Guest post - South Africa
If you are a newcomer to South Africa or thinking about a holiday there please do read on for my thoughts on a very rewarding trip I recently enjoyed.
Cape Town: Amazing cosmopolitan city, stunning sights,
shops and dining
Sun City: A resort to fit most budgets from the stellar opulence of The Palace of the Lost City to the family orientated Cabanas Hotel
Madikwe: A stunning game reserve, home to the Big 5 and
wild dogs and also malaria free
Soweto: A mind blowing and emotional tour through one of
the worlds most historically relevant districts
The People: South African hospitality and the sense of fun of
the people I met will stay with me for a long time
Guest Posting Bio – My name is John House and I’m a self-confessed sunworshipper. Luckily I work for a smashing travel company called netflights.com which allows me to see parts of the world I might not otherwise get the chance to. I live with my fiancé and cat Rupert.
When not at work or worshipping the sun I love to cook experimental Italian food and play Beethoven very loudly on my piano. I have travelled to the Far East, USA, Canada, all over Europe and have recently returned from an epic trip to South Africa. My perfect holiday would be a trip to the source of the Amazon followed by a footy match and the Mardi Gras in Rio de Janerio.
Where I went
I began my South African adventure, like most people do, in the wonderful cosmopolitan city of Cape Town. Following a few days shopping and sight seeing I flew off to Johannesburg to spend a few restful days at The Palace of the Lost City in the opulent Sun City resort. Fully rested and well fed I then had the pleasure of a trip up to the Botswana border and the majestic Madikwe Game Reserve for a few days in the bush where tracking the Big 5 was the order of the day. Having took well over 400 photos of stunning wildlife and scenery I was again on the road heading back to Johannesburg for a tour around Soweto and then onto my hotel for the night before my flight home back to blighty.
Where to stay
I’ll start with Cape Town which has a bewildering choice of hotels, both big and boutique. The area of Cape Town where you really want to be is in or near the V&A Waterfront. This area is peppered with high quality shopping, dining and fine 5 star hotels. In the evening the waterfront is alive with locals and tourists alike dining on the open air restaurant terraces or putting the finishing touches to their days shopping in one of the myriad of shops and malls mostly open until well after 9pm. I had the pleasure of enjoying the hospitality of the excellent Table Bay Hotel (one of the leading hotels of the world) which truly earns it’s 5 star status. With epic views over the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the iconic Table Mountain on the other; every single room in the hotel can boast a spectacular view. The hotel proudly boasts “The best breakfast in South Africa” with over 300 wonderfully prepared items to chose from including oysters and champagne and temptingly delicate pastries however my favourite was their mouthwatering selection of cured meats and croissants, a perfect start to a busy day exploring the Cape.
For the pinnacle in old world charm and breathless seclusion there can be only one hotel in Cape Town and that is the historic and beautiful Mount Nelson Hotel. Built as South Africa’s answer to the Ritz and Savoy in London this wonderfully presented hotel transports you back in time to an age of glamour and refinement. Draped in pink and clinging to the lower slopes of Table Mountain this hotel offers an array of accommodation options from the dignified splendor of the four poster double rooms to the gloriously spacious two storey suites. Afternoon tea on the terrace next to the sculpted grounds and fountains is a must if only for the home made cheesecake and vanilla tea.
For travelers needing to abide to a stricter budget there is the Commodore Hotel, which is a highly regarded 4 star establishment. The hotel, albeit not the most modern in design or decorum, offer spacious rooms with views out to Table Mountain on its higher floors. Based a short walk from the waterfront you get to benefit from a central location without paying the premium attached to most waterfront hotels. The open-air bar / restaurant terrace nestled within the surrounding hotel walls offers an oasis of tranquility from the busy city outside. An excellent base in Cape Town at a reasonable price.
Following a wonderful time at Sun City I was on the road again, this time heading north towards the Botswana border and the wild and rugged Madikwe Game Reserve. Within 5 minutes of entering the reserve there were elephants, antelope and zebra galore, too many to count. I arrived at Jaci’s Safari Lodge soon after to be welcomed by my game ranger Paul who unloaded my bags and briefed me on safety considerations at the lodge (hungry lions, cheeky monkeys and the like). The lodge itself is set amongst the treetops with an Indiana Jones-esq rope bridge taking you from the drop off point to the main lodge building. The staff at the lodge were all very welcoming and knowledgeable on the local flora and fauna and could not do enough to make me comfortable. The lodge rooms themselves were very unique and fitted in perfectly with their surroundings. Each lodge has an open front looking out over the treetops in the reserve and a generous balcony affording the same views. Following my evening game drive where I snapped away at prides of lions, white rhino, giraffes, wild dogs and the ever present elephants it was time for a well earned rest and dinner under the African stars at one of the lodges many Boma’s (imagine a large barbeque encircled by logs to keep out the lions).
