A holiday in four parts: City sights and rough nature on the Western Cape, a road trip along the Garden Route, Safari in Addo and finally, Bunny Chow, beach and lots more in Durban. Here’s a review of our 2.5 week itinerary.
Starting with a highlight: Cape Town and Table Mountain
Cape Town, the start of our trip, is a wonderfully vibrant and fascinating place full of natural beauty and contrasts. Nestled into the ‘armchair’ of table mountain and signal hill, Cape Town offers something for everyone: Nature, extreme sports, culture, history, beach, architecture, and so much more. On a clear day, the views off table mountain are breathtaking and paragliding loops over Camps Bay is an unforgettable experience.
We stayed at Cape Town Lodge Hotel, a decent hot located in the city centre, just around the corner from Long Street and close enough to the Waterfront to walk during the day. The cute littel hotel bar turned out a lovely place for a nightcap.
When in Cape Town, a visit of Robben Island is a must. The boat trip takes around 2 hours each way but is well worth it – you might even get to see dolphins on the way (but do book in advance, it gets very busy). The island is a powerful reminder of the injustice suffered by so many during the Apartheid and gives great insight into the lives of Mandela and other political figures incarcerated on this island. Being shown around the complex by former prisoners brings a very personal feel to the tour and makes for a very real and incredibly informative visit.
I also strongly recommend spending some time wandering around the colourful neighbourhood of Bo Kaap. There’s a cute little museum to pop in and a bakery selling delicious samosas.
Leaving the city to explore South Africa’s Western Cape
After a few days in the city we hit the road. Taking the main road through Camps Bay, we made our way along the coast via the gorgeous Chapmans Drive all the way to Cape of Good Hope. Apart from the famous wooden sign, there’s actually not much there.
Cape Point just a little further down the road has much more to offer. We enjoyed the little walk down to the old lighthouse which offers stunning views over the cape. But even just driving through the Table Mountain National Park is worth the trip, with Baboons lining the road, Dazzies sunbathing in the sand and ostriches just wandering about.
Penguins at Boulders Beach
Our final stop on the peninsula was to visit the African Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. Visitors are now restricted to a wooden pathway along the beach to minimise the disturbance of the penguins, which makes the experience a little more artificial but nonetheless incredibly enchanting. In Simon’s Town itself we found a little hole in the wall by Blue Water Café which served a delightful Fish ‘n’ Chip – Bap for lunch!
We spent the night in a cute guest house in the ok-ish little town of Kalk Bay. Some of the bars and restaurants mentioned in our guide book turned out to be closed and we struggled to find a place with a bit of atmosphere. In the end we spent the evening in a Cuban bar & restaurant with beach like interiors and barefooted waitresses – which turned out great fun!
From Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth – South Africa’s Garden Route
Keen to get the longest leg of our road trip out of the way, we skipped the wine country of Stellenbosch and headed straight for Mossel Bay. The coastal stretch past Betty’s Bay and Hermanus is lovely, but once the N2 main road turns inland it’s a whole lot of nothingness all the way to Mossel Bay, the unofficial starting point of the Garden Route. From here on it’s all about the stunning scenery.
In Mossel Bay, we stayed at Santos Express – a small hotel / hostel in a converted train laid still straight on the beach. Not only a cheap but also unique place to spend the night. Being mindful of the dangers of nightfall, we stayed closeby and had dinner at the adjoining restaurant, where the menu was somewhat restricted due to a lengthy power cut – a frequent occurrence in South Africa due to load shedding.
There are countless wonderful spots along the way that are worth a stop
A short hop along the coast towards Knysna, Victoria Bay proved a nice place to spend the morning on the beach followed by lunch in Wilderness. The Bee Juice Café not far from the beach served up an African platter – a great little find. Knysna is set on the edge of a lagoon and apart from the fantastic view off Knysna Heads, offers not much more than a little marina and good selection of restaurants and bars.
Robberg Nature Reserve lies just outside Plettenberg Bay and is named after the sea lions playing in the water all around the island. Our spontaneous stop here resulted in one of the most rewarding hikes we have ever done, leading us to the barely touched beaches stretching out at the tip of the peninsula. Plettenberg Bay itself is a lovely little town set on a hill overlooking the beach with several good restaurants, which makes it a great stop for the night. Here we had one of our best meals in South Africa, at The Table restaurant in Main Street – Ostrich with Chocolate Sauce!
Storms River Mouth
In Storms River Mouth, on the way to Jeffreys Bay, we the found ourselves on the most challenging hike we’ve ever done, marked as ‘medium difficulty’, which turned out to mean ‘5 hours of slippery rock climbing’. At the time we weren’t sure if we’d ever make it back alive, but in hindsight it was quite an adventure!
We stayed overnight in Jeffrey’s Bay, a surfers’ paradise in high season, but sleepy and quiet in low season.
Meeting the Big (almost) Five at Addo Elephant Park and Schotia Private Game Reserve
The final stop of our road trip was Addo Elephant Park, the third largest national park in South Africa, just a few miles from Port Elizabeth. As the name suggests, the main attraction here are the over 350 elephants, but there are lots of other animals such as buffalo, rhino, antelopes and the rare dung beetles to be found. We started with a self-drive tour. The trails are well maintained and easily driveable with our small rental car, and the moment we first found ourselves right in the middle of a wandering elephant herd is something I will never forget!
Schotia Private Game Reserve
Still, the guided tours with professional rangers are fantastic and offer an unbelievable amount of insight in the world of this incredible creatures. Their knowledge is endless and their passion enthralling. We did a full day combined tour of Addo Elephant Park and Schotia Private Game Reserve (a private reserve nearby) and can thoroughly recommend it. We were lucky enough to get to see four out of the Big Five and follow a young lioness and her adolescent cubs on their evening hunt. Although don’t underestimate the cold after sunset and come prepared for the night time part of the tour. The day finishes with a traditional Braai served around a bonfire at a ranch inside the park.
Swapping flora and fauna for multicultural city life: Durban
We dropped off our car at Port Elizabeth airport and took the short flight to Durban, our final stop. You probably wouldn’t need a car in Durban, but as we stayed in the quieter suburb of Umhlanga several miles north of the city we preferred that added bit of flexibility.
At first unimpressed by Durban, we took a half day walking tour of the Indian quarters organised by the tourism bureau. Our private guide Sabelo – a proud Zulu – weaved his way through the buzzing markets and provided us with an insight into this exciting and colourful city that we would never have experienced on our own. By the end, we were in love with Durban and it’s multicultural charm. And the Bunny Chow – the local specialty of curry served in bread.
The beaches in Durban and around are lovely and, unlike the Atlantic, the water of the Indian Ocean is beautifully warm. Umhlanga, a beach town 20 min drive outside Durban, has lots of bars and restaurant, and admittedly is a little touristy, but in South Africa this also means safe to walk around at night.
Our favourite place for breakfast was Vovo Telo – delicious eggs and pastries. We tried several restaurants for dinner but Olive & Oil was our absolute favourite. The balconies overlook the car park, so not the most scenic view but the quality of the food and service make more than up for it.
Before heading to the airport we spent a couple of hours at Ushaka Waterworld – great fun and an exciting way of spending the dreaded final hours before boarding the plane.
There you go – 2.5 weeks in South Africa, from West to East!