England Cricket Tour to South Africa 2019-20
Tours Managers’ Reviews

South Africa 2019-20 - Tours Managers' Reviews

December 2019 – February 2020

England winning away from home is a rare occurence these days, especially when they are blooding lots of youngsters in some of the most imposing stadia in the world. However, those Howzat Travellers that joined us in South Africa this time around witnessed just that – with a Test match that will undoubtably go down in history at the beautiful Newlands.We were joined by guests ranging from Sir Geoff Boycott, to Dale Steyn, enjoyed sightseeing trips including Victoria Falls and the luxurious Blue Train, and made the most of the food and wine being some of the best in the world – it really was a treat! See how our Tour managers’ enjoyed the tour here…

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Des Newton

“Do what the British swallows do and head South” is advice often given in winter in the UK. What better place than South Africa for warm weather to watch four cricket test matches amid fabulous surroundings?

I’m not sure how folk chose the in-between tours after two test matches when one had a choice of Namibia, the Garden Route and Eastern Cape Game reserves, the Victoria Falls and Botswana, the Kruger Park, the Battlefields, the Blue Train and many Bespoke Tours. Only Howzat Travel could offer such a smorgasbord for different tastes in wildly divergent destinations. Well done, again, to the Howzat Travel Team in Wartnaby!

Collectively we saw from the sand dunes of Sossusvlei in Namibia to the Waterfront in Cape Town, from the Kruger Park to Amakhala, from the playing field of Newlands to the playing field of Salem (oldest field in SA), from Victoria Falls to the beach frontage of Port Elizabeth, from the Battlefields to the battles on the field, from the Voortrekker Monument to the Apartheid museum, from the smart Davinci Hotel in Sandton to the poorest part of Soweto and more.

Then we heard words of cricket insight and wisdom from speakers like Mark Butcher, Vic Marks, Mike Atherton, Barry Richards, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Dale Steyn and Shaun Pollock interviewed by pros like Aggers, George Dobell, Don Topley and Dave Stewart. All contributed to a tour to remember.

Centurion was the venue for the first test starting on Boxing Day. We had enjoyed a fabulous Christmas dinner at the Irene Country Lodge with intelligent Vic Marks excelling as our guest speaker. The serene setting of our lodge on the edge of a lakelet with easy walks all around and a golf course adjacent to a dairy farm on the other side with a restaurant made for peace of mind. The active bird life especially from the African Ibis with its loud cacophonic cry of “Hadida” and the beautiful Red Bishop resplendent in their feathers of black and red let one know one was truly in Africa. Our tour of Pretoria and the Voortrekker Monument, the Houses of Parliament and Paul Kruger’s house gave some insight into understanding SA’s history.

The England team, beset with flu-like problems, lost the game rather easily. The new regime of SACA with Smith, Boucher and Kallis in charge gave the local supporters some hope after what had been a disastrous build-up to the England tour. This euphoria proved to be short-lived.

Newlands, nestling below the Eastern slopes of “Mother Table Mountain” welcomed all cricket lovers with open arms in lovely sunshine and crystal clear skies. This magnificent mountain backdrop always provides an awesome view which makes the cricket enthusiast feel that one is somewhere special. It was certainly special for England winning on day five in an intriguing test match.

This brought a close our test match visit to Cape Town leaving with fond memories of our Commodore Hotel superbly placed so close to the wonderful Waterfront with its superb restaurants, shops, pubs and general entertainment of buskers, mime artists, boat trips, Robben island, Oceanarium, impromptu choirs and a carnival atmosphere. I have not even mentioned the open-top buses nor the spectacular visits to Table Mountain or the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins and the unique visit to the wonderful Winelands of Franschhoek. I must not forget our great New Year’s Eve Party near the sea in Mouille Point. What a party! (Maybe a separate report would do more justice to these tours available in this lovely city.)

Now it was time to see a bit more of Southern Africa. Our group had chosen the iconic Victoria Falls and Botswana land and river safari. The Safari Lodge offered great views of a waterhole and vulture feeding programme while we sipped cocktails or swam in the pool overlooking the plains and the animals coming to drink.

The Victoria Falls named by David Livingstone is about a mile wide and a hundred yards deep or high. I have seen it when the river is full and now when half full. The half-full view is better as one gets a view of the drop to the bottom of the gorge while the edge that is lower gives one the full shower of wetness of the “smoke that thunders”. When the river is in full stream one takes a shower almost for the whole length of the chasm and one’s views are mainly of beautiful rainbows in the misty sunlight. We had gorgeous views. The Tsobi land and river safaris were superb. Some even witnessed two young lionesses killing a baby warthog! One has to accept that because that is nature.

Pretty Port Elizabeth with a lovely beachfront beckoned us. The St George’s Park cricket ground offered us magnificent seating on the top tier of the duckpond end stand. England dominated the cricket and won easily. Pope was a star. The visits to the Addo Elephant Park and Amakhala Game Reserve were thoroughly enjoyed by many and so was a special game of cricket played by Howzat Travellers at Salem which is an original village of the 1820 British Settlers.

Our Farewell Dinner at the Grand Hotel with the SA bowling hero Dale Steyn was a great success with many observers saying what a nice person this aggressive is!

