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?
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.