We arrived at Plettenberg Bay late afternoon and were struck by its beauty and lack of tourist development. There are some hotels but they are obscured from view in this photo. The bay is fairly windswept but is fine for sun bathing. A bar/restaurant nestles at the base of the promontory at the base of the sand bar. Simple but nice food was enjoyed over a lazy lunch which also gave us one of the best experiences of our life. While we were eating a school of maybe 6 dolphins swam into the bay and spent about 45 minutes surfing the waves up to nearly the beach. Of course they are inside the waves but they obviously liked the exhilarating ride. Maybe they also enjoyed the view! We had an incredible view of them surfing in and swimming back out and were only 200m away from us. Sadly, I only had my iPhone and it’s not good enough to see much. Our waiter seemed to think we’d enjoyed a rare treat to see so many. Special. The walk out along the sand bar is well worth it.
Day 18 – 21/3 – Rest
We had a couple of rainy days during our stay but we consoled ourselves by staying in our room overlooking the bay and chilling. It wasn’t cold though.
Review : Plettenberg Bay Hotel. We stayed here for 5 nights in March 2016. It’s a luxury hotel for couples and we were fortunate enough to have booked one of the best rooms with a corner aspect overlooking the pool bay and ocean. The hotel felt more like staying at a rich friends’ beach-side villa with lovely public rooms and a nice restaurant. Breakfast was delightful and a lot of locals seemed to dine there in the evening. Our experience of the dinner was ok but perhaps we were a bit jaded. The staff were excellent, friendly and enthusiastic. Overall the hotel manages that rare thing only the best can do – make you feel at home.
Day 19 – 22/3 – Explore
Having the hire car at our disposal made exploring the area a lot easier. There are quite a few different activities to do around here including nature/game reserves, hiking, zip wires, boat rides etc. We just wanted to potter about and having just been to the Kruger were definitely safari’d out.
Knysna is a nice town to visit. Originally a port for wood logging – before they were all cut down, presumably for the ships visiting Cape Town. It has a fresh clapperboard feel to it that, coupled with the marina, is very relaxing. There are plenty of nice touristy shops in the Waterfront area and a range of good restaurants too.
Day 20 – 23/3 – Explore
Lunch at the East Head Cafe, overlooking the inlet to Knysna Bay, was highly recommended and we weren’t disappointed. Hour-long queues showed us how popular it is, so we booked a table and spent an enjoyable hour walking along a cliff-side nature trail
Their signature cocktail the Pink Hibiscus Gin & Tonic is a must for any man comfortable with his sexuality.
Day 21 – 24/3 – Explore
Noetzie Beach is part of a game reserve and is reached from the main road by a several mile long track leading to the adjacent game reserve. There is a small car park from where you can walk down the fairly long set of steps to the beach. There are a handful of very upmarket villas for rent – well a couple actually look like castles – and the beach is beautiful.
Officially, the Garden Route starts at Mossel Bay and ends just past Plettenberg Bay en-route to Port Elizabeth. However most people will consider the journey as starting from Cape Town. It’s a fantastic driving route. Travel is on good roads with plenty of towns and service stations to stop for rest and replenishment.
Day 13 – Depart Cape Town for Drive to Franschhoek
First stop from Cape Town is Franschhoek.
We randomly chose to visit the Simonsig Wine Farm near Stellanbosch on our journey toward Franschhoek. We didn’t bother with the wine tasting but we did taste the wine over lunch. Very nice wine and a fantastic lunch. One of the best fillet steaks we have had world-wide and we have travelled a lot. Nothing fancy just a really really good tender beef full of flavour and perfectly cooked.
Following lunch we had a leisurely drive of under an hour to Franschhoek and the eponymous hotel. We decided we would have quiet night in spoilt a bit by naff room-service food.
