Posts in "Travel"

A connection, a picture, a story is worth a million miles

Star Alliance is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a worldwide competition celebrating cultural connections made by travellers in which entrants stand a chance to win a million frequent flyer miles.

Jeffrey Goh, Star Alliance chief executive, said: “As part of our 20th anniversary, we are celebrating the strength of human and cultural connections. In order to continue building these, together with our member airlines, we are offering travellers a truly unique prize.”

All 21 Star Alliance member programmes are participating in the competition, which runs until July 31. People who are not already members of a Star Alliance programme can sign-up online and receive a membership number to participate.

To enter, travellers must upload a profile picture or selfie, as well as a picture and info about their favourite cultural experience. Information must include what made it so special and how it relates to the broader Star Alliance anniversary campaign theme of connecting people and cultures.

All entries will be screened for basic photographic quality and other general criteria. Once approved, they will be posted on a cultural experiences map on the competition homepage. Star Alliance said this map would give customers from all over the world an interactive map of insider tips and experiences from other travellers.

The statement added that the winner would perhaps like to spend their prize on a first-class round-the-world ticket for themselves and a partner, or maybe they would choose to fly 20 of their friends to Hawaii.

To inspire their members, each of the 28 Star Alliance member carriers has come up with a local piece of cultural inspiration. Founding airlines, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Thai and United, have taken it one step further by challenging National Geographic’s Travel Nomad, Robert Reid, to test their recommendations personally and report back on his experiences.

Lufthansa, for example, flew Reid to the highest village in Europe, in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, to watch the hazardous, high-altitude horse race in Ushguli.

Open Streets Cape Town PHOTO Lisa Burnell, Cape Town Partnership

Other examples included tile painting in Portugal, home cooking in Shenzhen, China, and joining the locals in Bogota as they turn major roads in the city into cycle paths on Sundays, something Capetonians experience in their own city regularly with Open Streets Sundays, when the city is closed to motorised transport in an event inspired by the Colombian movement.

To watch the films of the five challenges, see

The competition is available in all nine Star Alliance website languages. Judging will be carried out independently by Star Alliance’s 20th anniversary partner, National Geographic, and winners will be announced on September 28.

More info:

– African News Agency (ANA)

If you can’t stand the heat get off the fence

The Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition covered air, land and marine research during the three-month voyage PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

It was hard to ignore the heat (or the irony) on Monday as a group of scientists told occupants in a sweltering hall on a quayside at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town that they hoped evidence gathered during a three month circumnavigation of Antarctica would “prove convincing to those politicians who have been sitting on the fence” about climate change.

David Walton, ACE chief scientist: ‘Here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet’

David Walton, the chief scientist, told the first workshop on results from the recently completed Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) that he was “hopeful that here is some more compelling evidence that we are destroying our planet but that there are some mitigating things we can do to save our future”.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created entity founded by EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Forest, Snow and Landscape research WSL, ETHZ, the University of Bern and Editions Paulsen.

It set out with a diverse range of scientists from all around the world on board with a holistic mission to study the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean.

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer and president of the ACE Foundation, reminded everyone in the sweltering room that a better understanding of Antarctica was critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole (over-heating) planet.

The philanthropist, who is widely credited for having made the expedition possible, said the poles are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth yet played a central role in regulating the world’s climate.

PHOTO Balz Abplanalp

A total of 22 projects covering terrestrial, marine and atmospheric disciplines were completed during the expedition that pushed science beyond cultural and geographical borders and advanced the tech frontier.

It is very early days still in terms of understanding and being able to act on findings from the voyage. In fact, when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into Cape Town last week, marking the end of the three-month long voyage, it was merely “the end of the beginning”, according to Walton.

“The next stage will last another two to three years, making the best of what we have learnt … the real work has just begun.”

Frederik Paulsen, polar explorer, president of the ACE Foundation and philanthropist is widely credited with making the expedition happen

Paulsen confirmed this and added (with a wry smile) that this could be seen as a dream for any researcher since it meant they could start asking for grants for the next 10 years.

The good news spreads well beyond the researchers from 73 institutes and 22 countries involved because all the data collected, the physical samples even, will be made available widely.

Walton said the plan had always been to spread the network of ACE as widely as possible. Research publications as well as all the data, even the samples where possible, will be available on an open access basis.

“All of this is part of a belief that things like this are going to be important only if they make their findings and data as widely available as possible.”

He said none of the country operators had ever tried something as big or holistic as this expedition, which had been bigger than any of the national programmes. The mission that involved polar institutes from seven countries and covered air, land and marine research, seems to have set out from the start to smash silo thinking and break down barriers.

