Sun City - out of this worldIndoors or outdoors, luxury or back to nature, Sun City offers a remarkable experience, as Roger St. Pierre reveals after accompanying an ITCM fam trip to Sun City hosted by Sun International Hotels and the DMC, Into Africa
South Africa’s long-standing claim to offer “the whole world in one country” is no idle boast, for this is a land of infinite variety where the conference and incentive organiser’s biggest problem is one of choice.
Huge, purpose-built resorts, even of the more luxurious kind, have a tendency to be impersonal and plastic. Not so at South Africa’s Sun City showcase venue, justly billed ‘Africa’s Kingdom of Pleasure’, which is located an easy couple of hours’ and 167 km drive from Johannesburg’s fast expanding O R Tambo International Airport.
Yes, the flight from the UK took 10 hours but with just a one-hour time difference there were no jet lag issues for the group of event managers ITCM accompanied on a fam trip ably hosted by Sun International, the Wimbledon-based GMC (Global Marketing Connections) sales and marketing organisation and the personable and highly-efficient Cape Town-based ground handlers, Into Africa.
Checking in under the vast canopy of the stunning Palace of the Lost City hotel’s towering dome, the only possible reaction was ‘wow!’ even from me – and I was there for the third time.
Themed after a mythical lost African civilisation, this is a venue so diverse in its offering that repeat visits still excite. It’s also the epitome of high-end opulence, with 338 rooms and suites, reaching a zenith with the amazing King Suite, which is furnished with some 800 individual handcrafted items.
The whole resort is African-jungle and bush-themed but there’s nothing kitsch about the way the effect has been created. Occupancy was at close on 100%, but where were the crowds? Nowhere to be seen. Here’s a place where everyone can find their own space.
The roominess and sense of style of the accommodations match the spaciousness of the public areas and, given the absence of rampaging hordes of kids, it seemed difficult to credit that Sun City isn’t just Africa’s premier conference and incentive resort but has a huge family market too – and that’s a fact.
The ability for delegates to enjoy a mass of diversions without, well, being diverted from the task at hand is one of Sun City’s great USPs.
More than one hotel
Besides the top-end Palace, whose grounds and facilities are available to residents only, there’s the original 340-bedroom Sun City Hotel, the 243-room Cascades in its luxuriant garden setting and the 380 rooms of The Cabanas, set close by the lake and which is more family orientated.
There are various spacious swimming pools and a wide choice of restaurants across the resort.
We dined regally on our arrival night at the Palace Hotel’s breathtakingly elegant Villa del Palazzo VIP fine dining restaurant, sampling the inspired signature dishes of Michelin-star chef Conrad Gallagher. In contrast, but equally superb, Santorini, located within the Cascades Hotel, presented us with a thoroughly modern take on traditional Greek taverna food – the most wholesome of fresh ingredients, simply prepared so the natural flavours could work their magic.
Ah! – we also sampled the magnificent breakfast buffet spread at the Palace, with an amazing selection that ranged from fresh oysters and various local specialities to succulent roast duck, not forgetting the more internationally traditional bacon, sausage and eggs offerings.
With one sweep of the eye, I must have spotted at least 80 different items tempting my taste buds and, even more important, everything was perfectly fresh – adding up, without exaggeration, to my best hotel start to the day in half a century of travelling!
The resort with a 125,000-acre game park
The resort’s location right next door to the glorious Pilansberg National Park – some 50,000 hectares of pristine natural beauty – meant any travel weariness was immediately swept away as we set off on a game drive and visit to the elephant sanctuary on our very first day, straight after check-in. The park boasts the famed ‘Big Five’ – lions, leopards, white and black rhino, elephant and buffalo, as well as giraffes, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, cheetahs and an array of antelope that had cameras clicking continuously.
Getting to know the vast Sun City complex entailed a site inspection masked as a team building exercise, during which I unfortunately took a spill while negotiating some stepping-stones. That the medical services were on the spot and had me all bandaged up within minutes speaks well for the discreet yet ever present high standards of customer care.
While I licked my wounds, we ended the morning with a splendid pre-arranged picnic lunch on the spacious lawns that sweep down to a huge lake, where the abundant water-sports activities include such distractions as banana boats, bumper boats, speedboats, pedaloes, water-skiing and parascending.
There’s never a shortage of things to do at Sun City, for groups and individuals alike.
Golf and adventure
Key are the two truly scenic golf courses, the desert-style par-72 Lost City layout and the par-72 championship Gary Player course, a world-class challenge centred on the Gary Player Country Club & Spa, with its wide range of pampering health and beauty treatments.
Each year, the Gary Player course hosts the Nedbank Golf Challenge, with its US$2m purse. It’s an 18-hole walking course, with a 5-km running trail alongside. Designed by Player, the Lost City is an 18-hole cart course, replete with that luxurious clubhouse and set a short stroll from the Palace. Its headline feature is a water hazard of 20 live Nile crocodiles on the 13th hole.
For those who enjoy a flutter, Sun City’s two casino areas now have smoking and non-smoking sections. There are 268 slot machines available within the Entertainment Center’s Jungle Casino while 333 slot machines plus blackjack, American roulette, poker and punto banco tables await in the Sun City Hotel Casino, This venue has a salon privé, where bets are higher and the exclusive International Room where high rollers play for stratospheric stakes.
You might need a roll of the dice to decide where to eat in the Entertainment Center, which has seafood, steak and pizza and pasta restaurants as well as a food court featuring such brands as Nando’s, Juicy Lucy, London Pie, Wimpy, The Raj and Little Leonardo’s.
A central feature of The Lost City since Sun City first opened as a guest enterprise located on tribal homelands, the Valley of the Waves remains one of the most advanced water parks in the world. It is dominated by the 6,500 sqm (7,560 sq yd) Roaring Lagoon wave pool, with a palm-fringed beach and 1.8 metre (67ft 8in) surfer-style artificially-created waves.
There are also five exhilarating flume rides, including the aptly named Tower of Courage, a challenge for the bravehearts of your group, featuring a heart-stopping drop of 17 metres (57 ft), part of it sheer, down a 70 metre (233 ft) chute! The main Royal Bath pool at the Valley of the Waves overlooks an amphitheatre that can accommodate up to 800 delegates.
Wellies meet Riverdance!
The Sun City Outdoor Adventure Center, catering for groups small and large, will surely appeal to your more competitive delegates and guests. It offers clay-pigeon shooting, archery and the great fun communal music activities of its Drumming Company, with interactive percussion lessons using traditional African instruments. Another great participant offering is gumboot dancing, which originated among Johannesburg’s deep shaft gold miners. It’s like Wellies meet Riverdance!
The centre’s team-building programmes incorporate industrial and clinical psychology services, focusing on such areas as team spirit; effective communication; shared responsibility; alignment of purpose; participative management, and utilisation of individual skills, along with a final survey and needs analysis.
Wide range of MICE facilities
There’s also a wide selection of meeting spaces available across the resort, which can host a convention for as many as 4,300 people but is also perfectly geared to small and medium-sized groups.
Within the Entertainment Center, The Hall of Treasures has two areas, separated by three shallow steps and the Magical Rock Garden. It can accommodate a cocktail function for 700. Also in the Entertainment Center, the Pilanesberg Room can hold up to 800 for cocktails or 600 seated at round tables for a banquet. It can also be divided in two. The promenade level Royal Ballroom can host a 1,200 participant conference or feed a banquet for 800 while the centre also has 13 breakout rooms for from 10 to 90 people.
Sun City is home to the Superbowl, South Africa’s premier venue for sports, entertainment and product launches. Boasting the country’s most state-of-the-art sound and lighting facilities, this covered venue can accommodate a standing audience of 10,500 or 6,855 seated.
Sub-division can offer flexibility at the Sun City Hotel’s Baobab, Acacia and Jacaranda conference rooms, which are able to host 650 for cocktails or 350 theatre-style.
