Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Please nominate Theresa Lozier in the Getaway Travel Blogging Awards

Thank you to everyone out there who has been following this blog, and especially to those that have sent me emails with a little of their own stories. It's been amazing to connect with incredible people from around the globe.

I'm writing now to ask for your help. If you like my writing, please nominate THERESA LOZIER in the Getaway Travel Blogging Awards. Being recognized in these awards would mean a lot and help me find more interesting writing opportunities.

Click on this link to get to the form:

Thank you everyone!
Sincerely, Theresa

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sand dunes, the African Bush and Secluded Luxury at South Africa’s 5-Star Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve

After spending a few days on safari at South Africa’s iconic Shamwari Game Reserve, where I experienced the adventure of Africa’s Big 5 for the first time, I arrived at its sister property, the Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve. Positioned between the Indian Ocean and the African bush, Oceana offers guests a unique blend of luxury, privacy and nature that gives new meaning to the phrase, “getting away from it
Connected by a walkway leading through the Milkwood Forest, the seven private suites feature thatch-roofs, and stone and wooden materials that fit in with the natural environment. Benches positioned outside your door provide a place to wait in absolute stillness and quiet for the rare (and
shy) African Loerie to make an appearance. Once inside, the suites feature His and Hers appointments, from individual
cupboard space to the marbled bathsuites that waste nothing of the view.

You could be content to spend your entire stay within the comfort of your own suite, where you can enjoy spectacular East Coast sunrises from your private veranda, or even from your king-sized four-poster bed. When you want to bring the outside “in” you can do that, too – the floor-to-ceiling windows can be slid open for an unobstructed view of the land and a breath of fresh air.

Natural beauty is complimented by modern conveniences, like the flat screen television that, at the touch of a button, rises up from its hidden position from an otherwise ordinary chest of drawers at the foot of the bed. Small touches, like a personalized welcome note and a selection of complimentary South African snacks, ensure you feel like a very special guest from the start.

Oceana’s true strength is its ability to deliver impeccable service in a setting of unbelievable beauty, and its game drives, which can be arranged at any time you wish, are just another example of this winning formula. While this isn’t a Big 5 reserve, some of Africa’s most majestic and rare wildlife can be viewed here without the danger of predators. Guests are escorted by trained rangers in safari vehicles, complete with refreshments and a set of quality binoculars for each person. Use them to study the intricate markings on free roaming animals near and far – from kudu, water buck and impala to inala, blue wildebeest and zebra.

Highlights for me included a family of giraffe, including a young baby which calmly stood observing us, while we sat observing him. Then there was the endangered white rhino – which after enjoying the gaze of our cameras for several speechless moments made a sudden departure with a quick turn, click of his heels and a duck into the thick bush, leaving us with only a giant cloud of dust.

It was remarkable how such a behemoth of an animal could just “disappear” into the bush, something I’ll keep in mind the next time I think I’m “all alone” in nature!

And the final highlight for me, was an encounter with the majestic sable. Exceedingly rare, it is a beautiful sight with its arched horns and painter’s markings that frame its face in contrasting tones of stark white, black and brown.

We spotted a herd of them from a distance, and, as we bounced along the gently sloping hill to our viewing point our ranger told us how she had hand reared one of them when he was orphaned, and explained that because he had to be fed with a specially formulated milk, he had not been able to receive some of the nutrients he would have gotten in the wild, resulting in his coat becoming a distinctively lighter, copper colour compared to the rest of the herd with their dark brown coats. As we came to a stop he seemed to take notice of us, and she explained further that he did in fact recognise her yet had been accepted by the herd as part of his rehabilitation and introduction back into nature. It was beautiful to hear the love for nature in her voice and to see that such a gentle creature had been nursed back to health because of it.

