Ever thought of covering most of what a country has to offer in 15 days? Yes, that’s what I did on my trip to South Africa in December 2012. The places we covered can easily be covered & at leisure in half a month. Since it was a road trip across Eastern to Western Cape, we packed light. Taking a road-trip & doing all the arrangements by ourselves gave us the luxury of starting & ending the day at our convenience & doing things that interested us. What was in store for us wasn’t anticipated but it was one hell of a trip that’ll stay with me forever
My adventures in the African land started off at Johannesburg and ended in the cool Cape Town. And I came home with so many reasons to love South Africa. Listing just a few of them.
Monte Casino in Johannesburg
This was nothing like I had ever seen. We had just one day at Jo’burg as it was a mere stop over for our trip to Kruger National Park. Once in the hotel we headed straight to the reception to know about places to chill at in the evening & we chanced upon Monte Casino. The place was spread across 26 hectares of land and is designed to look like a Tuscan village. The ceiling was made to look like the evening sky & the cafes had a very French feel to it.
Located at just about 45 minutes from Kruger National Park, this is a small town which is fast becoming popular due to its proximity to the wildlife reserve. Since we did last minute hotel bookings we did not get accommodation within the park so we halted the nights here. This place has quite a few Europeans and has a lot of small pubs /bistros that we could relax at during dusk.
Kruger National Park
If its Africa, it’s got to be wildlife. No African experience is complete without a good wildlife safari & witnessing the Big 5 in all its majesty. We had two days here and so we took full-day safaris which would mean higher probability of seeing the Big 5. Growing up on NatGeo and Animal Planet & being a wildlife enthusiast, I was really hoping to catch the drama of a chase.. Alas, that didn’t happen but we did see the elusive leopard parched high up on a tree trunk & a lot of the other magnificent animals. The experience of being in an African wildlife reserve is nothing short of surreal.
This is by far one of my favorite destinations from the various places I’ve visited. Lined with beaches through its entire stretch and lots of things to do around here, you can easily spend a week here. The views from the Table Mountain are breath-taking & so are its beaches with clear blue waters. If you’re on a road-trip like we were, you can just take a drive through the city & take in the scenic beauty.
About an hour from Cape Town is Stellenbosch which is a haven for wine lovers. It has innumerable vineyards stretching across vast acres of land. We decided to head to Asara Wines which is a Wine Estate cum hotel. When I entered, it was like a splash of colors and I was awed with all its beauty. We tasted around 12 different types of wines & then sat in the restaurant overlooking a lake. You definitely cannot miss the vineyards of South Africa
Garden route & Knysna
I had heard a lot about Garden route & I so totally had to drive down this route. As we took our 500 odd kms drive from Cape Town to Knysna, it was a dramatic change of landscapes. At one point it was just barren land with Ostriches on the land besides the stretch of road, while the other times there was the ocean shores at the side. It was no-doubt a tiring drive especially once the sun set. I would definitely not recommend anyone to drive on these roads at night as there are no street-lights on narrow roads (on some stretches) & unlike India, there are no dividers on the road. You have to only rely on your car lights to take you through. At one point we almost gave up as it started raining & it was pitch black. In such cases its best to head to a nearby town /village & take accommodation there. But, if you like a good long drive across picturesque places, Garden route is a must visit.
We stayed at Knysna, which is a small village on the Garden route for two days. Like the many things common to the Western Cape, you will see a lot of beaches here where you can just enjoy the waters, play beach cricket with the locals or take a long stroll from one stretch of the beach to the other. I also loved Martha’s viewpoint from where you can see the entire landscape of the area.
Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay
Just a little distance from Knysna is Monkeyland. While looking for things to do around Knysna, our receptionist at the hotel suggested we do the Birds of Eden & Monkeyland tour. Apart from the innumerable species of monkeys, one that caught my attention was a monkey whom the authorities at the park called ‘Hanuman monkey’. It was named so as its origins is from the land of Hanuman – India
Most Indians are cricket fanatics & we are no different. We headed to Port Elizabeth only to watch the cricket match between South Africa & New Zealand. Watching a match with beer in hand (rather lots of beers in hand) & cheering for the home country with other locals was super fun.
Towards the end of this entire trip, I almost felt like a local as I got really familiar with the places especially in Cape Town where we spent quite a few days. I started off as an outsider driving around the country (the cars are right-hand drive cars so no problem for us Indians) & I came back home taking a bit of the African land with me.
You can book a direct flight to any of the major cities in South Africa from either Mumbai or Delhi. Once there, rent a car from any of the dozen rent-a-car services at the airport. It is more economical to rent a car than to hire a cab.
Best time to visit:
Summers (November to February) – You can enjoy wildlife as well as soak in the sun at the myriad beaches on the Western Cape.
Since this is a tourist destination, accommodations are available in hordes. But if you are visiting in December which is the peak month, plan to book in advance.
Have you had any such amazing experiences in South Africa or have you visited a hidden jewel of the country? I’d love to hear.
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