Over at The Palace, the Royal Chamber is a double-volume area suitable for a 120-attendee conference or an 80-guest banquet, while the Protea and Orchid rooms hold 80 in comfortable cinema-style seating.
The view is outstanding from the Baobab Outlook, set behind the Palace’s sun deck. This is a glorious outdoor venue for up to 110 for a seated buffet dinner or 150 for a cocktail event.
The township experience
Then there’s Sun City’s own Shebeen, a traditional township-style food and drink venue where, all in the cause of research, we sampled disgusting tasting caterpillars and even more vile fermented sorghum beer!
Nor does your group need to be confined by Sun City’s gates. Nearby is the Letsatsing Game Park’s Elephant Wallow, with its thatched restaurant providing bush dinners and lunch barbecues and the friendly elephants providing the entertainment.
Tribal culture takes the stage at the Cultural Village, which can provide an African ethnic themed evening for up to 80 seated.
More of the real flavour of this magical continent can be indulged in at Botsalanong Boma and Letsatsing Boma, open-air banqueting venues where huge bonfires crackle and traditionally garbed tribes people sing and dance under a magical canopy of stars.
A wonderful offsite option is to do as we did and head off on dirt roads to a game camp at Vaalkop, deep in the national park.
On the way, the Into Africa team took us to visit a local village school that has been the beneficiary of previous events through which corporates have learned of the lives and difficulties faced by the friendly local community and have subsequently chosen to put into place generous corporate social responsibility programmes.
In the park, your group can enjoy a very special inter-action with a pack of endangered wild dogs, an animal rarely seen in its natural habitat these days.
The campsite itself was set beside a placid lake and amidst a wealth of wildlife, with rhinos, antelope, exotic birds and other species providing a wonderful back-to-nature experience.
I can’t think of many venues around the world that could pack so much variety – from 5-star elegance to campfire camaraderie – into just three days. But our South African adventure had one more unique experience to offer – a visit to Forum Homini, described by its brochure as offering ‘Luxury living in the cradle of mankind’.
It was at this very spot, some 4m years ago, that the expanding savannah stimulated the evolution of humanity and where, according to genetic research, the mother of all our mothers gave birth to our species.
The conference and special functions package here includes a cinema-seating style function room for 80, an executive board room and a private dining room for 20, as well as 12 luxury suites, a magnificent presidential suite and a honeymoon suite.
The food was outstanding, the fossil displays fascinating and the mere thought of being at the epicentre of the cradle of mankind mind-blowing.
But what set the seal on a wonderful experience and a great visit to a fantastic country was the presence at our lunch of the highly respected American anthropologist Professor Lee Berger, who not only enthralled us with his insights on how our world began but reminded us that: ‘Wherever on this planet we now live, we are all of us African by descent – so, welcome home to you all!’
What the buyers had to say
First rate facilities
An incentives organiser based in High Wycombe commented after the trip to Sun City: ‘Free falling down the Temple of Courage water tube was an ultimate adrenalin rush. But there’s also plenty at Sun City for groups with a less physically content. The meeting facilities and the entertainments are first rate.’
Theming and value for money
A conference organiser based in Newmarket expressed her excitement after enjoying so much of what Sun City has to offer. ‘It is a destination’, she said,
No programme problem
One member of the Fam Trip probably expressed what everyone felt by saying: ‘No matter how long a stay a group might have at Sun City, I cannot imagine them running out of ideas for things to do, either for a leisure programme added to a conference or a pure incentive.
‘There are sports, fun activities and entertainments, Africa’s unforgettable flora and fauna and great food and service’.
No problem for blue chip clients
‘I’d have no hesitation bringing the most blue-chip of my clients here,’ said a Midlands-based event organiser.’ Whilst on the trip he made a call to a client company who was seeking a venue on the grand scale, in order to describe the facilities he had been offered by Sun City.
For brochures, quotes and further details on Sun City, contact Victoria Malim, Marketing Manager, MICE UK & Ireland, by phoning 01491 419 600