Howzat Travel Managing Director Ian Kerr is a seasoned and experienced tour leader and globetrotter. He co-ordinated our tours out in South Africa this winter, supporting our tour leaders and leading a couple of the tours himself. He always keeps a diary of his experiences; to remind him of the fantastic times he has and to share them with everyone else. Enjoy...
Wednesday 23rd December 2009
Well, here we are once again; a mammoth year for Howzat Travel sees the next set of departures meeting up at London Heathrow for the direct Virgin Atlantic flight over to Johannesburg, and then connecting on to Durban. With Howzat offering so many tours and tailor-made options, I arrived into Durban before everyone else to make sure everything ran smoothly from the outset. Phil, our ‘Long Off Wanderer’ Tour leader, had already completed the Pretoria Test Match and was enjoying a few days rest over at the spectacular Sun City.
So, after my father John kindly offered to drive me down to a snowy, wet and cold Heathrow, I was soon meeting up with new customers and old friends alike at our rendezvous point in Terminal 3. With a full house of Howzat travellers and Manchester connections making it through OK, we were all soon on board the 10- hour direct flight down to Johannesburg.
Thursday 24th December 2009
Once on the ground we had a couple of hours to relax freshen up and connect on the Mango flight to Durban - where we were met by our local agents - before taking the 30-minute transfer over to the Balmoral Hotel on the beachfront of Durban’s ‘Golden Mile’. Once checked in, most people took the opportunity to catch up with some sleep, whilst others were off exploring and getting the general feel of Durban. I personally spent the day running around, setting up hotel notice boards, registering SIM cards for local mobile phones and picking up the last few late booking tickets.
At around 5pm, our ‘Long off Wanderer’ Tour group arrived with many tales of the epic Pretoria Test and full of stories from the ‘Sun City’ break between Tests. The atmosphere was great and the conversations at the hotel bar were all about late night gambling and early morning Pilansberg Safrais. Collectively, we sat on the hotel front watching the most amazing thunder storms over the sea!
Friday 25th December 2009
After a good night sleep and feeling refreshed, I was off down for breakfast to be greeted by (a very different) Father Christmas! With champagne bottles popping over the breakfast table, we all knew today was going to be a good one; Christmas in the warm climate overlooking the India Ocean.
Phil and I made our way over to Durban International Airport to meet the next set of arriving ‘Two Oceans’ Tour guests. We went through our regular routine and briefed them all about what they should expect in Durban. Despite many of these new guests choosing to take some time out, the hotel bar seemed the ideal base to get the festive celebrations in full flow for the rest of us.
At 5.00pm, we had arranged for a coach to collect the groups and head out to Moyo at Ushaka for a traditional South African Christmas lunch. With the beer flowing and food aplenty, a fantastic meal was had by all. Such parties gave the groups a great opportunity to meet fellow travellers and make new friends for the following weeks.
The coach was ready to collect us at 10.00pm. When we arrived back at the hotel, we met up with our final arriving group; the ‘Rhino Two Oceans’ Tour party, who had been enjoying a four-day Kruger Park trip, which included panoramic day tours and game drive safaris.
Again, with many repeat Howzat Travellers meeting up with old friends, the bar seemed full until the early hours!
Saturday 26th December 2009
With some people lacking sleep and sporting bleary eyes, we were up, fed and in 100% full attendance for the first day of the Boxing Day Test, departing the hotel at 9am. The Gods must have been smiling on us when - for the first time in weeks - the sun had popped its head out in the Durban sky. Although the start was slightly delayed, we were going to see some cricket.
Smith won the toss and elected to bat, although it was England who took the early advantage with Prince being caught off the bowling of Anderson and Amla IBW off the bowling of Broad. This impressive start saw England sitting pretty on 12/2 after 10.2 overs.
