Tuesday, 1 April 2014

This is no April fool's joke!

I’ve been taught as a child to always stay humble, keep your feet on the ground and show a lot of appreciation for opportunity instead of bragging. Well I really appreciate the good place that Earthstompers is in at the moment, but I would like to brag a bit. I will come back down to earth after this blog post and work even harder to keep the high standard we set over the last 8 years, but firstly I want to brag a bit, I want to show off!

I want to brag a bit with having the best staff. Nicole, Steph, thank you for being so great at what you do. Thank you for bringing back happy clients week after week! Chrissy, thank you for organizing my life and organizing all tourists and keeping Earthstompers up to the latest trends. You all work so hard and always go the extra mile for Earthstompers. I want to brag because we use the best accommodation, serve the best food and do the coolest activities. Thanks everybody for your hard work.

I want to brag about 65 excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, ALL of our reviews are 5 stars. I want to brag because we are ranked number 10 of 173 tour companies, and number 15 of 336 activities in Cape Town! I want to brag because we won “Awards of Excellence” 3 years running!

I want to brag because 2013 was our biggest year ever, but in January 2014 we hosted 233% more guests than in 2013, February 83% more and March 23% more than the previous year! This gives us 72% more guests already than in 2013, with April, May and June also looking like it is going to kick 2013’s butt!

Now I’m finished bragging, I’m coming back down to earth, I’m going back to work, I’m going to work as hard as always to make sure I can write a brag blog again in 2015. I’m keeping my feet solidly on the ground but my chest will stay swollen with pride.


Hendrik Human

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

A Kruger trip I'll never forget (warning - graphic content)


fish eagle
Last November, we put together an epic 16-Day tour for 11 Italian tourists, beginning in Cape Town, traveling along the Garden Route, heading up the Wild Coast, through the Drakensberg, and ending in Kruger National Park. You’ll have to ask Hendrik about that drive, but for now I’d like to share what turned out to be a Kruger experience we will never forget.

Sunday, we arose before the sun and had an incredible day of game viewing. It is such a privilege to have a large, well-managed National Park in South Africa. Kruger is really one of a kind, and I think it’s something that everyone should experience. 
beautiful young male lion

elephant
giraffe, with a huge herd of buffalo in the background

dung beetles
hippopotamus, with a stork in the tree
millipede
impala, with his oxpecker friend
grey go-away birds
purple roller
lion having a midday rest
pride of lions - 7 visible
the hard-to-find leopard
lion family
two of the 21 rhinos we saw
cheetah. pregnant, or maybe just eaten?

Monday, the Italians went on another full day game drive in the park, while Hendrik and I decided to go for an early morning guided bush walk.
millipede
The bush walks take place between 5-8am, and are offered at several different locations in the park. The walk is lead by two
Kruger Park rangers. Bush walks are normally about seeing the birds, plant life, and small creatures in the Park that you miss when whizzing by in a vehicle. The rangers are armed, in the rare case the group should be threatened by one of the larger animals. In most instances, if a large animal is seen on foot, it can be observed at a distance.  Or if the encounter is a little too close for comfort, the group can slowly back away, to make sure the animal isn’t scared or threatened. In the briefing before the walk, the rangers said, “Whatever you do, don’t run.”

We had a nice morning of hearing various birdcalls, looking at the flowers, checking out the insects, and seeing evidence of the bigger animals – tracks, nests, dung. We were walking along single file, when we heard a rustling in the bushes about 50 meters away. 

“Oh look, there’s a hippo!” said the lady near me.

“RRRRRUUUUUUUNNNNNNN!” said the ranger. 

The hippo came charging at us like you can’t believe. No mock charge. No time to fire warning shots. I’ve always heard that hippos are fast, and I am here to confirm that they can outrun humans.

We scrambled up an embankment and into the bushes, and got behind a big thicket while the ranger covered us. 

We then heard gunshots…the rangers were firing at the hippo.

It had been running straight at us, and when the ranger stopped to fire, it avoided him and went around the tree for us. It was about 10 meters away when the ranger fired the first shot.

It stumbled backwards a few meters, looking shocked that it had been hit. 

Although it was clearly hurt, it made like it was going to come at us again.  After about 30 seconds, the rangers fired a final shot to end its suffering and to make sure we were out of harm’s way.

I have since learned that hippos kill more persons than any other animal in Africa – nearly 3,000 per year. The males are very territorial, and aggressive at defending their stretch of river.