Now, he said, they must get to work “to make sure the data we get is properly calibrated and controlled and its accessibility is organised in an efficient manner”.

Paulsen agreed, saying that only by joining forces could the different countries succeed in gaining a better understanding of the region, which was “not only desirable but crucial”.

“There is still much to be done.”

Polar expedition ends in steaming hot Cape Town

Cape Town, March 19

After a night of very high winds that reportedly saw Cape Town harbour temporarily closed on Saturday the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sailed into a still and steaming Cape Town on Sunday, marking the end of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE).

The vessel departed from Cape Town three months ago with 50 scientists from around the world aboard on an intensive multi-disciplinary research mission.

Early information about the results suggests a wide variety of findings. The skeptics’ fears will be confirmed, for example, in evidence of micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places. However, there is hope too, for example, in the discovery of pockets of air that is cleaner than the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories.

The first results will be released on Monday when the Swiss Polar Institute runs a mini conference of presentations by scientists at a pavilion set up alongside the vessel at Jetty 2 at the V & A Waterfront. Attendance at the conference is by invitation only but a pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Excitement about the findings from the groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions over the three months, goes well beyond the scientific community. The expedition included a wide and diverse group of skills and experience. It was the first time such a wide range of disciplines – from biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

Also, according to information from the Swiss Polar Institute, a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet. The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited, and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

Will the jury still be out once polar results are in?

Cape Town, March 14

There has been a sense for some time now that climate change denialists are living on borrowed time … one suspects the clock will tick with new intensity once the results of the Antarctic circumnavigation expedition (ACE) are released starting on Monday March 20.

The Swiss Polar Institute announced on Friday that scientists would be releasing preliminary results of the three-month expedition on Monday at a pavilion at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

A pavilion showcasing some of the work will be open to the public

A showcase of some of the work will be open to the public on Tuesday March 21 and Wednesday 22 at the ACE pavilion on Jetty 2 in front of the Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront.

Many a heart will sink at the idea of evidence being found of the dreaded micro-plastic pollution in even the most remote places around Antarctica. News of air that is cleaner than in the purest man-made environments, “white rooms” in laboratories, will give a reason to breath out.

The groundbreaking research trip, which included a total of nearly 150 scientists representing 73 scientific institutions, ends when the Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov sails into Cape Town harbour on the morning of Sunday March 19.

The scientists filmed and took samples under ice shelves and as deep as 3,000m, completed 3D mapping of some of the 12 island groups they visited and took the first ice cores from others. They took 18,968 individual samples of any sort on their 30,720km journey, which was completed over three stages.

The expedition included a diverse group of scientists from around the world, the first time such a wide range of disciplines – From biology to climatology to oceanography – had worked together to enhance understanding of Antarctica.

The Swiss Polar Institute said a better understanding of the continent is critical, not just for its preservation, but for the whole planet.

The poles, which play a key role in regulating the world’s climate, are affected by climate change more than any other region on Earth.

Antarctica is rare on earth in that it has never been affected by war and remains protected from many of the causes thereof.

The Antarctic Treaty, which has signed by countries that represent about 80 percent of the world’s population, has ensured that this has continued and will continue for the foreseeable future.

According to the Antarctic Treaty, the first version of which came into effect in 1961, the continent is dedicated to peaceful scientific investigation.

Exploration for oil and other minerals is banned under the agreement, which also pledges to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear free.


Lessons in life as Antarctic expedition departs

David Walton says he was appointed chief of the polar expedition at the one meeting he missed

December 21 2016

Rather than delivering a science class, David Walton, chief scientist on the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE), shared a few life lessons with the VIP crowd gathered at the Table Bay harbour for the expedition’s send-off.

First, Walton said, he had learned during his 50-odd years in science that one should be wary of invitations that appeared on the surface to have no significance.

As a case in point he talked about what appeared to be an invitation to lunch that turned into his being chief scientist on a three-month expedition to the South Pole.

A second lesson he shared with the gathered scientists and diplomats – including South African Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and Krystyna Marty Lang, Switzerland’s Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs – was that one should attend every meeting.

It was at the one technical meeting that he missed that he was elected head scientist, he said.

The 50 scientists on board the Russian vessel Akademik Treshnikov will be sharing a lot more life lessons and plenty of science during the groundbreaking scientific expedition, which is set to dramatically expand mankind’s knowledge about this key region.

Scientist Julia Schmale hopes to find answers and raise new questions

One of those scientists, Julia Schmale from the Paul Scherrer Institute, told the farewell reception that one of the very exciting aspects of this expedition was that it encompassed such a variety of disciplines

She said scientists would have a lot of time to get to know each other and each others’ work and, crucially, “to explore the linkages between the work”.

