If you are looking for an adventure that includes a little bit of everything, then South Africa, the destination that proudly boasts to be a “world in one country” could well tick all your boxes.
The hardest decision is where to start and to provide a guide through everything this outstanding destination has to offer could take some time, so I have focused this particular journey of inspiration on a favourite itinerary that includes the wonders of Cape Town, the stunning Garden Route and a memorable stay in a Safari Lodge on the Eastern Cape, a perfect combination.
Known as the “Mother City”, Cape Town boasts an enviable coastal position with breathtaking scenery and a deserved reputation for exceptional food, wine, culture and luxurious accommodation.
Its compelling history is documented by several interesting museums and galleries and you can conclude a day of discovery and education at one of the high-quality restaurants at the renowned Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
The V&A Waterfront, situated in the oldest working harbour in South Africa, is one of Africa’s most visited tourist spots with the iconic Table Mountain as its backdrop.
More than 80 eateries can be found here, bringing a fusion of both international and local cuisine, from rustic al fresco to fine dining along with a choice of a dozen hotels and over 500 shops.
Unquestionably the best way to comprehend the extraordinary setting of Cape Town is to take a trip on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway.
At 1,000 metres above the city centre, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background, the views are phenomenal and with the top of Table Mountain around two kilometres from one end to the other, there’s also space to have a hike around this geological wonder.
Robben Island was used by the South African government as a jail for political prisoners and convicted criminals from 1961 until 1991. During this time, it held captive many leaders of the anti-apartheid movements, including Nelson Mandela.
Today the island is home to former inmates who work as tour guides, providing very personal and at times harrowing accounts of their memories, a very humbling and important experience.
Ferries to Robben Island depart from V&A Waterfront and the whole trip takes around 4 to 5 hours.
Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula has two glittering coastlines since both the Indian and Atlantic Ocean border the coastal city and therefore lots of pristine beaches with something to suit all tastes, from buzzing beachside bars, secluded coves, safe swimming or a romantic spot for a sunset picnic.
The Winelands is a beautifully picturesque area around an hour’s drive from Cape Town, with gently rolling green vineyards blanketing the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch valleys.
I highly recommend at least an overnight stay to appreciate this wonderful region.
A piece of the French countryside can be found in the small wine town of Franschhoek. Locals say that the sun sets a little differently over this valley and as such the rich red grapes pick up the last of the day’s rays.
Franschhoek possesses 53 wine farms with several of these constituting its famous Cap Classique Route – South Africa's take on Champagne, Prosecco and Cava and a must for lovers of sparkling wine.
The brilliant hop-on-hop-off Wine Tram is a unique and leisurely way to experience the magnificent scenery, warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, fine wines and the valley’s 300-year history.
The vintage-style open-air tram-bus journeys through the region, stopping in at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates.
You can experience the activities on offer from wine tasting, cellar tours, lunch or simply strolling through the vineyards and when ready just hop back on to continue the tour.
In addition to its award-winning wineries, Franschhoek has become known as the gourmet capital of South Africa and plays host to some of the country's top restaurants.
Stellenbosch is the country’s second-oldest wine-producing region with its first vineyards planted in 1967. Over the ensuing decades, it has perfected the art of winemaking, now priding itself on over 200 producers.
Predominantly a university town, its oak tree-lined cobbled streets are home to quaint bistros and bustling café culture as well as buildings teeming with French heritage and architecture.
A different piece of contemporary art can be found on each street corner en route to the town’s many galleries.
Music also plays a leading role in the town’s culture with South Africa’s oldest music school found here.
The 300km stretch of coastal road on the south-west tip of South Africa is known as The Garden Route and is regarded as the most beautiful region in the country.
The route meanders between the Indian Ocean and the Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua mountain ranges, creating contrasting, yet equally spectacular views on either side.
The lush greenery of the indigenous forests meets the jagged cliffs and the sprawling coastal vistas, producing memorable panoramic views.
