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Trip Report Glorious Return to South Africa--Two Weeks in October

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Having just returned from a trip that ranks up there with the best of my life, I will offer some details in a short trip report. Please feel free to ask any and all questions on topics I have, or have not, covered here.

I had traveled previously in West and East Africa, but it was not until 2007 that I took my first trip to southern Africa--South Africa, Vic Falls, and two camps in Botswana (see trip report on this forum for details). My partner had never traveled to Africa before.

I had pored over the Africa forum on this site, so I had a formed a general plan that would include Cape Town, Londolozi, and one other camp. But I turned the actual hotel, lodge, and in-country air bookings to Liesl Matthews of Southern Destinations, the Cape Town agency that had so brilliantly planned my first, more complicated trip. This proved to be a wise decision. I should add that this is one of only a handful of times (I can remember only two) that I have used a travel agency to plan a trip. I was more than pleased with the agency and recommend them highly.

http://www.southerndestinations.com/



Knowing that I wanted to combine the Sabi Sands with another landscape within the country, Liesl offered a few ideas including Mashatu, Phinda, and Tswalu.
We settled on Tswalu, a luxury camp in the Kalahari.

This was the plan we formulated last spring:

7 nights Cape Town, Mt. Nelson Hotel
4 nights Londolozi Pioneer Camp
1 night Johannesburg
3 nights Tswalu in the Motse camp

I booked the international flights from New York’s JFK on KLM. We would fly overnight to Amsterdam and connect with the direct Amsterdam-CapeTown flight, with arrival in Cape town in the evening of the day after departure. On the return, we departed Johannesburg on the night flight, arriving early morning in Amsterdam. Due to the long connection time, we were able to spend a few bonus hours in Amsterdam itself before boarding the last, sad homeward leg, to JFK.

I bought travel insurance from Travel Guard, via InsureMyTrip.com but thankfully, we did not have to use it. We also filled our prescriptions for malaria medicine, said to be necessary for travelers to the Sabi Sands/Kruger areas.


Liesl at Southern Destinations was handling all the details, so after buying the KLM tickets and the insurance, I turned my attention to one of my favorite topics: Food. My first trip, when I also spent a week in the city, confirmed that Cape Town and its surroundings comprised an outstanding gastronomic destination. There seemed to be so many inviting restaurants, but after lots of online reading, and querying (see thread below)


http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/capetown-and-aroundseeking-restaurant-advice.cfm

followed by consultations with Liesl, who knows her way around a dinner plate, I formulated a list that would include what seemed to be the most interesting local restaurants. One of the these, The Test Kitchen, which I imagine tops most lists of the best in the city, needs to be booked many weeks, if not months, ahead of time. I chose to have Liesl book them all for me about two months before departure.

In Cape Town:

Pot Luck Club
The Test Kitchen (two dinners)
La Colombe
The Greenhouse
Nando’s

In the Winelands:

We had originally planned to have Sunday lunch at Babel, but once we arrived and sought local advice, we switched to the restaurant at the Delaire Graff wine estate outside Stellenbosch. (Babel will wait for the next visit!)


More soon...

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    Thanks, Thursday, and vice versa...you have such a terrific collection of reports on your blog, and with photos, too. I did ride the Blue Train on my first visit to SA. But as you know, there is another train, with a more down-to-earth price, that seems to garner good reports.

    I have been overhearing my partner (never been to anyplace in Africa) on the phone with friends and each time when they ask, he exclaims, "This was by far the best trip I've ever taken..just amazing, incredible," etc etc.

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    We used Liesl at Southern Destinations for our trip to south Aafrica in August for our family of 7 (grandparents, parents and 3 girls aged 8 10 and 12) and she gave us a wonderful itinerary with great guides and accommodation. Couldn't have been more pleased.

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    We also used Liesl at Southern Destinations for our trip to South Africa in August for our family of 7 (grandparents, parents and 3 girls aged 8, 10 and 12). It couldn't have been better with great guides and accommodation. In Kruger we had our own camp at Little Jock with our own chef, staff and guide. While you are in Cape Town arrange a guided tour to Langa Township. It was very worthwhile and the people were friendly and four ladies sang and danced for us on the street then gave us a big hug and little children came up and took our hands and walked along for a while. Varied accommodation from very very poor to nice little bungalows.

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    That's wonderful, Mhwhite. I have recommended Southern Destinations to several friends here in New York and all were extremely pleased with Liesl, and with the agency.

    Here is a bit more information, on packing, aimed mostly at first-time visitors to the region, or first-time safari-goers.


    A word on packing, from a serial over-packer:

    On my last, month-long, trip to southern Africa, the combination of bringing “too much stuff,” and the strict weight restrictions of the small planes that service the safari camps, combined to force me to check a suitcase in the storage area of OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. Due to the inconvenience, and to the fairly shady, or at least mixed, reputation of this facility, I was determined to fit everything into my large L.L. Bean canvas duffel bag, plus small carry-on backpack and rather large handbag. (My partner also took one, smaller duffel, and one wheeled, Eagle Creek carry on bag; I did manage to sneak a few purchases into his bags as the trip progressed; I also again mailed home a(n) expensive package of purchases from PostNet in Cape Town)

    I cannot remember exactly what I brought along, but I do remember that is was FAR TOO MUCH!! Having two pair of shoes, one pair of lace-ups and one pair sandals, plus a pair of flip flops/thongs, was perfect, although I know realize what veteran safari-goers already know: Sandals are not ideal footwear on game drives.

    Where I went wrong was in bringing 4 pair of pants: Two pair of jeans, one black (intended for evenings in Cape Town but not absolutuely necessary, and one gray, which was heavily in rotation). One other pairi of pants, and one pair black leggings, never worn. Because mercifully, I had lost weight since my last trip, I left my zip-off “safari” pants (which have never, ever been zipped off) at home and brought a new pair of “safari” pants which rolled up to calf length. I also brought about 5 short sleeved t-shirts, one “nice” white shirt that I planned to wear at night on safari but which remained snug in my bag for the entire trip, and 2 long-sleeved black t-shirts (why two??) and a pair of shorts for lounging in the room. Too much, considering that both our camps included daily laundry service in their all-inclusive price.

    I brought one “nice” cotton jacket, which I rarely wore. Brought one microfiber black, zippered jacket from L.L. Bean, which I wore a lot. My khaki Tilley hat, which tied snug under the chin, was also heavily used.


    However, I did not take the advice so generously offered here to bring a wool scarf, gloves, and a warm hat for cold mornings and evenings. (see last part of planning thread, also linked above:


    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/rsa-tswalu-vs-mashatu-vs-phinda.cfm


    Not only that, I did NOT have a heavy, or even medium-weight jacket.


    And so I was very, very cold-- no--I was freezing, during the first part of the morning drives and the last part of the evening drives. (Vehicles did have blankets, and at Tswalu they supplied hot water bottles. Even so, it was cold in mid-October, in both the Sabi Sands and at Tswalu.

    Lodge gift shops do sell some of the items that I had neglected to bring (I bought a fuzzy hat at Tswalu, and both Tswalu and Londolozi sold jackets, hats, gloves, and fleeces) but there is no guarantee that you will like these, or that your size will be in stock. And they are expensive, as compared with the prices at, for example, Cape Union Mart, the chain of camping and outdoor apparel and accessories with a convenient-for-tourists branch in Cape Town at The Waterfront. (My partner's one purchase of the trip was a 90 ZAR baseball cap emblazoned with the Big 5 from Cape Union Mart. He prizes it very highly and was distraught when it blew off his head during a nighttime game drive at Tswalu. (My Tilley hat, which tied under the chin, remained firmly in place even during the bumpiest and fastest off-road drives) Thankfully our diligent ranger, Kyle, and tracker David, were able to recover the hat after repeated, spotlit drives back and forth along the track in the Land Rover)



    Apart from all that, aimed for first-time safari-goers, I will also offer this thought: Most of the other guests at our two lodges were veterans, and many had been to a dozen or more camps in various regions of Africa. Almost NONE of these lovely people were kitted out in ensembles of khaki safari gear--zip-off pants, Buzz-Off insect proof shirts, etc etc. (I did see a few cameras whose long lenses were shrouded in camoflauge, though)

    What did they wear? Most of them (almost all Europeans apart from a couple from Johannesburg who were at Londolozi for the wedding of one of the Varty daughters, and one couple--he originally from Zimbabwe; she of French/Phillipine heritage, both now living in Singapore--who shared our vehicle for two days of drives, also at Londolozi) sported jeans, t-shirts in sober colors, regular sneakers/trainers with socks, and headgear that included quite a few baseball-type brimmed caps.