Wanderers is always a great venue to watch cricket. Wherever one sits one has a great view. The threatening rain stayed away long enough for England to win the test and the series 3-1. Visits to the Apartheid Museum and Nelson Mandela House and the “real township tour” to the poorest part of Soweto brought things into perspective re the realities in SA.

As we said goodbye to our faithful punters I noticed some had taken full advantage of the benevolent climate and were sporting luscious suntans. It was a great test match tour in a country where it was a pleasure to be able to eat and drink without taking too much notice of the fare and I’m sure many will return to my country. It was, on behalf of Howzat, a pleasure to have hosted you.

Yours in cricket,
Des

 

Maggi Gibson

Here I am at Joburg airport having said farewell to the last group of happy Howzat Travellers flying home after the Test tour. What a great tour it has been once again!

Meeting up with old friends, and making new friends in Centurion was, as always, a great experience. A great Christmas lunch at the lovely Irene Country Lodge was enjoyed by all and made even better by an entertaining Q&A with Vic Marks. Both hotels in Centurion were slightly overwhelmed by the increased demand for beer and the newly opened Little Britain pub in Centurion didn’t quite know what had hit it when the Barmy Army descended! A Q&A on the second evening of the test with Gareth Batty gave everyone the chance to discuss the state of play. With the Proteas managing their only win of the tour after four days we ended up with a free day in Pretoria and after an interesting impromptu Q&A with Scyld Berry, Des and I took the troops on a tour of Pretoria visiting the Voortrekker monument, Paul Kruger’s house and the Union Buildings.

Then it was on to Cape Town on New Year’s Eve. Many people joined us at Bobo Brasserie for a memorable New Year celebration. The wine flowed, the room was buzzing with animated conversations and some of us threw some shapes on the dance floor! Luckily we had a few days to recover before the cricket started. Cape Point tours and Winelands tours filled up the next couple of days and then it was out to Newlands for the start of the New Year’s Test – always the most popular event on the South African Test tour. Always lovely to meet outside the stadium and see all the familiar faces and enjoy the buzz around the ground. A Q&A with Mark Butcher on the evening of Day 2 of the test was most entertaining. England’s first win here since 1957 was great to watch and lovely to see so many happy faces coming out to the buses on the last day.

Various tours were enjoyed in between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. I was lucky enough to accompany a great group on the Garden Route. Others visited the famous Anglo Zulu and Anglo Boer war Battlefields, Victoria Falls, Namibia and some took a gourmet tour of the Cape followed by a trip on the iconic Blue Train. Great travel tales were swapped on arrival in Port Elizabeth and everyone seemed to have had a fantastic time!

On we went to Port Elizabeth – luckily we got to see some cricket and another memorable win for England despite the very variable weather. Many people enjoyed wonderful excursions to the nearby game parks – Amakhala and Addo National Park. A day playing cricket on the oldest pitch in South Africa on one of the hottest days of the year was a great experience for some of our party. A Q&A with Dale Steyn at the historic Grand Hotel on a beautiful evening was one of the highlights of our PE stay. Continuous drizzle on the last free day and a half kept most of us confined to the hotel for hours waiting for our departure to Johannesburg for the fourth and final test.

The Bullring once again gave us a great cricket show and another wonderful win for England. In between the cricket we enjoyed an evening with Mike Atherton at the Da Vinci hotel, Open Top bus tours, visits to the Apartheid museum, war memorial museum and various other interesting sights around the city.

Another great Howzat tour and look forward to seeing all our customers and colleagues in India this time next year!

 

Andy Jones

Having toured with Howzat Travel as a customer in Australia in 2017 and Sri Lanka in 2018 I was absolutely delighted to be asked by Ian and Steve to help them out this winter in South Africa. I had heard many amazing stories about the country from the friends I had met on my previous tours and so was eager to explore for myself. Put simply, South Africa didn’t disappoint, it delivered all I had imagined and more.

I arrived in Johannesburg very nervous. Would I be able to cope with the responsibility of getting not only myself to a bus, hotel or cricket ground on time but also a group of sometimes up to 70 people there as well? I needed a hand!

I shouldn’t have worried because I was met that first night by super Bob Buckler who promptly took me and a few customers out to dinner and made me drink more than I had planned. Don’t worry though he said, I’ll pick you up at 4.30am to get you to the airport for your first arrivals!

After meeting my first arrivals we headed off on a 4-hour transfer to Tsukudu Bush Lodge in the beautiful Pilanesberg game reserve. ‘Tsukudu’, meaning ‘Place of the Rhino’ was to be home for 15 travellers on a three night pre first Test Christmas Tour. If any of you have since met or spoken to any of the Tsukudu 15, then I’m sure you will have heard about the 138 steps! They were steep, uneven and very challenging to get to the main lodge but once there… so worth it!

The next three days were a blur of tired eyes, sore heads, great food, amazing game drives and fabulous company. The daily game drives at 5am (yes even Christmas day!) and 4pm were truly magical. We saw, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, wildebeest, kudu and my favourite… fighting dung beetles! I feel that the fifteen people really bonded on this trip and it is one that I will never forget. Christmas dinner on a ‘Captain’s Table’ was a great last night before we went our separate ways in the morning. If Howzat put this trip on again I strongly recommend booking early!

