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Random J trip to Poland via South Africa

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Hello.

It is time I wrote a trip report. As much as for my own benefit as well as others. I have learnt a lot and been both entertained and informed by many others on this forum.
I am currently seated in the Bidvest lounge at JNB with Girlfriend (GF). I have been jotting things down on a word document over the last week since we left home. Below is the start of these ramblings and musings. Now I have started I will have to commit to finish the report.!

I would like to thank JonnM, Craven, Jaques, JessicaTam, Dr Ralph and many others for the inspiration, guidance and enthusiasm that has brought me to this point with enough points to do these things




The idea for this trip started as wanting to redeem a “J RTW redemption” prior to the enhancement of the amount of points required. So sitting in a motel in Chinchilla last August, I plugged in a few destinations and dates, thence getting the NAB Q CC out and when I woke up the next morning I had the following ticket: MEL, SYD -JNB-CPT – stop DOH-WAW stop AMS – HKG stop MEL.

Not a particularly complex itinerary, but I was fascinated by the option of going to Poland and riding on the Qsuites provided by QR.

As I already spend a lot of time away from base, it was always going to be a challenge to advise GF that in addition to being away for work most of the time I was now going on a random adventure for the majority of February.

So: what does one do in this situation? Invite her!! Half hoping she would say no (because how could I get a second ticket on this itinerary?) half hoping yes, thinking she would say no because she is a very busy woman, she says “Yes, I would love to come” She, having barely left our quite country hamlet on the Murray, I was kind of excited by this.

So, about three months out, I noted the tickets on QR and CX were available but alas, nothing on Q from SYD-JNB or HKG-MEL. A relatively quick phone call to QF in Auckland, had requests put in and approved. Off we go.

A little bit of time past and we decide that going to Durban rather than CPT would suit us better. Noting on AA.com that seats were available, I was quickly speaking to a lovely consultant in HB on a Tuesday afternoon. I was informed that this change in addition to the 5000 point pp change fee, would involve significant increase in taxes. This did not sound correct. Not one to be deterred, I tried the old HUCA and was shortly back in touch with an equally lovely HB consultant, who was like “No traumas” or words to that effect and you will even get a $1.20 refund. Winning.!

At this point, GF announced that she did not have a current passport. Minor detail I said. You just nip down to the post office, pay your fee fill out a form or two and it is done. However,If it is not in your hand by Friday prior to departure you will be precluded from going. Well, given that she runs a café and it is leading up to Christmas and things being quite busy, the passport application seemed to be a bit on the backburner.

However, somehow or other four days prior to our flight, the passport was in the mail. It is good to live a little on the edge and not rush things I think……
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Currently in the very excellent AL Mourjan lounge at DOH after a very fun morning walking around Souq Waqif. Picking up the musing from last weeks typing....

So. At this time we are somewhere south west of Perth on route JNB from SYD. Enjoying some food and beverages in seat 14 A and B. Having done this route once before in 2A I must say that is my preference. At least now however, I have experienced the nose and the upper deck of the 747 and this may well be my last flight on this great machine.

Many have written about this flight and plane before, so I do not have to much to add. We checked in at MEL after a short line up for the premium domestic check in. This seemed to be combined with the international connections. I guess driving everyone to use the self check-in kiosk as much as possible is the plan. A busy Monday morn after staying with friends close by the previous evening. The 0700 gave us plenty of time to transit at SYD and get to the F lounge for GF’s first visit there. She thought this was a pretty good experience as did I. A couple of glasses of French stuff, some eggs benedict and a shower and it was off to the gate.

The crew, service and food/beverages to me were of an excellent standard. I read a lot of complaints about these things and maybe my expectations are low. But if I can get a seat with plenty of room, plenty of brews without going silly and some food in the sky then I am content.

After some sleep and a bit of television watching and eating/drinking (in no particular order), we were on decent in to JNB.

We were off the plane to a near empty arrivals hall, passport stamped and out in to the balmy 6000 ft air. No luggage collection due to our Little Blackwolf suit case and back pack each. No issue on any of today’s three flights carrying this on.

