On arrival in Johannesburg early on a cool but sunny Sunday morning, I could not have imagined what the ensuing two weeks were to bring. With prolific wildlife, wine, history, incredible landscapes and no less than eleven official languages, South Africa is the very definition of diversity.
There is nothing like rail travel for covering great distances, and there is simply nothing like The Blue Train. I took the overnight journey between Pretoria and Cape Town on this 5-star ‘hotel on wheels’. The suites are luxurious, the butler service impeccable, and dinner is a dress up affair — jacket and tie please gentlemen!
The indulgence continued in the Cape Winelands, home to legendary wines, Cape-Dutch architecture and excellent restaurants. Dinner at the Franschhoek Country House & Villas’ award-winning Monneaux Restaurant was a memorable duck liver burger — mini brioche with pan-fried duck liver, apricot curry glaze, red onion marmalade, mushrooms, rocket and crispy onion rings. Bon appetit!
Back in Cape Town I stayed in the Cape Grace Hotel on the vibrant V&A Waterfront. With stunning views of Table Mountain and complimentary chauffeur transfers within a 10km radius, it’s a great base from which to explore. From glitteringly trendy Camp’s Bay to the sprawling township of Langa, Cape Town’s contrasts illustrate the challenges South Africa faces today.
Replete with urban sophistication, it was time to go bush! I headed for world renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve, where the safari lodges offer spectacular game viewing. Full of history, the campfire has burned for over 82 years at Londolozi Varty Camp, and Kirkman’s Kamp was built in the early 1920s, an air of colonial graciousness lingering in the original homestead, which now houses the lodge’s dining and bar areas. Great rolling lawns provide a velvety contrast to the surrounding wilderness.
Home to a host of wildlife, including the ‘Big Five’, Sabi Sand is part of a conservation area that covers over two million hectares, with no boundary fences between it and Kruger National Park. Game drives are led by experienced rangers and trackers with a sixth sense for finding even the most elusive animals. The exclusive nature of the reserve, and the ability to go ‘off-road’ gives you the best chance of some truly thrilling up-close wildlife encounters. Highlights for me included hyena pups emerging from their den (a rare sight), and a dawn encounter with a leopard at a watering hole — the bush was so still you could hear her tongue lapping the water as she drank.
From Kruger we flew by light aircraft to Phinda Private Game Reserve — a great way to get around when road transport can be quite arduous. My highlights here were being mock-charged by an exuberant teenage male elephant, ears flapping; and the simply stunning sight of a herd of elephants drinking from the swimming pool while I stood literally metres away on the deck taking photos. Magic!
For me, South Africa has it all — stunning natural beauty, award-winning food and wine, friendly people, and fantastic wildlife. Ube nohambo oluhle! Have a good journey!