Travel Update: Vicky is charmed by South Africa
My heart was stolen long ago by the wild plains and mountains of East Africa, and as a result I've been leaving it to others in the office to make the trips to South Africa in recent years. A three-line whip to attend a trade show somewhat forced my hand however, and between possibly my best-ever African sunsets (and I've seen a few), beautiful wild places and magnified game encounters, I was utterly charmed by some of the Cape's hidden nooks and crannies.
Cape Town, the Garden Route and Winelands need little introduction, and with just two weeks on the loose I focused on seeking out some of the more off-the-beaten track places around Cape Town and beyond. My favourite of these was Paternoster, an hour-and-a-half drive north of Cape Town, but I will come to that a bit later.
We started off in the Cape game reserves close to Port Elizabeth, which are an ideal inclusion to any holiday to the Cape area, especially for families, as it's one of the few malaria-free areas in Africa. While these game reserves lack the wilds and scale of the parks in countries to the north of South Africa and wont be for everyone, they provide almost guaranteed animal sightings and incredibly close ones at that. You can get so close to the game you can nearly touch it out of the open vehicles as I experienced with the most enormous bull elephant which virtually brushed past our vehicle. I could have just run my hands along his flanks as he walked by. The game is also in such perfect condition, no gnarly old lions here. As the reserves are enclosed, the King of the Jungle doesn’t have to fight to keep his ladies. There are a variety of lodges for all budgets and styles, from old Cape homesteads to comfortable tented camps to luxurious air-conditioned lodges.
We whizzed along the Garden Route. Although it is all a bit touristy these days, we loved Oyster Bay which is a private nature reserve just down the coast from St Francis Bay. It’s a beautiful, wild bit of coastline with lovely dunes and a huge, huge beach with no-one on it. For any horse riders out there, it’s a perfect spot. The horses wander around freely and the beach and dunes are calling for a gallop. Another amazing beach is Robberg Beach at Plettenberg Bay, overlooked by some of the most amazing villas and houses known locally as the SA Martha’s Vineyard!
We headed inland and over Robertson Pass to Oudtshoorn so we could drive Route 64 and to discover some new areas in the Winelands. A thick mist hung over our drive along the famous route, but when it lifted we were greeted by the most majestic mountains scattered with small vineyards and some lovely guesthouses. By chance we came across one of the oldest vineyard guest houses in the area (the main house was built in 1798) and with a top class restaurant which has won many awards. We went for the tasting menu that evening and really had one of the best meals I have ever had. The outstanding course being smoked warthog with blue cheese icecream!
We then drove north to the beautiful Cederberg Mountains though Ceres and Citrusville where there is fruit in abundance and oranges and apples and peaches dripping off the trees. We were heading further north to the luxurious Bushman's Kloof a veritable haven for nature lovers and those who enjoy peace and quiet. Judging by the number of ladies from Cape Town on a ‘girls' weekend’, the spa is also a big draw. The reserve is dedicated to conservation with the largest private herd of Cape Mountain Zebra and the reintroduction of the rare Bontebok. They have some lovely walks, mountain bikes you can use and some very intricate Bushman cave paintings.
Heading south again we came to stay at my favourite place, Paternoster. The South Africans have definitely been keeping this place to themselves. What a lovely little fishing village on the Atlantic coast. With whitewashed cottages, you could be in Greece, and the seafood is to die for, crayfish being a speciality of the area. With huge sweeping beaches and the coldest sea I have ever dipped my toe into, it is the most lovely coastline. In the spring the flowers are mesmerising and in the autumn and winter the sunsets are spectacular. I have never seen a sunset like it on our first evening there. The Strandloper hotel sits right on the edge of the village and you can borrow their mountain bikes and cycle up the coast to the Cape Columbine lighthouse and the beautiful nature reserve, which can also be reached by car. We had a lovely early morning run along the beach with dolphins flipping and diving in the waves only metres from the shore. It was as if they were calling us in to join them (and I might have if the sea hadn’t been quite so cold!). There are quite a number of Capetonian holiday homes here and the village is growing fast but I would highly recommend some time here as it's completely off the usual tourist trail.
Then to Cape Town. What a great city – sea, beaches, mountains, great bars and restaurants, shopping and history all culminate in a thriving hub full of great hotels and lovely guest houses. We also ventured beyond the city to Cape Point, where one of my favourite hotels was the Last Word Long Beach in Kommetjie, hidden away on a lovely beach with beautiful views across the bay to Chapman's Peak.
It really was great to be back in South Africa. It's very different to the countries further north and there are still many issues with politics and division of wealth which you can’t help but see, but it’s a hugely diverse country which is easy to drive around and has so many natural resources, wonderful accommodation, world-class food, close up wildlife encounters and some amazing places off the beaten track if you will just let us guide you.