In May of this year, I was lucky enough to head to South Africa for my first ever visit. It has always been on my bucket list, but I hadn’t ever actually managed a South Africa vacation in spite of being 25 plus years in the industry. My trip gave me a great opportunity to see some tour options we at Goway incorporate in our customized group itineraries.
My first stop was Cape Town, where I spent three busy days seeing some of the sites the area has to offer. Everyone knows Cape Town for Table Mountain, but it is so much more. On Day 1, I travelled along the coastal roads through Clifton to Camps Bay and along the winding Chapmans Peake Drive. As you travel the Peninsula, there is an option to take the Seal Island Cruise, an optional excursion well worth making the time to do. After a stop for a delicious lunch in Simon’s Town, overlooking the ocean, we continued up to Boulders Beach and the penguin colony, before heading back to town. Here we had time to visit the lively local market, filled with souvenir stalls, cultural performances, and lots of friendly locals. On the day we visited, the entertainment was provided by a local children’s dance group. For those looking to finish lunch off with a tasty sweet, make a stop at the local ice-cream store… it was really good!
After leaving Simon’s Town, we headed back towards Cape Town, following the inland route. Our journey took us via the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Kirstenbosch is located at the foot of Table Mountain and is considered one the best botanical gardens in the world. At last count there was over 7000 species, which includes rare and threatened species. The Gardens are spread over a large area, much of which involves uphill walking, so the less mobile may not be able to access all areas. They are best seen in the spring and summer when the flora is more vibrant. We had a short stop at the Gardens and then continued on to a welcoming cellar door for wine tasting – a great way to finish off a full day of touring!
For the cultural/historical buff, Cape Town has much to offer due to its multicultural mix of Indian, Malay, Dutch, Afrikaans, English, and native cultures. From colonization – to the struggle for freedom during the Apartheid era – to today, much of this story can be seen in Cape Town: A visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was in prisoned, is a highlight and must be booked early; a tour to District 6, which includes Langa Township, the oldest apartheid housing scheme in the Cape, as well as visits to museums, local markets, arts & crafts shops, and a stop at the local crèche, is also well worth the time. I was lucky enough to take a guided walking tour to District 6 and heard passionate accounts first-hand from our experienced local guide about both the struggles and the achievements of the past and present. I left with a greater understanding and appreciation of this proud country.
Of course no trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Table Mountain, the geographical heart of the city. You can take the Aerial Cableway to the top for stunning views, or, for those not so keen on heights (me included!), enjoy the stunning views of the city from sea level. Cape Town is a great walking city, so be sure to take the time to visit the V&A Waterfront, filled with restaurants and stores to sample and explore. There is also a hop-on hop-off bus service which includes 18 stops around the city.
Of course, the highlight of any South Africa vacation is the wildlife, so after Cape Town, we flew up to Hoedspruit in the Klein Drakensburg, gateway to many safari lodges. The airport is small by today’s standards, and is a military base, so be prepared to see your luggage arrive pulled by a tractor, no baggage carousels here!
I spent 3 days at the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, about a 90 minute drive from Hoedspruit. Staying at a lodge on one of the private reserves that border Kruger usually allows two game drives, one early in the morning and one in the afternoon, with qualified rangers and guides. The rangers are knowledgeable, knowing the area and animals, and provide the best opportunity to view the Big 5 and other wildlife. It was an experience beyond my imagination, and as with any wild animal, nothing is guaranteed – so I am missing one of the Big 5 – the leopard, who proved to be better at hide and seek than us!
In addition to game drives, staying in a lodge will also offer you a variety of accommodation, from luxury tents to hotel-style rooms. I stayed in a tent for one night that had all the amenities you could want, and then a more traditional lodge room for another night, although it did come complete with an outside shower and the chance to share it with baboons (don’t worry there is also a shower inside)! An unexpected bonus was no TV, radio, or Wi-Fi in the tents/rooms. After an initial withdrawal period, it was great to escape for a few days.
Not seeing the leopard and fulfilling my dream to see the Big 5 only means that I need to return to Africa again and again. In a continent full of wonders, South Africa has captured me – from the incredibly friendly people, to the food, the culture, the history, and above all, the animals. This is a destination with so much to offer and one I am glad to have finally visited.
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