My Safari Experience

This morning it’s my final instalment of the South Africa series. I’m finishing off with the best part of the holiday (and as you have seen, that is saying something!) I think the pictures speak for themselves…

After a 3 and a half hour drive from Tsala we turned off onto the road to Shamwari with eyes keenly peeled for wildlife. Our first greeting came from a small tortoise ambling along the roadside, perhaps a reminder to slow down and relax and we continued on, still outside the reserve. From behind the fence we could see what looked like a field of horses then a closer one revealed itself to be nothing other than a zebra. The collective noun for a group of zebra is a ‘dazzle’ and I can see why now. To see them in the wild was pretty spectacular. We drove on through the reserve gates (warning us to beware of lions!) and onto the lodge.

The welcome was warm and we were immediately seated for a lunch which was mouthwatering – I had Impala and Apricot kebabs, while Pete feasted on a gourmet Kudu burger, then were shown to our enormous room. It had indoor and outdoor showers, fully movable glass on 2 sides, that longed for infinity plunge pool and a free standing bath. We didn’t have time to enjoy it though as we were off out on our first game drive.

Before booking, we had worried that the Reserves in the Eastern Cape would be too small to hold enough wildlife that we would spot everything we wanted to. Boy were we wrong. No sooner were we into the reserve than we came across a group of Giraffe’s lazily eating the trees. Graceful despite their size, they are actually quite shy and kept positioning themselves behind trees and large bushes looking quite comical as their neck and heads soared above their hide out, giving them away. As we moved on we saw another ‘dazzle’ of zebra looking almost comical in their monochromatic stripes.

Next we were told we would be getting out of the vehicle, to walk to our next sighting, cheetah brothers. My heart was pounding as our ranger, Jan, prepared his rifle and arranged us in a silent line to walk over. Pretending to ignore them, we walked to about 15m behind of them, all the time discretely alerting them to our presence so they weren’t surprised and squatted down to watch them. They continued to laze in the shade, tail swatting away the flies and we just watched in awe. Not wanting to outstay our welcome, we walked away in single file and my heart slowly returned to a normal rhythm.

Our next spot was a white rhino with her youngster and finally we parked amongst a pride of lions, 2 lionesses with their adolescent male cubs, sporting the rather untidy beginnings of a magnificent mane. I could hardly believe how much we had seen on our very first drive.

Th next morning we were out again, this time in search of elephants. Jan knew the elephants were in the north of the reserve, as they had been for 3-4 months and we headed off on the bumpy roads in the freezing morning air to find them. There were signs everywhere, fresh dung, torn trees but not a single elephant.

How a 5 ton animal can hide itself so well baffled us and it seemed the whole animal kingdom has gone to sleep too as we saw only a few of the most common antelope, several black backed jackals and a group of bat eared foxes. We took to counting warthogs, pitting the UK against our fellow guests the American couple in the car with us and spotted about 35 of the pigs with babies in tow on our drive, but still no elephants.

Not to be deterred, Jan said he would take us straight out again after lunch and we returned to the same spot where we almost immediately spotted a huge bull elephant making his way to the waterhole. We decided to follow him there and as we got close realised he was ‘in musth’ – sexually frutrated and testosterone fueled – meaning we had to give him a wide berth. Unfortunately it was a tight spot and as we shifted position to get a better view he turned caught sight of us and gave chase, in a mock charge. Fortunately, foot to the floor we gained enough ground for him to lay off and return to his business, but it was a stark and terrifying reminder of respecting the animals boundaries. We headed into thick bush instead and found ourselves in the midst of the herd, only 10m or so from 2 mums, several adolescents and babies, all the while hoping the belligerent bull didn’t rejoin the herd behind us. I couldn’t fully relax but the elephants were lovely and we eventually followed 2 more males back down to the watering hole where we watched them drink and cool off.

That afternoon was a contrast to the quiet morning and after seeing more white rhino with their young, we caught sight of a very rare black rhino with her 2 month old baby. Again we kept our distance as she was fiercely protective and we didn’t want to be on the receiving end of another charge.

