Wendy Harper from Oasis Travel Lisburn gets on the trail of adventure and big game in South Africa as the guest of Ethiopian Airlines and Thompsons Africa.
Does anyone have a travel bucket list which doesn’t feature big game spotting in Africa? I thought not!
I was lucky enough to make that dream come true recently with a whistlestop five day visit, flying with Ethiopian Airlines Dublin–Durban-Cape Town-Dublin … and I have already updated my personal bucket list to read ‘another trip to South Africa’!
It’s admittedly quite a distance for a short trip, with a brief touch down at Addis Ababa (note to self: return to explore at leisure, the more intrepid travellers tell me the city is fascinating), but it is completely do-able, particularly if, like me, you travel business class and arrive rarin’ to go!
When time is limited, it pays to plan ahead so you can cram in everything you know you’ll love … but room to go with the flow too, for this is a region full of wonderful surprises.
First stop for me was the Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Umghala, perfectly positioned for exploring the many attractions located along the KwaZulu Natal Coastline an area rich in Zulu heritage, game parks and beautiful beaches. Hotel standards are generally high in South Africa and staff are particularly attentive, and the Protea certainly doesn’t disappoint on either score – hotel high points include an excellent restaurant that serves delicious meals in a relaxed atmosphere, roof-level pool with stunning views over Gateway and Umhlanga and gorgeous Colonial-style rooms.
On, then, to the Fairmont Zimbali Resort which prides itself on providing ‘an elegant gateway to nature’. Set on South Africa’s sublime east coast, nestled between a forest reserve and a shimmering sea, the this beachfront North Coast hotel located 5 minutes from the bustling holiday town of Ballito, 20 minutes from Umhlanga and 30 minutes from Durban, offers easy access to the attractions of KwaZulu Natal. Its 154 well-appointed rooms offer scintillating views of the Indian Ocean, oversized verandas, and elegant decor of stone, wood and earth tones inspired by the area’s breathtaking natural surroundings.
After a flight transfer to Cape Town, where better to get up close and personal with big game than at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, the sprawling game farm at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. Accommodation is in luxury en-suite tents with air conditioning, clustered around a waterhole with breathtaking views of the Klein Karoo. Trained guides escort guests on early morning or late afternoon bush safaris in open game viewing vehicles, with a refreshment stop at one of the lookout points … just in case you are pining for an extra touch of luxury! More than 22 animal species can be seen including buffalo, rhino, giraffe and the expert commentary from your guide adds a whole new dimension to the experience.
They’ve thought of every creature comfort at Buffelsdrift, and I have to recommend relaxing post-Safari with one of the African Massage Treatments of offer at the onsite spa.
Next we sampled an overnight in the luxury chalets at the Aquila Private Game Reserve & Spa at Karoo, where more thrilling game drives were on offer as we spotted the ‘Big 5’. Originally used only by hunters, the term 'Big Five' refers to five of Africa's greatest wild animals - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. You can tell that, by this stage, I was beginning to think of myself as the natural successor to David Attenborough! Décor here is a wonderful, creative blend of contemporary and traditional African and the panoramic views of lake and landscape from the poolside loungers is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
Back to city life at Cape Town and the Southern Sun Cullinan Hotel. Boasting a total of 394 rooms, it has a bustling contemporary vibe, with a host of amenities and fabulous rooms and a food offerings which range from laid-back casual to fine dining showcasing some of the region’s most exquisite wines. Cape Town is a wonderfully vibrant city with a host of ‘must-see’ attractions, but whatever you do, don’t miss the ride on slowly rotating cable cars to the top of the iconic Table Mountain from which there are sweeping views of the city and its bustling harbour, right out to Robben Island, the notorious prison that once held Nelson Mandela, and which is now a living museum
The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel, on Cape Town's Platinum Mile, was our final destination, just minutes from the excitement and sparkle of Cape Town and close to all its great attractions. The hotel itself is well appointed with 110 refined suites (open-plan bedroom and lounge with kitchen) with magnificent views of either the promenade or Atlantic Ocean. Whatever you have been doing all day, be sure to watch the sun go down as you sip a cocktail or two on the Sunset Deck overlooking the azure waters of the ocean.
I loved Cape Town and, when (not if!) I return, I will split my stay between city centre and the Camps Bay area with its beautiful beach. One hotel to look at on that return trip will definitely be the Twelve Apostles Hotel which is just 15 minutes away from Cape Town on the Atlantic coast, with a shuttle service back and forth to the city centre.
If you’re game for a visit to this wonderful region, phone me or call in and I’ll be delighted to share my enthusiasm and new-found skills as a naturalist!