The road trip gets its name from the national park that it covers and its reputation from the diverse vegetation, wildlife, abundance of lagoons, lakes, mountains, forests and beaches along its winding roads.
Home to almost a dozen nature and marine reserves, it also offers opportunities for activities along the way, from hiking to eco and whale watching tours, to exploring caves and deserted sandy beaches.
I have picked out a few of my personal Garden Route highlights:
Hermanus, the whale-watching capital of South Africa is perched on the cliffs overlooking the south-east of Cape Town and is perfectly positioned on the windswept coast of Walker Bay to see migratory southern right whales. They travel to these sheltered waters from Antarctica to breed and calve and there is a high chance of a close encounter with them between June and November.
Oudtshoorn is an eccentric outpost in the heart of the Little Karoo Desert, famous for ostrich farming and offering visitors a bizarre chance to kiss an ostrich, ride an ostrich and even stand on an ostrich egg!
It is also home to the Cango Caves, a network of incredible rock chambers over 20 million years old, complete with some of the world’s largest stalagmite formations.
Halfway along the Garden Route lies Mossel Bay, a quaint harbour town awash with the history of the Cape and an intriguing place to explore. The town is named after its trademark mussels and there’s mouth-watering fresh seafood to be found on every corner. It’s also the jump-off point for shark-cage diving trips and boat tours to Seal Island where there’s a huge colony of 4,000 Cape Fur Seals.
Knysna is a gem of a town that looks out over a natural lagoon formed between two sandstone headlands. Its waterfront is a lively hub of boutique restaurants serving mouth-watering seafood and Knysna-hatched oysters. Framed by a beautiful indigenous forest, it’s a wonderful base for exploring the central area of the Garden Route.
There’s nowhere better along the route to stretch out in the sunshine and spot dolphins in the surf than the sun-drenched beach resort of Plettenberg Bay with its trendy cocktail bars and sophisticated bistros.
Perched on a sweeping crescent of bright white sand with a backdrop of rugged mountains, there are four stunning beaches to choose from, each with its own unique atmosphere.
Kariega Game Reserve
The Eastern Cape contains plenty of untouched natural splendour, including game reserves that illustrate just how diversely beautiful South Africa is.
Located just an hour out of Port Elizabeth, the malaria-free reserves offer an abundance of big game and five-star accommodations with service to match.
One that has proved extremely popular with my clients is Kariega Game Reserve situated along the Garden Route, making it the perfect safari destination to compliment a Cape Town visit and a trip through the Winelands along the beautiful coast.
Spread over 10,000 hectares, this family-owned and managed lodge is one of the most accomplished conservation projects in the Eastern Cape to date.
The reserve spans five different ecosystems and incorporates two dramatic and picturesque river valleys resulting in exceptional game viewing of the Big Five plus hippo, giraffe and zebra.
An abundance of other African wildlife is resident with hyena, wildebeest, eland, kudu, waterbuck and a variety of antelope regularly spotted, in addition to a myriad of bird species including the nesting crowned eagle, martial and fish eagles.
Along with your twice-daily game driver, the lodge offers guided bush walks with experienced rangers, cruises down the Kariega River and fishing excursions.
The region is blessed with a moderate climate of mild winters and warm summers offering fantastic year-round game viewing, and unsurpassed personal service in a choice of five superb safari lodges nestled within the park.
Main Lodge and The Homestead (both 4-star), Ukhozi Lodge and River Lodge (both 4-star superior) and Settlers Drift (5-star luxury tented lodge) provide wonderfully authentic accommodation options, including private viewing decks along with delicious food included in your package.
South Africa has gained the enviable reputation of offering something for everyone and a trip here will enable you to enjoy the city, heavenly beaches, stunning landscapes and mountain ranges, charming towns and a fabulous array of wildlife on land and at sea all in one holiday.
What’s more, this can all be accompanied by amazing food and washed down with some of the world’s finest wines.