The South Africans however then showed us all what fitting spirit they too were capable and brought the game back with some fine batting from Smith and Kallis after Tea the Protea’s were sitting pretty on 151/2. It was only for very late wickets that saw England take the first day advantage! As the rain fell and the weather closed in, the day finished with SA on 175-5. Soon after the close we were all back to the hotel bar discussing the days play.
Sunday 27th December 2009
With the rain delays yesterday, today’s start of play had been brought forward to 9.30am we therefore changed the transfers to Kingsmead to coincide with this.
Once at the ground and settled into the seats play was soon under way and the game was seemingly going continuing to go England’s way.
South Africa eventually added 168 more runs, with a 1st innings total of 343.
Strauss and Cook then took the field and wow what a start, Strauss hitting 50 off 49 balls leaving England 59/0 at Tea. As the bad light again closed in, England were looking good on 103/1.
Once back at the hotel, the guys headed off in different ways to enjoy Durban’s nightlife! The most popular options were Florida Road, the Casino and back to Ushaka.
Monday 28th December 2009
Day three of the Durban Test and the game set up in England’s favour however with so much time lost in the game England needed to bat well and try and move the game on. Well our prayers were answered, England batted superbly, Cook 118, Collingwood 91 and Bell 55 Not Out saw England finish the day on 386/5 some 43 first innings runs ahead in the game.
Back to the hotel and back out in Durban for the evening’s entertainment saw most in bed early and ready for the exciting day’s play.
Tuesday 29th December 2009
Today was easily the best day of the tour so far for England! The day started brightly with England continuing to rub salt into the South Africans’ wounds by adding a further 188 runs before the declaration came, leaving England 231 runs ahead in the game.
The South African openers started well and after about an hour’s play and no wickets being taken, I had to leave for a flight over to Cape Town. No sooner had I walked down the steps and turned my back on the pitch, the English crowd cheered as Swann took a wicket!
Back at the hotel collecting my bag, I caught a few glimpses of the TV; 3 down, then soon after, 4, 5, 6........
What a day! I had an opportunity to catch the guys briefly before the airport transfer, who were in great spirit. With England still 155 runs ahead and South Africa only having four wickets in hand, surely tomorrow would be England’s day!
Wednesday 30th December 2009
Over in Durban as expected, England wrapped up the final four wickets in just over an hour! The match was England’s, so now one nil up in the series with just two to play - a monumental performance from this young England team. Back at the hotel, the guys took the opportunity to enjoy some free time, and as expected, the beer and celebrations were aplenty.
Now in Cape Town, I was back at the airport meeting the next ‘Newlands New Year Plus’ Tour group, which had arrived for a 10-night holiday in South Africa’s favourite city. Once checked in and safely off to their rooms for some deserved rest, I was off around our three chosen Cape Town hotels, setting up notice boards and transfer information for all of the groups.
During the evening, the new arriving group were treated to a BBQ meal on the pool deck of the hotel. With the sun setting and the atmosphere just perfect, it was obvious that the new guys were here for a good fun-filled cricketing holiday!
Thursday 31st December 2009
The last day before the new decade was to begin, and a stressful start with all of the arriving planes coming in during a 40-minute time window. Firstly, I was off to domestic departures looking after the 67 Howzat travellers using a devised A, B & C Coach system, getting them to the appropriate hotel. With the England team coming through the domestic terminal at the same time, it gave the guys an ideal opportunity to thank them personally for the memorable Durban victory.
Once on the correct coaches, the new arrivals from Durban were soon on their way to the Cape Town hotels. It was then a quick jog over to the International Arrivals ready to pick up 50+ new guests arriving from London. Again, a swift operation saw everyone board their relevant coach and head off to their hotel.
So, now almost at full capacity for the South Africa tour, it was time to enjoy New Years Eve! Most decided to make their way over to the V&A Waterfront nice and early to enjoy the street performers and many shops and boutiques before the evening commenced.
