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South Africa: BA F, BA J, SA Y, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Safari and Garden Route

South Africa: BA F, BA J, SA Y, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Safari and Garden Route

Old Jun 24, 17, 3:49 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: London
Programs: BAEC GCH, CXMP Gold, Amex Plat, HH Gold, Accor Plat, SPG Gold, Carlson Gold
Posts: 1,106
South Africa: BA F, BA J, SA Y, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Safari and Garden Route


I visited South Africa for the first time in April 2016 and had instantly fallen in love with the country. It’s certainly an uncomfortable place to visit at times, especially when confronted with the poverty and desperation that a lot of the people live in, but the beauty of the country matched with the pride that so many of its inhabitants take in it really appealed to me. So what do I do when I like somewhere? Go back of course! This trip report covers my journey from London to Johannesburg in April 2017, taking in the wonderful sights of a South African safari, Cape Town, and The Garden Route. I hope you enjoy the journey. I certainly did!
  1. Background and planning
  2. Photography gear
  3. Flight - British Airways - First - A380 - LHR to JNB
  4. Hotel – Bath on 54 – Johannesburg
  5. City - Johannesburg
  6. Car – Range Rover Sport
  7. Drive – Johannesburg to Madikwe
  8. Hotel – Jamala Madikwe
  9. Safari – Madikwe private game reserve
  10. Flight – Comair – Business – B737 – JNB to CPT
  11. Car – Mercedes GLE 350 SUV
  12. Hotel – Queen Victoria Hotel – Cape Town
  13. City – Cape Town
  14. Drive – The Garden Route – Cape Town to Knysna
  15. Hotel – Conrad Pezula
  16. Area – Knysna and surrounding area
  17. Flight – South African Airways – Economy – A320 – GRJ to JNB
  18. Hotel – Bath on 54 - Johannesburg
  19. Flight – British Airways – First – A380 – JNB to LHR

This was going to be an interesting trip for me. Having undertaken various, complicated trips, at least to normal people, in the past, this would be a rather more straightforward affair. For a start, I would be flying direct! The seeds of this trip were sown around a year ago when I was showing the photographs of my 2016 trip to my parents. They were extremely interested in going, but were uncertain as to whether they could do it alone, so over the period of several weeks we planned out an itinerary and started booking! We didn’t use a travel agent; we largely used my South African network of friends and Google to research flights, hotels and such like.

The flights were booked in cash, largely because reward flights to Johannesburg are hard to come across due to the popularity of the route. Likewise, the hotels were also booked using cash and we had tried to find boutique style smaller hotels where possible as I always feel these give you a better feel and a more local experience than a generic chain hotel.

I should also probably mention something about safety here. We took into account advice from our friends, which was largely don’t wear expensive jewelry out and lock your car doors. Although a lot is said about safety in South Africa, especially Johannesburg, it’s really not as bad as people make out, especially if you take sensible precautions. I’d recommend speaking to any local friends that you have, plus consulting your own government websites before you travel and simply taking the normal precautions you would whilst visiting any foreign city.

This report will be a bit of a mix. I am aware that some readers are more interested in flying and the intricate details, so I’ve tried to cater for them. Others may wish to pass over the flights and get straight into the action on the ground, along with my thoughts on what is really a beautiful and amazing country!


Photography is one of my great passions in life. I love taking photos and trying to get a different take on the world through a lens; therefore this report focuses heavily on my photography of South Africa so I thought it would be useful to list the gear I took with me on this trip:
  1. Canon 5d MKIII
  2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM
  3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
  4. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM
  5. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM
  6. Sony RX 10 III
  7. GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition
  8. GoPro Karma mount
  9. Apple MacBook Pro
  10. Manfrotto professional camera backpack for DSLR
  11. Lowepro traveler DSLR rucksack
  12. Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod
  13. Assorted chargers, cables and memory cards
All of this equipment weighed in at a hefty 14kg, which was quite a bit to carry on my shoulders! For editing, I used Adobe Lightroom for photos and Adobe Premiere Pro for videos.


Shoutouts, well I certainly have a few of these! Firstly, and for legal/copyright reasons; all photos have been hosted by Flickr (www.flickr.com), all videos hosted by YouTube (www.youtube.com) and royalty free music has been sourced from Ben Sound (www.bensound.com). I also owe some gratitude, and drinks/dinner, to the proofreading team of Christian (chris1979), Jamie (filthymonkey) and Stewart (stu1985). You all caught an embarrassing number of mistakes!

I opted to post a chapter every few days for this trip report as quite frankly I think there is too much to digest in one sitting so I would recommend you either read this as I post or grab a bottle of fine wine and spend a while going through.

Lastly, before we jump into the report itself, there are a lot of photos in here, so I would strongly recommend that you do not read this on a mobile device!

Last edited by stevieed; Aug 10, 17 at 4:27 am
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:50 pm
  #2  
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Although my flight was not until 7 pm in the evening I decided to get to the airport early. I wanted to get a start on planning this trip report and I had arranged to meet a few, fellow Flyertalkers in the lounge mid-afternoon. Now, a lot has been said on this forum about how British Airways has declined in standards and how its lounge offering at Heathrow is not as good as whatever airline at whatever airport. Although this may be true, the Concorde Room is still a special place. We must remember that the grass is not always greener and it’s easy to become complacent with the nicer things in life. Anyway, I digress. I gave my bags a final check and I was off in an Uber to Heathrow airport at around 9 am. I live in Vauxhall so public transport is not massively convenient and, with the amount of luggage I was carrying, I…oh what the hell, I just wanted to get a cab to the airport and arrive in peace and quiet. The journey took around an hour and had a very interesting chat with my driver, who was originally from Ghana. It certainly whetted the appetite for my trip!