The Swiss-funded ACE is composed of 22 projects, bringing together research teams from six continents. They focus on different areas of study, all fundamental for a better understanding of Antarctica’s ecosystems.

Schmale had earlier reminded those gathered to see the boat off how much times had changed by reading out an advertisement said to have been placed by early polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in The Times of London on December 29, 1913: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Shackleton, who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

The scientists aboard the Akademik Treshnikov might well become known as the ones who started the Second Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of Science and Technology, wished the expedition success on behalf of the country and the continent

“Scientists and explorers pick the challenges of their time,” Schmale said.

There are different goals and measures of success, too. In the words of Schmale, success will be measured by coming back with some answers; great success by coming back with many more questions.

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created public-private partnership that aims to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries on Antarctica. It also hopes to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

– African News Agency (ANA)

A feast fit for foodies as casino cooks up a change

The ‘hautest’ of foodies might look down on the casino complex culture otherwise so popular in South Africa … but perhaps not for long, if a recent lunch at the Chef’s Table at soon-to-opened Time Square at Menlyn Maine in Pretoria is anything to go by.

The R4 billion Time Square development, which will be the second largest casino in South Africa after Cape Town’s GrandWest Casino, opens on April 1. A group of journalists on a tour of the final phases of construction were given a taste of the complex’s delectable food and beverage offering.

Brett Hoppé, general manager for Time Square, said: “What we have done with this property is try to break the mould… We really wanted to make it completely unusual.”

Time Square will include 18 restaurants, lounges and bars offering a diversity of cuisines and experiences. Notably the list of restaurants excludes any franchised concept except for a Spur, which seems like a natural fit for the children’s area alongside the arena.

Hoppé said they had some “really cool and funky” food and beverage outlets, all of which had been purpose created. Some were brands that Sun International owned; others they were partners in.

The lunch at the end of the site visit was very much purpose-made, having been prepared by five of the company’s top chefs.

Ronald Ramsamy, Sun International’s group executive chef

After seating the touring party at an immaculately set Chef’s Table in the kitchen, Ronald Ramsamy, Sun International’s group executive chef, explained that the kitchen would serve as the nerve centre for all the restaurants in the complex.

One could only imagine that it would never again be so peaceful and quiet that one could hear the delighted murmurings of fellow diners.

Chef Ronald introduced the chefs who had designed and prepared the menu for the day.

First up was Chef Justin, who soon narrowed the distance between us by likening the first course to a first date. He will probably soon have his own TV show, I thought.

Not your average steak tartare

His steak tartare, with nods to the traditional and shouts to modernism and individuality, seemed the perfect start to this meal that felt like a metaphor for Sun International’s re-invention of the food and beverage experience.

Jack Lester, Time Square’s food and beverage manager, who Hoppé describes as having “one of the finest palates in the country”, had chosen a La Motte Syrah/Viognier 2013 to accompany the starter.

Both choices of starter and wine were a little surprising to me, like Tchaikovsky opening the 1812 overture with the cannons perhaps. Any shock at this rather muscular opening soon passed to be replaced by a quick succession of delicious surprises.

Seductive flavours and textures – melt-in-the-mouth steak tartare, caper berry, burnt onion, egg, caviar, parmesan brullée, slightly charred mosbaletjie toast – each all too quickly overtaken by the next.

The charring was done to replicate flavours reminiscent of toasting bread on a grid and the choice of mosbaletjie, a traditional bread made from dough enriched with fermenting grape juice or must (soetmos in Afrikaans), added a thoughtful local touch.

If Chef Justin has a hint of the celebrity chef about him, he will be in good company in the Time Square restaurant environment.

The American celebrity chef and television personality Guy Fieri will be opening his first restaurant in Africa at the complex.

“We think it is a really exciting and unique offering,” said Hoppé.

Local celebrity will also be represented in the form of local chef and radio personality Fortunato Mazzone, and Joao da Fonseca, aka Mi Casa frontman J Something, both partnering in restaurants in the complex.

Mazzone – a much-loved opera-singing restaurateur from just up the road at Ritrovo in Waterkloof Heights – has described his new restaurant at Time Square, Forti Grill and Bar, as “the restaurant of my dreams … a fusion of food, wine, music and art, which is cutting edge, contemporary, exquisite and offers the ultimate in cuisine and hospitality”.

At our very own fusion of food and wine at the Chef’s Table in the Time Square kitchen things moved on to an elegant, second course, prepared by Chef Adrian and Chef Ramon.