At 7.30pm, most of the Howzat Travellers were in our chosen venue, Quay 4, enjoying the best seat on the Waterfront for the evening’s celebrations. A great night was had by most, although the service was slow, the band was in fine voice and the waters edge in Cape Town really is breathtaking.
Happy New Year!
Friday 1st January 2010
Bleary eyes and hangovers greeted the breakfast table as some of the guests departed for the Cape Point excursions, which took them down to South Africa’s most southerly point, the Cape of Good Hope. Others enjoyed the day around the pool, relaxing and soaking up the African sun.
I personally enjoyed a stroll around past Clifton Beach and onwards to Camps Bay, where we enjoyed a few well-deserved New Year’s Day beers at The Med.
During the evening, the last of the Howzat Welcome meals took place at Sea Point hotel, where the ‘Newlands New Year’ Tour party all had a great introduction to fellow travellers and new friends for the start of the tour.
Saturday 2nd January 2010
Today was a busy day for most travellers; excursions to Table Mountain, Robben Island, Stellenbosh and even cage diving with Great White sharks were leaving the hotel every few minutes in the morning after breakfast.
I, along with three brave friends - Leanne, Minesh and Diane - went for the sharks! Wow, what a day! Seeing the Great Whites in the most prolific waters in the world really was something to savour. The captain and crew made our stay one of the most enjoyable.
Later back at the hotel, the bars were full of stories and tales of the day’s adventures. For most however, it was also time for an early night in anticipation of the first day’s play of the third Test in the morning.
Sunday 3rd January 2010
Day one of the Newlands Cape Town Test saw the groups get up early, and were fed, watered and ready to depart on the 9.00am coaches to the ground. Overnight we had had some rain, and there was still some drizzle in the air. This saw the start of the match slightly delayed by 30 minutes to 11.00am. As a result, for most, a gentle stroll around probably the most attractive ground in world cricket was the ideal way to start the day waiting for the play to start. The toss came around and with the conditions were still overcast, Strauss - after winning the toss - put South Africa in to loud cheers and appreciation from travelling England contingent.
When Prince was out for 0 after facing just three balls, England had took the vital early wicket. However, it should have been more as Smith should have been out after being dropped early doors. By lunch, England managed to squeeze the wicket of Amla leaving South Africa 51-2. The day seemed to be going England’s way. However a fight back from Kallis saw the day evenly balanced with SA on 279-6.
Back at the bar after a swift coach operation, most were sharing their day one experiences and giving their opinions on the days play.
Monday 4th January 2010
Although the start was brought forward to accommodate yesterday’s lost time, we departed at the same time of 9.00am and with plenty of time to spare we were sat ready for the start of play at 10am! The perfect England morning saw the final four wickets fall for just 12 runs.
The atmosphere was electric and the decision to put South Africa in seemed to be the right one… or was it? South Africa took the early wickets of Strauss, Trott, Pietersen and Collingwood, and before we knew it, England were on the back foot. We managed to fight back a little with Cook 65, Bell 48 and Prior 76 making runs.
The day finished with England on 241-7 and yet again it seemed evenly balanced in yet another enthralling Test Match.
Tuesday 5th January 2010
Today, instead of going to the cricket, a few of us took the opportunity for some sightseeing activities up Table Mountain. With temperatures soaring to a mighty 44°C, England and many of travelling contingent were struggling with the heat and the performance showed.
England lost the early wickets of Broad Swann and Anderson leaving a first innings deficit of just 18. Smith and Amla then went on to show the English that the pitch had well and truly flattened out, making an impressive 183 & 95 respectively. At the close of play South Africa was 312/2 some 330 ahead.
Back on the coach, most were discussing the game being well and truly dead for an England win. However, the discussions were more about when Smith would declare and what total would he set? Surely, the only captain ever to declare and lose twice would be a little more conservative than a lunch time declaration?
