We visited South Africa in mid-September and had a wonderful trip. Given all the help I received from the forums and previous trip reports, I would like to share my trip report hoping it could be of some help to future travellers.
We started our trip with a safari at Sabi Sands and had an awesome game viewing experience at Inyati Private Game reserve. I will post my review of Inyati separately.
Flight to Cape Town: Our trip to Western Cape started when we took Federal Air flight to JNB from Sabi Sands after our morning game drive. We had a 10:30am flight from Sabi Sands, as it made two stops at Sabi Sabi and Singita air strips so by the time we reached JNB for checking-in to our onward flight to CPT, it was almost 1pm. We were booked for a 3PM flight and though we did request SAA for putting us on 2PM flight as seats were available, however SAA only upgrades full fare ticket so we could only take our pre-booked flight.
Taxi to Hotel: I wasn’t sure how easy or difficult it would be to get the taxi so I had booked an airport pick-up from our hotel but note that airport approved taxi desk is actually available well before the exit on your way out from domestic terminal so it is quite easy to find them and get a taxi. So, for future first-time travelers, you could easily avoid expensive hotel pick-up.
Cape Town Sightseeing: At Cape Town, we were staying at Queen Victoria Hotel (a nice hotel, will post a review separately) which is steps away from V&A waterfront. So, on the day we arrived we just went around V&A waterfront for general stroll. It has a number of restaurants close to V&A Waterfront Mall which is most active and vibrant part of waterfront especially at evening. Other areas at waterfront were a bit quiet after dusk so those looking to stay close to waterfront should ideally try and be close to the mall. Next day the weather was cold and overcast table mountain was closed so we took HOHO bus to get around the city and try and take some indoor attractions. While the HOHO bus comes highly recommended on the forum however I was a little disappointed with the stops etc. (but quite impressed with frequency, never had to wait more than 10-12 minutes for the bus), we got down at District Six Museum which was interesting however it has no guided tours or audio guides available and so experience was a bit limiting based on very limited explanations along with displays. We also stopped at Castle of Good Hope, here also no audio guides and absolutely no information plaques etc. There are two guided tours in the morning (10am and 12pm) but as we arrived here after noon so missed them. We stopped at few other stops but unfortunately difficult to recommend any of them. Overall, on an overcast or rainy day, when you can’t visit Table Mountains or the beaches at Camps bay and Clifton bay, there is little point in taking HOHO bus. I would recommend a guided day tour as probably that could help you get a better context and perspective at some of the places you visit. HOHO bus is more of a convenient mode to get around and yes if you need that then it would be perfectly fine. Anyway, back to our trip – we were back to waterfront by mid-day and so decided to do our souvenir hunting at Crafts market at waterfront. There are multiple handicraft/paintings/curio buying options near waterfront (blue shed crafts market near HOHO bus departure, red shed in waterfront mall and various other shops in and around waterfront mall) at various price points so spent a few hours figuring all that out and doing our shopping before calling it a day.
Table Mountain: Next morning though was sunny and bright. Bravo!!! No clouds on Table Mountain and so we decided to visit the Table Mountains after picking up our rental car. As it was one of the first sunny day after several rainy or overcast days in Cape Town so Table Mountain was quite busy. We had a pre-booked online ticket but still had to queue up for about an hour to get the cable car to top of the mountains. Up there it was fantastic, really loved the flattish mountain top dotted with colourful flowers. Views are great too and on a bright summer afternoon they could only get even fantastic. There was also a guided tour at 12:30 which we took with about 4-6 other people and it was quite informative and would seriously recommend it. Even otherwise it’s easy to walk around – three trails dassie walk, agama walk and klipspringer walk are easy to be found and will recommend the klipspringer walk which is about 90 minutes. There are lot of vantage points and photo-ops so do provide for enough time. It was easily the highlight of our stay at Cape Town. We only got back to our car around 3pm-ish and so decided to grab some lunch near hotel (as we had forgotten our spare camera battery at hotel) before going to Kirstenbosch Garden which was our plan. However, GPS had other ideas and we went around circles for a while before being able to make our way back and after a very late lunch we decided to drop the idea of going to Kirstenbosch and just strolled around Waterfront.