Fish and fennel

It is hard to imagine scallop or even halibut appearing in anything but a starring role, but Chef Adrian told us they had built this dish around fennel pollen. He said he had been looking for the pollen of the subtle liquorice-flavoured herb for years and just a day before we met he found a farm that does “micro-cresses and micro-vegetables and all this delicious foliage”.

The chefs said they had kept their course light because they knew what was coming on either side. Served with an unwooded Meerlust chardonnay, this light course inspired by beautiful flowers and herbs felt more like a power nap than a rest.

Just thinking about the choice of places to eat and drink at Time Square makes one feel in need of a real power nap. Other options include Sun International signature food concept, the Brew Monkey gastro-pub, and KungFu Cowboy, an East meets West restaurant created especially for the venue.

These restaurants will be complemented by authentic Indian and Chinese offerings. “Those are something we don’t do ourselves,” says Hoppé. “The authenticity of that cuisine is critical so we don’t give it to our chefs, we find specialists.”

During a visit to a Baccarat suite on the tour Hoppé and food and beverage manager Lester had talked about cultural sensitivity, explaining that this card game, which is very popular with the Chinese community, was something that needed to be understood to be serviced well.

“There is superstition, culture and cuisine … In a heartbeat you can cause massive offence and then you won’t see that community again,” Hoppé explained.

My neighbour at the Chef’s Table – Simphiwe, a photographer who was raised in the Karoo – and myself were talking culture without causing any upset. That might have changed when Chef Chester announced that the next course would be sous-vide Karoo lamb.

I thought Simphiwe did well to say nothing, not even mentioning the French term for ‘under vacuum’, which describes a method of cooking where meat is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch and placed in a water bath at a controlled temperature for a number of hours.

The sous-vide process brings out an extraordinary tenderness in the lamb, which seemed to inspire a new tenderness in Simphiwe. Dare I say he murmured approvingly like a little lamb…

The lamb was served with a smoked ponce puree, baby carrots and a balsamic reduction for that hint of tartness. Why bother with a glass of wine, you might think. But I certainly wasn’t going to say no to a glass of Rust en Vrede cabernet sauvignon 2014, a perfect companion to the delicious combination of tenderness and flavour.

After a while, Simphiwe broke his silence to declare: “Heaven on earth!”

A breathy description that reminded me of Hoppé’s earlier comment: “I have been around the business for a long time, at Sun International for 27 years, and this property takes my breath away.”

We still had a couple of courses at the Chef’s Table to evoke breathlessness. The fourth course, a pre-dessert, was delivered to us by Chef Shaun, who was introduced to us as the ‘Molecular King’, along with a glass of De Grendel Shiraz 2015.

A dolce mousse with coffee jelly, a hazelnut and a malted salt caramel streussel on a bed of chocolate that looked a little like a bird’s nest … laced with some secret popping candy to (you guessed it) take our breath away.

You might wonder why so much effort is being put into the food and beverage offering at a casino complex. Hoppé explained that bars and restaurants are footfall drivers.

“Food and beverage might not be as distinctly profitable as gaming is but, without food and beverage, you certainly wouldn’t be as profitable in gaming,” he said.

Cooking up something new: Sun International chief executive Graeme Stephens, left, and Brett Hoppé, general manager for Time Square PIC Simphiwe Nkwali

Sun International’s outgoing chief executive Graeme Stephens agreed. Even if creating the right experience and atmosphere in a casino is a lot less scientific than molecular cooking, he told us that a lot of time and effort is put into creating the experience.

“The experience typically in South Africa revolves around the experience value as much as, Am I winning or losing,” he said.

Stephens said many families visited Sun International’s venues without ever going into the casino. The restaurant offering is a very big part of a South African casino experience for many people, with choice and authenticity being key considerations in getting people to come back.

Hoppé said Time Square had created a service ritual for each restaurant. The various styles of being received and treated should be sustained, he said, from how you were greeted to how your bill was delivered at the end of the meal, the “last touch point on a dining experience”.

An example he gave was at the Globe bar, a super sophisticated bar in the complex, the bill will be delivered in a beautiful silver orb and handed over by a white-gloved waiter.

Chef Lee-andra

Frosted forest PIC Simphiwe Nkwali

The last course at the Chef’s Table was a deserving companion to the champagne, Billecart Salmon Rose, served at its side. From the “little big-hearted pastry chef”, Lee-andra, the frosty, snowy forest that included white chocolate, apple, cucumber, mint, yoghurt gel, kiwi, quince sorbet and mohito macaroons …. Was the sweetest of farewells.