At Oceana you can do the things you want, when you want – and there certainly are many options to choose between. Practice your swing on the 5-hole putting green, whale watch from the decks (June-October is the season), or find your competitive streak in the Games Room – complete with a pool table, shuffle board, and a lounge and television. Invigorate at the gym, or relax at the spa where you’ll emerge without a care in the world. Then take a drive down to the beach, accessible via a 4-wheel drive vehicle, with one of the rangers available to escort you at any time you wish.

Once at the beach you can enjoy a private lunch from the resort’s viewing platform, go fishing or take in a long walk along the dunes filled with the feeling of solitude and the sound of silence. Everywhere you look sand dunes stretch from the edge of the bush towards the sea, and each step you take seems to fall out from under your feet as you descend towards the shoreline.

This is a place that leaves you are utterly and wonderfully alone with your thoughts, free to reflect on the experience of Africa with the Indian Ocean gracing your feet and the sound of the waves in your ears. Walking at the water’s edge you’ll see a curiosity of seashells strewn out before you, and – if you’re lucky like I was – the absolute magic of wild oysters might be there for the taking!

Our ranger, visibly impressed with our find, told us with a glint in his eye how he used to walk this beach with his grandfather in search of oysters decades before. When we returned to the lodge the chef was only too happy to prepare them, serving them to us at dinner on a plate of crushed ice and fresh lemon wedges. They were some of the tastiest oysters I have ever had, complete with a champagne toast, and even the discovery of a pearl in one of the shells!

From our candlelit table I could still hear the crashing of the waves, and I knew that just beyond the balcony lie more of nature’s wonders. The cozy sounds of a crackling fire was complemented by the happy clatter of dinner conversation. It had been a day full of discovery – one I would remember forever – and as dusk fell and the stars presented themselves, I could only imagine what tomorrow would bring next.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Glamour Meets Style at Port Elizabeth’s 5-Star Shamwari Townhouse

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, when you find a ‘home away from home’ that’s a bit better than what you left behind, you’ve pretty much struck ‘Road Gold’. And when it comes to Shamwari Townhouse, situated in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, you get that and more.

With its curving façade, sleek lines and indigenous gardens, you get the sense from the moment you arrive that you’re in for more than a stylish bed for the night. The original structure built in 1937 and painstakingly restored to its former glory, this is an architect’s dream. It is a space that inspires the mind, and, in the truest sense of its 1930’s Art Deco-style, the Shamwari Townhouse unabashedly carries guests away to a lavish world of sophisticated glamour, luxury and grace.

An unusual offering in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, the property reflects the passion of Adrian Gardner, founder and CEO of the world-famous Shamwari Game Reserve. Themed rooms – like the Jazz Room (notable for its six-course wine pairing menu), the Piano Lounge, Champagne Lounge and Salon Privé – feature furniture pieces with curved fronts, Fornasetti wallpaper, glass chandeliers, inlaid wood, mirrors and clean lines. Each separate space is characterized by a monotone colour scheme in soft tones of lilac, mauve, jade or turquoise, offset by light and dark wood, inset black lacquer, metallic wallpaper, chrome accents, geometric shapes and clean lines.

Classic style is complemented by modern extravagance – like the feature fountain, visible from floor-to-ceiling windows in the Jazz Room, which delivers a stream of water as smooth as glass to the pool. A private cinema,

designed with special permission by the Royal Family, was inspired by the one Prince Charles keeps in his London Residence, Clarence House. Plush carpets that sink with each padded step lead downstairs to the private Dining Cellar, the only room in the townhouse to follow the Provencal style. An oversized dark wood table set with gleaming candelabras and opulent red velvet chairs overlooks row upon row of neatly laid vintages – including French Champagne along with the South Africa’s best wines – set behind glass in climate-controlled comfort until the arrival of their day of glory.

Art, sculpture and photography by celebrated local artists – including Obie Oberholzer, Jon Riodran, Bianca Plate, and Anton Momberg – hint at the unique dimensions of a modern South Africa, making you take pause, look and reflect. The visual experience of Shamwari Townhouse is complemented by a soundtrack of iconic Jazz – the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Josephine Baker and more. One almost expects to look over and see the likes of Marlene Dietrich enjoying a long slim cigarette the lounge.

