Ten days of exploration in South Africa is a scratch of the surface of all of this vast country’s many offerings. We were torn at how to divide our time after basing the majority of our trip just outside of Kruger National Park in the north to do game drives. A few days in Cape Town or a self drive safari before heading to our ‘official’ safari at Baobab Ridge in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve. Ultimately, we surmised, correctly in hindsight, that our game spotting skills would pale versus an official guide and opted for Cape Town for 3 days followed by 5 days near Kruger.
A newer flight route made travel to South Africa considerably more tolerable. United Airlines now flies direct from Newark (EWR) to Johannesburg (JNB) in a monster 15 hour direct flight. Thus, instead of multiple connections in the era of providing proof of negative Covid status, we drove from Rhode Island to New Jersey and settled in for 15 hours of sleep, shows and snacks. The flight felt surprisingly fast aboard one of their new Dreamliners and though we didn’t budget for their lay flat seats (which looked amazing!), economy plus wasn’t terrible. Our one complaint was that the plane was kept dark for the majority of the 15 hours making it very difficult to get on the sleep schedule of South Africa. Upon arrival, we stayed one night at the Protea Marriott Hotel before a short domestic flight to Cape Town the following morning. For all of our domestic flights, we used Airlink which we found to be very good with pleasant staff, clean planes, and easy scheduling. In fact, when they did change a flight time, we could simply email them back directly with our approval or request to change…airline carriers of the United States…take note!
Tintswalo at Boulders
Tintswalo at Boulders was our base in the Cape Town area located on the eastern side of Cape Peninsula in Simon’s Town. Simon’s Town is a maritime community with gorgeous beaches and is famous for the large colony of endangered African penguins. We chose it for the penguins, of course, but also because of the proximity to the Cape of Good Hope and the amazing views of False Bay into the Indian Ocean. There is much ado about the safety of Cape Town but we felt very safe in Simon’s Town albeit we spent most of our nights enjoying our suite at Tintswalo. Tintswalo operates six luxury accommodations in South Africa. Perhaps most famous is the Tintswalo Atlantic, an award winning luxury boutique lodge but we found the less costly Tintswalo at Boulders to hold plenty of luxury and charm. We stayed in one of their premiere suites, Drommedaris, with an incredible balcony overlooking both the penguins and the bay. Equipped with a king bed overlooking False Bay, giant bathroom with tub, fireplace and sofa…we were spoiled. To add to the glamour, a three course breakfast was served on the balcony with more food than any two people could eat while listening the noisy penguins feast on their breakfast. The rate also included afternoon canapés and they have private access to the penguin boardwalk. One night we also indulged by having the on site chef cook us dinner which was served under soft lantern lighting on the balcony. Pretty spectacular!
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Before we arrived at Boulders, we drove from the airport via Chapman’s Peak Drive. This stunning drive is along Chapman’s Peak, a mountain on the western side of Cape Peninsula with a winding road that hugs the edge of the mountain with a steep drop to the water below. As Americans, driving with a standard car sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the right side of the road made this journey all the more death defying and I would strongly suggest a day of ‘driving acclimatization’ to focus more of appreciating the glory of the views and less on the panic of driving! Nevertheless, the drive is a must do in the Cape Town area. In fact, we drove it in reverse the next day on our way up to Table Mountain as the sights were so incredible. A rental car is key in Cape Town to get around and they are very affordable.
Our packed first day consisted of Table Mountain and Stellenbosch. Table Mountain is a massive mountain overlooking Cape Town and is known for its large flat topped plateau with dramatic views of Lion’s Head Mountain and Signal Hill. You can opt to hike up to the top or take the funicular which makes the long hiking journey in just a few minutes. Given that our time in Cape Town was limited, we chose the funicular and were lucky in that there were few crowds and great visibility. A cloud cover often settles over the mountains and we worried about the weather visiting in June when rain is known to be more plentiful during the South African winter. However, we enjoyed 3 days of beautiful weather during our short time in the Cape Town area. Once at the top of the Mountain, there are several short hikes to explore and a small cafe and gift shop and many beautiful views in every direction. Though we had no crowds, reservations are recommended to avoid the long lines that queue.
After our morning at Table Mountain, we leisurely drove to Stellenbosch, part of the Cape Winelands where their grapes give rise to more than 100 wineries in the area. It is impossible to see everything, so we set out for two wineries, the smaller Warwick Estate and the larger Waterford Estate. Given that the drinking limit is zero in South Africa when driving, we opted to purchase wine to enjoy later and only toured the wineries and had lunch. So sadly, no wine tastings! Though for American travelers, your USD will go far in South Africa with a favorable conversion that makes lunches, tastings and wine bottles incredibly affordable. Before heading back to Tintswalo, we stopped at Muizenberg Beach, one of South Africa’s surfing communities to take some photos with the famous brightly colored changing huts that line the beach.
Our second full day in the Cape Town area was spent at Boulders Beach spending some time with the penguins and driving down the Cape Peninsula to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Though Tintswalo guests have access to the boardwalk behind Boulder’s Beach, to actually set foot on the boardwalks and the sand of Boulders you have to pay a small entrance fee (~ $11 USD). From there you can witness some of the almost 3000 penguins who call the beach home. We spotted numerous penguins, penguin chicks and eggs all very close to the viewing boardwalks. Our favorite was being able to stroll the sandy Boulders Beach itself scrambling over giant boulders to spy penguins up close swimming in and out of the water (and if you are brave enough to bear the cold, you could swim aside them too!). Occasionally, the penguins roam on the streets as well and one night while strolling back to Tintswalo, we saw a little group of 5 boldly walking down the street under the moonlight. Penguins’ night out!
Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope
In the afternoon, we traveled down to Cape Point, a promontory on the southwestern tip of the African continent, where you can take another funicular (~3 USD) to the new Cape Point lighthouse and hike to a lookout near the old Cape Point lighthouse. It’s another area where visibility is key and you can witness the giant swells crashing into the peninsula and just off the coast the Atlantic and Indian Oceans collide. From Cape Point you can either hike or drive a short distance the the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape of Good Hope is often mistaken for the southernmost point in Africa (which is actually Cape Agulhas) but it marks an importance part of history as the rounding of this point via ship allowed for trade with the Far East. Our entire drive in this area was lovely with views of the ocean as well as sitings of ostriches, baboons, and sea lions. Apparently, the baboons can be quite clever and brazen with food theft but we were spared as the crowds were very sparse and the baboons weren’t patrolling the parking lot as we saw in videos before our arrival. Our day concluded with a final stop back at Boulders Beach just in time to see a particularly snuggly pair of penguins near the sunset. A perfect ending to our very brief tour of the area.
On our next visit, we’d love to spend more time in the Cape Winelands area as Franschhoek has a wine tram for wine tastings, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are reportedly breathtaking, and nearby Hermanus is one of the preeminent places to spy whales. A repeat journey in the future! Next though…onto the Klaserie and game drives!