Elephants coming to the dam for a drink

Why beautiful South Africa should be on your bucket list

Written by Michelle / Photos by Michelle and David

If you have ever dreamed of visiting Africa, beautiful South Africa should be on your bucket list! Naturally, safaris are the biggest drawcard but it really has something for everyone. Cape Town has a lovely relaxed, cosmopolitan vibe filled with compelling history, great beaches, world class restaurants and the iconic Table Mountain. The Winelands produce some of the best wine in the world and is the gastronomic capital of South Africa. As with many Sub-Saharan countries, there is the big attraction of going on safari.

Great food and wine, friendly genuine people and fascinating places to visit, what more could you want?

A leopard basking in the morning sun, South Africa

A leopard basking in the morning sun

I should probably point out at this stage that I love Africa. It is a place that gets under your skin. I can’t quite explain what exactly it is that I love about it, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. There is something that keeps drawing me back. This was my fifth time in Sub-Saharan Africa and it certainly didn’t disappoint. As with every other time I have visited, I was planning when I could possibly visit again, before I had even left the country.

A zebra striking a pose for the camera, South Africa

A zebra striking a pose for the camera

We were lucky enough to spend two weeks in South Africa in July. Even though this is winter in the southern hemisphere, the weather in Cape Town, Franschhoek and around Kruger National Park was very pleasant. Since it was David’s first time in Africa we wanted to experience a variety of areas.

Flying into Cape Town made it a natural first stop on our trip. A city that is a mix of tradition and modernity.

Cape Town

Most people know at least something about the history of apartheid since it happened in many of our lifetimes. However, it is not until you are in South Africa, and especially Cape Town, that you feel the full impact of the discrimination and segregation that existed for so many years. A free walking tour is a prefect way to learn first hand about the tragedy that occurred for fifty years.

The High Court of Cape Town, Civil Annex, South Africa

The High Court of Cape Town, Civil Annex

The historic walking tour we took with City Sightseeing South Africa not only taught us about the recent history of Cape Town but also educated us about history long before apartheid. We learnt about the rich history dating back to times of slavery and trading and how this has shaped the city that exists today.

Old non-whites only bench in Cape Town, South Africa

Old non-whites only bench in Cape Town

A Day Trip to Robben Island

Another stand out activity to do while in Cape Town is to take the boat to Robben Island. Make sure you book ahead especially in peak season and be aware that it is weather dependent. Most people know this as the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for many years. However, this island was actually used as a place of banishment and exile and imprisonment for political dissidents, trouble makers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society, for over four hundred years. You’ll visit some of the cells and be humbled by the sparse conditions in which the inmates lived. If you’re lucky, you may have a guide who was sent to Robben Island during apartheid. Thers’s nothing like learning about the history of a place from someone who experienced it first hand.

Walking Around Bo Kaap

Cape Town’s most colourful neighbourhood, Bo Kaap, is filled with brightly painted houses and has a heritage as colourful as the rest of the country. You can easily spend hours wandering the streets and photographing the instagrammable houses and learning about its unique past. There are many walking tours available but we decided to download a walking tour app, voicemap app ($3.99), that was guided by a local lady who had grown up in the area. It was during this tour that we discovered the multi-cultural backgrounds of many of its residents of past and present.

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Experience the Coast

There are many beautiful beaches along the coast of South Africa. If you are short on time, a day trip to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope may be a good way to sample what is on offer. We chose to do an e-bike tour with Day Trippers, Sele our guide was fun and informative. It was a small tour group that was part mini bus and part e-bike. We stopped at numerous lookouts on the way to admire the views. We also took a short boat ride to say hello to some seals at Hout Bay. Riding along the clifftops with the clear blue waters, perfect white sandy beaches below and the wind in our hair was an extremely freeing experience.

At Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

At Cape of Good Hope

Hout Bay, on the way to Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Hout Bay, on the way to Cape of Good Hope

A quick boat ride to visit the seals at Hout Bay, South Africa

A quick boat ride to visit the seals at Hout Bay

Boulder beach was a highlight of the day trip. Most people pay the fee to enter the beach and walk along the boardwalk to view the penguins. Sele suggested that we go to a beach nearby that was free though not as populated with penguins. Our gamble paid off and our small group was blessed with the presence of two penguins who decided to go for a morning swim.

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Our final destination was Cape Point and then a gentle hike to the Cape of Good Hope. A brief walk up to the lighthouse was followed by a gentle walk along the rugged clifftops to the Cape of Good Hope, the South-western most tip of the African continent. If you are lucky you may see ostriches and baboons as well as other wildlife along the way.

Cape of Good Hope, walking by Dias Beach

Cape of Good Hope, walking by Dias Beach

Cape Point, South Africa

Cape Point

Obligatory Cape of Good Hope picture

Obligatory Cape of Good Hope picture

Spotted some ostriches as we were leaving

Spotted some ostriches as we were leaving

Woodstock – A Free Open-Air Art Gallery

Woodstock is an up and coming hipster neighbourhood of Cape Town, filled with loads of artists and creative types. It used to be an old factory area that was quite dangerous. However, things have changed and the area has been completely cleaned up. Apart from some great cafes and restaurants, Woodstock is known for the artists that live and reside there. It is also famous for the street art of local and international artists. We decided to take the Woodstock Street Art Experience tour with Township Art Tours. Ryan is a local guide who was clearly passionate about the area he grew up in and the abundant street art.

Street art in Woodstock

Street art in Woodstock

Street art in Woodstock

Street art in Woodstock

Street art in Woodstock

Street art in Woodstock

Table Mountain

Table mountain is the symbol of Cape Town. You can see it from most places in the city. It stands over the city, often covered in a tablecloth of cloud. However, when the weather is clear the views are magnificent. You can take the cable car or hike up which takes 1.5 – 2 hours. Unfortunately it was closed for yearly maintenance when we were there in July, however, I was lucky enough to go up on a previous trip.

Table Mountain from Bo Kaap

Table Mountain from Bo Kaap

View of Table Mountain from the Robben Island boat

View of Table Mountain from the Robben Island boat

Where to stay and how to get Around Cape Town

While in Cape Town we stayed at Four Rosmead, a gorgeous small boutique hotel situated at the foot of Table Mountain. The service was impeccable and the breakfast was scrumptious. If you want a little luxury while in Cape Town we would highly recommend staying at Four Rosmead.

The best option to get around Cape Town is to use Uber. It is super cheap and quicker than public transport. The city is quite spread out so you will need to rent a car or use Uber (taxis are more expensive). We found Cape Town to be a safe place, like most big cities you just need to be sensible. We felt perfectly safe walking around during the day and caught Ubers at night. At our hotel, we were warned about both Bo Kaap and Woodstock but they were really fine when we visited during the day.

Wine Lands – Franschhoek

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that David and I appreciate a good glass of wine. Therefore, it was a given that we would visit the wine region an hour drive from Cape Town. We chose to stay in Franschhoek, a small village surrounded by stunning vineyards. Franschhoek was originally settled by the Dutch but during the 17th century the French Huguenots, French Protestants forced to leave France, were allowed refuge. In exchange, the Dutch asked the French to share their knowledge of agriculture and wine.

The morning clouds rolling over the mountains in Franschhoek

The morning clouds rolling over the mountains in Franschhoek

Check out our post on our trip to the Rioja region in Spain to experience wine from another part of the world.

This led to Franschhoek and the surrounding area to be known as the gastronomic capital of South Africa.  The main street is lined with restaurants and cafes for every taste, which certainly makes the choice of where to eat quite difficult.