    There was one khaki-encased older woman, a travel agent from Florida, and one of the few Americans we encountered, who had obviously done a lot of hunting of Africana souvenirs--her sneakers dangled furry animals from the laces and her tote bag sported other furry mammals, porcupine quill earrings festooned her ears and beaded Masai and faux elephant hair bracelets her wrists. Her logo-stamped clothing attested to the other camps she had visited. She looked faintly ridiculous. To me.

    Apart from observing my fellow, more experienced, guests, I asked rangers, camp staff, and assorted South Africans and the consensus was: “When we go on safari ourselves, we wear jeans, comfortable tops and, often, baseball caps.”
    I will remember this for next time! Just make sure to leave the bright reds and chartreuses behind.

    As for Cape Town, the city is casual with a capital “C.” I could probably count the number of men I saw in suits on one hand (these seemed to be business travelers staying at the Mt. Nelson; we certainly saw no one wearing a suit and tie in any of the excellent restaurants we visited.) I wore black jeans almost every night in Cape Town, and my partner wore cotton trousers in a neutral color. Blue jeans would have been fine as well, as long as the ensemble was well-fitting, neat and clean and paired with footwear other than beach shoes. The general style of dress was much more relaxed than in our home city, New York, and more akin, I suppose, to California.

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    Marija your memory is enviable! They are still going strong, and most regular, I assume! But after a semi-disastrous trip to southern Italy (Prune juice to be found in certain health food stores and large supermarkets, but not in the coveted small cans) two years ago, we are not planning any more trips together.

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    Here is a bit more:


    We arrived at the spiffy and modern Cape Town airport (CPT) at 9:30pm. After collecting our 2 checked bags, we exited the baggage claim to find our guide, Charlie Ratcliffe waiting for us with a big smile. My friends and I had hired Charlie, through Southern Destinations, on our 2007 trip and I was very pleased that he was free to squire us around this time. It is certainly possible to fend for oneself in the city and surroundings, by using either rental car (left-hand side of road driving was intimidating) or by taking taxis within the city and day tours to see the surroundings. One certainly does not “need” to hire a guide, but we were very happy that we did, as it made things that much more convenient, not to mention that Charlie now felt like an old friend. He would be with us for the next 5 1/2 days, picking us up at our hotel in his roomy new van around (9:30am and returning us about 5pm most days.)

    After the easy drive from the airport, we arrived at the Mt. Nelson and checked into Room 326, a junior suite. The room was attractively furnished in a traditional style; the mattress was very comfortable; the bathroom with bathtub and separate shower was large. Public areas retained their architectural detail (the hotel dates from 1899 but has obviously been redone) but were not stuffy or staid. Best of all, the hotel has two swimming pools (normally both are heated but the heater in the Oasis pool was broken at the time of our visit). We were very pleased.


    http://www.mountnelson.co.za/web/ocap/mount_nelson_hotel.jsp


    After a lovely breakfast on the Oasis terrace the next morning, we swam and relaxed before being picked up by Charlie about 1pm. I am normally very susceptible to jet lag, but felt none on arrival in South AFrica. Maybe this is because we had all day to relax on the plane before arriving in the city. (It did take me more than a week to get back to “normal” on the way back).


    The next few days passed in a whirl of color, taste and sound. And views!
    The first day, like all the rest, was brilliantly sunny and cool. Our first stop that first afternoon was The Castle of Good Hope, built by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th Century as a maritime replenishment station. (30 ZAR admission)


    http://www.castleofgoodhope.co.za/




    We followed this with a visit to the fascinating, sad, and very moving District Six Museum:


    http://www.districtsix.co.za/

    (As luck would have it, one of our taxi drivers that week had lived in District Six and told us some fascinating stories of life there, and the struggle to gain compensation from the government years later for the loss of his home at the time of the forced removals) There is also at least one former resident who works as a guide in the museum. As those who have visited the city know, the area once occupied by this lively mixed race neighborhood remains largely a barren swath near the center of Cape Town.

    Next: Table Mountain, a national park and World Heritage site within the city limits that I had been unable to fit into my last trip. We were whisked in a revolving cable car to the top, where the views, and the natural landscape, has few rivals for magnificence in any city I have visited. Colorful sunbirds, furry dassies (rock hyrax), swooping kestrels, masses of wildflowers, steep granite precipices rising up from turbulent turquoise ocean...just glorious!


    http://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/


    The penguins of Boulders Beach, Chapman’s Peak Drive, the Cape of Good Hope, Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden, the Winelands--we took in all the traditional, gorgeous sites in the next few days. I am not sure that any other city can match the scenic bedazzle of Cape Town, and that includes Hong Kong and San Francisco, two cities renowned for panoramic views.

    And best of all, we ate and drank, and ate and drank, and ate and drank, at a succession of fabulous restaurants!


    I will return soon with details on where we dined.

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    CAPE TOWN RESTAURANTS (and one restaurant in Stellenbosch)



    (In all cases except Delaire Graff outside Stellenbosch, and the snacking we did at The Old Biscuit Mill and the V&A Market on the Wharf, and a take-away from Nando's, all of our meals were dinners) We reached the dinner restaurants by taxi from the Mt. Nelson; at his request, the taxi driver that we used for the two Constantia restaurants waited for us and drove us back at the finish of both meals. For the meals closer to Cape Town, we had the restaurant phone a taxi for us after dinner.

    We had no real problems with taxis but I will say this: Make sure that the meter is turned on, unless you know the fare and are willing to drive off meter. Two or three times the drivers neglected to turn on their meters, once claiming that the meter was broken and stating a fare that we knew was too high. When I asked to return to the hotel, his meter suddenly fixed itself.

    Second point: Not all taxis, in fact no taxis that I recall, have GPS. Make certain, therefore, that you have an exact address and directions, especially if you are venturing to the suburbs. We got lost in the dark near Constantia, trying to find The Greenhouse, driving round and round on the dark, winding roads, until we were able to find someone to help set us on our way.




    This site of our first dinner in the city, this is the more casual of the two restaurants helmed by famed local chef, Luke-Dale Roberts, in the Old Biscuit Mill, a renovated factory complex in the slowly gentrifying but still raffish neighborhood of Woodstock, about a 20-minute drive from the central business district.

    The Pot Luck Club occupies the 6th and top floor in the silo of the complex and sports all the requisite features--steel and glass, weathered beams-- familiar to those acquainted with the current industrial chic design ethos. Window seats benefit from a sweeping view of the city and suburbs. The menu, of course, focuses on “small plates” and the influences are global with Asian flavors accenting most dishes. Dress is very casual and our fellow diners seemed to be locals in their 20s and 30s.

    The exchange rate at the time of our visit was R10 to USD$1, very good for those armed with US dollars and at least 20% more favorable than my last visit. Food and wine prices in this gastronomic capital were, therefore, more than reasonable for us.


    We had an assemblage of dishes from the various menu categories--Salty, Sweet, Umami, Sour, Bitter, Sweet.

    Crispy Curried Celery Leaf--Fried with a shatteringly crispy crust, this jumble of celery leaves pungent with aromatic curry was near the top of the list on that first evening. Essential! (R30)

    Fried Calamari, Turmeric and Ginger Dressing with Fresh Leek and Chili Salad.
    Good, but more sauteed than fried, as I recall. (R70)

    Blockhouse Battered Hake with Cardamom and Saffron Mayo. Fish and chips, again with a perfect battered outer shell and perfectly cooked white fish. (R50)

    Chinese-Style Short Ribs with Dark Beer and Doenjang Glaze. The sous-vide equipment here, as at many of today’s eateries, sees heavy use, and as we’ve sometimes encountered, the results are not always an improvement over the more traditional slow braise. This holds true especially with the tougher cuts of meat, as exemplified by these short ribs. It sounded promising, but the although the flavors worked, and presentation was lovely, the meat was a tad dry. (R80)

    5-Spice-Glazed Pork Belly with Cured Roasted Apple, Grated Halvah (!) and Crackling. A flavor bomb! Difficult to imagine, but the pork belly meat was on the dry side, otherwise this would have found its way into the top-dishes-of- the-week list. (R80)

    Mushrooms on Toast, Grated Lemon, Parmesan Porcini Dust. Very good, but not much porcini flavor. (R65)

    Melted Chocolate Fondant with Stem Ginger Ice Cream. Outstanding! (R60)

    With a bottle of Paul Cluver Close Encounter Riesling, from the Elgin Valley in the Western Cape, (R215), the dinner for two totalled R778, or about US$80.