A grand and deliciously decadent end to a site visit that left at least one foodie wannabe hoping Time Square will be successful in its bid to reinvent the casino eating experience after the complex opens on April 1.
– African News Agency (ANA)

Things heat up for polar expedition from Cape

Local scene: Eliana Burki and her speedily assembled Cape Town band on-stage outside the #HouseofSwitzerland

Things were heating up at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town this weekend as 50 scientists from around the globe prepared for the groundbreaking three-month polar expedition – the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) – due to set off from the Mother City on Tuesday.

Young and old gathered to listen to 49 singing scientists and a celebrated “funky” Swiss horn player at the House of Switzerland exhibition on Saturday evening.

One could almost see the steam coming off the 49 young scientists as they sang a song about their time on board the Russian scientific research vessel Akademik Treshnikov.

Singing scientists: the 49 students who were selected to attend a month long maritime university in advance of the Antarctic expedition

The students from around the world had been selected to take part in the ACE Maritime University on board the vessel on its journey from Bremerhaven in Germany. Their intense course, conducted under the auspices of the Russian Geographic Society, ended when the vessel arrived in Cape Town on Thursday.

The youngsters seemed to glow as they sang to a small crowd on a luminescent evening at the V&A Waterfront. If the maritime university was an an ice-breaker of sorts for the groundbreaking Antarctic expedition, the singing scientists seemed to warm up the crowd for a performance by the celebrated Alpine Horn player Eliana Burki, who had flown in from snowy Switzerland.

Capetonian drummer Sean Drummond and Eliana Burki

Playing her own special brand of “funky” Alphorn, Burki and her speedily assembled local band delighted young and old with a combination of traditional and modern music on a stage outside the House of Switzerland.

Visitors to the House of Switzerland exhibition got a preview of how this soon-to-depart expedition will expand knowledge about the region that plays a crucial role in regulating the world’s climate.

(And of course there was chocolate, thank you Lindt, thank you Switzerland!)

ACE is made up of 22 projects to be conducted by research teams from six continents during the three-month circumnavigation of Antarctica. The 22 projects focus on different areas of study, all of which are fundamental for a better understanding of the largely unknown continent’s ecosystems.

The projects, which were chosen from more than 100 submissions, include mapping threatened species such as Southern Ocean whales, albatrosses and penguins, trying to understand the “calving” of a giant iceberg, and a bid to uncover the mystery of the ocean’s “false bottom”.

the Russian scientific research vessel Akademik Treshnikov

ACE is the first project of the Swiss Polar Institute, a newly created public-private partnership that aims to enhance international relations and collaboration between countries on Antarctica. It also hopes to spark the interest of a new generation of young scientists and explorers in polar research.

The expedition was initiated and sponsored by leading industrialist and philanthropist Dr Frederik Paulsen, who has a well-established track record in polar exploration.

The House of Switzerland exhibition, free to members of the public and running until Tuesday, also showcases the Swiss spirit of innovation and Switzerland’s contribution to polar research. It is set up in containers next to the Swing Bridge at the V&A Waterfront.
– African News Agency (ANA)

Local is lekker: Hyperli steps into space left by Groupon

Bargain hunters will be pleased to hear that Hyperli, a hyperlocal hypermarket of a deal website, on Wednesday promised to fill the space left when the international discounting business Groupon exited South Africa last month.

Groupon withdrew from a number of markets – from South Africa to Switzerland, Panama to Portugal

Groupon groupees were left feeling short-changed by what seemed to be a sudden exit in early November. At the time, Groupon was reported as saying it was withdrawing from a number of markets – from South Africa to Switzerland and Panama to Portugal – “to focus our energy and dollars on fewer countries”.

Not much longer than a month later, and just in time for Christmas, online discount hunters are hoping that the newly formed Hyperli will honour its pledge to “take the online deal marketplace by storm”.

South African consumers were increasingly likely to shop online with the availability of great deals cited as a reason for the migration, alongside saving time, as well as access to reviews and price comparisons.

Online deal-of-the-day services have been credited with introducing customers to new brands, and driving brand awareness and sales. Research from Groupon showed that around 80 percent of merchants who have used deal sites to attract new customers indicated that they would use them again.

“Times are tough for South African consumers and business alike so being able to deliver well-priced, immediate deals makes great business sense,” said Hyperli chief executive and founder, Wayne Gosling.

“Hyperli connects businesses to consumers. It provides an effective marketing tool for brands and service providers looking to expand their customer base and to profitably grow their businesses.”
Funded by Team Africa Ventures, the early stage investment fund run by entrepreneurs, and backed by the team that brought Groupon to South Africa, the Hyperli platform incorporates various standout features, the company said in a statement.

The merchant offering includes enriched data analytics and seamless redemption through the Hyperli merchant app.

