Friday, May 31, 2013

Egret in a thorn tree

A Cattle Egret  (Bubulcus ibis) decked out in its breeding plumage sitting in a sweet thorn tree at the Montagu Leidam in the Western Cape

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sibaya Entertainment Kingdom

Driving from the uShaka International Airport to Durban along the coastal (Umhlanga) road, the African themed Sibaya Casino and Entertainment Kingdom is visible on the hillside.  I didn't have time to look around the casino but did take a drive up to the entrance before I had to be on my way again.  There are some beautiful coastal views from up there.  Sibaya is one of two licenced casinos in Durban and if you do decided to visit it, gamble responsibly.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ranger's Toad

The Ranger's Toad, also known as the Raucous Toad (Amietophrynus rangeri), is one of our most common toad found in South Africa.  If you live close to a pond, dam or stream and hear a loud, incessant duck-like quacking at night then you now know what makes the sound.  As toads go its fairly aquatic and will be found close to water just about anywhere in South Africa.  Interestingly if injured it will exude whitish spots of venom on the parotoid glands which means they can be hazardous to domestic dogs if they are bitten. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Sacramento Trail in pictures

Following Thursday's post on the Sacramento Trail in Port Elizabeth I noticed that I had preciously upload a whole series of pictures taken along the trail on a recent outing.  It's been sitting in my drafts folder all this time waiting to be posted and I think it will serve as a follow up to the previous post.
The trail follows the coastline from Schoenmakerskop to the
turning point at Sardinia Bay, four kilometres away.

Part of the trail actually follows the beach and with any beach there is always
something interesting to see and photograph

Looking back across Cannon Bay to Schoenies in the distance
Some people opt to follow the same path back from Sardinia Bay while others
head up and return along one of the bridle trails  

The coastline used to be home to Khoisan people long before the first Europeans arrived in the Cape.  The returning trail passes a couple of Khoi middens, used to discard their "garbage" back in the days. 

Beautiful views on the returning section of the trail

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meandering on the Sacramento Trail

The Sacramento Trail is probably Port Elizabeth's most popular day hike around the city.  The hike starts in the village of Schoenmakerskop and follows the coastline to Sardinia Bay over a distance of 4km before returning along the bridle trails on top of the vegetated sand dunes.  The 8km trail includes beautiful bays and coves, stunning views and even a little bit of history.  The trail is named after the Sacramento, a Portuguese galley carrying a cargo of cannons, that wrecked along the coast in 1647. 72 survivors made it to land and started walking the over 1000km to present day Maputo in Mozambique with only 9 making it there alive.  The bronze cannons were discovered and salvaged in the 1970's with one of them placed at the start of the trail in Schoenies.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tourism Indaba 2013

I want to share a couple of scenes from the recent Indaba with you, but first a quick generic explanation to those who don't know what Indaba is.  Tourism Indaba, hosted by South African Tourism, is an annual tourism trade show that takes place in Durban in early May.  Indaba is the biggest tourism trade show on the African continent and one of the top three internationally and brings together product and destinations with buyers from all over the world.  But Indaba is so much more than an exhibition.  It also includes speed marketing sessions, workshops, launches, awards, functions and lots of technology.  This year SA Tourism launched their #MeetSouthAfrica campaign just before Indaba with 15 international bloggers travelling all over South Africa blogging, Facbooking, Tweeting and Instagramming about their experiences.  This was followed by a travel bloggers conference on the day before Indaba where some of the bloggers told delegates more about how bloggers can benefit tourism products and destinations and obviously about their trip.  
Delegates received a warm South African welcome at the airport as well as entering the Durban ICC

The exhibition space is split between the Durban International Convention Centre and the Durban Exhibition Centre as well as outside exhibitors in between
 The Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (seeing that I don't blog for a living I need to earn my daily bread somewhere) stand with my colleague Seekoei (the name he goes by online) manning the front desk

On the left a delegate is trying out the interactive video wall on the SA Tourism stand while on the right is a chalk drawing outside the Heritage and Cultural Pavilion
Sand sculptures done between the ICC and DEC

The Heritage and Cultural Pavilion was a new (and popular) addition to Indaba 2013 and showcased some of the country's top heritage and cultural attractions.  Although there were brochures available, all the information was on display on iPads on the wall as well as through Poken scanners. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

