New venue for 2017 race –
The South Africa Million Dollar Pigeon race has stood the test of time. Other races have come and have gone. Many have tried to imitate or surpass, but they have all, so far, failed to take its unprecedented title away. The South Africa Million Dollar Pigeon race is ‘The Greatest One Loft Pigeon Race on Earth’.
This year will commemorate the 21st Anniversary of this prestigious race and also the beginning of a new exciting challenge for the team. The race has been moved to the Exclusive Heron Banks Golf and River Estate. This is situated in a tranquil location on the banks of the beautiful Vaal River near Sasolburg, to the South of Johannesberg.
I recently had the unique opportunity to visit and report on the new loft set up at Heron Banks, the Complex at Emerald Casino Resort and also to interview Mrs Sara Blackshaw the Director of Air Sport Internationale, the organisers of the South Africa Million Dollar Pigeon Race.
On leaving O R Tambo International Airport, I very quickly left the hustle and bustle of city life behind me and began to pass through the magnificent countryside that constitutes the Highveld plateau.
The drive from the airport takes about one hour to the resort and quickly you start to sense a real flavour of the natural beauty of this South African countryside. Kilometre after Kilometre, the landscape, as far as the eye can see is occupied by rolling plains of cereal grasslands and grazing beef cattle.
When I first arrived at the Emerald Casino Resort situated in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng Province, I was immediately struck by how the complex had taken full advantage of its location situated on the banks of the Vaal River. It was clear to see that conservation is the primary objective within the picturesque surroundings of this area of such outstanding natural beauty.
To get a sense of exactly where the resort is situated in proximity to the pigeons. It is directly on the opposite side of the river to the lofts, which are approximately only 500 metres away.
Over the next couple of days I managed to explore and compile a report on the complex.
The on site accommodation varies in choice: The Emerald hotel, spacious Timber Safari Lodges and the River Lodge Chalets.
The 4 star Emerald Hotel accommodation in my opinion has an exclusive and luxurious feel. The hotel and rooms are rich in craft, colour, texture and décor and really seem to give a sense of bringing wild Africa alive.
The Safari Lodges, where I stayed, are nestled neatly away in a completely natural but fully secured environment. They give a feeling of the great outdoors and also a remarkable resemblance to where I stayed in lodges of similar build and design in the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya.
The River Resort chalets are situated close to the banks of the Vaal River, air-conditioned, comfortable and a great way to relax and unwind in the evenings after the busy Million Dollar weekend schedule.
I also had the opportunity to explore the resort. There are several buffet restaurants and bars on site including; The Casino ‘High Steaks’ restaurant for gourmet cuisine and fine wines, Breeze, a family friendly environment with a wide variety of meals, live entertainment and stunning views across the river. Plus, The Sports Bar which offers an American style menu with big screen sports viewing. The onsite Casino offers 24 hour 365 days of the year entertainment.
A full range of activities are also available within the Casino Complex. These include bush braais, spa treatments, river cruises at sunset or on board the ‘Liquid Lounge’, the swimming pool and leisure centre ‘Aquadome’, plus other sports and recreation activities such as wall climbing, adventure golf and ten pin bowling to name a few. Great for the whole family.
To the far end of the resort, near to the River Lodge Chalets is ‘Animal World’. Created by the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, this zoo and animal park also incorporates a game drive. With over 500 birds, reptiles and animals, a perfect morning or afternoons fun.
Situated just outside the resort, in fact less than a ten minute drive away, is a picturesque riverside area named Stonehaven. It is described as ‘an experience to remember’. Stonehaven is perfect for lunches or evening meals with a wide variety of terraced dining options. Boat cruises from Stonehaven harbour are plentiful and beautiful strolls around the 10 acres of tendered gardens or down along the meandering river will pass a very pleasant morning, afternoon or evening. Well worth a visit.
In summary my overall opinion of the resort and the surrounding area is that the 21 year experience of the Million Dollar Race team have culminated in bringing fanciers, their families and their friends together in this, the ultimate of venues.
The team have managed, I feel, to bring a unique special togetherness, and this will create an atmosphere that will be very hard to surpass. The idyllic location, I feel will augment the very best of all the previous races and venues into one, and with it capture the true spirit of the race within the superb natural surroundings of the Estate and the Resort.
I was also very fortunate to spend a few days in the company of Mrs Sara Blackshaw, Director of Air Sport Internationale. Sara had a very busy schedule of meetings with her race team, as well as meetings with the hotel, venue, catering and function staff. I did however manage to get to chat to Sara, the lady behind all the cogs that turn this massive wheel that make this race such a sophisticated global success.
Sara’s vision and determination and her attention to the smallest of details came across to me as very apparent. Her concise planning and focused vision of how she perceives the event to unfold was very clear to see.
Sara’s vast experience, knowledge and resourceful imagination left me with a great sense of excitement as she continued to finalise the planning of all the daytime functions, the evening entertainment, the river cruises, the welcome and final race presentation evening functions and all the catering and hosting that goes in hand in hand. In fact the planning is such that this years visitors will be left wanting for very little, if anything at all!
I had the opportunity to ask Sara some questions:
Firstly I asked Sara what made her move location to this resort. Sara explained that she “wanted the race and the visitors to experience a true taste of South Africa and also provide the pigeons with the ultimate in loft design and move the race up to the next generation of One loft experiences”.
I asked Sara why she thought the race had been such a continued success for the last 21 years, largely unchallenged as the Ultimate race on earth; Sara replied, “The team is very dynamic, and in the main, very consistent with many of the original staff still present today”. Sara added “We have never been worried about trying out new ideas, new venues, new methods or systems with the birds, and have always strived in trying to better what we had previously achieved”. Sara continued, “The challenges and pressures that we put upon ourselves, individually and as a team, drives us forward and makes us focus on the high expectations that we aim to surpass each year”.
I asked Sara about the new loft; Sara replied, “The loft design is unique and state of the art, set in an idyllic location with no buildings, wires, obstacles or distractions for acres around. The loft is situated on the Herons Bank Golf and River Resort and has been designed and built specifically with 21 years experience in one loft racing behind us. It is exciting to feel that The Herons Bank Golf and River Estate and Emerald Casino Resort will satisfy our desires and needs for years to come”. Sara added, “We shall be compiling a loft report for press release over the next few weeks right through from the loft construction to the pigeons being welcomed to their new home”.
I asked Sara about the race weekend and accommodation, Sara replied, “The race weekend this year will start a day earlier. A host of functions including BBQ’s, a river cruise, golf, fishing, river rafting, evening entertainment around the pool, passes to the main exhibition hall and presentation evening etc, will all be combined in a special package that’s being offered. The SAMDPR have privatised the main hotel venue for the duration of the race weekend offering a full package for either a three or four night stay. However, there is limited accommodation on site and bookings will be taken on a first come first served basis”.
My concluding remarks are simply full of admiration and compliments for the 21st SAMDPR. Sara and her team have the vision, they certainly have the enthusiasm, and are able to bring their knowledge and understanding of our needs as fanciers, of our needs as friends and of our needs as competitors to make sure this race will continue to thrive and go from strength to strength for a very long time to come.
Get booked, get ready, this is going to be a truly memorable and exciting start to the next generation of ultimate one loft racing experiences. In my opinion, The South Africa Million Dollar Race has just become ‘The Even Greater One Loft Pigeon Race on Earth’. I welcome you along with the team to the 21st Million Dollar Pigeon Race.
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