Boxing Day morning was probably Howzat’s earliest ever departure for a match… 6am! We arrived at Supersport Park an hour before start of play in time to meet Charlie with our tickets, it was good to see his smiling face!

I have to be honest… Roots’ decision to bowl first was baffling, his bowlers were or had been sick and the heat was stifling! Nothing more needs to be said about that test!

Luckily I left early and so didn’t see the fourth day! I flew to Cape Town to meet some new arrivals. There were to be 30 of us heading to The Oude Werf Hotel in Stellenbosch for a far more sedate New Year than the chaos of Cape Town. There were lots of old (in tours not age!) Howzat customers within the group but also some brand new ones too. It was a lovely mix of people.

What a lovely trip this was, vineyards were visited, wine was sampled (Lanzerac pinotage my favourite) and lovely relaxed restaurants were frequented along the leafy tree lined streets of Stellenbosch. The Wedding Cup was put to good use by two couples at The Warwick Estate, look it up if you have time, it’s a lovely romantic story!

All this was just the starter to the main event, a stunning 7 course taster menu at Helena’s restaurant 20 yards from the Oude Werf to see in the New Year. A beautiful setting with another fantastic group of travellers who again became a large family. It was a New Year that I’ll remember with great fondness for a very long time.

New Year’s Day was a ‘day off’ for all but a brave group of six who were up at the crack of dawn for a visit to Cape Point. All desperate, well, one of them was, to see the penguins! Luckily there were plenty there working on a Bank Holiday! The things that Howzat can arrange!

The next day saw the group head back to our various hotels in Cape Town to ready ourselves for the iconic Newlands Test. I arrived at the Vineyard Hotel, a sister hotel to The Oude Werf knowing it would be lovely. It was! I met up with Carole and Nick who luckily for me had got everything organised for the 70 or so guests that were already there. I just had to hang on to their coat tails for a week and soak up the atmosphere of Newlands. What a test it turned out to be… meandering towards a draw midway through day 5, a few quick wickets after tea and then into the final hour. Cometh the hour, cometh the man! He did it again for the third time in less than a year, Ben Stokes carried England over the line with a simply outstanding spell of fast bowling taking the last three South Africa wickets for not many, sending the thousands of England fans into raptures with the stunning table mountain shuddering in the distance as the victory roar went up! And this was, for a few people I had met, their first ever test match! What a venue and what a finish! Follow that!

After a superb 5 day trip to Namibia as a customer where Ian was my Tour manager it was on to Port Elizabeth for the third test where I was to return the compliment. After a shuffling of hotels, I was left alone to look after Ian at Sir Roy’s for the next 6 days! I have to say he was my most demanding customer!

St. Georges Park turned out to be nothing like I’d imagined. I loved the ground with the customary grass banks heavily occupied by English fans and I grew to really like the band that I’d been told would annoy me. They didn’t. In fact I think they really enhanced the atmosphere and helped no end in distracting us all from the biting winds and frequent rain delays. This was to be Mark Wood’s test in my eyes. A superb smash with the bat and wickets a plenty in both innings! A comprehensive victory this time with a day to spare. My abiding memory of this test match though will be meeting a REALLY LOVELY man who will be umpiring me in the upcoming season. He was without doubt the nicest Howzat customer I’ve ever met… and cheap too, my first 50 has only cost me one coffee!

I was last man out of PE, flying on to Johannesburg where this time I was to be a customer of Des and Dave! Thank you to everyone who helped make my first (and hopefully not last) trip as a TM memorable. The whole Howzat team work incredibly hard but successfully at making their tours the best out there. Special mention to Charlie Baker who did an amazing job behind the scenes making a difficult job appear easy!

 

Stephen & Karen Newman

The approach to Cape Town is always spectacular, particularly if the flight path is from the south. A big sweep over the ocean, Robben Island clearly visible (inevitable thoughts of Mandela’s incarceration), the coastline and beaches and then the imposing majesty of Table Mountain. For us, it is almost like returning home, such is our affinity for the “Mother City” after so many visits, whether cricketing or non-cricketing. Even the townships look familiar and an ever present feature – will the government ever be in a position to eradicate the endless miles of tin huts, shanty towns and cardboard shacks? Now at least, electricity poles are evident, along with a sea of satellite dishes.

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, within close proximity of all the Howzat group hotels, is a marvellous place to spend post cricket evenings with so many dining and entertainment options.  Close by our hotel, the Victoria Junction, we had a good selection of restaurants and some great social evenings in the Steak Kitchen and the Vasco da Gama pub, appreciated particularly by the single travellers, as for some it can be daunting to explore and dine alone.