Next up, a second pride of lions, this time with 8 month old cubs, still with faint spots on their fur for camouflage. Suddenly news came over the radio of a sighting and Jan tore off hoping to show us a Leopard.

Just as we arrived she slunk off the rock and into the trees and we only caught sight of her spots disappearing between the bushes before she was out of sight. I couldn’t help but admire her timing. We waited hoping she would show herself but instead were treated to her chainsaw like calls as darkness fell, an eerie sound in the semi-dusk. We finished with a cocktail stop on the ridge overlooking the vast valley before us as the sun set and painted the sky. A truly amazing day.

Sunday morning dawned, our last full day, warmer than the last and consequently we were spoilt by wildlife to view. We sat amongst a pride of lions with the 8 month cubs again for as long as we wanted, watching the mother chastise an errant cub for becoming too disparate from the pride and the siblings wrestling with each other. They were easily my favourites. Next we heard the only male in the reserve was in view and headed to see him, resplendent on a slight outcrop of a hillside like Mufasa on pride rock. I requested to see some hippos and on our second lookout stop we saw a pod of seven and witnessed some posturing and blaring grunts from the group as a stranger approached. Between each of these we were practically falling over rhino, giraffes, zebra and of course the obligatory warthogs around the reserve.

In the afternoon, now the only two in our vehicle we spent time watching one pride of lions, with the male amongst them ruffling his magnificent mane as the youngsters played. Later we sat amongst the lionesses and their many cubs as darkness fell, mere feet from our rangers favourite young male, benignly undisturbed by us. As we returned to the lodge in the dark I had a strong sense, more than the niggling worry I had had until now, that we would meet an elephant on the narrow single track road back, and lo and behold, minutes from the lodge we rounded the corner to find a large bull dead ahead. Our ranger had warned us about this and we killed the lights and sat waiting for him to move but nothing was encouraging him to go, so Jan started clapping and inching forward to encourage him to continue his amble towards the lodge, expecting him to step off to the side.

We positioned ourselves ready for a quick getaway then scanned the area for more elephants with the spot light – Jan wanted nothing less than to be sandwiched between two of the three that formed a bachelor herd that lived around the lodge. The spot light shone around us and alighted on the rump of another elephant directly behind us, fortunately disappearing in the other direction. We returned to cajoling the elephant in front forwards and after the temporary added stress of him facing another oncoming car which veered off onto a shortcut, eventually he wandered off to the side, in his own sweet time and we got back to the lodge, heart in mouth, glad of the welcome drink to steady our nerves.

The next morning we finally caught a glimpse of a herd of hiding buffalo, camouflaged amongst the bush, occasionally showing a face or failing to hide their behind. Jan had been determined that we would see them, making that 4 out of the big five. I remained secretly proud of the clever leopards who left teasing tracks around the lodge every morning then hid themselves away.

All of our ‘lasts’ were bittersweet. Our last sunset over the Shamwari landscape, our last night viewing the millions of stars in an unpolluted sky, our last sunrise touching giraffes over mist shrouded bush. South Africa and Safari had really captured my heart.

I hope you enjoyed my South Africa posts readers 🙂


Safari: The Need to Know

Safari was such a big part of our South Africa Trip that I felt it warranted a separate post. It was also the part that I stressed out about the most. There seemed to be so much choice of where to stay and it was so much money that I really wanted to get it right, aside from the fact that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type activity. I’ve ended up writing 2 posts, this one about all the planning, decisions and tips I have and the second tomorrow with my actual experience. I hope you enjoy them and as always please do get involved and share your thoughts. 🙂

Planning a Safari holiday
When we decided to go on Safari, I had a mental image of what that would entail. Like I said, we planned an all out luxury holiday – who knew when we would have chance to do this again and I wanted our accommodation to reflect that. I also wanted it to feel authentically African – this is a slight misnomer and it’s hard to describe what I mean, but I wanted somewhere with African decor, preferably modern but without loud green and orange prints and a private plunge pool wouldn’t go amiss either. To be honest, a lot of Safari accommodation is expensive, we’re talking ££££ for three or even two nights, but on the plus side it’s all inclusive once you’re there and all game drives are included too.

