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South Africa: Cape Town & the Garden Route

During previous adventures to Africa I’ve wallowed in the disorder and discomfort on offer, however South Africa was an opportunity to see a luxurious side to this great continent which I had yet to encounter.

Cape Town & Surround

Even from the airport drive, whilst jostling through friendly rush-hour traffic,  I could confidently say that Cape Town is a stunning city. Hugged by Table Mountain and flowing down to rich Atlantic waters, it's a relaxed, low-rise metropolis set against a backdrop few cities could match.  We opted for the trendy and affluent suburb of Camps Bay, where panoramic hillside homes make the most of the views. This is a great retreat from which to head into the city itself, or simply enjoy the beach and beachfront cafés.

Recommendation: We stayed at the wonderful Auberge Du Cap – stunning views and warm hospitality.

Browsing the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront makes for a pleasant morning, with trendy harbour-side cafés and high-end African art; whilst the city centre is characterful and energetic. The market at Greenmarket Square offers a wealth of African curios, and a good chance to exercise awkward haggling techniques. Of course, no trip to Cape Town is complete without a jaunt to the top of Table Mountain, affording fabulous views over the city and out to Robben Island; or back across the Twelve Apostles mountain range. Pushed for time, we opted for the cable car, the rewards no less wonderful when you reach the top.

Recommendation: The Hussar Grill, half way up Camps Bay serves delicious steaks and accompanying local wines. Our best meal in SA.

Heading south from Camps Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive is the most spectacular coastal road, ribboning along the Atlantic seaboard to unravel enticing views at every turn. Continue on, past the expansive Noordhoek Beach and you’ll reach Simon’s Town, home to Boulders Beach and its colony of African Penguins - speedy little things once they're in the water!

From this point, continue further until you run out of land, arriving at the South Westerly tip of Africa, Cape of Good Hope. Its wild beauty (bar tourists) is matched by its geographical significance and emotional pull, mildly relatable to the conquests of 15 Century Portuguese explorers – the first Europeans to navigate the cape.

Highway 2 & the Garden Route

Driving here is a joy, and apart from the occasional in-road Baboon there’s little to distract from the rolling agricultural lands of the Western Cape. Mossel Bay marks the start of the Garden Route, a colourful drive which, whilst much hyped, never quite compared to the aforementioned Chapman’s Peak.

We were to spend a few days in Knysna. The lagoon was nice, as was our B&B looking out towards The Heads. The central harbour was equally pleasant - nice enough, but lacking in African charm and instead resembling a rather sedate version of Florida Keys. Plenty to do in the surrounding area.

We took the opportunity for a spot of whale watching, heading out between The Heads, which was significantly more intimidating amidst the waves than it looked from our hotel’s breakfast room. The narrow gap is one of the most complex navigable channels, and the scene of many shipwrecks throughout history. Our boat was spat out into a rather large, powerful, and shark infested open ocean – no better respected than when being tossed around in swells significantly greater than our 12-man vessel. Fortunately I’d inherited my father’s sea legs, and whilst half the passengers had their heads in buckets, we were greeted by a pod of 30 or so bottlenose dolphins, frolicking at the prow as all good dolphins should. Whales were less numerous, although we caught brief glimpses of Humpbacks between pitching waves. Hermanus, it turns out, is your best bet for whales.

Kuzuko ‘Place of Glory’, Addo Elephant National Park

Wildlife is abundant along this southern stretch of Africa, and we’d already spotted a number of exotic beasts, roaming casually close to unprotected humans. Now it was our opportunity to track some of Africa’s most celebrated mammals, as we drove off-road, deep into the Karoo.

Kuzuko Lodge is a warm and charming place, with its hilltop chalets surveying 40,000 acres of private reserve within the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.

There is no greater feeling than to set out on safari: clambering into the truck at dawn, and edging through the bush with alert eyes and collective anticipation. Luck can play a part, but our knowledgeable ranger CF manoeuvred us within touching distance of lion, buffalo, giraffe and snake.

We had the privilege of sitting amongst a herd of elephants, their chomping and growling easily audible against this quiet landscape. For such large creatures, they move through the bush with ease and pace.

Black rhinos are endangered, however when one charged us, bucking and bronking in a furore of grunts and nostril flares, it rather felt like the occupants of our truck were on the brink of extinction. A terrifyingly exhilarating experience, celebrated later at a safe distance. Each sortie finished up on a hilltop vantage point, sharing encounters, beer and biltong.

filmed by the steady hand of Carly Coulter

Our time in South Africa surpassed high expectations, and travels high up my list of favourite destinations. There is still plenty left to explore, yet the south’s stunning scenery, tasty food and abundant wildlife is as good a place to start as any. In my mind, the perfect balance between an accessible and adventurous Africa.

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