    The one-way taxi ride from the hotel (we made the round trip to three dinners within the Old Biscuit Mill) averaged in the area of R70-R80.


    http://www.thepotluckclub.co.za/about.php

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    The African penguins at Boulder’s Beach, Chapman’s Peak Drive, the Cape of Good Hope--these and more had us ooohing and ahhing on our first full day in the city. Rather than plan a sit-down lunch, we headed first for Tokai, where a branch of South African "fast food chicken" chain Nando’s occupies an unassuming mall just off the highway. We stopped in and assembled a take-away order that would include Nando’s famous spice-marinated grilled chicken (available in three levels of heat from mild to extra hot, all with Peri-Peri sauce, and in two non-spicy versions), and several side dishes. (R145, including drinks, for 3 of us).



    http://www.nandos.com/

    Chicken safely stowed in Charlie’s van, we set off on the circuit that took us to see the famous African penguins at Boulder’s Beach, after which we relaxed on benches facing the sea at Buffels Baai, where I had my first taste of Nando’s.

    For those unfamiliar with this chain, I will say only that I wish we had a branch in New York. Excellent price/value ratio, very tasty chicken (I ordered the hot, which was pleasantly spicy); terrific cole slaw (I did not like their Peri Peri spinach, however). I imagine the quality varies from branch to branch, because the Nando’s dinner we had on our last night in the city, purchased at a Kloof Street branch near our hotel, was not quite as good. Or perhaps it was the astounding scenery! In any case, inexpensive and tasty.

    After lunch, we continued on our circuit, with the Cape of Good Hope as a highlight. (You do need to hone your aggressive side, however, if you want to have your photo taken behind the famous sign; some foreign visitors are blissfully unaware that others are waiting, and some seem to believe that they are Marilyn posing in Bert Stern’s studio, camping and vamping for long minutes while other seethe.)


    All in all, a fabulous day, capped off by a marvelous dinner at a restaurant reputed to be among Africa’s best:


    LA COLOMBE


    La Colombe is tucked into a charming farmhouse structure amidst the vines and gardens of the Constantia-Uitsig Estate about a half-hour’s drive outside the central city. As noted above, we took a taxi and the driver offered to wait and drive us back after dinner. (we had some interesting conversations with this driver who, like many we met, is an immigrant from the D.R.C.) The meter, on arrival, read R265, but we left a generous tip. I had dined previously at the estate’s more casual restaurant, Constantia Uitsig, which is slated to close soon, but had never visited La Colombe.

    The French name had put me off a bit; I feared that the place might be formal and the food overdone. I need not have feared. This is a cozy farmhouse restaurant, all whitewashed walls sweeping up to a peaked ceiling accented with painted beams. Lots of wildflowers. A terrace opens to a courtyard centered on a fountained pool and edged by lush gardens.

    This season, evening diners were seated inside. We were handed a printed menu, augmented by specials written on an ambulatory blackboard. Our fellow diners were dressed casually, for the most part; one single gentlemen wore blue jeans and a pressed shirt and did not look out of place. Now, on to the food:

    Although there are tasting menus (5 courses for R310) we ordered a la carte.

    Already acquainted with the luscious oysters of the western coast, I chose a half dozen from Saldhana Bay. When I could not decide between the raw and the Champagne-poached, the waiter suggested three of each. Both versions were outstanding! (R28 each). Essential, for oyster lovers.

    My partner ordered a half order of a nightly special, Spring Pea Risotto. Creamy, bright, and all around delicious. (R75)

    Our main courses were, for me, Assiette of Suckling Pig, various pig parts including loin, crepinette, and belly, accompanied by pickled red cabbage, smoked pureed potatoes, creamed leeks, and a sauce of quince and beet juice.
    Excellent! (R220). My partner had the Duck special; although I neglected to take notes, this was also an excellent dish, served with a healthy serving of duck foie. (R265)

    With water, and two glasses of Bukkettraube from Cedarburg (one of my favorite wine discoveries on this trip) dinner for two totalled R874, before tip.

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    A BIT ON SNACK FOOD, AND SHOPPING

    New since my last visit to Cape Town is the V&A Market on the Wharf, a former electric power station now enclosing row after row of food stands comprising a permanent food bazaar featuring edibles from mango-carrot smoothies and Belgian waffles to biltong (the kudu is excellent!) and samoosas (what we in the States know as samosas). Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 6pm, this is a good place to head for a snack, or many snacks, at reasonable prices. You can devour your purchases on site, or the benches and tables outside the building.

    http://www.marketonthewharf.co.za/


    Not far away, inside the Waterfront mall, a branch of the upscale supermarket Woolworth’s was my source for interesting dried spice blends, boxes of Rooibos (often called red bush in the US) tea, jars of chutney, and bottles of Peri Peri sauce and Rose’s Lime Juice, made here with cane sugar instead of the corn syrup found in the US-sold product. (Yes, I did mail much of my bounty home, from PostNet, increasing the total price of each item by three or perhaps more).

    Speaking of shopping, we made the requisite stops at the multi-leveled and jammed-to-the-rafters Pan African Market, and at Greenmarket Square (look carefully and you might find some intriguing items among the heaps of souvenir-ey Africana). (I bought long necklaces whose beads are made from lacquered, coiled newspaper; (R40 each)

    On Long Street, at #72-74, the upscale two-level Tribal Trends, carries decorative wares and jewelery from many sub-Saharan countries, much of it made for the shop. Prices are on the high side; quality is very high, and the staff is absolutely lovely.

    Another must shop is Exclusive Books. Although most of the Waterfront is devoted to chain stores familiar from many big cities, this bookstore is a standout. They carry books on all topics but the interest, for me, is their vast selection of books on Africa and Africa-related topics.


    In or near the Bo-Kaap district, there are several shops offering intriguing handcrafts and artwork whose profits go towards bettering the living standards of people in the various townships around Cape Town. Among these are: Monkeybiz http://www.monkeybiz.co.za and

    Streetwires, http://streetwires.co.za/

    and another nearby shop whose name I have forgotten but where I bought a cute set of neck collar, bracelet, and earrings made from colored buttons (R85).


    There is a clutch of interesting shops in Die Waterkaant district, as well as at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, which was the scene of two of our best meals of the trip, at The Test Kitchen.

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    Thanks!

    I forgot to mention that, on our day trip around the Cape Peninsula, we saw more than a dozen Southern Right whales just offshore. The viewing was as good as I had had in Hermanus on the last trip.

    Also saw baboons, antelope and ostrich near Cape of Good Hope.

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    Marija: Those penguins were the cutest things!

    But I will say that, for sheer cuteness, I would have to give the prize to the meerkats we saw at Tswalu.

    More soon, on The Test Kitchen, etc

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    Great so far. I'm anxiously waiting for the Test Kitchen review! We had a reservation there for our trip last September, and just before we left the US, they emailed and said they would be closing for six nights (to "refresh") right during our trip, so we missed dining there. Looking forward to your thoughts. It would give us incentive to return to Cape Town.

    Thanks again for the report.

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    I'm so glad you are finding this helpful. Sorry it is being written in dribs and drabs!

    The Test Kitchen is wonderful.

    Traveler318, I hope that you do return and are able to dine there.

    Here is the next installment.



    THE TEST KITCHEN

    We had two outstanding dinners at this award-winning restaurant which occupies a ground floor former industrial space in the Old Biscuit Mill Complex, not far from its more casual sibling, the Pot Luck Club. Diners adhere to one of two set menus; there is no a la carte option. The dishes do not change much in the course of a week so, essentially, we had the same meal on two different evenings, something I cannot recall ever doing in a restaurant. Dinner was so good that this was hardly a hardship. (The restaurant has just snagged the top spot in the 2013 EatOut Awards for the best restaurant in South Africa)

    On both evenings, my partner had the Discovery Menu (R520) and I had the same, with wine pairings (R765). All wines were South African.

    Dinner opened with two amuse and a bread plate highlighted by wonderful pretzel bread sticks, followed by a shaved salad starring pickled yellowtail accompanied by BBQ carrots and a honeycomb dusted with Ras Al Hanout spice blend. Second course, for me, was Plum-cured foie gras with cinammon poached guava. Marvelous! For my partner: Grilled scallop with miso and shitake mushrooms, prepared two ways. Like all of the dishes we enjoyed, these were intricately arranged and imaginatively presented in a manner that reminded me a bit of the work of Wunderkind British Chef Paul Liebrandt. Next, for both of us: Pork belly with apple and honey, served alongside pork cracklings. Absolutely smashing; perhaps the best dish of the trip!

    Main course, again for both: Chef’s signature dish of duck, magret and confit, with truffle and foie gras egg. Another winner.

    Dessert: Assiette of chocolate..intricate and fantastic.

    I gave the barest details above; the dishes were so intricate, and so inventive, with so many complimentary elements drawn from not only European and South African, but also Asian and North African flavor profiles, that it is very difficult for me to recount with any accuracy exactly how they were presented.