Luggage packed and ready to go

British Airways fly typically from Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Opened in March 2008, it’s exclusive to British Airways (with the occasional other One World flight) and I have always found it to be a smart, efficient and pleasant terminal to use. British Airways uses the south end of the terminal for their premium passengers, which is the exact opposite end that the public transport and parking shuttles drop you off at. My Uber driver dropped me off at the south end of the terminal, where I had easy access to the First check-in area. This was undergoing redevelopment when I travelled but has since opened as The First Wing, which is available for people travelling in First class, as well as those of Gold or higher status, to check in and use a separate fast track, security lane, which deposits passengers directly into the First Class Lounge. Note that the First Class lounge at Heathrow is called Galleries First and is primarily for use by Gold Card holders. There is a more exclusive First Class lounge, called the Concorde Room, although, since the introduction of The First Wing, those actually travelling in First, as well as Concorde Room Card holders and Premier Cardholders need to either hike through Galleries First to get to the Concorde Room or go through normal south fast-track security and then turn right and enter the lounge via the “Million Dollar Door”. Anyway, that has jumped forward a little bit, so let’s get back to the present. Check-in was very quick at the existing First check-in. The agent was incredibly friendly and we spoke for a while about South Africa. My appetite for this trip was really building!


A First Wing under construction

So off to security I went, which was looking incredibly backed up in the fast track channels (top tip; the north security fast track is often much faster than south), but the security agents opened up another security channel, to the side of normal security, and I was through in just a few minutes. Off to the Concorde Room I went, via the “Million Dollar Door”. Wow, the Concorde room was busy and was, in truth, a bit of a scrum (oh dear, am I going to look silly for my earlier comments???). Regardless, I was given a seat in the dining room, ready for breakfast. I ordered a double portion of eggs benedict, which was decent. It’s a bit of an odd take on a classic, but it’s pretty tasty! Over breakfast, I spied another FlyerTalker, but decided to allow him some time in peace with his wife before announcing my arrival.




A breakfast glass of champagne


Table set for breakfast


Double portion of eggs benedict


Relaxing on the terrace

Post breakfast, I went to the terrace to relax a little, plane watch and spend some time contemplating what was going to be a unique and exciting trip for me. The service on the terrace is pretty hit and miss as staff are not really proactive, but it’s still a pleasant way to spend a few hours and you can always go to the bar for service. A text message informed me that my first Flyertalker meet-up of the day was about to begin, so I headed towards the entrance to meet BAorBust. We toddled off to the dining room (again) to have lunch. I was rather hoping that the scallops would still be on the menu, as I had yet to try them, and they were! They were worth the wait; very tasty. Up next was the Coq au Vin, which was very nice, although the chicken was a bit gristly in parts. Now, I am not usually a dessert fan, but I had been told to try the bread and butter pudding and I am very glad that I did. It was divine! Shortly after our lunch, BAorBust had to depart to Reykjavik, so I joined the aforementioned FlyerTalker (Tobias_UK) at his favourite chair for a couple of drinks. Within 30 minutes we were joined by my parents, who were travelling with me, another FlyerTalker (Jamier45) and his girlfriend.




Pan seared scallop starter


Coq au Vin main course


Bread and butter pudding dessert

Drinks and merriment was had in abundance, but, alas it was soon time to go to our respective gates. Now, here’s a surprise: Boarding was absolutely shocking as everyone was called to board in approximately a 1-minute window. The end result was my elderly parents being pushed and shoved whilst trying to board. It really wasn’t a pleasant experience and quite frankly the BA staff on duty at the gate could not have cared less.


My A380 awaits


Two of the three air bridges


First class only air bridge

Anyway, that was swiftly over and I was safely seated in 1A with what would be a quite fabulous crew attending to me. During the slightly delayed departure, I made a trip to the flight deck where I was hugely impressed; the crew took time out of their pre-departure workload to take me through the basics. After a while, I decided to get back to my seat, where I was greeted by a glass of champagne and water. Wonderful!

The First Class seat on the A380 is a slightly different evolution to those featured on the 747/777 and 787 fleets. It features higher dividing walls and generally has more personal space. There is a good amount of storage space, with both a personal wardrobe, a cubby hole and space under the footstool for a bag. The IFE screen folds out and is not usable during takeoff or landing and, while it’s not exactly record breaking in quality, it’s of a good size and decent enough. Overall, it’s a very comfortable seat to both sit in and sleep in.



Flight deck of an A380


A380 First Class seat in the take-off position


Area around the First Class seat


BA First Class cabin


BA First Class cabin


Pre-departure Champagne


Pre-departure Champagne

A smooth and somewhat lazy feeling take-off and we were in the air! Very shortly afterwards I was refreshed with another glass of champagne and some warm nuts (ohhhh-errrr). A greeting from the Cabin Service Director (is that still what you call them?!?!?) was swiftly followed by the Senior First Officer paying me a visit and taking me through the flight plan and various other details on their flight crew iPad. It really was fascinating and I was seriously impressed that the SFO took nearly 30 minutes out of his rest period to speak with me; a true credit to British Airways. Once I had said farewell to the SFO I was swiftly greeted by the lady who would be looking after me for the duration of the flight. She showed me the menu and stressed that it was dine on demand, so I was at my leisure. I was absolutely starving so decided to go for the full offering of starter, soup, salad, main and dessert. Hopefully, it would be a treat! The wine on offer was as per usual wonderful and I wanted to drink it all! Decency and pre-drinks in the Concorde Room dictated that this was not possible though.




Warm nuts, Gin & Tonic and menu

First up was the salmon, which was absolutely divine. It really wouldn’t have been out of place in a fine dining restaurant 38,000ft below us! It paired nicely with the wonderful Chablis. BA certainly does excellent wines. The salad was next, which normally disappoints on BA, but was actually fresh, crisp and had a wonderful dressing. At this point I was overloaded by offerings of the bread and so had to refuse any future offers, although I have to note that there was a great variety and all were equally yummy. Next up was the soup, which was a little bit odd as the crispy broad beans really didn’t work, but otherwise it was fine. Now… I had tried to use the FilthyMonkey approach to getting a steak that didn’t resemble shoe leather, but, alas, they neglected to follow my instructions… Nevertheless, it was tasty and relatively tender. I finished with the ice cream, which was a bit dull. It tasted OK, but two factory like scoops of ice cream on a plate isn’t very inspiring.


