South Africa definitely lives up to its moniker – a “World in one Country”. Its incredible diversity and beauty will delight you, from the scenic wonders including the Garden Route and Table Mountain, to cultural experiences that range from the Zulu people to Shangaan further north and everything in between. Our top picks include experiencing a luxury safari lodge in the Sabi Sands or Kruger National Park, several days to explore Cape Town and the stunning Winelands, topped off by a leisurely journey along the Garden Route.
• Kruger National Park
• Cape Town – including the Winelands
• Madikwe National Park
• The Garden Route
• Eastern Cape
South Africa is definitely an ‘any time of year’ destination and their seasons are similar to New Zealand. Our most highly recommended time is to go between May – Sep when it is actually the best game-viewing period – although a little chilly in mornings and evenings.
Wildlife, scenery, food & wine, history, culture, top class hotels and game lodges, and luxury train travel. South Africa, the ‘Rainbow Nation’, is an amazingly diverse country. After arriving into Johannesburg, the ensuing two weeks comprised one highlight after another!
The Blue Train: The overnight journey on the Blue Train between Pretoria and Cape Town (or v.v.) is really a five-star “hotel-on-wheels”. Extremely friendly and helpful staff are with you from check in right through to departure. The suites (deluxe or luxury) are air-conditioned and have an ensuite bathroom, twin beds or a double bed, telephone, a choice of digital entertainment channels and a personal safe. All meals and drinks are included and the focus is on fine dining, with dinner being a dress up affair. A nice way to ease into Africa with plenty of time to relax or socialise.
The Winelands & Franschhoek Country House: on arrival into Cape Town we disembarked the Blue Train and were whisked off to the Cape Winelands (only an hour from the city). The Cape Winelands region is the source of many legendary Cape wines and vineyards and features classic Cape-Dutch architecture, the picturesque towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, beautiful scenery, high class hotels and excellent restaurants. We spent the night at Franschhoek Country House & Villas in huge Villa Suites. The hotel is only 1km from the township with beautiful grounds, public lounge areas with open fires, and pool. The highlight for me was dinner at the hotel’s Monneaux Restaurant. The presentation was Michelin standard and the food was the best I had in South Africa. I remember my dinner of Duck Liver Burger with great fondness – mini brioche bun with pan fried duck liver, apricot curry glaze, red onion marmalade and crispy onion rings. Bon appetit indeed!
Cape Town & the Cape Grace Hotel: The wonderful Cape Grace Hotel, located on the V&A Waterfront has stunning views of Table Mountain, the Victoria & Alfred harbour or yacht marina from every room. The hotel was voted number 1 in the 2015 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Award – Top 25 Hotels in South Africa. We had a great introduction to its many attractions including Table Mountain, the colourful suburb of Bo-Kaap (formerly known as the Malay Quarter), and the sobering township of Langa, the location of much resistance to apartheid. A full day Cape Point Tour out of Cape Town took us to the scenic highlights of the Cape Peninsula including the secluded beaches of Clifton, the sidewalk cafés and bars of trendy Camp’s Bay, the breath-taking Chapman’s Peak Drive, the Cape of Good Hope, the Cape Point Funicular and the charming Boulders Beach penguin colony near Simon’s Town.
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Kruger – Londolozi Varty Camp and Kirkman’s Kamp: from Cape Town we flew to Kruger and transferred by road into the spectacular Sabi Sand Game Reserve located adjacent to the Kruger National Park. Our stay here was split over two different lodges.
The campfire has burned for over 82 years at Varty Camp, making it the symbolic heart and soul of Londolozi. The décor echoes the same tones of the owners private homes and their continuing love affair with the earth. All rooms have private swimming pools framed by timber decks that overlook the riverine bush. The living spaces are raised off the ground and shaded under a cathedral of trees.
Kirkman’s Kamp, with its spectacular views of the unspoiled wilderness, is regarded as one of the best loved lodges in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It is a well-known historic camp, originally built in the early 1920’s, and celebrates the atmosphere of an early South African lowveld homestead. Each of the 18 guest cottages has a private veranda and is furnished in the same charming style with en-suite bathrooms. The large sitting room, with a 1920’s ambience, leads through double French doors onto rolling lawns that provide a velvety contrast to the wild and tumbling bush surrounding the lodge. Breakfast and lunch are served on shady verandas, and dinners are shared in the dramatic boma or in romantic lantern-lit bush settings.
The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is famed for its intimate wildlife encounters, particularly leopard viewing. Home to a host of wildlife, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhino), Sabi Sand is part of a conservation area that covers over two million hectares (almost five million acres). With no boundary fences between the reserve and the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand benefits from the great diversity of wildlife found in one of the richest wilderness areas on the African continent. Daily and nightly game drives led by highly trained rangers and trackers allow for intimate game experiences. Game drives here traverse an area of 6,300 hectares and strict vehicle limits at sightings ensure the exclusivity of your game viewing experience.
