International air travel: Cape Town International has excellent connections to many European cities. For travellers from Europe, the national carrier, South African Airways (SAA), BA, KLM and Lufthansa all operate non-stop flights from London, Amsterdam or Frankfurt to Cape Town, and many other carriers offer connections via Johannesburg. Johannesburg is the major port of entry to South Africa, and tends to be very busy, so non-stop flights to Cape Town are recommended to avoid possible congestion at Johannesburg.
For travellers from North America, SAA offers direct flights from Atlanta and New York (JFK) to Johannesburg, code-shared with Delta. There are a large number of flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town on SAA, BA and other local carriers - but see note above about Johannesburg airport. Unless Atlanta or New York (JFK) are especially convenient for you, our recommendation would be to fly via Europe, since the much large number of carriers on both the trans-Atlantic and then Europe-South Africa legs often offer better value, and quite possibly more convenient connections from your city, in particular regarding non-stop flights to Cape Town. One problem is that trans-Atlantic flights tends to arrive in Europe in the early morning, and the flights from Europe to South Africa generally leave in the early evening, so you might have a long layover on the outward leg. (KLM offers a convenient day-time flight which obviates this problem. Note also that Schipol (Amsterdam) has a very convenient hotel located in the transit area, with reasonable day-rates). On the homeward-bound leg, connections are generally good.
For travellers from Asia and Australasia, Johannesburg has good connections to Far Eastern destinations and Australia. Here, one will have to take a connecting flight to Cape Town.
As a general note, SAA code-shares with Delta (and American Airlines on occasions); British Airways code-shares with American, but offers a very extensive world-wide network as BA; KLM code-shares with North West; and Lufthansa with United.
Getting around in SA: South Africa drives on the left-hand side of the road (as in the UK and Australia). Rental cars are readily available, reasonably priced and popular with tourists and locals. As with other large countries such as the USA and Australia, public transport is not really a viable way of seeing much of the country. (SA is approximately one-third the area of the USA). If planning to drive outside major metropolitan areas, bringing your own cell phone or renting one (see below) is strongly recommended in case of breakdowns etc.
Cape Town and Johannesburg, the major port of entry, are around 1 400 km apart (900 miles). Whilst it is possible - though inadvisable - to drive this in a day, taking a flight is strongly recommended; there are a number of low-cost local carriers now operating.
Local driving conditions: The main road network is in general in very good condition, although driving standards are not always as good as the roads! The very long distances between major cities means that driver fatigue can become an issue, in particular for visitors without experience of very long-distance travel. In rural areas, there are still large numbers of unpaved minor roads. Drivers without experience of these types of roads should be particularly careful of not travelling too fast on them, since the road surface can sometimes deteriorate very quickly, and hazards such as sharp bends etc are not always well signed on these minor roads.
Speed limits are generally 60km/h in urban areas, and 100km/h in rural areas, unless otherwise posted. Freeway limits are usually 120km/h. Speeding was endemic on quiet rural roads in the past, but be warned that are fair number of speed cameras are in operation nowadays, and road conditions (especially pedestrians, cyclists, slow moving vehicles and sometimes farm animals or game) make speeding not only illegal but also dangerous on the increasingly busy roads.
A local idiosyncrasy to be aware of is that on rural roads, South African drivers often pull over into the emergency lane (demarcated with a yellow stripe) to allow other vehicles to pass. This was recently legalized, provided it is done in daylight and with adequate visibility (ie. not before a blind corner). It is customary to thank drivers who have pulled over thus with a flash of the hazards, and acknowledge this with a flash of the headlights. Do not feel pressured to pull over in situations where it is not safe to do so!!
For this reason, should you need to stop, try to get right off the road if possible (not just into the emergency lane) to avoid being rear-ended, and for the same reason avoid stopping near blind corners or rises in the emergency lane.
Parking: most urban areas are metered, often using a cash card in the Western Cape. Usually, there are self-employed and self-styled "parking attendants", whom one can pay and who will then use their own cards for the meter. Ensure that they do actually put time on the meter! It is also quite common to encounter "car guards" in large parking areas; their services are vary from useful to dubious, but it is customary (although not essential) to give them a small tip of a few rand.
Tipping South Africa largely follows US and UK tradition here. Waitrons in restaurants usually expect a tip - 10% is normal. However, especially with large groups, more and more restaurants nowadays include a service fee on the bill, in which case a tip is not necessary. See above for tipping of "car guards".
Touring: A tour to the Cape Peninsula is scheduled for Saturday 27 May (the day after the conference) and will be included in the registration fee. More details on the tour may be found on the Social Program page. Recommendations for other tours (for instance, to game parks) can be found on the Things to do in Southern Africa page.
Mobile (cell) phones: South Africa uses the GSM standard for mobile (cell) phones, and the local service providers have reciprocity arrangements with many international carriers (often called "roaming"). Additionally, cell phones can be rented at the airports at very reasonable rates.
Local currency: The local currency is the rand (R) and the current exchange rates (Feb 2006) are approximately R6.10 = US$1.00, R11.00 = £1.00 or R7.40 = 1.00 euro. Major credit cards (especially Mastercard and Visa) are very widely used and accepted throughout South Africa (almost as much so as in the USA), but very small shops and roadside traders will accept only cash - and in local currency. Local currency may be drawn at most ATM's using most international credit cards (of course, requiring a PIN!) Traveller's cheques usually need to be changed at a bank.
There is neither an ATM nor facilities for exchanging foreign currency at Spier, and delegates would be advised to use facilities at the airports. Representatives of Rennies foreign exchange will be available at the workshop over lunchtime on Thursday 25 May, and will be able to exchange traveller's cheques and cash in major currencies (US$, GBP, Euros - but NOT SA Rands). American Express traveller's cheques can be exchanged by them at no (or minimal) commission. Cash does carry some commission.
Weather: May in South Africa is late autumn; the days in Cape Town and Stellenbosch are usually still warm (20-30ºC), but the nights can be cool and rain is likely - the Cape has a Mediterranean climate - and snow on the mountains overlooking Stellenbosch is possible. Most of the rest of South Africa is a summer rainfall area, and in particular if one intends going on to visit game parks, May is an excellent time of year.
Health: There are no particular health risks from tropical diseases in Cape Town, but visitors considering travelling elsewhere in Southern Africa following the workshop, in particular to the game parks in the east of South Africa or in Botswana, should be aware that malaria is endemic in those regions and precautions are strongly advised. (Fortunately, the risks are at minimum at this time of year). See Travel Advisories for more information on malaria.
Personal security: In recent years South Africa has not always had a good press in this regard. Fortunately, crime rates in South Africa in general are on the decline, but as in many large cities worldwide, visitors do need to be careful in certain areas, in particular in downtown Johannesburg. (Note that Johannesburg International Airport is many miles from the downtown area, and is both very modern and safe). South Africa has fortunately not been a target for terrorists to date.
It is wise to drive with car doors locked, and do not pick up hitchhikers.