Location was another factor. We didn’t want to take Malaria tablets for the sake of 4 days Safari. There’s nothing wrong with them of course, but I found out you could Safari in the Eastern Cape, towards the end of the Garden Route and it also meant we didn’t waste much time travelling – it took us 3.5h from Plettenberg Bay to drive there rather than flying north to Kruger.

One brief thing to consider and I’ll touch on this later, is that the drive times (and early starts) depend on the sunrise – so if you’re terrible at early mornings or can think of nothing worse, don’t plan a trip for the middle of the South African Summer – you’ll be up at 4am.

Choosing your accommodation
I narrowed down our choice to three quite different lodges and I have included them here for comparison.

Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo Elephant Reserve.
Closest to Port Elizabeth, this was a real traditional (although still luxe) lodge with colonial, ‘Out of Africa’ style. We were promised the big five there but I’ve been told since that they don’t actually have the big five. Who knows, but it’s a 184 thousand hectare reserve with a lot of elephants obviously.

Gondwana Game Reserve
Next up was Gondwana – a relatively new lodge that I spotted via the team at Rockett St George posting photos on Instagram. This was exactly the style I was looking for and also the best price (I think due to their relative newness to the market) and the location was perfect, 25 minutes inland from Mossell Bay on the Garden Route.

Bayethe, Shamwari Game Reserve
From the Trailfinders selection, we selected Bayethe lodge on Shamwari Reserve. Shamwari had been recommended by a reader, was just a little further on from Addo and has deck plunge pools etc.

In the end we stayed at Eagles Crag – another Shamwari lodge. Bayethe and Gondwana had been booked up and so I had used the Shamwari website to search their other lodges and even scouted out a bit of a discount in exchange for a local wildlife conservation donation of R150 (about £15) each.

Also worth mentioning is that if you’re on a large reserve, try to find out where your lodge is on the reserve. Eagles Crag was actually better in the end as it was centrally located meaning we could travel north or south on the reserve without difficulty to see the animals wherever they were. Those staying in the south however had 3+ hour drives to get to the north area of the reserve.

Don’t despair if you don’t have a huge budget however. If you’re prepared to get up early there are plenty of reserves that allow you to do a self-drive day safari in your own car, and far more budget accommodation, off the reserves. Try Travel Butlers.

What to take with you
You can find a million and one guides on what to do and take on safari, but these are the things I’m glad I did or wish someone had told me.

It’s all about the pictures you want to take home so invest in or borrow a great SLR camera, learn how to use it and make sure you have a zoom lens. We borrowed a lens from a friend and were thrilled with the pictures. You will often get very close to the animals, but some are too skittish or too dangerous to get too close to, so you’ll be grateful for the zoom to get in close. Having 2 batteries is also a plus in case you run one dead and make sure you have a few SD cards, or that you have something to download the pictures onto. I downloaded daily onto my laptop.

Layers. Everyone says you need layers and I did underestimate this, but it’s not the temperature that’s the issue (at least I didn’t think so,) but the fact you’re in an open moving vehicle so the wind really enhances the lower temperatures. Early mornings are worst and coldest, but even dipping into a valley can tap into pockets of freezing air. I just wore multiple jersey layers and the rangers carry blankets but I’d go so far as to say a couple of technical layers would be best – a thermal, a fleece, and a windbreaker. Hat, scarf and gloves take up no space and should cover the rest. You might be asked to walk to see animals from your car, so wear trainers and you might prefer long pants. Ladies, I also can’t emphasize enough, if you have anything more than a modest bust, pack a sports bra – those roads are REALLY bumpy 😉

I imagined Safari would be quite glamourous at night, not loads of bling and make-up but perhaps understated safari chic dresses. In fact everyone is very relaxed. We went straight from a game drive one night to dinner around a fire in the Boma and didn’t change.