Over at the Premier Cape Manor hotel, Howzat Travel regular Mr Dare Devil Crompton was enjoying his 60th birthday in the presence of his many friends. I had the opportunity to pop in and join the party late in the evening and saw a fantastic atmosphere and party in full flow.
Wednesday 6th January 2010
With a few bleary eyes the Howzat faithful was back at the ground to witness what only could be a painful day’s cricket. South Africa continued to add salt to our wounds by batting well before declaring on 447 for the loss of 7 wickets.
England then took to the field needing to bat well in order to save the game, both Strauss and Cook made starts with 45 & 55 without going onto make bigger scores and by the close of play England were reduced to 132/3 and being honest not looking good.
Straight after the day’s play, 100 of the Howzat Travellers chose to attend a Sir Ian Botham charity function at the Kelvin Grove Club, next door to Newlands. With Sir Ian joining the Howzat Travel groups on the head table, we had an entertaining evening of great food and great stories. The Barmy Army finished the night with Billy the trumpeter giving us a rendition of ‘The Great Escape’! “De De Da Da....” This gave us at least something to dream about that night!
Thursday 7th January 2010
The final day of the Cape Town test saw a full house of Howzat Travellers in the ground nice and early and ready for hopefully a great day’s cricket. With ‘The Great Escape’ theme tune still firmly in most minds, Anderson the night watchman started off the day in fighting spirit, brightly surviving nine overs before getting out from the bowling of Harris.
After lunch, Bell and Collingwood showed some more true British fighting spirit, and without losing a wicket saw England through to Tea on 230/5.
Whoever said that ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’ obviously hadn’t been watching this South Africa vs. England series. By the scruff of the neck, England held on once again with star man Graham Onions facing 18 balls to save England’s blushes.
Wow what a game!!
The atmosphere back at the hotel bar was one of pure elation. One of the great Newlands Test had been witnessed by many ecstatic Howzat Travellers!
Friday 8th January 2010
Today was the departure date for a couple of groups; the ‘Two Oceans’ and ‘Rhino Two Oceans’ were off back home to far colder climes! However, I personally joined the ‘Two Oceans Traveller’ group along the first section on the ‘Garden Route’ over to Oudtshoorn. After a light lunch on route, we were soon checked in at the stunning Riempie Estate and off over to the Cango Caves for the first of the inclusive sightseeing options.
The caves themselves boast being the best in Africa. Four of the ‘more daring’ members of the group - Ian, Dennis, Mark and Gordon - enrolled on the ‘Adventure Tour of the Caves’. A fun experience and an a adventure was certainly had by all, including Dennis, aka ‘Mr Birmingham’.
Once safely back at the hotel, we had organised for the group to participate in a hotel BBQ. A fantastic evening of great food and hospitality saw us all off to bed early ready for another day of adventures tomorrow.
Saturday 9th January 2010
After yet another fantastic breakfast and a few issues with the coach’s starter motor, we were off to the Cango Ranch; a small, but well-presented animal park, where we had the opportunity to see many native South African animals and a few that had been imported as part of breeding programs. Basil the vulture, feeding crocodile, the Cheetahs and the rare white Bengal Tiger cubs were the highlights of the morning.
Then, it was off to the Cango Ostrich Farm for a full guided tour. Here we learnt about breeding, incubation, the history and uses for the bird. Dennis entertained us by riding the bird, Mark had an Ostrich neck massage then ‘A nice ostrich steak for lunch’ finished off with a few beers.
We were then treated to some spectacular scenery on the way over to George, as Moses our driver pointed out the landscape of ‘Hanse Cronje’ plane crash. Once through George and a few more photo stops, we were soon arriving in Knysna and checking into the Kynsna Quays Hotel. A fantastic property on the Quayside of this suburb quaint town, ideally located with activities aplenty.
Most of the guys and girls were happy to take the opportunity of some down time and with the sun shining, an afternoon by the pool seemed the perfect way to relax.
