How an impromptu escape plan to find the winter sun brings more than was bargained for – for our guest writer Stuart Tizzard and his wife Tessa.
Having decided to leave the wet and miserable UK for some winter sun, it was proving incredibly difficult to get any travel agent to provide ideas and solutions at the right price.
We wanted Business Class flights to the sun for a couple of weeks and were getting frustrated by the lack of inspiration from any of the high street agents we contacted. TLC World, the online Tour Operator came up trumps in the end; they gave us several tailor-made ideas, made us see sense about our budget and planned an escape to South Africa, self-drive and luxury.
They still managed to get us Business Class flights with Air France via Paris for about £2,000 less than other agents had– result – or at least we thought so at the time!
We hadn’t allowed for snow! The chauffeur driven trip to Heathrow was fine, the business lounge was fine…..and then, just as we were boarding , we received a text message from Air France advising us that snow at Charles De Gaul was causing major disruptions and we should cancel our flight! As we were already boarding by then, we reasoned that if they could fly us in to CDG then they should be able to fly us out. Wrong!
An hour later we arrived at a very snow bound Paris airport and as our transfer time started to dwindle, things started to get pressured as snow prevented the passenger gangway from reaching the aircraft. Half an hour later we disembarked, with just time for a quick rush to the aircraft bound for Jo’burg – taking off at 2330…made it!
Relax, have a glass of champagne……and then wait for the plane had to be de-iced! We left at about 0330 the next morning. It was some experience watching via the tail camera, as we thundered down the runway in appalling conditions – but we were on our way.
Upon arriving at Jo’burg we hadn’t a clue what to do next, as our connecting flight to George had long gone. Sadly there was no assistance offered by Air France; just a Gallic shrug from our otherwise excellent cabin staff. You can imagine our relief when, as we stepped out of the aircraft, we were met by a TLC World representative, all set to look after us!
First of all, Ignacious (what a great name) rebooked our next flight, and then took us to the Intercontinental; a super airport hotel.
Soon, after a swim in their spa (where I used the steam room in the ladies by mistake! I discovered this when a naked female joined me…. boy did her skin need a good ironing!) we sat down to a lovely dinner, although not sure whether it was breakfast, lunch , or whatever.
Early next day, we flew to George, to be met by Brian, a huge Afrikaans who drove us to Fancourt and taught us “buy a donkey” which phonetically sounds like “thank you” in the local lingo.
Now we could finally start our holiday – and here’s the low down on the four places we stayed
FANCOURT (originally four nights, now three)
Just a great golfing hotel set amongst three lovely courses within stunning gardens and a residential development.
We played three rounds on the excellent courses, although only nine holes on the first day as it was baking hot (over 40 degrees C) and there was a useless Scandinavian four ball ahead – they just don’t let you through!
The room (luxury grade) was big and very nice (I’m super fussy… normally asking to change rooms before I even get to a hotel!)
The food was OK and restaurant atmosphere poor, but we would definitely go back. The service, as always in SA was superb and prices delightfully low.
We next endured a long and boring drive through scruffy desert, interspersed with some fine views on the way to our next stop at Cambedoo Lodge….but so far, despite the drive, worth every minute.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way…..they do not have ‘the big five…..or four….or three’. The top cat is the cheetah. (Although elephants and lions are planned in this private reserve)
That said, seeing the Big Five isn’t everything and what this lovely place lacks in animal must-haves, it more than makes up for in so many other ways.
The lodge is an old four bed farmhouse with big rooms, high ceilings, polished wooden floors, lovely bathrooms and it’s jammed with lovely cosy furniture, log fires and loads of genuine relics (present company excluded)
It nestles in a valley and the game drives are thoroughly enjoyable and there’s a load to see.
When we first arrived we went straight into Cambedoo’s beautiful gardens, wanting to stretch our legs. There, on the other side of the fence were three rhinos!
Walking back to the house we came face to face with a wild cheetah that had got into the garden. My first thoughts were “it must be a tame house pet – a bit dangerous to let it roam among the guests” when, suddenly, there came a shout from the main house, “stay still and don’t move” (I was trying to step behind Tessa at the time)
The cheetah was then gently ushered out of the garden. What an experience – big cats, mixed with the fragrance of fear!
Another highlight was leaving our land rover and walking to within fifteen yards of a resting cheetah…unbelievable. We then climbed (in the land rover) to the top of the mountain. The head gamekeeper, Luke, is both fun and really well informed.
