South Africa. An artist’s masterpiece. Valleys, mountains, forests, deserts, coastlines, and grassy savannahs. Throw in vibrant towns and cities and some of the planet's most exciting and there you have it. This tour is a Johannesburg and Cape Town sandwich. The filling? Game reserves, the seaside, the Garden Route and even another country - the newly renamed eSwatini (Swaziland). You’ll stay in a mixture of B&Bs and fully inclusive lodges.
Day 1: Gauteng ( 1 night )
Jo’burg, Gauteng, your launch pad. South Africa’s biggest city in the heart of the country. It gets a bad rap when it comes to places to visit. And yet, this is a city which, after many years of apartheid and a history of violence and poverty, is now undergoing considerable change. For the better.
On the way: You’ll arrive at OR Tambo Airport and collect your rental car. Your bed for the night is an hour’s drive away. You’ll be staying at River Place close to Centurion. It’s centrally located for your drive up north tomorrow.
When you're there: Depending on what time you land you may have a chance (and desire) to wander round Johannesburg. The City of Gold has historic sites, art galleries, restaurants as well as sobering reminders of the country’s recent past at the Apartheid Museum. Or you could just head to the markets in Braamfontein. Or your accommodation. Up to you.
You'll enjoy your breakfast overlooking the idyllic swimming pool. The rooms have king size or queen extra-length beds and private en-suite bathrooms. The Spa is a must. It's surreal. What a way to start your holiday.
Mont D'Or Bohemian House
Day 2 & 3: Limpopo ( 2 nights )
Morning. Rested? Good. Have breakfast and head off. Let the drama begin. Magoebaskloof in Limpopo Province. You’re heading straight into beauty. To the ‘Land of the Silver Mist’. Mountains, valleys, forests, lakes and - er, mist. Stunning, hazy, ethereal.
On the way: You’re off to Tzaneen to be specific. A large, tropical, garden town. It’s 390km from Centurion and should take about 4-5 hours. No, no your car window’s aren’t misting up, you’ve arrived. And that there, is the Wolkberg massif, your backdrop for the next two days.
When you're there: Make your way to your accommodation, Kings Walden Garden Manor. Now this place is a rugged rhino of romance. Picture the scene. It’s the 1930’s and a woman says to a man, ‘I never want to leave’. ‘Marry me’, he says, ‘and you will never have to’.
The woman, Elsie Tooley, went on to design the garden. On the night she died, many years later, the giant blue gum tree was said to be struck by lightning. Today it stands white and bone dry against the backdrop of the Drakensberg. Pass the tissues. We’re in floods here.
And what a garden Elsie designed. 300 square metres of English garden. There’s even a trail through a patch of indigenous forest. It’s lush. Fountains, moss-covered paths, and flowers flowering away. Agapanthus, azaleas, camellias and roses. Of course. Roses.
Often the garden is shrouded in mist, which only adds to the atmosphere. There’s an ornamental lake guarded by a couple of concrete sphinxes. An interesting visit with some interesting fables here.
There are six luxury rooms with extra-length king size beds.
So, after luxuriating in these stories plan your next couple of days. There’s lots to do from serious adrenaline to family sport. Mountain biking, hiking, canopy tours and boat trips. Visit the Debengeni waterfalls where the Ramadipha River falls 80m or head to The Coach House Nougat Factory. Here you can take a tour and salivate over handmade biscuits, nougat and nut brittle. Yes and yum.
Kings Walden Garden Manor
Day 4 & 5: Kruger National Park - Klaserie Game Reserve ( 2 nights )
So now you’re heading into 60,000 hectares of wild, wild, life. The Klaserie Reserve was established in 1972 as part of the greater Kruger National Park, and is one of the largest privately owned reserves in South Africa. It shares unfenced borders with the Kruger and is rich in wildlife. You’ll be bouncing up and down in your seat snapping the zebra over there, the impala behind that tree, the wildebeest by your wing mirror, the warthog right there in front of your nose. You may get lucky and have a Lion King moment... a wimba weh a wimba weh.
On the way: The scenery in the Mpumalanga/Limpopo region is spectacular so this is going to be a super, smashing, nice drive. It’s 160km and will take 2-3 hours. Plus once you’re there you get to take a break as the professionals take you on safari. You won’t meet many other vehicles when you set off in your open-topped jeep. Pretty special in itself.
When you're there: Home is nThambo Camp. Up, up, up in one of the 5 treehouses deep in the bush. The view from your balcony? The distant Drakensberg Mountains.
There’s an outdoor lounge and dining area from where you can watch a small waterhole. And a deck, boma area and pool.
Time to go on safari. So, there’s the Big 5 for starters. Plus giraffe, zebra, spotted hyena, baboon, hippo, kudu, vervet monkey, waterbuck, wildebeest, bushbaby and mongoose. And there! Wild dog, cheetah, bat-eared fox, honey badger, porcupine, aardvark, civet, caracal and serval. There are also lots of antelope and birds. Game drives are led by experienced and professional game rangers. And they’ll escort you to and from your rooms at night as the animals are often in and around camp. Eek.
nThambo is a small lodge so activities are flexible. The reserve specialises in walking safaris led by bush experts and night safaris with powerful spotlights to (literally) shed some light on the nocturnal creatures of the African bush.