Take a Wine Tour

Before tackling the wineries on our own we decided to do a day tour with La Rochelle Tours. The Chocolate, Cheese, Olives and Wine Tour was just what we needed to gain our bearings. Aylmer, our guide, was incredibly knowledgable about the wines as well as the history of the region.

Anthonji Rupert winery

Anthonji Rupert winery

Wine and cheese pairing at Terra del Capo Winery, Franschhoek

Wine and cheese pairing at Terra del Capo Winery, Franschhoek

Wine and chocolate pairing at Vrede en Lust Winery, Franschhoek

Wine and chocolate pairing at Vrede en Lust Winery, Franschhoek

As part of the tour, we visited four wineries. The first experience at Anthonij Rupert was a wine and cheese pairing and at the second, Verde et Lust, we had a wine and chocolate pairing.

Have you booked the tour yet? Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? It was!

After tasting eleven wines, we’re talking about full glasses here, it was time for lunch at the third winery, Tokara. Finally, we visited Rustenberg. Of course, we couldn’t leave without purchasing some of the delicious wines.

Try Out The Wine Tram

The best invention ever exists in this wine region, a wine tram and bus! There are different coloured lines, like a train network, each route takes you to different wineries. You spend an hour at each winery, or longer if you wish, and you can hop on and off at any winery you desire. No driving needed!

Wine tram

Wine tram

On the recommendation of our hotel and given our time constraints, we decided to take the red line. We chose to stop at the Richard Branson owned Mont Rochelle where we had a delectable tapas pairing. Dieu Donné was our second stop for lunch (at their renowned ROCA Restaurant) and then Grande Provence where we had a sweet treat of a nougat pairing. By our last stop we were feeling quite tipsy but soldiered on. A heavenly cheese board with our wine tasting at Rickety Bridge provided a fantastic finish to our tour of this world class wine region.

Wine and tapas pairing at Mont Rochelle Winery, Franschhoek

Wine and tapas pairing at Mont Rochelle Winery, Franschhoek

Views over Franschhoek from Dieu Donné

Views over Franschhoek from Dieu Donné

Lunch at Dieu Donné

Lunch at Dieu Donné

Wine and nougat pairing at Grand Provence Winery, Franschhoek

Wine and nougat pairing at Grand Provence Winery, Franschhoek

Sculpture garden at Grand Provence

Sculpture garden at Grand Provence

Cheese platter at Rickety Bridge Winery, Franschhoek

Cheese platter at Rickety Bridge Winery, Franschhoek

Heading home on the wine tram

Heading home on the wine tram

We stayed at Avondrood Guesthouse while in Franschhoek. A cosy boutique hotel filled with loads of charm and character. We cannot recommend this guesthouse enough if you are in the region, the staff were outstanding and the homemade breakfast was to die for!

And of course, go on Safari

Let me start by saying that I love going on safari. There is nothing like seeing wildlife in their natural habitat interacting with each other. I have been to quite a few game reserves, all of which were national parks. Each time I have been on safari I have always had the fear that it will be same as the last safari but it never is! Every time you go on safari you see something different, something new.

A young leopard soaking up the morning rays

A young leopard soaking up the morning rays

Two kudus grabbing a drink

Two kudus grabbing a drink

Check out the time I went gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

On this trip, we decided to do it in style given that it was the second part of our honeymoon. We enlisted the help of Yellow Zebra Safaris since they specialise in luxury African safaris. It can be quite overwhelming in knowing where to start when it comes to safari lodges as there are so many to choose from. On our agent’s recommendation, we stayed at two different lodges, a very smart decision. Kirkman’s Kamp is in Sabi Sands and Ngala Safari Lodge is in Timbavati (a three-hour drive away), both places lie adjacent to Kruger National Park. The benefit is that there are no fences separating these private reserves with the national park so the animals roam freely.