After a bit of a leg stretch around the airport, it was through domestic security and into the SLOW lounge for the last leg to Durban. A great lounge with excellent food and drinks, pity neither of us was very hungry or thirsty by this time! Shortly after and it was time to wander back down to the gate for BA6227. Not a very full flight and there was only about six of us I think in the front of Cubworld section or whatever they call it. There were two attendants here to fatten us up even more. GF had quite a delicious looking and sandwich. I just opted for some nuts and a cup of tea! A bit boring! I think I was feeling the effects of enjoying the first flight and not a great deal of sleep by this time. Plus, I was aware of needing to be on point for the car pick up at Durban.

No issues here, a little walk to Thrifty and the standard paper work and we had the keys to a Nissan Navaro 4x4 for $450/six days with 2400kms included. Not the greatest car I have ever driven and part of me wishes I paid a bit extra for a Toyota. However, being a bit of a tight bum has probably helped in getting me where I am today and being able to afford crazy random trips like this in the first place.

This Toyota wish became greater over the next few days when climbing the hills through Lesotho! More to follow on this!
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Currently on a train between Warsaw and Gdansk. Picking up the memoirs and musings below.....:

A short drive to uMdloti where I had booked into the Surf Motel. A cute little accommodation with huts and rondavels. Most have a tiny kitchenette and basic facilities. ~$100 a night. I had stayed here before and I booked it by email. Nothing was mentioned about payment until check out on the second morning. I have noticed this about South Africa, the people seem a little more trusting that what Australia has become. At least in the smaller towns. Jeff had emailed me the details to check in and the key prior to us leaving Aus.
We were pretty puffed by this stage as it was 2100 local.
The next day we were up early and a quick swim and walk on the beach followed by breakfast at the Java café just down the road. Food was good value and decent quality everywhere we went.
After this a drive over to Verulam to check out the local market and collect some fruit. Good Bananna and Apples at a good price. Friendly people and quite crowded.
A day of just relaxing and coming up with a bit of a plan for the rest of the week before an Uber in to town for dinner at the “Cargo Hold” restaurant in an aquarium with little sharks and fish swimming around. This was GFs request and a bit of fun for something different. The drive through the city of Durban was quite interesting too. Good food, wine and value again and the Uber I would guess was a bit cheaper than the same distance in Aus. About $26 I think each way for a 20-30 min ride.
The next morning dawned clear and another early breakfast before checking out of the Surf Motel and into the Nissan for the long, gentle ascent to Underberg. The whole area is lovely and green and lots of corn beginning to tassel. They certainly do know how to grow corn in South Africa. It appears mostly to be from rainfall without much irrigation.
A brief fuel stop here and a visit to the local Spar for a few bits and pieces for lunch and breaky the next morn, plus a new power adapter as I somehow managed to donate that to the good people of the Surf Motel.
Back in the Nissan now and point her in the direction of the Sani Pass. A good bitumen road for the start, and then onto some dirt as we start to climb a bit more precipitously. The Navaro engine was not performing particularly well for the size vehicle that she is. Just as well I am quite used to changing gears. The lower air density as we climb not help either of course. Anyway, we are in no rush. I rang ahead to the Sani Lodge to confirm accommodation availability should we require it.
Just before we approached the end of the bitumen at the S A border post, we pulled up to let a Prado through. I had a bit of a chat with the driver who was happened to be a local tour guide. He informed me that they just that day had fixed a piece of road that was almost impassable prior.
I also asked him for local guidance on getting through to JNB and Clarens and he suggested to just follow the road in Lesotho and aim for Butha Buthe and cross the border there. Well, that was one of the best pieces of advice I have ever taken. That drive along the top of the range just inside Lesotho was one of the most amazing drives I think I have ever taken.

So now the real ascent begins. No more bitumen, and quite a narrow steep winding track. We put the Navaro into low range and just let her climb at her own pace. Mostly the track was ok save for a few places where one must pick the correct path so as not to drag the chassis on the outcrops. An occasional stop on a level piece to get some photographs on the iphone. I think GF was both in awe of the scenery and slightly concerned as to whether we may come to grief given the creeks and groans coming from the bowels of Navaro as she snaked her way up and around the twists and turns. Roughly one hour later and we were pulled up at the gates to Lesotho. The border post looked like it could do with some renovations therefore we were quite happy to part with 40 rands to allow us inside their magnificent country.
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Been to busy sightseeing and carrying on, wrote a bit more on the train from Gdansk to Berlin yesterday!.......
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Once through it was nearly 1600 local and we could not think of a better place to spend the night than at the “Highest Pub in Africa” so we wandered over to reception. The fully self contained Rondavels were just over $300 for the night and the dorm type accom with shared bathrooms were $70. An easy choice. The only concern I did have was that there was no heating unless we brought our own gas. Ha.

When I alighted from Navaro at the border post shivering in my shorts and thongs, I asked the gate keeper if it was always like this? His reply was “no, normally much colder” haha. And here I was next week going to Poland in winter. Oh dear!!!

Before showering up for tea and drinks, I descended a km or so of the pass on foot with the intention of running back to the top as fast as I could. Well, let me just say it was not very fast, but I did feel good after getting my heart rate up by the top. A quick shower in the old stone hut and I joined GF at the bar where she had found the local beer to be quite tasty. I am not a huge beer drinker, but I must say I found the local Maluti to be particularly tasty.

Meals were a set menu of soup, main choice of beef/pork/trout and desert. We had a pork and beef each. Quite tasty and satisfactory. Desert was not required.!

Into bed under a very thick blanket and it was soon morning and the kettle was on in the communal kitchen for some Necafe with powdered milk. I actually am quite a fan of Nescafe. We purchased some bread and butter and fruit yesterday at Spar, so we were soon off inside Lesotho toward Butha Buthe and Clarens.

Well yesterday had about one hour and eight km of challenging driving but today was about four hours of totally amazing up and down through some of the most amazing yet stark scenery I had ever seen. A beautiful mostly quiet bitumen road and at times up over 11000 ft. A lot of people just randomly walking sometimes with sheep sometimes just walking. Hardly any trees, just rolling occasionally steep green hills and mountains as far as the eye could see in any direction. Poor Navaro was not overly agreeable about some of the jump ups and twice I was down to first gear all of a sudden. I could not help regularly thinking how much I would have enjoyed having the supercharged V8 commodore on this road….

There seemed to be a lot of basic almost subsistence farming through these parts. Little villages and simple houses with small terraced corn fields. Nothing like on the scale of what we had seen all around Sth Africa.

After passing the diamond mine there was the odd semi trailer. Now this would have been a work out for both man and machine on this road. Pick the wrong gear in either direction and there could be instant clutch, diff or brake carnage!

Soon we were at Butha Buthe gate. We alighted Navaro and sauntered over for a chat with our passports, only to be told to drive up to the little window and someone would help us. A hundred yards or so to the S A post and we pulled up at the stop sign to be quite abruptly told to reverse and get out of the car and walk up. Just can’t get it right some days. Haha.
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
Back between wide open paddocks of corn and soon we were pulling in to Clarens. This could have been any town in the Adelaide hills or similar. Quite mild back down at 5000 ft and just a nice bit of humidity. There seemed to be plenty of places on the internet for around the $100 Aussie so I just walked in to a shop that had a sign for accommodation and were soon settled in to a guest house with an ensuite room for $160 for two nights including breakfast. Ending up at a brewery for a couple of light refreshments before dining at an Italian type restaurant for tea. Good food but pretty quiet. Probably not exactly what I was looking for but we both seemed a bit puffed again and were in to bed early.