We were all filled with excitement and expectation as New Year was celebrated and the opening day of the Newlands Test Match finally arrived. Those visiting for the first time were not disappointed as the crowds, the iconic and spectacular setting and the atmosphere are all as good as any in world cricket. England fans were desperate for a better showing after the dismal performance at Centurion and hopeful after Joe Root won the toss and thank heavens, decided to bat. The first innings was underwhelming however and most were unimpressed by the 269 all out. A much better day in the field followed with Jimmy Anderson taking 5 wickets, outstanding catching and Dom Bess, a new face to many England supporters, keeping one end very tight led to South Africa being dismissed for 223. A much more upbeat ride back to the hotel for our tour groups. A careful and determined big first Test century for Sibley, with dashing stroke play by Buttler and Stokes gave England a formidable total. Surely beyond South Africa’s out of form and brittle batsmen? Well, much spirited and dogged resistance on the final day by Malan, de Kock and van der Dussen gave rise to doubts and nerves amongst English supporters. Infuriatingly, victory seemed to have slipped away by late afternoon, until brilliance by Stuart Broad, more incredible slip catches and the coup de grace by Ben Stokes (who else) brought England a rush of wickets and a glorious win to level the series. A party atmosphere was evident for England’s first win in Cape Town for over 60 years and for traditional cricket fans, the enjoyment of a full five day test match – long live test cricket!

The optimism was carried through and reinforced with big England wins in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg. South Africa were generous cricketing hosts, rather modest by comparison with the usual skilful, tough and resolute Protea sides but England’s performances were professional, competitive and in truth, we just had better players.

Our group enjoyed a fabulous trip to Kruger Park and the wildlife viewing was outstanding. All the “Big Five” were ticked off and it is a wonderful and exciting feeling to see the animals in their natural and unspoilt habitat. South Africa really does have an abundance of varied, world class sightseeing options that merge perfectly with breaks between the Test matches. So many clients commented that the balance was well thought out, excellently planned and added to the adventure of a visit to this wonderful and at times, challenging country.

Win or lose, a South Africa tour is one of the great highlights for Howzat England fans, although it is so satisfying to come away with a comprehensive series win. For serious cricket aficionados and serial Howzat Travellers, all were encouraged by the new faces in the team such as Crawley, Sibley and the supremely gifted Ollie Pope. Add a newish bowler or three – Dom Bess, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood (please stay fit!) and the future looks promising. Talk of the Ashes down under is certainly premature but expectation and optimism are the hallmark of the intrepid England fan. Only 20 months to wait!

 

Gordon Bacon

To arrive in Cape Town in time for the New Year celebrations is a very nice thing to do, especially when you have just left the UK winter behind! With the blue skies, sunshine and, looking from the V & A Waterfront, the magnificent view of Table Mountain, it’s difficult not to just love Cape Town.

As the test didn’t start till 3rd January there was time to relax in the Waterfront area or to have day trips to Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Point, the winelands or other attractions.

The clients staying at the superb Cape Grace Hotel had a very good evening when Steve Harmison was the guest. He was very entertaining, especially when talking about some of the exploits of his great friend Darren Gough.

It was a very good test which had an exciting finish, with England winning shortly before the close of play on Day 5 – who said we should have 4 day tests?!

Between Tests 2 & 3 I hand the pleasure of taking a group of just over 20 Howzat clients on what turned out to be a super sightseeing trip – The Blue Train. We left Cape Town by coach at 9am, travelled east for about 2 hours & had our first wine tasting of the trip at the lovely La Vierge Winery. Perhaps a little early to be sipping wine but, as the saying goes, it’s always after 12 noon somewhere!

Next stop was at Creation Wines, where we had a 5 course lunch & 8 wines to taste. They weren’t large glasses of wine, but it was a quite quiet bus when we made the short journey to the lovely Marine Hotel in Hermanus, our base for 2 nights.

It wasn’t whale watching season but it was still a lovely walk along the coastal pathway looking out over the South Atlantic Ocean.

From Hermanus we headed north into the mountains to the beautiful town of Franschhoek. After time to look round the town it was a few minutes drive for lunch at the spectacularly situated La Petit Ferme winery. Before lunch, and while enjoying a glass of bubbles, we had a very interesting talk about the history of the vineyard and how the new vines are grafted, while during our lunch there was an explanation of each wine that accompanied the meal.

It was only a short ride to our next overnight stop, Stellenbosch, another lovely town famous for its wines.

After a free morning to enjoy Stellenbosch we travelled to Cape Town railway station to start the Blue Train trip. From the moment we arrived at the station & were directed to the lounge waiting to board, the entire Blue Train staff did all they could to make our trip a memorable one.

We were on the train for 2 nights with all meals served in the elegant dining carriage. In addition to your own private room, there were 3 beautifully furnished lounge carriages, with snacks & drinks available all day.

During the 2nd day on the train we stopped at the world famous diamond town of Kimberley. We had a tour round the museum and then, from a purpose build vantage point, looked into the Big Hole.

The train was about 2 hours late into Pretoria because some of the overhead cables had been stolen. This was actually quite good news because our lunch had been arranged for 12-30pm and after our Blue Train breakfast, few could have done it justice.

After lunch 4 members of our group headed to Jo’burg Airport for their flights back to UK and the remainder stayed overnight in Sandton before flying the next day to Port Elizabeth.

In Port Elizabeth I was with another small group, this time in the Admiralty Beach Guesthouse. Some clients had booked day trips while others were happy to lounge by the pool or have a walk along the water front, this time looking out onto the Indian Ocean. It was an easy journey to the cricket field where, despite some delays with rain, England batted very well & won by an innings. Once again there were lots of restaurants & bars, though because of the invasion of England supporters it was necessary to book tables.

One evening the great South African fast bowler Dale Steyn was Howzat’s guest speaker with George Dobell (ESPN Cricinfo’s Chief Cricket Writer) asking the questions. Dale was very humble saying that when he was at Essex he was “rubbish”!

