16 happy memories of visits to South Africa

One of my favourite overseas destinations is South Africa, it holds a very special place – as the first big holiday my now husband and I went on nearly 10 years ago, but also as the location we chose for our honeymoon a few years ago.  Luckily for my husband through his work with the Clipper Race he scuttles to and from SA very regularly – I think the count must be up to about 15 times now, sadly I always seem to have unavoidable work when he is there, although he rarely sees more than offices and the marina!  The flights down to SA are long, but at least no jet lag.  We’ve had interesting flights, that’s for sure – I think the first visit was my first experience of the wonderful lounge and mega-upgrade experience. and I guess I haven’t looked back!! Our honeymoon was in coach class – although, funnily the flight was during the cabin crew strikes so given that the captain was a friend of a friend, he actually came to see us with heartfelt apologies that despite first class being empty, he was being prevented from moving us there and would a bottle of the finest fizz help us through the coach-class pain (homeward bound was the same situation – although that time we were just pleased the plane was taking off as we were booked on the first one out of Africa after the Icelandic volcano issues).

Table Mountain

In amongst the blog below are 16 numbered favourite memories from the two trips I’ve made there, so far…

Our first trip was in the heyday of a former job my husband had in business travel and so we lorded it in a suite at the Twelve Apostles for a few nights!  Wow (1) doesn’t quite do it justice, but it really was!  This place even has its own area code that showed up on the mobile screen, and a generator (so we weren’t affected by the city-wide powercut).  The suite was something else; the French doors opened up onto the grass area that looks onto the sea and everything was blissfully comfortable.  The hotel feels like the kind of place that you wouldn’t know was busy; there are lots of places to sit, a pool that faces the sea and also smaller ones in the gardens.  The food was to die for from the breakfast scones (I still remember them vividly (2) – and watching whales splosh past below us), the tapas style lunch in the garden, to being guests of honour in the restaurant one night.  I got a spot of food poisoning from eating at a place in Camps Bay and I think they must have a doctor on call or something as the care was exceptional and I was back up and running before I knew it.

On this first trip we spent an afternoon at the V&A and loved mooching around; my husband has since discovered a wine shop called Vaughan Johnson that serves us well on each of his visits and boxes up wine so that it can go in the hold of the plane with no damage!  A fascinating place so I’m told, next time….  We had made this trip for a wedding which was at Morgenhof – this really is a beautiful venue, Cape Dutch and green and idyllic and was a great first vineyard to visit.  We went back on our second visit for lunch and it was just as good (3).  There was also a wedding BBQ at Knorhoek which from memory was a good place to hang out with friends.

On a first trip anywhere it is almost necessary to do the tourist thing – so we visited Table Mountain (4), Boulders penguins, an ostrich farm, Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope (5).  I don’t think you can come here and not do these, but there is so much more to see.  During this time we B&B’d – staying at 3 different ones.  The most memorable was Rocklands in Simonstown, which was also a town we really loved.  It is go slow and unspoilt and has a fascinating naval museum.  Our world tour of yacht clubs probably started here and we enjoyed a quiet time and a good burger here.  For anyone that is a yacht or sailing club member, then signing in as a visitor at another club is a really good step out of being a tourist (and the drinks and food are always so reasonable regardless of where you are).

Our honeymoon was a longer trip of 3 weeks – so clearly the first trip left us wanting more.  And when close friends were getting married there a week after us our minds were made up!  Based on what we’d learnt from the first trip, we didn’t book into any hotels – the standard of service in this stunning country means that you really are just as well going local.  However SA is changing – when we landed, we went straight to Blouberg.  On our first trip Blouberg was a deserted coastline like north Norfolk with only seabirds for company.  Now it has been developed for apartments and there are local beach bars.  It has lost some of its charm and remoteness, but still gives the best views of the Mountain – it had its tablecloth on when we arrived which is a sight to behold!  And the bars are good!

For our first week I had booked us in to Camberley Wines – they have this cute little cottage for 2 with a plunge pool and views across to some of the mountains (sunset colours on these mountains are lovely) (6).  It is self-catering, however breakfast is included.  You absolutely have to do an afternoon of tasting with the owner (7) – fascinating and boozy, charming hosts (and a lovely Labrador!).  Also a good place for running – however my husband did have to climb out of the private estate next door – he was running up and down their driveway to work out his pace and the electric gate shut!  It is very peaceful here and was the perfect antidote to a busy week of preparing to get married and the come down from the wedding party at the Royal Southern in Hamble.  It’s near to Tokara (8) and there is also another hotel across the road that we went to for massages.  I’ve already written about some of the vineyards we visited on our stay – but favourites (9) were Vergelegen (set aside a morning for this), Diemersfontein and Morgenhof.  If you get the chance to go for a sail then it is recommended – my husband joined the stag do and they moored off Camps Bay (also checked off another yacht club on the list!).

The wedding was in Grabouw and we met up with some other friends from home.   A stunning setting for the wedding overlooking a massive reservoir.  Breaking up the honeymoon and spending a few days with friends probably isn’t for everyone but we really enjoyed it; we were on a high from our wedding and sharing another wedding and catching up with other friends was lovely – I would highly recommend it (10).  Seeing the country with locals is also a must, and also means you don’t need to use the guide book.  We swiftly took in Rhodes memorial, Kirstenbosh, three vineyards, supper at Cape to Cuba (you would drive past if you didn’t know to stop) and then got up at about 3am to climb the Lions Head (11) for sunrise.  It was an amazing day as the sea mist had rolled in and so the hill was popping out of the cloud and so we looked down on a blanket across the city.

After that we took a flight over to Durban and drove up to Sycamore Avenue Treehouses near Mooi River – a great find off the beaten track (12).  The attention to detail taken by the owner who makes these treehouses is quite something – Center Parcs this is not!  Balconies on all levels, a hot tub on the top floor and unbroken views across to the Drakensberg and the likes of Giants Castle.  This isn’t for everyone, but if you are happy to share dinner from a big pot in the main house and pick your own wine from their fridge, then you will love it!  We went over to the national park and went for a stroll – although I wasn’t that comfortable as it was very hot and I imagined a snake would be round every corner.  Better was taking a trip up the Sani Pass to Lesoto and the highest pub in Africa (13)!  Great passport stamps, great views and interesting to find out that there is a second set of Twelve Apostles hills here!

Next stop Isibindi Eco Reserve in KZN.  This isn’t Big 5 but given that there are only 6 huts it is all about peace and quiet and feeling very special.  We did meet a snake here, thankfully just as we were leaving, but aside from that the food was simple but scrummy, the game drives were enjoyable (we saw mostly buck, zebra and giraffe) and the bush breakfast cooked with a scortle were fun (14).  We stayed in the honeymoon suite hut which was beautiful and the furthest from the main buildings.  It really is a quaint place; it has everything you will need but no more, but what it has is great. Cute pool and a trust bar which means you really can take it as easy as you want.

Our final stop was St Lucia, staying in Parkers Cottages – no relation, but couldn’t resist since I was newly named Mrs P!  The sea here is warm – enjoy it if you go here before the Eastern Cape.  Our first night here we had sundowners on a jetty at the Speedboat Club, imagine my surprise when there was a crocodile and hippo just below me (15)!  St Lucia isn’t too far to take a day trip up to Umfolozi game park where we saw all sorts, including a pack of wild dogs which is an incredible rarity.  The beaches just north of St Lucia in the wetlands park are something else (and are well away from the crocs and hippos!) (16).

What I like most about South Africa is that it isn’t the scary place that everyone seems to tell you to be wary of – yes there can be trouble and you have to be careful and sensible, but the people are incredibly friendly and it is just so unspoilt and perfect.  What I also like is that a £70/night B&B will deliver the 5 star experience and so whilst the high end is amazing out there (the best wine is in this country so that is a very good part of what they offer), it isn’t necessary to make that splurge.   We’ve got our eye on a trip to either Namibia or Tanzania in the future as so far we’ve only been to SA and Morocco and so there is much more to be discovered on the African continent.  The Garden Route and time on the wild coast is also something on the to do list.  One day…

Comments (3)

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  1. lyn barden says:

    Sounds like you have had some wonderful experiences in SA. I would love to see table mountain,the cape and cape of good hope if I ever have the chance to visit Africa again. I had a wonderful time in the Okavango Delta region on safari. Guess you can’t see everything?

  2. Chantal says:

    Being South African, I can commend your itinerary… what a jam-packed vacation! I particularly love the St Lucia wetlands area, I try to go as often as I can!

  3. Orlando says:

    I would love to visit South Africa one day, closest I’ve ever got so far is Tenerife, which is apparently just as hot!

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