Private Guest Suites feature a more contemporary design. Secluded garden views from the private patio or balcony, an en suite lounge, dining room, kitchen complete with your very own espresso machine, king sized bedrooms and an extravagant double bathroom afford the luxury of a cleverly designed space that delivers both functionality and privacy.

The language of luxury at the Shamwari Townhouse beguiles even the most travelled of guests. A reflection of an era desperate to celebrate life’s opulence after the austerity of the First World War era, today the townhouse offers guests a boutique Art Deco experience that combines exceptional design, impeccable service and modern convenience for ultimate luxury.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

South Africa’s iconic Shamwari Game Reserve – Conserving a Vanishing Way of Life, One Step at a Time

On a recent trip to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, I was invited to visit the world-famous Shamwari Game Reserve where I experienced the Big 5 for the first time.

In South Africa there are only two ways of travelling – local and luxury.

’Local’ takes you to places you never knew existed. The sights, sounds and smells that can only be discovered in the moment. The townships, where haphazard shelter is built out of corrugated iron, bricks and tyres. Places where small businesses announce themselves in spray painted letters, and where life happens on street corners to the tune of gospel, hip hop and Afro-Jazz.

’Local’ is in the colourful markets packed with goods and people, moving this way and that, in organised chaos. Where the Mamas of Africa carry their babies on their backs while they walk with sacks of maize, suitcases, firewood or other awkward objects, balanced delicately on their heads.

Then there are the gathering places for transit – trains, busses and taxis – where the crowd is a heaving swarm of mixed destination. Where you are absorbed without prejudice, bumped into, sat up against, touched. In the community of Africa, the concept of personal space is as foreign as you.

As the South Africans say, “Local is lekkar!” (roughly translated, “great”) and I have to agree, but for this trip, I was in the mood for something different.


Luxury travel in South Africa takes to you to the places of imagination – the places you’ve dreamed of, heard about, read about – but never knew for sure if you could ever get there. It’s the place of colonial travel tales, of dreamlike postcards, the pages of National Geographic and scenes from the Discovery Channel.

This is a world of catered sustenance, crisp linen and soft beds. A world of lifetime memories available for the taking, right then and there – of crazy experiences like shark diving, sky diving, abseiling and more. Of game drives and tented safari camps, where evening conversation is graced by the distant sounds of predators while excited dinner guests trade stories of wild life encounters, adventures and triumphs. ‘Luxury’ in South Africa is not merely a way of travel – it is a destination that is not marked on maps, not tracked on Google Earth nor charted on GPS.

It is the Magic of Africa – and I wanted to find it.

Here, the wealth of a ‘United Nations in Travel’ falls like soft rain on the sometimes harsh landscape of Africa’s most southerly nation, nourishing the ground so that it can sprout anew – with jobs for the local community, investment in the local economy, and the conservation of indigenous flora and fauna – including the Big 5, and especially the Rhino.

An endangered species, the rhino has already been rescued from the brink of extinction once before in South Africa, but now it is finding itself in dire straits once again, threatened by the chaos of fortune makers, mystics and desperate cure-seekers intent on getting one thing – the horn. Of the 20 000 rhinos living in South Africa, this year 324 have already been killed illegally for their horns.

There is a crisis in the bush, and we’re running out of time – fast.

It seems a desperate situation – but the power of conservation cannot be underestimated, nor the power of public outcry, and no organisation is better placed to help bring attention to the situation than the iconic Shamwari Game Reserve, named the “World’s Leading Conservation Company & Game Reserve” for the past five consecutive years.

Shamwari, meaning ‘friend’ in Shona, is a vast reserve of 25 000 hectares of land in South Africa’s malaria-free Eastern Cape, located along the Bushman’s River, mid-way between Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown. Once densely populated by prides of the now-extinct Cape Lion and vast herds of Cape Buffalo, Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Elephant, and Rhino, this was the site of mass hunting throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, until all that was left was a drought-ravaged, overgrazed piece of land overtaken by exotic plant species and overrun by goats, cattle, and sheep.

