Travel and Leisure 2007-2013


De Hoop (without the whales)

First appeared
Thursday, 11 April 2013


The capacity to anticipate a future is one of the features that distinguishes human beings from other animal species. No wonder, then, that hope – along with its counterpart, fear – drives most of our activities. It is central to religious teachings (like St Paul describing faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”) and to political creeds (think of Barack Obama’s 2008 US presidential campaign).

Given the risks and rewards shaping that foundational human activity, agriculture, it’s hardly surprising that the names of many South African farms give expression to their founders’ stubborn optimism. But I can’t help wondering what exactly Pieter Lourens Cloete had in mind when he named his Spanish horse stud “Hope Farm”, or De Hoop. What circumstances inspired in him this sanguine expression?


The Hack Daddies

First appeared
Thursday, 28 March 2013


As surely as December brings Christmas, March brings the Hack Daddies Golf Tour.

For a select group of thirty- and forty-something gents, Hack Daddies is an annual fixture – a chance to leave real life behind in Johannesburg or Cape Town and spend a few days chasing little white balls around some of the most spectacular courses in South Africa. In between the golf there is lots of banter and plenty of beer. Vegetables are scarce.

No-one can remember exactly how the name “Hack Daddies” came about, and it’s actually something of a misnomer. Only a handful of the sixteen members are out-and-out hackers – I’m sorry to say that this reporter is one of them – and, while there may not be any scratch golfers on the tour, there are a few single-digit handicappers.

To be fair, in recent years most of the guys have become dads, so at least the second part of the title is accurate (albeit not in the way it was originally intended). But family responsibilities, along with professional commitments, recede into the background as the Hack Daddies take on their tour identities.


A View of Kalk Bay

First appeared
Thursday, 07 February 2013


There’s a particular table in a particular corner of a particular Kalk Bay restaurant that teaches you a lot about Cape Town – what it was, what it is, and what it yet may be.

The restaurant is Live Bait, one of the growing stable of restaurants owned (or, as it turns out, co-owned) by Michael Townsend. It occupies the first floor of a building rising from the rocks and the breakwater of Kalk Bay harbour, and it is about as dramatically situated as a restaurant could be; arguably, only the Harbour House directly upstairs – Live Bait’s somewhat more sophisticated sibling, the jewel in Townsend’s crown as it were – commands more impressive views.

Joburg, wine and sightseeing

First appeared
Monday, 20 February 2012

The editor of Classic Wine, a new bi-monthly magazine for South African wine-lovers, asked me to write an article on "inner-city sights" in Johannesburg (to run with a complementary piece on Cape Town). Never mind that the Cape is obviously more wine- and tourism-oriented than my home town ... I also found myself asking, Where is Joburg's "inner city"?


Nobody knows where the Johannesburg city centre is any more.

In Cape Town, the “City Bowl”, the “CBD” and the “inner city” are concentric circles – and, thanks to the mountains and the sea, things will stay like that indefinitely. In Durban, Port Elizabeth and smaller coastal cities, the geographical limitations are less severe, yet the high-rise buildings still cluster towards the shore. Heck, even in Bloemfontein and Pretoria there is consensus about where to go when you’re alone and life is making you lonely (“Downtown”, of course).

But in Joburg, as Ivan Vladislavic writes, the boundaries are forever “drifting away, lodging in tenuous places, slipping again” – which means that the centre is always shifting too. I’ve been known, after some creative calculation (and a few glasses of wine), to claim that my house is in the exact centre of the greater Johannesburg megalopolis; yet it’s also slap-bang in the middle of suburbia and, I can assure you, we don’t get any tourists there.


Ireland in South Africa

First appeared
Monday, 31 January 2011

Riverdance, that quintessentially Irish phenomenon, is onstage in South Africa for the first time. Sure, we’ve had plenty of Irish dancing over the years – multiple visits from spin-off shows like Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance and David King’s Spirit of the Dance – but Riverdance is the original and is still held to be the more ‘authentic’ production.

What started off as an interval piece at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994 (held in Dublin that year) rapidly grew into a full-length music and dancing extravaganza: an exhibition of traditional Irish dancing such as had never been seen before, and which became the Emerald Isle’s major cultural export of the 1990s. In Riverdance the improbable foot and leg movements of the distinctive Irish dancing style, multiplied by twenty dancers and performed perfectly synchronised, are accompanied by Bill Whelan’s composition – tunes that are both joyous and full of pathos, by turns invigorating and haunting.


Buffalo Ridge: community-owned AND luxurious?

First appeared
Monday, 24 January 2011

For most high end leisure travellers to or in South Africa, the phrases “community-owned” and “community-run” set red lights flashing and alarm bells ringing. It’s all very well to make a brief township tour, brave the novelty of an overnight stay in a rural B&B or browse through the quaint produce on offer at a craft market – but if you want to travel in style, stay in luxury and enjoy the best of the best, private commercial service providers are a safer bet.

That, at least, is the orthodox (albeit unspoken) wisdom in the tourism industry. It speaks to various assumptions about what is meant by experiencing a country. For people from developed countries travelling in the developing world, this leaves two implicit options: either you can really interact with the citizens and try to live as the locals do – which equates to “slumming it” – or you can enjoy your creature comforts, in which case you’ll be prevented from engaging with their “authentic” way of life.

Art and the Art of Living at the Peech

First appeared
Monday, 22 November 2010
When James Peech relocated from Britain to South Africa, he didn’t think he’d be opening a hotel in the middle of Johannesburg.

After a lengthy spell curing their mutual wanderlust in south-east Asia, Peech and his South African partner Cassie Janisch planned to return to her homeland and settle in Cape Town. The Cape, however, did not prove hospitable to their ambitions for the hospitality industry and they decided to try their luck in (ostensibly less tourist-friendly) Jo’burg instead.

