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January 23, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 S.A.'s Garden Route

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Greetings from South Africa! Last week, we left off from my amazing safari up in Hoedspruit. The town is located in the northern part of South Africa and I was just 28 miles (45 kilometers) from the Mozambique border and 56 miles (90 kilometers) from Zimbabwe's. So cool! After the unforgettable animal encounters I shared with you last week, it was time to fly south to the coast and experience South Africa's Garden Route. Up for some fun in the sun? Hold on tight because we're in for some adventure! This week, we go zip-lining over the treetops and check out the world's highest bungee jump. If you're pressed for time but still want a taste of the Garden Route, there's a four-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week's newsletter. And if South Africa just ain't your thing (What's wrong with you? No, seriously.), then maybe Margot Black can interest you in a family-friendly trip to San Diego.

To get to the city of George, I flew an hour back to Johannesburg International Airport (JNB) and changed planes for the two-hour flight to George. I guess the folks at JNB realize that security in Hoedspruit is a joke because they make passengers go through security again. Would you believe that I passed through the Hoedspruit metal detectors with everything in my pockets (phone, camera, coins ...) and didn't take anything out of my laptop bag and still, not a single beep? Talk about things that make you go hmmm ... On a positive note: The Hoedspruit airport is decorated like an African safari camp and they sell really tasty hot ham and cheese sandwiches for 18 Rand ($2.60USD). But the bottled water tastes terrible so buy a soft drink instead.

The 643-mile flight to George (GRJ) was on a 70-seater Dash 8-Q400 series twin-engine turboprop. The flight was smooth, the flight attendants passed out free sandwiches and the landscape below during the last 15 minutes of the flight was picturesque. I just pressed my nose against the window and gazed out. I witnessed the low clouds rolling in as they covered the base of the mountains, just like a blanket, leaving the mountaintops exposed so they could breathe.

Dave Griffiths, who owns and runs Outeniqua Adventure Tours, met me at the airport with his wife Cheryl. Dave is a knowledgeable guide and more importantly, an excellent driver. And, as you'll see in the video below, Dave has a great voice, which made listening to his stories a real pleasure. My first question for Dave was, "What exactly is the Garden Route?" He said most people think it's because there are lots of gardens but it's really because so much grows here, since this area gets the most rainfall in South Africa. The Garden Route is a very popular and scenic stretch of the southern coast of South Africa. It goes from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River. And when you get off the plane, you can immediately feel the difference in the temperature. Going south in the southern hemisphere is like going from Costa Rica to Los Angeles in April. The coast has a maritime climate with mild to chilly winters and moderately hot summers. Outeniqua Adventure Tours, Tel.: +27 (0) 44 8711470. (Here’s a scan of their business card)

We drove 44 miles (72 kilometers) east from George to the town of Knysna (pronounced NIZE-nuh). We took N2, which is the main coastal highway of South Africa and travel time took just under an hour. Knysna has become quite the destination for tourists, seniors in particular. You're sure to run into a lot of British ex-pats. Knysna is mostly built on the northern shore of a large warm-water estuary that opens up to the ocean. There are two large headlands on either side, which are known as "The Heads". They are infamous for their unpredictable waters, which have caused many a shipwreck.

I was fortunate enough to be checking into the nicest hotel in the area -- the luxurious Pezula Resort. It's a member of The Leading Small Hotels of the World and this place opened up in February 2005. You'll find 78 incredible suites in freestanding, two-tiered villas (four per villa). The villas are linked to the main building by manicured pathways and are accessible either by foot or by battery- operated golf cart. After taking one look at these killer rooms, each with a modern African decor, you'll understand why Pezula wins lots of awards, including a spot in Condé Nast Traveller UK Edition's Readers' Travel Awards for the Top 20 Overseas Leisure Hotels.

The owner of Pezula is a South African man who made his money in America by inventing the photocopy sorter. Now why didn't I think of that? The hotel is eco- friendly and has the most comfortable king-sized bed with Egyptian cotton linen sheets that are so soft, you don't want to do anything but lounge naked. On top of that, they offer a pillow menu. In each room there's a fireplace, a 28" flat screen TV, a huge marble bathroom with a separate shower and a modern oval shaped tub. The rooms are practical, too. They have international plug adaptors, cordless telephones, heated bathroom floors and tissues by the bed and bathroom. Don't you just hate having to get out of bed in the middle of the night to blow your nose?

When I opened up the blackout curtains in the morning, I thought I was looking out over San Diego Bay, not the Knysna lagoon. The view is so similar and the town has an identical feel to some of San Diego's suburbs. Bizarre, I know! My only complaint about the rooms is that the free wireless Internet access they offer was terrible. I even tried logging on in another room, in another part of the resort, and I had the same result. I was told that they are switching providers to alleviate this problem, which is great news for future guests. I also wasn't a huge fan of Zachary's, the hotel restaurant named after the owner's dog. Though the breakfast buffet was in incredible, the dinner menu just didn't do it for me. But then again, I'm a finicky eater. I don't eat veal, lamb, mushrooms, goat cheese or much seafood. What can I say? I know what I like and what I don't.

My friends all told me that some of the most beautiful women in the world hail from South Africa (ahem ... Charlize Theron ... ) and I have to say, there's no shortage of them working at Pezula. Not only are the women good-looking, but they understand customer service, too. And that couldn't have been more apparent than in the spa. I signed up for a one-hour massage and before going in to shed my drawers and don my robe, I asked the receptionists about the custom here. I didn't want a repeat of my experience in France. I told them what happened there and after they laughed their pretty heads off, they confirmed that I wouldn't be required to put on any paper underwear here. Phew!

I strolled out of the unimpressive men's locker room wearing what must have been the world's shortest robe. I had a feeling that this was a mistake because the robe didn't even reach my knees and I could feel a breeze, well ... where I shouldn't have. I was feeling more naked than actually being naked, if that's possible. I took baby steps out to the reception area and noticed a woman waiting for her treatment, but she was wearing a robe that reached her ankles. Hmmm ... I approached the staff and asked if I was on Candid Camera. I could tell they were relieved to finally let out their laughter and say, "Oh, the short robe must have snuck into your locker by accident!" Sure it did.

I switched robes, then got a soothing massage from a young South African woman who loved her job. I could feel her passion as I dozed off, staring down at a floating candle as she kneaded my tight muscles. And when I thought I couldn't have been any more relaxed, she led me into a dark, candlelit room that had three Swedish hydra massage beds. Two of the unique machines, which are a cross between the swanky Brookstone massage chairs and a Jacuzzi (except on these you don't get wet), were occupied so I couldn't moan and groan aloud.

After my massage, I didn't feel like playing a round of golf on Pezula's renowned golf course. Instead, I took a tour of the hotel's brand-spanking-new honeymoon suite, called the castle. It was a 15-minute drive through the private Pezula Estates development. Even Roger Federer is building his dream house here. Like Roger's house, the castle has unbelievable views of the Indian Ocean, which is just steps away. BTW: Did you know that the Indian Ocean is much warmer than the Atlantic? But don't plan on swimming at this beach. It's way too rough. Pezula Resort; Tel.: +27 (0)44 302 5332.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Johannesburg Airport


Outside Hoedspruit Airport


Inside Hoedspruit Airport


Plane To George


Clouds Rolling In


Dave Driving


In Town


View From N2






My Bed






Spa Reception


Shortest Robe Ever!


Hydra Massage Beds


Inside The Castle


The Castle View


Indian Ocean


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