I don’t share this experience lightly. There are a range of emotions we felt, during and after the incident.  I’m obviously sad and sorry for the hippo.  I’m thankful for competent rangers, who did exactly the right thing. If they hadn’t acted swiftly, one (or more) of the seven of us would have died. It was scary in the moment, but even scarier afterwards to think about how very close we were to being maimed or killed. 

I’ve since been questioning whether we should have been walking in the bush, when that kind of danger is present. I feel like we were na├»ve for traipsing around in the animal’s territory. But I also must recognize that this kind of incident on a bush walk is a rare occurrence – when we got back to the Kruger gate and spoke to the manager, he said nothing like that had happened in the fourteen years he had been there. 

I have to recognize our rangers, Patrick and Peter, who were so well trained and courageous. I can say with certainty that the rangers had no choice but to shoot in this particular situation. You could see afterwards that the experience shook them up, but they acted with upmost professionalism. Two of the other guests on the walk were game rangers themselves, and they complemented our rangers on how they handled a very difficult situation.

Would I recommend a bush walk for our guests? I’m not sure at this point.  Both Hendrik and I had been on bush walks before, and it has been a big highlight of previous trips. It’s really a way to appreciate the natural environment in a way that you don’t often get to do. It builds a respect for nature, for the intricate design of the natural world, for the way our ancestors used the various plants and animals. We have even considered doing a multi-day guided walk in the park, but for now, I’m going to sit that one out.

We have hesitated telling the world about this experience, because most people won’t understand how to put this into context. I don’t want to perpetuate the negative image of wild, scary Africa – this is an experience that happened in a National Park, and a rare experience at that. Not all that different from what a bear encounter could be like in one of the US National Parks. I also don’t want to glorify the killing of the animal in any way. I share this solemnly as a real, first-hand experience that I will never forget.