Review : Le Franschhoek Originally we were going to spend three nights in Paarl at the Grand Roche. We decided to change and stay in Franschhoek. Because of the late change we could not get our first choice hotel for all three nights. So for the first night we stayed at the Le Franschhoek. We were disappointed. This is a tired hotel much in need of updating. The staff were sort of friendly but not really helpful and I was put off by the parking porter asking for a tip. Charging for wi-fi in-room is also a no-no in my opinion especially when your are paying a good price. It probably had a major remodel in the 80’s with a further refresh about 2010. A lick of paint, new carpets and changing the bathroom taps is not enough. We stayed in room 11 from memory. The bed was one of the most uncomfortable hotel beds I have slept on with a wooden frame and wooden slats for the mattress to lay on. The slats didn’t reach the bottom of the bed so when you sat on the end it collapsed. The bathroom was clean but tatty with a too narrow bath. I said to my wife ‘it’s not too bad apart from the uncomfortable bed and tatty bathroom is it?’ and her reply was ‘well… what’s more important in an hotel than the bed and the bathroom?’ Buffet breakfast nothing cooked to order.To top it off the checkout time was 10am and they wanted to charge 10 quid for every hour after! For the price: avoid.
Day 14 – 17/3 Explore
Following breakfast we drove the short distance into town and spent an interesting half an hour visiting Le Huguenot Memorial which is dedicated to the life and works of the Hugenots escaping persecution for 16th century France. Happily, they brought the first vines seen in South Africa’s Western Cape with them.
Our discovery of the Franschhoek Motor Museum was a very pleasant surprise. The museum is well worth a visit and takes about an hour. Notably: Nelson Mandela’s bullet proof 7-Series BMW post leaving Robben Island but pre-presidency.
Had lunch in the high street at The French Connection. Quite good food with a nice vibe.
We checked in at the Last Word, billed as the best place to stay in Franschhoek (By Trip Advisor at least) and we were not disappointed.
Review : The Last Word – A luxurious bed & breakfast tucked away in the high street sporting no more than 8 delightful rooms. We were made very welcome and they could not have been more helpful. Despite an 1pm check-in they made sure we were ok recommended somewhere for a lazy lunch and by the time we got back about 3pm our room (5) was available. And very nice it was too. Large elegantly decorated with a small walled terrace, great bathroom, plenty of storage and a comfy bed! Breakfast was excellent with the best pork sausages I’ve had in a long time but let down by over cooked eggs and a complete inability to make hollandaise sauce. To be fair, it was at least homemade. Thoroughly recommended.
Dinner at the Dutch East Restaurant. We sat outside but the wind was up and so a bit chilly. Food was ok, as was the service.
Day 15 – 18/3 – Explore
Had a look round the shops in Franschhoek and a couple of nice art galleries. We then drove back to Stellanbosch, a university town, for a look round. It’s got a large village green with a few artisanal temporary shops around it but little else worth mentioning.
Lunch at Tokara wine farm. In England this would be at least a 2 Michelin star restaurant with a really innovative and delicious local produce menu at incredible prices. I had Carpaccio rainbow trout baked Alaska with trout ice-creamfollowed by Springbok fillet, turmeric croquette and banana ice-cream. Amazing.
Dinner at the Reubens restaurant in Franschhoek was quite good but if you want really good food have lunch at the vineyards.
To be honest, I think we stayed a day too long, but the vineyards and their lunches did just about compensate for the lack of things to do.
Day 16 – 19/3 Drive to Swellendam
We hummed and hawed about what next to do. Should we drive to Hermanus and climb in to a metal cage and look at the Great White Sharks? Or should we drive down to L’Agulhas the southern-most tip of the African continent? A bit of research showed we needed to stay the night before in order to get the early departing boat out to the shark area. There weren’t any nice hotels available and I was feeling a bit iffy about the whole shark thing anyway. The decision was made when we looked at a YouTube video of some guests climbing in and out of the cage: they all looked so miserable. So L’Agulhas here we come!
Franschhoek is settled in the hills and to east you have to drive up to the mountain pass – 750m Alt. – followed by a steep twisting drive down to the plains below. It’s beautiful.
L’Agulhas is a windswept frontier town with two or three half-decent pubs (we had an ok lunch at the Seagulls) but the main event is the rocky headland of the southern most point of the African continent. Approached by a sandy lane through tall grasses the point is a really beautiful spot. We spotted a tortoise walking slowly across the track minding it’s own business too.
There is a nice raised board-walk taking you to the point while protecting the dunes underneath.
Below is the monument that defines the point between the two oceans : The Atlantic and the Indian. So pleased we took the time to visit here. Really special.
If you have a half hour to spare after leaving L’Agulhas take a small detour and drive through the small coastal village of Arniston with it’s quaint dutch-style cottages.