“Recognising that cashflow is king to small business, a transparent pricing structure has been incorporated so that business owners can select the right deal redemption criteria to meet their business needs,” the statement said.

Hyperli added that it had formed strategic partnerships with popular South African brands, including Ster Kinekor, Unilever and Jimmy’s Killer Prawns, to deliver exciting deals in the run up to the festive season.

The company said it valued its relationships with local merchants and had prioritised cost-effective business solutions that drove growth as a core objective in the coming months.
“Hyperli aims to be the business platform that assists SMEs with systems that can manage marketing, reservations and payment so that they can concentrate on what they do best, offering their customers amazing experiences,” it said.

Hyperli has its sights set on becoming South Africa’s foremost online commerce player. Over the coming months, the company said it would expand its reach to cover all major cities across categories such as food and drink, beauty and spas, things to do, goods and getaways.

– African News Agency (ANA)

Sun City: not so naughty, twice as nice

Government ministers, business people and representatives from the media joined a host of entertainers including fire throwers, stilt walkers, dancers and a scattering of Miss South Africas, past and probably future, at Sun City this week to celebrate the resort’s relaunch after a R1 billion makeover.

The jewel in Sun International’s crown, which opened (as a much smaller version of itself) in the then nominally independent bantustan, Bophuthatswana, in December 1979, has shocked, awed and delighted a steady stream of international and local guests as it has hosted, fed, pampered and amused them.


Things had started to look a bit outdated over the years. Not so any more!

The oasis in the desert in the North West Province had grown a little shabby since the early years, when it was a place where the young and old stole off to indulge in all sorts of naughtiness, including watching topless showgirls and pornographic movies, and trying their luck at gambling.

All of this “scandalous” behaviour was not allowed in the apartheid-era Republic of South Africa, which was morally corrupt in much more meaningful ways.

The overhaul goes beyond giving the “pleasure palace” a facelift, however.

Wednesday night’s launch introduced guests to the “new Sun City”, which hopes to widen its appeal further with a lot of effort directed at expanding its share of the growing conventions business in South Africa as well as attracting families and the millennial generation.

The five-year, R1-billion refurbishment looks to position Sun City more firmly as a business destination with dramatically upgraded and improved conference facilities.


Constantly reinventing itself: The Sun Park events space can be remade to different needs in hours

High tech, state of the art facilities at the resort include the Sun Parks centre, perhaps best described as Meccano or Lego-style build your own event venue space.

Sun City is really upping its conference game with this facility that can be built into into any style of venue in just a few hours.

Similar parks are being built at Sun International properties around South Africa.

With the Sun Parks centre as well as many state-of-the art auditoriums and meeting spaces in the Sun Centre, Sun City hopes to entice big and small conferences and events.

Rob Collins, Sun International’s chief operating officer, explained that the variety and flexibility of the spaces meant there were few limits, whether it be a folk music festival that is planned, a million dollar golf tournament, extreme sports events or wild game auctions, to mention but a few.

It’s not child’s play, but Collins also chose a playful metaphor, using a teddy bear, when explaining the concept.

To give an example of the modern idea of simple but detailed customization, which underpins the Sun Parks concept, Collins said: “When you wanted a teddy bear you used to buy one; now you build one.”


Lots of fun for the whole family

Many of the other facilities included in the new upgrade are designed to appeal to whole family, including new rides in the Valley of Waves, action-packed watersports at Waterworld, mini golf, racing go-karts and a Lego room, a climbing room and an X-Box room.

Teenagers and other adrenalin junkies will likely enjoy Adrenalin Extreme, the new adventure hub.

The entertainment centre, which was built at a cost of R30 million and inaugurated by ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ himself – Frank Sinatra, in July 1981, has been given an overhaul too, and now includes a variety of family experiences, including a South African Hall of Fame honouring South Africa’s outstanding sportspeople and performing artists.

The museum-like exhibition here is complemented by interactive exhibits with virtual reality spaces allowing visitors, for example, to race against South Africa’s great runners or improve their golf swing.

The original hotel has been rebranded Soho hotel and repositioned as the resort’s ‘Always On’ party zone. It includes an exclusive new dance venue, Encore, where the globally popular South African DJ Black Coffee helped to light up the dance floor on Wednesday night, getting the attention of at least some of those elusive millennials.

Also at Soho, the Sun City Casino, which was the first in South Africa to introduce million rand jackpots, and the Prive Salon have been revamped.


An oasis in the desert in the North-West Province

Rooms in the various hotels have been redecorated, and restaurants and bars have been spruced up, many of them rebranded to keep with modern tastes, times and technology.