5 star meal - Lunch at Twelve Apostiles

Its not every day that I get to have lunch in a smart place like the 5 star Twelve Apostles Hotel and looking at me in my Batman t-shirt in the last picture I clearly wasn't ready for it either.  The Twelve Apostles sits overlooking the surrounding mountains and ocean on Cape Town's Atlantic Seaboard just a couple of kilometres past the upmarket suburb of Clifton.  The hotel with all its facilities is truly award winning and amongst their accolades are the following.
  • Sliver's Silver Award: Won by Executive Chef Henrico Grobbelaar for his Finely Engineered Cuisine (2013)
  • TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2013 Awards: Top 25 Hotels in Africa (14), Top 25 Hotels in South Africa (2), Top 25 Luxury Hotels in South Africa (13), Top 25 Hotels for Service in South Africa (24) (2013)
  • Travel + Leisure (USA) 500 ‘The World’s Best Hotels’: Top 50 hotels worldwide (41), overall score of 93.71 (2013)
  • Condé Nast Traveler (USA) Gold List: South Africa - Best Hotels & Resorts, overall score 95.7 (2013)
  • American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards: Azure Restaurant Listed (2013)
And these are just the awards won in 2013 already. 

Along with my fellow two bloggers on the Peninsula Tour we were taken to our inside table with a huge window looking over the veranda and out to sea.  The weather wasn't ideal to sit outside otherwise we would have.  The restaurant décor was muted with no bright and flashy colours except for the blue water glasses on the tables.  Stripes along with black and whites are the order of the day.  Being a Sunday afternoon the dining area also had live background music adding that extra touch of class.  Our waiter, it turned out as well, comes from my home town so all which is always a win.

We were set up with a set three coarse lunch and started with Norwegian Salmon with citrus cured, salmon civiché, green goddess, fennel salad, olice ciabata, and miso mayonnaise.  All of that is a mouth full to say but once the food goes into your mouth it truly a fusion of flavours like any Master Chef judge would be looking for.

The main meal was Beef Fillet with chalmar black eggplant, white carrot and roasted onion puree, variation of carrot and potato Nicola.  Melt in your mouth fillet pared perfectly with all the other flavours.  Its the kind of dish which makes you want to ask for more not because you're still hungry but because of the taste.  Enjoying this meal I can understand the American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award mentioned above.  My mouth is still watering

Dessert was Vanilla Creme Brûleé served the traditional way.  Eaten that way as well with a slow movement into your mouth, the closing of the eyes as you pull the spoon out again and a "mmmmmm" sigh straight after.

While taking the first picture in the post I caught the eye of a couple of people enjoying drinks at a nearby table.  They called me over (no, not because I was wearing a Batman t-shirt) and started chatting.  It turned out to be Horst Frehse, the hotel's General Manager (on the right) and Phillip Lategan, the MD of Journey Beyond, a big South African inbound tour operator.  Not long and the chat turned into a little photo session with myself and Shelley Pembroke, one of the other bloggers on the tour.  A special touch was that after our meal Mr Frehse came to our table himself to see if everything was satisfactory.  And satisfactory it was indeed.

Disclosure: I had lunch at the Twelve Apostles Hotel as guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.   I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Angel weather vane

Usually you would see a chicken, and in particular one who doesn't lay eggs, on top of a church spire.  Every now and then you do encounter a different one and that was the case with this angel weather vane on top of the Dutch Reformed Church in Robertson in the Western Cape.
Visit Skywatch for some more neck cranking pictures of the sky from all over the world
Skywatch Friday

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Oak leaf dam

I don't do a lot of HDR, but I couldn't help but to play around with it on this photo a bit.  The photo was taken at Spier Wine Estate outside Stellenbosch overlooking the dam by the wine tasting venue. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chacma Baboons

At Cape Point there stands a little statue of a mother chacma Baboon with a baby riding on her back.  Chacma Baboons (Papio ursinus) are intimately associated with the Cape Peninsula and the Cape of Good Hope.  Baboons inside the Cape Point section of the Table Mountain National Parkpark has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.  Round about six troops either live entirely within the Cape Point section or use the section as part of their range.  The baboons in this area has evolved slightly different from their cousins elsewhere because they have longer hair due to the harsh nature of the  weather around there.  The baboons in the park is also the only primates other than humans that live off seafood.  Due to the fact that there are less food available to them in the park they go down to the coastline during low tide and search for food in the rock pools.  Unfortunately baboons in the park has also become cheeky, associating people with food and will often try to get into cars to get to visitors' bags in search of food. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Orange-breasted Sunbird