The Final Dinner, for those not going to the 4th test at Jo’burg, heard one of the greatest ever South African batsmen, Barry Richards, discuss his career with Howzat’s David Stewart. Barry recounted stories about his limited test career (because of SA’s isolation), Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, as well as playing County cricket for Hampshire and for South Australia.

It was great to visit South Africa & see England win both tests, with a memorable sightseeing adventure in between. Add to that great scenery, with good food & wine when £1 sterling bought over Rand 18 and it was a win-win!

 

Nick & Carole Joyce

Our group assembled in Cape Town over several days, all met by bright sunshine and an equally bright and cheerful South African welcome at our beautiful hotel, The Vineyard, just a short walk from the Newlands ground.
To sit out on the rear terrace for an early morning breakfast, a lunch or an evening meal looking up at Table Mountain is a feast for both the stomach and the eyes!

There was plenty of time before the start of the second Test to enjoy day trips out to the Cape Peninsular, experience some wine tasting in Franschhoek, sail out to Robben Island, catch the cable car up Table Mountain (or walk up!) and explore the Waterfront shopping and dining opportunities. The bar at the Vineyard was a regular evening meeting point to share the delights of each trip with each other.
Our party welcomed in the new decade in a variety of venues, all thoroughly enjoyed and ending in the early hours back at the Vineyard’s bar! The Vineyard is steeped in history, which is well illustrated throughout the hotel, and offers a blend of colonial style and luxury, an ideal place to explore from or just relax before the cricket started. As one guest said, ‘…this place is, well, just special.’

As ever, Match day was met with anticipation and even before a ball had been bowled just sitting in the Newlands Stadium is an experience not to be missed. We won the toss and batted, many of us left feeling we were far too short of an ideal first innings score but sensible enough to wait until the opposition had batted! The next day we bowled and fielded with unrelenting passion, the result being a 46 run lead. The match was proving to be Test cricket at its best with memorable moments made from Dominic Sibley’s 2nd innings maiden century, a rapid and entertaining 72 from Ben Stokes and then a 5-for from Jimmy. The last day was truly something special…. a win at Newlands for the first time since 1957 saw the crowd and the players celebrating in total delight. An exciting whole hearted performance by every player on the field, in very high temperatures, gave us the most wonderful of days in the most wonderful of settings.
To close a perfect day, Howzat hosted the end of tour dinner at Kelvin Grove with Sir Geoffrey and Jonathan Agnew, enjoyed by all in the company of friends from previous tours and new ones made on this one.

We departed from the Vineyard the next day on various tours; some flying off to explore Namibia, the Battlefields or the Victoria Falls; some taking Safari adventures; some travelling through the delights of the world famous Garden Route by coach or aboard the renowned Blue Train and some of us staying to further explore the wonder of the city and peninsular of Cape Town before flying home or on to Port Elizabeth.

All of this, accompanied by great food, unparalleled wine choices and consistently blue skies…. we can’t wait to return

 

Ross Parry

After an overnight flight from Heathrow, and a short journey to my hotel, I safely arrived in Johannesburg on Christmas eve for the start of my tour. Teaming up with Maggie and Bob to look after a group of 60, the first day was spent acclimatising and meeting up with many old friends from previous tours.

It felt like going back to my childhood as it was early to bed on Christmas Eve with the excitement of Christmas Day when I awoke, the only difference being as a child I hadn’t drunk numerous pints of castle lager and wasn’t suffering from jet lag!

How pleasant to wake up on Christmas morning to glorious sunshine, although disappointingly no stocking from Santa! The rest of the day proved to be memorable with a short coach trip to the Irene Lodge resort, where we had a fabulous Christmas lunch buffet accompanied by entertainment from former Somerset and England spinner and now TMS star, Vic Marks.

Our coach headed back to the hotel mid-afternoon, but a few of us stayed relaxing by the Lake until the early evening – sampling a few more local Ales or the odd glass of wine (or two)!

An early rise on Boxing Day began our short coach trip to the Centurion test ground for the first day of the first test and all the excitement that goes with it. With illness in the camp, Joe Root wins the toss and surprisingly elects to field, a decision which appears to prove costly as we lose the first test by over 100 runs to go one down in the series.

Although disappointing to finish in four days at least I was able to watch the entire test despite having to leave early for Cape Town to welcome our many new arrivals.

With all the arrivals from the UK and all the Pretoria supporters arriving on New Years Eve, I had my two busiest days working for Howzat and I was looking forward to chilling out at the Café Grand and seeing in the New Year in style. I was not to be disappointed as we were served a superb meal with plenty of good wine and champagne, followed by a disco until the early hours of the New Year.

As the Test match didn’t start until the 3rd January, we had two spare days to recover from the New year celebrations, and more importantly explore Cape Town and its surroundings. Unsurprisingly, the popular excursions were trips to Table Mountain, Robben Island and the various wine regions.

After all the sightseeing, it was back to the cricket at Newlands, one of the most picturesque grounds in the World. With England winning the toss, and this time electing to bat, not to mention a maiden test century from Dom Sibley, it meant they were in a dominant position throughout. Despite going into the last day and a draw looking like a strong possibility, Ben Stokes struck with some valuable wickets to secure a famous win which was the first time England had won in Cape Town for over fifty years!