Hard-core insect repellent. Even if there aren’t many mosquitoes around the camp you may find yourself stopped by a waterhole at dusk, or if you just get bitten a lot like me, you’ll need it.

I can’t speak for other places but you eat with your Guide and the people in your car – I don’t think this is compulsory but if you all get on it’s great, perhaps not for a honeymoon! Our guide was a 28 year old South African called Jan who was brilliantly enthusiastic about finding the animals and fun to chat to, plus we lucked out with an American couple too in our car. It was a great way of finding out what’s in store (they had been there a couple of days already) and it’s fun too talking to and hearing from the rangers, both about the Animals and life in South Africa.

Bring your brave boots! I had no idea how scared I would be of the animals. I’m not too scared of animals in general and I think my fear came more from a healthy respect. These are wild animals don’t forget and you are on their territory. We had a male elephant mock charge us because he was in season and sexually frustrated, and walked on foot to observe 2 male cheetahs very close. The guides are very good however, they know their stuff, how to read the animals and if all else fails they carry guns. I was told they had only had 1 animal shot to protect the guests in the history of the reserve, thankfully.

I wasn’t expecting much from the food – for no particular reason. I thought there would be plenty, but perhaps not gourmet quality. We hadn’t eaten at many fancy places on our trip so far but we’d had some great food, yet the food at Shamwari was the best and most inventive.

The Schedule is grueling. I’m not good on little sleep, but for three nights of game viewing I was happy to suck it up. Bear in mind that your start time varies according to the time of year and consequent sunrise/sunset times. We went out at 6.30am and 3.30pm (sunset was about 6.20pm) but in the summer (our winter don’t forget) drives could start up to 2 hours earlier and later. There’s plenty of down time in the day to catch up on sleep, but it’s pretty exhausting. Breakfast is after the morning drive, as is dinner, so take snacks if you need them or dependent on the reserve your ranger may bring them along.

That’s it for tips folks – please do leave a coment if you have any questions or if you have any tips to share from your own experiences too. I can’t wait to share my pictures of the animals tomorrow!


The Garden Route: The Where to Go

Our plan for three days on the beach was for some down time before the early starts on safari. On route we stopped in Swellendam which I’m not going to cover here as there is little to say. If you’re taking the inland route then there are many places you could stop to break the journey (Oudtshoorn is another possible, famous for it’s Ostritch farms and caves,) but we totally fell for the Hotel we stayed at Shoone Oordt which was a definite highlight. Swellendam provided the perfect place to do nothing, without feeling guilty that we were missing things that we should see.

We arrived in Plettenberg Bay in the late afternoon and after checking in to The Grand and taking some comedy snaps of me, princess-and-the-pea style on the huge bed, we headed down to see the beach. Plett is a beach resort through and through but is also a great stopping off point to explore the nature orientated area surrounding Plett, Knysna and Wilderness, in the heart of the garden route. We originally planned 2 nights in Knysna and 2 in Wilderness but you can easily drive between them all and I think that Plett is best located Beach wise too, although all of them have lagoons and coastal spaces.

After a walk on the beach we went to The Table for a chilled out dinner of Pizza cooked in their huge wood fired oven and then spent the rest of the evening totally chilled on the sofa with a DVD.

The one thing I wanted to do in Plett was to visit Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness centre. I had found out from seeing Pete’s cousins honeymon photo’s that you could visit the centre and participate in a sunset or sunrise Cheetah walk. Being a huge cat lover this was beyond exciting for me and I had been looking forward to it all holiday so we decided to book in on our first afternoon for the Sunset walk.

After a morning on the beach we headed to the centre. The Cheetah Walk and Wildcat combo costs R660, by far the most expensive thing we did whilst there, (about £50) for three hours. We arrived at three for a guided tour around the cats and animals that live there, rescued from various places and sadly unable to return to the wild. We saw a Leopard, Serval, Caracal, African Wild Cats, Baboons, Honey Badger and of course, the Cheetah’s! I wasn’t expecting it but they take you inside some of the enclosures as you walk around and I found it quite nerve wracking with even some of the smaller cats; they are after all wild animals.