Last night we watched an unbelievable sunset and sat down to a superb meal after watching the rugby on TV…doesn’t get any better.
Just had our final game drive, which was amazing. We left the Land Rover and went on foot to find a cheetah.
Then we started an amazing climb of 4000mtrs up some amazing mountains, along some breath taking tracks! Our destination was the flat top where we would see the sun set, over a sundowner.
En Route wild life was everywhere; including giraffe, different species of deer ,warthogs etc. At the top of the climb we met some rather aggressive buffalo and then continued across the vast expanse of the mountain top….where the clouds arrived just in time to hide the sunset!
Never mind; it was getting windy and wild, so we set off home, passing a Boer battle site which looked desolate in this wilderness. Soon we started our descent down a mountain track with a thousand-foot drop down the wrong side. It was getting dark but we would soon be down…….until we met the Rhino!
This amazing male had the same intention as us albeit at a much slower pace and we spent half an hour as it got darker and we ended up with full head lights on him, which he didn’t like at all.
We had to push him as there was not enough room to pass and every now and then he stopped and turned, getting more and more annoyed, which was interesting!
I am now an expert on a rhino’s arse!
When we eventually said au revoir, we continued back to our lovely quarters, where we were greeted with a welcome G& T. After a hot shower we returned to the drawing room where a table was set just for us, in front of a superb log fire.
More fine food and wine followed to finish a perfect day……apart from one thing…..during our relax time around the pool I had slept under a tree in the shade, so didn’t bother with sun tan cream……big mistake…….
Marks so far for this place, out of 10?…..definitely 11!
Anyway it’s a sad farewell to Cambedoo and off to Kwandee. One of my many qualities is a very low boredom threshold -five hours of straight roads, coaxing the maximum velocity out of an underpowered Ford Pram, was not my favourite way to spend the day but the next destination soon left this as a distant memory.
A much bigger and better stocked park of 24,000 hectares with every species known to man (apart from maybe the penguin) This reserve comprises more rolling scrubland but lacks the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains of Cambedoo.
We are given a spacious suite with bedroom and sitting room plus patio and lounging area and plunge pool. It’s well fitted, although the furniture in the sitting room includes two beds, which are not as comfortable to sit on as settees would have been. The outlook is wild but a little restricted by surrounding thickets and bushes. The bathroom is both spacious and has a great shower.
This is much more of a purpose built building and although lovely, hasn’t got the charm of the farmhouse at Cambedoo.
I’m having dinner with Michelle Pfeiffer, gazing in to each other’s eyes, and enjoying one last glass of champagne in excited anticipation, when I’m rudely awaken by the shrill of the bedside phone….. Bloody hell…it’s five o’clock in the morning….I really can’t be bothered to get up now just to see some dumb animals. But Tessa is up and switches on the lights, causing massive retinal damage …..she can be so thoughtless sometimes!
Arriving at reception, I’m fed a coffee and introduced to Connor, our guide and ranger, who’s brought a rifle, which kind of makes it a bit more serious.
We also meet our African spotter, sitting on a seat overhanging the front of the jeep. Presumably they’ve told him to sit there to spot better; personally I think it just makes him Lion fodder. Oh well, sacrifices must be made for the entertainment of the guests!
So, we set off. What a pleasure it is to drive through the Bush in an open topped Jeep…….until it rains! Onwards we struggle through the deluge, with me refusing to accept that rain on my holiday is ‘most welcome’ for the drought they’ve been experiencing!
We came upon two Giraffes standing uncomfortably close to one another and Connor explains that they might be testing each other for dominance…..is he ever right!
One swipes his head round in a huge curve and smacks his horns into the flank of his rival, who then reciprocates. It becomes more and more dramatic and brutal and we can hear the bone crushing thuds as each contestant takes it in turns to damage the other.
It’s like a game of conkers with serious consequences. After half an hour we leave them, bruised and battered, still unsure who is the dominant male.
We continue past various game; nodding to the boring lions who just lay there – obviously feeling it is beneath their pride to put on a show for the tourists!
We park at a lake next to a family of Hippos who are both funny and fascinating. It sure makes a difference with Connor explaining their actions
The next day it’s too wet to go out – but a hell of an experience sitting watching the incredible storm with massive lightning bolts and huge thunderclaps.
What a drive next day! We see everything and also some very special things.
A Steinbock about the size of a cat, suckling its tiny babe, itself about the size of hamster. A big secretary bird stalks the tiny babe; only for the Steinbock mother, who could easily have been prey herself, to throw herself recklessly at the bird, (about four times her size) to frighten it off. I’m sure my mother would have left me.