Giraffes are so beautiful and graceful, even when they are eating

Giraffes are so beautiful and graceful, even when they are eating

Despite it being hard to get up for a morning game drive it is worth it when you can capture wildebeest in the soft morning light

Despite it being hard to get up for a morning game drive it is worth it when you can capture wildebeest in the soft morning light

The advantage of going to private game reserves is that they can go off road as opposed to most national parks where you have to stay on the roads. This means you can get up close and personal without the crowds. This does not mean that they ignore the welfare of the animals. The guides and trackers were all about the animals and the fact that we were in their territory. They do not permit cars to view animals younger than three months and then they gradually allow up to three cars at one time to view any wildlife.

Conservation is a priority!

This black rhino got pretty close to our vehicle though he was not phased by us at all.

This black rhino got pretty close to our vehicle though he was not phased by us at all.

So Much Wildlife

The wildlife in both of these reserves is outstanding. It is highly likely that you will see the big five: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo, and more! For me, on this trip I loved seeing how all the levels of the food train interacted with each other. This included seeing a pride of lions gorge themselves on a dead giraffe, to a leopard then hunt for any remaining meat, and then the scavenging hyenas and vultures picking at the scraps of bones and skin.

A meat drunk lion cub after feasting for a couple of days on a giraffe carcass

A meat drunk lion cub after feasting for a couple of days on a giraffe carcass

A hungry young male leopard trying to eat the scraps of a giraffe carcass

A hungry young male leopard trying to eat the scraps of a giraffe carcass

Hyenas eat the bone marrow of dead animals so there's not much left once they've finished

Hyenas eat the bone marrow of dead animals so there’s not much left once they’ve finished

Vultures take what they can get once the hyenas are finished

Vultures take what they can get once the hyenas are finished

Then there were the mothers protecting and providing for their children, whether it be elephants, rhinos or leopards. Watching two male giraffes fighting on the other side of the lake was mesmerising. As were the two cheetahs roaming the plains and marking their territory. Seeing how the smaller parasitic animals, such as birds and tortoises, actually help the larger animals was an interesting insight into the animal kingdom.

The mother elephant keeping a close eye on her children

The mother elephant keeping a close eye on her children

Mum and baby white rhino

Mum and baby white rhino

These two young male giraffes were actually pushing each other trying to fight

These two young male giraffes were actually pushing each other trying to fight

A cheetah marking its territory on a power pole

A cheetah marking its territory on a power pole

A black rhino with a bird cleaning his skin for him

A black rhino with a bird cleaning his skin for him

A hippo with two birds and a tortoise grabbing a ride and cleaning him at the same time

A hippo with two birds and a tortoise grabbing a ride and cleaning him at the same time

The adrenaline was pumping on a number of occasions. From the time that we stumbled upon two male lions in the dark, or when a female lion casually strolled a mere metre from our vehicle, to when a rhino interrupted our sunset gin and tonic. Then there was the pure rush of racing through the wilderness to find the wildlife before it moved on and out of sight.

Whether it is watching elephants drinking from the lodge pool or seeing the one-millionth impala you never cease to be amazed while on safari, no matter how many times you have been. I will never go to a zoo again. Nothing can compare to being in the wild, seeing the predators exert their power and listening to the prey warn each other of nearby danger.

Elephants drinking from the pool at the lodge. They came the same time every day

Elephants drinking from the pool at the lodge. They came the same time every day

As you can see, South Africa definitely has a great deal to offer anyone wanting to visit. The safari experiences are outstanding but there is so much more to explore, and we have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Have you been to South Africa or gone on safari? Tell us about your experiences. Do you have any questions about South Africa or going on safari? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer: We did not receive any payments for mentioning the businesses in this post. All opinions are our own.

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3 Comments on “Why beautiful South Africa should be on your bucket list”. Join the Conversation Here!

  1. More than Wow!
    I live in Asia and I have been to north and east Africa twice. As I am planning to visit Africa, the south is my absolute destination! I can’t describe how such information affected my thinking. I wish I can just travel NOW!
    The pictures are incredible!!!! Thanks a lot.

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