My 10 day trip started in Cape Town, affectionally called “The Mother City”, which consistently features as one of the world’s top ten cities. Nestled next to Table Mountain, Cape Town is a clean, lively and cosmopolitan city. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a great place to shop, eat or just chill, in one of the trendy bars or cafes overlooking the sea.
The view of the ocean and the city from Table Mountain is stunning, but even more so if you are early enough to catch the sunrise. The wine regions of the Western Cape are just 45 minutes away and there are lots of charming bed and breakfasts to stay at whilst you sample the grapes!
My visit to Robben Island was moving and melancholic. The island was a prison during sad apartheid times, its most famous inmate of course, was Nelson Mandela. Our guide was a former prisoner himself, but as he told his story there was no bitterness, only a sense of progress and hope for the future. Certainly this was a very emotional day, and I felt privileged to be given a brief glimpse into the turbulent history of this country.
Leaving Cape Town we turned East towards the small village of Hermanus. Half of the world’s 78 species of whales and dolphins can be found in South Africa, and this small town offers the best land based viewing of the Southern Right Whales that swim in these waters from June to November.
The Garden Route, which starts in George and finishes at Port Elizabeth, takes you through many small towns. Knysna is one of them and overlooks a natural lagoon that can be explored by a paddle steamer, which circumnavigates the lagoon.
Knysna has an upmarket selection of shops and restaurants set around the pretty harbour front. A little further on lies Plettenberg Bay, a small quieter option with magnificent beaches. There are many other little villages along the Garden Route with a range from luxury hotels to guesthouses and lodges.
On arrival at Port Elizabeth, return the car and spend your last few days at Shamwari, a private game reserve, and set about spotting The Big Five (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo).
The accommodation here has that “Out of Africa” feel – the colonial and gracious Long Lee Manor, the ultra exclusive Eagle’s Cragg and my favourite, the luxury tents, Bayethe, which comes complete with air conditioning, private bathroom and a plunge pool (I could have done with a tent like that in Dorset last year!) Shamwari is also Malaria free.
Having never been on safari before I was amazed at how close we were able to get to animals that I’ve only ever seen through bars at the zoo. On our first afternoon drive we turned a corner to find a lion just lazing by the side of the track. He was so close that I am sure I could have reached out and touched him! Further along we found a herd of elephants on their way to the river for a drink. The drives last around three hours and all end with either breakfast or dinner with your ranger, at which you can enjoy reliving your close encounters!
The Born Free Foundation is here at Shamwari and is primarily involved in animal rescue. It’s nice to see animals who were once at death’s door, now living peacefully.
After just two nights, I had a dozen rolls of film (haven’t gone digital yet!), and memories that will last a lifetime. We left Shamwari and returned home via Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
Mountains, waterfalls, beaches, history and animals – South Africa really is “The World in One Country!”
Did you know?
Ostriches and zebras often live together to protect each other from predators. The ostrich can see better and the zebra can hear or smell danger better.