An old bull elephant right next to us… some lions lioning, by the road…. so many sightings and then the whole thing topped off by a BBQ on a hill in the bush with stunning views and sunset; with a magnificent canopy of stars, that defy belief, uncluttered by any light pollution.
We get back to the lodge and enjoy yet another lovely evening and retire to our rooms, only to find a chilled bottle of bubbly and a ready hot bath. Tessa takes a glass of bubbly and gets into the luxurious bath, but won’t let me in!
……So there’s Michelle, Pamela Anderson (I don’t know her well enough to call her Pam yet) and Nicole Kidman….and they’re all unbuttoning their blouses and looking at me…..and wetting their lips…….and the damn phone goes! Five o’clock, who made it five o’clock? Same bleary eyed walk, cup of coffee and morning grunt to all, and we’re off again.
“What would you like to see?” Connor asks.
“Anything really; it’s just a privilege to be out here, how about a cheetah?”
We stop on a hilltop to scan with binoculars…….nothing. They need help, so yours truly takes the bins and, after a scan declares,
“Hang on a minute, what’s that ….I think it’s a cheetah?”
“Give me the glasses……you’re right Stuart”
So with me bathing in the glory of the find and the rangers going way over the top to tell me what a clever little hunter I am – and what fine eyesight I have and how they couldn’t see it; I start to feel pretty good about myself…….until I remember this is the day we finish…….and tip! How unforgivably cynical! We get to the spot and there are two beautiful male cats about 20 metres away.
If I had to recommend one or other of the two resorts, so far, I don’t think I could.
Cambedoo was so personal and charming. Kwandee is bigger, with better animal selection and more of a tourist factory, but they both do the job so well and the people in both are just so lovely.
And so off to Morgan’s Bay!
MORGON BAY HOTEL. This was always going to be a big compromise – and doesn’t disappoint! We’d wanted to concentrate our holiday in just a few quality luxury lodges and because of limited high-season availability we had to spend one night at Morgan’s Bay. Well, at least it made us appreciate the other wonderful places we were staying in!
The views from the rooms are stunning, but this place is typical of so many English resorts that occupy a place of beauty but ruin it with a cheap and nasty hotel.
After experiencing the best South Africa has to offer in terms of thought and perfection, this is a reminder that there are still people in the tourist industry who just don’t care!
Back on Track!
“Hello mother ..Hello father…here we are at Camp Granada……….wait a minute…it’s stopped raining…guys are fishing ………guys are sailing…….gee that’s better…..mother, father kindly disregard this letter.
We enter Prana Lodge via an iron gate with attendant guard, proceed into luscious, almost tropical, gardens, to be met by a lovely hostess.
We are too early (having rushed to leave Morgan’s Bay) but are shown around – this place is lovely….definitely back on track….I love South Africa…what a shame we are going home in three days’ time.
We take a walk on their beautiful breath-taking beach, where we see a pod of 40-50 dolphins swimming 100yds out, gently cruising the beach and presumably hunting……wow!
We’ve just been shown our room, and in the words of Simon Cowell “it’s not good……..it’s fantastic“
We play golf at a local course, being handed Pimms on our return to the clubhouse – what service!
All too soon it’s our last day and after the customary relaxed breakfast, we again take a walk to the cliffs and down to the beautiful beach. It is just wonderful walking in the refreshing sea and watching the breakers.
My feet hurt now! They’re sore from walking on hot tarmac.
We’ve met a Rasta selling paintings, one of which we loved. I didn’t have enough to pay what he was asking (so I told him) but he solved it by insisting I give him my flip flops! Tessa thought this was hilarious and agreed…….so I now have a painting that will look stupid at home ….and sore feet.
We’ve just had a lovely final evening, with amazing food, and service you just don’t find in the UK… and so to bed.
Did we have a good time? You bet!
We took a chance on TLC World and trusted them to put a great package together.
We wanted five-star spoiling, and we got it.
THANKS TLC… you delivered, and we’ll definitely use you again…In fact I’ve just remembered, we recommended you to a couple of Brits at Kwandwe and who want to go to India next year…….just goes to show, a good reputation works!
Stuart & Tessa Tizzard
If you’d simply like more information about the unique luxury properties that Stuart and Tessa stayed in then see the links below – but why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel throughout Africa?.
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request
Links to the hotels and Lodges that Stuart & Tessa stayed in: