There's a haunting sense of place in South Africa that is entirely different from the West, but with a modern and smooth-running tourism infrastructure. It's also more accessible than ever before, since South African Airways (SAA) added an additional nonstop flight from New York to Johannesburg, for a total of six flights weekly. (In addition, there are three SAA flights weekly from Miami to Capetown.)
Small groups can take over luxury game preserves like the 11-room Ulusaba Rock Lodge, located near Kruger National Park, in the northeast corner of the country. The lodge's exterior is carved from natural rock face 800 feet above the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, with panoramic views of the bush. Spacious guest rooms are furnished with local wood, tile, and African-print fabrics.
But winners won't be spending much time in their rooms. At Ulusaba, the bush is alive with elephants, cheetahs, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and many other species.
Roughly a four-hour drive southwest of Ulusaba is the Northern Transvaal--lush, mountainous country that resembles Northern California. The 45-room Coach House is a five-star property near the town of Tzaneen where groups can kick back a bit after a safari experience. Located on top of a hill and surrounded by macadamia and pecan nut forests, the property has sweeping views of the northern Drakensberg Mountains. There's a conference room for groups of up to 45 persons and a wine cellar that can accommodate 30 for a private cocktail party.
A visit to Capetown adds some cosmopolitan flair to the South African experience. There's great shopping, enhanced by the strong U.S. dollar, and golfers have the Gary Player designed course at the Erinvale Estate Hotel.
Like Ulusaba and the Coach House, Erinvale belongs to an elite group of luxury properties that fall under the marketing banner of Insignia Resorts. The hotel is housed in a renovated manor house and stables, with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs that preserve the feel of a country estate. There's also a modern conference center with flexible meeting space that can accommodate up to 120 persons theater-style.