Smoked salmon with caviar and Burford egg


Fresh seasonal salad with honey mustard dressing


Haricot veloute with crispy broad beans


Seared beef fillet with braised beef cheek


Madagascan vanilla icecream

During and post dinner I was watching one of the Jason Bourne films, which are always decent entertainment, but I was starting to get sleepy so I asked for a peppermint tea and for my bed to be made up. I had a slightly unsettled sleep due to turbulence. I didn’t realise how severe it was until I spoke with the crew again in the morning, which I guess is a testament to how tired I was and how comfortable the seats are to sleep in. I had awoken to a beautiful African sunrise; absolutely spectacular. I staggered to the bathroom to change back into my clothes and came back to a coffee waiting for me, alongside a crewmember to take my breakfast order. I opted for fresh fruit and then kedgeree with scrambled eggs as the crew member advised that the poached eggs were solid and unpleasant. Both were really decent and refreshed me for the day coming up.


Bed made ready for sleep


A wonderful African sunrise


Fresh fruit salad


Kedgeree and scrambled eggs

Shortly after finishing breakfast the cabin was prepared for landing and we were down on the ground in Johannesburg! We were met immediately after the air bridge by our guide who would escort us through security and assist us with our luggage. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for all travellers, but my father had difficulty standing for long periods and the immigration queues at Johannesburg can be significant. The service we used however was excellent, 25 minutes after doors opened on the aircraft we were sat in the back of a car heading to our hotel. You can’t expect better than that at a major international airport!

So what to say as a conclusion? Well, I have included my scores below but to add some more colour to it, this was a really excellent flight. The crew went out of their way to over-perform in every single area and on top of which the food was probably better than I’ve had on any recent BA flight.



Last edited by stevieed; Jul 10, 17 at 3:30 pm
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:51 pm
  #3  
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After a 30-minute drive through the back streets of Johannesburg we had arrived at our hotel. I’d deliberated long and hard over what hotel to choose. We usually use the bigger brands to accumulate points, but in this instance had decided to go off-piste largely on the advice of my South African colleagues. Immediately upon arrival we knew that we’d made the correct choice! We were greeted by several bellhops, who warmly greeted us and fetched our luggage from the car. We were then offered a warm and refreshing towel whilst we relaxed in the beautiful lobby area with a coffee and some water. Even though it was just 8 am the hotel were hopeful that they would be able to have our rooms ready; they had previously mentioned that we could use their gym to have a shower if needs be. We only had to wait for 15-20 minutes and we were informed that they had both of our rooms ready, hurrah!


54 on Bath in Johannesburg

I was shown up to my room by a very enthusiastic bell hop, who showed me around my room. Wow, these rooms are beautifully designed! A wonderful blend of stylish, classy and practical. In fact, the hotel itself is “very well put together”, there’s a lot of really quite interesting art on display and you can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the design. This truly meets the definition of a boutique hotel. The room was the basic Deluxe king room, which was large and well laid out for an inner city hotel; you really couldn’t ask for more (or could you…see our return for more information!).


Deluxe Room entrance hall

Deluxe Room bathroom

Deluxe Room bathroom


Deluxe Room bathroom


Deluxe Room bathroom


Deluxe Room bedroom


Deluxe Room bedroom


Deluxe Room bedroom


Deluxe Room bedroom


Sweeties!


Tea and coffee station

Deluxe Room view

The hotel has a good array of facilities for a small boutique hotel, including access to the Rosebank fitness club, a lap pool, plus one of the best restaurants in Johannesburg and a top class Champagne bar (more on that later!). There’s not really much more you can say about a small boutique hotel, so I’ll let the photos do the talking for the remainder of this section.


Small garden area


Outdoor dining area on the 4th floor


Small lap pool

Rosebank is one of the safer areas of Johannesburg and is bang in the middle of the tourist district. The hotel itself is connected to the Rosebank shopping mall, which is a large, if unspectacular mall, although it does host an excellent Sunday market (more on that in the next chapter). The start of the open top bus tour also departs from close to the hotel (again, more on that later, ohhh, I feel like I’m teasing you!), so this is an excellent choice for tourists.




Last edited by stevieed; Jul 10, 17 at 3:31 pm
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:51 pm
  #4  
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Although I had slept reasonably well on the plane (who ever sleeps properly on a plane?), I’d agreed with my parents that we’d have a morning of peace and reconciliation; i.e. a shower and a quick snooze. I met my parents in the garden dining area, which is actually on the 4th floor of the hotel, for a quick bite to eat.


Delicious butternut squash risotto


Champagne bike

Post lunch, and feeling very much like a human being, we strolled over to the Sunday market, which is accessed directly from a walkway connecting the hotel and the shopping mall. The market is not sign posted well, so it took us a while to find, hint; go to the top floor and walk through the car park. However when we did find it we were delighted! Yes, I am sure that locals think it’s somewhat a tourist affair and yes you can probably find the wares in many other shops in Johannesburg and wider South Africa, probably for cheaper too, but the vibe of the market is great. There’s a vast array of on offer, from local artists paintings to soaps to ornate carvings to, well, almost anything! There’s also a food court which was interestingly international, featuring both local food and food from around the world. I opted for a boerewors (South Africa sausage) and it was just divine to wander around the market whilst eating some local food.


Sunday market


Boerewors; so delicious

Initial gifts secured and stalls perused, we decided to head back to the hotel for a quick drink on the terrace. It’s so relaxing sitting out there, I probably could have sat out there all evening, but we needed to get ready for dinner, aka shower, change and get back to the same table for pre-dinner drinks. What better way to start the holiday off but with some Champagne in a Champagne bar?


Champagne in the 4th floor garden

After quaffing (what a fantastic word that is) some Champagne we headed inside to the Level 4 restaurant for some dinner. I recognise that it was a Sunday night, but the restaurant was almost deserted, I recall maybe 2 other tables of dinners in the entire restaurant. The dinner was absolutely brilliant, one of the nicer meals that I’ve had for a very long time and the service was incredible.