With the most beautiful sun setting over the lagoon, the night seemed young for some of the group and we headed off into town for a Saturday night Knysna Style.
Sunday 10th January 2010
With the sun hiding behind overcast skies most of the group took advantage of a leisurely morning, with the next group of Long Off Wanderers and Springbok travellers arriving later in the day, we had organised for a Paddle Cruiser to take us out on an ‘all inclusive’ sunset cruise.
Around 3pm the next group arrived, since it was Heather’s birthday we rendezvoused at the hotels bar for cocktails before boarding the boat at 6.15pm. With the skies still cloud covered and no sunset in sight, we still made the most of the evening, initially drinking the boat dry of red and white wine! Around 8.30pm we headed back over to the Quayside for a few night caps where tour stories and drunken tales were aplenty.
Monday 11th January 2010
Our setting off time to Port Elizabeth was at 9.00am. Upon joining the coach, I heard the chant of ‘Bungee Bungee Bungee’. Yes, I had stupidly, without any thought whatsoever, verbally stated I was going to jump off the World’s Highest Bungee Jump at Boulkrans Bridge just a few Kilometres from Knysna. So, after the photo stop at Plettenberg Bay, we were soon pulling into the bungee jump car park. Well, I watched a few jumps and being honest wasn’t sure if this was for me. Dennis kindly reminded me that he ‘wouldn’t think any less of me if I didn’t jump’. Good enough! I was enrolling, signing my life away and over the 850 foot drop before you knew it. Maybe an hour later I was done, complete with certificate, DVD and a few photos to prove my achievement.
With adrenaline still flowing, a few minutes later we were pulling into the Tsitsikamma National Park for the most spectacular lunch by the crashing waves, before most of us took the 30-minute walk over to the suspension bridge.
With the sun now well and truly out, we were soon back on board the coach and travelling east towards Port Elizabeth.
At around 5.30pm and after a short guided tour of PE, we were soon checking into the Marine Parade hotel. We had booked a table for the group along at the Boardwalk, so the hotel bar seemed a good rendezvous point before Moses kindly offered to drive us down for something to eat.
Unfortunately, the infamous 24-hour bug had taken its hold on me, so I had to leave early. By all accounts, everyone else had a great evening, enjoying the delights of Port Elizabeth.
Tuesday 12th January 2010
For the ‘Two Oceans Traveller’ group, this was the final day in South Africa. We checked each passenger in online and enjoyed a leisurely morning around the hotel and pleasant beachfront. Around 3.00pm, we took the short drive over to the airport and said our goodbyes to Moses. Once checked in, we were soon on board for the 90-minute flight to Johannesburg, where I said my ‘goodbyes’ to the departing group.
For me, it was then off to the Balalaika Hotel to set up the boards and information for the main groups arriving tomorrow. After a light meal, I was soon off to bed ready for the final part of the tour in Johannesburg.
Wednesday 13th January 2010
Not being one to lie in, I was up and taking advantage of a free morning, catching up with UK emails and confirming arrangements for the next six days.
At around 3.00pm, the groups arrived, full of stories about their accounts of travels along the Garden Route. ‘Hats off’ to Richard Crompton and Heather Hope, my fellow bungee jumpers.
The afternoon and early evening was spent in the appropriately named ‘Lords Bar’ at the Balalaika Hotel before separate groups headed off to Mandela Square for evening meals. During the evening, MCC Tony had a bet with me that KP would come good in the test and hit a century during the Johannesburg Test. Soon after, we were heading back to the hotel in anticipation of the first day’s play at the Wanderers tomorrow.
Thursday 14th January 2010
The first day of the 4th Test saw the group up early and boarding the 9.00am coach for the short drive over to the Wanderers Stadium. It looked just perfect; the overnight rain had cleared, England won the toss and elected to bat. The Test was in the bag! Or so we thought…
Strauss out with the first ball of the day, then Trott (5) and KP (7) essentially saw England all out for 180. Only Collingwood with a decent knock of 47 saved England from further embarrassment. South Africa, now with a massive advantage, closed the day on 28-0 after the afternoon’s thunderstorms closed in and bad light stopped play.