I don't always get great photographs of birds with my super zoom camera as its not nearly as fast as a DSLR, but the other day I was extremely lucky on a trip to Cape Town that this sunbird sat still long enough for me to snap a pic before he flew off.
The Orange-breasted Sunbird, Anthobaphes violacea, is the only member of the bird genus Anthobaphes and is endemic to the fynbos habitat of south-western South Africa.  Obviously due to its restricted range within fynbos this sunbird is associated with Ericas, from which it takes nectar, insects (often taken in flight) and spiders. It breeds when the heath flowers, typically in May. The male will defend its territory aggressively, attacking and chasing intruders.  The picture was taken in early April so he was probably still taking it easy before the chasing start.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The lighthouse at Cape Point

Cape Point may not be the most southern point of Africa as many people think, but it must be one of the most dramatic spots on the South African coastline.  To get to the bottom Cape Point lighthouse one has to take a footpath along the point so most people just catch a glimpse of it from the viewpoints around the old Cape Point Lighthouse.  On my visit I didn't even notice the scaffolding around the lighthouse until I downloaded my photos.  With the harsh elements at Cape Point I'm sure the renovations is much needed.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What's in a star (grading)?

What's in a star? Well, lets first see what is a star?
a. A self-luminous celestial body consisting of a mass of gas held together by its own gravity in which the energy generated by nuclear reactions in the interior is balanced by the outflow of energy to the surface, and the inward-directed gravitational forces are balanced by the outward-directed gas and radiation pressures.
Eish, that's a bit heavy. Let's just say its the twinkling points of light in the night sky.
b. An artistic performer or athlete (also often sommer any everyday person) whose leading role or superior performance is acknowledged. Alternatively one who is highly celebrated in a field or profession.
That is slightly closer to what I am aiming at.
c. A graphic design having five or more radiating points, often used as a symbol of rank or merit.

Now we're getting very warm.

So what am I trying to get to? In the case of this post, star grading of tourism establishments in South Africa.

In this day and age with everything getting more and more expensive and everybody feeling the pinch ever so slightly (or more than slightly in a lot of cases), finding real value for money is a priority.  This is also true in the tourism sector and specially when it comes to accommodation.  Now value for money doesn't necessarily mean cheap.  Paying R200 for accommodation is cheap, but landing up in a room with cockroaches swimming backstroke in the bathtub, somebody's dirty tissues in the bin, a cigarette butt in a glass (and its a non-smoking room!) and stains and hair in the bed doesn't mean you got value for money.  I would probably say its a disgusting rip-off and the place should be closed.  But how do you know when you book, doesn't matter if its cheap or not, what kind of quality you will get and if it is value for money?  By checking if an establishment is star graded.  And not just a couple of hand drawn stars by the owner's six year old niece, but the genuine thing as can only be awarded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.  

The relaxed courtyard area of the four star Winchester Mansions Hotel in Cape Town
The Tourism Grading Council of South Africa (TGCSA) is a business unit of South African Tourism and the only officially recognised quality assurance body for tourism products in South Africa.  The TGCSA has over 50 qualified Grading Assessors who carry out grading assessments in all nine provinces.  The star grading done by TGCSA is recognised the world over and is only awarded once an independent quality assessment is completed and approved.   

A room at the four star Winchster Mansions in Cape Town

Don't think once an establishment received their star grading they can just let go of their standards and slip into that cockroach backstroke establishment I mentioned earlier.  Nope, not at all.  Every establishment has to be reassessed on an annual basis to make sure they maintain their standards.  This assures me and you, as consumers, that the quality of what we book is up to scratch.  What you pay for it is your own choice as each place decided their own price but nobody forces you to go with the most expensive place you can find on the net.

Sharing with new friends - One of the dorms in the four star Atlantic Point Backpackers
in Cape Town

All establishments that get graded receives on of five star gradings. One, two, three, four or five stars. Duh! LOL!  An establishment that receives 1 star is very basic in the facilities that they offer while 5 stars means a place that offers all the bells and whistles all wrapped up in ribbon.  Who can receive 5 stars I hear you ask?  Well, anybody really and not just that plush 10 storey hotel with its beautiful sea views, spa and in-house restaurant that has its own Gordon Ramsey trained chef.  There are grading criteria for all the different types of accommodation meaning that anybody, and that includes hotels, lodges, country houses, guest houses, bed and breakfasts, self catering establishments, caravan parks and campsites, backpackers and even conference facilities, can receive a five star grading if that is what they strive to.