Beautifully presented butter


Blackened Angus beef


Woodview Black Angus

Although there was time for a quick drink in the bar (highly recommended) we were pretty exhausted by this stage of the evening and retired for an early night, as we would have a long drive ahead tomorrow.

Last edited by stevieed; Jun 29, 17 at 5:41 am
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:52 pm
  #5  
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We had opted to rent from Avis Luxury with the added benefit that they will deliver your vehicle to a place of our choosing (within reason of course); we decided to collect from our hotel. Bang on time at 8 am we had a call from reception that our car had arrived. The usual formalities were quickly completed and we were handed the keys to a beautiful white Range Rover Sport! I was really looking forward to driving this.

The car itself comes with a good specification; leather seats, electric everything, satellite navigation and a good stereo were all present. Somewhat disappointingly the car had the 3-litre diesel engine rather than a petrol equivalent which I would have much preferred. Saying that, the car was rapidly and a very comfortable long distance cruiser. There were three of us traveling in the car and it was exceptionally roomy for this, although we did completely fill the boot with our luggage.

There isn't much more to say really, so I'll just leave the photos to do the talking and let's get on with the journey from Johannesburg to Madikwe in the next chapter.



Range Rover Sport exterior


Range Rover Sport exterior


Range Rover Sport exterior


Range Rover Sport exterior


Range Rover Sport exterior



Range Rover Sport boot space


Range Rover Sport boot space


Range Rover Sport interior


Range Rover Sport interior


Range Rover Sport interior


Range Rover Sport interior


Range Rover Sport interior

Last edited by stevieed; Jul 10, 17 at 3:32 pm
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:52 pm
  #6  
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Awakening for what I really considered to be the first proper day of the holiday I packed the few items I’d worn yesterday and ensured that all my camera gear was fully charged and ready to go; in particular the myriad of GoPro batteries which I would be using during the drive to Madikwe. Having somewhat obsessively searched for every possible piece of information regarding Jamala Madikwe I was incredibly excited to be going there, but first, there was the matter of breakfast and collecting our car (refer above).

We opted for breakfast on the terrace, as it was a beautiful morning. Again, the service was exemplary on the fourth-floor garden terrace. Breakfast consisted of a beautifully presented fruit plate, followed by a hot main of your choice and a pastry basket so vast we couldn’t possibly eat it all. I rather boringly opted for the eggs benedict, you see I just cannot refuse a good eggs benedict and these ones were good!



Yummy breakfast


Hotel was filled with art

Breakfast completed, car obtained, bags stowed and we were ready to go. I’ve shown the approximate route we took below, although for clarity this wasn’t the exact route we took. If you are traveling to either Jamala Madikwe, or just indeed the Madikwe reserve itself, then I suggest you contact your lodge to ask for advice, as the satellite navigation routes invariably take you on a significant detour of approximately 100km.

The GoPro was set up to film our drive and we were off through the streets of Johannesburg. One thing I immediately noted was that very few people are on the streets of Johannesburg, it wasn’t a particularly hot day so I assumed, maybe incorrectly, that this was related to personal safety. It was certainly alarming to see the various homes along our route which had very overt security on display, some including barbed wire on top of 10-foot tall concrete walls. It really got me thinking as to what it would be like to live under those conditions and took me back to various conversations which I have had for many years with my South African friends; some of whom thought nothing of the security measures, some who moved to other areas of the world to get away from it all.


]

Quite rapidly we were out of the side streets of Johannesburg and on to the really rather excellent major road network in South Africa. Apparently, there was a significant investment in the road network for the 2010 World Cup and this really shows; the sign posting is excellent and the roads are of good quality; in some ways, I would say it’s actually superior to the network within the United Kingdom.

Due to an accident upfront, we re-routed and cut across country. It was during this part of the journey where I noticed a road sign notifying me that there was a “Hi-jacking hotspot” for the next 2km. Well, that was an unexpected and somewhat unsettling sign to see! Fortunately we were not hi-jacked and saw no sight of anything nefarious.

Back on to the main roads and making great progress towards Madikwe. Our route took us past Sun City, which is effectively South Africa’s answer to Las Vegas, and a place that I will eventually visit. Next to Sun City is Pilanesburg, which was the private game reserve which I visited last year and was indeed my first ever safari. It’s after Sun City that the journey starts to become really interesting, in a good way! We were off the main roads and driving through smaller towns and villages, which really gave you a vibe of how people live in the countryside. As a Londoner who, although widely traveled, hasn’t ventured far in Africa, I was interested to see the local villages. Several school children would wave as we drove past which was very cute and I’m not used to having to drive around herds of goats whilst navigating London traffic!

Children waved at, goats dodged and we were nearing the end of the journey. It had taken us around 4 hours to drive from Johannesburg, so all in all really not a bad journey. The final part of the journey is a 30km stretch of a dirt road, which was well graded and any vehicle could pass.



Dirt road leading to Madikwe


Madikwe Gate


Waiting at the gate


Camera set up

And we have arrived at Madikwe Gate! A short delay to our journey occurred as we gave our check-in details to the security guards and they rang the lodge to ensure that we were allowed access to the reserve. It wasn’t long before the gate was lifted and we drove the short distance through the reserve to the lodge. Nico, one of the owners, was waiting for us outside of the lodge with a warm welcome and quickly guided us into the main lodge area. Wow, I thought Nico’s welcome was good, but he couldn’t match the herd of Zebra drinking at the lodge’s watering hole nor the sparkling wine which was quickly offered by Happy (the bartender). We had arrived.


The Jamala Madikwe gate


Zebra welcoming us

]
Welcome glass of sparkling wine


Last edited by stevieed; Jul 10, 17 at 3:33 pm
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:53 pm
  #7  
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Sipping on my sparkling wine whilst looking over the watering hole I already knew I was going to enjoy my stay at Jamala Madikwe. The lodge itself is tiny, with just 5 villas you will enjoy your stay with a maximum of just 10 guests in total this leads to a really personalised service and an odd feeling of staying at your mates really special house, but without having to make your own drinks. The facilities, well, in truth they could barely be better, there’s no swimming pool as such, but considering the size of the lodge it’s actually remarkable what they do offer. There’s a spa that offers a myriad of excellent treatments, a small but functional gym, bar, library and each villa has its own plunge pool. In reality, all of these were pretty much wasted on me, as I could have sat on the terrace overlooking the watering hole all day without distraction.

