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South Africa's Garden Route may not be the longest of the world's famous drives - but none are more scenic than the 190 miles between Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to Storms River in the Eastern Cape.
After touching down in Port Elizabeth, we drove to our first stop - the 61,000-acre Shamwari Game Reserve, which focuses on conservation sustained through tourism. The day starts at 5am at Shamwari, with a morning drive to spot any animals that might still be active from the night before.
On the lookout
We were delighted to see a leopard and lion on our first drive, and during the course of our stay, our ranger was able to sniff out the Big 5 - lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo - with ease.
When you're not out searching for animals, the tented lodges provide luxury, each containing a plunge pool, wood-burning stove and indoor and outdoor showers.
Though the early start is a shock, the safari schedule does allow for lunches and dinners, and a welcome sundowner on the final drive of the day.
Observing the animals at close hand was a moving experience. Seeing the elephant herd was particularly memorable, with two baby elephants playing among the bushes. We were also lucky enough to see a pride of lions on our night drive.
Next stop... Plett!
After three nights it was time to move to our next destination. We drove for three hours to Plettenberg Bay, a seaside town with fine restaurants and outdoor activities. We stayed at the extremely comfortable tenroom Lairds Lodge.
Next day we hiked along the Robberg Peninsula. The national park provides three routes, depending on your fitness levels.
Plettenberg has a good selection of fish restaurants and our favourite was Fat Fish, which had great sushi and local specialities.
Our journey continued to the wine region around Franschhoek. This area became a wine-making centre following the arrival of French Huguenots and vineyards dot the landscape as far as you can see.
The French influence is notable, particularly when it comes to food. We stayed at La Petite Ferme, a restaurant with rooms. Our suite looked out over the valley and it was a treat each morning just to draw back the curtains.
One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the different estates is to take the wine tram. Each vineyard offers a generous sampling selection and you can buy cheese or snacks at most of them.
In the hills of Franschhoek, Mont Rochelle is a great place to walk off those calories.
We ate dinner at a new Indian restaurant called Marigold, which was one of my favourite meals of the trip. It was paired with craft beer from a nearby micro-brewery.
Beautiful Cape Town
We ended our South African adventure with a stay in Cape Town. The natural setting is unforgettable with Table Mountain overlooking a long stretch of coastline. Our hotel was on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – a great base from which to explore.
Table Mountain had to be experienced (by cable car not climbing!) - and we gazed out from the flat summit alongside a group of dassies. They look like giant hamsters, but in fact are closely related to elephants. How can that be?
Robben Island is another mustsee. The former jail provides an emotional insight into apartheid and the struggle political prisoners faced. It's possible to see the cell of the most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela.
Back in the city, the District 6 museum also highlights the cruelty of apartheid.
While modern-day Cape Town recognises the hardships of its past, it is also a confident city. There is world-class food and wine to savour and two favourites were the Chefs Warehouse and the Pot Luck Club, which has 360-degree views of Cape Town (and the best fish sliders).
dinner with a view, Dash on the V&A Waterfront is hard to beat. As we
strolled back to our hotel by the waterfront, we reflected on two incredible
weeks spent exploring South Africa. Like the dassies lying on the top of Table
Mountain, we'd basked in the warmth of South African culture.
For dinner with a view, Dash on the V&A Waterfront is hard to beat. As we strolled back to our hotel by the waterfront, we reflected on two incredible weeks spent exploring South Africa. Like the dassies lying on the top of Table Mountain, we'd basked in the warmth of South African culture.
First published in the Mail Online - September 2018
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