When we came to the Cheetah enclosure they seemed huge and as the ranger entered the enclosure they swarmed around him purring loudly – both thrilling and terrifying all at once. He turned and motioned us to come in one at a time and I almost died. I don’t know how I thought it was different walking a cheetah on a harness and being amongst them without one, but I was terrified, almost too scared to enjoy it.

After the tour we headed back to the information centre for a safety briefing and then back out to meet our Cheetah, a beautiful boy called Dhosa before we headed out on the walk. It was pretty much, ‘the cheetah’s walk you’ and we almost jogged along to keep up with his unrelenting padding pace as he patrolled his territory. It was completely breathtaking, awe inspiring, humbling, exhilarating and terrifying, all at once but about half an hour in I managed to start relaxing and really enjoy it.

Pete even sat down with him and we got some incredible pictures. I loved every second, despite being such a scaredy cat. That night we ate in the hotel restaurant The Grand Cafe and poured over our photo’s marvelling at what an incredible experience we had just had.

For our final day we took it really easy, staying by the hotel plunge pool in the morning, having a massage with our complimentary spa credit and spent more time on the beach where we stayed to enjoy the stunning sunset and moonrise before dinner.

We ate at the beachside cafe, Lookout Deck, sharing a huge seafood platter and enjoyed eating outside in sight of the ocean and lapped up the beachside vibe.

Our final day in the area was on route to Tsala and we wanted to make the most of our night there so planned to get there shortly after check in. There’s so much to do in the area however that we decided to visit Birds of Eden and Monkeyland. For less than £20 you get entry to both (next door to each other) and can join a guided tour of the 10 different species, including Apes, primates, lima’s and even tortoises. I’m a bit scared of monkeys after getting rushed at by them in the past but they were busty getting on with tree-life so it was great to watch them. It was Pete that wanted to see the birds – housed in a gigantic free flight netted aviary and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it – we saw so many beautiful birds with amazing colours, including my favourite flamingo’s!

Our afternoon was spent absorbing our incredible treetop room at Tsala and chilling by the plunge pool then enjoying dinner at Zinzi, the hotel restaurant ready for our Safari experience yet to come, which I am saving for next week.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures folks 🙂


More South Africa travel posts:

Stellenbosch: The What to Do

It was a complete fluke that we ended up in Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s many wine regions, on my birthday, but very fortuitous! It should have taken around 40 minutes to reach from Cape Town but we got stuck in traffic and arrived at the hotel after lunch. We were bowled over by how welcoming and tranquil the River Manor was and they very helpfully suggested to us the first vineyard we visited as we wanted somewhere to have a lovely birthday lunch.

We arrived at Guardian Peak in the nick of time just before they finished taking lunch orders at half past three, after driving through beautiful wine country in glorious weather and it was worth the trouble we had finding the turn off. An all glass restaurant looked out over the mountains around Stellenbosh and some of the most incredible views I have ever seen, all in full autumnal flush of golds and reds and orange and green. I really had to pinch myself that I was spending my birthday in such incredible surroundings. The Guardian Peak restaurant served bistro style food and after stuffing ourselves we settled down in the bar/lounge for a wine tasting. As we were driving Pete made use of the spittoons provided and we did the full tasting of a white, a rose and 6 reds – definitely too many for my palette as I barely drink any red but it was a fun way to spend a birthday and costs next to nothing at around £3 each!

Stellenbosch was a highlight of the trip for us as it had a very young vibe, being a university town. That evening we were able to walk to dinner (the hotel was only about 2 minutes walk from the main drag, Church Street) and the only problem was choosing somewhere for dinner. We fancied something casual and settled upon a Lebanese grill Manoushe, (on Andringa Street, off Church Street) overseen by the big personality that was the Lebanese owner and chef. The portions were HUGE and we could easily have shared the kebab and flat bread dishes but it was great to eat something different.