--Chrissy

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

15 Ways to be a Great Tourist

This post is inspired by a great article I read on the Getaway Blog: How NOT to behave on a game drive.  You'd be surprised at some of the antics that I've seen from tourists on game drives and as a part of our tours. Yes, I know that you paid for your tour, but that doesn't take away the need for good etiquette!
So here are a few tips from a well-seasoned (my girlfriend would say crotchety...) tour guide on how to be a great tourist.
  1. Smile and have fun. This is the most important and made it to number one on the list. Leave your problems at home, it is free to smile, you are on holiday. Nothing like a beautiful smile to lift the spirit. Have fun, this is why you came here.
  2. Respect the locals. You are a visitor in another country. You are in South Africa, the rainbow nation; we have many different languages, religions and cultures; respect this. If you do not understand, ask your guide, but don’t make assumptions. South Africa has a very interesting history, be sensitive about this, ask questions, be open minded, visit museums and educate yourself to better understand.
  3. Ask plenty of clever questions. Don’t just sit there and wonder about things. Ask the guides. They have plenty of interesting facts and stories to share with you. If the guide does not have an answer, there will always be Google.
  4. Be punctual. Don’t always be the last one on the bus. We know you are on holiday and everybody wants to have fun and sometimes we stay up a bit late and have a few extra beers, the wine is awesome and the booze so cheap, but please be on time. Your guide and fellow travelers woke up early as well and the other guests are never happy if they have to sit in the car waiting for that one late guest. The guide plans their itinerary carefully for the day and you do not want to be the reason why others miss out on an activity.
  5. Phones & wifi.  This is the first thing clients ask when walking into a restaurant or into the accommodation. No, I refuse to put Wi-Fi in my vehicles, look out the window at our beautiful country, talk to the other guests, listen to the guide, this is why you are here! Things have changed so much, less talking, more social media, there is nothing more anti-social than social media around a dinner table. I understand you dived with sharks, saw the Big 5 and did a bungy jump and you would love to share this all on Facebook, but at least make some time for socializing with your group. When traveling in South Africa it is all about good food, good company a cozy fire and a great atmosphere. Make use of this. Get your face out of your phone. Talk to the people around you, there are plenty of interesting people that traveled all over the world and did all sorts of things. Wi-Fi is widely available, use it, share your experience, but be sensible and sociable. 
  6. This is not a zoo! When on safari you are driving through a natural habitat where animals roam free. (Except if your tour operator decides to take you to one of these private zoo-like Game Reserves). The rhino is not tied to a tree or in a cage. If you want a guarantee to see everything, go to the zoo, watch Discovery channel or stay for a month. Be patient, be alert, help the guide look, you will see plenty of spectacular animals.
  7. Be sensitive. You will be traveling with other clients from other nations. Some countries are at war, some countries have a president you don't like and some countries do things differently than you are used to. Be sensitive and open-minded about these things. Take the opportunity to get to know someone whose life and nation is different from your own.
  8. Speak the language. English is the language of business in South Africa. Most mixed group tours are conducted in English. Yes, sometimes it is strange to speak English with your German boyfriend, but with other guests from other cultures and other languages on the same tour and in the same vehicle it is just good manners to speak a language that everybody can understand. Most South Africans speak English as a second language, you will be able to communicate. Please enquire for a tour conducted in your mother tongue should the English be a bit rusty, Dutch, French, German, Spanish and Chinese guides are widely available! Also not a bad idea to learn some of the local words before you go to a country.
  9. Your guidebook can be wrong! Don’t be obnoxious and interrupt your guide all the time. You are not a safari guide; you did not grow up in South Africa. If you are an expert in any field, share your knowledge in a humble manner. Yes there are many different stories about where Knysna got its name from. Why do the whales come to Hermanus? Ten different possible answers. There are different opinions on things. Do not sit with your head in your guide book all the time and double check all the facts your guide gives you, rather become part of the conversation and say what you heard or read and make it a discussion point. 
  10. Try the local food and drink! We love our food and wine in South Africa. Food is fresh, local plentiful and prepared with love and passion. The food is part of your travel experience, be adventurous. You are only here once, stay away from Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants and McDonald’s, you can have that again when you go back home! Do not leave South Africa before you had a braai, potjie, bobotie, bunny chow, biltong, pap and off course our excellent selection of local wines.
  11. Be a responsible tourist. Use reusable water bottles, our water is safe to drink. Make use of recycling bins provided. Support local tour operators, locally-owned accommodation, local communities and businesses. Abide to rules in National parks, do not feed animals, swim in between flags on the beaches and listen to lifeguards. You can also buy a tree to reduce your environmental impact of your travel. See our partnership with Greenpop
  12. Be safe. Listen to the locals, if they tell you not to go some places after dark, don’t! You can have a great time in South Africa, just be clever and take precaution like anywhere else in the world. HIV/AIDS is real in South Africa! Enough said, look after yourself!
  13. Pack light and sensibly. Don’t be the guest with the biggest heaviest bag that breaks your poor tour guide's back whenever he has to take it out the van. What do you have in that bag? Your sister?! You do not need all that stuff you move along every day and it is a nuisance to load and off load all your belongings. Pack light, you will make your own life and the tour guide’s life much easier.
  14. Tipping is not a town in China. Tip when in a restaurant, these waiters work for a low wages and most of their money comes from tips. If you enjoyed your time in the Cango Caves and your guide was a rock star, show him/her some appreciation. 10-20% tip is acceptable in South Africa. Also the other way around, if you are not happy, do not tip!
  15. Review your experience. I was one of them, never reviewed anything, but since I've been using review websites for all my travel needs I've started to review most experiences. This is just fair if you use review websites to also share your experience. If you had a great time, tell the world, if you had a not so great experience, contact management or your agent and then share your opinion with the world. This will take 5 minutes of your time, but can change another travelers whole travel experience and keep all companies on their toes!
In summary, we can provide a great tour guide, great accommodation, great scenery, and great attractions, but the guests are really what make or break the tour experience. We get interesting, intelligent, fun, adventurous, serious, not so serious, humorous and not so humorous, boring and fun guests from all parts of the world. I have many lasting friendships from my tours and the guests also become friends for life. (I even met my wife-to-be in one of these environments.) When traveling in groups, keep these pointers in mind because YOU are a part of the tour package.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The early Christmas spirit - Santa Shoe Box

Over the last 3 years we participated in the Santa Shoe box Project with PG Tops Travel and Tours. Santa Shoe boxes are sponsored by companies and individuals, filled with goodies, and given to children at Christmastime.

See more about the project here: Santa Shoe Box Website

Check out the cool Packing Party Video from Sunday: PG Tops Video

We would just like to thank the PG Tops Travel and Tours for arranging the Santa Shoebox Project again this year! We went to the packing party on Sunday and it was great fun. It is a great feeling to know we help make these children’s Christmas special. This was the 3rd year that Earthstompers contributed towards the Santa Shoe boxes and we will definitely be part of it again next year.

Well done Yolanda, Pieter, Roelf and Bianca.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Winter 2013 Newsletter

Wow, it’s almost spring. This winter really did not feel like winter. It feels like winter outside at the moment, but after the great weather we had last week and after spending almost a month in the scorching heat of the US it really felt like winter was shorter than other years. 

Another reason why it never felt like winter is that it never got QUIET! The tours have been running week in and week out without stop since our peak summer season. Normally this time of year we are ready to get going again after a good hibernation. This year we have not had time for a hibernation - our winter season was 50% busier than last year!