For all those going home after Cape Town, and there were many, we had our farewell dinner next to the ground, at the spectacular venue the Kelvin Grove Club. After the fantastic meal, the group were entertained by one of cricket’s great double acts, Aggers and Sir Geoffrey who were as amusing as ever.

The day after the test/farewell dinner there was a mass exodus with either people going home or the majority going off on various excursions. I was personally given the task of looking after a relatively small party doing the Battlefields tour, of which it had extra significance to me as my Grandfather was involved in the relief of Ladysmith.

We flew into Durban and travelled to Isandlwana where we stayed for two nights and visited the battlefields of Isandlwana and Rourkes drift, known for the Zulu wars which took place in 1879. Our tour guide Dalton thoroughly explained the history of these landmarks to us throughout.

After breakfast the next day, we headed off to Ladysmith where we were met by Raymond, who is a historian and also owner of the lodge where we stayed for the night. We enjoyed a tour of the museum in Ladysmith and after headed off to Raymonds Lodge for a short lecture, followed by a pre meal pint in the Churchill bar.

The following day, we were lucky to visit the battlefield of Spion Kop and Raymond informed us of the history behind the futile battle. After having lunch back at the lodge, we headed off for two days of relaxation at the Drakensberg Sun resort and a rather unexpected thunder and lightning show on our first night!

After the Battlefields, we had a whistle-stop one night stay in Johannesburg, with just enough time to have a few beers in the Hard Rock Café and a fabulous steak in the legendary Butcher Shop in Nelson Mandela Square. For the last leg of my journey, we were off to Port Elizabeth, and with the series now all square we had high hopes of another famous win.

Working with “Toppers “ at the Protea Marine, we combined welcome drinks with a Q&A session with the former Derbyshire spin bowler, Fred Swarbrook, who entertained us with tales from his Derbyshire days and also his coaching in South Africa when he had a young Toppers under his wing. Our hotel was on the waterfront and on Saturday morning you could watch the local park run from the comfort of the hotel!

Each day at the cricket involved a short coach journey to the ground followed by a walk through the park to the stadium. With England in a confident mood after their success in Cape Town, they seized the opportunity to take a two-one lead in the series, thanks to centuries from Stokes and Pope and an electric spell of pace bowling from Mark Wood!

England’s victory was delayed partly due to some heavy rain and a larger than expected last stand by South Africa’s last two batsmen – albeit helped by the skipper over bowling himself in an attempt to get his first test five wicket haul!

In Port Elizabeth we also had the added bonus of a Q&A with South African legend Dale Steyn at the Grand Hotel in Old Town Port Elizabeth. We enjoyed drinks outside, alongside live music and various stalls selling a variety of food, the night was well received by all who attended.

For those leaving at the end of the third test, we had the pleasure of ex Hampshire great, Barry Richards, entertaining us with stories of his career. In particular, his involvement with Kerry Packer’s World series which was, at that time, a rare opportunity for the many great South Africans to compete against the World’s best.

I was intrigued by his tale of how he scored 300 runs in a day for Western Australia in a Sheffield shield match and I wondered how many day’s our guest at the farewell dinner in Cape Town would have taken to score 300 runs!

To summarise, another brilliant tour with the added bonus of a rare England away win! As always many new friendships made and old acquaintances reunited, with so many conversations taking place regarding future tours to both India and Australia and you never know, perhaps another England away win!

 

David Stewart

My word. England won, away. For the second time in 12 months. Well done Joe Root and Co. May the saints be praised!

Apart from St George (ironically, the English one), at his Park (in PE) it was cool, damp and lived up to the reputation of the Windy City. A hospitality box was the best place to avoid a sometimes chilly breeze, and those tucked safely in there had the best of matters.

Had I been permanently in the Duckpond Stand, wind coming across the ground, I would’ve moaned like Desmond on being handed a warm bottle of Castle. Not the Howzat Travellers: they were magnificent, caring little for the weather conditions, but taking touching pleasure from a victory fashioned around hundreds from Big Ben and Wee Olly – who will be around for a long time to come, that touch of Gower-like class being ever so evident.

Top marks too for the off-spin wickets taken by Dominic Bess and the captain. This was a dominant England performance.

This limb of the trip featured one of my favourite days working with the company since I started in 2012. Rather like the ‘Battle of Bowral’ in January 2014 (when Carl’s Crusaders vanquished Dave’s Devils by the narrowest of margins), a bunch of unlikely lads ‘n lasses headed 100kms east to Salem – supposedly the oldest cricket club in the Eastern Cape (the 1820 settlers), possibly in the country.

There had been a miscommunication, because while we thought 6 of us were playing 6 of this small farming community, they thought they were merely providing an umpire/ groundsman/host. The redoubtable Des innovated a single wicket competition that was thoroughly enjoyed by all – notably those who had initially travelled to spectate.

A quartet of David’s (dodgy knee, ex-copper, former scientist, County U19s Manager – representing Yorkshire, Northants, Glamorgan, Lancashire) all performed with honour, Sharon kept wicket with aplomb, while Margaret’s patrol of the covers – sledging both bowler and batsman – will live long in the memory.

