South Africa

Cities: Cape Town, Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve

As Linda and I landed in Johannesburg on our South African Airlines flight from Washington, DC, we were met right off the plane by a representative of Swain’s Platinum Meet & Greet service and were and escorted through South African Customs and claimed our luggage (a definite worthwhile addition to anyone’s trip). We made our way to the domestic terminal and boarded our 2 hour flight to Cape Town.

A short transfer to the beautiful Cape Grace Hotel led to the first “wow” moment of the trip. This was the first time I had visited this property since it’s huge “refashioning” – it is superb, the textures, the colors, the staff, just everything is perfect. After being shown to our room (it is now 9pm), we went back to the Signal Bar and Restaurant and sat at a table on the terrace overlooking the marina. Had a great light meal and called it a night. The beds at here are so comfortable!

The next day we had free to explore, as our friends who asked us to join them were not arriving until later this evening. I took advantage of visiting other hotels in Cape Town while Linda sampled the spa. In the last couple of years there has been a flurry of new 5 star hotels built and I managed to see them all. The new Taj Cape Town built in an old building with a new tower offers great rooms; the One & Only Cape Town reflects the signature features of a One & Only property with all the essential amenities you come to expect there. Some of their suites are located on a small island in the middle of the harbor! The new 15 on Orange was beautiful and trendy. I was impressed with the Cape Cadogan and More Quarters for those who are looking for a more homely atmosphere with the ability to cook your own meals, whilst in walking distance of many of the great restaurants of Cape Town. The Pepper Club is very interesting with beautiful suites and situated right near Long Street where all the action is at night time. Of course I visited with our friends at the Mount Nelson, an icon in Cape Town as it sits snugly in front of Table Mountain. They always do a great job and the rooms are still beautiful and their high tea in the afternoon is a MUST!

Out of the city center you have Kensington Place and the boutique guest house of Four Rosmead, both featuring delightfully renovated bedrooms. They are both bed and breakfast properties, and the owners who reside onsite can suggest and confirm great restaurants for you when you stay there. A great way to enjoy Cape Town in a very familiar, homey way.

But I have to say, the Cape Grace’s location right on the waterfront is hard to beat!

Linda and I walked along the waterfront and went to Quay Four for lunch with great views of all the activities happening there. Great shopping for traditional African artifacts and clothes and Linda bought a great one of a kind jacket!

Madame Zingare is a dinner show held about 30 minutes from the Cape Grace in a circus tent. We heard about it from the hotel and they made a reservation and had the Cape Grace BMW take us there that evening. Now I have been to many shows in the world, but never one as eclectic as Madame Zingare. When we arrived, the entire staff was attired in fancy dress and they acted as their characters throughout the meal service, which was surprisingly very good. It was similar to a Cirque de Soleil with great acts, the vaudeville of the old days.

Our friends arrived at the same time as we arrived back from Madame Zingare, so we all met at the Signal Bar for some complimentary port and sherry.

The first day of the experience was a free day so we all scattered with some going to Kirstenbosch, the Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, some walking the waterfront and some sleeping in.

We all assembled at the Bascule Bar that afternoon and boarded the Cape Grace’s 46 foot boat for a cruise around the harbor and another outlook of Table Mountain. With champagne and fine wine and canap├ęs, we cruised around for almost 2 hours, and had a terrific time.

That night after the cruise we took the BMW’s again to a small hotel which had 3 restaurants surrounded by a small open air courtyard. We sat in the middle and had the choice of ordering from either of the 3 restaurants. The Raw Bar (sushi and oysters etc), HQ which offered just one dish – steak, plus salad and chips (French Fries), and Caveau Wine Bar & Grill, which was more a tapas style eatery. I had to try the steak; if a restaurant can survive on offering just one kind of dish (plus a big selection of desserts), it must be good…..and it was…. We all had a great time that night and retired to the Cape Grace for a port and bed.

Our second day, we drove out to Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. It is only a short drive from Cape Town and our first stop was Rust en Vreda (rest and peace) where we all sampled some great reds (6 of them) in a most picturesque setting.

From there we stopped in the village of Stellenbosch where we walked around for half an hour. Onto lunch and Del Air, a well known winery with a perfectly placed restaurant where we sipped on their delicious white wines.

The day ended superbly – we drove to Waterford Estate, where Kevin Arnold created from scratch a new winery (12 years ago) with a very Spanish style; a central courtyard surrounded by all the buildings where the wine is made and stored. But the best was yet to come after sampling their champagne. Kevin took us in his safari vehicle on what he calls his “wine safari”! Here we drove through the vineyards and stopped amongst the chardonnay grapes and sampled his chardonnay! WOW, drinking wine from the area where it was grown is so much fun, particularly listening to Kevin and his passion on wine making and describing and explaining his unique process of growing newer style grapes.

We stopped amongst the red grapes and sampled the Cabernet Sauvignon and their pride The Jem! All the wines are named after the members of the two owner families. These wines are superb and are house wines in some of the best lodges in South Africa.

Back to the Cape Grace, and then a very casual dinner at the hotel before retiring after a great day.