We then retraced our drive and headed on to Swellendam which is a clean and crisp farming town with little to boast about but still strangely nice.
Review : Rothmans Manor. We checked in at the Rothmans Manor B&B tucked away on the main road into town. Owned by a delightful German couple who’s love of gardening and careful attention to detail has produced a calm oasis of rooms overlooking grounds that seem to attract songbirds. I was told that a bit of sugar in the water helped too! They even keep a few Zebra and Kudu. Nice, interesting and clean rooms with comfy beds followed by an excellent breakfast the next day. It’s a great place to break your journey on the Garden Route. You might be reluctant to leave.
Day 17 – 20/3 Depart Swellendam – Drive
Our journey to Plettenberg Bay continued with the rolling plains that turned to wooded hills as we reached the coast. We stopped for lunch at an average beachside bar at Mossel Bay. Mossel is a budget holidaymakers resort but had its attractions.
As we drove from Mossel Bay (the official start of the Garden Route) we noticed the townships straddling the dual carriageway at some junctions. The inhabitants run across the road without much thought for their personal safety so drive carefully.
Day 05 – 8/3 Arrive JNB. Transfer to Pretoria Sheraton and check-in
We took The Blue Train (http://www.bluetrain.co.za/) from Pretoria to Cape Town. It’s an early start with departure at 8am. Helpfully The Blue Train will book you the previous night at the nearby Pretoria Sheraton at no extra charge. They also include a free transfer from the hotel to the station.
The Pretoria Sheraton is the obvious hotel to stay in the night before boarding The Blue Train as the train ticket includes a complementary over-night stay there.
Review : The Sheraton was everything you would expect it to be. On the plus side comfortable bed, clean fresh bathroom, reasonable food, good prices. On the minus side the slightly impersonal feel of a business hotel. On the whole; good.
I ventured out to an ATM but felt a bit intimidated so was given an escort by the concierge – the smallest guy in the world – down to the local supermarket. Don’t go to a normal ATM we’ve been told it’s not safe. Other than that we did not go out and we would not have done so without being part of an organised tour.
Day 06 – 9/3 – Train
06:45 Transfer to Pretoria Station from hotel (booked via hotel)
An early start with coach or taxi taking you to a nice private check-in room at Pretoria Station where you will be served beverages. In fact, we had in-room breakfast at the hotel delivered at 06:15.
When you climb aboard the train it’s like stepping back 70 years into a world resplendent with beautiful warm woods, elegant brass fittings and stone surfaces. Every carriage is air-conditioned and there is only really one word to describe it: luxury.
We boarded the train about 08:30 and rendezvoused in the cocktail bar 15 minutes late for our first glass of champagne!
We were informed by the train manager that there had been a derailment so train’s route was changed and unfortunately we would not be able to stop at the Kimberly mines later that afternoon, which was a bit of a disappointment but we didn’t mind that much as there was a very friendly international crowd on the train and it promised to be good fun.
While the train slowly meandered through the outskirts of Pretoria and the Johannesburg we got ready for lunch. All the food we had on the train was excellent as good as the best meals we experienced of South Africa.
An excellent wine list too. After lunch we had a well-earned snooze which took us through to the late afternoon. The train manager, as mentioned earlier, was very chatty and happy to tell us the story of when he met Nelson Mandela.
Backed up with a photo mind as I’m sure many more said they met Mandela than actually did but then I can be cynical sometimes. Back in 1997 when the train had just had a complete overhaul bringing it to it’s current splendour, Mandela and his entourage had taken the inaugural journey from Pretoria to Cape Town. The manager was back then a mere butler but he was very proud of buttling for Mandela.
Note: I really want a Mandela style shirt but could I find one?
Dress for dinner was strictly smart and gentlemen were expected to wear a jacket and tie. Well, I had the jacket but as I don’t have a proper job anymore and the only time I wear a tie is at weddings and funerals, I didn’t have one. Don’t worry the on-board shop would sell a gaudy blue Blue Train tie for £20 or if that’s not for you they are happy to lend you one.
It’s worth noting that the Blue Train website is pretty uninformative and should be improved.