So, back off to the hotel for a few beers at the Lords Bar before heading out to the Pirates Club to an evening hosted by Matthew Hoggard. The Pirates are the oldest club in Johannesburg and also the club Matthew played for during the early part of is career. A fun evening was had by all. Well, cheap drinks, a hospitable coach driver and Matthew at his entertaining best saw us all in great spirits. At around 11.00pm, we headed back over to the Balalaika Hotel and straight over to bed in anticipation of the second day’s play.
Friday 15th January 2010
England sure needed early wickets, but in turn struggled and struggled badly. The overcast conditions had cleared and with less humidity in the air, the conditions were perfect for batting. Smith (105) and Amla (75) took full advantage of England’s woeful first day by closing up on 215-2. Well, I say closing the day… the rain and thunder pretty much did that for us since at 2.15pm, Johannesburg was hit by one serious thunderstorm. As the fans ran for cover and the lights were taken out by thunder, the Wanderers looked more like a windswept pond than a cricket field! Unbelievable, but the rain actually cleared and the outfield dried for a final three overs at the end of the day. For the ones that wanted, our driver Chris kindly brought them back to the Wanderers for the final few balls.
Saturday 16th January 2010
With the game losing considerable overs, the start of play was scheduled for 10.00am and with the overcast conditions similar to those from day one, England actually looked like having a chance of getting the game back on track. Amla, Kallis and Dumminy all lost early wickets and but only for an error with the third umpire referral system, England could have been back in the game. However, AB de Villiers and Boucher made them pay, leading South Africa to 423 before declaring 243 runs ahead.
Well here we go… England needed a great second innings, but failed - yet again. When the thunderstorms and bad light closed in, England were 48-3.
So, yet again, the coach was called early and back off to Sandton we went. Tonight was a special night; we had organised for a special guest to join us all for dinner at the Bull Run. BBC and TMS cricket guru Jonathan Agnew proved to be a great host, spending time with all the guys and girls. Special nights like this don’t come around very often, so after thanking Jonathan for his time and generosity, it was back to the Lords Bar for a night cap.
Sunday 17th January 2010
As it turned out, this was to be the last day of cricket on the South Africa tour. With overcast conditions and Morkel and Steyn in fine form, England well and truly threw in the towel, being dismissed for just 169. MCC Tony’s predication on a KP double century was clearly just a dream. The series was therefore drawn 1-1 and South Africa retained the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy. With the game and presentation effectively over before lunch, some of the group headed over to the Wanderers. Chris, our coach driver and new best friend, took others over to the Apartheid Museum, whilst the hotel bar and a pack of cards seemed a good idea for the final group.
As the night drew on and the effects of alcohol consumption taking hold, the ‘Lords Bar’ was a jolly old place; new found friends were singing, making speeches and the evening became quite emotional.
Late in the evening, we managed to get the entire group checked in online and ready for the tomorrow’s departure back to the UK.
Monday 18th January 2010
With the cricket over and a free day ahead, the groups spent the day in different way; some chose to head out shopping, a small group of us headed over to the Country Club for a game of golf and others spent the day around the hotel. At 6.00pm, we headed over to OR Tambo International Airport and quickly dropped bags off for the Virgin Atlantic departing flight, which was thankfully on-time.
Once back in the UK, we said our goodbyes and headed off in separate ways. The tour had been without any shadow of a doubt one of the very best yet. The Cricket had at times been sensational, the 2 draws in Pretoria and Cape Town and the historic win in Durban had been memorable. However in reflection the draw had probably been the right result.
Well done England and well done to the Howzat faithful; without you our customers, friends and some of the best personalities you could ask for we wouldn’t be half the company!