    Here is the Discovery menu, with a bit more detail; Although most of the main elements of the various courses are the same, some of the preparations listed are different from those we encountered.



    http://www.thetestkitchen.co.za/food/dinner-discovery/


    The industrial-chic design--metal, wood, and brick elements, towering ceilings crisscrossed by weathered wooden beams--is handsome and, thankfully, the dining area was not deafeningly noisy. There is counter as well as table seating. Dress is casual. Service was exemplary: Informative and very friendly.

    Taxi fare is about R70-80, each way, from the center.

    Reservations are needed many weeks in advance, perhaps more for high season. Outstanding! The total for dinner, for two of us, amounted to
    R1483, including tip, or about US$150.



    http://www.thetestkitchen.co.za/

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    Thanks, Eliz! I never thought I would return to eat essentially the same dinner within a few days. But it was THAT good. And for those with North American dollars, an exceptional bargain!

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    Here is the last restaurant report for Cape Town: The Greenhouse, in Constantia.





    THE GREENHOUSE


    After getting lost for about 30 minutes after reaching the leafy suburb of Constantia, (again, make sure to have exact directions to your destination if you venture out of the city) we arrived at The Greenhouse, the acclaimed restaurant of the Cellars-Hohenort wine estate and a member of Relais & Chateaux. On this evening, we were joined by friends from New York, who were starting out on their own CapeTown/safari combination.

    The Greenhouse is a beautiful restaurant, perhaps a bit more formal and “dressed up” than the other eateries we visited. A series of dining rooms with expansive mullioned windows speak to the greenhouse theme; tables are draped with white linens; chairs wear white upholstery emblazoned with leaf motifs. There is no a la carte option; instead, diners select from several prix fixe menus ranging in price from R465 for four courses (our choice; diners can choose from one of four dishes in each course) to the R625 “Wild” Tasting menu.

    Most dishes hewed to the European tradition, showcasing prime local ingredients, although there were obvious Asian accents as well. Presentation was creative and dramatic. I began my dinner with Cured Rainbow Trout dressed with hazelnut vinaigrette and dusted with salmon furikake, a Japanese condiment (more typically used to season rice) comprised of dried fish, seaweed, and sesame seeds. Beautiful interplay of contrasting but complimentary flavors.

    A ballottine of quail and duck foie gras with pistachio vinaigrette and a prunce/brandy chutney followed..also delicious.

    The highlight of the meal for me, however, was the Lasagna of Monkfish and Leeks, delicate layers of roast fish and vegetable nestled in a pool of bouillabaisse. Excellent!

    Main course: I wanted to try the famous Karoo lamb, so selected the duo of meaty chop and delicate coconut-crusted lamb heart with a garlic cream, accompanied by a miso-glazed eggplant and lentil dhal. Excellent!

    And for dessert, Peanut Butter and Madagascan Chocolate Cake with Marula ice cream (marula is the tart fruit of the woodland marula tree that lends its name to the ubiquitous Amarula cream liqueur).

    All in all, an excellent meal in lovely surroundings, marred only slightly by service that was the least attentive and the least competent of any we had experienced thus far. The total for four people, with a bottle of Cederberg Bukettraube and before tip, amounted to R2144, or US$57 or so, per person.

    We paid the taxi driver, who waited for us outside, R600 for the round trip.
    (As a matter of comparison, we had been quoted a price of R600 each way for the trip in the hotel’s luxury car.)



    http://www.collectionmcgrath.com/cellars/the-greenhouse/

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    This should round out the Cape Town portion of my trip; next chapter will focus on Londolozi.


    Saturday morning found us again bound for the Old Biscuit Mill complex in Woodstock, where a lively food market fills two adjoining skylit brick warehouses, and the outdoor areas between the permanent retail shops (including Honest artisanal chocolatier, Clementina Ceramics and the very good Wine at the Mill store) sprout stall after stall of handcrafts, new and vintage clothing, accessories, and housewares. I would recommend arriving by opening time of 9am or so, as the crowds had thickened considerably by the time we left around 11.


    http://www.theoldbiscuitmill.co.za/about-the-mill/

    Charlie had cautioned us to eat a spare breakfast and I was glad we heeded his advice. Vendors in the food market proffer a vast range of offerings from hand-made mozzarella, macarons, and raw Saldanha oysters to bobotie, biltong, honey, and samoosas. (I highly recommend both the oysters and the phyllo samoosas stuffed with bobotie, the signature South African spicy-sweet meat mixture studded with raisins). Although prepared food dominates the offerings, there are also a few purveyors of meat, fish, and produce.



    http://www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za/





    After making the rounds of the food stands, we browsed the outdoor booths and retail stores; a standout among the latter is the ceramics boutique, Clementina, highlighting the works of Clementina van der Walt and other South African ceramic artists. (The smart black and white ceramic cups, dishes and trays that appoint the bathrooms of the Mt. Nelson Hotel can be purchased here)

    http://www.clementina.co.za/


    I bought a handsome kudu leather backpack from the www.Rowdy.co.za outdoor stall; about R1300.


    http://www.rowdy.co.za/


    With the afternoon free, we opted to take a drive to the Winelands, and headed for the oh-so-cute bastion of Cape Dutch architecture, Franschhoek. I had spent a few nights here on my last trip, but I wanted my partner to soak up the scenery in and around this small town. We parked the car and took a walk along the main street, but a spot of rain cut short our meanderings. Knowing that we were due to return to Stellenbosch the following day for a tour of the town and lunch at Delaire Graff, we headed back to Cape Town, where we posted a (heavy and expensive-to-ship) package of purchases at PostNet before returning to the hotel to swim, and prepare for our dinner at The Greenhouse, described above.


    The following day, Sunday, was to be our last in Cape Town and, as planned, we left the hotel around 9:30 for the drive to Stellenbosch. We passed about an hour touring the quartet of historic houses that mirror the historical development of the town and together comprise the Stellenbosch Village Museum, an essential stop for architecture buffs and one I had missed the last time:


    http://www.stelmus.co.za/


    And then it was time for lunch. At the heart of the Winelands, Stellenbosch is home to countless wine estates; we had chosen the restaurant at Delaire Graff from a list of dozens of well-regarded restaurants in the area. Unlike restaurants in Cape town, many are open on Sundays.


    http://www.wineroute.co.za/


    Delaire Graff is over-the-top in every way, from the lush flowering gardens, studded with contemporary South African sculptures from the collection of Laurence Graff to the sweeping panoramic vistas afforded by its perch atop the heights of the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, to the tasting room and restaurant, enclosed in a stunning contemporary structure of stacked stone, wood and glass. And to the showcased displays of diamond jewelery for sale, on site, I presume. There are lots of photos on the website, below.


    http://www.delaire.co.za/




    Three of us had a relatively spare (in comparison to the feasts we had enjoyed earlier in the week) lunch in the dining room. Unfortunately, the outdoor terrace, with its astounding view of theh valley with mountains behind, was not open that day. If you do visit in summer, be sure to request terrace dining.

    I selected two appetizers--six Saldanha oysters (R138) and a beautifully plated assemblage of roasted squares of pork belly accompanied by potato gnocchi and a slow-cooked farm egg (R85)

    My two companions each chose the fish and chips, a sandwich of shatteringly crisp hake with a mound of fried potatoes. (R155 each).

    With a bottle of Cedarburg Bukettraube (R205), the bill for three persons came to R823, including tip and a mandatory R10 donation to something called the FACET foundation. The lunch menu is a la carte.

    http://www.delaire.co.za/images/September_6th_Lunch_Menu.pdf


    We passed the rest of the afternoon swimming, and readying our things for tomorrow morning's flights to Johannesburg, and on to Londolozi, where we were booked 4 nights at tiny Pioneer Camp.

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    LONDOLOZI PIONEER CAMP


    We departed the Mt. Nelson at 7:30am and, after the quick drive to the airport, bid goodbye to Charlie and soon were ensconced on the 9am British Air flight to Johannesburg where, upon arrival, we collected our baggage and were transferred to the nearby Federal Air hangar where we relaxed over complimentary drinks and pastries while waiting to board the 19 seater Beechcraft that would fly us to the Londolozi airstrip in the Sabi Sands.

    I had been a bit unnerved by the tiny aircraft that served my lodges in Botswana, so I am happy to report that the flight to Londolozi was not one bit nerve-wracking. After a little over an hour, we began our descent and by the time we landed and spotted the vehicles waiting to transport us to the lodge, my excitement was at fever pitch. I cannot think of another destination that boasts that unique combination of breathtaking excitement and pampered cosseting that marks a stay in one of South Africa’s luxury safari lodges.