It was in this context that Adrian Gardner, Shamwari chairman and founder, had a vision to bring the land back to its natural state, and starting 20-years ago, he embarked upon a re-wilding project focused on eliminating alien plant species, removing abandoned wire fencing that disrupts the natural migration of animals, and building natural dams to control erosion – all to create an area where wildlife and vegetation could be successfully restored. It is thanks to his determination that visitors to Shamwari today have a rare and precious opportunity to experience an indigenous view on South Africa – the way it was meant to be.

The destination of choice for international celebrities and royalty, Shamwari is known for its accolades and awards, including Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge, and offers plush accommodation, world-class service and exceptional game viewing. Coupled with its relentless commitment to sustainability and conservation, Shamwari highlights the impact we can have on the world, for better or worse.

The truth is, Nature needs our help – and Shamwari is showing us how.

A once forlorn stretch of land is now the thriving home to five of South Africa’s seven bio-domes. The local community that once had little hope for employment is now at the heart of a healthy economy. Orphaned elephants, injured cheetahs, ill rhinos – animals that once would not have survived – can now be saved in the Shamwari Rehabilitation Centre. Big cats that were once abused and subjected to horrific conditions in captivity around the world – have now been rescued and returned to Africa where they can have a better quality life through the Born Free Foundation and Shamwari’s two Big Cat Sanctuaries. And the precious rhino – who is now under constant threat of poaching – now has a little more hope with the protection of Shamwari’s expert and highly specialised Anti-Poaching Unit.

Operating 24-hours a day, seven days a week, rhinos are tracked using micro-chip technology. The programme is the most sophisticated and respected anti-poaching outfit in South Africa, and costs millions of dollars to operate each year. While the system can do nothing to stem the demand for rhino horn, so far it seems to be working at protecting the stock of these vulnerable wonders.

And so it was, that with the utmost of respect and admiration, I undertook a journey to Shamwari Game Reserve, where I would – for the first time in all of my travels – experience the Big 5.

Arriving at the pink walls of the entrance, flanked by the flags of nations, I daydreamed about the adventures I was about to have. While exchanging pleasantries with the guard, a sign on the gate caught my eye and sent shivers down my spine with its stark warning, in three simple words:

“Danger – wild predators.”

Instantly my mind changed gears from Daydreams on Puffy Clouds to scenes from Jurassic Park, the gates eased open and before I knew it, we were in.

I surveyed the scene – it seemed innocent enough. We drove along the wide gravel road, lined by scrubby bushes and took in the view of the rolling hills as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t long before we caught sight of a parade of elephants, not far from the road. Drinking from a pool of water, they seemed to be enjoying a pause in their daily meander. Smaller ones frolicked while the larger ones stood by, their enormous size only a fraction of the presence we were feeling. Although they seemed not to pay us much notice, the energy inside the car had just hit the roof.

After a while we carried on in spellbound silence.

We would be staying at Bayethe, one of Shamwari’s seven lodges. Upon arrival we were greeted with refreshing fruit cocktails and steaming face cloths before settling in. A subdued place, Bayethe is a collection of luxury tented huts that run along a central walkway, each tucked into their own private bush. Except at the main lodge, when everyone would gather together at meal times, trade stories and meet the new arrivals, I got the feeling that this was my own private corner of Africa, and the singsong of birds emanating from somewhere deep inside the bush, was my own serenade.

Our ‘tent’ was more like a honeymoon suite with all the luxuries one could imagine – hardwood floors, a walk-in closet with his and hers appointments, a roaring fire, a plush bedroom graced by flower petals, fluffed pillows, a personalised welcome note and handcrafted nougat, a master bathroom, an outdoor “bush” shower and an indoor bathtub of immense proportion. Outside we had our own private deck and a romantic pool. Faced with the prospect of a long bubble bath followed by wine and fireside lounging, I began to toy with the idea of tucking in for the night.

