Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Garden Route. Plettenberg Bay swimming with seals. January 2015.

Plettenberg bay is a popular destination for South Africans from Johannesburg over the Christmas holiday. It is about 30 KM east of Knysna.
We travelled there to meet the Offshore Adventures team, to go swimming with wild Seals.
It was a professional set up, providing all the wet suites, flippers and snorkels.
Offshore Adventures, Get Wet in Plett
The inflatable boat took the group out to where the Seals are on the rocks. Then you get in the water and see if they will let you swim with them. The photos show it all very well.

It was a great mornings activity.
Plettenberg Bay was a pleasant place, it has a 1970s hotel on a sand bar called Beacon Island that looks rather odd. Beacon Island was once a whaling station, built by the Norwegians who left in 1920.
There are three safe beaches, a lagoon and the river mouth. All backed by mountains. It had a holiday buzz about it and I preferred it to the rather stuffy and sleepy Knysna.

The Garden Route with Oudtshoorn; The Ostrich and Feather capital of the world. Cango Caves and Storms River. Jan 2015

The difference a day makes. The drive from Jeffreys Bay to Knysna was a totally different experience without the rain. The day before, the rain was so intense and there was so much spray coming up from the road surface that we did not even see the bridge over the Storms River, looking at the bridge and the river today, that hardly seemed possible.
Storms River Bridge...didn't see it due to the rain!
We had set off early  from Jefferys Bay and stopped at the bridge to watch the Bungee Jumping, and then went on to the Tsitsikamma National Park.
The Van Stadens George and its Storms River Bridge
In the Tsitsikamma National Park, the rest camp run is by the South African Parks Board.  The walk from the car park at the storms river Rest Camp was spectacular, the huts that you can stay in can be booked direct with the Parks Board and have one of the best views in the world.
Tsitsikamma National Park
We had lunch at the restaurant, the service was slow but the food was good. the only problem was it was so windy the food got cold very quickly. Then we walked along to the river mouth admiring the wild seas, rocky coast and forested cliffs all along the route.
Wild Seas at Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park at the mouth of the Storms River
In the afternoon we drove on to the town of Knysna. When we lived near to Durban, people would go on holiday to Knysna, and come back with tales of a glorious lagoon, spectacular scenery, oysters and a steam locomotive that ran from the town of George to Knysna. so I had high hopes for this place.


Laguna Grove, Knysna
We had booked in at Laguna Grove. this was a three bedded apartment that slept 6. It had parking and the apartment was located on the lagoon and was really well equipped. It was a perfect place to stay as you could walk to  the train station and the waterfront development, the Knysna Quays where a lot of  the restaurants were located.
As we had arrived in good time we took a trip across the lagoon to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. from here you had great views of the Knysna Heads; two high sandstone cliffs providing and entrance to the lagoon. The tour company took you up to the top in a tractor pulling a wagon, you then walked back down to the bar / eating area. then got the small ferry back across the lagoon. It was a good trip.

The train station looked overgrown and in disrepair, it was. this was due to the rail infrastructure suffering from flood damage in 2006. The train has not run since.
The next day we set of early heading up to the self styled Ostrich Capital of the World, the town of Oudtshoorn. It was a dull rainy day when we left Knysna. heading towards the town of George on the N2 highway. Soon we climbed up from the coastal lowlands and into the sun. We were in the Little Karoo and saw farms with Ostriches in the fields, and Zebra. the landscape was yellow, dry, and African and I loved it.
Oudtshoorn was a small village that when the late Victorian fascination for large feathers turned into high fashion, turned from a sleepy village into  the feather capital of the world. The farmers became  rich feather barons and built elaborate mansions, known as Ostrich Palaces. Large Victorian styled houses.  Many of the mansions have been restored and now, the boom days long gone the farms supply feathers, meat, Ostrich leather and eggs to all parts of the world.
The first port of call was past the town of Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves. The caves are one of South Africas top attractions. The caves have been used as a home for Man since prehistoric times. the entrance to the caves is in the foothills of the Swartberg mountains, it was very hot. the entrance its self is a 1970 style tourist complex, this is a large concrete building. A guide takes you down into the caves where you admire the Stalagmites and Stalactites lit with lights, all with names such as 'the hanging shawl', 'Cango candle' and 'Angels Wing'. I found it a bit boaring, but I have been in caves before and there are only so many formations of rock you can turn into art.
Driving back towards Oudtshoorn we saw the entrance to the Cango Wildlife Ranch,

Cango Wildlife Ranch
here a guide escorted us around the ranch ( a Zoo really) and gave the option to be photographed with the white tigers, cheetahs and other creatures, many of the rescued, housed by the ranch. You could even cage dive with a crocodile if you wanted to. It was a bit of fun.