For our second day, after breakfast in the sun we took advice from the hotel staff who were endlessly helpful in recommending wineries. After a walk around Stellenbosch admiring the public art installations and Cape Dutch architecture we ended up choosing our own wineries, but the best recommendation we received was to visit the weekly food market (Slowmarket) that ran at the Oude Libertas winery on the edge of town each Saturday. I’d highly recommend a visit there to anyone visiting and I’d even go so far as to suggest timing your visit so you can go. The market operates year round and is full of local organic and gourmet food growers and chefs selling their produce fresh, or artisan street food made in front of your eyes. Wineries are part of this and you can buy wine and wander around drinking it too, listening to music and browsing the craft stalls. We ate an italian flat bread creation, Pete drank homemade lemonade and I sipped MCC (see below) in the sun absorbing the atmostphere.

After lunch we set off to visit a couple of wineries. There is a ‘wine bus’ called the Vinehopper which we initially planned to get but it only visits certain vineyards and after our experience of all the reds the previous day I wanted to go somewhere where I would enjoy the tasting. We chose Viliera (famous for Method Cap Classique or MCC, which is sparkling wine produced in exactly the same way as Champagne, but which can’t be called ‘Champagne’ because it’s made outside of the Champagne region in France,) and Waterford, where they do a wine and chocolate paired tasting.

All the vineyards are beautiful but slightly different and at Viliera we didnt have to pay anything for the tasting of 6 different MCC’s: an organic, a light (9% alcohol), a rose, 2 traditional blends and their flagship vintage which we sampled in the shaded courtyard and chatted with the owner. You can actually look out for Viliera in M&S if you want to try it! After a self guided tour of the cellars where the wine is made (where we learned all about how MCC is different to other sparkling wines,) we headed for Waterford.

The Wine and chocolate pairing is clearly a big draw to Waterford but the estate itself is incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit – it costs R40 (about £3) for 2 reds and a dessert wine paired with a spicy, salty and floral flavoured chocolate. Even though I don’t like red I loved the flavours that they produced when combined and the beautiful courtyard we sampled them in, around a fountain inside the Winery itself.

That evening we ate at Apres (corner of Church and Mill Street) where we had a fabulous steak. This place was also very casual and was full of people watching local team rugby on the big screens which added to the feeling that we were experiencing local Stellenbosch.

Here are a couple of pointers for visiting the wineries in Stellenbosch in case you’re planning a trip:

  • There are LOADS of vineyards (although not all make wine from grapes they have grown, instead buying them in,) so take advice on where you want to go thinking about the type of wine they focus on, the direction they face (some are sunnier in the morning or afternoon so worth timing your visit) or perhaps going to one where they allow you to take a picnic or have a restaurant on site (not many do) to enjoy with your wine.
  • The tastings are very cheap (£2-4) or free. There’s no pressure to buy and you’re not rushed. We did buy 2 bottles at Guardian Peak, a bottle of bubbly in Viliera and 2 of the dessert wine and chocolate at Waterford, (some as gifts) but they’re often very cheap too.
  • Although I’ve focused on wine in the sun(!) they all have fireplaces and lounge area’s that I imagine would make for a lovely tasting environment in colder months.
  • Not all the wineries have restaurants but most offer a cheeseboard or similar snack if you want to eat with your wine and all offer a spittoon so you can drive and taste them. You are also encouraged to ‘pour’ ie – pour away the wine once you have tasted it, as they provide quite big glasses each time!
  • The wineries are spread out but not far from Stellenbosch centre – Viliera was the furthest we travelled at around 15-20 minutes outside of Stellenbosch. It had been suggested to us to hire a bike and cycle to some of them but looking back, although it would have been an option as there are plenty closer to town, it also would have been quite limiting not to mention tiring!

We just loved Stellenbosch and I would definitely go back if we were visiting Cape Town or even transiting through again, as it’s so close. It’s hard to find anything wrong with wine and beautiful scenery!

The next day we headed off to Swellendam for a one night stop before we went to Plettenberg Bay so I’ll be back with the next instalment tomorrow!


