South Africa - a beautiful place to visit, and even more so when the cricket is on! Hundreds of clients travelled with us across four Test Match locations, with plenty of sightseeing in between. Four of our intrepid Tour Managers give us the lowdown...
After a very smooth and easy check in with BA at Heathrow terminal 5, we boarded the overnight flight to Johannesburg. After a good movie, it was good to get some sleep to be woken up by landing in Johannesburg, where we transferred through immigration to board our connecting flight to Durban.
As I had travelled ahead of the groups arrivals, it was full steam ahead once I landed in Durban to make sure everything was ready and in place for the Gullivers groups' arrivals. After meeting the staff at the hotels, collecting match tickets and meeting the transport suppliers, it was off to the airport to meet the first arrivals. It is always so nice in the airport to see so many familiar faces returning on Gullivers trips and this occasion was no different with a number of clients who had been out in the West Indies earlier in the year. It’s always great to meet the new clients also and welcome them into our company and the excitement that lies ahead with the cricket tour.
After short transfers to the hotels in Durban and Umhlanga (pronounced Um-shlang-er), that evening we all got together for some drinks to get to know one another, discuss the cricket and find out some more information about the tour. It’s often a strange feeling being in the Southern Hemisphere at Christmas - it’s easy to forget that it’s actually the holiday season at all until you hear the Christmas carols playing in the hotels, which seem strangely out of place given the sunshine outside! As a member of staff, I really enjoying meeting the Gullivers clients, buying them a drink and getting to chat about sport. The pound is so strong at the moment that you can eat like a King in South Africa!
On Christmas Eve, many of the clients headed over to the stadium to watch the teams train – after using our contacts for some inside info about England training in the morning, it was great to get over and see the team practising and also get some photos and autographs.
Christmas Day arrived and after catching up with friends and family over Skype, we headed off to the Tala Game Reserve. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t with us but David, our local guide, gave us all the info we could possibly need on the journey over to the reserve. When we arrived, we drove through the reserve seeing antelope, zebra, rhino and even a hippo – but no giraffe (much to everyone’s amusement as I was very excited about that). Dinner at the lodge was a buffet and we were joined by Jonathan Agnew - it was lovely for people to chat to him and get photos and get an insight into the life surrounding the England Cricket team.
As Boxing Day arrived, so with it came match day! The first day of the Test is always so exciting - the media clambering to get their broadcasts out, the players warming up, everyone finding their seats and match programmes. Gullivers secured probably the best seat location that I have seen at an international Test Match – directly behind the bowler’s arm, with the BBC and Sky media boxes just one row behind us. Although the first day was interrupted by rain, England played well and it was probably an even day between the two sides after a solid stand between Compton and Taylor.
That evening, we all headed to Umhlanga for one of the best steaks I’ve ever had – just amazing! We arranged free shuttle buses for everyone staying in Durban to head over to Umhlanga which was great to get out and mix with the locals.
What a great win for England! The last day finished just before lunchtime, so some of our clients got to visit the newly opened Cricket SA museum in the north stand, before heading back to their hotels for some much needed R&R before transferring to Cape Town.
Over 300 clients left behind the cold dark evenings of home and headed to South Africa where they joined the 100 or so clients from Durban and we were greeted by a sunny 39 degrees. This was the perfect way to be greeted to South Africa!
Our groups were staying at a variety of hotels such as the 4* Southern Sun Waterfront and the 4* Westin Hotel.
Thursday provided a day at leisure to explore Cape Town’s sights. I went up the hugely impressive Table Mountain via cable car. A few of my tour group wanted to walk up, but I decided (with a few others) to take the more relaxed option and enjoy the views. I also went on our Cape Peninsula Tour where we visited Hout Bay to embark on a 45 minute boat cruise, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, Simonstown and finishing with the famous penguin colony at Boulders.
The Gullivers New Year’s Eve event at the Groot Constantia winery certainly lived up to its reputation! We were greeted by a glass of wine while enjoying the Samba band which gave us a chance to explore the oldest Vineyard in South Africa. The food was incredible, as was the wine! I should mention at this point that fellow tour manager Ian ‘Butch’ Butcher and a customer went for a male embrace and ended up kissing on the lips at midnight. I wasn’t sure who was more shocked out of the two of them.
After a more relaxed morning for a few people, the New Year’s Day event started with a wine tour at a vineyard, followed by the Gullivers XI team (made up of Gullivers tour managers and clients) taking on a local South African side. It has to be said that the Gullivers clients definitely had more talent than the tour managers! I enjoyed a lazy afternoon watching cricket and we all had a picnic basket lunch. A great day out giving us the opportunity to socialise with fellow travellers and applaud the efforts of our Tour Managers, including England vice-captain, Jenny Gunn.
The first day of the cricket was extremely close - it was a bit of an arm wrestler and neither team was ahead. Gullivers had supplied clients with full use of an exclusive hospitality marquee for refreshments and a buffet lunch. The marquee was air-conditioned which gave us all a needed respite from the hot sun even though our tickets were all in the shade, the African sun was definitely at its strongest.
The second day stepped up to something that I, nor anyone in the ground, had seen before from Ben Stokes! His innings was incredible, I don’t really know how else to describe it! No one in the crowd was safe as the ball was flying to all parts of the ground. I also think that Jonny Bairstow needs a mention for his brilliant knock. After the English first innings, the game didn’t really get going again. Amla playing his last test as South African skipper played beautifully as did Temba Bavuma being the first black South African batsman scoring a 100. I have it say in my view the match will be remembered for Mr Stokes, who definitely took the limelight.