Cape Point: Next day was our final full day at Cape Town and weather had turned overcast, we drove to Cape Point today through Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town. It was a nice drive, major stop being Boulders Bay for Penguins which was quite exciting. Not our first time to see penguins, but was still quite happy to visit here. This place is well maintained and even if you are stopping at Betty’s Bay still this is a nice stop. After that we drove further to Cape Point and inside the reserve on one of the turns we found an Ostrich in wild. Spent some time in our car viewing the ostrich all by ourselves as everyone else was taking main road to cape point. And then as we got going to Cape Point. We thought that the rains may be fleeting so decided to have lunch at Two Oceans Restaurant first. It was quite busy as apparently lot of tour buses get their guests to have lunch there however once we found a place, we found food to be really good. But it was still raining even after we finished our lunch. We did take the funicular up to light house but there was zero visibility at the top and it was cold and wet so finally got back and drove to Cape of Good Hope. Had planned to do some hiking here but plans shelved due to weather. So decided to get back taking a few detours in the national reserve to find some fauna. Just found a lot of baboons. But despite the weather we were again quite impressed with the unique scenery at this place. Am sure it would have been a spectacular place on a bright day but even on an overcast day it was quite charming. Drove back by coastal route and would recommend drive upto Kommitje as it was quite scenic so was Chapman’s peak drive. Rain Gods just relented enough occasionally for us to get some nice pictures at a few places but no opportunity to walk down to beach etc.
Hermanus: Next morning was time to head out to Hermanus via scenic coastal route (R44) and it was a decent drive. We stopped at Betty’s Bay for more penguin experience and while Betty’s Bay had lot more penguins than Boulder’ bay but I somehow preferred the setting at Boulder’s. We then drove all the way to our hotel at Hermanus - The Quarters (mixed experience, will review separately). Hermanus was quite busy due to the whale festival. Whole town had a bit of fair-like feeling with various stalls for food and crafts, pavilion for performances and lots of visitors. Few whales in the bay though that day, we were told but finally someone spotted a whale at a distance which was making its way to the cliffs so spent a couple of hours tracking the whale and it didn’t disappoint as it got quite close to the cliffs for our first decent look at big black mammal. Next morning, we spent a few hours sitting at the cliffs again and spent couple of hours spotting whales both near and far. I believe one should carry the binoculars for whale watching because while occasionally whales do get close to the cliffs but generally we found them mostly in some distance and without the binoculars we wouldn’t really have had as much fun as we really had. Anyway, no breaching for us despite numerous spottings so we decided to try our luck at De Kelders, it was about 30-35 minutes drive from Hermanus. De Kelders was far more quieter, hardly half a dozen people at any given time, on the whale front also, it was a bit of an off day. So after drawing a blank for an hour, we headed back to Hermanus, spent some more time at cliffs then headed out on cliff path to enjoy a lovely sunset. However, we didn’t see any breaching by whales on either of these days so next morning we decided to hop-out to cliffs once again after our check-out to try our luck and whoa couple of whales were in a playful mood this morning and though they were at some distance but thanks to binos we got a pretty good show as the two whales breached several times. Overall, I really liked this little town, thanks to our first experience of watching whales. Also, it had a bit of vibe going for it while we were there. For people confused between Hermanus and De Kelders, my preference would be Hermanus because De Kelders was awfully quiet and there was precious little to do there if you are not having rub of luck with whales. As it is only 30 minutes from Hermanus so once could easily drive there from Hermanus though we felt that there are little reasons to do that.
Drive to Franschhoek: So after watching whales breach, we excitedly headed out to Franschhoek (via Grabouw) for the last leg of our journey. It was a glorious day and thank God for that because we realized that this is the most spectacular drive that we have undertaken thus far. It is surprising that this route comes out merely as a preferred way to get from Hermanus to Franschhoek on this forum, but for us this was a highlight in itself. Snow-capped peaks, gorgeous rivers and lakes, beautiful farmlands – it almost reminded me of Switzerland. This is a 90 minute drive on map, but took us three hours as it was so difficult not to stop after every few stretches because of distinct scenery on offer. We were super impressed with this drive and would highly recommend this one though we are told that snow-capped peaks are not guaranteed for most of the year.