Alas, I snapped out of it reminding myself I was on a mission. It was safari time.

Back at the lodge my fellow adventure-seekers were already gathering around the Land Rover like hungry vultures. We politely introduced ourselves to our game driver, Ben, and then found ourselves silently vying for the best seats. Sizing one another up, we edged into position – in as civilised fashion as we could muster, of course, yet with all the seriousness as our wild counterparts at the nearby watering hole. We needn’t have worried– they were all great seats. One by one, we took our places amongst a confusion of blankets, hot water bottles, puffy jackets and fuzzy hats. It was afternoon and the temperature would fall, along with the sun, before our return. The diesel engine humming beneath us, we traded happy glances, revving with excitement until it was finally time to set off.

We swung uphill along the wide gravel road, the dust rising behind us like rust-coloured mist. Almost immediately we spotted a group of eight giraffe, their small faces balanced on long necks, set on smaller bodies balanced on stilt-like legs. Looking simultaneously graceful and awkward, we stopped and whispered as they chewed their cud.

Thick bush pressed up against the road’s edge, parting at times to reveal small clearings and open plains. We craned our necks and squinted at the distance, impatiently hoping for another sighting while we bounced along the road, eventually stopping at the top of a ridge where we could see a herd of buffalo dotting the landscape. Looking through the binoculars the hairs on my neck started to stand on end when I got a glimpse of golden lumps, huddled in the long grass under a tree. A pride of lions, getting a last rest before hunting time. We sat in the quiet stillness, whispering and murmuring to one another. When we had all got our fill, our game ranger turned off onto a smaller passageway that would take us deeper into the wildness.

The narrow path we followed twisted and turned, and the thorns of the trees we moved through seem to reach out and tear at the canvas above our heads. Rushing through pot holes, dips and bumps, the lane sometimes vanished beneath us until we found it again in abrupt landings that threatened the wellbeing of elbows, knees, and bottoms.

Before long we came to a clearing and stopped. There they were – elephants – and they were walking in our direction. I hugged my hot water bottle closer, hoping for some sort of comfort. One elephant alone was larger than the Land Rover and all seven of its occupants alone. They snorted and probed us with their eyes, all the while pulling noisily at the bush with their elegant trunks, making loud ripping sounds with each twist. Not phased, they carried on watching us, lifting clumps of grass and dirt to their wet mouths, before grasping and ripping out more.

We waited in absolute silence – no one dared move an inch. They were so close now I could see the tiny hairs protruding from their leathery skin, which hung from their haunches like an oversized shirt that had lost its shape. Seconds stretched into ages as we held our collective breath, our eyes fastened on their eyes, while a baby elephant scuttled between the matriarch’s trunk-like legs and raspy tail, unaware that we were locked in a moment that would be ingrained in our memories forever.

Although our hearts were warm, the air now carried a chill and the sun rays began to pierce glory through the clouds. We carried on, snaking along the river until we came upon a brown hyena, the rarest kind. He looked ragtag with bristling long hair on his body but short, spotty hair on his legs – and like a celebrity who knows they’re about to appear on the ‘Worst Dressed’ list he quickly escaped the gaze of our cameras, disappearing into behind the next ridge.

In the quiet of the bush Ben’s walkie-talkie suddenly came alive. It was another game driver who had spotted a leopard, the most elusive of all the members of the Big 5. Disappointment about the brown hyena’s early departure was but a distant memory as we set off in the direction where the leopard had been seen.

As we neared we could see the Land Rover of the other game driver pulled off to the side. We slowed and approached quietly, and although we were in a flush of excitement, we spoke to one another in hushed tones. The ranger motioned to a place in the thick bush and I peered through my binoculars to see a gruesome scene – the fresh carcass of a Kudu lay balanced among the branches of the tree. Still supple, shredded muscle swayed in the breeze. Sure enough, the leopard was nearby, guarding his kill. He seemed aware of us but stayed aloof, not paying us any mind, just like a house cat that’s not in the mood. He graced us with only a view of his rump, keeping the rest of his powerful body tucked just out of sight.