Let’s get back to the lodge. After finishing our drinks we were given a tour of the lodge by Nico and guided us to our rooms; villa 1 for my parents and villa 2 for myself. On entering the room I was greeted by a bottle of wine (hurrah), a decanter of brandy (hurrah) and a personalised greeting (how sweet).



Pathway up to my villa



Personalised greeting


Brandy!

The rooms are wonderfully styled and huge! Every villa is identical and gets a small sitting/dining area, dressing room with fully stocked, and free, mini-bar, large bathroom with shower and bath, bedroom (of course), plus an outdoor shower, plunge pool and large decking area. The rooms really are not lacking in any way and there’s clearly a huge amount of thought behind them, I particularly liked that they appeared very traditional and in no way “bling”.


Lounge area


Main room


Dining area


Main room


Dressing room and mini-bar


Bedroom with a wonderful view


Huge and extremely comfortable bed


Bathroom

Bathroom

There are numerous delightful treats on offer in your room, such as the aforementioned mini-bar, wine, brandy and also personalised notes each evening. It’s really the little things such as these that make the difference between an excellent stay and a great stay. In fact, the entire ethos of the lodge is unobtrusive sublime service. The staff is pretty small, as you’d expect for such a small lodge, however, what really struck me is that the majority of staff have been with the owners since the lodge opened some 8 years ago; this says a lot.


Personalised welcome note

Going back to the villa briefly, each one includes an outside shower, a large decking and a plunge pool. I didn’t get to use the plunge pool, but the outside shower was amazing; showering whilst watching a herd of zebra and elephants walking past is an experience I shall never forget.


Outside decking and shower


Outside shower


Outside shower


Decking area and villa


Plunge pool


Plunge pool and sundeck

The main lodge reminded me of a hunting lodge, it was an extremely comforting place to spend your day. There are numerous seating areas available including the famous “sofa safari” where you can spend an afternoon sipping a Gin and Tonic whilst watching herds of animals take their turn sipping from the watering hole.


Main entrance to the lodge


Lodge foyer

Library and seating area


Library and seating area

Sofa safari


Sofa safari


Dining area

The room rate is fully inclusive, meaning that only spa treatments and non-house beverages such as high-end wines and spirits require payment. So what exactly is on offer and how does the general day evolve. The wake-up call is at 05:30 where you will groggily have a quick shower before heading to the main lodge for coffee and a snack, The morning game drives start around 06:00 and last until approximately 10:00, meaning you have your full breakfast on your return to the lodge. There’s then an afternoon quiet period until high tea at 15:00 before the evening game drive starting at 16:00 and lasting until approximately 19:30. Dinner is served on your return to the lodge, swiftly followed by bed as you’re pretty exhausted by this point.


Gym area


Hide viewing area


Breakfast and dining area


Main lodge decking


Main lodge decking


Boma outdoor dining area


Safari vehicle and driveway


Safari vehicle ready to go


So how to rate Jamala Madikwe? Well as you’ll be seeing in the next chapter, the food is sublime, and as you’ve read in this chapter the lodge, offerings and service are impeccable. Can I rate it 10/10 across the board? Not quite I am afraid and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I have given facilities a 9/10 as there is no swimming pool, not that it really detracts from the experience at all, and I have given the food a 9/10, as I have eaten in a handful of better restaurants. But given the closest supermarket is probably an hour drive away the food that Nico and his team put out is incredible and equal to many Michelin star restaurants that I have dined in central London and beyond.


Last edited by stevieed; Jul 10, 17 at 3:36 pm
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:54 pm
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We had a few hours to relax after our tour of the lodge, so I decided to grab a shower and check through my camera gear to ensure that I was ready for the evening game drive. Cleansed and charged I headed over for the afternoon tea, which was our first of many tasty delights during our stay. On the menu this afternoon was a salad with various dressings available, beef pastry and scones. It was all delicious and went well with a cheeky glass of sparkling wine. I was really excited for the evening game drive, I’d loved the experience the year before in Pilanesburg and I was hoping to be able to get closer to the animals given Madikwe allows its game drivers to venture off-road.


High tea – salad


High tea – beef pastry

High tea devoured it was time to jump into the game vehicle and enjoy our first drive! I was like a kid at Christmas! The lodge has two vehicles meaning that there is a maximum of 5 people per vehicle; this gives a really intimate experience with the animals and a great amount of attention from the guide. Our guide for the first few drives was David, who usually worked at another lodge, but was helping out the Jamala team due to two of their own guides being on vacation. Sharing the game drive with us was a very lovely American couple. I really liked the small groups, as you got to interact with your fellow guests. The brief safety briefing was held by David and off we went, with my dad eagerly looking out of the truck for an elephant, which is one of his favourite animals. Well, my dad didn’t have to wait for long as we saw an elephant just maybe 100m from the lodge entrance, remarkable! Seeing these animals up close is just incredible. For those of you who have not yet ventured on a safari then I implore you to do so. Nature programmes are great, but you don’t get to see the personality of the animals nor appreciate the true wonder of them, or smell for that matter...


Safari vehicle and driveway


Elephant chomping away


Searching for wildlife

Part of the park had been momentarily shut off to the public due to two rhinos being killed and dehorned by poachers. This really angered me, as it is true human exploitation. On speaking to the guide about poaching in depth it’s clear to see how much of a problem it is in South Africa; Pilanesburg that I had visited just one year ago has had the majority of its rhinos poached, with the poachers now moving to Madikwe. Although there are numerous armed patrols, fences, checkpoints and other anti-poaching measures they are continually losing ground to the poachers. From what I understand the poachers themselves are usually those who are desperate or forced to poach; speaking frankly, you kill/arrest one of these and you’re just killing a poor villager who will be instantly replaced by another poor villager. The people they need to catch and stop are those further up the food chain, apparently progress is being made, but it’s a challenging fight for the authorities. It really reminded me of the war on drugs, you can take out as many of the junior ranks as you want, but it’s the leaders which need to be taken down. Shortly before seeing one of the rhinos we saw what was probably the most beautiful bird I have ever seen, it was such a start contrast to the death and despair I was about to witness. I had debated long and hard as to whether to include a photograph of one of the killed rhinos. I decided that people need to see this, however, if you want to start scrolling quickly please do so now!