Cape Town: The What to Do

Welcome to South Africa week readers! I’m going to be sharing what we did on each of our main stops (see here for our hotels and route) plus a couple of additional South Africa related fashion and lifestyle posts. There may be more than one each day so do come back and as always, if you have any recommendations related to the post, please do comment and let everyone know!

Let’s get started with our first stop, Cape Town, where we spent the first three nights of our trip.

Our flight arrived in around midday and once we had got the car, bags and made the short (~30 minute) drive to our hotel in Camps Bay, the weather had started to go off a bit. We had checked the forecast and were expecting rain for about 24-36 hours from this point so weren’t too disappointed and decided to take in some culture by visiting the South African National Gallery. It turned out this was a great choice as the gallery was hosting a photographic art exhibition about Apartheid which was a great introduction to a time period I didn’t know much about – particularly how recently many of the laws that persecuted black South African people were introduced. The gallery also happened to be right next to Company’s Garden and the Botanical Gardens which we wandered through on-route to Long Street (just a couple of blocks across) and The Grand Daddy Hotel for a celebratory first-day-of-holiday cocktail on the roof under the heaters with blankets and Airstream caravans! It was cold but we were happy and as the weather really moved in we chose a local Camps Bay steak house and grill (which I think is a chain,) called Hussar’s for dinner that evening. We feasted on steak and a burger and enjoyed one too many glasses of brilliant South African wine 🙂

It’s worth noting that we could have spent quite a bit more time in museums – the District Six museum, The Slave Lodge and South Africa Museum all looked interesting and are very inexpensive to get into. (The gallery was R30/£2)

View Larger Map

On Day 2 we were beholden to the weather as the rain with high winds continued  – some of the activities we had on our to-do list like Table Mountain and Robben Island were weather dependent. We decided to make a day of driving down to the Cape of Good Hope and around the Atlantic peninsula which although a wet experience, was a great day and I’d highly recommend it. The weather was quite appropriate as the rugged coastline was pounded by huge waves and racing clouds.

The Cape of Good Hope marks the point where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and warranted a photo stop before we went to Cape Point where there is a chequered maritime history due to the stormy Cape seas. There is a little museum marking these events, 2 lighthouses (one old and a newer one lower down making it more visible through the omnipresent fog,) and a funicular to take you to the top if you don’t want to walk.

There’s also a nice restaurant and a cafe where you can grab a snack or longer meal and I imagine that would have had an epic view for lunch if the weather had been better. After a warm-up coffee we headed up the Indian Ocean side of the penninsula through Simon’s town to Boulders beach.

Boulders Beach is famous for its African penguin colony – they’re called Jackass Penguins as they make a donkey-like hee-haw noise during the mating season (which we were there during) and apparently in the summer months they swim in the sea with beach goers. We watched them from a viewing deck and wandered down to another beach along the boardwalk with huge boulders and crystal clear turquoise sea as the weather started to brighten up.

By the time we reached our final destination Kalk Bay, the clouds were breaking and we sought out Live Bait for dinner.

Part of the harbour wall, you look directly onto the ocean, harbour and coastline and the seafood we ate there was not only the best but the cheapest we had all holiday. We feasted on a huge seafood platter that cost less than £25 and headed home just before sunset then hung out at the hotel that evening, warming up in our huge bath.

On our final full day in Cape Town the weather was still cold but perfectly sunny so we were able to visit Robben Island and go up Table Mountain. We drove to the V&A Waterfront area and parked before going to the Nelson Mandela Ferry Terminal to board the boat. It was an eventful 30ish minute trip as the sea was still rough and we were rocked a lot but there were amazing views back to Table Mountain and Cape Town!

Your ticket includes the ferry and then two tours. The first is a bus tour by a local Capetonian who told us all about the history of Robben Island – far from being just a prison it has also been a military base and a leper colony. The second part was a tour by a previous political prisoner who details what life was like as a prisoner whilst guiding you through the eerily empty and foreboding prison, including Nelson Mandela’s cell. I was a little unsure how that would be and anticipated it to be harrowing and uncomfortable but our guide stuck to a matter of fact style and covered the daily life and I think I actually would have liked to know more.

