South Africa: The Where to Go

Now I’m back from South Africa I want to share all the details of the holiday with you all. I really want everyone who might not be sure about it as a holiday option (just like I had my reservations) to know how incredible it was. I also hope with your additional comments and recommendations this series of posts will become a great resource for those of you planning future trips. We’ll start with today’s post and then next week is going to be ‘Africa week’ 🙂

I’m going to start this series with a preface. Firstly, this was not a budget holiday… Pete and I had always wanted to do SA and as a result decided to blow the budget. We figured that safari (although probably not the rest of our itinerary) was a pre-children experience, or at least a no-go until they are much older, so our choices are perfect for a push-the boat out holiday or honeymoon, but I have included some alternatives we spotted too and hope readers will chip in with their finds and recommendations.

I’m going to start, as is tradition, with our route and hotels, in case you’re planning a similar trip. Here goes!


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The need to know:
As an aside, we flew with Emirates, Manchester – Dubai – Cape Town, a 20 hour trip but actually very painless. We arrived at Manchester airport at lunch time, ate a normal lunch there and then got the Airbus A380 to Dubai lading at about 10pm our time. We had dinner at Carluccio’s in Dubai airport and then boarded about 1am our time to fly to Cape Town, promptly going to sleep and waking about 8.30am the next day (our time,) and landing 3 hours later due to the time zone being only an hour different.

Secondly, many of these places are booked through Mr & Mrs Smith. We use them because they give excellent customer service, often have offers on, you get freebies in every place you stay (Smith Extras) and collect points, which for us usually equates to a night or two away in the UK yearly. Contrary to popular belief they aren’t more expensive than other agents and will often match a competitor price too.

1. Atlantic House, Camps Bay, Cape Town (3 nights)
We were told Camps Bay had a foodie, younger vibe than Cape Town centre and didn’t want to stay at the touristy V&A Waterfront. In the end there was a storm while we were there which meant the beach was a no-go for the first couple of days of our stay but I still preferred it to inner-city Cape Town. Don’t be fooled though, security is as high and you still can’t walk to restaurants at night. The hotel itself has only a few rooms – more of a luxury house, and we were there with only a couple of other rooms occupied so it felt like having a luxe home to ourselves. There’s an honesty bar, a view of the bay and huge tubs and beds… what more do you need?

Alternative: We also looked at this place in central Cape Town, on Long Street. If you like quirky, this place had it by the bucket load (we stopped by for cocktails) and Airstream caravans on the roof if you fancy it – The Grand Daddy Hotel, Cape Town

2. River Manor, Stellenbosch (2 nights)
Booked through Trailfinders, I was looking forward to this place the least but the photos online didn’t do it justice at all and the staff were fabulous. It had true colonial style, but what made it was the safety of Stellenbosch – if you’re visiting be sure to book somewhere in town and then you will experience the rarity of being able to walk to dinner even in the dark, and back.

3. Schoone Oordt, Swellendam (1 night)
We toyed with making two costal stops at Wilderness and Knysna but Pete’s cousin and his wife had done the same route for a honeymoon and enjoyed Plettenberg Bay, so we opted to go there. On route we thought we would cut inland, for no other reason than that it looked pretty and the M&MS review was great. Our expectations were exceeded. Swellendam is a historic, sleepy town and we basically parked ourselves by the pool for an afternoon. We got an upgrade and loved the hotel – rooms are not in the historic house, but purpose built suites in the grounds so are very private.

4. The Grand Cafe and Rooms, Plettenburg Bay (3 nights)
This was our planned beach time to just unwind from the hectic schedule we had planned before, and recharge prior to early starts on safari. We chose Plettenberg Bay instead of Wilderness and Knysna but in truth there’s not much between the three areas. Plett is a little busier and closer to a lot of the thing to do locally though and from driving through each, I think Plett centre is closer to the coast. A quirky north African inspired hotel, artfully styled with a cool bar/restaurant and bay view, we had the most incredible room (5) with a seating area where we watched a DVD one night, a bath in front of the shuttered window and the beds were so high you needed a step to get into it at night – fantastical and fabulous is the best description. This was the closest we came to a ‘big hotel’ as they have branches in Camps Bay and Cape Town, but cocktails were still only R45 (£3.20) and I’d definitely consider it a boutique bolt hole.

5. Tsala Treetop Lodge, Knysna (1 night)
Who doesn’t want to stay in a tree house? This was a good example of us getting more out of being with M&MS – although bookable elsewhere, we got a better rate, points and free bubbly, so worth using them as the agent. This was 10km inland so although we really wanted to experience it, we also wanted to be by the beach and opted for a single night of tree-top luxe after our beach break. It was a total budget buster but really incredible and I’m so glad we went – I wish we had stayed a second night and the restaurant’s food was also top notch. (Note: We paid almost half the rack rate because we booked closer to the time of staying too so it’s worth hanging on.)

