South Africa - Cape Town, Garden Route, Safari

Clare Bullock on 08 March 2012

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I had very fond memories of previous trips to South Africa, in particular, I'd been captivated by Cape Town and was keen for a return visit and the opportunity to explore further the diverse region of the Western Cape. These are some of the places I experienced on my travels.

I visited Cape Town where there is much to do, both in the town and in the surroundings and the city's close proximity to the mountains and the sea together with the creative energy is inspiring. The city is packed with vibrant craft markets, art galleries and great restaurants. I also love the music scene and bought an African drum from a roadside seller after a memorable night dancing to the high energy drum rhythms of a talented local band.

Highlights include the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Table Mountain, District Six Museum, Bo-Kaap Malay quarter, Table Mountain National Park, ferry trip to Robben Island and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Camps Bay is lovely, with its palm-fringed promenade with sandy beach, fabulous sunsets and a great selection of bars and restaurants.

I stayed on Cape Peninsular for a week and found it gave me the best of both worlds, as I could enjoy the wonderful beaches and nature at its best and Cape Town was also within easy reach. Driving around Cape Peninsular was a pleasure, navigation was easy, and there was little traffic and the scenery splendid. Highlights for me included Chapman's Peak Drive, which forms the gateway between Cape Town and the South Peninsular and is one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world. The 'Drive' takes you between the lively fishing village of Hout Bay and Noordhoek, famed for its long white sandy surf beach and vast wetlands with abundant bird life. Continuing south, I loved the vast, wild Atlantic surf beaches at Kommetjie and Scarborough.

From Scarborough, I headed to Africa's most south- westerly point in the Cape of Good Hope section of the Table Mountain National Park and took in the stunning natural scenery, flora and fauna.

On the False Bay, east side of the Cape Peninsular, I enjoyed lunch in Simon's Town, South Africa's third old town, rich in nautical history. I went swimming with African penguins at nearby Boulder's Beach and mooched round the fishing village of Kalk Bay with its interesting art galleries and antique shops - oh and it's worth a pit stop for a mojito at the eclectic Cape to Cuba cocktail bar / restaurant.

I took the inland route on the Garden Route to Sanbona, nestled at the foot of the towering Warmwaterberg Mountains in the heart of the Little Karoo. The fabulous Wildlife Reserve I stayed at is home to free self-sustaining white lions as well at the Big 5, albeit not in abundance. From the Little Karoo it was an exhilarating drive through the mountain passes to the Garden Route where I met the sea at Wilderness. The Garden Route is an enchanting land of beaches, lakes, rivers and indigenous forests and mountain scenery.

I stayed in Plettenberg for three nights. Plettenberg Bay has spectacular beaches and there is a good choice of shops and restaurants. To the west of PB is the historic town of Knysna. Sit on the quay and watch the world go by, take a boat trip across the lagoon, explore the beaches or play a round of golf if that's your thing. East of Plettenberg Bay is the Tsitsikamma Forest with its giant trees running down to a dramatic coastline of cliffs and sandy coves.

I stayed in charming Franschoek, which is surrounded by mountains on three sides with vineyards and fabulous restaurants a plenty. I really enjoyed the fun and intimate winery tour at La Petite Ferme, conducted by the knowledgeable and charismatic owner.

Another scenic drive through mountain passes led me to Hermaanus, where Southern Right whales migrate from Antarctica every year between July and November often as close as 30 metres from the shore. A forty kilometres drive south of Hermanus took me to Gansbaai where you can book on one of South Africa's most popular adventures, a cage dive to meet one of nature's most feared predators in the Great White Shark capital of the world. I did make enquiries as to when the next shark diving tour departed. Fortunately I had just missed the boat and it was the last one of the day!

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