It was just as well – we had seen a leopard in the most extraordinary of circumstances – we had seen more than enough.

After some time we moved off again, this time in the direction of Bayethe. Ready to get home for the night, we would shortly collide with one more encounter.

It was just before sunset. The last dusting of light fell upon the landscape, illuminating it in rich, golden hues. Daytime seemed to take one last breath as Night’s long, shadowing fingers held her in their embrace. A place in the distance seemed to glow, drawing my eye towards it and suddenly I saw them, standing quietly, gently, munching on succulents.

A family of rhinos.

I studied them closely, choosing to focus on one in particular in the waning light. Most of his face was covered in the dark shadow his great horn – just one aspect of his power but now the form of his greatest vulnerability.

He looked at me – curiously – his small, soft eye taking me in. Was I a threat? Did he need to worry?

He carried on grazing – the most powerful vegetarian on the planet – watching me from behind his mass of armour. He seemed to relax. I was an innocent tourist, and he was safe – for now.

As we turned to leave I knew I had found what I had come here looking for – the Magic of Africa, alive and well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Five Flies Restaurant & Bars – A Contemporary, Cape Town Classic

Named after an iconic Amsterdam restaurant, Cape Town’s elegant and historic Five Flies has become an institution for fine dining with social flair to boot. Not your average watering hole, Five Flies is positioned in the city's legal district, spanning two 18th century buildings, both recognised as National Monuments.

The buildings, used at one time as the home of the Netherlands Club and later as a bank – form a maze of nine dining rooms, including both public and private spaces. Defined by original dark wood panels, ancient tiles and interlinking marble staircases, six layers of paint were removed to reveal ancient friezes making it impossible not to feel the significance of the place.

Some of the rooms are themed – like the Madiba Room, filled with clocks that represent the time Nelson Mandela sacrificed imprisoned, so that we might see a freer South Africa, and the Wine Cellar – originally the bank’s vault, where the fortunes of pioneering entrepreneurs would have been placed for safe-keeping . Now it is a candlelit space reserved for occasions of the heart. From the main dining room to the upstairs bar and the much-loved cigar lounge, the vibe of the place is sophisticated Cape Town, hip and bustling.

All of this is interlinked by the centre cobblestone courtyard, which fills the place with the light that streams from its double-volume atrium. Characterised by exposed stone – as old as the Castle of Good Hope itself – it features an ancient well that is connected to the city’s little-known web of underground canals – a secret that presents itself in the form of bubbles when it rains.

The lunch offering, popular with the legal set, is focused on fare that’s as wholesome and fresh as it is fast and affordable. When you consider the options – think Chargrilled Tandoori Chicken Burger with Lime and Coriander Yoghurt, or Ceaser Salad with Roast Chicken, Cos Lettuce, Rosemary Croutons, Shaved Pecorino and Anchovy Dressing – you might just decide to leave your ‘usual’ for the birds.

The dinner menu, on the other hand, is characterised by contemporary classics that require the luxury of time to enjoy to their fullest. Seafood lovers will delight with the Seared Norwegian Salmon, served with fresh Spinach & Cream, Sweet Corn Ravioli, Port Jus & Thyme Foam, while devoted fans of ‘turf’ will enjoy the ever-popular Braised Lamb Shank on White Onion Puree with Colcannon Mashed Potato, Onion Fritters and Red Wine Jus.

Jo-Ann During, owner of Five Flies, explains, “We are striving to create a new dining culture in this unique part of Cape Town. We’re not interested in turning tables. We want to treat our guests to the complete package. We want patrons to come to Five Flies to enjoy a special gourmet evening that allows them to savour time with good friends, over exceptionally good food.”

From the uniquely historic setting, to food that is pushing the boundaries and a social vibe to match - I think it must be said, she's on to something.