Dinner was a grand affair. There is something fascinatingly luxurious about fine dining while watching the world glide silently by. Our suite, having been turned from a drawing room into a bedroom, was too inviting for a late night at the bar. Sleeping on a train on a comfy bed is an interesting experience. The gentle rocking is very soporific but this only works on the flat. As soon as the train met an incline or an angled turn I found myself tensing. After experimenting, it seemed lying face down with legs spread widely apart was the best way to combat it.
The morning brought us a delicious english breakfast, glorious sunshine and a seemingly never ending view of scrub desert. Meet the Karoo.
Thousands of square miles of virtual nothingness split in two by the Swartberg mountain range and, until recent times, a virtually impenetrable barrier to Cape Town.
A quick stop off to refuel 100 miles from Cape Town gave us the chance to stretch our legs.
On our approach to Cape Town we were introduced to our first township: a humbling experience.
Our final arrival in Cape Town was very straight forward and were safely met by our transfer. The wonderful crew left you feeling like you were saying goodbye to good friends.
The experience is very much about the train, not the country it is travelling through. It’s a fantastic experience but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Maybe in another country….
Day 07 – 10/3 Arrive Cape Town – 12 noon
Transfer from Railway Station to hotel (book with hotel in advance)
Check-in Queen Victoria Hotel – Victoria & Albert Waterfront
Day 07 – 10/3 Arrive Cape Town – 12 noon
Transfer from Railway Station to hotel
Check-in Queen Victoria Hotel booked through Expedia
Cape Town – What a fantastic place! We spent five full days here and felt we still had places to see. It’s a wonderful, vibrant melange of cultures full of hope and excitement – like the rest of South Africa. This is a windy hot city! lovely warm winds regularly gust up to 40 knots and give the whole area a fresh smell and clarity of vision that is very special. Make sure to put your suntan lotion on!
The Waterfront area in the refurbished docks is alive with bars, restaurants, shops and fast food joints. It has a great buzz combined with fantastic views of Table Mountain and the marinas. It is a secure area so can be considered safe any time of the day or night. Don’t expect fine-dining in the Waterfront, it’s more what you’d expect to get in a big British town plus a ‘holiday chic’ appeal. Warning: the fish will be massively over cooked and covered in sickly sweet sauces. I’m sure Cape Town has better food to offer but we didn’t find it or particularly look for it on this occasion. What is worth trying is Cape Malay food. The dutch brought slaves from Malaysia to staff there provisioning port – Cape Town – in the 17th Century and they brought their culinary skills with them. Cape Malay food is mild curry often served with banana.
The best of the Waterfront restaurants is Bakara – serving very nice Asian Indian sushi fusion – situated on the first floor of the mall with great views of the harbour. Avoid Seruga – we were told it was really good but we were very disappointed.
Shopping at the Waterfront is very good with shops from Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street present. There’s even a Hamleys! A handful of tourist shops to buy some memorabilia are there too. A better place to go is the market on the harbour of Hout Bay (see below). We thought the most fascinating item was decorated ostrich eggs.
The Waterfront is a completely rejuvenated section of the old port which was instigated after the new nearby container port was created. It still is an active port and well worth a quick boat tour.
If you are young at heart, like loud clubby music and not too bothered about fine cuisine go to the Grand Cafe & Beach for an excellent beach vibe. It’s full of young wealthy local professionals and could be in Ibiza or Majorca.
Day 08 – 11/3
Hop on hop off bus tour.
Lunch at the Codfather in Camp Bay
We decided to explore the city and local area and by far the best way of doing this is buying tickets for a hop-on hop-off tourist bus service.
We chose the City Sight Seeing company, you can buy tickets for the short tour for 160 rand each from a kiosk in the Waterfront or, no doubt, your hotel would oblige.
It takes you through the downtown area which is a standard city-scape but there are some interesting remnants of architecture still left. On and upwards to the cable car base station for Table Top Mountain. We hopped off for a quick look round (see below) and then hopped on again. When you buy your bus ticket you are given a set of disposable head phones that you plug in next to your seat and you can even choose your language to hear about the sights on the tour! Great idea.
Next stop Camps Bay. A beautiful small town with a lovely – but windy! – beach. It could have been the South of France. We’d heard about a restaurant called the Codfather so decided to eat lunch there. It’s just off the main road on the first floor and serves excellent fish specialising in lobster and oysters with plenty of other fish, shellfish and sushi available. It wasn’t expensive – nothing really is in South Africa and I would give it 4 out of 5. I had prawns and while very tasty they were over cooked. The wine and oysters were very good though.
