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South Africa - Cape Town, Garden Route & Game Reserve
Thursday 11 February 2016
South Africa has been described as the 'World in one Country'. I’m sure the same can be said of many very large countries, and having spent almost two weeks on the Southern Cape we got to see a lot of the country but by no means all. There is lots more to see and do in this wonderful land.
We had a “meet and greet service” when we arrived in Capetown, we were met just inside the terminal building, and helped through customs and then on to baggage collection. It was a lovely touch, especially after relatively long flights. In addition our “meet and greet” guide was exceptionally informative on the drive to our hotel in central Capetown.
I had no expectations about Capetown or South Africa in general. For me it was just a means to an end, go on safari, a bucket list ticked!!
I was very pleasantly surprised. First thing is value for money. The Euro goes really far. Capetown is a great city, great beaches, sightseeing and restaurants.. We stayed in a four star hotel in the city centre called The Southern Sun Cullinan and it is a great base.
Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned was one of our first ports of call. It was both impressive and stark and a grim insight into the development of South Africa. From there it was on to Table Mountain which we reached using the local open top bus trips. They are frequent and great value. Quick tip: bring a fleece or jacket to Table Mountain, it’s windy and cool at the top.
We were in Capetown for four nights and most evenings we ate at one of the very many good and reasonably priced restaurants on the V & A Waterfront. We used the city as a base to visit the Cape Peninsula and the Cape of Good Hope. The scenery is really impressive on the drive down. We had a private driver/ guide so we got an excellent running commentary. He also took us around the winelands with vineyard visits in Stellenbosch and a very pleasant lunch in quaint town of Franschhoek. Having our own driver/guide for two days was expensive but we got to see the best of everywhere with the advantage of local knowledge.
Capetown has so much to offer and our visit was too short and we didn’t get enough time to enjoy the superb beaches, but there was so much we had to fit into the available time. I plan to go back.
The next part of the journey took us Eastwards across the Southern Cape towards Port Elizabeth. Our car hire was pre booked to collect in downtown Capetown and drop off at Port Elizabeth Airport. It worked out perfectly and the drive was as spectacular as it was varied.
We visited Hermanus, Oudsthoorn and Mossel Bay before settling into Kynsna for a few nights. We travelled in late February and the weather generally was in the mid to high twenties. Knysna seems to have a bit of a micro climate and we had some rain and cloudy days there. It is a lovely area with lots to do and see.
For me the best was yet to come. Safari. But first Port Elizabeth. I had heard it described as a busy industrial town. However we were beside a lovely beach with an array of restaurants close by.
Our hotel was a beautiful Town House called The Windermere. It is quirky and the bedrooms were excellent. It doesn’t have a restaurant and they are happy to recommend and make bookings in any of the city’s restaurants. Breakfast is served more or less on demand.
A two hour drive took us to Kariega. It is a private 4/5* Big 5 Game Reserve and only a fifteen minute drive from the coast.
The accommodation is good, in lodges, with a bedroom more like an apartment and very comfortable. The food is good without being exceptional and overall I would rate it as 4*.
It is the game drives that make it exceptional. The long wheel base high seating land rovers are comfortable and provide excellent viewing positions. The drives take place twice daily, at dawn and again in the evening finishing up as darkness falls. The guides are truly superb and have a real passion for nature and the job they do.
We got very close to lazy lions and playful young elephants. It was obvious that it was not contrived in any way. Rhinos with their calves came within a few metres of our land rover. At one stage a giraffe seemed very curious but we moved away quickly. We had four drives in total and quite honestly I was spellbound. I have spent all my adult life wanting to “do” a safari and I was not disappointed. It’s not just the Big 5 but all the wildlife in their natural habitat that made it so special. At one time a small gazelle grazed underneath our lodge.
I was really impressed with Capetown as a city and, as a holiday destination, it has everything. When the time comes time to retire I would consider living there for a few months each Winter. Value for money it is top class. The scenery on the Garden Route is beautiful and the restaurants and winelands are like a magnet. For me the highlight was the safari and game drives.
Hopefully my next visit to South Africa will be with a small group of friends and perhaps play a little golf.