Cango Wildlife Ranch

Next we stopped at one of the many Ostrich farms. we were late for lunch but the kind ladies extended the lunch hours and served us. We were on the last tour of the farm of the day and started with the Eggs.

Ostrich farm
then the Ostrich chicks, amazing birds that looked like the eggs on legs.

Ostrich chicks
Ostrich chicks
Finally the tour ended in the shop selling all thing Ostrich, I got some amazing feather dusters. they are the best I have ever used. also a change to feed the male birds.



It had been a really windy day and there had been no Ostrich racing, I was really disappointed as I wanted to see the jockeys racing the birds. the wind dropped as we finished the farm tour and our guide decided that the birds could race.
we crossed the road and walked to the pen with the ostrich in, the jockeys said it was to hot for the birds to race, I did agree it was hot. but the jockeys said we could ride the birds....I wasn't expecting that! so we did, took it in turns and tried to cling on.
Ostrich in the racing pen

Riding an Ostrich

Some of us did better than others, I fell off straight away, but as I had been instructed to keep a firm grip I did, and pulled out loads of feathers as the jockeys tried to get me to the ground safety, there was also a lot of underwear on daughters were mortified! revenge at last!
I had debated and questioned the need to drive out to what I had imagined to be a dusty little a town in the Little Karoo, but I absolutely loved the town of Oudtshoorn, with its Victorian architecture, odd activity list and feathers, I highly recommend a trip to this town even if like me its just a day out. for me and my family this was one of our highlights on the much fabled Garden Route.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Garden Route South Africa. Jeffreys Bay, Addo Elephant Park and Nature's Valley. January 2015.

We decided to have a family holiday in South Africa. We haven’t done the famous Garden Route so this is what we would do.
On January 22nd 2015 we flew out of Manchester on EK 22,
and were joined in Dubai Airport by our daughter who worked for the airline at that time. We got the night flight EK 767 at 23.20 from Dubai to Johannesburg arriving at 05.35. In JNB, we got our bags and went through customs and had to find the staff travel desk and get the tickets for SAA 403 leaving at 08.40. it was easy to do and the staff very nice, just gave us the boarding passes absolutely no problem. We went back through security and boarded the South African Airways flight to Port Elizabeth arriving at 10.20.
PE Airport Home to the BIG 7?
 We picked up the hire car, it was a brand new Toyota Avanza. The lady at the hire desk said ‘its a van sir’ , so my husband said ‘no! we have booked a car', she replied ‘yes, its a van sir’. This went on for a while!

We then drove out of PE, it was a shame we didn’t have time to explore as it looked like a nice city and beautiful beachfront. We drove the short distance to Jeffreys Bay.
Jeffreys Bay is famous for surfing, it is another town featured on the Endless Summer film. I had hired a Villa, Beach Villa in Flame Crescent.
The villa was massive, it slept 8, had a pool, and outdoor eating area and BBQ, 2 bathrooms, parking. It was great and all for £30.00 per night.
The first day we spent on the beach, surfing and horse riding on the beach.  
Then we had a day trip to Addo elephant Park.
Addo Elephant National Park
When we lived in South Africa, Addo was known as more of an Elephant Sanctuary with just a few  Elephants who were fed on Oranges. So I didn’t really have very high expectations from the park. I was wrong! The park is now the third largest in South Africa and has many animals in it. As it is also Malaria free it attracts many overseas tourists.
Elephant in Addo

 The park was great, with good picnic facilities, and loads of animals. It was a great day out and highly recommended.
Unfortunately the weather the next day was horrid. So we had a drive out to Cape St Francis, I wanted to see the light house and the penguin rehabilitation. It was a long drive in the rain and the lighthouse was covered in scaffolding and the penguin rescue close! The town was an odd place, it looked like a working fishing village, but had buildings built all around it. There were lots of golf courses and American looking estates. I found it all a bit odd and wouldn’t go back.  

Cape Saint Francis

The Penguin at Cape Saint Francis
My Family at Port St Francis
 The next day we had booked to go Blackwater Tubing on the Bloukrans River. It was hammering down with rain, but we couldn't contact the company so drove to Natures Valley, in the rain. we were not surprised that the tubing was cancelled, I don't think it would have been safe. so we drove around a soggy Natures Valley looked at the beach and had a drink at the one and only place to eat The Valley Inn. it was a dull old fashioned place, quite dirty and scruffy. as it was the place where the Otters Trail Hike ends you could get a drink called the Otters @hole. that what the place looked like!
The Otters @hole
The weather had not been kind to us and may have had some thing to do with it but so far I was very underwhelmed by the famous Garden Route. I thought Jeffreys Bay was great, a chilled out place I really liked it and could see myself living there and the next day we were moving on to Knysna. 

