I have to say I was feeling excited as our plane took off from Heathrow, leaving behind a very British dark cold December night. I was Cape Town bound and going to spend the next few weeks working my way up through the winelands, Hermanus, the Karoo and the Garden Route before finishing on safari in the Eastern Cape and flying up to Madikwe for some more malaria free safari. I was being accompanied by my father, who spent his early twenties at university in Cape Town and the local area, and so was a useful addition to the trip. We spent the first few days in Cape Town, and began our trip with a drive round the beautiful Chapmans Peak Drive. This is well worth doing, driving through the charming coastal towns like Kalk Bay and seeing the spectacular Noordhoek Beach, with lots of places to stop and take in the views. I spent the morning viewing properties in Camps Bay, which was absolutely buzzing with the summer season in full flow, the restaurants were busy and the beach lively, all with the backdrop of Table Mountain behind you. We spent the afternoon in the Tamberskloof region which is a lovely central location to base yourself in, with Kloof Street being full of popular bars and restaurants for the evening and plenty of smart guesthouses to choose from.
We then headed inland to the winelands, where we indulged in too much good food, and my Dad enjoyed the delicious wine on offer. I of course abstained as I was on a serious work trip (well I perhaps dabbled in a bit of wine, you can’t come to Franschhoek and not have any wine!). There are an array of hotels, guesthouses and private villas to choose from in Franschhoek itself, as well as several very good wine estates in the surrounding area offering a more relaxed ‘escapist’ accommodation experience. We had a superb lunch at the Delaire Graff estate and my Dad particularly enjoyed the Mont Rochelle estate, making friends with the resident hotel cat while I was on my site inspection, after which we enjoyed a lovely wine and cheese tasting at their Country Kitchen.
Next stop was the coastal town of Hermanus. Unfortunately we had missed the whales, the main whale season is from June to November, but we did spend some time tricking ourselves into thinking various wave formations were whales breaching. It is a lovely town to spend some time in nonetheless, with some beautiful coastal walks, delicious seafood on offer and a lively seaside town feel to it.
We then went inland again and took to the road, the R62 to be exact, which is the most scenic road to drive up to the Garden Route. The wide roads are empty and a joy to drive on. We stopped in Swellendam on the way, and had lunch in the surreal Barrydale, in the middle of the Karoo, before heading onto Oudtshoorn. It’s a good place to break your journey, and there are a number of charming guesthouses located on ostrich farms, where you can try the delicious local delicacy.
We took some time off from site inspections and took a day to enjoy the scenic drive up the Swartberg Pass and back down the Meiringsport Pass with a lunchtime stop at a waterfall to cool off our toes in. We spent the next three nights along the Garden Route. There are three areas to choose from, you can either base yourself in a town – Knysna town and Plettenberg Bay are both great options, or you can choose to be in a lodge or country estate in the surrounding areas. The whole area is beautiful and there’s so much to keep you busy, such as walking, various animal sanctuaries, bungee jumping and canyoning for the adventurous, mooching around Knysna or Plettenberg towns, or visiting the wild stretches of coast. Storms River Mouth is a great place to spend the day. The whole area is a haven for families too, with children of all ages. We loved the sundowner drinks on Falcons View Manor verandah with beautiful views over the Knysna Lagoon, and had a wonderful dinner on the big sociable dinner table at Hog Hollow Country Lodge.
We then moved onto the safari portion of the trip and spent three nights on the game reserves of the Eastern Cape. An easy and straightforward few hours drive from the Garden Route, it is a logical addition to any Garden Route trip if you want to spend a few days on safari as part of your experience. We began our safari at River Bend Lodge in Addo Elephant National Park. The elephants were definitely the highlight here, they were extremely relaxed in their nature and plentiful, but my Dad also kept our brilliant guide busy spotting birds. River Bend certainly offers a relaxed and gentle safari experience, ideal for a family with young children. Among the other reserves, Kwandwe Game Reserve without doubt stood out on the Eastern Cape, with a real sense of vastness and remoteness that perhaps some of the other reserves lack. The game viewing is good, over my three nights on the Eastern Cape, we came across lion, elephant, cheetah, rhino and buffalo. Leopard proved more difficult to see and are rarely sighted in the Eastern Cape but despite this, a safari on the Eastern Cape is always going to be fruitful.
It was then a goodbye to my father at Johannesburg Airport as he begrudgingly flew home, and I took the convenient one hour light aircraft flight up to Madikwe Game Reserve, located north-west of Johannesburg and on the border with Botswana. It is an alternative malaria free safari destination to the Eastern Cape reserves and there are lodges to cater all needs, from the down to earth and welcoming Bush House and family friendly Tuningi and Madikwe Safari Lodges to the exclusive and exquisite Morukuru houses. Although it is not true wild and remote Africa, Madikwe certainly feels like it has a bit more of an edge to it than the Eastern Cape. The game viewing was excellent, especially elephant and rhino, and I got to see a brown hyaena for the first time. At Etali Safari Lodge, I fortunately peered outside my room as I was going to bed, and was greeted by a herd of elephant silently visiting the waterhole in front of my room. At the small and personal Bush House, during my site inspection, an elephant conveniently turned up at the waterhole while we were in their underground photographic hide, which offers a whole new perspective on these gentle giants.
South Africa is certainly a wonderful country, with dramatic scenery, friendly people, varied experiences, delicious food and wine, stylish and polished accommodation and offers such good value for money at the moment. It does offer that little bit more sophistication than elsewhere in Africa, and the opportunity to self-drive gives you that sense of independence and freedom to take the holiday at your own pace.
Frances stayed at the following properties – Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel, Maison Chablis Guest House, Auberge Clermont, Ocean Eleven Guest House, La Plume Guesthouse, Falcons View Manor, Lairds Lodge, Hog Hollow Country Lodge, River Bend Lodge, Kwandwe Great Fish River Lodge, Mark’s Camp, Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa, Etali Safari Lodge, Sanctuary Makanyane Safari Lodge and The Bush House.
Frances site inspected the The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa, 3 on Camps Bay, Sea Five Boutique Hotel, Acorn House, 2inn1 Kensington, Derwent House, The Cellars-Hohenort, Steenberg Hotel & Spa, River Manor Boutique Hotel and Spa, Angala Boutique Hotel and Guest House, Delaire Graff Estate, Le Quartier Francais, Leeu House, La Fontaine Guest House, La Clé des Montagnes, The Last Word Franschhoek, La Residence, Mont Rochelle, Schulphoek Guest House, Auberge Burgundy, The Marine Hotel, Birkenhead House, Mosselberg on Grotto Beach, Lavender Manor, Rothman Manor, Rosenhof Country House, De Denne Country Guest House, Villa Afrikana, Candlewood Lodge, Leisure Isle Lodge, Tsala Treetop Lodge, Hunter’s Country Lodge, The Robberg Beach Lodge, Periwinkle Guest Lodge, Starfish Guest Lodge, The Plettenberg Hotel, Tarn Country House, Kurland, Kichaka Lodge, Shamwari Game Reserve, The Syrene Boutique Hotel, AtholPlace Hotel, Four Seasons Westcliff Hotel, Madikwe Hills, Molori Safari Lodge, Madikwe Safari Lodge, Jaci’s Safari Lodge, Morukuru Houses, Jamala Madikwe, Tuningi Safari Lodge and Impodimo Game Lodge.