    We disembarked from the plane and were met by Ranger Mark Nisbit and
    Tracker Life Sibuye, the team who would guide us through the landscapes of Londolozi for the next four days. The thrills began shortly after we left the airstrip, when we spotted an adult female (Tutlwa) leopard walking in a dusty culvert. Mark took off in pursuit, to no avail. We did not spot the leopard again that day, but we did come upon a family of 4 lionesses and 6 cubs (Mhangeni pride?) that had just settled down to feast on a still-thrashing adult male nyala. Mark theorized that the animal had been killed by the leopard, who had, in turn, been chased away by the group of lion. An incredible start to our adventure!


    Elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeeste, and white rhino all made their appearance that afternoon, even before we reached the lodge!

    Once we arrived, we were met by the camp manager, Georgia, of whom I cannot say enough good things: Fun, competent, kind, enthusiastic....all the qualities mirrored by everyone who staffed the Pioneer Lodge at Londolozi. Many of the managerial staff, and several rangers, were actually family friends of the Varty family, owners of Londolozi, and we would soon be immersed in a family feeling that was unlike any I have experienced before at a safari lodge. (There was a lot of excitement during our stay, due to the impending wedding of one of the Varty daughters, which was due to take place on boulders in the river on the day after our departure.)

    Londolozi is comprised of 5 different camps, strung out east to west facing the Sand River and connected by a wooden walkway. We were in Pioneer, the most secluded of the camps and also one of the two smallest, with only three suites holding a maximum of 6 adult guests. We were assigned to Suite #1, the most secluded of the suites and the furthest from the main living/dining structure. The camps are fenced to deter elephants, but antelope (and the occasional leopard) wander through.

    Our suite was a fever dream of classic Africana; probably as large as my New York City apartment and composed of bedroom, dressing area, living room, vast bathroom, entry way/second bedroom and second bathroom--all under soaring ceilings topped by thatch. The vast decking facing the river held a plunge pool (too cold to dip even a toe) and outdoor shower area, along with padded lounge chairs. We took a walk to inspect all of the camps (including the suites of several of these) and while all of them were lovely, we were more than pleased that we had booked the tiny Pioneer.


    http://www.londolozi.com/en/accommodation/pioneer-camp/

    We were very fortunate with our fellow guests, too. For the first two nights we shared the camp with a Dutch family--mom, dad adult son and his girlfriend--who were about the most delightful companions anyone could wish for. Once they departed, one room remained empty and one was filled by a soon-to-be married young couple--he from Zimbabwe and she of French-Filipino heritage, both based in Singapore. Again, we were more than fortunate to have such delightful people sharing our vehicle and some of our meals.

    Food at Londolozi was excellent--superior, again, to any I have had on safari.
    We ate breakfasts and lunches on the expansive deck of the main camp; one dinner was held there as well. Two dinners took place in the enclosed outdoor boma, lit by what seemed like a hundred lanterns and warmed by a fire. And we had one dinner, with Manager Georgia, on the deck of the largest camp, Varty, where Chef Eric turned out a superb dinner of carrot-ginger soup, tender roasted impala, and delectable bread pudding. (There is always a choice of dishes for each course). Having been disappointed by the food at Lion Sands Ivory Lodge last time, I was more than satisfied with the offerings at Londolozi.

    That first evening, after a grilled dinner in the boma (squash soup, cod, espaliered beef, terrific potatoes, and a few vegetable sides) we set off on our first night drive.

    Tracker Life outdid himself by spotting not only scrub hare, mongoose and jackal, but Lesser Bush Baby, a pair of Flapnecked Chameleons in a tree, from what seemed like three hundred feet away (!) and not one, not two, but three sleek Honey Badgers, the first of which went about his business foraging for a good 15 minutes just a few feet from our vehicle.

    And this was only the first day! We were so excited that it was almost difficult to sleep that night!

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    Eliz: Each camp has its own dining area--both outdoors on a terrace and sheltered, and their own outdoor boma dining area. So in the case of Pioneer Camp, there were only either 4 or 2 other guests with us at mealtimes. On two nights we ate at our own table, and one night we ate with the 4 other guests and our Ranger, Mark. The staff are very flexible, so you can eat alone every night, or even eat in your room if you wish. As you might imagine, staff far, far outnumbers the amount of guests at any of these camps. At Pioneer, it really was like being at some mythical house party in the midst of the savannah, with staff discreetly but always available. But there was such a family feeling at Londolozi and I think this sets it apart from some other camps. The friendliness and concern never felt forced, or purchased, here. Also,t he food was much better than at any camp I've visited.



    On one of our nights, there were only two other guests, and they asked to dine alone in their suite. So we were given a choice: Have a dinner for two in our suite; have dinner (just the two of us) at Pioneer on the terrace; or join the manager who planned to dine at Varty Camp.

    (Varty is the oldest Londolozi camp, and it is one of the two larger camps; both Varty and Founders have 10 chalets; they are also the most economical of the camps. Varty has a lot of fans, and we met several repeat visitors. The rooms may not be quite as luxurious as the more pricey Pioneer, Tree and Granite, but I would not hesitate to stay there..there just will be a few more people around but that might not always be a bad thing)

    We were told that guests can dine at any of the other camps, by prior request, as long as there is room on a particular night. The exception is Granite Camp, which is comprised of private suites; guests from the other camps can only see the public areas of this camp if no Granite guests are around, and guests from the other camps cannot dine there.

    The meals (except for the dishes grilled outdoors on boma nights; boma is an outdoor enclosure lit here by candles, lanterns and fires; each camp has its own) are prepared in a central kitchen, so food is the same at all camps.

    Note: Even though I corrected myself on the orientation of the Londolozi Camps, I may have been right the first time---still not exactly sure if they run east-west or north south!

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    The next three and a half days at Loondolozi ranked up there with some of the best in a lifetime of traveling. Those who have been on safari know the general routine, which will vary slightly by time of year, guest desires, and agenda of particular camp. For those who have not yet been, here is the general timetable:

    5am..coffee/tea and biscuits delivered on tray to our suite

    5:30am..departure for morning game drive

    9:30-10am..return from drive and gather on the outdoor deck for breakfast.
    There is a plentiful buffet of cold dishes, from (excellent) baked salmon to yogurt, cheeses, cold meats, cereals, fresh tropical fruits, and an array of fresh juices, from watermelon to passion fruit. Espresso, cappuccino, many teas...all on offer.

    Staff always had a special hot dish of the day (favorites included the “Ranger Omelette,” stuffed with meats, cheeses, vegetables) and guests could request just about anything from steak to oatmeal. Mixed mushrooms were particularly good; I had them daily, with eggs and without.
    Sparkling wine, or “bubbly,” as it was referred to here, was much in evidence.


    We tended to linger over breakfast, chatting with Georgia, the delightful camp manager, or with our ranger or the other guests.

    11am..back to room to read and relax. One morning we took the tour of the staff village, home to about 200 people from housekeepers to rangers to kitchen staff, to managers. There is a school for young children, a health clinic, cafeteria, and learning center outfitted with computers for language lessons and training programs. And a media center. Vehicles are maintained and repaired in the auto workshops. All in all, a most informative hour or so that gave us some insight in the formidable behind-the-scene efforts poured into a first-rate establishment such as Londolozi.

    Other mornings we read in our rooms, or took a walk along the wooden boardwalk that runs parallel to the river and links the 5 camps under the Londolozi banner. The walk from our suite at Pioneer, to the last camp, Tree, took about 25 minutes. Foro thosoe so inclined, there is a gym and gift shop.


    At 2:30 or so, we would walk over to the dining area on the deck, with the bush and the river (barely a trickle this time of year) as backdrop. Lunch was a selection of about three salads and one or two hot dishes, and perhaps a cold pasta or fish dish, followed by dessert.

    3:30pm was the designated departure hour for the afternoon game drive, so we would head to the vehicle and set off into the bush for a couple of hours, before stopping at sunset at a picturesque waterhole or overlook for sundowners: Gin, beer, sodas, and any drinks the guests had requested, along with spiced nuts, biltong, cheeses, salami, and other nibbles.

    After the cocktail pause, the game drive would continue; once darkness fell, the tracker would switch on the spotlight to highlight nocturnal creatures: BushBaby, chameleon, and the ferocious honey badger were a few highlights we spotted on night drives.

    By 7:30pm or so, we would pull up in front of camp and, after a brief visit to the room, repair to dinner, served outdoors on the terrace or in the boma enclosure. Food was excellent, and plentiful; one night at the boma, for example, delicious corn-cilantro-coconut soup (soups were always excellent) was followed by a chicken and fennel braise and grilled steak. Dessert: Feather-light Amarula cake. There were always good South African wines and beers on offer, as well as domestic and imported wines and spirits (a small minority of the latter carry an upcharge.)