Emirates Staff Travel. Standby & ZED Fares explained

When you work as a flight attendant, or cabin crew for Emirates you get ‘Staff Travel’.

This entitles you to one confirmed Annual Leave ticket per year.  For the first three years this has to be to your home base. After that you can choose your location. You also get staff travel for your family. You and your family are also entitled to standby tickets and ZED fares. Standby tickets with Emirates are just that Standby. You list yourself on the staff online system and in Dubai you go to the Staff Travel desk and look for your name on the electronic board.

Next to you name is a traffic light system.

Green is great as you go and get you boarding pass and you know you’re on the flight so you can act like a normal passenger.
Amber is not so good. You sit on the floor in staff travel and wait and hope the Amber will go Green. When it does, if it does, you go to the desk and wait, get your boarding pass and try to get through security, passport control and get to the gate in time. Sometimes the flight has gone by the time you get to the gate and you have to start again.
Red light is a no go!
ZED are Zonal Employee Discount Flights these are an agreement by airlines for reduced rate personal travel by airline employees and other travelers such as relatives. Emirates have agreements with lots of airlines. When seats are limited the selection of who gets on works on a seniority of how long you have been in the company. It is all about your staff number.
The staff who work in the staff travel lounge in Dubai must have been handpicked due to their rudeness and inability to communicate. They are dreadful, make no eye contact, just grunt at you and really try to be as unhelpful as they can be. The staff at Manchester are great, as have been all the staff I have met at many other locations.
So is all the above a ‘Perk’, yes and no.
The positives are;

  • You can go anywhere in the world for 10% of a full fare + the tax.
  • You can change dates and times with no penalty.
  • You get to know all the airline routes as you work out how to get places when you can’t get on.

The negatives and rules are;

  • You don’t get on the flight.
  • You have to be fit to run for flights last minute
  • Dealing with the rude staff travel people at Dubai Airport.
  • Having to adopt the airline dress code, no flip flops / shorts/ t shirts on and on.....
  • The stress of knowing your on standby.

What it basically means is that it is very difficult to make plans, like booking a hire car or hotels as you don’t know if you’re going to get there on the day you have planned.
I don’t mind standby, but my partner hates it. How we are getting home and checking the loads are almost the focus of a holiday from day one. But love it or hate it we have done it many times and now that we can no longer have it will probably miss it.

Crete Self Catering October 2014.

The British summer in 2014 was dismal, well it was in Manchester anyway.
So in early October it was time for a week in the sun. the criteria was:
not expensive and not far, a maximum of 4 hours flying as it was just a week. Sharm was not allowed and we both like Greece, so decided on Crete.
I have never used Ryan Air but I had heard lots of horror stories about Ryan Air and so on booking read the small print carefully. I had paid for a bag, so there was no problem checking the bag in, check in was fast and efficient.
The flight I had found was a very cheap flight going early in the morning from Leeds Bradford Airport.
This was my first experience of Leeds Bradford, I found the airport very small and seemed to walk a lot. It seemed to be a very confusing airport, the public areas were quite cramped, with only seats if you were eating or at the bar. Getting to the aircraft was a convoluted process, with long queues, then up stairs along corridors down stairs, along outdoor corridors eventually ending up at the aircraft. To board it was up the passenger boarding stairs. The crew were really good, moving people into the seats, stopping them fiddling about with the hat boxes and generally loading the aircraft at speed, as it was raining passengers on the stairs appreciated this.

The flight left on time. The seats were OK. The crew were good, selling hot drinks and food all the way. It was a quick flight, under 4 hours and we landed in Chania airport Crete.
I had hired a car using up left over BA miles, so we picked that up from the airport and drove to the small villa we had rented on line. The villa was perfect. located close to the airport, on the round Akrotir peninsula the complex was called Cretanvillas  the set up was great. Four villas, really well equipped, located in gardens around a pool. Clean with everything we needed for a week in the sun.

We got out and explored the island going to the beaches of Kasteli and going to Iraklion. but most of all we liked Chania and the beaches on the Peninsula.  Especially the famous Zorbas Beach. as always in Greece the food was good and it was a chilled out week.