After a lazy lunch we got back on one of the buses and headed back to our hotel for a snooze and dinner in the evening.
Day 09 – 12/3 – Cape Winelands Tour
With personal tour guide 09:00 – 17:00
“The full day Cape Winelands Tour consist of visits to 3 different wine estates in the Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek valley. Cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, olive oil tasting… this region has it all. You’ll go on a driving tour of historic towns and here it is possible to do a stop for a walk and shop around. You can visit Oom Samie’s shop, the town centre, the Stellenbosch University campus, town museum and more!”
We decided to hire a personal tour guide to show us around the local cape region, namely the winelands and peninsular. We booked it back in the UK and it cost about £150 per day for a professional tour guide driving us around and taking us to the various places of interest. I think this was the best way of exploring as if we had our own car we wouldn’t have known where to go, and if we’d taken a big bus it would have been too impersonal. In fact, as we were going to stay in Paarl later in the holiday, we didn’t go to Stellenbosch or Franshhoek towns. Instead we concentrated more on the vineyards, or wine farms as they are called in SA.
The first stop was the allegedly oldest wine farm in the Cape where you can taste 5 or 6 wines. You only get a sip or two but that’s enough especially at 10am! It’s quite well done with someone telling you about the varietals and how they are fermented etc. Once you’ve finished you are invited to buy some. There’s no pressure and in all it was a very relaxed experience. After lunch we went to another wine farm where they did a chocolate pairing. I found this very interesting and enjoyable. Overall, I found the wines we tasted as only ok and not particularly good value for money either. Being a cynic I thought the tour guide company picked the wine farms offering the cheapest tasting not the best. They have their own Cape varietal known as Pinotage which is a full bodied red with lots of tannin plus many other well know varietals. They are becoming very good at producing Bordeaux-like blends and these were my favourite throughout the whole holiday.
For lunch the tour guide had booked us for lunch at the restaurant in the Delaire Graff estate (Graff as in diamonds) restaurant near Stellanbosch. It was excellent. In fact, all the best restaurants we dined at were in the wine farms. Great service, great views, imaginative food and spectacular wine.
Back to the hotel and down to the local sports pub to watch England beat Wales 25 – 21 in the Six Nations. A great way to end the day!
Day 10 -13/3 – Cape Peninsula Tour 09:00 – 17:00
“The full day Cape Peninsula tour starts with a drive along the Atlantic Seaboard passing along Sea Point, Camps Bay and a stop at Hout Bay Harbour. Here you can take an OPTIONAL cruise to see the Cape Fur Seals at Duiker Island and it is also a great spot for curio shopping. You then continue along Chapman’s Peak Drive towards Cape of Good Hope National Park with the first stop at the Cape of Good Hope (Most South Western tip of the African continent). From here you can take an optional 45min hike to Cape Point or drive there with your guide. Once there, you’ll experience some of the most amazing views in Cape Town. On your way back to the city you will stop at Boulders Beach Penguin Colony in Simons Town and drive through Fishhoek and Muizenberg.”
This was a good day trip. Hout Bay Harbour has a fairly large market with stalls selling all sorts of african memorabilia, trinkets and gifts. Wood carvings of elephants, ostrich eggs, brass dishes, scarves etc. Be prepared to barter but the prices aren’t expensive and the people selling it look like they could do with a bit more income. We didn’t take the the cruise to see the Cape Fur Seals. Instead we went straight on towards the Cape of Good Hope via Chapman’s Peak Drive which was an interesting coastal road with some good views – but not exceptional. It is regularly used for cycling and running competitions so some days it may be closed. We had a good lunch at the Cape of Good Hope Visitor Centre restaurant with fantastic views of the Cape.
The actual cape is a further 10 minute drive to a spot where you can take a half-mile walk up to the old light-house, disused now because they built it too high and the mists obscured it. The Dutch thought that the Cape of Good Hope was the southern most point of the African continent but it was subsequently discovered that it was actually 200km eastwards at a place called L’Agulhas.
On the way back to Cape Town is a working ostrich farm where they sell a wide variety of handbags, wallets and purses.
Last stop of the day was the penguin colony at Boulders Beach. It’s all raised decking walkways over the beach and dune shrubs where a lot of penguin pairs nest and coo at each other. They are cute when walking but far more impressive when they swim.