    By 10pm or so, we were happily ensconced in our suite, eager for the hours to pass so we could head out again into the bush.

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    I am feeling very sad that we're not going to Londolozi. I went back and looked up your old trip report because I wanted to see how Londolozi compared to your Botswana experience....did I miss something or did you NOT write about Botswana (weeping and hair pulling out commencing!!!) However, looking at the bright side, I will look for Rozendal vinegar( green label) when I'm in the Winelands!

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    Quite a report and you did see a great deal. Wife and I were in S.A. a few years back with son teaching at Wits Un. in Jo'burg. In that area included Soweto and Mandela house and Apartheid Museum. To the east and north we covered Kruger safari plus exploring Blyde R. Canyon, Maropeng Museum and cave, also Shangaan village. Then south to Cape Town, on down to Cape of Good Hope, then wonderful Kirstenbosch Nat'l Botanical Gardens. Driving east we stayed a week in a castle manor in Plettenberg and explored in the area.

    South Africa a good destination.

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    BB: I never did finish that report; we went to two camps in Botswana: Stanley;s and King's Pool. I am happy to answer any questions about the experiences. The general daily routine is much the same at all the camps I visited, but the landscape, and the people, are of course, very different at each one.

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    ..just took at look at that report and it seems as if I left it hanging on the Victoria Falls Bridge!

    I LOVED Botswana, and would hope to be fortunate enough to return someday. Stanley's Camp was much simpler than King's Pool, in the Linyanti. Stanley's had much more of a family feeling, while King's Pool (which had mostly American guests including one of those legendary "guests from Hell) was super-luxurious, but lacked that homey ambience. Much of the feel for the place rests with the staff, and I am sure that both camps have gone throughmany trotations of managements since my visit, so my comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

    I WILL finish this report--will close up the LOndolozi portion, and then we have to spend a night in Johannesburg (which I liked!) before heading to Tswalu in the Kalahari!

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    We had a total of 8 game drives at Londolozi and each drive revealed a plethora of animals. I tried to keep notes, but most of the time was too excited to do so. Here is an abbreviated list of what we saw; in many cases we had multiple sightings:

    Lion--male, lone and in pairs, and female; many cubs--once we saw two females with total of 4 3-month-old cubs in dry river bed.

    Leopard--male and female; cubs. Female and cubs with kill. (I was devastated to learn that one of the cubs we spotted several times, the Nanga female, is now believed to be dead)
    Lion and leopard are named by the rangers in order to keep track of the animals they spot. Londolozi is considered among the best places in Africa to see leopards, and true to reputation, we saw these magnificent cats many times)

    Here are photos taken by a ranger at our sighting of the Nanga leopard female with her two cubs, one of which is now believed to be deceased:


    http://blog.londolozi.com/2013/10/leopard-cubs-make-a-welcome-return/



    For more on the leopards: http://www.londolozi.com/leopards/

    Cheetah--two sightings of females, one with male and female sub-adults

    Buffalo--Lone males and large herds

    Giraffe

    Burchell’s Zebra

    Honey Badger-3

    Spotted hyena

    Chacma Baboon

    Vervet monkey

    Sidestriped Jackal

    Bushbuck

    Duiker

    Impala

    Klipspringer

    Kudu

    Nyala (several inside camp)

    Steenbuck

    Waterbuck

    Warthog

    Hippo--many, in pools and foraging on land

    White Rhino--several groups

    Wildebeest

    Crocodile

    Water Monitor Lizard

    Dwarf and Whitetailed Mongoose

    Striped Skink--on terrace outside suite (never inside, though)

    Elephant--many, many!!


    We saw hundreds of birds and after a while, I could not keep up with my notes on the sightings, so my list is far from complete:

    Africa fish eagle

    White-faced whistling duck

    Crested francolin

    Go-away bird

    Egyptian goose

    Helmeted guinea fowl

    Green-backed heron, nesting

    Southern yellow-billed hornbill

    Hadeda ibis

    African jacana

    Giant kingfisher

    Blacksmith lapwing

    Crowned vanellus lapwing

    Verreaux’s Owl

    Lilac-breasted roller

    Africa white-backed vulture

    Red-headed weaver

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    Our time at Londolozi passed very quickly. We had a morning game drive on the day of departure, the 18th of October, and then were driven to the airstrip for our 2pm Federal Air charter direct to Johannesburg. Again, I had no trouble on the flight, even though we ran into a bit of unsettled weather.

    We were met at the Federal Air hangar and transferred to our hotel in the city, The Winston.


    Built for the World Cup, The Winston Hotel occupies a leafy block in the upscale northern suburb of Rosebank. The two-story red-tile-roofed structure forms a quadrangle around the pool area, edged by gardens flowering with foxglove and bougainvillea. Jaunty black-and-white striped awnings shade the outdoor terrace, where dinner and drinks can be taken.



    http://www.thewinstonhotel.co.za/

    I had (shame on me!) run out of memory for my camera that morning, so no sooner had we checked in than we headed out in a taxi to the snazzy Sandton City shopping center which houses a Photoland shop. The multi-level premises contain all sorts of luxury chain stores, from Zara, Gap, and Bebe, along with a branch of the SA Woolworth’s, complete with supermarket, and many locally owned shops; there are ATMs there, of course. The mall is open 7 days a week. Apart from the camera store, I am not sure there is much to interest the average tourist, though.

    Mission accomplished, we headed back to the hotel, where we were given a ground floor room facing the pool area. I do not think there is an elevator, so ask for the ground floor if you abhor steps.



    Johannesburg lacks the reputation for food and wine attached to Cape Town, but we had heard good things about the small DW-11 restaurant. But we were so exhausted that we cancelled in favor of a quiet dinner at the hotel. The most I can say about the hotel restaurant is that the room is attractive enough, and that dinner was passable for tired transit tourists like ourselves: Two parsnip soups, 1 chicken schnitzel, and 1 bottle Chenin Blanc: R344.


    There are many restaurants located within a quick cab ride away.

    The hotel, however, was pleasant; our room was quiet, the bed was comfortable, and we lacked for nothing. Front desk service was exceedingly helpful and friendly.

    The next morning we had time for a 20-minute stroll along streets canopied with flowering purple jacaranda, to the Oxford Street Shopping Center, housing several banks, a supermarket, several restaurants and fast food outlets, and the Pan African Market, with a plethora of stalls offering everything from carved wooden hippos to beaded Zulu furniture. A sign inside the market reads: “This is Africa, We Bargain!”

    I should add that we felt absolutely safe walking around this neighborhood and, in fact, I was sorry that we did not have another night in Johannesburg. Several people we spoke to felt that the city had turned a corner and was now attracting artists and creative types to its formerly forlorn, and reportedly unsafe, central business district.

    We were collected close to noon for our transfer to the Anglo American hangar, a short drive from the main terminals at OR Tambo International Airport (too far to walk, however), the departure point for our flight to the Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve. Our transfers in the city were handled by RNS Tours, and I would recommend them.


    We relaxed at the Anglo American hangar over coffee and sandwiches until it was time to board our 1pm flight to the reserve. The flight, in a Beechcraft 1900 was, once again, smooth and after an hour or so we began to fly over the red sands of the Kalahari, home to Tswalu, the largest private game reserve in the country, owned by the Oppenheimer family of mining fame. As I remember, the flight took a bit over two hours.

    We arrived at the tiny “airport” and were met by the ranger, tracker team, Kyle and David, who would shepherd us for the next three days. Guests at Tswalu are accorded a private vehicle, with a canvas shelter from the sun. We learned that there would be no set schedule: We were free to make up our own. For example, we could opt to depart early in the morning and not return until dinnertime. Or to depart in late afternoon and remain out until late at night in search of elusive nocturnal creatures. It would be up to us.

    Tswalu is under the Relais & Chateaux umbrella (as is Londolozi Pioneer) and the accommodations are beautiful and luxurious almost beyond belief. We were allotted one of the 10 cottages in the Motse, or “village,” directly in front of the waterhole, and my jaw almost dropped the first time we entered.

    The thatch-roofed, mud-walled rondavels enclose a vast bedroom with a netted canopy bed dressed with linen sheets, a massive stone fireplace, and large foyer with bar area. The bathroom is also large, with tub and tiled shower area, and a glass door opens to the outdoor shower area. The large dressing area contains a comfortable desk; an example of the attention to detail here is the fact that the desk is equipped with not only note pads, but pens, pencils, stapler, paper clips and other supplies. There are plenty of outlets.

