Archive | Travel Writing RSS feed for this section

Paddle the two oceans in a kayak to experience Cape Town from the coast

28 Aug

This article was first published in Juice Magazine, September on Mango Airlines.

MangoSeptember2015coverTesting his recently acquired fitness, BRIAN BERKMAN takes to the water.

Zipping the drinking water pouch into my lifejacket, I think back two years ago to my first kayak experience. Actually, that experience which took us through the backwaters and rivers of Madagascar, was the second time on a kayak. The first time, at the invitation of a friend, was harrowing – I still weighed 153Kg and capsized the kayak almost the moment I sat on to it, despite being in a shallow river.


Although much lighter and fitter now, that initial fear still sits with me and despite three-days kayaking in Madagascar I still feel the novice.

Very happily though False Bay is so calm that I can perfectly see the reflected seaside restaurants and mountains behind them. We’re given the briefest of briefings by Derek Goldman of Sea Kayak Simons Town – “push the paddle away from you with your top hand while pulling it with your bottom hand. To stop, push the paddle into the water away from you. Steering on these two-person sit-on-top kayaks is with foot controls from the back seat. Push left to go left.”

I’m wondering about the much older couple in our party. Looks like they’re the parents of people just a little younger than we are. Worrying about other people helps me channel my own anxiety and I immediately feel more confident. Geoff Hart leads the way and Derek keeps an eye on us from the rear.

Soon my spouse JP and I are in a comfortable paddling rhythm. I’m still barking orders which way to steer as if he, not sitting a meter behind me, can’t see which way to go. Fortunately he knows my bossiness is just a cover for fear so is happy to oblige.

As we approach the Simons Town harbour wall,  I can see the water is much choppier now that a headwind approaches. “That’s a Grey Heron”, Derek calls out to us while we paddle faster against the tide. While it is wonderful to see Kelp Gulls, Terns and the endangered black Oyster Catchers, we’re here to see the penguins. Our two-hour trip takes us past Seaforth beach where, if time and weather permits, groups stop for a swim. “Getting back into a kayak is as easy as getting out of the deep-end of a pool – most people can manage it and we’re here to help if they can’t,” Derek says also responding to one of my perineal fears of being on the water – what happens if I fall in?

African Penguins

The older couple are struggling so Derek latches them to his kayak and does the heavy lifting. The approach to Boulders is breathtaking. The granite orbs seem especially bright and the midday sun beats off them like an oscillating lighthouse.

Commonly known as Jackass Penguins because of the eerily donkey-like sound they make, Spheniscus Demerus or African Penguins make Boulders their home. This colony has about 2500 inhabitants and many of them are walking on the beach  while others are poised like sentries on the rocks. Typically found in pairs, we encountered a lone wanderer fishing near us. In the protected bay I finally feel able to relax. “Keep paddling”, Derek says, “or you will drift with the current.” Staying still on the water doesn’t seem to be an option.

Now Geoff takes the older couple back to the harbour more directly while Derek, sensing our keenness, takes us past Ark Rock. Paddling through Simons Town Harbour, up close to a submarine that is now a museum is another highlight.

Late and Flustered

Once the paddle bug has bitten, it bites again. Stuck in traffic on the N1 into Cape Town I can see we aren’t going to make our 5.30pm sunset paddle from Three Anchor Bay.

Embarrassed at our lateness I’m already flustered. The two dogs lying under the desk couldn’t be less interested in me, or my stress, it seems, despite my head nodding like one of those dashboard dogs while only listening with one ear to options: Yes, I’ll take the splash cover skirt, I say, although the others in the party seem to be more interested in saving their manhood than keeping their legs warm. Comfort first, I say.

Being on a Kaskazi Kayaks’ two-hour guided trip tour means everything (except drinking water) is laid on for you. Our guide, Dirk Kaiser, has the locally manufactured touring Kaskazi Duo kayak ready for us at the waters edge at Three Anchor Bay and adjusts the steering pedals. He tucks my splash cover around the rim and I’m ready except I can’t find my gloves. Cycling gloves really protect your palms while paddling and make it easier to grip the paddle but there’s no time to look for them. Not thrilled.

Head Straight Out to Sea

On the water I feels less stable then I did in Simons Town so I’m a little less confident about being on the water as I’m aware of the kayak slightly tilting each time we paddle which may be because we’re sitting inside, rather than on top.