Day 11 – 14/3 – Sightseeing
On our own today with Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated) and Table Mountain on the agenda. To do both on the same day you need to do Table Mountain in the morning and Robben Island in the afternoon. There are two outbound ferries from The Waterfront at 1pm and 3pm. Book 3pm if doing Table Mountain as you won’t make it otherwise. They don’t do refunds or transfers.
A must-do on your list, the views are fantastic.
Table Mountain is offered covered in cloud – it’s table cloth – so as soon as you see it is clear, drop everything and go up there. Booking Table Mountain online will reduce waiting from 1.5 hours to 45 mins. There is limited shelter while queuing so bring a hat and some water. The cable car is clean, modern and well maintained. It rotates as it travels so everyone gets a chance to enjoy the view. Once at the top there is a small restaurant cafe and a short walk to the light-house where there is a panoramic viewing platform. There are further walks up to maybe a mile long around the plateau and is well worth doing.
The little furry guy is a Dassie (Rock Hyrax) and is the size of a small cat. They are considered pests and should not be fed. Cute though.
There is a huge sense of history when you visit this island. It has become a World Heritage Site and the curators are former inmates. (We were told there were some former warders too, but didn’t see any). The curators paint the picture with their first-hand descriptions of life there as it was. When they are gone it may not be so interesting. The history is too much for this blog but it is well worth reading up. Mostly, Robben Island can be described by photos.
Day 12 – 15/3 – Sightseeing
Our last day in Cape Town before starting on to The Garden Route was spent mooching about doing a bit of shopping. But we did decide to take a helicopter trip around Cape Town and the Cape Peninsular. This is the middle length of flight taking about 1/2 an hour.
There are three companies to choose from. They fly from a helipad behind the Waterfront and small sales offices are in the front of the Waterfront. We chose the little petrol-engined machine because everyone is guaranteed a window seat. It was a real treat and well worth doing.
Review : Queen Victoria Hotel – 5/5
A really nice boutique hotel centrally located right next to the Waterfront Dock and within it’s security zone.
Set on a secluded and secure hill next to it’s sister hotel – The Dock House – The Queen Victoria shares it’s private garden and open-air pool and is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town. The public areas are large, spacious and interesting, and the designer, contemporary and large bedrooms rooms are matched with spacious, modern, quality bathrooms. I can’t fault the reception team with James, Jennifer and Lungo going beyond the call of duty in helping with our changing travel plans and other arrangements. The breakfast is good but remember to ask for your poached eggs soft, and you bacon lightly cooked. Room service food was very good. Minor criticisms are not changing the bed linen often enough, even when ‘putting out the card’; and not enough storage. Nevertheless the whole package was impressive and well deserves 5 out of 5.
Day 13 – 16/3 Depart Cape Town – Drive
Check-out Queen Victoria Hotel
Pick up hire car from Hertz
Day 22 – 25/3 Arrive Cape Town
Check-in Raddison Blu Waterfront.
At the very end of our holiday we spent a final night in Cape Town prior to our long flight back to the UK.
Review : Raddison Blu Waterfront – 3/5
Well, it was ok. Can’t fault the rooms, the staff were helpful, the location was pretty good. Yet the terrace was too small, the pool seemed more like a bath for the gull population and I reckon you’d catch something if you swam in it. My Pina Colada was made of ice-cream and gave me a brain-freeze. My wife’s gin and tonic didn’t taste of gin. Come on guys how difficult is it to make proper cocktails? The whole place had that slightly tired slightly soulless corporate hotel feel that leaves you feeling a bit numb. Not my favourite but ok hence 3/5.
23 – 26/3 Last day in Cape Town
The following morning we decided to forgo the hotel breakfast, we hadn’t paid for it and didn’t reckon it would be worth the £20 each they were asking for it. So we took the short walk down the hill back to the Waterfront figuring we’d get a coffee or something there. On the way there was a fairly large tented farmers Saturday market called Oranjezicht on our left. It seemed very popular so we popped in for a look. Wow! The place was teeming with artisan stalls selling anything from pies to coffee to vegetarian indian food to you-name-it. We picked the stall making various Benedict dishes faster than you would believe. Absolutely delicious and don’t forget the Jalepenos on the side! Everyone from all walks of life, colour and creed was milling about enjoying the good food and good vibe. We even managed to buy some fresh (which means soft not tough as old boots) biltong – Beef and Kudu – delicious. A great way to end a fantastic holiday in a world-class city in a great country. We can’t wait to go back.