After breakfast we headed to the base of Table Mountain and took the Funicular to the top and walked around the top to view the surrounding area. Amazing how the temperature and wind changes so dramatically from top and bottom.

Back safely down, we headed south past the Twelve Apostles Hotel (a great place to stay just out of Cape Town with terrific views of the ocean) and onto Cape Point. Here we walked to the beach where the penguins come ashore. The views along the way are simply stunning with all plenty of small bays and inlets to stop and enjoy the small coastal towns and villages.

After reaching the Cape of Good Hope, we thought the highlight would be taking our picture at the most south-westerly point on the Cape of South Africa…that was until a small troupe of baboon wandered along the road, and all of a sudden it was a game drive!

Stopping for lunch after the penguins we then headed back to Cape Town, with plenty of fabulous moments captured on camera. For our last night in Cape Town we headed for Beluga Restaurant, a new style trendy restaurant, with loud music and the “in crowd” of Cape Town dining.

An early start for the transfer to the airport as we sadly bid farewell to the Cape Grace (very sad for us all). Back to Jo’burg International and then a charter flight in a Cessna Caravan (there are 12 of us now) for just over an hour and we land at Londolozi’s private air strip in the Sabi Sands area.

We are staying at Tree Camp, which has 6 enormous suites, our group took the whole camp, talk about exclusive! Londolozi also has 2 three-suite camps, and 2 ten-suite camps. The group loved their suites, all with private pools overlooking the plains where game is abundant.

Callie the Tree Camp Manager meets us when we arrive and goes through the typical day at Londolozi – 5:30am wake up with coffee / tea brought to your suite, and then leave on morning game drive, back at 9.30am for breakfast then time to rest, or visit the village, before lunch at 2.30pm, followed by afternoon game drive at 3.30pm until 7.00pm when dinner is served when we return to camp.

Londolozi is the largest game reserve in the Sabi Sands with 17,000 acres and then a further 18,000 acres where they can traverse in search of game. The first afternoon, right out of camp we see white rhino, giraffe, impala, wildebeest, zebra, kudu and bush bucks. Then we encountered a pride of lion. There were 9 in total, 1 large male, 2 other males and the 6 females, which includes a couple of cubs. They are basking in the afternoon sun waiting for the evening to start their hunting. We watch in awe as they start to stalk a lone giraffe in the distance. But luckily the giraffe spots them and stays a safe distance away.

We stayed with the pride for quite a while and then left them for our dinner, which was a surprise stop in the village (there are 200 villagers living there, of which many work in the lodge at the various camps, along with their children). Londolozi has a tremendous way of looking after their “family”. Dinner in the village was great and we headed back to camp for bed.

The morning bought us all one of the best sightings I have ever seen (and I have done almost 100 game drives!). We spotted a male leopard that had a bush hare in his sight. It was amazing watching him stalk the hare – carefully creeping closer – each slow step he would move his back paw to the exact place his front paw was, to reduce any sound. We watched for 25 minutes as he inched closer (he crept about 20 feet in that time, and then pounced, but missed. This is all happening within 80 feet of our vehicle. The hare took off, and then turned left at right angles and the leopard struck again and again missed, but the third time, he didn’t and the hare was his mid morning snack. He took only about 10 minutes to devour the hare and then lazed back to rest after all his hard work.

Seeing a leopard kill is extremely rare – we were so lucky. Not so the hare though.

Continuing after that, we saw large herds of elephant and giraffe before heading back for breakfast at camp.

Whilst our group rested at the spa back at the camp, I went and visited 10 of the nearby lodges, some I had seen before and others were new to me.

The following two days and nights with games drives each time brought many new experiences for us all – one especially notable experience was when we drove into the middle of a herd of 250 cape buffalo. When the buffalo move, they have the large bulls on the outside for protection of the females and calves inside. We were amongst them and it felt like we were part of the herd as it slowly grazed its way along the terrain.

Another special moment was when we simultaneously saw zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, impala and elephant, all sharing the same area of bushveld. During our stay we also saw a pack of hyena, a couple of very large crocodile and another pride of lion.

Dinner on our last night was quite spectacular. We arrived at a spot during our game drive, where we were greeted by lanterns that lit up a pathway and dotted the trees, which led to plush rugs, a full bar complete with fine wines, and of course, the managers of the camp, just waiting to tend to us! Our game ranger, Lucien is from the Cape and his family has a winery – Beaumont Wines, so who better than to set up a wine tasting for us? The sunset burned a whole on the evening sky that night, simply breathtaking. To end the perfect day, we dined in the “boma” (an area around a central raging fire, with a barbeque (or Braai as it is known locally) and delicious food. To top that off, the village choir entertained us with song and dance, traditional performances that have been passed down from their ancestors for generations.

After this morning’s game drive, we actually walked back to camp (about 45 minutes), and it was great to enjoy another perspective of this incredible country.

We sadly left Londolozi after three spectacular days and flew back to Jo’burg where Linda and I flew back to the states, and the group continued on to Botswana I’d visited in May this year – see my Botswana and Zimbabwe blog for details.

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