After disembarking the boat we grabbed a sandwich at the V&A and had a quick wander around the waterfront. If I’m honest this wasn’t an area that was for us. It was clearly the tourist centre and not representative of Cape Town at all, but it was busy, safe and very jolly with street performers and a fun atmosphere.

By late afternoon we drove back to Table Mountain – you can climb up along several paths of varying difficulty and I think it takes around 2 hours from the car park which is already a good way up, but we opted for the very fast cable car. It only takes about 5 minutes and revolves all the way up. We were told it would be cold at the top but it really was freezing. We were lucky it was clear though with amazing views in front to Table Bay, and left and right over the Cape Flats or the Atlantic coast down to the Cape of Good Hope. There are short, medium or long walks at the top, (which don’t take as long as they say they do) and we spent some time watching the famous ‘tablecloth’ of cloud coming over the top inland, then magically disappearing as it fell onto the Cape Town side.

We were too cold to stay for sunset and headed back to the hotel then chose a place that I had had several recommendations for called the CodFather. They have a great sushi bar and then a fish counter where you choose your fish for dinner but we were warned it was overpriced (we felt) for what it was – especially the prawns, and if I went back I would simply stick to the sushi which was brilliant. We did however very much enjoy our seat by the fire and it was busy with a great atmosphere even though most places were quiet due to the cold weather.

Our final day was my birthday and we woke to even warmer sunny weather. We were due to leave and keen to get to Stellenbosh, but decided to head down to the beach at Camps Bay as we hadn’t had much chance to enjoy it. The beach was glorious – white sand, crashing waves, blue sea. We sat and watched surfers then walked the beach admiring the dramatic back drop of table mountain before heading off for Stellenbosch.

That’s where I’ll leave you readers, until tomorrow!


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?


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.

My Month: April

This month is a tale of two halves. As you read this I’m travelling back from 2 weeks in South Africa, (remember when I started planning back in January?) I have so much to share from the trip but for now will whet your appetite with a few Instagram snaps. The first half of the month follows, with my usual and far less interesting exploits 😉

As always, the links in the list go back to posts I have written that correspond to the snaps (if you want to catch up,) and you can follow me throughout the month on Instagram @rebecca_norris on your phone, online or there’s a feed on the right hand side bar here on Florence Finds 🙂

  • My Travel Outfit for the plane: spots and stripes, layers and flats.
  • Cocktails on the roof of The Grand Daddy Hotel, amongst Airstream caravans
  • A long way from anywhere, at the Cape of Good Hope
  • A rainy day outfit for walking and sightseeing on the Atlantic peninsula.
  • The view from our Camps Bay Hotel
  • African Pengins at Boulders beach
  • Just one selection of amazing seafood we enjoyed.
  • Table Mountain, from the ferry to Robben Island
  • My very apt lion birthday card (from Paperchase) from Pete 🙂
  • Birthday outfit
  • The view from Table Mountain
  • Camps Bay beach
  • One of our hotels on route to The Eastern Cape
  • Meeting the Cheetah’s at Tenikwa – a trip highlight.

  • Making macarons with my sister and enjoying nights out over Easter, with Francesca again.
  • Re-wearing my Whistles Wisteria print dress for a (cold) early April wedding with tights and sparkly shoes (see it worn here and here also)
  • Mixing animal prints in my new favourite outfit – worn for the Style Me Vintage Weddings book launch in London.
  • Animal print points with my blue lace skirt (and Pete getting in on the footwear action!)
  • The Style Me Vintage Weddings launch
  • Breakfast in Hoxton
  • New reading material, courtesy of Gemma, pre-holiday.
  • Purchases from & Other Stories
  • Trying out my new boots and my go-anywhere dress for dinner one night.
  • New art (that I bought pete for his birthday) framed and ready to hang, starting off our new gallery wall.
  • Outfits of the day, trying to bring colour into cold days.

How was your April readers? Are you looking forward to May with all it’s bank holidays and the promise of warmer weather?


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