South Africa Tour

Donna Meredith on 02 June 2015
South Africa has been on my wish list of destinations for some time therefore I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to visit this amazing destination on an educational trip with ten of my fellow Travel Counsellors. We had an intense, whirlwind few days visiting Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Knysna before finally spending our last few days at the outstanding Shamwari Game Reserve.

We arrived early on our first morning in Cape Town and went straight on a tour to view the beautiful beach areas of Camps Bay and Clifton. We then visited the wonderfully modern and chic Victoria and Alfred waterfront with it restaurants, bars and superb upmarket shopping mall. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at The Market Place and this was our first experience of the amazing value for money in South Africa.

Tired but exhilarated we then checked in to the totally charming Vineyard Hotel, located just 15 minutes from the city with stunning views of Table Mountain. This beautiful hotel perfectly blends traditional and modern design with a truly personal and elegant touch.

Day two in Cape Town and we headed off to Houts Bay, a local working port just 20 minutes from Cape Town. Here we were treated to a cruise with Drumboat Charters to see a seal colony. It was amazing to see hundreds of seals happily at play in their natural habitat.

We then travelled a little further along the coast to Boulder Bay which is home to the African penguin colony – an truly awesome sight to see so many penguins and view their nesting and breeding sites. Our onward journey to Simons Town offered wonderful views of the stunning coastline and what can only be described as an outstanding sea food lunch at the Black Marlin restaurant – highly recommended!

Heading on to Cape Point, driving over the famous Chapman's Peak Drive, this route offered spectacular scenery. Once at Cape Point, otherwise known as The Cape of Good Hope, we took a drive through the natural reserve. We then took the Flying Dutchman funicular up to the viewing point and climbed the many steps to the lighthouse at the top – well most of us did, as by then bad weather had set in!

Day three saw us leaving Cape Town to head off to the Winelands and ultimately one of my favourite places on the tour – Stellenbosch. En-route we stopped at Babylonstoren, a Cape Dutch farm with vineyards and orchards surrounded by the dramatic mountains of the Drakenstein Valley. This is a truly unique little oasis of tranquility where guests stay in beautiful accommodation and are encouraged to pick fruit and vegetables from the organic gardens to enjoy. There are also a wide range of activities on offer including yoga, cycling, canoeing, swimming, guided walks, hiking and wine tasting. The spa looked very inviting too as did the onsite restaurant that is booked months in advance by locals but tables are always reserved for hotel residents. We enjoyed an amazing tour of the gardens and grounds, which is available to all, free of charge daily at 10am most days.

Back on the road and only a short trip to The Delaire Graff Estate for wine tasting in the most beautiful setting at the top of the Helshoogte mountain pass, the high altitude and cooling breezes make excellent wines, which we were fortunate enough to taste. We then moved on to Stellenbosh, the oldest town in South Africa which is enviably situated amidst the many wine farms and vineyards of this beautiful region. We enjoyed a walking foodie tour sampling many local delicacies such as Biltong, artisan breads and Roobos tea with rusks. This historic town stole my heart with its culture, beautiful historic buildings and vibrant community. It is also home to one of my favorite hotels ever – “Oude Werf” which expertly blends its 200 year old Georgian origins with modern luxury and also boasts an outstanding restaurant and exemplary hospitality.

Day four took us along the Garden Route to Knysna which was a five hour drive but it felt like no time at all when taking in the spectacular sea and mountain views. The roads were all well maintained and free moving and of course driving on the same side as the UK makes this an easy any enjoyable drive.

We arrived into Knysna which is nestled on the banks of a spectacular lagoon and surrounded by indigenous forests and the Outeniqua Mountains. A market town, there are many craft and flea markets and Knysna is also well known for its oysters. Featherbed Nature Reserve, across the lagoon, offers day tours to spot the sea horses and Knysna Loeries.. We stayed at the Protea Hotel Knysna Quays, set on the Knysna Quays Waterfront with the lagoon at your doorstep. We enjoyed a sunset cruise on the ‘John Benn' before dinner at the Cruise Café, a short walk from the hotel.

We set off for day five, very excited as we were headed for the crown jewel of private game reserves situated in the malaria free Eastern Cape - Shamwari Game Reserve. Shamwari was everything I expected and more, set in 25,000 hectares with contrasting savannah and jungle in which there are many animals roaming free. In Africa the big five game animals are African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and White or Black Rhinoceros of which we were fortunate to see all of, at close quarters with the help of our expert rangers Phillip and Tops.

We stayed at Riverdene which is more family focused than the other lodges with a dedicated programme and facilities for children of all ages. This lodge offers a luxurious yet relaxed environment where families can feel at home. We also visited the other four lodges Long Lea Manor, Bayethe, Sarili and Eagles Crag. They each offer unique experiences to suit all types of holidaymakers.

Whilst an incredible safari experience there is a more serious side to Shamwari as it is home to the only Born Free Foundation Rescue Centre in South Africa.The goal of this foundation is to create an awareness of the horrific way in which wildlife is exploited in captivity around the world. We were very lucky to meet some of the rescue big cats. Shamwari guests have a complimentary guided tour of The Born Free Foundation. There is also a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Shamwari which is currently helping “Hope” the rhino whose horn was taken by poachers leaving her for dead. The aim of this centre is to rehabilitate and return all animals back into the wild.

There is a real ’wow factor’ to South Africa. Stunning scenery, beautiful countryside, fabulous people, amazing food and wine and the icing on the cake….a once in a lifetime opportunity to see animals as they should be seen - in their natural habitat.

There is something for everyone in South Africa – foodies, wine lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, families, honeymooners, single travellers and couples. What are you waiting for? This destination exceeded my expectations and I will be happy to tailor make a trip that will exceeds yours.

Let South Africa steal your heart too!