“Head straight out to sea”, Dirk shouts with his still heavy  accent. I wonder if our paddles will get trapped in the kelp but then I’m overwhelmed by the views of Sea Point and Table Mountain from the water. This is the sort of perfect kayaking day people hope for “Keep away from the shore”, Dirk warns as we pass Bantry Bay, “or the waves will push you towards the rocks”. Now the 12 Apostles come into view and it feels as if we are paddling directly into the sun, heavy above the horizon like the opening of a pizza oven.

In this light the water takes on a different hue, looking like velvet folds as it undulates beneath us. Now, totally relaxed about our movement, I pause to take photos and to rest my arms which, even after an hour, aren’t as tired as I expected them to be.

We see three seals bobbing and weaving, large flocks of yellow-billed black cormorants and a few gulls but not much else. At first glance it looks like the neck of the Lochness Monster but deep at sea the kelp grows so thick it resembles a twisted human arm.

“Yesterday we saw two sunfish”, says Dirk, “and in the morning, on our trip towards the Waterfront, dolphins.”

The goal, we’re told, for adrenaline-junkie paddlers is to paddle through the tiny gap between Lion’s North Paw, a mini-mountain with its base 40 meters under the sea, but we take the more gentle route around it.

With The Tide Behind Us

Heading back, the tide is behind us and nudges us along although also towards the coast which we must steer against. Despite hearing the waves crashing against the sea wall at Bantry Bay it is extremely calm out at sea and quiet. As we approach the Sea Point promenade, and see the umbrellas on the beach for sundowners, I’m sure we can hear people talking. Here we wait for the sun to set.

This is a first for me. I feel part of the sea, smelling its briny air, moving as it does. My heart feels open to it. I even imagine that I can feel myself moving with the earth as it rolls past the sun. I feel totally vulnerable yet equally safe.

Heading towards Three Anchor Bay I’m very glad for my splash cover which has successfully kept my lower body dry and warm. My top is damp though and to fight against the cold I paddle ever faster entering the slipway at speed. Maybe I’m not a beginner anymore.


Side Bar: Top Tips

Wear gloves: Cycling gloves protect your palms

Take a water bottle

Have a dry, warm top and bottoms to wear immediately after coming out.

A waterproof camera is great although all tours will take photos of you and post to their Facebook page.

Wear the splash cover if they offer it.


Sea Kayak Trips, Wharf Street, Simons Town

082 501 8930

Kaskazi Kayaks    Shop: +27 21 439 1134  Tracy: +27 83 346 1146  Arthur +27 83 230 2726    33 54.331S / 18 23.902E

Crystal Cruises expands free WIFI for all luxury travellers

24 Aug

Great news from Crystal Cruises: Hope others adopt the same soon
Crystal Cruises expands free WIFI for all luxury travellers 
Daily Complimentary Internet Access Enhances Onboard Amenities for Globetrotting Guests
Crystal Cruises will expand complimentary Internet access to all of its luxury guests. Beginning August 30 on both, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, Crystal will provide one free hour per guest, per day for Deluxe Stateroom and Penthouse guests; 90 minutes for Penthouse Suite guests.  With additional free access to Crystal’s 24-hour satellite-enabled wireless Internet – which will also be available aboard Crystal Yacht Cruises’ Crystal Esprit when the maiden voyage embarks on December 23, 2015 – travelers can remain connected while on vacation, whether on their own devices or utilizing one of the ships’ cutting edge work stations or portable laptop rentals, which are available for a nominal fee. Crystal Cruises is represented in South Africa by Cruises International.

“While some travelers like to ‘unplug’ on vacation, many of our guests wish to stay connected while traveling, whether for business purposes, to stay in touch with loved ones, or to share their Crystal experiences along their journeys,” says President & CEO Edie Rodriguez, “It is always our goal to make life aboard our ships as effortless and comfortable as possible for our guests, and amenities like free Internet go a long way to help those efforts.”

For guests seeking more time online, Crystal offers four convenient packages to suit their needs:

• Plan A: “Pay As You Go” for $0.74 per minute
• Plan B: 2 hours (120 minutes) for $55 ($0.46 per minute)
• Plan C: 5 hours (300 minutes) for $127 ($0.43 per minute)
• Plan D: 10 hours (600 minutes) for $220 ($0.37 per minute)

Last year, Crystal installed improvements to the onboard experience, including:

·       Maximizing satellite bandwidth with the latest technology, allowing for more users and more content to stream simultaneously.

·       Expansion of Wi-Fi signal range throughout the ships, making wireless connection available everywhere on board, including all staterooms, public spaces, and outdoor decks.

