I recently went to South Africa for two weeks and wanted to explore as much as possible in those weeks. I knew I wanted to visit Cape Town, but also wanted to do a safari, so we decided on a combination of the East and West-Coast areas. I fell in love with this beautiful country, with its amazingly diverse landscapes and cultural activities. I split this blogpost in a part about Cape Town and one about the rest of this trip to prevent this post from getting really long. You can read my blog post about Cape Town here.
This was our day to day itinerary:
Day 1 – 4: Cape Town.
Day 5: Traveling to Hoedspruit: Hoedspruit is the gateway to the Panorama Route and is located close to Kruger and its neighboring safari parks. We rented a Raptors lodge for three nights, which is an apartment that looks like a lodge. We had a BBQ outside, but unfortunately we could not use it as it rained for some days and the whole area got soaked. It pretty much took us all day to settle in our apartment and do some grocery shopping. Hoedspruit has a little town center, most of the houses and restaurants are built with wooden decks in a safari style so Hoedspruit felt much more like visiting Africa than the western Cape Town. Hoedspruit has some dining options, of which one restaurant really stood out: the atmospheric Hat & Creek. The Hat & Creek serves delicious meals with local game meat, such as Springbok, Ostrich and Kudu.
Day 6: Panorama Route: On this day we drove the Panorama Route and visited the Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Unfortunately we had an usual string of bad weather when we were in Hoedspruit as it started raining and was super cloudy on this day. Therefore the vision at some viewpoints was super bad and we could not enjoy it at all. We ended up having lunch at Potluck Boskombuis, a restaurant with an open air kitchen with traditional
Day 7: Panorama Route: This morning we were supposed to have a balloon flight in the Hoedspruit area, but because of the rain we could not take off. Luckily the weather got better in the afternoon, so we decided to head back to the Panorama Route and visit the Blyde River Canyon and the Three Rondavels viewpoint. I was very grateful that we did this because the view was superb and made me feel super small and lucky.
Day 8: Thornybush Park: In the morning we received a second chance and were able to go on the hot air balloon! I loved the views over the countryside from the balloon, which turned completely gold because of the sunrise. I did not realize that the adding of gas to the balloon would make such a noise, so I would not see this as a romantic activity. As we were located so close to Kruger Park there was an opportunity to see wild animals, but we saw none and honestly as there are quite a lot of houses/farms in the area I don’t think this happens very often.
In the afternoon we drove to Thornybush Park where we would stay in a Safari lodge for two nights. During these two days we would do two game drives in the morning and two game drives in the evening. We were assigned a ranger and a driver by the hotel. The hotel was absolutely stunning, below the swimming pool area there was a little river where elephants are sometimes spotted. Unfortunately we only saw monkeys from our room 😉
Day 9: Thornybush Park: Our hotel only had four rooms and could accommodate eight guests. During our second day the other guests left and we received private safaris and meals. As it is a luxury hotel all activities proceeded even though only we stayed in the hotel. I did think the game drives were very focused on spotting the Big Five, they really went out of their way to show you the big five. We were able to get up and close to a Rhino, as you could not see it from the car. In the evening we ran into a pride of lions, that just received a prey from the male lion and they were all enjoying their meal… This was super impressive and a little sad to see the cute little lions munching on an wildebeest, but that’s nature of course! In the end we did see the Big Five, but we did not see large herds of animals like I had expected. In the end I loved going on the safari’s but I think it is difficult to really rate the experience as it was incredibly expensive. A room for a night including food and two gamedrives cost € 600, so these were really expensive days. For that price you expect amazing service and it was difficult to surpass the expectations. As Thornybush is a small private park, the safaris were really private and you hardly ever bumped into other jeeps.
Day 10: Thornybush to Kruger: From our lodge in Thornybush we drove to our next destination: La Lechere Guesthouse in Phalaborwa. Phalaborwa is located next to an entrance to Kruger Park. We drove all the way from Thornybush to Phalaborwa via Kruger Park, which was the perfect way to spend the day. Entrance tickets cost about € 25 per person and we bought them at the entrance gate to Kruger. Our drive took a full day, because we stopped so many times as we spotted lots of animals. In Kruger we really did see the herds of animals and we really felt like we were on the set of the Lion King 😉 We watched elephants crossing the river, while we were at the bridge crossing that river, which was really special. And further we saw many zebras, buffalos and giraffes and we even spotted a crocodile. I think if you want to see the harder to spot animals such as the leopard and lion, it is better to book a tour than to do a self-drive.
Day 11: Kruger to Paarl: This day we headed back to Hoedspruit and we flew back to Cape Town to end our holiday enjoying wines in the Cape winelands. In Cape Town we picked up a rental car again and we drove to Paarl. We stayed in Under Oaks winery, a beautiful farm that also had an accommodating pizzeria, which was built in the traditional Cape Ducth architecture. This was the perfect introduction to the Cape Winelands.
Day 12: Paarl to Stellenbosch: Of course I also had to see Stellenbosch, I always like to stay in different cities to fully get to know an area. Staying in different cities forces you to get yourself out there and explore! In Paarl we visited the Spice Route with its lovely gardens and restaurants on the way to Stellenbosch.
In the afternoon we had a wine tasting at the Bergkelder. Unfortunately the Bergkelder was not really prepared for our visit, even though we had reservations and we were not welcomed warmly. We did get to see the beautiful cellar that is located in a mountain, but the tour was lackluster. In the evening we made a reservation at Rust & Vrede restaurant, one of the best and most famous restaurants in the area. This restaurant has Michelin star quality and I loved being spoiled with delicious food. Definitely a highlight of our stay!
Day 13: Stellenbosch: This day we went out exploring more wineries in the Stellenbosch area. We loved our gourmet picnic lunch at Warwick Wineries (book online here), the beautiful statues and modern art in the gardens of Delaire Graff and our dinner at Tokara restaurant.
However Stellenbosch to me made it really clear that the social-economical differences in South Africa are really problematic. In the Stellenbosch area the farmers live in enormous wealth, while the waiters often are black. At times I found this really painful and that is why I had difficulties writing this blogpost and evaluating our trip to South Africa. When we visited South Africa the debate about the land expropriations was heating up again and currently the discussion of land expropriation without compensation is still going strong. I am very curious of how this will be solved and what this means for the future of South Africa. It truly is a beautiful country with an awful history and I hope that it will not lead to more violence.
Day 14: Franschhoek: On our last day we went mountain biking in the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. Some paths were a bit too steep for me, but it was a beautiful way to enjoy the South African landscapes and mountains. Originally we were set to go mountain biking at Boschendal but the rental company decided to close that day. I can imagine mountain biking at Boschendal to be super lovely as they also have trails for beginners and you will pass the gardens. I still wanted to visit Boschendal so we had an affordable lunch at the Werf restaurant and went for a stroll at the property. Boschendal is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever visited and I would definitely recommend having lunch there. In the evening we unfortunately had to leave wine country again.