The pub at the four star Atlantic Point Backpackers in Cape Town
When grading is done a number, and I mean number as in a whole long checklist, of criteria is taken into consideration.  The whole building and all its facilities, the rooms, bathrooms, breakfast (and dinner) quality and presentation, floors, ceilings, lighting, aircon / heaters, beds, bedding, towels, televisions, room fridge, coffee making facilities, furniture and even the hangers in the wardrobe to just mention a few.  Lets not forget service as well.  Service plays a very big roll in the grading process.

Stunning mountain and ocean views from the pool deck
at the four star Ocean View House in Cape Town

I've mentioned what we as consumers will get when we book a graded establishment, but what does the establishments themselves get.  First and foremost they get graded and receive their stars in the form of a plaque and a certificate to display at Reception.  That really should be enough, but wait, there is more.  Said in my best infomercial voice. 
Graded establishments have direct access to millions of global travellers through TGCSA's strategic online partnerships with booming travel sites like TripAdvisor.  You may say that anybody could be on TripAdvisor.  True, but TripAdvisor automatically displays an establishment's star grading if they are graded. 
They also benefit from huge savings on Search Engine Optimisation, as all Graded Establishments automatically receive top results on Google Search.  I'm still a little green about SEO's so contact them if you don't get it cause they will explain it to you better. 
Being graded also connects them with potential travellers through TGCSA close business association with South African Tourism and the huge Investments they make.
There are other advantages for establishments as well.  Read more about them all here.

In the lap of luxury - One of the rooms at the four star Ocean View House in Cape Town
Why do I know all of this?  I was lucky enough to be invited on a blogger trip to Cape Town, along with two other bloggers, by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa.  The purpose of the trip was to get the TGCSA message out a bit more via social media.  Each of us three bloggers stayed in a different four star establishment and we got to compare, tweet and write about our experiences.  @Ethekwinigirl stayed at the four star Winchester Mansions, @ShellsPemBroke at Ocean View House and yours truly, @FireflyAfrica - for those who didn't know my Twitter handle - at the four star Atlantic Point Backpackers.
Disclosure: I visited Cape Town as guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa during a fully hosted blogger tour.   I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spier Wine Estate - various view part 2

Today's post is the second part of the random Spier Wine Estate pictures I posted on Wednesday

Spier is a biodynamic farm and in addition to their healthy vineyards, they also have extensive tracts of land that is used to farm with cattle, sheep and chickens. All contributing to the fertility of the soil and providing to the operations on the estate.

I didn't get to do a wine tasting on my visit but one of the things that interested me was the fact that one of their wine tasting packages is a wine and chocolate pairing.

 Spier has a number of distinctive Cape Dutch buildings around the farm.  These white gabled and often thatched buildings are typical of some of the earlier manor houses built in the Cape.
Disclosure: I visited Spier Wine Estate as guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa during a fully hosted blogger tour of Cape Town. I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spier Wine Estate - various views part 1

Spier must be one of the most popular wine estates in the Cape Winelands by far due to their diverse offer to visitors.  This ranges from the traditional wine tastings to outstanding restaurants and things like Segway Tours, combining traditional wine estate activities with historic and modern aspects and throwing in a bit of adventure.  This is part one of two posts showing off some of the sights to be seen when visiting Spier.
Like every wine estate the focus is on... the wine of cause.  The main building houses the wine tasting, wine sales as well the booking office for the different activities.  Obviously all their awards are on display around here as well.  Wouldn't have it any other way. 
 The lawns around the little lake with its fountain is a stunning area with a lot of visitors and families just relaxing around here.  Spier does picnic baskets which can be enjoyed on the lawns while during our visit there was a group doing their wine tasting outside as well.
One of the historic attractions on the estate is the old slave bell.  Just a pity it wasn't a sunny day with blue skies.
Disclosure: I visited Spier Wine Estate as guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa during a fully hosted blogger tour of Cape Town.  I received no additional remuneration to write this post and all views expressed are my own.