I had some great evenings and got to sample some of Cape Town’s Waterfront restaurants and great variety of cuisine. Our Gullivers cricket forum had Andy Stovold, Jonathan Agnew and Mike Procter. It was really interesting, especially getting Procter’s view of his career and how the South African approach has changed throughout the years.
For our Wanderer, Epic, Cape Point, Mandela and Voortrekker clients, it was onto Johannesburg for the 3rd Test.
After the excitement of the Cape Town Test, the tour arrived into Johannesburg with a sense of expectation and anticipation for the third - and potentially deciding - Test Match. With many people returning to the UK, numbers were lower and the groups that arrived into Johannesburg from Cape Town had all bonded and arrived in good spirits. These groups had arrived from touring overland along the Garden Route and had some great stories of close encounters with the Big Five on safari. The remainder of our groups had flown straight in from the UK and were enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures as they settled in to their hotels at the Wanderers and in Sandton.
As the business capital of South Africa, Johannesburg has endured some bad press over the years, but we found it a superb base for a cricket tour. The group staying at the Protea Wanderers Hotel were able to stroll through the gardens of the Wanderers Club to the ground and they soon made the Gentleman’s Club their home – enjoying drinks and several meals with the members in the bar. With tennis courts and a golf course on site, as well as sports commentary on TV 24/7, there was plenty to entertain between the cricket and they made the most of it. Our other groups were based in hotels in and around Sandton City – a short taxi ride from Nelson Mandela Square with its choice of world-class restaurants and superb shopping. All hotels had lovely pools and outdoor areas for our clients to relax in before and after the cricket, and with the exchange rate in our favour, it was hard to fault the quality of service, wine and food on offer at every hotel.
The cricket itself turned into one of the most memorable Tests so far, as after waiting for more than a decade, victory came suddenly for England. After watching both sides bat into the 300s, the third day promised much of the same before Stuart Broad's devastating 6-17 skittled South Africa out for 83 in just over 33 overs to set England up for a seven-wicket victory with two days to spare. For those of us who have witnessed many Test matches overseas, it was a thrilling sight to see England perform so well and take a winning 2-0 series lead at the Wanderers and the four-match contest with one Test still to play. Great from an England perspective, but a shame not to enjoy more cricket at the Wanderers – a great stadium for watching cricket with excellent facilities and a warm welcome from the home crowd.
At the end of the first day’s play, we were fortunate enough to gain some fascinating insight on the game in South Africa from the ex-captain Graeme Smith. He may have got his prediction of a South African win in Jo’burg very wrong, but his thoughts on the psyche and changes afoot within the South African dressing room were fascinating and every one of us enjoyed hearing his thoughts as well as his anecdotes from his playing days.
Once the cricket was over, we made the most of our two spare days by organising transfers to the final round of the Johannesburg Open, part of the European golf tour. Others ventured out on sightseeing trips to Soweto and we all enjoyed a fascinating insight into South African history and culture at the Apartheid Museum on our last day in South Africa.
All in all we had a fantastic week in Johannesburg and look forward to returning again on future tours. It was a great week in a wonderful country.
After a three day test in Johannesburg, the remaining tourists headed to Sun City where they were welcomed to the bright lights of the casino, a stunning golf course and the Pilanesburg National Park right on the door step.
The Mandela Group opted for the early morning safari and spent an hour and a half following a family of six lions, something we were not expecting when we left at 5.30am. Zebras, springbok, hippos, rhinos and wildebeest all came to greet our bus!
A short trip to Pretoria saw the start of the final Test Match. At the beautiful Centurion Cricket Ground, it may not have the back drop of Table Mountain, but the open green spaces made the ground feel ‘homely’.
Day 1 saw Stephen Cook score his debut test 100 at the age of 33, on debut, with a lot of interest on his father Jimmy Cook who had scored a duck on his Test debut in 1992. After a disappointing Test Match in Johannesburg, Amla seemed to find his form again, overtaking the opener and scoring 100 off 131 balls. There has - and had - been a lot talk about Jonny Bairstow’s wicket keeping - both Amla and Cook were dropped early in the innings which could have changed the game. James Taylor continued to show the world how to field at short leg, with another stunning catch.
There was barely an empty seat in the ground on day 2 and the locals brought the hot South Africa sun with them. More runs and a painful two sessions in the field for England. Another debut century this time from Quinton de Kock who ended the innings on 129*.
The evening of the second day saw Gullivers' final cricket forum of the tour. Lead by Andy Stovold, we were joined by Jonathan Agnew and Phil Neale for quite a personal evening of cricket questions and discussions.
Onto the third day, and the English fans flooded to the ground in the hope to see Alistair Cook pass his 10,000 Test runs. Cook was 67* overnight with only 50 runs required to reach his milestone, but he ended up 36 runs short at the end of the Test Match. Days 4 and 5 were all about Kagison Rabada, taking 13 wickets in the Test Match and his 6-32 in the last innings meant England lost the Test Match (although won the series).
This Test Match also saw milestones for a lot of players, match winning spells and plenty of runs. Sadly, for the English supporters, it was for the wrong side and lead to the wrong result, but in true English fashion, it was applauded and appreciated none the less.
There is always a silver lining to a Test Match finishing early, most of the remaining tourists managed to visit the Voortrekker monument and the impressive Union Buildings, whilst the rest decided to make the most of the sun and top up their tans, ready to impress back in England.
All in all, a fantastic trip was had in some beautiful locations. 'Til next time, South Africa! In the meantime, we're looking forward to the England Cricket Tour to Bangladesh and India next winter.
Ali R (Durban), Lucy P (Cape Town), Rachel B (Johannesburg) and Moira C (Pretoria).