Another exquisite hotel that I had the pleasure of sampling was the Cape Grace Hotel (also right on the V&A Waterfront) which has a whisky bar any self respecting Scottish hotel would be proud of. The food at this hotel, taken on the terrace overlooking Table Mountain on one side and the luxury yachts in the harbour on the other, was as mouthwatering as it was generous and the hotels sommelier worked his magic in pairing off local wines to my 5 course dinner which complimented the food wonderfully. It is worth noting also that no two rooms are the same in this hotel, whilst each maintains a traditional Cape theme each are unique in their arrangement and decoration.
Sun City was my next destination, staying at the signature hotel in the resort the majestic Palace of the Lost City. Upon arrival and following a four hour transfer I was immediately treated to a relaxing hand massage by the pool as my bags were checked to my room. This hotel really has to be seen to be believed as the sheer scale and opulence of the place takes your breath away. Boasting more marble than St Peters basilica and chandeliers branching out into thousands of iridescent crystals everywhere you look you are taken away into a mystical world of luxury; a modern Zanadu is as near to an accurate description as I can muster. The rooms, staff and food are of the highest standard imaginable and for more active pursuits there is the impressive Valley of the Waves waterpark in the neighbouring hotel. There are activities abound at the resort ranging from Balloon Safari’s, Game Drives, Golf and the longest and fastest zip wire in the world.
During dinner my game ranger Paul amazed me with tales from the wild and his and South Africa’s battle with illegal poaching (a rhino had been shot in the reserve just the day before). The food at the lodge was delicious and as with everywhere in South Africa in large quantities and consisted of traditional dishes for dinner (lambs neck stew being a favourite) and more western dishes for breakfast and lunch. I was sad to leave Madikwe and it’s Eden like beauty.
The final part of my trip was spent in the sprawling metropolis that is Johannesburg. With any great city there is a mind numbing choice of areas and hotels however I opted for the trendy up and coming area of Melrose Arch and the well equipped Protea Fire & Ice Hotel. Located in a shoppers paradise the hotel is surrounded on all sides by modern shopping centers’, restaurants and bars which gradually fill as dusk turns to dark. The hotel itself is classed as a 3 star in the UK although the standard of the rooms, communal areas and dining make this feel like a well established 4 star (only a separate shower and bath is preventing this from being a reality). The bar on the first floor is a magnet for locals and guests alike and by all accounts is the destination of choice at the weekend. Food and drink prices at the hotel are very reasonable with a local beer setting you back just under £2, European brands however are somewhat more expensive. The rooms are all decorated in a mono-chromatic style with iconic images of the great and good of 20th century culture. Comfortable, compact and chic is how I would describe this hotel.
What to do
South Africa’s own tag line of “A World in One Country” is a bold boast and one which prior to my trip was one which I thought unachievable. I now gleefully retract that pessimism following my experiences. South Africa has boundless potential to the leisure traveler. I have always believed the main holiday types to be made up of the following: Beach, City, Shopping, Nature, History and Culture. Although quite vague most holidays will fall into one or more of these categories. Cape Town is a fantastic example of a destination where all six of these themes can be experienced. Bejeweled with stunning beaches along the Atlantic coast, boasting some of the best shopping imaginable, surrounded by a nature reserve and drenched in ancient and modern cultural history, Cape Town has a wealth of possibilities to the eager visitor. To list all that is possible would be an unending task in such a country, suffice to say you will have no excuse to be short of something to do, be that sailing over the bush at dawn in a graceful hot air balloon, diving with great white sharks, wining and dining in some of the finest restaurants around or walking in some of the most ecologically diverse environments known to man, everywhere you look there is another opportunity for discovery.
The sheer scale of South Africa means getting around the country usually means flying. The main points of entry to the country are Johannesburg and Cape Town which both have a wide variety of leisure destinations nearby. Be that the beaches of the Atlantic coast and the patchwork or vineyards surrounding Cape Town or the paradise that is Sun City and the game reserves surrounding Johannesburg. If travelling over land I would recommend using Thompsons Tours who provide comfortable, well air-conditioned vehicles along with professional, amiable and passionate guides who will fill any journey with facts and trivia on the local area. I would say however that if a journey is more than 300 miles it would be well worth checking for local flights as some of the roads are not the smoothest and can begin to wear after several hours. There is a plethora of safe, reputable local airlines who can ferry you to each and every corner of this great nation and the reliable Thompsons Tours for smaller, more local journeys.
Best time to visit
Being in the southern hemisphere the seasons are reversed with South Africa enjoying baking heat in the middle of the UK winter. The weather can be quite changeable given the size of the country and range of terrain with Cape Town boasting a more European climate being by the sea. The further north and east you travel the hotter and dryer the climate gets. The temperature begins to climb sharply around mid-October to between 25-35 degrees and stays at this level until mid-May. As a sunworshiper this is the time I would recommend.