For once, the phrase in this December edition of Letters from Africa, does not refer to climate change, writes John Cockayne, ominous though the weather patterns globally continue to be!
In this instance, it does refer to a confluence, in the Southern Hemisphere regions, of the summer holidays’ break, annual work vacations, school holidays, and that Christian festival – Christmas.
The latter has become so marginalised, by the requirements of PC ‘speak’, that in many places it has been replaced by the term ‘the festive season’, although what non-Christians have to be particularly festive about, at this time of the year, is still a mystery to me.
This confluence of elements puts enormous pressure on destinations’ infrastructure, such as hotels, resorts, and every other kind of accommodation option, as well as restaurants, beaches, bars, and places of interest.
Often under no less pressure, are the golf courses in those areas, especially on the coast, as the inland provinces of South Africa are emptied out, by the December rush to the sea.
So prodigious are the increases in traffic volumes on the roads, from the 15th of December onwards, that this annual migration resembles, in many respects, the trans Masai-Mara / Serengeti movement of the Wildebeest herds in East Africa!
For the coastal areas, the relationship with those from inland is bitter-sweet.
The mass arrival brings much needed economic activity, to many areas, which otherwise, for most of each year, just ‘get by’ in trading terms, and this is a trading dynamic, which is understood by many coastal destinations, in both hemispheres.
It is a ‘needs must’ relationship, especially for golf courses, which need to cater to the demands of the locals and regulars, along with those of their seasonal visitors.
South Africa’s coastal destinations, at least those which appeal to both international, regional and local travellers, are KwaZulu-Natal (Gauteng’s perennial favourite vacation destination – whatever the season!), The Garden Route and the Western Cape.
This is not intended to downplay the values of a number of other great spots, such as Sun City, which with the Pilanesberg National Park on its doorstep is pretty much a ‘complete’ destination, or the Kruger Park area.
However, with Kruger, and as a game watcher, you are often better off travelling during the region’s winter, when water is scarcer and the vegetation has thinned, all of which makes game viewing easier.
I am also not ‘ignoring’ the more hidden gems, such as the Eastern Cape’s Sunshine Coast, but the aforementioned are the ‘gorillas’, in terms of capacity and popularity, based on the numbers of visitors.
Of course, each of the primary areas have their own ‘special places’.
Examples of these would be Fancourt (voted Africa’s and South Africa’s best golf hotel at the recent World Golf Awards) near George on the Garden Route (pictured top)
Arabella Golf Hotel & Spa, which is on the Bot River Lagoon near the region’s whale watching capital of Hermanus, and last but not least, Pearl Valley in the Cape’s winelands.
All three of these destinations have an additional market place, which sees them becoming a seasonal home to the snowbirds (as I call them), travelling away from the colder northern clime, to winter ‘down south’.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, in the coastal village of Umhlanga, is one of my favourite hotels in the region, and sits on the coast just North of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
KwaZulu-Natal, or KZN, as this province is referred to here, has a number of distinct areas of interest and climes, such as the far North coast, which includes the Hluhluwe-imfolozi Game Reserve – one of the oldest reserves in the region – and the sub-tropical North and South coastal areas, where the second of these is also referred to locally as the ‘golf coast’.
But KZN is not just about its beaches, which makes it so popular with vacationers, but also the magnificent Drakensberg (dragon’s teeth) mountains – and the temperate inland areas, of what is known at the Natal Midlands.
The aforementioned snow birds have yet to catch on to the great vacation property values to be had in this province, which with the direct flights from the UK, via King Shaka International Airport, make it a great gateway into the region.
All of the regions mentioned offer great golf.
The options range from the ‘big ticket’ designer layouts to be found at Fancourt, Pearl Valley and Arabella, to super courses such as Royal Port Alfred GC on the Sunshine Coast, George Golf Club on the Garden Route and Royal Cape GC in Cape Town.
What will I be doing this year end?
Staying inland, and not playing golf, although Gauteng is blessed with some of the best designed and conditioned golf courses on the continent.
And the reasons for this choice?
Well, my first priority has always been to avoid the ‘lemming run’ to the coast, as with no children and a business, which allows me to take leave whenever I choose, I consider it to be my civic responsibility not to add to the crowded roads. Instead, I shall be taking my annual ‘staycation’ at the Sandton Sun & Towers.
This fabulous pair of hotels, gives me a sophisticated base, from which to explore Sandton City’s two shopping complexes, which are in effect one and combine Nelson Mandela Square and Sandton Square, a range of restaurants, and a pool or two next to which I can kick-back to contemplate, what will be an expanded navel, due largely to the usual excess of seasonal fare, and the coming New Year.
So, when you are having your Christmas dinner ‘up North’, please spare a thought for us poor souls, upside down below the equator, and being forced to perspire through our Christmas turkey and ‘pud’, not too far from a swimming pool, while dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt!
Happy holidays to everyone – wherever the season might take you!
John Cockayne, CEO: The Business of Golf