala Game Reserve, a drive up or down the coast with a stop for lunch or dinner, or a weekend away camping. You’ll always need some cash to go away for a weekend, but it needn’t cost a fortune.
A good way to keep the price down is to travel with friends, book a cottage at a daily rate that sleeps 8 people and it can cost you only R100 a day!
Or better yet, grab one of Durban’s most famous takeaways – the bunny chow and just head down to the beach to watch the waves and get your fingers dirty!

If you’ve managed to save up a little, then a long weekend away is the ultimate getaway.
Take a Friday & a Monday off work and really have a break. Be it a romantic weekend for two or an adventure filled weekend with friends, there’s always somewhere worth visiting to make you realize you need to take a break from the rat race more often.

The Midlands Meander starts just after Pietermaritzburg and it’s a lovely combination of arts, crafts, culture, food and places to stay, with a variety of activities to suit every budget.

The more adventurous can dive Aliwal Shoal, take a helicopter flip for a picnic in the valley of a thousand hills or if you just want to relax on the beach, then plan to stay for a weekend just up or down our coast at any number of places.

Further from the city and other provinces:
Unfortunately Durban usually gets bypassed when international music acts come to town, (or it rains), so make a weekend of it and head to a music concert in Jhb or Cape Town to see some incredible acts take the stage.

Local is lekker though, so head to Splashy Fen, Oppikoppi, the Cape Town Jazz festival, Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees, National Art Festival in Grahamstown, Woodstock, White Mountain Folk Festival, Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts, Rustler’s Valley New Years festival or the Spier Summer festival.

Top of my list this year is a weekend away to Clarens – the jewel of the Eastern Free State and a haven of art galleries, scenic views and the Golden Gate National Park on its doorstep. And I’ve always wanted to do a road trip through the Karoo down to the Cape, visiting places like Nieu Bethesda, Graaff Reinet, Majtiesfontein, Laingsburg and Pofadder!

I’m extremely fortunate to have friends who have their own houses on the Phinda Game Reserve, so a weekend away to be one with nature and the big five is a luxury within my reach due to their incredible hospitality. Never have I felt more revived nor have I realized the insignificance of my own existence in the greater scheme of things, than after a trip to the bush. It’s an experience everyone in South Africa should have, if only to witness the majesty of our country and its exquisite flora and fauna and to perhaps catch a glimpse of the big five.

A medium budget bush adventure is well within reach to all, with self-drive options available in lots of reserves and last minute discount accommodation deals making a weekend stay affordable. Hluhluwe & Umfolozi are good options as is the rustic accommodation at Tala for a weekend.

You’ve squirreled your annual bonus, cashed in an annuity or found a satchel of cash under a park bench – whatever your windfall, splurge is the best getaway you can imagine, because budget is no issue or you pre-pay everything before you go and can just sit back and enjoy.
This is where you can go really wild and choose anything from bush, beach, winelands, berg, adventure or pamper! And splurge doesn’t have to mean you have to re-mortgage your house, there are varying degrees of luxury!

Bush: For ultimate bush luxury you’ll have to travel out of Durban to one of the larger reserves, but try Leadwood Lodge on the Tala Reserve for something closer to home.

The recently refurbished Oyster Box Hotel is magnificent as is the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Teremok (meaning ‘little hideaway’ in Russian) is a private hotel in Umhlanga, right on the beach.
Up the North Coast try Hotel Izulu in Ballito or Zimbali Lodge which is just a bit further where you have hotel, lodge and self catering options.
Down the South Coast try Lynton Hall, Selborne Country Lodge or a bit further down is the Peermont San Lameer.

Karkloof Spa has won many awards and is on my list for 2010 to visit. Just 20km from Pietermaritzburg, it’s the ultimate in luxury boasting both a wellness spa and boutique lodge.
Other options just up the North Coast are Zimbali Lodge or Hotel Izulu.

Further from the city and other provinces:
Phinda, Thanda, Kruger, Singita – these are some of the top places for game experiences and luxury knows no bounds when you visit one of them. Think guided walks, private game drives, dinner under the stars and luxurious accommodation with private rock pools and spa baths.

The list is endless here, as we are privileged to have some of the most pristine beaches in the world, right from the Cape all the way up the coast to KZN. On my hit list one day, is the One & Only in Cape Town, if only to eat at Nobu & Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurants.

Winelands: The Cape is full of wine estates, some offer just wine tasting facilities and restaurants, while others you can stay at and ferment for a week! Le Quartier Francais has won many accolades and is in the beautiful region of Franschoek. Check out the winelands website for more options.

Berg: The Drakensberg is full of luxury self-catering and personalized service options. Personally, I’ve never ventured past a cheap and cheery option in the berg, but have browsed a bit online and these come recommended – The Wild Horses Lodge in the Eastern Free State’s pristine Sterkfontein Nature Reserve, the Montusi Mountain Lodge which has an incredible view of the Amphitheatre Escarpment and the Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse in the Kamberg Valley.

Adventure: Try hot air ballooning over a game reserve, whale watching in Hermanus or St Lucia, bungee jumping from the Bloukrans Bridge, microlighting from Virginia Airport or kayaking the Fish River – your fear is your only obstacle!

Pamper: I will get to the Mount Grace again, the last time I went I was transported to another world of wraps, outdoor massages, flotation tanks, facials and scrubs – sheer bliss, with private suites, pools and room service.

For the ultimate in luxury though, look no further than Quintessentially – the World’s Leading Luxury Lifestyle Group:

It is a private members’ club with a 24-hour global concierge service, with offices in almost every major destination and thousands of suppliers worldwide, Quintessentially can hand you the virtual keys to any city. Quintessentially is your passport to the very best that life has to offer, be it travel, music, art, food, drink, hotels, clubs, spas, or restaurants. No matter where you are in the world, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Quintessentially is here to help with all your needs, however extraordinary or difficult they may be.

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