A trip to South Africa to include Cape Town, the Wine District, Johannesburg and finally a Safari stay at the Kruger Park arranged independently and for non car drivers may sound daunting but when you see how much you can save on advertised packages and also learn that it can be done safely this soon becomes a very reasonable reality. Choosing a time of year when air fares are reasonable and the country is coming out of winter is important. Also worth bearing in mind is selecting a time when you have the most chance of spotting as many animals as possible on your safari, September worked on all these. We chose an open jaw ticket into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg and Qatar Airways offered by far and away the best prices and good flight times and with no jet lag as you are flying almost directly south, a slight eastern detour to allow a very simple transfer at Doha is no hardship.
First stop was Cape Town, as Edinburgh residents we are used to four seasons in one day and Cape Town certainly offers that, you have to choose your time to ascend Table Mountain carefully as it can be shrouded in mist called the Tablecloth for days. We can attest to this as our downtown apartment had a balcony that faced the mountain.
Cape Town stands out to me for two things, it’s spectacular setting best seen from the top of one of the regular tour buses which does a 2 hour tour of the Peninsula area and the quality of the food. I can honestly say we had some of the best food of our world travels in the Cape area and at prices, with the rand currently at 20 to the pound, so reasonable you are searching for the calculator to make sure your conversion is correct! Information of places to eat can be found on the Cape Town city page.
The city has huge contrasts as you would expect, wine estates in Constantia, seaside houses at Llandudno which are some of the most expensive properties in the country and so many people on the streets in the Central Business District. Not always an easy city but one worth exploring in depth.
The Cape Winelands offer a few days of non city time, soaking up in more ways than one the excellent wines available as well as the scenery and historic sites of the area. Stellenbosch was the first stop, a beautiful town famous for it’s university and the lovely Dutch architecture of the historic centre.
It’s wineries require transport to reach therefore we moved onto Franschhoek, the home to French Huegnots in the 17th century. The setting is stunning, at the end of a valley, hemmed in by mountains on three side and more than 40 wineries in close proximity. It is also the culinary capital of South Africa, it is impossible not to fall in love with the town. A wine tram runs on two routes visiting a good selection of the wineries and a couple of days can happily be spent enjoying the wines, the scenery and the fantastic food. More details on the tram and restaurants can be found on the individual page.
We arranged transfers through taxi companies recommended by the Tourist Office and drivers arranged by our Guest Houses, all were good, reliable and very reasonably priced, Cape Town to Stellenbosch cost the same as 2 singles with Greyhounds buses but were door to door.
We returned to Cape Town for one night in order to catch the Shosholoza Meyl train for our 26 hour journey to Johannesburg. Having done our research on various options we chose this because reports were that it was comfortable, safe and very reasonable priced and it was ! To put this into perspective the famous Blue Train costs around £900 per person for the same journey, the Premier Classe train costs nearer £200, the Shosholoza costs around £35 for the journey including a berth in a 2 or 4 bed compartment.
The train was clean and comfortable, in fact the most comfortable sleeper I have experienced in any of our many long overnight train journeys during our travels. The train was safe, plenty of security on board and at stations. There was a restaurant car and bar serving plain, decent food and drink at very reasonable prices. The scenery on the first part was spectacular and even arriving four hours late, a common occurrence, did not spoil an excellent experience at a bargain price.
Johannesburg was our next stop for three nights, people in Cape Town were amazed we were stopping there but everything I had read made to want to spend a least a couple of days there. We stayed in Melville, a cool area with restaurants, bars and quirky shops but had to get used to the fact that at night you really do not walk anywhere, but cheap taxis and tuk tuks made this simple. The open top bus tour was a great way to see what a vast city this was and to learn about it’s history. The Apartheid Museum was on the must visit list and it was a sobering but fascinating place, as was our visit to Soweto, the scene of so many important events in the history of the country. I had read about the people being welcoming and proud of their city and this was indeed the case, it was fascinating to see the regeneration of parts of the city centre and I am pleased we chose to spend some time in Jozi.
One of the main reasons for the trip was to include a Safari holiday that was affordable, well located and allowed us as non-drivers to see as much of the wildlife as possible. We took the short flight from Johannesburg to Mapumalanga Kruger Airport then a transfer to Mvuradona Safari Lodge. From the minute we arrived we loved the lodge, for those that have seen the film Out of Africa this was it with such style. The lodge only sleeps 14 which to me seems a perfect size and the care and attention to the rooms and to the guests is fantastic. It certainly fulfilled all our requirements.
We took three safaris from the lodge into the Kruger, one sunrise, one night and one sunset, all were excellent and yes, we did see the big five and so many other animals and birds. The first bonus was being able to stroll from the lodge along the fence that borders the Kruger and Crocodile River and view the animals near the river, lions, elephants and hippos amongst the animals we saw on our daily walks. The second bonus was the zebras, giraffes, warthogs etc. wandering into the garden of the lodge, just magical. A wonderful, chilled experience with lovely food, great service, if another safari is ever undertaken the only place to go would be Mvuradona.
I hope this blog will encourage people to think about independently arranging a South Africa holiday to include a Safari particularly since our 3 week holiday cost around a £1,000 less per person than a 2 week advertised package. Ours excludes meals except for on Safari but trust me great food and wine is incredible value. Go for it !