The next day was just spent wondering around this cute little town as well as a bit more forward planning for the next stage of the trip in Poland and Doha overnight. I did say planning, not actually booking. Haha. I seem to have trouble actually committing to paying for something to far in advance when I have no idea where we are going or what to expect. I did however book the Garden Court Hotel at JNB for $120 for the night before our Qsuite adventure. Given that we were driving it seemed a fair deal. The city lodge which JohnM has put a few people on to was around $230 by this stage. I would still like to explore more in and around The JBurg city itself one day but I think I need more research and GF was not keen. People keep telling me that it is “mostly ok but there are issues and one must know where they are going”

This night we ended up in a local pub set up just chatting with locals. Again, people were so friendly and welcoming. The same story however, they love their country but have real concerns about the instability/crime in the city and the effect load shedding is having on business.

I think a few drinks each and a big bowl of chips was something like $30. Not quite sure how that worked but we had fun. Cheap for us, but not so for them. I could live here no worries. A big down pour and storms ensued that night and I had the best sleep I had had in a long time with constant rain on the roof.

The next day the intention was to drive to the Apartheid museum prior to terminating at the Garden Court Motel. A few stops along the way and a detour to look for a Lion rescue place at Bethlehem which turned out to be shut that day, we did not get to the museum till 1500.

This was a really great use of ten dollars but sadly by 1700 when the lights were turned out I had probably only spent about half as much time as I would have liked to have.

A short drive later and we were pulling into the GC Motel. A three story U shaped place by the appearance from the outside. The rooms all appeared to have opening windows, and some had little balconies. I requested one of these on check in and it was granted. We were informed our rate include breakfast. Seems like people are trying to fatten me up wherever I go!

A beer and a light snack in the attached Irish pub and up to bed for a bit more research and preparation for the Qsuite to DOH

POP BANG POP POP!!! I think I had just dozed off and was awoken to this very interesting sound outside my open balcony door.
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
GF said “was that gun shots?” My response from a deep slumber “no, no. Just fire works I think” I do remember thinking that it was an odd place and time for fireworks but I digress..

A bit of a look out the door and we could see two people with head torches running to what looked like a person laying on the ground. Directly across the road from our window.GF suggested that they “had shot and killed him” in a not so relaxed tone. I was thinking, possibly but unlikely. What did I actually know however?

Anyway, a bit more observation and a couple of blokes were kind of just standing by the prostrate individual whom could be seen moving around a bit. We did discuss whether we should call ambulance or police or just quite what should be done. Shortly afterward some cars arrived with flashing lights and what appeared to be a security logo on the side. I decided to head down to reception to see if anything further could be learnt. The concierge was able to inform me that the situation was; as far as he knew, that an intruder had been located inside the business premises opposite and as he was trying to escape over the fence he fell and hurt his leg. There were additional concerns that his comrades were still inside.

By the time this was all finished, I counted twelve cars with various flashing lights outside the window and numerous people standing around. I soon dozed back off and by daylight the next morning there was no indication of the previous nights’ events. I went for a walk around the area and the only things to even indicate someone had been in that area was an empty coke bottle.



The time was here to bid Navaro farewell… She had taken us up the Sani Pass and all the way across Lesthoto with no complaints other than a few creaks, groans and the familiar Navaro rattle from the engine. The Thrifty man wished us ‘sharp sharp’ and we were lined up at Qatar check in 3 hr and ten minutes prior to departure. (More of a coincidence than a well-executed plan) QR 1364
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
The helpful check in lady was shortly arriving and we were chatting about changing from 1K/2J to 1A/2B which were blocked for some reason. I felt that a better view of Africa would be had from the left side which proved to be true and an amazing view of the lights around Dubai as we were approaching Doha. We seemed to wind right around the coastline on our decent. She had to ring someone about this but we soon had our boarding passes for these new chairs.

Security and immigration lines were virtually non-existent so a quick trip through and a wander around the terminal and into the Bidvest lounge. We were offered this one or another one which the name of I can’t quite remember, but the check in girl suggested Bid vest was the pick.

I have been in and out of JNB about three times now and find it a pretty well laid out and functional airport. I have never had the queues or any issues getting through immigration that I have heard some people mention.