6. Eagles Crag, Shamwari, Eastern Cape. (3 nights)
I’ll expand a bit more on our safari choices in my post on Safari holidays soon, but for now, this choice was also booked through Trailfinders, although not one of their listed properties. It’s worth noting we booked a special offer where we made a negligible donation (about £15 each I think) to the park for conservation projects and accessed a cheaper deal. I found this on their website then got Trailfinders to book it for us. I wanted a full on ‘plunge pool amongst the jungle/savannah’ experience and couldn’t be bothered with malaria tablets for just three nights so we chose the Eastern Cape with it’s malaria-free safari parks instead of Kruger.

We then headed back home via a SA Airways flight from Port Elizabeth, picking up the Emirates route in Jo-Burg, via Dubai then Manchester.

So what do you think readers? Any additions you would have made here or hotels you can recommend?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS. It’s worth noting that Hermanus (about 1-1.5h east of Cape Town,) is one of the best land-based spots for whale watching but we didn’t make the trip as the best time is between June/July and November, hence our inland route above.

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25 thoughts on “South Africa: The Where to Go

  1. Ooh yay, I’ve definitely been waiting for this post! SA is definitely on my must-do list. All the hotels you stayed at look stunning. Looking forward to next week 😉

  2. Yay! So glad you’ve posted this now, as I’m on the verge of booking our SA trip for this winter. Our plan is 3 nights at the Waterfront Village Cape Town, 2 nights in Franscchoek, 1 at Hermanus, 3 at Plett (room 5 at the Grand Cafe rooms – was worried after reading reviews that its a very small room, so your comments above have reassured me!), and then 3 nights at Kariega River Lodge safari.

    We’ve toyed with Swellendam, but wanted to book the lot through Trailfinders, and they don’t do any hotels there. I fancied Augusta de Mist, but minimum stay is 2 nights 🙁

    Can’t wait to hear all about your adventures next week!

    Xx

    • Sarah, we’ve been advised that Francheook is a bit ‘older’ than Stellenbosch. TF currently have a two nights for one deal at River Manor too. Our agent didn’t tell us, we had to ask especially, but worth checking?

        • Thanks ladies – will try to swap … Wasn’t overly confident about our Franscchoek choice anyway. Can’t believe how cheap your flights are Becca – ours are £1700 pp direct, but we are going at Christmas. Don’t know if we should be patient and wait until Easter really in the hope of getting cheaper flights (hubby’s a teacher so stuck with school hols) and therefore having more to splash on accommodation (that treetop lodge looks amazeballs!!) – but love the idea of being on safari over new year and want to start a family next year!

          • Blinking Norah! We did get the tickets in the sale – they’re usually £800 or so. We did have a “few” issues with TF forgetting to book the lower fare, and then booking it in the wrong name because they assumed (despite our telling them) that I wouldn’t be changing my name. Some foot stamping soon got it sorted though.
            I would refrain from booking your Kruger (if that is what you are doing) with TF as they tried to charge us £1,500 each for 4 nights. We ended up finding the same resort for £500 (inc transfers) each direct and obviously they wouldn’t match the price. We did book our internal flights with them but were told that there is no added security of doing it via them i.e. if one leg is delayed then you’re screwed either way.
            Safari at New Year would be AMAZING but I think I would wait until April when the weather is cooler on Safari.

          • Also…anyone else tempted to get pregnant ON safari and then call it Leo if its a boy? As in Leo the Lion?

            Just me.

            **hangs head in shame**

    • Sarah, we stayed at ‘The Last Word’ in Franschhoek for one night on our honeymoon and I can’t recommend it enough. We wished we’d stayed for longer – it was beautiful. We hired bikes for cycling around the vineyards and ate lunch at La Petite Ferme and dinner at Ryan’s Kitchen – both superb!

    • Dear Sarah

      We’d LOVE for you to stay in Swellendam and we’re happy to have you for one night… Thank you for letting us know that Trailfinders doesn’t have a hotel there. We’re off to see them!

      Just a note that we’d like to add. The absolute BEST land-based whale watching is in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. A spectacular place that truly feeds the soul and with sightings of up to 50 whales at a time – in season, of course! We often recommend that guests travel a day trip from Swellendam, down to De Hoop, on to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa and back through Bredasdorp for tea & cake and home.

      Do let us know if we can assist with any other suggestions or plans!

      With love.