Michael Farr, Sun International’s general manager for brand and communications, said: “We have put this investment into making the resort even more attractive to families, gamblers, convention visitors and a host of new niche tourists, such as adrenalin-seekers, eco-tourists and millennials.

“We are confident that with this massive refurb and upgrade, Sun City will not only retain its status as South Africa’s favourite leisure destination, but will also recapture its place as the premier convention venue in the country.”
– African News Agency (ANA)

When the journey is the destination

railstop-copySometimes one goes there and back just to see how far it is, this was a day like that.

A steam train trip from Cape Town to Ceres and back on a hot, still Saturday in November made us feel that we had all the time in the world to do nothing but chill, chat, and gaze out the window at the passing glories of the Cape Winelands. Layers of stress peeled off almost imperceptibly.

trainfine-copyIt was one of those days where one feels nostalgic, yet deeply satisfied. We think our day out was reminiscent of a slower, more elegant age but we don’t really know if such a time really existed, nor do we care much.


Total serenity was interrupted by oohs and aahs and the clicking of camera shutters as various people hung out the windows to better experience sensational views.

The beat of the engine and the echo of the whistle sounded almost primal as we travelled over passes and through valleys pulled by the big, beautiful beast of a steam engine.

This old girl, Jessica, was manufactured in the UK in 1948; the Ceres railway track was completed in May 1912. The Ceres Rail Company story is very much one of revival, of breathing new life into the old.


In the late 1990s, local businessman Derick du Toit bought the property on which Ceres Golf Course is located and built the Ceres Golf Estate development. He soon came up with an idea to bring the old railway track that runs through Ceres Golf Estate back into use.

It is not for nothing that employees describe Du Toit as fearless, hardworking, relentless and visionary. Together with his business partner and fellow off-road racing enthusiast, Simon Beckett, and Transnet he has now made that happen.

So far, the Ceres Rail Company’s fleet comprises of Jessica, a class 19D locomotive #3321; Bailey, a class 19B locomotive #1412; and the very famous, one-of-a-kind South African-built Class 26, fondly known as the Red Devil.

witzenberg-copyThere is nothing devilish about Jessica, who took us on our idyllic journey to Ceres and back. The town is situated in the Witzenberg district, one of the biggest deciduous fruit producing areas in the Western Cape. The scenery on the way is breathtaking, dramatic rock formations and valleys and hills carpeted in fynbos.

After our glorious morning rolling through the countryside, Jessica stopped near the Waverley Hills Wine Estate so we could disembark via stairs brought and deposited in the sand by staff at our own little pop-up station, all a little mad and magical, SA-style.

vineyard-copyWe opted to drift on foot through the vineyard rather than wait for the bus organised for us. On our lazy and languid walk there and back again after lunch it felt like time was stretching out into the distance like train tracks to a new, distant calmness.

The lunch itself and the accompanying wines were a reminder of the bounty of fresh products and raw ingredients on Cape Town’s doorstep as well as the geniuses who put them together.

waverleyhillssalad-copyA highlight for me was the starter of creatively assembled and explosively crunchy lettuce and cucumber salad with a poached egg, croutons, and an anchovy and spring onion mayonnaise that was so subtle it was impossible to separate and identify the flavours except for “delicious” and “knock-out”. Perfectly paired (by yours truly) with a delicious organic Waverley Hills pinot grigio.

Our day was all about luxury and delight but the Ceres Rail Company is dedicated to more than just indulgence.

The trains started rolling after a concession agreement was concluded with Transnet as part of the South African railways company’s branch line strategy. The branch line between Wolseley and Prince Alfred Hamlet has been revitalised with two main aims – to develop the tourism industry in Witzenberg to help with rural development and job creation and to move freight into Cape Town.

The company started running freight, largely juice, pulp, and concentrate, to Cape Town harbour in April, most of it in general purpose containers. There are plans to increase the reefer (refrigerated containers) business, the largest component of freight out of the Witzenberg area.

Since April, Ceres Rail has sent just under 1000 containers out of Ceres to the harbour. The company’s target for next year is 3000-plus containers and, ultimately, it hopes to shift the majority of the 20,000 containers coming out of this area from road to rail.

jessicartpJessica and mates get to rest during the week as Transnet Freight Rail moves the freight train using a diesel locomotive. Ceres Rail Company runs the steam locos to Ceres and back on weekends with a stop for lunch.

More information and booking here:
– African News Agency (ANA)

Vergelegen wins global wine tourism award

vergelegen2Western Cape vineyard Vergelegen was among wineries celebrated on Thursday night at the 2017 international “Best Of Wine Tourism” awards ceremony at the Sao Bento da Vitoria Monastery in Porto, Portugal.