Beautiful bird


Poached rhino


Lioness resting post feast

After a while looking at the Rhino and discussing poaching as a group we headed off for sundowners; those not familiar with South Africa, and I believe Australia, may not be aware of this term. Basically, it refers to drinks as the sun goes down and there’s not a more wonderful place to enjoy them than a safari reserve in South Africa. Naturally, I opted for a Gin and Tonic, cheers.


Sundowners set-up


Game vehicle parked for sundowners


Yet another beautiful African sunset


Cheers!


Heading back to the lodge


Heading back to the lodge I took in the peace of a quiet game reserve, you just feel so at east it’s unreal. Shortly before our lodge we stopped to see a young family of hyenas. It’s actually amazing how cute they are given the bad press they get on nature shows; sure the grown-ups aren’t beautiful but the young are just adorable.


Cute little babies!


Hey, what are you looking at?

On arrival back at the lodge we were greeted by Happy, the bartender, who helped us off the vehicle and gave us each a shot to warm us up or maybe just to get drunk, who knows. What followed was an unforgettable night of entertainment, but first, we must rewind a few months. I had e-mailed Rodney at Jamala asking if they could put maybe a bottle of wine or some flowers in my parent suite as our first night there would be their wedding anniversary. Say no more Rodney said. Say no more indeed, what Jamala had put on was phenomenal (for clarity an Australian guest was also having her 18th birthday party that evening, so it was a combined affair). We were seated outside in the boma area, where I sipped my Gin and Tonic (there’s a theme here somewhere…) with trepidation.


Trepidation in the darkness


The menu for the evening

So what was the entertainment? Apart from incredible, it was a local tribal family who performed traditional African dances and songs for us. Seeing this close up was actually really amazing, unfortunately, they also requested audience participation which was hilarious until I had to do an African tribal dance in front of everyone, ha!


Local tribal family getting the entertainment underway


Delicious starter of baked tomato tart


Learning about Zulu history


Impala fillet


Bush brownie


With the evening drawing to a close I grabbed a Gin and Tonic and sat on the terrace with Rodney, talking about our stay so far and thoughts on poaching. With a 5 am wake-up call looming I decided to call it a night and head off to the very comfortable bed for some much-needed sleep.

Beep, beep, beep, urgh, 5 am! Nothing can be worth waking up at 5 am surely? I trudged to the main lodge to wolf down a cereal bar and as much coffee as I could muster before boarding the safari vehicle. Not long after leaving the lodge I saw what looked to be a large rock just off the main road…a rock that was breathing…rhino! Fortunately, this one was alive and well, looking majestic in the morning light.


Rhino waking up

We drove on from the rhino to the site of the poaching to see if we could spot the lions that had been reported in the area. Well, we certainly spotted the lions and they spotted us! Being sat in the very open game vehicle with the lions just 5m away from a unique experience, we were literally close enough to smell them and they smell really bad! We spent maybe an hour just watching the lions eat and play around us that was just fascinating. Onwards to grab a coffee for our breakfast stop.


Yawning lion


Two male lions on guard


Playing with his food


Lion portrait


More cute hyenas


Someone has their breakfast


Morning coffee break

Post morning stop we saw a giraffe up really close; they’re really graceful, amazingly so given how gangly they are. David heard over the radio that there a pack of wild dogs had been spotted, so off we raced to try and track them down; non-Africans amongst you may be wondering why we were tracking down wild dogs, I certainly wondered this on my safari a year ago until the guide explained that there were less than 5,000 in existence in the world, i.e. they are highly endangered! It was a bit of an off-road exploration to actually be able to see the dogs, but we made it, along with a game vehicle from another lodge. What I really like about Madikwe is how well the various lodges work together, it feels like they’re part of one large team. Anyway, back to the wild dogs, we watched them for maybe 30 minutes and what I really noticed was just how much of a family unit they are. Apparently, they will care for their elderly and walk at the pace of the slowest dogs. Interestingly we do not understand how the leader of the pack is chosen, there’s no fight, it’s not related to age or lineage, it’s a complete mystery and I like that!


Hey pretty bird


Soulful giraffe


Giraffe and friends


Wild dogs posing beautifully

Wounded wild dog


It’s a dogs life


Heading back to the lodge for our breakfast we encountered zebra, impala (delicious) and more elephants (always a treat). Breakfast was an absolute treat with a small herd of elephants drinking at the watering hole I was a very slow eater for once! It’s actually remarkable to be sat there eating your breakfast whilst just 20m away an elephant is drinking merrily away.


Delicious impala


Bull elephant


Bull elephant


What did you call me?


One of the many beautiful watering holes on the reserve


Elephants playing whilst we ate


Crinkly yet majestic elephant


Slurp

]
Selection of cured meats


Cooked breakfast

Post breakfast I hung around the sofa safari to continue watching the wildebeast, zebra and elephants enjoying themselves around the watering hole.


Beautiful bug


Resting zebra


Not so thirsty zebras


Zebra having a dirt bath


Elephant having a mud bath


And down I go…


Another elephant, another mud bath


Another elephant, another mud bath

It’s amazing how quickly time goes when you are watching the world, and its wildlife, go by, so it was quickly time to go back to my room, check through my camera gear and get ready for the high tea. I ahd spoken with the lodge owners and we thought it’d be a cool idea to set up my GoPro in timelapse mode to cover the watering hole whilst we were out on the game drive; we couldn’t imagine just what wonders we’d capture!