    A daybed on the outdoor deck, facing the waterhole, is comfortable enough for sleeping. (Guests can spent the night at the Malori outdoor sleeping platform in the desert and I initially wanted to do just that, but was vetoed by my partner. Spending a night on our terrace may not have been exactly the same, but it was at least an approximation of what that experience might have been like)

    I’m afraid I am not describing the accommodations very well, but there are photos on the website, and in the Conde Nast Traveler article:



    http://www.tswalu.com/accommodation/the-motse


    http://www.tswalu.com/press_pdfs/Cond%C3%A9_Nast_Traveller_-_July_2012.pdf


    We had selected Tswalu for the contrast in ecosystems between the Sabi Sands and the Kalahari. Before I describe the experience, I will say that this is not the place to come looking for the “Big Five.” While there is plenty of wildlife (80 mammal species) you will not see hippo, buffalo or elephant, or crocodile, and a leopard sighting is a rare occurrence. And there are many species that are quite special and which I will describe later.

    I think the Kalahari makes a good companion to a more traditional safari reserve, or a destination for travelers who have already experienced big-name reserves in the Okavango, the greater Kruger area, or other more traditional safari spots.
    The vast size of the reserve is a big plus, as we rarely saw another vehicle, and there were never more than two vehicles at a sighting; even this happened only once, when we came across a large pride of lion walking along a dusty track.

    http://www.tswalu.com/

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    I have to disagree about Joburg lacking the reputation that Cape Town has for good food. Rosebank and Sandton have been ok areas for walking around (during the day) at least for the past 15 years or so and Melville has always been an area for artists for many years.

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    ekscrunchy,
    Again, you've made me feel like I made the right decision. Our outfitter had first booked us into Kings Pool, but I was getting the impression that it was too luxurious for what we wanted, so I switched to Vumbura Plains.

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    Odin: Just to press the point a bit: Cape Town is a world-class food and wine destination due to the agriculture and the vineyards of the Western Cape. I don't think Johannesburg has that reputation, although there certainly must be good restaurants in that large city even if few stood out to me when I did my reading and asking around.

    For those putting stock into "best of" lists: There are a number of Western Cape restaurants on the San Pellegrino Top 100 list, and none that I know of in Johannesburg. Closer to home, most of the winners of the 2013 EatOut.za awards are in the Western Cape, and none are in Johannesburg.

    http://eatout.co.za/News/Category/General/2865/The-winners-of-the-2013-Eat-Out-DStv-Food-Network-Restaurant-Awards

    Luke Dale Roberts, of the Test Kitchen in Cape Town was voted Chef of the Year by the San Pellegrino jury.

    When I spoke of the revival going on in the city I was referring to the CBD, not to the northern suburbs such as Rosebank and Sandton.

    Eliz: No, but I will put it on my list now!

    BB: From all I've heard, VP sounds like a great choice. The couple we met at Londolozi was heading there as their next destination, and we met several others who were enthusiastic to the hilt!

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    Anxiously awaiting further reports on Tswalu as it is on our next safari itinerary! Looking for the violet-eared waxbill - were you lucky enough to see one? Also, did you enjoy the meals there?

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    Great trip report, so glad you had such a great time. And so glad Test Kitchen didn't disappoint, it is so amazing.

    I have to agree with ekscrunchy, the dining in JoBurg really doesn't have the same reputation as compared to Cape Town and surrounds. We have been living here a little over a month now and have eaten out quite a bit and while everything was pretty good, nothing yet has been outstanding compared to the places in CPT. I still have a lot of places to try like Cube Kitchen and 500 so I expect/hope those will be great, we shall see.

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    Thanks very much for the positive comments.

    Carolines: I did not see the violet-eared waxbill, but we did see so many birds and I undoubtedly left a few off the list here. But I would have remembered that sighting, if we had been lucky enough. But if you tell the guide that that bird is high on your list, my guess is that they will do almost anything to insure a sighting.

    The food at Tswalu is certainly good enough, but not particularly memorable. Much better than Lion Sands (but remember I was at LS a few years ago) but not as good as Londolozi, if that helps at all. There is a good selection of dishes for each course. Despite being from from any city, they do receive daily flights from both CT and J'Burg, so the variety of foods is more than one might expect. Remember that I am probably more critical than most guests in the food department; just do not set your hopes up too high. The whole experience is just brilliant, and I recommend it highly. Have you looked at the blog on their site? There is a lot of good information there, and lots of wildlife photos.


    Here is just a bit more:





    Tswalu’s 100,000 hectares--vast reaches of red sand rising blanketed with golden grasslands and studded with terra-cotta hued quartzite outcroppings known as kopjes. I’d never before seen the tremendous shaggy nests that house hundreds of sociable weaver birds:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Philetairus_socius_-nest_in_South_Africa-8.jpg

    Lunches were served on the terrace surrounding the small (unheated) outdoor swimming pool and the adjacent (heated) soaking tub--both of which overlook the waterhole).


    We took two of our three evening meals in the dining room, where roaring fires provided necessary warmth. One evening, we ended our game drive atop a nearby dune close to sunset. After drinks and cocktail snacks, the grills were fired up (the staff wore headlamps) and we sat down to terrific braised lamb shanks, as well as grilled chicken, sausages, and an excellent array of vegetable dishes including pap with spicy shiba tomato-and-onion relish, creamed spinach, and a very good hot cabbage dish.

    During dinner hour, a scorpion was spotted by an eagle-eyed ranger, duly trapped in a wine glass, and brought around for us to admire, illuminated by a special (ultra-violet??) light, before being set free to scurry off into the sands.

    As good as that dinner was, Londolozi far outranked Tswalu in the food arena.

    There was always a good selection of dishes, and most were good enough.
    Highlights were that lamb, and that evening's dessert: Malva pudding, a traditional Cape Dutch baked dessert with a sticky toffee sauce. (Malva refers to Malvasia wine, the traditional accompaniment) I loved this dessert!


    If most of the food was less than spectacular, the game drives at Tswalu were anything but!

    The vast property is divided into two sections, split by a road running to the Botswana border, just a few miles away, and beyond. Although there are fences surrounding the reserve, the area is so large that one is only aware of these when traveling to and from the airstrip or when crossing from one side of the reserve to the other on game drives.

    http://www.tswalu.com/images_interface/tswalu-map_hi-res.jpg

    We saw several large lion prides, including one procession of 12 females and cubs that were lounging under scrubby trees until, upon hearing a soft call of their leader, the entire group rose and began to promenade along the dusty red track, single file, passing within inches of our vehicle, and continuing until out of sight.

    We saw many, many antelope: Oryx, tsessebe, sable, gemsbok, eland, hartebeeste, and roan were those I noted.

    We were also thrilled to spot a both a porcupine and an ardwolf on an evening drive. Bat-eared foxes also made appearances, and we saw jackal, giraffe and mountain zebra as well.

    Tswalu is also home to wild dogs; we saw these only in a large gated area where they were being acclimated to the environment before being introduced to the reserve.

    Yet our favorite of all the animals we were privileged to see were the unbelievably adorable furry little meerkats, including many newborn pups.


    Words cannot describe these little creatures, although those who have seen the television series, Meerkat Manor, filmed a few miles from Tswalu, will have an idea.

    Although meerkats are not uncommon in the Kalahari, most will scurry away from humans. It is only after a long habituation period that several of the Tswalu groups now allow visitors to approach, and we were able to get within a couple of feet of one large group, which included several weeks-old pups.

    http://www.tswalu.com/blog/catching-up-with-the-meerkat-pups/


    http://friends.kalahari-meerkats.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=1909


    More soon..

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    I was so excited reading your review. I love all the details because we are foodies as well.
    We are going on a very similar trip the end of June early July. We have a group of 9 (5 adults, twin 17 year olds, 14 year old & 11 year old)We will be going to Cape Town, Sabi Sands, Victoria Falls and Botswana.

    I hope you don't mind but I have a few questions.

    The kids are all very well travels. We want to all go out to one really nice dinner one night. Would any of the restaurants you went to welcome children?

    Our single male friend will be going early....would any be fun for a single guy who is a major foodie?

    Would you be able to recommend a restaurant that would be great food that the kids would still have fun?

    As I mentioned I was so excited reading your review until you mentioned the food at Lion Sands.....that is where we are staying since we have children. I have read that the food was really good there....not Londolozi but still really good....was that not your experience. Would love to hear more about that.

    I am extremely excited about the last leg of our trip....we are going to be on the Zambezi Queen riverboat. We love to be on the water.

    Thanks
    L

    FYI....we live in one of the best food cities in the world I think....Charleston, SC

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    That will be a terrific trip!