The Bid vest lounge seemed a pretty decent set up. Almost on a par with the Domestic SLOW I would say and vastly better than the South African Airways international lounge that I visited twice last year on my Vic Falls trip. Not feeling too hungry after our visit to the GC motel buffet and wanting to sample the on board treats, I just took a snack and some green tea. I may have also sampled a tiny tipple of Hennessey. Well, it was there, self pour and I do not have this at home! I think I prefer the smell to the actual taste however it was lovely and smooth for 1100 AM.

For some reason at JNB they say to board 70 minutes prior to departure. (Perhaps this is common at big international airports)? I don’t really know. So roughly an hour prior we clipped down to the gate which was at the other end of the terminal to arrive just as boarding was perhaps halfway through. We had a separate bridge for J class so with no delay we were packing our little suitcases in the overhead compartments and settling in. We were quickly welcomed to Qsuite and offered a Champagne or something else….

I was facing backward and GF facing toward me. However, if we wished to communicate, we had to stand up and peer over the top. Soon we were on the taxi for a departure on runway 03. I was quite happy facing backward and it was a great view I had out of the window.
 

Cessna 180

Member
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Messages
341
The flight attendants had explained that we could pick anything from the menu in any order and took our order very soon after lift off. I did not think to photograph the menu but there was the mezze plate which I was keen on and a fillet of beef and plenty of other options. There were three reds. A Bordeaux from France, something from Sth Africa and a cabernet from Mclaren Vale from memory. I tried each of these as well as a Chardonnay over the trip of nearly nine hours.

The service was top notch. I think I had three different attendants constantly offering to top up the glass or seeing if anything else was required. They were very happy to chat and seemed pretty relaxed and genuine.

The suite was also very good, but I would actually say if I had the option and everything else being equal, I would pick the standard J class which we will have tomorrow. I cannot fault the suite one bit but I would say I just preferred the open style a bit more of the standard set up which also had a little bar area for people to congregate and have some fruit and snacks provided. The whole Qsuite idea seems to be aimed at people who are looking to be completely hidden away and not in view of others. This is probably what a lot of people are looking for but for me it is not necessary. Chatting to the head cabin attendant on tomorrows flight he said he regularly sees groups of people in the middle suites holding meetings and the like.

However, I am still pretty amazed and impressed that I get to travel in these great seats in the front of the plane.

I did find the door helpful at the end of the trip when I wished to change back from my ‘PJ” top back in to my shirt. We had to ask for the pyjamas at the start. Our hostess said they do not normally hand them out on this flight, but she would happily have a look for us. She was soon back with a pair each.

A bit of a lay down and an hour or two’s sleep was had at some point prior to waking up and looking out to the lights of the middle east.

After disembarkation, we followed the signs to the exit. On arriving at the immigration gat there were a handful of people in front of us. Thinking that there would be a special J or Emerald section I asked and was directed down the corridor a bit further to a completely separate room where there was a couple of booths with what appeared to be someone waiting for us! There was just no one else in there. Out into the pleasant evening air and into a taxi driven at flat stick by a Zanzibar local to the Kingsgate hotel at Souq Waqif. This was the cheapest hotel I could find in the area at $76 Aussie for a short stay. A decent base model hotel and right in the heart of the Souq. I would recommend this place.

As I was about to hand over my CC to pay the taxi he informed us of “cash only’’ This surprised me somewhat as on the drive to the hotel, on which he was clearly practicing for Bathurst next year, he informed us of how quickly Doha is going ahead and how they were the highest paid per capita in the world. He also told me that of a population of 2.6 million, only around 300,000 are local. The rest expats. Qatar; the land of opportunity apparently….

Anyway, this challenge was quickly sorted by asking the hotel keeper for 50 rial which was the exact amount for the trip. Then I paid him back. It was around midnight and having enjoyed the good hospitality of the Qatar airways staff it was soon in to bed for a few hours proper shut eye.
 

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