·       The ability to access internet in areas that were previously unavailable, such as Japan.

The free Wi-Fi perk was previously available only to Crystal Society Members, the line’s repeat guest loyalty program.

The world’s most awarded cruise line has long been celebrated for its onboard technological offerings, including the Computer University@Sea facilities, equipped with state-of-the-art Mac/Windows dual-compatible computers and expert staff on hand for instruction and assistance. Specially designed classes offer curriculum tailored toward novice and expert users, with topics ranging from basic operating systems and use of smart phones and other devices, to digital photo and video editing and website design.

Crystal Cruises is the world’s most awarded luxury cruise line, having earned more “World’s Best” accolades than any other cruise line, hotel, or resort in history.  Crystal Cruises has won “World’s Best Cruise Ship” in Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards for 21 years; been voted “World’s Best Large Ship Cruise Line” by Travel + Leisure readers for 20 consecutive years; and the “Best Luxury Cruise Line” by Virtuoso for two-consecutive years (2014 & 2015). In summer 2015, Crystal embarked on the most significant brand expansion in the history of luxury travel and hospitality, which will introduce three new classes of cruising – Crystal Yacht Cruises (December 2015), Crystal River Cruises (March 2017), Crystal Exclusive Class Ocean Cruises (late 2018)– and Crystal Luxury Air (fall 2017).

For more information, contact Cruises International on 011 327 -0327, a travel agent or visit

Luxury hotels to visit while abroad

3 Aug

Milestone Hotel milestone, Kensington

Milestone Hotel milestone, Kensington


The pool and deep Atlantic at Belmond Reid's Palace

The pool and deep Atlantic at Belmond Reid’s Palace

The Equinox gym and spa is part of The Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC.

The Equinox gym and spa is part of The Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC.

While you’re planning your next trip abroad, don’t miss Madeira and a stay at Belmond Reid’s Palace Hotel. 

In England, The Portobello Hotel, London offers zany and upscale accommodation in Notting Hill Gate while, Le Meridien, Stuttgart is wonderful if you need a spot with easy access to the transport networks.

The Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington has, unquestionably, the best view of The White House while The Milestone Hotel, London looks onto Kensington Palace.

I’m still dreaming about the gym and spa that is part of Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC. I don’t think I’ve yet visited a hotel that beats it.


UK, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Canary Islands

12 Jul

The Last Word

5 Jun

SLOWLast1 SLOWLast2First published in SLOW Magazine.

Noting the trend of large hotel chains to re-package and create “boutique” brands to stem losses as more of the well heeled and well traveled are selecting intimate hotels, luxury travel writer Brian Berkman spoke to The Last Word founder to better understand it.

“Large hotel brands are immersing themselves in ‘boutique’ to create a difference and to try to stand out from the myriad of large hotels,” says Peter Fleck, who founded The Last Word collection of three intimate hotels and one villa. “But a 150-room hotel can never be boutique and never personal,” he says explaining that’s the beauty of being small and why The Last Word have the quest to be ‘beyond boutique’ with their intimate hotels. “We believe in the pleasures that people bring to a guest experience.”

Having stayed at each of The Last Word properties I can confirm that it is indeed the easy yet professional interaction with the staff that make staying with them so special. One gets the feeling of being in the stylish home of a favourite aunt with a team of staff you have known since birth.

Peter spent a lifetime working in the liquor industry with premium brands such as Chivas Regal, Glenlivet, Absolut Vodka and Captain Morgan after starting a career in journalism in the late 60’s where he worked on The Cape Argus newspaper.  “I did write an unpublished book/manual for our staff, but that’s where the writing ends,” he laughs. It was while travelling for work where he had the opportunity to be the guest at some of the world’s top hotels such as the Dolder Grand in Zurich, Switzerland and Hotel George V Paris, France. “Now when we travel we also choose smaller properties that go ‘beyond boutique’. There are some gems that simply steal your heart: I can think of Longueville Manor in Jersey, United Kingdom or some of the Grace Hotels in Greece or other parts of the world. At The Last Word we try to build our image on the intimacy we create in everything we do,” he says. He does add though “some of the more renowned hotels I stayed in served only to inform that one needs very deep pockets and that the bigger you are the more personal service fades. Our staff give of their natural self on a personal basis and not the starched version. This is what makes  us distinctive,” he says.