As well as the Big 5 our Sabi Sand highlights included cheetah, observing hyena pups emerging from their den (a rare sight), the Sand River lion pride setting off to hunt as the sun set, a leopard devouring its kill in a tree, wild dogs setting off to hunt, and an early morning encounter with a female leopard drinking from a small water hole – the bush was so still you could hear her tongue lapping the water as she drank!
Phinda Private Game Reserve & Phinda Forest Lodge – from Kruger we flew by light aircraft charter to Phinda Private Game Reserve. A great way to travel from one game reserve to another. When we asked where we should check in for the flight the duty manager told us: “no need to check in – you are guests, not passengers”.
Phinda Private Game Reserve is known for its abundant wildlife, diversity of habitats and wide range of safari activities. Phinda enjoys a lush green environment and is often referred to as ‘Seven Worlds of Wonder.’ This fascinating variety of landscape and vegetation shelters an abundance of wildlife, including many rarer and less easily spotted species such as the elusive cheetah and the scarce black rhino. With only a handful of lodges sharing an area of 23,000 hectares, and expert rangers and trackers in search of prime wildlife sightings, you are assured an exclusive game viewing experience. The marine diversity of nearby Sodwana Bay is easily accessible, with scuba diving, fishing and even turtle watching available.
We stayed at the spectacular Phinda Forest Lodge set in beautiful dry sand forest. The creation of this award-winning safari lodge was designed in Zulu Zen style, each handcrafted, glass-encased suite is a combination of glass, wood and minimalist design incorporating high-gloss wooden floors, richly tactile fabrics and crimson Zulu artefacts. These 16 private stilted suites each feature luxurious en-suite bathrooms and private viewing decks. Between game drives you can unwind in the lodge’s swimming pool, or relax in the guest sitting areas with expansive viewing decks.
A Special Game Drive Treat: on morning game drives you start out early and so will always stop at some staggeringly scenic spot (SSS) . We were introduced to the never-to-be-forgotten delights of the Mochachocarula – a divine blend of coffee, hot chocolate & Amarula, a South African cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree. Evening game drives also have their own special charms and feature a stop at yet another SSS for sundowners – your favourite tipple (G&T was the choice of most) plus an array of bush snacks including a selection of spicy biltong while watching another blazing African sunset.
For me, South Africa encapsulated all the best an African holiday has to offer with its mix of stunning natural beauty, wide range of accommodation options, award winning food and wine experiences, colourful and friendly people, and fantastic diversity of wildlife.
Ube nohambo oluhle! Have a good journey!
Currency South African Rand
Language 11 official languages including English, Afrikaans, IsiZulu, IsiNdebele and IsiXhosa.
Why we love it South Africa offers a veritable kaleidoscope of natural wonders, beautiful scenes, cosmospolitan cities and of course great wildlife viewing. The country has had its fair share of history and struggle, but as a traveller you can rest assured of being extremely well cared for – some of the finest hotels and unique safari lodges that we have seen are in South Africa. Another reason to love the country is that due to its diverse range of interesting places to visit, you could tour the country for three or four weeks and still discover more. One of the most stunning cities in the world, Cape Town, is a great place to start. With its famous Table Mountain, beautiful beaches, thriving Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and Cape Peninsula you can easily spend plenty of time in this area and the surrounding Winelands. National Parks and Reserves aplenty, we recommend Kruger National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve and Phinda Private Game Reserve for exceptional wildlife viewing and high quality safari lodges. Do not forget the Garden Route, Eastern Cape and travelling by luxury train on either Rovos Rail or the Blue Train for a special experience!
Weather South Africa enjoys a temperate climate and therefore possible to visit any time of year. Summer months are from October to February and winter from May to July, though winters are very mild in the top half of the country and Indian Ocean beaches can be enjoyed in this region all year round.
When to go
South Africa is definitely an ‘any time of year’ destination. We highly recommend visiting between May and September when it is the best game-viewing period – although a little chilly in mornings and evenings.
Social customs & quirks South Africans, like the country itself, are a diverse range of backgrounds and have been slowly emerging as a truly combined nation. The mixture includes Afrikaaners (of Dutch descent), Cape coloureds, British, Indian and the ethnic black population such as Zulu, Shangaan, Sotho and others. All South Africans though speak proudly of their icons including Mandela, Desmond Tutu and even Charlize Theron. Some of the best words to know before you go include: Braai (BBQ), just now (sometime soon, not actually now), biltong (dried meat snack) and bokkie (sweetheart).
Festivals & events South Africa has a huge number and variety of festivals and happenings year round including arts festivals in the Garden Route, floral expo’s in Namaqualand, world class concerts in Sun City and Cape Town, and of course the World Cup Soccer in 2010!
Health* There are no compulsory health requirements on entering South Africa, although if you are travelling from a Yellow Fever infected country you will be required to have a vaccination certificate. Malaria precautions are recommended for travelling into some of the national parks and reserves, particularly during October – May. There are some game reserves which are completely malaria-free such as Madikwe and Eastern Cape.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.