  3. Wooo yeeeessss…….South Africa week buuuuuut.

    We’ve also just booked our flights (£604 inc taxes direct return with Virgin….again, found direct and then booked through TF) and you know I’ve been waiting for this! We’re spending 4 nights in the Kruger, flying to George (which is half way along the Garden route and so perfect if you don’t want the Plett to Port Eizabeth drive), spending days in Plett, Knysna, Swellenham (thanks for the tip Rebecca), Hermanus, Cape Town and Stellenbosch. We’re also staying at River Manor because TF have a 2 4 1 per night and the rate is incredible. Our hotel in Hermanus is also free through TF deals. From Cape Town, we fly to Maun and into the Okovango Delta (hello Malaria tablets) and from there, on a houseboat for a few nights. Our last few nights will be spent at Victoria Falls.

    And I cannot WAIT.

    Accomodation wise, it’s shared between nice hotels and boutiquey self catering places. We quite fancy picking up some meat on the way home, a few bottles of wine and having sundowners on the balcony overlooking the lagoon.

    Food wise, we’ve booked le rust en verde in Stellenbosch, purely because I’ve never eaten at anywhere that’s ‘the best’ before because the food isn’t to my taste and is too fancy. Luckily, SA is meat, meat and meat so I’ll enjoy it without the citrus fluff or whatever they call it. Other recommendations are welcome.

  4. Reliving my holiday memories by reading this post, Rebecca – it sounds as though you had a fantastic trip. I’ve got to second South Africa as an amazing holiday destination; it really has a bit of everything. Like you, I was a bit concerned about safety before we went (in March this year), and took sensible precautions, but barely had a moment where I felt uncomfortable being out and about, including at night.

    For the benefit of trip planners, my highlights from my 2.5 week road trip from Johannesburg to Durban to Cape Town were as follows:
    – The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg;
    – The wonderful Three Tree Hill Lodge (threetreehill.co.za/) overlooking Spioenkop, where we spent 3 nights, spending the days on trips out to the battlefield at Spioenkop (fascinating with the benefit of Simon from Three Tree Hill’s explanation), the Royal Natal park in the Drakensburg and on nature walks and even a walking safari complete with mother and baby rhino (yes, pretty scary on foot!). Kwa-Zulu Natal was in itself a huge highlight of the trip for me – it felt like being in Africa, unlike the tourist trail closer to Cape Town, and this was the perfect base to experience it. Next time we go, I’m sure we’ll spend longer exploring KZN;
    – Prana Lodge (pranalodge.co.za/) in Cintsa, where each room was bigger than the downstairs of my house, with fantastic food and set on a stunning wild coastline;
    – Two nights on safari (wish we had stayed longer) at Quartermains Camp (www.haggardandbrand.com), which from my research must be one of the most affordable safari options in South Africa with no compromises – I can’t recommend it as an experience enough. The camp has at most 6 people staying at once, and for the first night it was just my husband and I, which meant that we had 2 essentially private game drives before the other guests arrived. The accommodation is in 1920s style expedition tents with ensuite bathrooms, which was an experience in itself, and is run by an incredibly friendly couple and two lovely rangers. The game drives were amazing – in both Shamwari game reserve and in Amakhala, a small reserve. It’s the one of only two places that you can stay and experience both reserves and it meant that we had the best of both worlds, with incredible animal sightings.
    – Spending the night in a tree house suite in Phantom Forest, in Knysna (http://www.phantomforest.com/) which had the most amazing views over the lagoon;
    – A meerkat safari in Outshoorn (organised through De Zeekoe guesthouse, where we also stayed);
    – The lovely town of Stellenbosch, the views and incredible food (our favourite restaurant was Rust en Vrede – yum!) and wine on offer. We stayed at Middedorp Manor (www.middedorp.com/) in the centre of town and easy walking distance (day and night) to all of the shops and restaurants. Huge comfortabale rooms and fantastic breakfasts! We visited Franschoek and were really glad we opted to stay in Stellenbosch instead. While Franschoek is very pretty, everything is based on just one road, whereas Stellenbosch is a large town wtih a great atmosphere, which is more our sort of thing; and
    – Four Rosmead (www.fourrosmead.com) was a perfect base in Cape Town. Again, we walked out for dinner a couple of times and felt perfectly safe. Favourite restaurant: http://www.thetestkitchen.co.za).

    Hope this helps someone!
    Jen x

  5. Our flights were about £650 each as I remember, BUT we did a longer route (as above) and the total tourney time was consequently about 20h there and 24 back. We also flew out on a Monday (arriving tues) and returned the same days. However all of this was because we only booked at the end of Jan to leave Apr 15th, so we went for cheapest flight rather than date. The next best price we got was £850 with BA going Saturday to Saturday but with similar connections and times.

  6. Hi Rebecca, I am so excited to hear about this trip as a safari is something I am considering for my 30th next year now…do you know the best time of year to go weather wise?
    Also as rude as it is, how much did the trip cost all together? Just because I would like all the places to stay at that you did, other than probably we would try to go to Hermanus as one of the south african anaesthetists I asked at work highly recommends it.

