South African tourism's 'quality and value is incredible'

The 18th hole at Pinnacle Point sits high above the Indian Ocean in Mossel Bay, South Africa.

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Maura Nolan

Cape Town, South Africa – Maura Nolan describes her childhood in Fish Hoek, a village south of Cape Town, South Africa, in the most idyllic terms. “It was the most spectacular place in the world to grow up,” Nolan says.

It’s easy to see why she says that. Nolan, founder of Connecticut-based Safari Golf Tours (www.safarigolftours.com), recently led two dozen Golfweek course raters on a two-week tour of South Africa. Early in the trip, she took a few of us to Fish Hoek, which sits on False Bay, a focal point of her formative years. “I could swim before I could walk,” she says. Our day in Fish Hoek ended with a memorable dinner at Harbour House Restaurant, where we washed down fresh crayfish and prawns with the local Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc, as waves periodically crashed against the second-story window behind our table.

Nolan has been operating tours to major golf destinations, such as the British Isles and Spain, since settling in the United States in the 1980s. But it’s clear she takes special delight in introducing visitors to her homeland.

I asked Nolan to talk about South Africa’s growing appeal to tourists.

When did your clients first start expressing interest in traveling to South Africa, and what kind of growth have you seen in that part of your business?

Maura Nolan: We started bringing Americans to South Africa about 20 years ago, around the time of the first democratic government. South Africa is now a thriving and very popular destination that annually wins tourism awards. This past December, South Africa recorded the highest-ever number of tourists in one month. We have seen dramatic growth in the market and the tourism product is tremendous and very exciting for us as we continue to deliver ultimate safari, golf, wine and culinary experiences.

Give me an overview of what a trip to South Africa entails.

MN: Our tours usually include Cape Town with its iconic Table Mountain, the beautiful winelands, the scenic Garden Route, tropical Kwa Zulu Natal and a stay in an exclusive game lodge for an exciting safari either in the Kruger National Park or the Eastern Cape.

Fortunately, all of these places offer spectacular championship golf along the way, so it’s also an ideal golf destination. There is nowhere else in the world where you can visit Ernie Els’ winery after a round of golf, putt above Stone Age cliffs along the Indian Ocean at Pinnacle Point, play the Jack Nicklaus Signature course St. Francis Links in the morning and be on safari that afternoon, or watch elephants graze along the Crocodile River at Leopard Creek. It doesn’t get better than that.

We end each day with an appropriate culinary experience. Sometimes it’s a private chef cooking for you at his home, sometimes a local ‘braai’ (bbq), sometimes at a superb seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean, or sometimes at a world-class restaurant with an eight-course meal and wine pairing.

We have always tailored our tours for each group depending on their time frame and budget. The average tour is anywhere from eight to 16 days. Cost varies and we start at around $4,995 per person, with airfare additional.

How important a factor is the attractive exchange rate?

MN: The current exchange rate makes your trip to South Africa extremely attractive, particularly if you love food, wine and golf. The quality and value right now is incredible. The average green fee is less than $100, a five-course luncheon with wine pairings at the finest restaurant is about $55. You can eat and drink like royalty – it’s a wonderful luxury.

Before you go, you should make as many reservations as possible so that you don’t waste any time when you’re there, and this is where our expertise provides real added value. We know the country intimately.

You should know that no visa is required for Americans and that there is excellent air access, with non-stop overnight flights from the East Coast, so you can be there the next day. You can spend anywhere from 10 days to a month filled with exciting moments that you will remember forever.

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