The spring flowers have arrived on Route 62 and along the West Coast and the whales have come all the way from the South Pole to spend spring here in South Africa.


Can you see the whale tail??

Earthstompers Does America
We spent about a month in the US visiting family and promoting Earthstompers to our ever growing American market. Americans are now second behind the Germans as Earthstompers' biggest market - they have even passed the Brits! We went to see a few new agents and did some training for existing agents. The Americans are really impressed with our products and we are expecting a lot of growth still to come from the American market, especially with the Rand being so weak against the US Dollar. It is such great value for money for Americans to travel to South Africa.

We had some good fun in the US, but one thing is for sure, once you leave South Africa you appreciate it so much more. We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful country with such stunning people, great food, awesome scenery, wonderful climate and a laid back and relaxed feel. It made me realize again how much we have to offer in South Africa and what great service providers we are. Technologically we are way behind the US, but in service they can learn a lot from us down here at the Southern Tip of Africa.

Mandela Day
We recently celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday on 18 July (Mandela Day). Mandela Day is about taking 67 minutes and spending it in service, commemorating the 67 years Nelson Mandela spent fighting for human rights.

The Earthstompers tour group was on their way from Plettenberg Bay to Addo and joined forces with Stormsriver Adventures to spend their 67 minutes in Stormsriver Village with the kids from Stormsriver Primary handing out stationary and snacks. Our guests had a blast, but more importantly the children loved it and there were plenty of smiles to go around!

South African Youth Travel Confederation (SAYTC) Annual Conference
This year's SAYTC annual general meeting was held in Soweto, and what an event!  It was so much fun, great speakers, great parties, dancing the night away to reggae tunes, bringing back 1995 Rugby world cup memories with a live performance by PJ Powers, lots of “networking”, Soweto bicycle tour and plenty of laughter and good times! We would just like to thank Deborah, Tara, and Gavin from SAYTC and Lebo and Maria from Lebo's Soweto Backpackers for all their hard work and dedication in making this such a big success! Soweto is really a must see for tourists and South Africans alike.

Earthstompers is Turning 8!
Look out for Earthstompers 8th birthday celebration in January 2014! Can you believe it? We’ve been operating tours along the Garden Route and Addo since 2006!  We’ve decided instead of having a big party in the middle of peak season to spend our money wisely and donate a tree to Greenpop for every client joining our weekly Garden Route and Addo Adventure Tour in January. This is our way of thanking South Africa and its communities for allowing us to host foreign guests in this beautiful country.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

No more reviews on Trip Advisor....

TripAdvisor recently started rejecting reviews of our Garden Route & Addo Adventure, because it is a multi-day tour rather than a one-day tour. This is really frustrating to us, as TripAdvisor reviews are an important part of our business, and I can't understand what the problem with multi-day tours would be. Any of our friends in the tourism industry have any insight on this?

What TripAdvisor had to say



Dear TripAdvisor Member,

Thank you for taking the time to write a review. We're sorry, but we weren't able to publish your review because we don't post reviews about multi day tours on our site.

That said, you're very welcome to post your message on TripAdvisor Forums (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ForumHome). Forums are discussion boards in which members ask and answer as many travel-related questions as they like, share opinions and get travel help from fellow members.

We look forward to seeing your contribution to our community.

Best regards,

TripAdvisor Support Team

What our client, Patty had to say

Subject: Earthstompers Adventures - Day Tours 
Location: Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, Africa 
Title: Best part of our South Africa trip, and great for different age travellers. 
ID#: 163623616 

The Earthstompers Garden Route and Addo Adventure was fantastic! I travelled to South Africa for two weeks with my 2 daughters who are in their early 20s. We all thoroughly enjoyed the 6-day tour, which was the highlight of our trip! When planning our trip, I had considered renting a car to do the Garden Route by ourselves, but decided to go with a tour instead. Booking the tour was the best decision, and took the hassle out of our travels. With the tour we we were able to cover more ground because our tour guide (and company owner), Hendrik, knew exactly where to go and what to see. We were able to spend all our time enjoying the sites and adventures, rather than deciding what to do, how long it would take, or which direction to go. Hendrik was very efficient, accomodating, and incredibly knowledgable about South African culture, flora, fauna, etc. so we learned so much more than we would have if traveling solo. We also enjoyed the experience of travelling with others. We had a diverse group, in terms of age (3 over 50 and 4 under 30) and nationality (4 countries), that really clicked & contributed to our overall experience. We had many good conversations, laughs, and drinks! 

