South Africa is a hop and a skip away from the Bay Area and a great place to explore a whole different world. We recently chose to go on a trip to the Southern most country in Africa because of the diverse activities it offers and great exchange rate. We divided our trip into two main parts: Johannesburg area for safaris in the North, and Cape Town for some coastal vibes and a visit to their wine country. See below for a breakdown of our trip by day.
We flew from SFO with a layover in Zurich, Switzerland (for a walk along the beautiful Limmat River) and then onto Johannesburg, South Africa. We decided to optimize our time and head straight to a safari after a quick pick up of some snacks and water in the city. Our fist stop was Pilanesberg National Park.
We stayed at Pilanesberg Tented Camping for two days. This camp was the perfect mix of what we were looking for: a taste of a real safari but with the comforts of a bed and a hot shower. Their nightly package is by per person and includes breakfast, dinner, and two safari drives with a guide. We hoped into their jeep for the evening drive right when we got there and enjoyed spotting a bunch of animals, champagne toast, and a hot dinner waiting for us when we got back. Perfect start to our South Africa Adventure!
Next day we grabbed breakfast and headed into the park for our own self drive. Pilanesberg National Park is malaria free and is home to the big 5 as well as a bunch of other animals. We spent the whole day meandering around the park in our own vehicle and had lunch at the park’s restaurant overlooking a salt lick where we saw lots of zebras and warthogs. Headed back to camp to rest up a bit before heading out for the evening drive again. This time we saw lions crossing the road!
We hit the road to Welgevonden Private Game Reserve as our next stop. Many reserves are private since the land is private and owners can choose what they want to do with the land. This Reserve was once farm land and is a combination of many farms to form a huge reserve with all sorts of terrain which was perfect to see a large variety of animals. We stayed at the Clifftop Lodge which is an exclusive hideaway located deep inside the reserve and overlooking a gorgeous ravine. All rooms are private units with your own plunge pools and view. It is an all inclusive experience with amazing food and services.
Waking up early for our morning game drive, we headed into the bush an encountered, elephants, at least 5 different hoof animals, and heard some baboons swinging through the trees. We stopped at an overlook for a small coffee and hot chocolate break which was needed since the air can be quiet chilly in the mornings. Visiting in May is actually South Africa’s start of winter. Winter is a great time for safaris since the vegetation is shorter and thinner which makes spotting animals a lot easier. After we returned, we had a 2 course breakfast before relaxing on our private patio and getting an in room massage! It was a true vacation relaxing and listening to the river running below us while soaking up some African sun!
Our last safari stop was a visit to Marakele National Park where we stayed at the Tlopi Tented Camp located inside the park and overlooking a watering hole. This park was absolutely breathtaking with the beautiful towering mountains and elephants roaming everywhere. We saw a heard with at least 5 little ones and learned that elephants only sleep about half an hour every day and spend the rest of the day eating. We cooked our own dinner that night and sat outside our cabin watching the stars twinkle and listening to the sounds of the night.
We drove back to Johannesburg and took a short plane ride to Cape Town. We checked in at Four Rosmead Boutique Guesthouse and relaxed a bit in their heated pool and cute garden area before heading into town for dinner. Four Rosemead had recently been upgraded and some new rooms added. We loved the peaceful neighborhood they are located at which is still very conveniently located to both Table Mountain as well as downtown. We had dinner at Burger and Lobster which served their local lobster catch. The menu is a simple selection of burgers or lobster but make sure to ask about their secret menu which has lobster mac and cheese and a lobster topped burger- so good.
Spent the morning exploring Table Mountain area. A popular activity is paragliding (which was amazing) and hiking. We hiked up Lion’s Head for a great view of the ocean and Cape Town before heading to MannaBay for high tea. MannaBay sits at the foot of Table Mountain and has eight uniquely decorated guestrooms. The high tea is open to public and was beautifully presented with the option of sitting anywhere on their grounds to enjoy. Everything tasted as good as they looked and it was the perfect afternoon to relax with some good food and champagne. We rounded out the day with a sunset sail on the Mirage 760. Starting at the V&A Waterfront, we were greeted with a glass of champagne before heading aboard. We picked a nice cozy spot and was offered blankets as the sun started to set. The Mirage is a 76 foot luxury catamaran which made the ride very smooth as we glided out of the harbor and along Cape Town’s coastline. They also offer day trips with the perfect opportunity for whale watching.