We had a new guide for the rest of our trip, as David had gone back to his own camp/lodge; welcome to Lucky! Frustratingly for Lucky we had limited sightings at the beginning of our first evening drive with him, spotting some elephants fairly early on but not much else for the next hour or so. That’s really the way game drives can go at times, especially when you’ve already seen the more common animals. However, we persevered and Lucky thought it may be a good idea to see what the wild dogs were up to; this turned out to be a genius idea.



Hey, what you looking at?


Yet another impala


Who was part of this herd


May look cute but they’re grumpy!


Rather basic airport at Madikwe


Stopping off for sundowners

We stopped for sundowners on the way to the wild dogs, which are apparently a lot more active in the evenings. It’s such a peaceful place to have a drink and a chat with people from all other the world. Not so much time for drinking this time though as we were off to see some wild dogs, hopefully, wild dogs doing something other than sleeping!


En route to the wild dogs


Wild dogs hunting


Off they go

Maybe 500m from where we had seen the wild dogs in the morning the radio chatter went off the scale, they were on the hunt! What followed was an adrenaline filled experience which I will remember for the rest of my life. We managed to tail the dogs as they ran through the bush hunting in what appeared to be a disorganised pack but was actually highly organised and planned out. Unfortunately, or fortunately for their prey at least, they were not successful that night, but the thrill of crashing through the bush chasing them as they hunted was unreal. Post adrenaline buzz it was time to go back to the lodge, not really seeing much of interest except for a snake crossing the road in front of us. Arriving back we had the now traditional scented towel to freshen up and shot to get the evening started right.


Don’t like snakes!


Last edited by stevieed; Jul 23, 17 at 8:23 am
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:54 pm
  #9  
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After a quick check of the GoPro, which showed some amazing footage (I hope you will all agree!) and a quick chat with Rodney we were seated for dinner, myself with a customary Gin and Tonic. I do love Gin and Tonic. Yet again dinner was wonderful, brilliant food, brilliant service and some lovely South African wine on pour (sorry, I can’t recall which one). My parents both went for the duck and said that was also excellent, apologies I didn’t grab a photo of that…post dinner I really wanted to relax outside and sort through some photos but I was exhausted, so decided to go to sleep and get ready for another day of safari.



Dinner menu


Grilled scallops


Delicious pork


Brilliantly refreshing lemon curd

Waking up to our last full day I was both sad and very very tired, a not so great combination really. This time I had several cups of coffee whilst pondering what else we could see, as we’d already had a really productive and excellent trip. Suitably caffeinated we headed out to explore the bush again; for the umpteenth time we saw elephants very close to the lodge, this time a large and extremely grumpy male who we kept a great deal of distance from! There were rumours that hyenas had taken over at the rhino kill so we decided to head over there and see what was going on.


Young bull being slightly grumpy


Yet another pretty bird, often overlooked


Posing elephant


Mud bath


Mud bath

On arrival at the rhino kill site we spotted no hyenas but lots and lots of vultures, along with the usual assortment of lions. Vultures are very interesting creatures as they are just so damn anxious, it’s almost comical to watch! First they sit on trees some distance away and oversee the area, looking for potential threats. They then swoop in en mass somewhat close to the kill. From here on it’s a waiting game, with edge vulture shuffling closer and closer to the kill until some more cavalier vulture swoops in a little too close and spooks everyone…off they go and repeat from the start! It’s fascinating to watch, despite it being somewhat comical. We actually ran out of time before they go particularly close to the rhino so decided to head back for breakfast.


Lion on the prowl


That unnerving feeling that he’s looking at you


Surveying for danger


Coming in for a closer look


All clear so far


Coming in to land


We think it’s safe

Breakfast was yet again a great affair, although the omelette that Nico put out was an impossible size to consume! Maybe he thought I was an elephant, eek!


Plate of local cheeses


Zebras taking a midday drink


Biggest omelette ever!

Post breakfast I had time for a quick shower and then a massage at the on-site spa. It was a really excellent massage in a relaxing environment, I was seriously impressed. Both of my parents had treatments too and thoroughly enjoyed them; well recommended. After my massage Nico gave me a quick tour of the kitchen at the lodge, it couldn’t really be a long tour as the kitchen is so small! I was seriously impressed that in such a small space he managed to put out a varied, technical and extremely tasty menu. Make no mistake, he’s a very talented chef and is one of the many highlights of the lodge. Time really flies, it was soon ready for the high tea, which today consisted of mini-burgers, pork salad and cakes. All delicious!


High tea

With the last bite of a burger and last slurp of a sparking wine we were away for the last evening game drive of our stay! The first thing we saw was an elephant…up close…up really close. In fact, if we had wanted then we could have leant out of then game vehicle and touched it. Having such a large, and dangerous when it wants to be, animal so close is quite a fantastic experience. The craziest thing was sitting staring at the elephant and having it stare back, just a few feet away. How people can even consider going on a hunt to pay to kill these animals is beyond me, but let’s not get too political in this report…


Elephant up real close


Giraffe taking on water


Giraffe dribbling water


Beautiful scenery


I wish I could remember what this was called!

As the sun started to set we headed to a watering hole to have our sundowners, it was beautiful!


Stunning and still lake


Stunning and still lake


Lucky and I

We headed on to the rhino kill one last time and saw the lions quite active in the dark, illuminated by the game vehicle spotlights. It was really cool! We didn’t see a huge amount more on the evening drive, although what we saw was quite different and unique!


Ever had an itch


Spooked impala


Spooked impala


This little dude was so hard to find


This little dude was so hard to find

Met again off the game vehicle by the Jamala staff with scented towels (a different scent each day) and a shot to get our evening started right! Happy had put on a gin tasting session just for me, where he pairs gins with different flavourings; it was really good. Dinner for our final night would be inside in the dining room, which has a lovely warm feeling to it. Dinner this evening was a very tasty cauliflower cappuccino, which was both unique and lovely. I had to choose the springbok as I am always a fan of trying local foods and it was delicious. To finish was a gooey chocolate fondant, which went down a treat. Post this rather rich dinner it was time for bed…oh come on, you know I had another Gin and Tonic whilst talking to Rodney on the terrace…


Gin tasting


Our table for the evening


Dinner menu


Cauliflower cappucino


Delicious springbok


Chocolate fondant

The final morning had arrived, we had just one game drive left which was actually quite sad. Post the usual morning glugs of coffee we jumped into the game vehicle and headed once more into the bush. This morning Lucky had a feeling that we’d find something interesting around the watering hole, so we doubled back round the lodge and parked up a few hundred metres from the water. Nothing. We waited. Nothing. We waited. Rustle. Woah, a rhino just emerged from the bush really close to us!