The awards are sponsored by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, a network of global cities in the northern and southern hemispheres that include internationally renowned wine regions.
vergelegen3Encompassing the so-called “old” and “new” worlds of wine, the competition is designed to reward wineries that have distinguished themselves in terms of the excellence of their facilities in various categories, from art and culture to sustainable wine tourism, and delivering quality experiences to the public.

The international winners are chosen from those selected as the “best of” from each Great Wine Capital. There were 359 entrants and 59 local award winners this year.

vergelegen4The awards aim to encourage travel, education and business exchanges between the prestigious wine regions, which include Bilbao-Rioja in Spain, Bordeaux in France, Germany’s Rheinhessen region, Mendoza in Argentina, Porto in Portugal, the Napa Valley in San Francisco, and Casablanca Valley in Valparaìso, Chile, and the Cape Wineleands.

Other 2017 International Best Of Wine Tourism award winners were Seppeltsfield in Australia; Bodegas y Viñedos de Páganos in Bilbao; Château Marquis de Terme in Bordeaux; Rheinhessenvinothek in Rheinhessen; Zuccardi in Mendoza; Quinta do Bomfim in Porto; Trefethen Family Vineyards in the Napa Valley and Portofino Restaurant in Valparaiso.
– African News Agency (ANA)

From ship to shop: V&A spends another R37m on passenger terminal

The V&A Waterfront on Thursday marked the launch of 2016/17 cruise season by announcing that another R37 million would be invested in the terminal that receives passengers.


The Europa, a luxury liner from Germany, is Cape Town’s first arrival of the season

As passengers disembarked from the German luxury liner, the Europa, the first arrival of the season, David Green, chief executive officer of the V&A Waterfront, announced the next stage of investment in the arrivals terminal.

“From international experience we know that the cruise line industry offers enormous potential for tourism growth so our intention is to ensure that we extend the V&A Waterfront experience to the terminal,” he said.


Building the V&A Waterfront

The R37 million investment will see the development of the two floors above the terminal portion of the building including retail and events space, as well as a “signature seafood restaurant”.

Green was tight-lipped about the name of the restaurant although he said “many of you will know it”.


Dry dock: the V&A includes a working harbour

The investment is part of plans to extend the use of the buildings beyond the cruise season, which lasts for up to five months of the year.

The terminal received 44 vessels during the last season. A total of 86,400 passengers were processed, including 48,745 crew members.

The number of arrivals this season is expected to equal last season’s, including visits from the iconic liners the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth.

– African news Agency (ANA)

Her name is Vega

ImageHave just been reminded of this sensational night three years ago. I remember how I felt … in the finest detail .

Come back #SuzanneVega

(November 2 2013)

Held up to the standards of the Madonnas and the Gagas she might as well have been naked. Hers is a show without gimmicks: just heart, hands and voice used to transport us all back to another time, individual and collective.

Suzanne Vega had been singing to me for just a few moments and I was 17 again. Familiar, quirky tracks that mesmerised me as a teenager delivered perfectly … this time by the cool, kooky Suzy V in person.

She, too, is all grown up, but the musical alchemy is completely intact, unspoiled.

Vega1VegaForest1She toyed briefly with wearing the black Top Hat that some will remember from the eighties, but that was soon discarded as she seemed to reach out and touch every one of us sitting in the gorgeous amphitheatre under the trees of the Paul Cluver forest.

Love it or hate it, who could forget ‘My name is Luka’? There was no better accompaniment to my own late teenage angst (part anger, part hurt, 100% drama) than Suzanne Vega’s catchy ballad. Truth be told, Vega’s other numbers, Gypsy and Blood Makes Noise, had a special place too. Most of the old favourites were on show tonight with a sprinkling of new numbers that show she has not lost her knack for cutting through the humdrum and articulating fear and delight (with a dusting of magic dust for good measure).

VegaGerry1Gerry Leonard (aka Spooky Ghost), her only band member, filled all the space around her with his supercool vibe and great base-playing, as well as the only almost-gimmick of the show: playing a number on a guitar made from a Castrol oil drum that he bought that day in Cape Town “after researching and talking about it for months”.

Kinda kooky and extremely likeable on stage, Suzanne Vega doesn’t miss a beat. She is a brilliant, accomplished singer-songwriter with star quality and a solid vein of magic that you catch glimpses of frequently.

I am not saying anything about the opening act. In fact, I am removing promotional material published here earlier about him because … um … well … because this is my ‘happy place’.

Vega plays a second show at Paul Cluver on November 2 and the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg on November 3.

Vega’s SA tour is brought to South Africa by Charl van Heyningen Enterprises in association with Rolling Stone magazine.

Tickets from computicket.

For further information visit