Thanks too to Karen, the photographer. Oh, I nearly forgot: the redoubtable one, a tidy (in the South Wales sense – see Nessa in Gavin and Stacey) player in his time, top scored.

Other highlights? I am biased, but I know a lot of people enjoy the post-match Q & A sessions. Victor Marks, Gareth Batty, Scyld Berry, Mark Butcher, Dale Steyn, Barry Richards, Michael Atherton and Shaun Pollock made up a formidable array of talent.

For physical beauty, it is hard to beat the Western Cape. A Newton-led adventure, with commentary (as one experienced campaigner offered: “if he doesn’t know it, he makes it up”), around some of the Stellenbosch and Franchoek wineries was an experience to be cherished. The quality of the vintage is matched by the attractiveness of the Cape Dutch architecture.

Oh, and that win at Newlands after tea on the last day was quite something.

 

Bob Buckler

I was very excited to tour in South Africa again. Although I’ve been living back in the UK for a number of years now, South Africa has been my second home off and on for the past 50 years – most of that time spent in the tourism industry.

Arriving slightly ahead of time, it allows me the opportunity to attend one of the warmup matches in Benoni along with some early bird Howzat Travel guests.

Centurion …
All great trips start with a bit of drama! The Hennops River floods causing The Centurion Lake Hotel to be unavailable for our guests! Luckily, we are able to move them to another of our hotels without a problem. One of my favourite parts of this job is meeting our guests on a new cricket tour, some who I’ve meet around the UK grounds and even in Japan watching the RWC!

Our Red tour is accommodated at the Centurion Protea close to the mall for shops & restaurants we can see the damage caused by the flooding. On Christmas Day our group meet up with others at the Irene County Lodge for a traditional lunch we all “wine & dine” well in a beautiful setting.

On Boxing Day, Root wins the toss and decides against batting first – it all then goes downhill! We end up with a deficit of over 100 runs in the first innings, Anrich Nortje’s night-watchman innings of 40 and his 3 wickets in the second innings puts pay to any thought of victory, England finally losing by 107 runs. We have discovered a pub called Little Britain a number of us feel the need to “drown our sorrows”.

Cape Town …
I’m resident in the Signature Lux along with colleague Ross who has been here a few days meeting and greeting arriving customers it’s a quirky hotel.

For New Year’s Eve, Howzat Travel have organised a few different options to cater for all tastes, although our main event is at BoBo’s hosted by Ian Kerr (our boss) along with about 150 fellow guests. The next decade is seen in… in style.

The next two days allow customers to explore Cape Town, there is so much to see, so little time! Table Mountain, Robben Island, Winelands, Cape Point to name a few plus restaurants galore to suit all tastes. One of our longest standing customers has his 70th birthday celebrations at the Harbour House on the Waterfront.

Back to the main event, at one of the most picturesque grounds in the world – Newlands – it’s my personal favourite cricket ground worldwide, with the backdrop of Table Mountain. Root wins the toss and we bat. With a very inexperienced opening pair a slow collapse at the end of day one sees us finish on 269, probably below expectations. South Africa finish 46 runs behind on the first innings. In the second innings, Sibley hits a maiden test century with Stokes cracking 72 off 47 to set South Africa 421 to win. Ben Stokes seals a dramatic victory in the final hour of play England win by 189 runs … who said five day test cricket is dead.

Victoria Falls …
With a nine day break between Tests 2 & 3, Howzat Travel organised a range of excursions with options to Namibia, Kruger Park, Battlefields, Garden Route etc. I’m off to Zimbabwe & Botswana with local man Des Newton. We fly via Johannesburg to Victoria Falls queuing patiently for our entry visa arriving at our hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge with views over the watering hole. Later that afternoon we embark on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.

Today it’s Victoria Falls. Forget all the “fake news” about there being a lack of water I can personally vouch there’s plenty of it … we are wet!

The next day is an early start arriving at the Botswana border at about 8am after completing formalities we split into two groups, land & water, swapping over after lunch. The morning ‘land’ group in the Chobe National Park are fortunate to witness a lion kill…

Our travellers find interesting places to visit including the Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904 and is authentic colonial luxury, around the corner we find the River Brewing Company. The town is full of surprises! In the evening we gather for a traditional Boma, Dinner & Dance Show.

We return to Johannesburg for two days including a Soweto Tour and onwards to Port Elizabeth for the 3rd test.

Port Elizabeth …
We arrive at our hotel with the sun shining but unfortunately it’s the last we see of it for a few days, the weather was not kind to us. In a rain interrupted match England amassed 499 runs, Pope 135 and Stokes 120, South Africa follow on and despite a last wicket stand of 99 England win by an innings and 53 runs with Dom Bess picking up a maiden test five wicket haul.

A city centre hotel is the venue for an interesting Q & A with Dale Steyn with food carts supplied with a variety of culinary delights in the garden. The next day, a few of us found a bistro which must have been the bargain of the tour – two fillet steaks and a bottle of wine for R300 – that’s just under £8 each!

Johannesburg …
Finally, it’s to The Wanderers. An emphatic 191 run victory and 3-1 series triumph against South Africa inside four days. Mark Wood’s contribution of 53 runs and nine wickets playing pivotal role in the result and he was named Man of the Match. It was celebration time at our farewell dinner with guest Shaun Pollock guest speaker.

