South Africa is a perfect storm of Wildlife, Wine, and Wandering. Usually whenever we travel elsewhere we compare it to SA and frequently regret choosing an alternate destination!
Our last trip was 2011 (we head back next summer), after getting back my wife wrote: how does one get away from the zoo of D.C.? Why an African safari, of course. What could possibly be more relaxing than sticking your head out of a car window for eight hours a day? (I suppose I should ask our dog.) On one particular afternoon, we were stuck in what appeared to be the world’s largest buffalo convention, when a European woman pulled up alongside us and started pointing. Usually, people in the park will pass along helpful information about where the animals are. If I spoke Slovak, I might have told Captain Obvious that it’s kind of hard to miss 1000 buffalo pinning you along the side of the road. But she wasn’t pointing at the buffalo. She was pointing at two male lions creeping up on the buffalo.
Now, let me explain something about KrugerNational Park. There are no fences. There are no animal trainers or park-issued tasers. There’s just you, alone, in your car, witnessing nature unfold. I, for one, did not want “nature” to be my femur in some large cat’s stomach. But because of the buffalo crossing, we had nowhere to go. So, naturally, I got out the video camera and started filming. If this lion actually killed something large and hairy (preferably something large and hairy not named Bob), I was going to become a YouTube sensation (a postmortem sensation perhaps, but a sensation nonetheless).
It became abundantly clear as the lions got closer that what they were stalking was some oblivious male (too redundant?) on my side of the car. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what moment the lions charged, because the video suddenly cuts the roof of our rental car when I drop the camera and scream. The buffalo, who at this point, would probably rather die than listen to me, took off running. (By now, I am seriously regretting the leopard skin underwear). When I stop dry-heaving, the lion is close enough to my open window that I could have flossed his incisors. Bob thinks this is hilarious. (And I think I’ve found something for the lions to eat after all). Sure, it’s funny when you’re on the other side of the car. “I’m right behind you, honey (using you as a shield).”
Where do we sleep, eat, and play in South Africa?
Kruger National Park – We love Kruger and return to it as if we are visiting a best friend. We love Skukuza and the bungalows by the river, the Selati Train Restaurant is also our favorite place to eat in KNP. Olifants is simply amazing, the river view bungalows are incredible. We have done walks, bike rides, star gazing, and night drives with the rangers at Olifants and had a wonderful time, but we have also been told there are no rangers to do activities with, so give it a try, it won’t hurt to ask. Satara, Pretoriuskop, and Berg en Dal are all worth a night or two, Satara for lions, Berg en Dal for rhino, and Pretoriuskop for the resident impala that enter the gate at sunset.
Cape Town – Of course there are “must sees” in Cape Town, Table Mountain, Robbin Island, the waterfront, and the Cape, but our first love is the wine country so we head to Stellenbosch and vineyards. Actually you are close enough to explore the city even staying in wine country. The Hawksmoor House, is a favorite, an old Dutch farm house with massive rooms, cozy fires, and great food. We also loved The Country Guesthouse when we stayed there years ago, it had changed for the worst, but appears to be back in great form with beautiful rooms and a relationship with 96 Winery Road Restaurant, a nice perk.
In general we love South African B&Bs, great people, beautiful homes, and always a good bargain.
Where do we eat? I already mentioned the Selati Train Restaurant in KNP, but our favorite restaurant in South Africa and one of our favorites in the world in Le Must Country Restaurant in Upington. Back in wine country, we love Ernie Els’ The Big Easy restaurant and the Wijn Huis, try the malva pudding! There are great restaurants at a number of the wineries and lunch on a patio is always a treat.
So, last but certainly not least, favorite wineries (so far)??? Well so many hard to single out a few, but here goes. Rickety Bridge was our favorite find last trip, Longridge, Hartenberg Estate, Simonsig, Hidden Valley, and so many more remain on our must visit list for every trip. South African wines rival the best wines anywhere in the world, they are a bargin, and tastings are free.