Our 16 Day, 5 Star Opulent Journey

Posted on Nov 26, 2013

Days 5-15 updated – scroll down…

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be the grand prize winner of a R100,000 Opulent Journey around South Africa via Opulent Living magazine. Yes, that’s right a R100,000 journey. I’ll forgive you if you have just choked on your skinny cappuccino…Who in the world ever wins this type of prize? Well, I did, so next time you come across a too-good-to-be-true competition, my advice is to enter it.

Opulent CompetitionIt was a Facebook competition that one had to share and comment on. Once I did, I promptly forgot about it until I was notified as the winner. And whilst I won this prize on a personal level, I wanted to document this experience because this really is a once-in-a-lifetime prize. And I figured the best way to do this was as a blog post on my website, because being in the PR industry, I really felt like giving back to the people who are putting me up in some of SA’s most fabulous hotels. (I type this sipping on a G&T at the Palazzo Montecasino). Okay, I’ll admit it. It’s also because this journey is too damn good to keep to myself.

In a nutshell, the journey I won is a 16 day 5 star experience starting in Joburg and ending up in Mother City, with a smattering of gorgeous accommodation, complimentary car hire from Avis and flights sponsored by BA / Avios thrown in along the way. This was all put together by the Opulent Living Travel desk whose speciality lies in the personal 5 star touch.

So after the great trek up to Joburg with happy hubby and two excitable kids in tow, here I am. My two gorgeous girls are spending 16 nights (that’s 16 nights of no bed / bath time for me!) with their grandparents in Pretoria whilst we whirl around living the opulent life. Bless my mom and dad!

Without further adieu, here begins my journey of discovery, where I am about to see South Africa as I never have before.

Day 1 and 2: Palazzo Montecasino – Johannesburg

Besides the ornate Italian characteric architecture of the Montecasino complex, the most dramatic impression we had as we arrived was how the yellow ochre hues of the facade glowed against a black thunderous highveld storm in the background.

Palazzo Montecasino

As if perfectly coordinated to match such a dramatic backdrop, a bright yellow Ferrari arrived just as we did, its gorgeous hi-tech lines complimenting the classic Italian architecture. While the casino complex has its own character, the hotel is a gorgeous oasis, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Joburg.

Ferrari

And there is certainly no better start to an opulent day that with a swim to to make one feel less guilty for attacking the breakfast buffet…

Morning Swim

Tomorrow we leave for Royal Madikwe  Safari Residence which for me is the most exciting part of the journey. It has always been a dream of mine to stay at a 5 star game lodge with every whim catered for and I cannot believe that tomorrow I will get to live this dream.

Check back in a day or two as I continue documenting the Opulent Life. From my deck chair of course.

Day 3 & 4: Royal Madikwe Safari Residence

Having left the madness of the city, the vast open space of the North West Province offered a stark beauty as huge thunder clouds built up overhead. These huge open spaces and the vast emptiness of the desolate landscape contrasted sharply against the ornate and manicured perfection of the Palazzo montecasino that we had left behind a couple of hours before. This is the Madikwe Game Reserve, a 75 thousand hectare expanse of indigenous bush.

Madikwe Game Reserve

The Royal Madikwe Safari Residence, which was to be our home for the next two days, is an absolute jewel that captures all the romance and mystical drama of a time gone by. This is the true magic of africa, before strip malls and toll roads, where we can live and experience what it was like before man. This theme was enhanced by the fact that were the only guests at this exclusive five star safari lodge that only caters for a maximum of ten guests at a time. From the minute we arrived to the sad moment we departed, our every need and whim was catered for. Our accommodation, a beautifully appointed room in a colonial African theme was perfect in every way, from the four poster bed to the outside shower, and plunge pool overlooking the lodges private watering hole.