The tour itinerary was great and varied. We covered a lot of ground, saw incredible scenery -- mountains, beaches & wildlife, and enjoyed diverse outdoor activities. We were active, but nothing was too challenging. It seems like every night we were in a terrific location, usually a beach, to watch an incredible sunset, followed by a sunrise the next day. The game drives in the Addo Elephant National Park were a favorite for all. We chose to do many of the optional activities, including ziplining, bungee jumping, sandboarding, and elephant feeding. (Okay, I opted out of bungee jumping and sandboarding, but my daughters enjoyed them!) We thoroughly enjoyed it all! 

Finally, a word on accomodations on this tour, since you have two options -- backpackers or an upgrade to guest houses. I waivered on which option to choose, and in the end, opted to stay in the backpacker accommodations with an en suite bathroom. I'm glad I did! The rooms weren't luxurious, but they were clean and comfortable. Each of the backpackers was a unique experience, offered a distinct atmosphere, and provided a great opportunity to mingle with others (locals & travellers) in the onsite bar/lounge. I'd choose this option again. 

Overall, a fabulous trip. I highly, highly recommend Earthstompers for young and older travelers, in groups or solo, who enjoy the outdoors and a bit of adventure! Thank you Hendrik for an awesome vacation and introducing us to the many wonders of South Africa!!

***

Needless to say, we are proud of reviews like this, and quite frustrated about Trip Advisor's policy on multi-day tours.  

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Same prices, better value

I got the idea to write this blog when one of our guests from the UK sent me the receipt for payment of her Earthstompers tour.  She paid £370 for a 6 day, 5 night tour with most meals and accommodation. That's what I'd spend on two nights out for dinner & drinks with friends in London!  I couldn't believe what a bargain it was.

As of today, our tours cost $254 less than the exact same tour two years ago. Have we gotten really good at trimming expenses? Have I cut down on the amount of meat I braai for guests? Nope. Our tours cost the exact same amount in South African Rand, but the Rand is now weaker as compared to the American or Australian Dollar, the British Pound, or the Euro. In fact, the Rand is at a four-year low against other world currencies.  Bad news for us as South Africans, but great news for tourists. Here's a chart that shows the cost change for our tours (note that prices are approximate & based on the day's exchange rate):


Currency
Tour Price

2011
2012
2013
South African Rand
R 5600
R 5600
R 5600
Backpacker dorm price – still the same in Rand….
United States Dollar
$825
$654
$571
Same tour, $254 less
Australian Dollar
$771
$673
$583
Same tour, $188 less
Euro
572
525
434
Same tour, €138 less
British Pound
£504
£424
£370
Same tour, £134 less

Now, lets take this a little further.  What else might a tourist spend money on....hmm...let me think... how about BEER?!



City, Country
Beer Price in USD
Cape Town, South Africa
$1.55
New York, United States
$5.51
Sydney, Australia
$5.16
London, England
$5.36
Berlin, Germany
$3.53

In Cape Town you can buy on average of three times more beer than in the other cities around the world. Don't mind if I do!

(Above stats thanks to an interesting and fun website called www.pintprice.com; image courtesy www.nuvo.net.)

We are thrilled to be able to offer our guests some amazing adventure experiences while on tour with us.  Lets have a look at how those compare?

Shark Cage Diving
Country
Price in USD
Port Lincoln
Australia
$380 - $495
Farallon Island, San Francisco
United States
$775 - $875
Gansbaai, Shark Alley
South Africa
$100 - $150

South Africa comes in at about 7x less than the USA and about 4x less than Australia. This is great value for money!

Not only does South Africa have the biggest Bungee Bridge in the world, but also the cheapest bungee in the world. I hate the word cheapest, it sounds so cheap! And who wants to talk about cheap when it comes to bungee jumping?! But Face Adrenaline, operating Bloukrans Bungee in Tsitsikamma has a 100% safety record since 1997 when they first opened, and offers an incredible experience for our adventure-seeking clients.

Bungee
Country
Meters
Cost in USD
Victoria Falls
Zimbabwe/Zambia
111 m
$130
Nevis Bungee
New Zeeland
134 m
$207
Macau Tower
China
233 m
$319
Verzasca Dam, Ticino
Switzerland
220 m
$203-266
Niouc Bridge
Switzerland
190 m
$215
Perrine Bridge, Idaho
United States
151.5 m
$175
Bloukrans, Tsitsikamma
South Africa
216 m
$75

(Please note these are estimate rates from the internet and all converted to USD by www.xe.com)

So where should you go for your next vacation? USA, UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand? South Africa offers the experience of a lifetime for a fraction of the price. We provide the best value for money by far!

Garden Route Greetings
Hendrik Human