Finishing a day early we arrange for a small group to attend the U19 World Cup quarter final between India and Australia at Potchefstroom and they return jubilant seeing the later truly beaten!

And now sadly its departure day and at the airport there’s a mixture of emotions. While seeing off new customers there were promises of see you next time – it’s most certainly been eventful.

As always it’s been my pleasure until the next time!

Bob Buckler

New faces, new format, new challenges. The white ball series is going to be hectic, six matches in thirteen days plus two warmups to start with.

Cape Town …
The warm up matches are played in Paarl about 45 mins out of Cape Town in the heart of the winelands, a ground called Boland Park which is surrounded by mountains and trees, it’s in a beautiful setting. We are treated to two entertaining matches, the latter being turned into a D/L 10 over run chase that we lost. It’s a bit of guess work sometimes as load shedding (power cuts) silences the PA and no scoreboard – it was back to the paper & pencil time working the scores out!

Now to the real thing…

Newlands for the first ODI, it’s a full house with Table Mountain majestic as ever in the background. Unfortunately, to quote captain Morgan, England are way off the mark and subsequently outplayed in all departments. De Kock and Bavuma lead South Africa to post a record run chase winning by 7 wickets with 14 balls remaining.

Once again, the railway underpass is flooded causing mayhem at the end of the game it’s an unsatisfactory end to the day and Newlands must seriously address this problem, if they are to continue to be in the rankings of an international ground.

We only have one full spare day in Cape Town our group make the best of it up early with tours to the vineyards, Cape Point, Table Mountain etc. it’s exhausting but all worthwhile.

Durban …
Missing out on a Test match this time around Kingsmead want to put on a good show we arrive in lovely weather but it’s the last we see of the sun. Match day dawns wet and gloomy, we can only just make out the sea from high up on Umhlanga Ridge. We organise a city tour to pass the time stopping at the Indian Market to stretch our legs and arriving at the ground to find the rain has stopped. We are entertained by Zulu dances until play finally gets underway but its only six overs before the rain returns again. A further five overs are played before we are put out of our misery, match abandoned.

Johannesburg …
The Wanderers Golf Club, our venue for the Farewell Dinner, has laid on an excellent buffet, in the bar the Calcutta Cup is being played out on a big screen keeping everyone happy. Our guest this evening, Mark Butcher, who is becoming one of the mainstays for Talksports cricket coverage to rival TMS, entertains the guests wonderfully.

Today’s forecast is not promising but under clearing skies Morgan wins the toss choosing to bowl first. SA make a steady start with De Kock and Bavuma pushing the score along. In a comical period of play the with no ultra-edge, confusion reigned over reviews to be expertly explained by match referee David Boon at our Q&A session later in the tour. England’s run chase should never have been in doubt except a late wobble caused concern, finally winning by two wickets with 40 balls remaining.

On Monday, we arranged a Soweto tour with a visit to the Apartheid Museum. Some customers leaving for the tour heading back to the UK while the remaining travellers on the  red and blue tours unite for the final three T20’s.

East London …
Tuesday morning 4am a group of bleary eyed guests are off to the airport for an early flight to East London on arrival at our hotel The Blue Lagoon. Our rooms are ready by 10am all with spectacular views over the lagoon and ocean. The day is spent enjoying the beach and all the hotel has to offer.

Buffalo Park is a lovely ground and we are royally looked after in our seats in the long room – right behind the bowlers arm. A cash bar at unbelievable cheap prices, £5 for a bottle of excellent Pinotage finished before half time by some! Snacks were also followed by a hot buffet. The cricket is a great contest as South Africa get off to a flyer, then England get off to a flyer, then South Africa come back in a pulsating finish – South Africa win by one run.

Durban …
We are back to Durban for the next T20 with a far more encouraging weather forecast. Our group spend time exploring the huge shopping mall opposite out hotel or taking the short Uber ride down to the beach and other attractions like bars, restaurants etc. Both teams are staying in our hotel and are more than happy to chat with our group with the occasional selfie.

No love lost on Valentine’s Day as Moeen Ali bludgeoned the Protea bowlers all over the ground, the man of the match ensured that England scored a massive 79 runs off the last five overs of their innings to record a total of 204.  England finally sealed the match with the last ball, getting the wicket of Fortuin to see South Africa ending with 202 in their 20 overs.

Centurion…
We are staying in Sandton for the final two nights chatting to David Boon, ICC match referee for the T20 series. It’s a very interesting hour from a softly spoken man not only about himself but also an insight into the role of a match referee.

 

It’s back to SuperSport Park Centurion where this trip started for me and three other “bitter enders” 53 days ago!

England pulled off a stunning chase of 223 to beat South Africa in the third Twenty20 in Centurion and take a enthralling series 2-1. Captain Eoin Morgan hit a blistering 57 not out from 22 balls, leading England to their second-highest chase in T20s – and the fourth-highest of all-time – with five balls remaining.

Final day on tour last minute shopping, a drink with friends old & new as slowly the hotel numbers diminish.

I’m off to Cape Town for a few days to spend time with family before heading back to UK to catch up. As always it’s been a pleasure escorting you around my second home, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

Until the next time…