Royal Madikwe Pool

Our room at Royal Madikwe

View from our private deck

For everything that an exclusive lodge like this offers, the most unforgettable experience was an afternoon hunt with a pack of wild dogs. Safely cocooned in the lodges game viewing 4×4 we bounced off the beaten track keenly following the pack towards a herd of zebra. After a number of failed attempts to secure their prey we were in awe of the coordination and determination these animals possess. Having followed this extremely endangered species for a number of hours we came across a large herd of buffalo, not traditional prey for wild dogs. To our absolute dismay the dogs charged straight in and separated a calf from its mother. This has to be one of the most heart wrenching experiences we have witnessed as the mother tried in vain to protect its young. Although truly upset by the experience, with silent tears streaming down my face, it was a powerful reminder of how the circle of life turns. Despite our grief this was a one in a million opportunity to have witnessed a kill unfolding a mere five meters from our vehicle. As there are only 500 dogs remaining in South Africa, Madikwe is one of the few reserves that one could witness such a profound event and we feel truly blessed to have been a part of it. Only in africa…

The pack of wild dogs we followed for 2 hours

The mother buffalo trying in vain to protect its calf

The dogs finally getting their prey

Another magical moment was sundowners in the middle of the bush after a magnificent game drive where we spotted a pride of lions and their cubs.

Cubs staring intently

Evening game drive

Sundowners in nature

And with elephant mere meters from our patio and the lodge, there was never any reason to leave..

Elephant viewing from our deck

Elephant viewing from the pool

Mealtimes were magical – being the only guests, the staff chose a different part of the lodge each time they served us a meal. The numerous paraffin lamps were perfectly placed to ensure maximum romance!

Our first dinner

I will always look back on our Madikwe experience with fond memories. It was truly a place where one can switch off and forget about life, if only for 48 hours…

The next leg of our Opulent Journey takes us to Oliver’s Lodge in White River near the Kruger National Park, a world apart from the vast open spaces of Madikwe. Updates to follow soon…

Day 5, 6, 7:  Oliver’s Country Lodge – White River

As we departed Johannesburg for White River (after we had a quick stop over at the Palazzo Montecasino…as one does on an Opulent Journey), we were excited to embark on another exciting leg of our journey. From the wide open expanses of one of South Africa’s greatest game parks, Madikwe, we would be travelling through one of the country’s most picturesque areas, Mpumalanga. With my last stint at the Kruger Park being a family holiday way back in 1995, I was so excited to get back to this part of world. And it did not disappoint. We arrived at Oliver’s Country Lodge mid afternoon, and if I had a fixed idea of what a country lodge looked like in my mind, my imagination was sorely mistaken. We arrived to a beautifully sunny scene of perfection that just took my breathe away. If Royal Madikwe was untamed, colonial Africa, this was manicured, country perfection.

Oliver's Country Lodge

Our suite, overlooking the estate, included a golf course fit for kings, and countryside as far as the eye could see.

Oliver's Country Lodge - suite

And the evening of 30 November could not have been more perfect. As if the world was saying “happy anniversary, you lucky couple”, Greg and I got to enjoy a sultry evening under a fairy lit gazebo with no one for company but the resident frogs (and the very attentive gap year German waitress who was oh-so accommodating in taking photo’s, not worrying about Greg’s fussing over the apperture speed or the diminishing light…). With the stage set to perfection and art directed to the hilt (we could not have done it better ourselves and that’s saying something…Greg being a lifestyle and beauty film director!), the dinner was a sublime treat for the tastebuds, all under the twinkling skies. This was most certainly the highlight of the stay, though the sightings of various game and birds the next day at Kruger was also amazing. We saw 4 out of the Big 5, with the only elusive creature being the mighty leopard.

