BY EDWINA STORIE
South Africa will every so often take you by surprise, as Edwina Storie discovered.
There are some things you can expect from South Africa, and others you cannot. Drinking amazing wine – definitely. Your clients being overcome by the view atop Table Mountain – probably. Being charged at by an elephant? I wouldn’t have thought so – until I was proven wrong. But as a mother elephant furiously flapped her ears, began stamping her feet and making loud noises I assume are elephant for “$*&# off”, my group and I instantly realised that South Africa isn’t always predictable.
Welcome to Madikwe Game Reserve. Just an hour’s flight by private jet from Johannesburg and you’re surrounded by copper-colour desert sand and African bush, with elephants, zebras, leopards, and white rhino all roaming the land.
This is where we had our elephant run in. With our cameras poised, our jeep quietly drew closer to the mother and her baby family playing in the mud. We caught her eye and grew too close for comfort, escaping from her path in the nick of time.
Madikwe Safari Lodges that dot the reserve are plush with safari-chic style and are often visited by a few mischievous teen elephants. Each lodge is fringed by bushland for privacy, and complete with a dip pool to be enjoyed between morning and evening game drives. This midday downtime can be a chance to brain storm and collaborate with colleagues in an inspirational setting where your mind could be as open as the surrounding African land.
Here we are in South Africa – a country with a landscape of many personalities and a growing MICE industry. With three purpose-built convention centres across Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, and a new convention bureau, there’s plenty of focus on winning event business from around the globe, particularly from South America and Asia. And, with experiences like mine at Madikwe, it certainly stands out from its competitors.
On the opposite end of the country from Madikwe is Cape Town where we swap khakis for heels. Glamorous drinks facing the magnificent Table Mountain in the old-Victorian style Taj Hotel and its penthouse suite certainly help to ease jetlag. Cape Town is full of beautiful old European architecture, of which the Taj boasts.
For more modern glamour, The Waterfont is the Darling Harbour of Cape Town. The Table Bay Hotel stands in grand style with a sunny yellow exterior and rows of palm trees leading to its entrance. If you or your delegates cannot stay here, you must at least visit for the famous buffet breakfast with 280 items from all culinary corners of the world; high tea in the Victorian-style tea room with endless floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the harbour; or for a business debrief in the mahogany lined gentlemen’s club.
Yet while Cape Town has all this glamour, one spot our group fell in love with was far from the city and beaches. Solms Delta is a leafy winery a few hours’ drive away with an unforgettable story that reaches from the apartheid period. The wine comes from vines that the hands of slavery once planted, but now, in one of the most intriguing and successful post-apartheid initiatives, its profits are contributed to slavery descendants and workers to pay for healthcare, school fees and professional help that addresses the negative impacts of the era. In the wine cellar where 18th century slaves were once whipped in punishment, there is now a slavery museum showing its history.
After hearing the incredibly uplifting story of two men’s determination to dress the wounds that slavery once created, guests can enjoy a catered picnic on the lawn framed by the orange-tinged mountains.Having such a story, Somls Delta would be the perfect place for a vineyard dinner, and despite it not being something the establishment has really looked into, CEO Craig MacGillivray would make for a spectacular motivational speaker.
One of South Africa’s strongest assets is its diversity. In Johannesburg you’ll find international shopping malls, skyscrapers and buzzing townships such as Soweto. But in a whole universe of its own, you’ll find The Saxon Hotel Villas and Spa.
The six-star establishment showcases a new level of luxury – the kind that Oprah calls her home away from home, and where Nelson Mandela spent six months writing his memoir. This is a place where a grand piano and pianist are on call 24/7, your underwear returns from the laundry gift wrapped, and you have two butlers ready to assist with any request.
The Saxon is for your most discerning delegates, and your most generous budgets. It can offer your clients the same privacy and luxury that celebrities enjoy such as a huge double-storey villa that can be booked by individual suite or in its entirety allowing you to enjoy private use of its library, lounge room, bar, dining room and courtyard. There is surely no more extravagant hotel on the continent.
On the opposite end of the scale is South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto. The topic of crime in South African townships is regularly raised by tourists and business travellers, but like most countries, the trouble is contained in pockets that are easily avoidable. Contrary to their reputation, many townships have become microcosms of culture, with lower, middle and upper class areas of their own. Soweto hosts four million people and has the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace winners lived – Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
Take your delegates on a cycle tour of Soweto with a local guide. Be ready for excited children jumping on the back of your bike and pointing out a few favourite spots of their own. It’s a wonderful way to experience the vibrant culture that is often drowned by negativity, and will undoubtedly be a highlight of the trip.
You may not know it, but you have relatives in South Africa. The team at Dragonfly must have been Australian in another life, having such witty rapport with their guests and similar tongue-in-cheek humour as us Aussies.
Not only are they brilliant company during events with groups of newly introduced delegates, but their incredible hospitality, local knowledge, extensive connections and professional efficiency makes them undoubtedly the tour company to organise or guide business and leisure trips.
These people will prove to you how vast and varied any experience in the country can be – catering for all MICE events.
After being perceived solely as a safari destination, South Africa has seen a transformation assisted by international sporting events and great marketing. It’s brimming with wineries where you can enjoy a catered picnic, it has classic European architecture to be admired, cosmopolitan beaches to dine by, and bustling business hubs. And despite having so many brilliant characteristics to rely on, you’ll never know when you’ll pleasantly be taken by surprise.
To learn more about South Africa visit www.southafricatourism.net
Champagne breakfast on Table Mountain
No Cape Town visit is complete without a trip up Table Mountain, and a champagne breakfast is a truly magical way to start the day watching the fog roll from the city to the sea.
Waterside morning tea
At the Cape of Good Hope there is a secluded waterside spot where an old, European, man-made rockpool still stands. Have a casual lunch on the lawn by the water with picnic rugs and colourful pillows, and if it’s a warm day, guests can even pop in for a refreshing dip.
Lunch at Harbour House in Kalk Bay, Cape Town
While driving back from the day trip to Cape of Good Hope, take your delegates to a restaurant that in one meal will be their all-time favourite. Harbour House is built right on the breakwater so that the waves theatrically hit the floor-to-ceiling windows during your meal, and through which you can see False Bay, the mountains, and the colourful harbour.
Dessert dinner at Madikwe
Yes, dessert banquets aren’t a new concept, but after an evening of sniffing out leopards, a surprise starlit dinner with barbecued game and traditional African sweets will be a highlight of the itinerary.