The Last Word Franschhoek recently benefited from a major upgrade which included expanding suites on a second floor following flooding in the village. “Our Franschhoek hotel’s popularity stems from its location right in the centre of the village. It is just a gentle stroll to boutiques and the many fine restaurants in what is considered Cape Town’s culinary capital”, he says. He adds that the Last Word Constantia is an oasis in an upmarket residential area, centrally accessible to all Cape Town has to offer while The Last Word Long Beach is right on the beach. “Perhaps ours is the only hotel where you can literally walk 10 metres and you’re on the sand,” he says adding: “It also has one of the most picturesque views in Cape Town.”

Racontours is a parallel bespoke touring business. Peter explains: “Racontours began as an option for Last Word guests to do something interesting in a more personalised way; an opportunity to visit selected wine farms where owners meet guests for tastings; also to get the inside stories of Cape Town’s city given by a unique and knowledgeable story teller; or to tour the mountains hearing from personable experts about Cape Fynbos; or generally touring the best attractions with humour.” Peter says that while Racontours is still connected to The Last Word, it is now also part owned and run by Getaway magazine former editor, David Bristow. “Racontours tries to find the story behind the story and lets our guests live much of that story as they can,” Peter says.

“We pride ourselves in selling more than a comfortable bed. We offer an experience. The niche market we attract desires home comforts in a stylish, graceful environment,” he says.

For more than six consecutive years The Last Word Long Beach was voted South Africa’s Leading Beach Hotel by the World Travel Awards’ travel and tourism professionals worldwide.

The Last Word Constantia won a Lilizela Tourism Award in 2013 when voted the top five-star guest house in South Africa for service excellence.

Nicky Coenen, Peter’s daughter, is the group’s general manager. She admits to getting immense satisfaction from continually working towards the next level of success. “Being a family business, we are small yet highly creative – and keeping one step ahead is a constant motivating factor,” she says, clearly inspired by the position she holds.

As a guest, The Last World provides everything I want in an all-inclusive package but its real genius is in proving the things I don’t even know I want, yet always appreciate.

Visit:; Email:; Phone: +27 (0) 21 794 6561

A forest lodge with beach access that’s near Cape Town

25 May

This piece was first published on

IMG_0309 IMG_0316 IMG_0334

Great kid's play area.

Great kid’s play area.

Lovely to walk under the milkweed canopy.

Lovely to walk under the milkweed canopy.

Curmudgeonly. That’s what I’ve become. Rather than focus on the extraordinary value in winter (two for the price of one), the thicket of gnarled milkwoods and coastal forest, wonderful sea views, I’m focusing on the loud music and revelry from the wedding. You should know that Sea-facing executive room, Guinea fowl, is about as near to the timber banquet room as you can get. As I’d said – curmudgeonly.

Soon enough, after the glowing embers in our wood-burning fireplace banished the evening chill from our room, I chose to focus rather on the swishing from the sea and our unexpectedly delicious dinner at Monkey Valley Resort’s restaurant, Thorfynns.

Before the sun went down I had a bath in the generous Victorian-style tub in the bathroom, designed to take full advantage of the view over the milkwoods and onwards to the sea. Earlier in the day we followed the path down to the beach, narrowly missing a series of orb spider webs spun into a silken arch between the tops of the trees.   Noordhoek’s Long Beach is well named and had the weather been finer I’d have relished a walk along it. Monkey Valley Resort offers accommodation that is self-catering and on a bed and breakfast basis. These thatched cottages are cleverly located within the greenery that trees provide the necessary privacy. It is also one of the few accommodation places that welcome animals – birds are very active within the trees and while we didn’t see the eponymous monkeys, I’m sure they are around. Many people had dogs as did the folks running the restaurant as their four-legged friends welcomed us with warm sniffs and awkward nudges whenever we arrived in the reception and restaurant areas.

They have a wonderful kid’s area with a pirate-style jungle gym that made me wish I was 40 years younger.

While some of Monkey Valley’s higher reaches were destroyed in the recent fire that decimated Silvermine and Chapman’s Peak, it looks like building work is also currently underway to expand the reception and admin building. Some of the accommodation is newly completed and I’d love to stay in one of the self-catering units nearer to the beach on a return visit.

The luxury here is in being in such a beautiful natural environment. Monkey Valley Resort is justifiably popular for conferences (the first time I ever visited was to attend a conference there eons ago) and at such affordable prices, a wonderful place for a family vacation.

If you’re as curmudgeonly as I am, keep ear plugs with you or a dinner suit so you can join the party.

Relationships matter more than all the luxury in the world

26 Dec

Don’t get me wrong: I still love luxury but what this recent trip has confirmed for me is that it is the interactions with people while travelling that matter more, much more than all the luxury in the world.