    I cannot wait to hear about the safari part too and the thing that puts me off is the malaria pills as mu husband went once and was terrible with the tablets for it…

    I would be sooooo grateful for tips and am loving reading everyones comments!!
    xx

    • Yes, cheeky ask but I’d love to know the approx total as well to know just how much we could get for our money if we ditched the Xmas idea and go at Easter! Think we’re paying way over the odds for flights and skimping on accommodation as a result…

      • Flights £600+ depending on whether you fly direct
        Safari (4 nights) Kruger in private reserve £350-£3000 (depends where you want to stay though obvs). Do you really need a private plunge pool? (I bet Rebecca will cover this next week).
        Accommodation on the Garden route £50-200+ per night per room depending on where you stay and the location.
        Our friend said meals were about £25 each per day for lunch and dinner.
        Internal flights £200+ each per flight.
        Okovango Delta £600+ each per night (I KNOW)
        Houseboat £300+ per night each
        Chobe £300 per night each (cheaper than the Delta plus you don’t have fly in costs)
        From what I can gather on line, activities are pretty reasonable. Things like Robben Island are £16 each, Wine tasting inc lunch £30 each, Table Mountain £15 each, Whale Watching £50-60 each.

        There is no good time to go for both Safari and the Garden route. We are going in September because its good for game in the Delta, Chobe and Kruger and we want to see LIONS and HIPPO. Its also hot but not too hot (say around 18-24 degree C) on the Garden Route. Once it gets super hot on the Garden route (November, December, January, February) then the weather in Kruger is rainy and its harder to spot animals. So you would pay peak Kruger prices in September but low rates for your Garden route stint….

        Hope that helps.

        • And when I say safari I mean Kruger…I bet the weather should be pretty consistent if you did Shamwari and the Garden Route like Rebecca did.

          • Yes that’s right. The weather was temperamental while we were there as it was essentially Autumn. The first few days were cold and rainy but thereafter it warmed up every days, peaking at 30 degrees. I found safari more of a problem weather wise in the morning/evening as it’s colder then, regardless of the weather, in the open vehicles the wind really whips through and that can be either a relief from warm weather or bitingly cold if it’s cooler.

            I’ll pop back later with approximate costs. x

  7. This brings back happy memories – we went to S. Africa for our honeymoon in September 2010 and had a wonderful time – we really fell in love with the place.

    We flew to Jo’burg (and left again in a transfer straight away – although there were some museums I would have liked to have visited, it is not considered that safe and I didn’t want to take the risk on our first visit to the country) and drove to our safari destination which was a small (massive, but small compared to say Kruger) private reserve in the Waterberg mountains – absolutely beautiful and highly recommended (it was called Marataba – completely as good, if not better as it looks online). We then drove back to Jo’burg and flew down to Cape Town. From Cape Town we went to Franschoek – I enjoyed it here and would recommend if you are foodies – we had some amazing meals!! Completely stuffed ourselves one day in particular and could barely walk back to the hotel (like Stellenbosch, you can walk around after dark which was nice).
    We then went to a place called de Kelders which is just along the coast from Hermanus – highly recommended for whale watching if you go in season. We then drove back to Cape Town for our flight home…one day soon we’re hoping to go back and do the whole garden route.

    I love South Africa!

    Katie

  8. Hi there, Really enjoyed reading your hotel picks in S.Africa.
    It brought back some great memories of my trip a few years ago.
    My husband and i got married in a fantastic hotel called La Residence in Franschhoek.
    It was wonderful! We only stayed one night as it was pricy but it was worth every penny spent, simply stunning. I must point out to your foodie readers who are planning a trip to Franschhoek – it apparently has some of the best restaurants in the country and i must admit we ate some scrummy meals whilst we were there. Another fabulous place to visit is Hermanus. It has an amazing, rugged, other worldly type beach and you can walk the cliff path that has the most stunning views of the sea and mountains – we loved it there. My friend has a guest house on the cliff path route called Bamboo house. We haven’t been there yet but its meant to be lovely. The hotel we stayed at was Mosselberg on Grotto Beach it was fantastic and we would definitely recommend it, very stylish, served great food was peaceful and overlooks the beach. We were even lucky enough to see whales from our room!
    Hopefully we will visit S.Africa again, its such a big country with so many interesting things to see and do.
    Hope you all have wonderful holidays : )
    Thanks for posting. : )

    Best,

    Stacey.

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  10. Dear Rebecca

    Thank you SO much for the wonderful mention of Schoone Oordt. We are very happy that you loved it and thank you, again, for choosing to stay with us.

    With love.

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