Franschhoek: Thanks to this morning’s whale watching and super drive to Franschhoek we only reached this beautiful village well past-mid day for that. We checked-in to our beautiful room at The Last Word (top class place, will review separately) and then decided to head out to Solms Delta as we had a vineyard and cellar tour booked here from 3pm. We just had time for a quick lunch and the food at Solms Delta’s restaurant was top notch. The tour on the other hand was a bit of a disappointment, we had a guide who walked us through the vineyard to processing yard cum cellar and talked a bit about process but it was not really very interesting or absorbing. But outdoor setting for wine tasting in open was quite good and we had a good tasting – wines I would say were nothing special but that didn’t really stopped us from enjoying our drinks. There is also a nice museum at the wine tasting site and we also spent some time there, it was actually far more interesting than the tour so for a slice of history, a nice outdoor setting for tasting and a pretty good restaurant, I will recommend a visit to this winery. Since it was close to 5pm, most wineries had closed for the day so we just went back and relaxed. In the evenings Franschhoek gets very quiet as well, may be probably due to early Spring outdoor dining hadn’t yet taken off. We went out to the French Kitchen for our dinner on this night and the food was quite good and so was the setting. Next morning, it was time to visit Huguenot Museum (note that the museum and memorial have separate entrance fee), it is a mildly interesting place – gives you a bit of background on Huguenots and a context to how wine industry developed in South Africa. It’s mostly about the information so don’t confuse it with general image the term ‘museum’ gives. As it was still so too early in the morning for us to begin wine tatsing and since we haven’t got over the great drive of previous day so we then drove back a bit on the mountain pass and stopped at couple of places to take some wonderful views. Next stop for us was La Motte and it’s a very beautiful winery, the tasting room has a cosy indoor setting. Some of the wines here were actually quite good. We had also enquired about the hiking trail here but it was still not open. After La Motte, we decided it was time to go to Boschendal for tasting and also the picnic that we booked here. A point about picnic, the picnic here is basically an alfresco sit down affair so don’t expect to get a blanket and pick a place on nice lawns they have got. You generally have a table booked at the lawns and picnic basket brought to the table. This was a little different from what we had expected but we got over that soon. It was another beautiful day and food was plentiful and delicious. Add some nice white wine to that and we ended up having a really nice and long lunch. Lawns are also well maintained and nice so one could just pick his wine and stroll around. Overall a really nice experience. It was late in the afternoon when we finally decided to explore more of the area. Our plan was to drive down Helshoogte pass to visit some winery near Stellenbosch and then cap it off with a tasting at Dieu Donne. But midway through Helshoogte Pass we decided that we have probably had enough of wines for the day and would be better off with some rest as we prepare to finish our wonderful vacation. So, we ditched our plan for more tatsings and headed back to hotel. This evening we were hoping to have dinner at the Dutch East but they were very busy and we had no reservation so we ended up at Kalfie and while setting may not be the most exotic but food here was quite yummy and flavourful. I must say I really liked the village of Franschhoek, we didn’t get to do enough tastings but we still had a lovely time at this beautiful place.
Franschhoek to Cape Town Airport: Next morning, it was finally the time to say goodbye to Franschhoek and South Africa, we had a flight at around 10:30am from Cape Town Airport. We left Franschhoek at about 8am for a straightforward drive to Cape Town via N1. It’s less than an hour’s drive so unless one has a very early morning flight from CPT, there are no hassles to drive back from Franschhoek to Cape Town Airport.
In Conclusion: So, all-in-all, we loved South Africa. It’s such a beautiful country with so many diverse landscapes that one can’t help be amazed. We probably should have spent a little more time in this beautiful country. Safari experience was easily the highlight of our stay and set the bar very high at the start. But Western Cape, was equally beautiful and scenic – we had a bit of run-ins with weather but that’s about it. During our entire stay we felt completely safe and had not one untoward experience so those who wish to travel soon, just be alert but don’t be alarmed about your travel to South Africa. It was a great decision we made to head to South Africa this year and it has brought amazing experiences to cherish.
Hope this is of some help to some of the future travellers. If you have any specific query, feel free to ask me here and if you are reading this a few months down the line, don’t hesitate to send me a PM.