"Africa, Jim, but not as we know it"

First appeared
Monday, 08 November 2010

There’s a famous line from the cult film and TV series, Star Trek, in which Dr Spock warns Captain James Kirk about a new alien life form they have encountered: “It’s life, Jim ... but not as we know it.” 

A few years ago, when I told a friend I would be travelling to Morocco, he reminded me that I shouldn’t expect the country to be at all similar to South Africa just because they are part of the same land mass. “It’s Africa, Jim,” he affirmed, “... but not as we know it.”


Golf at Sun City

First appeared
Thursday, 28 October 2010

Sun City occupies an ambiguous place in the minds of many South Africans.

On the one hand, it symbolises glitz, glamour and family fun, while the architectural excesses of the Lost City complex represent Sol Kerzner’s entrepreneurial daring. On the other hand, located in the former ‘black homeland’ of Bophuthatswana, it has its origins in apartheid’s Bantustan system. In recent years – as other casino complexes have sprung up around the country – it has been unable to escape the tawdriness often associated with gambling venues.

Exeter River Lodge, Sabi Sand

First appeared
Monday, 18 October 2010

There are those who will tell you that it doesn’t matter how you spend your time in the bush, or where you stay – it’s enough simply to be there. To some degree, this is true; certainly, no matter what your accommodation and game-viewing is like, it’s better than being in the office. After only a few hours at Exeter River Lodge in the Sabi Sand private game reserve, however, I couldn’t help reflecting that it was different to any bush experience I’d enjoyed before.

Kirkman's Kamp, Sabi Sand

First appeared
Monday, 13 September 2010


It happens to everyone who encounters animals in the African bushveld, from the most experienced game ranger to the first-timer “on safari”.

We see a giraffe munching on leaves and think of a baseball player chewing gum. Lionesses with cubs look to us like any human mothers of triplets would – exhausted, exasperated, while their broods run playfully over and around them. Spotting an elephant stripping the bark off a broken branch by rotating it carefully in his mouth, we find ourselves stuck between similes: is he like a craftsman, turning a piece of wood in a lathe; or a guy watching rugby on TV, working away at a tough stick of biltong? A group of young male buffalo, separated from the herd, remind us of a gang of moody, testosterone-filled teenage boys. A lone leopard, knowing no territorial boundaries and roaming over hundreds of kilometres, is Clint Eastwood or James Dean – an outlaw, a rebel without a cause.


On Architecture in Johannesburg

First appeared
Saturday, 01 May 2010

The fire that gutted the Rissik Street Post Office in downtown Johannesburg last year, turning the 113-year old building into a blackened shell, sparked renewed interest in the question: do Joburgers care about their architectural heritage?

After all, the iconic façade is almost as old as the city itself, and its neglect over the years – it had been boarded up and frequently vandalised since 1996 – seemed to reflect an indifferent attitude towards the (comparatively few) centenarian constructions in South Africa’s largest city. Some even suggested that it should be demolished.

Of course, the ‘build ’em up, bash ’em down’ mentality is well entrenched in Jozi. Sixty years ago, Herman Charles Bosman – an ardent Joburg flâneur – was already complaining about his fellow citizens’ propensity to flatten any building that was more than a few decades old.


Prince's Grant on the Dolphin Coast

First appeared
Friday, 03 September 2010


A cursory glance at some of South Africa’s place names seems to suggest a minor national obsession with royalty.

Chiefs, ubukhosi and other traditional leaders provide one set of descriptors – from the new King Shaka International Airport near Durban, to the Chief Maqoma heritage route in the Eastern Cape and 2010 FIFA World Cup venue the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg.

Then there are the designations that date back to the colonial era and the days before the country became a republic, alluding to successive generations of British monarchs: King William’s Town (that’s William IV), George (King George III, in case you were wondering), Queenstown (named after Victoria), Prince Albert (after her husband), Port Edward and Kind Edward School in Johannesburg (in honour of a visit in 1925 by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII) ... well, you get the point.


Mosetlha Bush Camp, Madikwe

First appeared
Wednesday, 23 June 2010


There are hundreds of luxury game lodges across South Africa offering visitors the chance to “experience the bushveld”. Undoubtedly, there is a lot to be said for the five-star safari option – but does being waited on hand and foot really constitute an authentic bushveld experience? And what if you can’t afford to pay thousands of rands per night? Some national parks have basic accommodation, and there is always the alternative of staying in a nearby town or resort and driving into the park each day ... but that’s also not the ideal way to “experience the bushveld”. 

Fortunately, there is another option, as my family and I recently discovered on a trip to the Madikwe Game Reserve near the border between South African and Botswana. It goes by the name of Mosetlha Bush Camp. 


Arts and Culture in the Big Smoke

First appeared
Monday, 01 March 2010

Human beings need stereotypes. They help us to simplify things, to make sense of a world that would otherwise be far too complex. Unfortunately, of course, stereotypes usually derive from prejudiced assumptions; as South Africans, we are all too familiar with prejudice on the basis of race, gender, language and so on.

But there is another form of stereotyping that operates in our society, one that tends to remain unchallenged: regional (or geographical) prejudice. According to this logic, South Africans can be categorised according to the cities they inhabit. So there are, for instance, the laid-back but sophisticated coastal types, who enjoy the arts and fine living and outdoor leisure; and there are the sincere but dull inland types, who either live in pretty but boring rural areas or in urban environments that lack charm or redeeming natural features.

And then there are the people who choose to live in Johannesburg. “What could possibly possess them to do so?” their compatriots wonder. “The place has no history, no culture, no distinctive architectural style apart from Afro-Tuscan security complexes, no entertainment options apart from shopping malls and bars and restaurants. And the crime ...”

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