Why we LOVED South Africa!
Written by Jade Shirt
Back in 2016, Harry & I had the pleasure of visiting South Africa! We flew to Johannesburg on the back of some red-letter flights with Virgin Atlantic. We had a couple of nights there where we explored the shopping malls of Sandton before we did a day trip around Soweto with Agnes from Felleng Tours.
Soweto is huge…! It is a city in itself; a surprisingly well-developed land, not just the poverty-stricken townships we have associated with the name from the many charity shows and adverts over the years, although these do exist in some areas; one of which we visited in Kliptown. We visited the Kliptown Community Project which was eye-opening and humbling, however the drive and passion from the locals and charity workers was incredibly inspiring.
Later on we visited the former home of Nelson Mandela on Vilakazi Street. We were shown around the grounds by one of his former neighbours, an elderly woman who was very kind. We then headed to the Hector Pieterson Museum, named after the schoolboy who was shot and killed during the Soweto Uprising in the mid-1970s. Once the tour was over, Harry took us to our first cricket game of the trip (you’ll see there’s a theme here…!) at the Wanderers Stadium. The following day we flew to Cape Town where we would be based for 8 nights.
WE LOVED CAPE TOWN
There are so many things to do in Cape Town, a week is probably not even enough! It truly is our favourite city in the world! The things that we did included a day trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years of his life, along with many other political prisoners. The tour guides there are actually the ex-prisoners themselves so getting any insight from someone who was actually there and lived through it was incredible. The boat docks in the harbour next to the V&A Waterfront, one of the most popular areas in the city and has some amazing shops and restaurants.
We stayed in a gorgeous guest house in Camps Bay. Camps Bay is a beautiful little beach-side town, with a strip full of a number of excellent bars and restaurants! We hired a driver for the day (Martin Fine from CapeFuneTours) who took us on a tour of the Cape Winelands. We stopped off at a number of amazing vineyards and wineries in Stellenbosch before heading onto the gorgeous town of Franschhoek; the whole area was simply stunning, with delicious wines and foods, I wish we could have stayed longer!
It was Valentine’s Day whilst we were out there so what better way to celebrate it than with Harry taking me to yet ANOTHER cricket game, this time at Newlands Cricket Ground, however I must say, it was one of the most picturesque cricket grounds we’ve ever been to (and we’ve been to a lot) with the iconic backdrop of Table Mountain looming over the ground. Later that night, we had one of the best steaks we’ve ever had at Hussar Grill; it was just £27 for a three-course meal and two bottles of wine!!
Two days later, we hiked up Table Mountain. Harry booked us onto a small group tour with our guide Binny from Ridgeway Ramblers where she guided us safely up (and down) the Platteklip Gorge. (Highly recommend a guide rather than trying to do it yourself as we saw quite a number of people attempt it but were under-prepared and as a result, gave up). It was on a day where the cable car was actually closed because it was so windy, so when we actually got to the top there was no-one up there which meant we had it all to ourselves!
We walked around and took lots of great photos & selfies together! Harry then handed his phone over to Heather who was in our little group of four and asked her to take a photo of us with the iconic backdrop of Cape Town behind us. I was stood next to Harry smiling away for the camera when he then dropped down to one knee in which I thought he was tying up his shoelace. When I realised he wasn’t doing that, for a split second I thought to myself ‘oh he wants me to sit on his knee for the photo!’ Seconds later, he pulled out a box from his pocket, opened it up and asked me to marry him!!! Shocked is a complete understatement! I couldn’t quite get my head around what was happening. One minute I thought we were having a photo together, then I thought he wanted me to kneel down with him and then I saw the ring! The most exciting moment of my life and what a special way to propose! It was unforgettable and Table Mountain will always hold a special place in our hearts.
With my legs like jelly, we hiked back down and had a bottle of champagne waiting for us when we got back to our guest house which we enjoyed on our balcony before calling round all our family & friends to tell them the great news. We then wandered down to the beach, had a bite to eat and then celebrated that evening at Zenzero, a gorgeous restaurant along the strip (it is now a Hard Rock Cafe).
For our final day in Cape Town, we hired a car for the day and drove down to Cape Point, the most south-westerly point in Africa. The drive there is simply incredible and should not be missed, especially along Chapmans Peak which bends around the cliffs. Cape Point is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, quite an iconic sight which you can actually spot. We headed back via Simons Town where we saw the penguins in Boulders Beach, which was great fun!
WE LOVED THE WILDLIFE
After an incredible 8 days in Cape Town, we then flew back to the other side of the country to a small town called Hoedspruit. A charming little airport where the waiting area is more like someone’s living room! The baggage handlers get your bags from the plane, put them onto a pick-up truck and drive it round to the front of the airport terminal where it’s then a free for all! Quite a unique experience!
We then had two nights in nThambo Tree Camp Lodge in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve which is within the Greater Kruger area, but adjacent to the official Kruger National Park (it’s still the same wildlife that roam through it all as there are no fences). It was our first safari and was something we would never forget; a surreal experience with 5am wake up calls to go on our early morning game drives, returning back to the lodge to rest and relax in our private treehouse accommodation. Later on, we went on a bushwalk with one of the camps guides (gun in hand)! We then headed out for our evening game drives before a delicious dinner with the rest of the camp.
The Big 5 is made up of buffalo, leopard, elephant, rhino and lion, all of which we saw apart from the lion surprisingly. We saw lots of other wildlife including zebra, giraffes, wild dogs, impala, kudu and warthogs but I’ll never forget the time when Harry was the only one out of our group of 12 who spotted a leopard. We were just driving along after not seeing many animals for a while when all a sudden Harry banged the side of the truck to get our drivers attention. We were sitting right at the back so everyone turned round to us wondering what was going on. Harry then said ‘I think I just saw a leopard!’ The driver then immediately reversed back to where we couldn’t believe our eyes and saw this leopard right in front of us laying on top of an ant’s mount! The guests that night all bought Harry a beer as a thank you as it was the only animal they hadn’t seen!
Before we flew home from Johannesburg, we decided to make a long day of it and drive all the way back via the stunning Blyde River Canyon. There’s plenty to see along this route with spectacular vistas including God’s Window, the Pinnacles, the Three Rondavels plus many waterfalls. It was a great way to end the trip.
South Africa really is a beautiful country with so much to offer and we cannot recommend it more highly if you are looking for some variety on your next holiday, every day will be different. There is so much to see and do and offers fantastic value for money. Harry organised a holiday of a lifetime for the both of us and what a memorable one it was! We cannot wait to head back over there where hopefully we will be able to drive the Garden Route and do another safari, maybe next time in the malaria-free Eastern Cape (and also less cricket)!
Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon