A RAPID-FIRE catch-up with the man behind Luxury Safaris and its sister company, PG Tops.
Where are you from? Where do you live?
I was born in Stellenbosch, but went to school in the coastal town of the Strand. I studied and worked in Stellenbosch through most of my 20s, but moved to Cape Town 13 years ago. Now I live in Vredehoek – broadly recognized at the windiest place in South Africa, if not the world.
What’s your career background? How did you get into this game?
Nurture vs nature, I suppose. My folks had a retail travel agency growing up, so I was always exposed to 24/7 work ethic, family business values and the service delivery environment. I worked in the agency for a few years until we sold it, and my stint in corporate after that convinced me that I needed to be my own boss. Then it seemed like a really good idea to start doing wine tours for backpackers, and without giving it too much thought, I got the badge, bought a bus and started. I have an academic background in finance and business, and also did stints in training and education, so being a tour guide seemed like a good fit.
When did you start Luxury Safaris/PG Tops?
2008. It was about a year after I came back from a sabbatical abroad, and halfway through a stint as a part-time college professor. PG TOPS was the first business, Luxury Safaris followed five years later.
When you are not at work, what do you do for fun?
I binge watch series TV, while trying to get my toddler to behave. I read, I cycle, I climb mountains, I try to stay off Facebook, I take the dogs for a walk. And we love sushi. Willoughby & Co is our happy place. Oh, and Caroline and I both love to travel, so I just came back from a long walk in Spain.
What are some of the biggest tourism misconceptions about South Africa?
Partial misconceptions: It’s dangerous, Cape Town has no water, only black people live here.
Full misconceptions: We are one big safari park with total poverty and no modern infrastructure.
What in your opinion are some of the most underrated destinations/experiences in Southern Africa?
I think Elgin is amazing – bike and hiking routes, great funky little hotels, fine dining and exceptional wine tasting experiences – and the zip lining in the mountains. Undiscovered, at the moment the locals mostly keep it to ourselves…
We work mostly with the American market, which doesn’t visit long enough to get beyond the main attractions. But for every Franschhoek, there is a Tulbagh, for every Kruger Park there is a Kalahari, and for every Cape Town there is a Port Elizabeth. The locals know…
Which of the Luxury Safaris lodges/hotels are your favourites?
Hard question. There are amazing options… but I have a soft spot for Tongabezi on the Zambezi for a romantic getaway, and the spa at Ellerman House is like a second home. I won’t say Grootbos, because that is basically my whole team’s favourite.
What are the must-see/must-do experiences you recommend to any visitor?
This is very personal – but a gorgeous lunch in the winelands (Del Aire, La Petite Colombe or Overture are the firm favourites here), hiking Platteklip Gorge up Table Mountain and the helicopter flight (the 22 min Gorge Flight) at Vic Falls are unmissable. With the Missus – the Treehouse at Lion Sands. It’s like living inside the Bachelor TV show.
What are your three favourite places in Southern Africa?
Look, my front porch rocks. I have a great view of the city, a lovely braai area (a braai is our traditional barbeque, and although my friends accuse me that I never actually COOK the meat, I love to host the events). So there’s one. I am a big fan of the Knysna/Plettenberg Bay area on the Garden Route – many wonderful beaches, hikes and family friendly activities – especially the secret little hike at Natures Valley. And then… can I sit on the fence? Churchhaven/Elgin/Franschhoek/Cederberg are all within two hours driving distance of Cape Town, and if I wanted to travel further, Vic Falls/the Kruger National Park/Lake St Lucia area… so many awesome places. If it were easier to get to, I suppose, I would also vote for the Wild Coast. Because it is… well… wild? But it is so unspoiled, precisely because it is so inaccessible. Only the youth travelers really get to experience it, which is a pity.
What are your top three destinations globally?
I go back to Spain to walk the Camino every three years (soul food), and Austria sees me for a ski trip every two years or so (nothing beats powder+Austrian Apres-ski). I also visit the US frequently – but I have a strong connection with the place from years working there, and I tend to go sort out my wardrobe at the Woodbury Outlets for at least two years when I go, which kind of liquidates the trip cost. Value there is nuts.
When you travel, what do you personally look for? Relaxation and luxury? Adrenaline and adventure?
YES and YES. I probably am more an experiences and adventure type, but as you get older, you start to move away from the cheap and cheerful options as you appreciate the value of time and access to experiences. For example, our trip to Alaska two years ago included a very exclusive cruise on Prince William Sound for a week – which was as much about the exclusivity as it was about the access to places you otherwise wouldn’t get to. Then we hired an RV and “roughed” it by ourselves on the Kenai Peninsula for 4 days (if “roughing it” means you get too cook your own breakfast without changing your shorts while looking out over an epic lake in the middle of nowhere). So I guess we mix ‘n match. And I do like to take time out for a decent exfoliating back massage. Yes I get mocked for this.
What’s your favourite view and your sundowner of choice?
Sjoe. I like G&T when I am in the bush, but I would say a nice glass of red or a decent single malt (Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban comes to mind) would be my regular tipple. Favourite view? My view from my porch over Lions Head as the sun sets, the view over Clifton and the Twelve Apostles from Clifton Views Hotel – and probably what I’m looking at right now, which is my son chilling out next to me while I write this (he is three months old, and relatively well behaved).