I am blessed to have strong family connections and deeply-held friendships but I  also value the new relationships that we can make if we allow ourselves to take the first steps. These last weeks I’ve been conducting an experiment: do I have a better time when I take the risk and make the effort to connect or do I sit back and wait for someone else to make the first step? Even though it requires a fair amount of effort to reach out, the rewards are palpable.

In selecting images that represent our most recent trip – this time to The USA, The Caribbean, England and Switzerland, the photographs that best describe the experience are not the ones of the deep-pile luxury but those of people. If we allow it, travel not only educates us about what to look at but also allows us to feel the excitement of human connections.

I hope you enjoy this six-minute snapshot of our trip.

Banting while travelling.

25 Nov

The great news is that if you also follow a #Banting or #LCHF diet you can now travel with impunity knowing that your culinary needs will, with advance notice, happily be taken care of.

That was certainly my experience on our recent Kwa-Zulu Natal visit, the highlight of which was our Pretoria to Durban Safari on board Rovos Rail. Our cuisine and accommodation highlight was our stay at Fairmont’s Zimbali Resort while our biggest disappointment, not of their making but of the weather’s, was our visit to Rocktail Bay to see the Rocktail Turtles.

If you’re staying in Durban our first choice is Suncoast Towers and in Pretoria we choose to stay at Protea’s Pretoria Manor Hotel while sanctuaries at the airports must be the SLOW lounge. Bon Voyage.

Our epic KwaZulu-Natal safari

21 Oct

They say one should be careful of what one wishes for: I wished for a mega storm – the sort that rattles windows and lights up the skies up with lightening bolts, as we rarely see such climate in Cape Town. Well, I got what I wished for while on our KZN Safari but it did mean we couldn’t do many of the things we hoped to – seeing Turtles lay their eggs in the sand and snorkelling the reef among them.

Here is a visual taster of our trip – I will post links to the articles I write about it once they’re published.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

See Rovos Rail  Fairmont Zimbali Resort & Lodge, Rocktail Beach Lodge, Protea Manor Hotel, Hatfield, Riverside Hotel & Spa, Hotel Verde at CT International  SunCoast Towers Hotel, Durban

#LCHF PR-Net Trade event and #Banting while out

18 Aug

The conversation around Prof Tim Noakes’ 25g or less of carbohydrate a day with quality fat from olive oil, fish and meat in every meal and the hash tags  #LCHF and #Banting seems to be as angry as our world at war.

Rather than refute his theories in a constructive way that also educates us all, his naysayers describe him as criminal. For me the truth of his diet is irrefutable. I know that I can continue to eat pretty much what I like while maintaining my healthy weight but just slightly increasing my carb intake – from 100g of cashews, for example, reflects heavily on the scale the very next day.

Because I’m never really hungry doesn’t mean that I eat tiny portions – I wish I did, as it may be better for me. I still eat more than I need to because I enjoy the pleasure of it. I still eat emotionally when I feel overwhelmed. I’m behaviour hasn’t changed so very much. What has changed is what I eat and I continue to be disciplined in selecting low-carb foods that are sugar free.

I don’t mind engaging a server, like I did recently at Woolworth’s Willowbridge and Tasha’s at the Waterfront recently, to ask the kitchen to adjust a dish to meet LCHF.

There is regular news of new restaurants and suppliers joining The Banting Bandwagon and the high fat, but flour-free Gravy Train. As wonderful as it is to know restaurants are offering LCHF menus, we must remain vigilant. When it comes to maintaining my weight nothing is more important.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m not sure how some of the items on Bread & Butter’s  Sunningdale LCHF menu got there. A liberal sprinkling of cashew nuts and apple slices is not what the doctor orders nor is the addition of fresh peas to a dish for people on low-carb, low-sugar diet.

PR-Net Trade, a JV between Andrea Desfarges of PublicitySA and I, recently hosted Prof Noakes and LCHF suppliers to a meet-the-media event. It was great to see many that are already entrenched in my kitchen like Crede (say kra-day)  and Lancewood but a wonderful treat to connect with Cold Gold Ice Cream and fab yogurt supplier Curds & Whey and my school friend Denise of Caring Candies, who first introduced me to xylitol.

Janine van Zyl, of Cold Gold Ice Cream also helped the chef at the stellar Coopmanshujs Hotel and Restaurant create a #LCHF dinner for us Saturday. What a treat and proof that with advance notice and a willingness to accommodate fussy diners, miracles can and do happen.