    I think that any of the restaurants I visited in Cape town, as well as Delaire Graff in the Winelands, would have no problem with children of that age. For the single guy, I would recommend Pot Luck Club, which is very casual (skip the sous vide meat dishes) or The Test Kitchen, which is also casual but in my opinion has even better food. Both of these are cutting edge kitchen under the same chef's umbrella, and the decor at both is handsome and rustic at the same time. The Test Kitchen needs to be booked far ahead, but a single person can, and should probably, request to be seated at the counter, in front of all the action. Same as Pot Luck Club if they do have a counter--I cannot remember.

    If you cannot get a large enough table for your group dinner at either of those places, I would recommend The Codfather in Camps Bay…you choose your seafood or fish and then specify how you would like it cooked and they do it that way on the spot. They also have sushi, and it comes on a conveyor belt, which the kids will love. It is a fun, young place that the kids would like, I think. It is popular with locals, as well as visitors. I had lunch there on my first trip, and would have visited again had I had the time.


    http://www.codfather.co.za/about.html

    You will take a taxi to all three of those restaurants from central Cape Town….prices are reasonable and the drives are not more than 15 minutes or so. You would need 2/3 taxis, I guess, or a large van taxi to take the entire party.


    As for Lion Sands, perhaps I should not have mentioned the food as I was here back in 2007 and things may have changed. (However, I did speak to a couple that was with us at Londolozi who had just come from LS and they were disappointed in the food). But remember again that my trip was years ago and also I had just had the barometer of Londolozi to compare it to…. Also, at LS they asked us upon check in to request any foods that we would like to try, or if we had any dietery dislikes. We did not specify anything and perhaps should have. You might even do this ahead of time. The food was by no means bad, it was just forgettable, and the lunch offerings were kind of heavy considering the heat.

    This is the report I wrote after that first trip, and I talked about the LS food, but again, keep in mind the date of my last trip; I never did finish the report, though, so there is nothing on the two camps in Botswana--Stanley's in the Delta and King's Pool in Linyanti..

    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/trip-reportfirst-time-in-southern-africa-savic-fallsbotswana.cfm

    I hope I've answered your questions….I am more than happy to help, so feel free to ask away!

    Remember that the men do not need tie and jacket and they do not need even a jacket, even for the top restaurants. Cape Town is very casual.

    I LOVE Charleston, by the way, and would love to visit again to sample all the new eating spots!!

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    Tswalu permits only one group of guests at a time to view the meerkats on the reserve. Viewing is wither in the morning, when the animals leave their burrows, or at the end of the day when they return. Actual times will vary by season.

    On our first appointed morning, we arrived at the burrow area about 6:30 pm, exited the vehicle, and walked about 200 yards to a cleared area of red sand, pockmarked with round holes--the entrance to the meerkat burrows.

    We waited eagerly in the cold morning until our ranger, Kyle de Nobrega, sensed activity below ground. He could hear faint sounds that we could not, sounds that would soon signal the appearance of the little animals. Or so he told us. We waited another fifteen minutes or so until finally we, too, began to hear faint chirping. A few minutes later, a tiny head popped up, then another, then another, until we counted almost 20 meerkats including several weeks-old pups.

    Slowly they began emerging, to begin digging, shoveling sand away from the burrow entrance, and performing other tasks that our guide referred to as “burrow maintenance,” constituting a show that was almost beyond description.

    This has to be one of the best safari experiences in the world! We watched, and snapped photos, for about an hour until a pair of adults began to make forays further and further away from the burrows, toward the open bush. Finally, after determining that the route was safe, almost the entire group began scampering away in search of nourishment, with the youthful members pausing every now and then to chase each other and tussle on the ground. At the end of the day spent foraging for bugs and grubs, they would all return and, after a further round of burrow maintenance, would descend into their lairs for the night.

    Happily, we were able to spend two mornings with the meerkats, and these might have been the best hours of the entire two-week-long trip and certainly the highlight of our 6 game drives at Tswalu.


    I should mention that our Tswalu package included two spa treatments each; both the Swedish massage and the “Signature Tswalu Touch Experience,” which involved both a massage a hot stone treatments, at the hands of Vanessa from Johannesburg, were very good, although since I am not a frequent consumer of spa services, I may not be the ideal person to offer an opinion. The spa itself is certainly luxurious!

    More critical, our three-night stay included the RT flights from Johannesburg. Since guests can also fly in from Cape Town, this makes a great transition between the two cities, as your travel would essentially be free with a stay at Tswalu; one could spend time in Cape town, fly to Tswalu for three nights, and then continue on to Johannesburg to either fly home or to access the Sabi Sands, for example.

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    Correction to my correction, above: I was correct the first time about the orientation of the Londolozi camps, including Pioneer, Varty and the rest. As shown on this great map posted on another thread, these are strung from east to west along the banks of the Sand River.

    This is an excellent map showing the layout of the Sabi Sands and the location of all of the traversing areas, with Kruger National Park to the east:

    http://www.eyesonafrica.net/south-african-safari/sabi-sand-safari.htm


    Here is another map, also from the other thread, showing the location of the Sabi Sands and the other private reserves.

    http://www.sunsafaris.com/south-africa-map/kruger-park-map/private-kruger-reserves/

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    Sadly, Tswalu was our last stop in South Africa. On the last day, we had a morning game drive (which included that second, priceless visit with the meerkats) and returned to the lodge for breakfast and leisurely packing.

    We had lunch outdoors next to the pool, and then lingered in the lobby until it was time to depart.

    During this time, each member of the kitchen staff approached, singly, to bid us goodbye. (I would advise having a bit of cash on hand for staff members you might have neglected to tip beforehand; I did find this procession a bit awkward, and wonder if it is the usual practice at other lodges; I had not experienced it before)


    About 2pm, we were driven to the airstrip where we found the aircraft waiting to fly us back to Johannesburg. We made the transfer in reverse, and arrived at OR Tambo’s international terminal about 5pm.


    I had been uncertain about how we would pass 6 hours until our flight to Amsterdam, which departed at 11:15pm, thinking that we would have to mind our luggage the entire time.


    http://www.fodors.com/community/africa-the-middle-east/long-layover-at-jnb-nearby-restaurant-luggage.cfm




    Happily, the KLM counter opened early, allowing us to check both of our large duffle bags through to JFK, our last stop.

    We then walked through the terminal, which had been renovated since my last visit and seemed much less chaotic, and across the street to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Quill’s Restaurant occupies space on the ground floor. We relaxed in the comfortable carpeted space for about two hours; I had only soup and my partner a chicken dish (I’ve forgotten the details, but although the food--a mix of European and local dishes-- was not particularly memorable, it was probably better than anything we might have found inside the terminal. Prices are high, however).

    After dinner, we headed to the KLM/AF lounge, stopping to browse the bookstore and to change some remaining Rand to dollars and to euro.

    Upon arriving in Amsterdam in the morning, we stowed our carry ons in storage lockers inside the transit area (US credit cards are accepted; remember that you need the code on the ticket to open your locker and retrieve your belongings), and purchased tickets for the quick train ride from Schipol to Centraal Station (US credit cards NOT accepted for the train; for this reason, try to have euros on hand if you plan to do this).


    From the station, we took a long walk to the museum quarter, where we had a seafood lunch at The Seafood Bar:

    Seafood Bar is a handsome, contemporary space with great contrast of weathered brick and white ceramic tiles....very glossy and stylish. There is a broad menu of raw and cooked offerings, including both sandwiches and heavier plates.




    http://www.theseafoodbar.nl/menu/en






    My partner ordered smoked mackerel sandwich...very healthy portion in open faced-sandwich on good bread. Tasty.

    

I ordered the Plateau Seafood Bar. Enjoyed most of the offerings on the platter including impossibly tiny Dutch (North Sea) shrimp, smoked eel, two types of smoked salmon. Except for the Dutch shrimp, which I had never had before, quality was pretty standard.

    

But wait: "Crab" salad made from surimi? This was mildly shocking (also thought surimi was pollack from Alaska but no claim was made for local seafood) but perhaps goes along with the "sustainable" orientation. 

So all in all, I would say it is a dependable spot, not too pricey, very friendly and convenient to museums. Nice walk from the station in good weather. I would return if in the area. Next time I might veer towards cooked offerings. (Perhaps should have asked for menu guidance) But keep your expectations tempered.

    After lunch, we took the tram back to Centraal Station and headed to the airport, a trip of under 20 minutes. We relaxed in the lounge until the time to board, and I spent most of the flight dreaming about a future trip to Southern Africa.


    One of the best vacations I've ever taken!

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    I have enjoyed your report, ekscrunchy! We may be going to South Africa for Christmas/New Year this year - I am glad to have Liesl Matthews's name - if we do this trip, I will definitely be calling her! Thank you in advance for that!

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