We woke up in the early hours of the morning for a pick up to go shark cage diving with Shark and Safari Tour at Gansbaai. It’s about a two hour drive so we loved that they had a transport option with a knowledgeable driver. Upon arrival, we had a quick breakfast and a safety talk about the procedure. Unfortunately we were informed that shark sightings have been low due to some orcas (who eat sharks) in the area. We didn’t have any luck of going diving but had the chance to learn more about great whites and also view the thousands of seals in the area which draws the sharks to the area in the first place. If you don’t see a shark they give you a voucher for a free chance next time!
We headed back to Derwent House which we were staying at for some rest and relaxation. We loved this hotel for their great service, an awesome location, and beautiful Afrochic decorations. The staff is very helpful with making dinner reservations and suggesting things to see and do around the area. This location is perfect for a couple’s getaway or honeymoon or anniversary option- lots of privacy and chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
We woke up to an amazing breakfast at Derwent House. They have a huge selection of cold cuts, oatmeal, fruits, and coffee to start your meal off with. Then choose from their hot breakfast menu for a made to order dish. After breakfast we finished our coffee out on their sunny patio and dipped our feet in the pool. Took a quick whirl in their hot tub before heading down the coast. We took the day to visit the numerous smaller towns and bays in the South Western area of the Cape Town region. Had an oysters lunch in Houts Bay, drove through Chapman’s Peak, and headed to Cape of Good Hope which overlooked the ocean with nothing in between you and Antarctica. We ended our day with a stop at Boulders Beach to visit the penguins and saw a lot of babies as well.
Headed up North for a visit to Langebaan which is a great beach town. We stayed at the Indigo Blue Beach House which is located in a small private cove right on the water. The house is perfect for a group with multiple rooms and a living room that looks out onto the water. We took our time getting dinner ready and then sat back to enjoy our meal with a glass of wine and the ocean view as the sun started to set- perfection.
The next day we headed to Stellenbosch region which is known as the wine region of South Africa. We rented a motorcycle from SA Motorcycle Adventures to do a day trip around the area and through the mountains. Experiencing an area on motorcycle is the perfect way to fully see and appreciate the uniqueness of certain places. We love how riding a motorcycle allows you to use all five senses as you drive through the wind and go at a pace where you can look around but also go fast enough where you can cover a large area. During our ride, we drove along the coast, through the mountains, forests, and vineyards all within a couple of hours. We also made a stop at the Cheetah Outreach which was very educational. This facility is a place where they educate people about cheetah and also focus on helping farmers learn practices in herding in harmony with cheetah populations. They do have a couple of adult and baby cheetahs on site that you can visit as well as many other types of cats that can be found in South Africa.
We started our day with a breathtaking view out or window at Banhoek Lodge. We were greated with a view overlooking vineyards with the famous Cape Town mountains towering in the back. Since we were arriving in early winter, the vines were already changing color and some fog was rolling out. With a light rain, the air was fresh and crisp and the sun soon dried everything up for a perfect day to explore the Stellenbosch region. We headed into town for a lunch at Oppie Dorp. Located in a typical Cape Dutch style building, we enjoyed our lunch of seasonal specials paired with their own house wine made locally. The atmosphere is causal and fun which was the perfect way to enjoy the wine country vibe of the area.
We then hopped onto a tuk tuk with Tuk Tuk Stellies Wine Tours to visit a few wineries in the area. This tour was a perfect way to see the area in an open air vehicle and also taste a variety of different types of wine from the region. All the while being able to fully enjoy yourself and also get answers to all your questions from your guide and driver.
Ended this night with dinner at the amazing Tokara restaurant. A visit to the area wouldn’t be complete without a visit here. If you come during the day, you are greater with beautiful valley views and at night, a beautiful view of the city lights. Service and food is excellent and pair it with a local glass of wine and you’ll get a full taste of what the region has to offer.
Morning views from our LovanE Boutique Wine Estate room was just what wine country living is all about. Vineyard views and lots of peace and quiet. After breakfast we headed Waterford Estate for the Porcupine Walk. Named after the many porcupine quills you find during your walk, this was a very unique experience wandering through vineyards, side trails, and through the forest on foot. All the while learning about the bio farming and history of the winery and how they have learned to perfect their wines throughout the years. Lunch and a wine tasting is served half way though and ended with a chocolate and wine tasting at the tasting room.
We ended the day with a visit to Eagle Encounters which is an amazing sanctuary and rehabilitation center for Birds of Prey. They have a variety of different birds that are mostly from areas in South Africa but some exotic birds as well. Dance with the “Dancing Barn Owls” or watch one of the interactive shows they have throughout the day. You can also purchase additional tickets to hold one of the birds yourself! One of them even gives kisses!