TRAVELER’S CORNER – Sara’s South African Adventures

May 24, 2017  By: Gretchen

Sara Explores the Cosmopolitan and Wild Sides of South Africa

Sara’s South African adventure included visits to:

  • Beautiful and cosmopolitan Cape Town
  • The charming Cape Dutch village of Franschhoek in South Africa’s Winelands
  • Two of South Africa’s best private game reserves
  • …and more!

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South Africa Delivers!

Sara recently visited South Africa to explore the culture and fun of Cape Town, sip the fine wines of its Winelands and check in on its fabulous game – and South Africa delivered once again! We asked for her top 5 highlights from her visit, and while she had trouble narrowing it down, she did manage to put together a list for us. Settle in to hear a few of her safari stories…

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Cape Point Lighthouse

Cape Town and surrounds is one of the most visited areas in South Africa. It offers many opportunities and experiences for every traveler. My stay at More Quarters was the perfect location in the heart of the city to start my adventures. Although it is in a prime location, the feeling when you stay is one of quiet tranquility to get plenty of rest before setting out for the day. Their breakfast was also the most impressive of any place I stayed and the breakfast room offered beautiful views overlooking the surrounding area. The staff were all very friendly and accommodating.

After spending some time exploring the wonderful hustle and bustle of the city, it is nice to step outside its boundaries and experience the quiet and incredibly scenic trip to Cape Point. The road follows the sheer cliffs that drop dramatically to the ocean below. The journey meanders through small and charming hamlets along the way. You can see fishing boats, surfers and possibly whales as you drive. I was looking forward to the South African penguins at Boulders Beach and taking a photo at The Cape of Good Hope (the most southwestern point in Africa) and both experiences did not disappoint.

The breathtaking view from the Cape Point Lighthouse was an unexpected highlight. The lighthouse can be reached by cable car, but I recommend walking up the path. Although it’s a sharp climb, there are numerous lookout points to stop and take in the scenery. The entire path is lined with plants and flowers. You may pass other visitors, but overall, it’s a very quiet and peaceful walk. At the top, you are rewarded with stunning views from the lighthouse platform. It is a 360 bird’s eye view of the entire surrounding coastline and ocean. Although the lighthouse itself has been decommissioned, it is an important historical point on the Cape Peninsula. This is the perfect place to stop, take a deep breath and realize you are in a very magical place.

Dinner and Shopping in Franschhoek

South Africa is known for its world class wines. Small, quaint Franschhoek is one of the most popular towns in the Winelands region to visit for winetasting and relaxing country stays. The town itself consists of a few blocks brimming with boutique shops and restaurants – it’s ideal for an afternoon of souvenir shopping or a glass of wine out on the patio. The Last Word Franschhoek is perfectly situated at the end of town with access to the best of Franschhoek just outside your door. This five star boutique hotel has a small, intimate and quiet feel with only 10 rooms. Rooms are spacious and each feature a private verandah to relax and sip the local wine of your choice. Staff are friendly and accommodating. I arrived late in the evening and needed a last-minute dinner reservation. The manager was extremely accommodating finding at table at one of the busiest new restaurants in town, Ryan’s Kitchen, which features contemporary South African cooking. Each course was innovative, exciting and expertly paired with a local wine. The highlight was the smoked pear soufflé with salted caramel ice cream, which should not be missed.South Africa is an incredibly diverse destination! It has incredibly beautiful (and chic!) cities, world-class cuisine and wines, and concentrations of game that leave travelers awestruck! Combine that with a wide array of lodging options – including some fairy-tale tree houses and other places you have to see to believe – there’s something for every traveler here!

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“One of the most touching experiences on safari was watching a baby elephant try to figure out how to use his trunk… The carefree joy of the little guy stole my heart!”

Seeing Africa’s Big Five with a World-Class Guide

Seeing the Big Five is an aspiration for most safari enthusiasts. The Big Five are lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. I was lucky to experience viewing all five species in just a two night stay at MalaMala Private Game reserve. My first experience was with a herd of elephants crossing our path. There are hardly words to describe the feeling of seeing these gentle giants interact with one another and at such a close distance. As we drove, 3 separate groups of elephants crossed our path.

This was followed by a sighting of the dominant male leopard in the area patrolling his territory. We were fortunate to see him moving through the bush and marking the area with his scent. The baboons across the river saw the leopard and were on high alert sending out a warning call, so he eventually sat down for a rest to allow the bush to quiet down. Leopards are shy animals, so this was an extremely special animal to observe.
Our leopard sighting was followed by a sighting of white rhino – another extremely special sighting. The highlight was being close enough to hear them crunching the leaves as they ate.

We spotted a lioness and her cubs, along with the famous fierce Cape buffalo close by. My ranger, Theo York, was an expert at tracking these animals and explaining the unique attributes, social structures, and interesting facts about each species. Not only did Theo find the Big Five, he was extremely skilled at pointing out the small wonders of the bush such as plants, birds and insects, and telling the story behind many of the animals we spotted. The focus of staying at MalaMala is the wildlife and their guides help make the stories of the bush come to life so you truly appreciate and learn something new at every turn.

Huge Pride of Lions

Early morning game drives are my favorite while on safari. There is something about waking up before sunrise with the prospect of everything you could see and experience that day that always makes me excited. After a steaming mug of good, strong coffee and a fantastic croissant at camp, we set off on our game drive. We were instantly rewarded with an epic African sunrise. After enjoying the sunrise, our expert ranger and tracker noticed prolific lion tracks and informed us they believed the southern pride was in the area.

After some unbelievable tracking on their part (they notice the smallest details to track these animals – it is so impressive!) we found the pride of 16 lions sleeping snuggled altogether. There was a mix of females and cubs of all ages in the group. The highlight was to see each female and cub individually wake, stretch, yawn and get ready for their day. We were fortunate to see them migrate quite a distance. At one point, 3 females stopped and all looked right and perked up their ears. Our ranger pointed out a wildebeest they had detected way off in the distance (so far it was just a dark spot to my eyes). They decided it was too far to pursue and continued on their way with the rest of the pride. The cubs were all adorable at different ages. They played and frolicked to keep up with the rest of the pride. This was a very special experience to see the entire group on the move and be a part of their morning migration. We owed this incredible experience to the expert tracking of our rangers at Sabi Sabi.

Baby Elephant in Sabi Sand

One of the most touching experiences on safari was watching a baby elephant try to figure out how to use his trunk. It usually takes young elephants about 9 months to master the use of this important tool. As we approached a herd of elephants in Sabi Sand, we immediately noticed the baby. Elephants are one of my favorite animals to observe because they have such a complex and interesting social structure. However, this little guy definitely stole the show on this occasion. He was only a few months old and followed closely behind two female elephants. While the adults feasted on some tasty trees, he decided to put on a nice display for all the travelers nearby. He shook his ears and head, attempted to throw dirt and even trumpeted a couple times, but it sounded more like an adorable sneeze than an actual trumpet. The carefree joy of the little guy completely stole my heart!

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