Oliver's Country Lodge - Anniversary dinner

Day 8, 9, 10 & 11: The Beverly Hills Hotel, Umhlanga

Coming from a Cape Town seaside culture, our family never did the annual two week holiday to Umhlanga over summer holidays, like the many Gauteng residents who seem to make it an annual pilgrimage. So I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.  After a very long, ten hour road trip from White River we arrived in a misty and foggy Umhlanga. I was beside myself! Wasn’t Umhlanga supposed to be all sunny, humid, bikini-hot weather!? Alas, I think the gods were trying to tell me to knuckle down and do some work, as the day after we arrived, the weather was still rainy and miserable. I indeed took the hint and got a few hours in. Though, this being an opulent journey, I did my work in style. The Beverly Hills hotel, which was to be our base for the next three nights, played perfect host to my workaholic self and the plush lounge was the perfect backdrop to my keyboard tapping self. Complete with tea on tap coupled with such excellent service that some of the world’s best hotels would wither in shame. As if the Gods were now saying, “that’s enough work for today” the sun shone a few rays, and it was time to get ready for the night ahead. Our next door neighbours were none other than the Oyster Box hotel and it was here that we enjoyed our sundowners for the two evenings. My adjectives fail me to try and explain such a gorgeous hotel. The combination of old world charm, textures, people, objets and small finishing touches, would make this for me one of the best hotels that I have been to. Despite the 80% humidity and the fact that my freshly GHD’d hair looked like a tousled mess, we felt very special indeed and will savour the plush opulence for a while.

View from The Beverly Hills Hotel

View over the pool

Another worthy mention was the fact that we happened to be in Umhlanga smack-bang in the middle of Matric rage week. So whilst my 34 year old self trying to shimmy into skinny jeans for the night ahead was bad enough, the town was full of 18 year old beauties and buffs, all vying for each other’s attention (and not giving any to Greg or I). But that was just fine, having moved on from whispered sweet nothings to the more interesting subject of “where should we go tonight”. This was the topic of our final night in Umhlanga, and boy did we find a catch. Remo’s, in the centre of Unhlanga is a Parisian-style, definietly-not-tacky, where-all-the-cool-people-congregate hotspot that is busy morning, noon or night. Our final drink at the bar was the delicious cherry on the top of our three night stay in Joburg’s paradise.

Remo's

The whale bone walkway

Day 12 & 13: The Grand Cafe and Rooms, Plettenberg Bay

An early flight from Durbs to PE and a two and a half hour drive brought us to our beautiful Plett.  I was most excited to stay at The Grand, knowing the franchise in Cape Town and having enjoyed the opulence the Granger Bay and Camps Bay restaurants offer. And having come from more traditional 5 star hotels through the course of this journey, to stay at the Grand was grand indeed. Their pay-off line “Where grand-chic meets retro-romance for the worldly traveller and diner” could not have been more apt. From the mismatched yet well thought out furniture and knick knacks (to climb into our elevated four poster wrought iron bed one had to delicately step onto a red velvet chaise emblazoned with the Grand logo – Opulent? Nah…Chic? indeed), to the retro fittings and finishing touches in the rooms, this was one hotel that captured our imagination and begged us to stay. Aside from the feast for the eyes everywhere you looked, the restaurant fare was also a grand affair and the muscle, prawn and feta seafood pasta will be a dish that stays with my culinary memories for a while to come.

Living it up in Grand style

The Grand bedroom

Room with a view

Day 14 & 15: African Pride Crystal Towers Hotel, Cape Town

The journey from Plett to Cape Town was a slightly more sombre road trip compared to previous legs of our opulent journey. Perhaps because this was the last hotel of this magnificent prize, or perhaps because we were nearing our home town and inching that much closer to reality. Nevertheless, we shook off our dramatic woes and absorbed all the opulence this fabulous city hotel had to offer. And I admit it was a bit of a culture shock after laid back Umhlanga and the mismatched, yet retro-glam of The Grand. Our senses were ablaze just entering our fifth floor room overlooking our beloved Table Mountain. The first thing to greet us was our space age cubicle glass shower taking center stage in our neon palace. And by neon, I mean subtle purple accent lighting in various nooks and cranny’s. It was surprisingly relaxing and very apt for this modern hotel. Its always been a dream of mine to visit the spa and lounge on the suspended pool deck of this hotel, and whilst we didn’t have time for any spa treatments, lounge I did. With great panache might I add. With perfect views over the city and shelter from the wind, I read my kindle and sipped my cocktail for all they were worth, absorbing as much of the last two days as possible. And as quick as I could say “Opulent Journey” it was over and we were headed back to our lives, this journey etched in our memories forever.

Crustal Towers pool

Early evening

Thank you Opulent Living magazine, British Airways and Avis for the journey of a lifetime. It was a truly magical time.