FOOTPRINTS IN AFRICA
Nine decades overland with TRANS AFRICA SAFARIS 1918 – 20015- Our History
The early years 1918 – 1936
Trans Africa Safaris, a private company registered in South Africa since 1918, can trace its origins to the battle of Delville Wood in France during World War 1.
Delville Wood is a memorable, though sad event in South Africa’s history. Vernon Hepworth Sargeant and Charles Probit, two of the small band of 140 young men who survived this gruesome five day battle near Longueval in July 1916, (2 815 soldiers paid the supreme sacrifice), founded Delville Garage and began a car-hire business in Cape Town in 1918.
Their first employees were also Delville Wood survivors. Initially the bulk of their business came from British aristocracy and landed gentry – who were still referred to as the carriage trade and required chauffeur driven limousines with glass partitions between the driver and passengers.
It was not long, however, before the demand was expanded by many passenger vessels, 1920’s cars and ships, calling at Cape Town, then the main point of entry into southern Africa.
The tour trade increased rapidly and car-a-bangs (chariots with benches) were introduced.
1929 saw the newly completed Chapman’s Peak Pass incorporated into the Cape Point tour. A journey along this gravelled ledge, cut into the side of the mountain, was a hair-raising experience. In many places the road was just wide enough for a vehicle, with a sheer cliff up one side and an unprotected and equally sheer drop to the sea, hundreds of metres below, on the other. The vehicles, with nothing but mechanical brakes on the rear wheels to stop or slow them made the excursion still more unnerving, it was only possible to negotiate the road in the south-bound, Hout Bay to Noordhoek direction.
Pioneering “Deepest, darkest Africa” 1937 – 1938
This was an important period as it saw Robert Murray, the pioneer of inclusive overland tours on the African continent; acquire the company on 01 January 1937, changing the name to African Car Hire – Trans Africa Safaris. Roads were in a poor condition making travel slow, for this reason people did not venture far in those days. Gradually the number of visitors travelling along the Garden Route increased and a few tours around South Africa were arranged. During the 30’s, the company pioneered the first overland tours on the African continent
He loved lifting his hat to the many people who knew him as he was driving slowly along the Sea Point beachfront; he would reminisce for hours in the company’s office. He recalled with nostalgia, his days doing the Circuit Court and camping out in the old Transvaal with a young Rider Haggard as his clerk. His favourite camping place was Magoebaskloof; it was he who first took John Buchan (later Lord Tweedsmuir) to the area. With its breathtaking scenery and romantic past, Magoebaskloof inspired Buchan to write Preseter John and other books.
World War 2 “The World at War” 1939 – 1945
The world was at war again, with most of the younger men in the armed forces, work was long and hard for those who ran the business. They hardly saw their families, but the high level of excitement kept them going.
During the war, the entire Greek Royal family sought refuge in South Africa; they were housed at Groote Schuur for a couple of years. During this time, General Jan Christiaan Smuts’ government provided King George with one of our luxury cars , a Buick limousine, car services were provided to other members of the family at various times. The whole family was very popular with our chauffeurs, who found each of them to be kind, considerate and appreciative.
With peace in 1945, visitors started traveling to South Africa again, the emphasis had switched to British businessmen who, tired of the continued rationing and restrictions of the socialist government, were seeking new beginnings in Africa to which they could apply and exercise their skills.
Legends of the stage also started seeing South Africa as a worthwhile destination, stars like Noel Coward, Ivor Novello and Richard Tauber became regular and popular customers.
Across Africa 1946 – 1959
In 1947, the formation of the South African Tourist Corporation (SATOUR) lent support to the company’s efforts to open up the greater southern Africa for tourism; this important period was destined to become the ‘Great Age of African Travel’.
The year 1947 saw the launch of a six day tour, the first of its kind, commencing in Johannesburg and including two nights in the Kruger Park, a beautiful and hair raising driver over Pigg’s Peak for a night in Mbabane, Swaziland, two nights at Hluhluwe Game Reserve, before ending in Durban.
Hluhluwe was the first of Natal’s game parks to be opened to visitors and Trans Africa Safaris was the first, and for several years, the only tour operator to include it in an itinerary. Initially, seven-seater cars were used to brave the bad roads on the route, but these were soon replaced by small coaches. These roads were initially viewed as a problem, but the slow travel they enforced gave tourists a better opportunity to appreciate the colourful African tribal life.
1947 also saw a small number of American visitors traveling to South Africa for the first time. Having had their traditional playground, Europe, closed to them for ten years through political unrest and war, African travel was bought as soon as it was offered and Trans Africa Safaris extended its area of operation as far north as Kenya.
This came about when two adventurous Englishmen asked to be driven from Cape Town to Kenya, through the Belgian Congo (Zaire), Central and East Africa. From this, Trans Africa Safaris developed the 52 day ‘Congo Safari’, all the way by road from South Africa, via Victoria Falls in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Nyasaland (Malawi), Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Uganda to Nairobi in Kenya.
For the first time in history, tourists had a close look at the mysteries and splendours of unexplored Africa. They were shown the Pygmies of the Ituri Forests, the giant Watussi of Ruanda (Rwanda), all the pageantry of tribal ceremonies and dances, the Great Lakes, the Mountains of the Moon, the Virunga Volcanoes that made ‘Pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night’, and big game of all kinds in untold profusion.
The Congo Safari soon established itself as the firm favourite amongst the more adventurous spirits and enquiring minds, over the next twelve years, thousands of people enjoyed the dramatic Cape Town to Nairobi journey.
In 1948, the company became the first member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) on the African continent; this was an achievement of note.
In 1959, Robert Murray continued to pioneer new destinations. This time he and Brian Paterson led an extensive safari around the South West Africa (Namibia) and Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. The tour, the first by an American group, ventured deep into the Kalahari Desert, at the time the sanctuary of the Bushmen, whose survival in such arid conditions is living proof of man’s ability to adapt to a harsh environment.
The Winds of Change 1960
From 1947 until 1960, visiting travellers were treated to the wonders of African travel, but two events brought this fascinating era to a sudden end. The first was a serious riot at Sharpeville, on 21 March 1960, about 32 km (20 miles) south of Johannesburg, The second, the independence of the Belgian Congo in June of the same year, was the prelude to a revolution that quickly put an end to the company’s Congo Safaris.
While these were the two major events that signalled the end of the Great Age of African travel and exploration, less obvious changes throughout Africa had been taking place for years.
The wonderful and highly popular indigenous costumes and ceremonies became more and more difficult to find as the local people sought to become more westernised and ‘civilised’. From 1957, one country after the other either closed its borders to tourists or hamstrung them with so many restrictions and regulations that they lost their appeal as travel destinations.
Against this background, World War II had done for the aeroplane what World War I did for the car. Air services soon connected our African cities and more and more tourists visited the continent seeking comfortable holidays and fewer tourists were looking for adventure. City to city hops became more popular than long, tedious overland journeys of yesteryear. The airport at Johannesburg replaced the harbour at Cape Town as the ‘Gateway to southern Africa’.
Yet it still remains one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, with Trans Africa Safaris still at the forefront.
Towards 2000 and Beyond
Brian Paterson’s career in travel and tourism began with Trans Africa Safaris/African Car Hire in March 1953, under Robert Murray – arguably the most outstanding tutor of his time.
Brian served on the board of SATOUR (South African Tourism Board) for several years and was one of the early pioneers promoting luxury travel from North America to Southern Africa.
Sadly, Brian passed away very suddenly on the 05 August 1993. The company today, is still owned and operated by the Paterson Family. The three daughters, Jennifer, Beverley and Lesley are actively involved in all aspects of the business.
Africa today is very different from the Africa of 40 years ago, travel destinations today are as different as the modes of transport, and above all this South Africa remains astonishingly beautiful and diverse, making it one of the worlds’s most sought after eco destinations. Trans Africa Safaris has adapted to these changes and continues to offer luxury, tailor made, inclusive touring and safaris throughout South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean Islands.
Trans Africa Safaris was the first approved ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) member on the African continent and is the preferred destination specialist in South Africa for a number of prestigious overseas travel consortia; Virtuoso (since 1987), Signature Travel Network (since 2003) and American Express – USA excluded (since 2013).
The bulk of the company’s business originates from the USA, but good support is also enjoyed from Canada, Mexico, South America, Belgium and Australia.
Trans Africa Safaris embraces a genuine commitment to service excellence. Knowledgeable, dedicated, passionate and experienced staff is on hand to provide a seamless, comprehensive and efficient experience – underpinned by prompt and professional service, a thorough understanding of the needs of the client and an in-depth of Southern Africa. With a network of professional partners throughout the region, clients can travel confident in the fact that they are never far from expert assistance and guidance of a strong support team.
A feature of the Trans Africa Safaris experience is quality guiding, personalized service, hands-on approach and involvement, and creative input offered to each customised tour.
Trans Africa Safaris was featured in Travel & Leisure’s September 2001 publication in an article titled “The World on a Platter”, wherein the company was identified as being an expert in providing tailor-made trips where creativity, personalized service and highly specialized offerings are the key ingredients.
The company was voted a finalist in 2012 and 2013 in the World Travel Awards – Best Luxury Tour Operator in South Africa.
Another noticeable achievement was being a finalist in 2012 and 2013 in the Cape Chamber of Commerce Exporter of the year competition.
The goal, since inception remains, “to create tours that are as much fun as they are educational and offer the finest services and accommodation available.”
Updated October 2014