Destination Spotlight: South Africa

Our MD, Kevin, recently visited South Africa and experienced the holiday of a lifetime in a stunning country with so much variety on offer, yet still at great value still despite the changes to exchange rates. Here he tells you more about his family’s visit to Cape Town, the Garden Route and a safari and gives some tips and recommendations on places to visit……

Our visit to South Africa was arranged by Destina and Rainbow Tours, which is part of the ITC Travel Group and one of Destina’s preferred partners. With so much local expertise they were the ideal choice to put together a bespoke holiday for our family and make it something that stood out as an exceptional experience. Our number 1 priority was a Safari, but combining it with the coast and beauty of the garden route along with the stunning city of Cape Town to round off our holiday.

Whichever way you do it you want to either start or end your holiday with a safari…….we chose it at the start, and that seemed to be what most people we met did. Despite the long journey from the UK to Port Elizabeth via Johannesburg, we forgot all our tiredness when we were met from our flight in Port Elizabeth and whisked away to Pumba Private Game Reserve about 75 minutes away. Here we were greeted by hot towels and drinks on arrival at the stunning Game Lodge before being shown to our beautiful thatched bungalow complete with private terrace and plunge pool overlooking a lake…….the perfect viewing point for some of Africa’s Big 5 and much more.

I’d highly recommend the Water Lodge at Pumba, a beautiful colonial style central lodge, with amazing service and superb food and drinks, all included in the cost of your stay and most importantly, twice daily game drives in the private reserve. Our ranger looked after us from start to finish for our 4 days stay where we viewed so many animals including the Big 5 at close quarters and in all types of terrain and light. Each evening we returned to a welcome G&T and chose our Dinner before retiring to the lounge to chat with friends we made during our stay. We will never forget the experience of Elephants coming right up to our jeep and the cheetahs chasing their prey by night or the pride of Lions and their cubs who walked right by our jeep. The time vanished yet it was also relaxing and the whole experience was one I’d recommend to anyone. Pumbia is stunning and you also have the benefit of being able to visit the sister camp, the Pumba Bush Lodge and enjoy lunch there.

We didn’t want to leave, however, there is so much to South Africa that more awaited us on our journey. Returning to Port Elizabeth we picked up a hire car and set off on our journey along the Garden Route and the Little Karoo. We stopped off in Plettenberg Bay, with its white sands and sweeping bay……. although it isn’t the most exciting town it was an ideal place to wind down after the early starts of the game drives and there are many beautiful places nearby including Knysna Town and Lagoon and the amazing Storms River Suspension Bridge at Tsitsikamma. We stayed in the Robberg Beach Lodge, a small but tastefully appointed spot overlooking the bay and sands and would highly recommend it.

Moving on we then journeyed inland again to visit Oudtshoorn, famous for its Ostrich Farms and Meerkat colonies. Staying at the De Zeekoe Guest Farm about 90 minutes inland from the coast, located near the river but surrounded by what can only be described as Amazon type scenery. We experienced beautiful sunsets there and the Farm serves up wonderful cuisine. Nearby you can visit the magnificent Kangoo Caves, Ostrich Farms (including the chance to ride on them!) and book an early morning Meerkat experience too. From there we then drove along the amazing Route 62 from Oudtshoorn which traverses some spectacular scenery and mountains with small townships and villages to stop off at for refreshments. The journey was a real experience and a highlight of our holiday and we would recommend a stop off at the Blue Cow at Barrydale, a super coffee shop with an outdoor terrace overlooking a lake full of fish waiting to be fed.

We continued onwards to stay in Stellenbosch, in the Cape wine regions, however during Whaling season I’d recommend you go to Hermanus, a lovely place on the coast with regular sea trips for whale watching and some magnificent seafood eateries.

Stellenbosch is South Africa’s University town and the centre of the wine growing region. With a New England style, it has some great individual shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants set within characterful buildings with clear Dutch influence in their architecture. Do visit the Botanical Gardens and the museum in the centre of town, but most importantly get booked onto a wine tour. We joined a half day tour with a great experienced guide, with just 5 of us visiting 3 private wine reserves for tasting sessions and accompanying cheeses and snacks before the opportunity to purchase the wine to ship home. The reserves were stunning and the vines and groves were surrounded by spectacular mountains. We stayed in a small Hotel, the River Manor, which was a collection of classic houses in central Stellenbosch set in lovely gardens and pools where breakfast and evening drinks would be served.

Finally, on to our last port of call, Cape Town. Driving around Cape Point first this ensured we arrived by the most scenic route possible. Stopping off for lunch in Hout Bay at the Mariners Wharf for Mussels and a bottle of Seadog local beer in the sunshine was a super way to get into Cape life. Driving on along the coast we passed the 3 Apostles and Camps Bay before entering the outskirts of Cape Town itself and our final stay at the Waterfront Apartments on the V&A Waterfront. After nearly 2 weeks in Hotels, we enjoyed the freedom of an apartment right in centre of the action in Cape Town. With parking on site, it was easy to travel around and we first went on a city tour to get our bearings before enjoying all that Cape Town offers – water-front, shopping, Table Mountain, sporting events, outdoor theatre and cinema, stunning scenery and lots more.

The weather in Cape Town can change rapidly so if you want to take the cable car up Table Mountain then watch the forecasts and make sure it’s clear, and go there as quick as you can! We were thwarted by high winds one day even though it was beautiful down in Cape Town itself.  Whilst there, it’s also worth driving out to Cape Point and Boulders Bay to see the penguins and the tip of Africa, but avoid weekends and bank holidays as the crowds can spoil the experience!

So, our stay in South Africa drew to a close. A fantastic holiday and experience and somewhere we will never forget. A few tips I would give to anyone considering a trip to this beautiful country:

Weather – you do get 4 seasons in a day so always pack for all eventualities

Safari – the private game reserves, whilst maybe not as vast as Kruger, are close enough to combine with the garden route to give you the best of both worlds. Fly into Port Elizabeth and it’s just a short hop.

Eating out – Eating out was fantastic, with superb steaks and meat dishes including Ostrich to enjoy and new dishes to tempt us. The pricing was so reasonable and the service always great. Even with a drop in exchange rates, the price of meals and drinks was so low, even in Cape Town itself which on average is at least 25% lower than UK pricing.

Safety – we had been warned about the risk of crime, particularly for tourists, however, we never experienced any issues. You have to be sensible and it is not recommended to drive at night in some areas, but we always felt safe and comfortable.

Journey – it’s a long journey but worth it. The experience will make you forget any tiredness you feel!

Driving – it’s dead easy! Right Hand Drive and the roads are smooth, quiet and well maintained. Even in Cape Town itself, it was all very straightforward and logical.

Table Mountain – when the weather is clear go straight away and don’t hesitate. On this visit, we didn’t make it to the top of the mountain but having been many years ago, it’s something not to be missed.

South Africa was a wonderful country, and the effortless way that Rainbow Tours put together our arrangements, including taxi’s, driving instructions, and arranging trips and tours was superb. If you’d like to visit one of the most colourful countries in the world then talk to some of our experts here at Destina and let them create your dream Safari/South African holiday.

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