The Kruger National Park is situated north-east of Johannesburg, with short flights to local airports.
We’ve been told by many South Africans that the private game parks on the edges of the Kruger are a better experience. We chose the Kapama Private Game Reserve. (www.kapama.com)
We stayed at the South Lodge for 4 nights 44,000 ZAR or £1874. Given that everything is inclusive apart from beverages and there are 2 game drives a day, I think this was great value for money.
Review : The Kapama Southern Camp Lodge is a beautiful single-storey hotel spread over several attractive public buildings and lodge buildings. It’s all about contemporary African and it works very well. Our bedroom (24) was spacious, had it’s own veranda and was nicely appointed with a modern bathroom and good quality bed. Room service was excellent. We were at least 200m from the main reception and restaurant which doesn’t sound a lot but at 38C it can be a bit too far! The hotel included a game drive every morning and every evening of the stay.
Be prepared for long days as the typical schedule would be:-
05:00 Early morning wake-up call.
05:45 Beverages and tasty snacks served in restaurant before departure at 6am.
06:00 Game drive with a stop for hot chocolate
09:30 Return from drive and breakfast immediately (delicious).
16:30 Meet in bar for tea and light snacks!
17:00 Depart on drive.
19:00 Stop for sundowners while on safari.
19:45 Return in darkness to hotel.
and so on.
The hotel team were very good tending to our every need but by far the most impressive aspect of the Kapama game lodge was the safari team’s love of the animals and their dedication to them.
All the photos you see have been taken by myself. You really do get close up.
In-between the safaris you can catch up on some sleep or relax by the smallish pool. Time travels very quickly as there is so much to take in but 4 days is quite enough in one go. The safari vehiclesare very comfortable, given that you are off-road. Kapama had vehicles with 3 rows of 3 seats but only took 6 people per vehicle.
This meant everyone got a ring-side seat and you had space in the middle for your cameras. If you planning to do some photography it is well worth investing in a camera with a zoom lens as a camera phone or a bottom-end camera won’t have enough zoom to do the animals justice. The crispness of the early morning air combined with the silence is a lovely way to start the day. Take a fleece and plenty of water with you. Although they should have both on board. Needless to say sun-block and a hat are essential. The vehicles have a guide driver and a tracker sat on a seat welded to the front bumper. Our guide spoke english and afrikaans and did a very good job of explaining what we were experiencing. The tracker spent his time looking for animal footprints and dung. In both cases, the fresher the better. They both have a very good knowledge of the area and work closely as a team to show the game to their guests. They are also in close radio communication with the other guides and will mostly know where the animals are. If a lion pride, for example, is found they may well drive about for a bit to allow closer vehicles to have their viewing first. A bit like planes stacking to arrive at an airport.
Whether you see The Big Five is ultimately a matter of luck.
We missed the Leopard but others saw it for about 10 minutes. We spent hours looking for one pride of lions then on the drive back to the airport saw 2 with about 15 lionesses and cubs each. I didn’t realise that the term “Big Five” describes the five most dangerous animals not the largest. The guides will take you right close up to lions, leopards and buffalo but they always make sure they have an escape route from rhinoceros and elephant.
The rhinoceros can reach 30mph in as many strides and if they ram your jeep it won’t be driving you back home!
They will also tell you not to stand up in the vehicle as it breaks the outline of it to the wildlife as they will then recognise you as human or, to put it another way lunch!It’s not just the Big Five that appeal; springbok, steinbok, wilderbeast (gnu), kudu, impala, nyala, baboons, vervet monkeys, song birds, vultures, eagles, running birds like the guinea fowl, tortoises, hippopotamus, giraffe, elephant, warthog and, my favourite the zebra. The bush is full of beautiful creatures.
Sundowners are very enjoyable.
A surprising bonus is watching the cristal-clear african night sky unfolding above you. I’ve never seen more stars, with our galaxy the Milky Way arcing over the sky.
After our final morning safari we were driven back to the airport for the short flight back to Johannesburg Oliver Tambo.