Rhino up close

We spent a while watching the rhino until something spooked it and it ran off; they can really move at an alarming speed when they want to! Still talking about how close the rhino was to us we headed off to another part of the park where a leopard had been seen. I was really quite excited as I’d never seen one on a safari and was hoping to get some good photos. En route to the leopard spotting we saw the more typical bush animals; impalas, zebras and the such. It’s actually depressing almost how you become so accustomed to these animals that you barely notice them by the end of just a few days.


Why did the zebra cross the road


Rhinos blocking the road

We spent quite a while searching for the leopard, which was exciting, but sadly to no avail. Lucky was explaining that they are exceptionally well camouflaged and we could well have driven within just a few metres of it without even knowing. Oh well, at least there’s something to go back for next time. Heading back to the lodge for the final time we were hungry for breakfast and hopeful that we’d see something interesting at the watering hole. Neither breakfast nor the entertainment was to disappoint!


View from breakfast


Elephants playing


Elephants love water


What a view


Big breakfast


Muddy, muddy elephant


Stereo elephants


Like a small child playing


This elephant was loving the water


Needing a lie down


A final play

It was as if the elephants knew this was our final breakfast and had decided to put on quite the show for us. There was a massive herd happily playing in the water, with the younger ones enjoying a mud bath and water fight. Watching them was really remarkable and detracted from the excellent final breakfast that Nico had put on for us. Sadly though the elephants trooped off and it was our turn to pack and troop off the reserve. We’d had an amazing time. The reserve is wonderful, a true African experience, and the lodge is just phenomenal. I will certainly return as soon as I can, but for now let us depart magical Madikwe and travel back to Johannesburg and on to Cape Town.

Last edited by stevieed; Aug 2, 17 at 7:04 am
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Old Jun 24, 17, 3:55 pm
  #10  
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I decided against adding a separate chapter for the drive back to the airport, as realistically it would just be a copy, paste and reverse of the drive to Madikwe. I have however included some video below to give an idea of some of the sites we saw along the route.


Stormy approach to Johannesburg


BA A380 parked up during the day

On the approach to Johannesburg we ran into a magnificent storm, which slowed traffic to a crawl and made me wonder just what flight conditions we would be experiencing later that evening…bumpy as **** in case you were wondering. Due to renting from Avis Luxury we were able to drop our car off at the kerbside, which was useful. Brief formalities were completed and we wandered over to B check-in gates (115-127 is usually reserved for British Airways / Comair) and completed more brief formalities before dumping our luggage. There’s no fast track security but it’s pretty fast, with us spending just 5 minutes in the queue. Unfortunately, my mother had left a cake slicer in her hand luggage and that was seized, but hey, good spot by security!


Johannesburg O.R. Tambo airport


Johannesburg O.R. Tambo airport


Johannesburg O.R. Tambo airport


British Airways check-in


British Airways check-in

There are not many places to eat or shop post security, so if you’re looking for a decent meal then I suggest that you dine pre-security, as do the majority of South Africans. However I do recommend the Airport Craft Brewing Company that does good beer and decent burgers. Failing that there is always the Slow Lounge which British Airways uses at OR Tambo Domestic. We get used to, and expect, the very best, but actually the Slow Lounge is pretty decent. There’s plenty of room, fast Wi-Fi, clean toilets, good drink selection from a served bar and a decent enough selection of food from the buffet bar.


Stormy and rain lashed tarmac


Slow Lounge entrance


Food offering


Food offering


Bar area in the Slow Lounge


TV area in the Slow Lounge

I sat for a while with a diet coke watching the storm which was lashing down on OR Tambo and I started to become concerned as to whether our flight would take off or not. However FilthyMonkey reassured me that he’d seen worse and OR Tambo was used to this weather. True to his word we soon saw the go to gate alert on the monitors and so grabbed our many bags and traipsed off to the gate. Unsurprisingly boarding was significantly better controlled than at Heathrow, although I guess they had to deal with far fewer passengers. Regardless, we were rapidly on board and welcomed by the crew.


Storm continues to build as we board


Storm continues to build as we board


Storm continues to build as we board

Old school but comfortable seating


Small business cabin


Obligatory legroom shot


My personal IFE all set up

Although Comair is going through a process of upgrading their fleet our aircraft was of the older variety Our particular aircraft had the 3-2 configuration, with economy in 3-3. Some may scoff, but it was very comfortable for a 2 hour flight. Speaking of flying, we were nearly ready to go, so I saw away my pre-departure beverage, you have a choice of sparkling, wine, cranberry juice or water. After what was maybe the longest take-off I’ve ever experienced we were up in the air and away. Huh, maybe I was wrong, no sign of turbulence.

I spoke too soon. Just a few minutes after take-off we were flying through the storm and it was seriously bumpy! Even more spectacular than the bumps was the lightning that was going on all around our aircraft, truly incredible. Luckily it soon calmed down and the excellent crew did a drinks round. Given I had not yet had an alcoholic beverage, I am driving later remember, I went for a Chardonnay which was excellent. Food choice was pork chop, beef strips or lentils and rice. I went for the beef strips that weren’t anything special but certainly gave me some sustenance.


Drink and nuts


Set up for dinner

It’s a short flight and was quickly over, with us having a wonderful view on landing at Cape Town. Bidding farewell to the really excellent crew we headed off to collect our luggage. Despite being almost first off the aircraft and walking pretty rapidly our luggage appeared almost as soon as we approached the carousel, I clocked it at just ten minutes after doors open on the aircraft.

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