Wake up to the wild and sleep to the sounds of the wild, wild place you find yourself in.
*Your stay is booked on a fully inclusive basis to include your scheduled camp activities with your lodge guide.
nThambo Tree Camp
Day 6 & 7: Mpumalanga - Hazyview ( 2 nights )
After a last safari activity in the morning and breakfast you’re off to the banks of the Sabie River. For a date with a hippopotamus. These Greek ‘river horses’ have been hanging out since ancient times. You’ll see them basking on the banks or sleeping in the waters. Loads of hippos and all that grass munching means millions of tons of hippo dung gets propelled into Africa's rivers every year. Which sounds gross but is actually an ecosystem marvel. They fill the rivers with huge amounts of nutrients which support the fish. And those healthy fish feed the locals. They nourished the Nile in much the same way hundreds of years ago and thus, ended up stars of the ancient Egyptian art world. Good work hippos. Nature is a marvel.
On the way: Drive 125km, approximately 2 hours. Hazyview is 17km west of the Kruger National Park - a town on a crossroads, where six major roads converge.
It gets its name from having... a hazy view. It’s hot here in the summer. You know what it’s like. Sometimes when you’re hot you can’t be bothered. Too hot. Can’t think. Seeing as the view was all hazy someone must have shouted, “how about Hazyview?” And everyone thought, yeah, yeah, whatever. Let’s call it that.
When you're there: You get to self drive the Panorama Route. Nice. Hazyview is a lush, green sub-tropical farming town. In Mpumalanga. It borders the Kruger and has a big banana scene. There aren’t many places in the world that can say that. They have a nutty one too. Hazyview spews out a fifth of South Africa's bananas and a third of their macadamias. Local legend says it all kicked off in the 1950s when four young farmers had a quick look around and thought bananas, let’s farm bananas.
So what can you do here? After you’ve finished your banana? Well, if you still want more Kruger the Numbi, Phabeni and Paul gates are not far. The Blyde River Canyon, the third largest in the world, is half an hour away, as is God's Window, a sweeping view over the Lowveld from high up on the escarpment, then there’s the Mac Mac Falls, Lisbon Falls and Bourke's Luck Potholes - great rock formations where the Blyde and Treur rivers meet. Also check out Pilgrims Rest the restored gold rush town and home of Jock of the Bushveld.
There’s lots to do in Hazyview. Golf, tennis, bowls, horse-riding, squash, river-rafting, bird-watching, hiking and mountain biking. Helicopter flights and micro lighting too.
The Graskop Gorge Lift Company is very popular. It’s on the Panorama Route and offers a great view as well as the forest, food, adventure activities, hikes and guided tours.
You’ll be staying at the Hippo Hollow Country Estate. There are three onsite restaurants, a bar and lounge, gardens, two swimming pools and free Wi-Fi.
They can help you arrange a Blyde River Canyon tour, cultural experiences at Shangaan River Club and encounters with Africa’s largest land mammals at Elephant Whispers. You could also visit Perry’s Bridge Reptile Park and the Cheetah Project or just watch the hippos, crocodiles and other wildlife at the river.
Hippo Hollow Country Estate
Day 8 & 9: Swaziland (Kingdom of Eswatini) ( 2 nights )
Time now for another country. In 2018, during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Swazi independence from British rule, the king announced a name change. Swaziland would henceforth be called eSwatini. A move critics said was made without consultation. But this is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies and the king rules by decree. It’s not big, just over seventeen thousand square miles, but is home to a wide range of landscapes, from bushveld to forested ravines. For a landlocked country, it’s green. It’s also one of the few countries in the world where both black and white rhinos can be found.
On the way: Travel south and cross the border into Swaziland. It’s a 285km drive and will take 3 to 4 hours.
When you're there: Fingers crossed today’s the day for rhinos. Eswatini offers some of the best rhino encounters on the entire continent and prides itself on its rhino conservation work. They’ve lost just three this century compared with two to three a day in South Africa. Ouch.
Eswatini is home to 132 species of mammal, 500 species of bird, 111 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 3,500 indigenous species of plants.
It’s also home to the world’s second largest rock. Sibebe Rock is a monolith in the runner up position to Australia’s Uluru.
Then there’s the Makhonjwa Mountains which date back 3.6 billion years and are thought to be one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world.
There’s an old mine called the Ngwenya Mine. It’s been mined since the Stone Age and is considered to be the world’s oldest. That’s a lot of old iron ore rocking out.
You could visit the arts and crafts markets in the Ezilwini Valley and Malkerns, check out the glasswork at Ngwenya glass or do a canopy tour at the Malalotje Nature Reserve. Want more adrenaline? Try river rafting on the Great Usutu River.
You’ll be staying at the Summerfields Resort on a bed & breakfast basis. This is an award-winning, boutique hotel in a botanical garden. Which is jolly nice.
The hotel offers guided nature walks and cultural tours. You can go golfing nearby or head to the shops. If you want to fish there are good facilities at several dams within the Usutu Forest. Lots of trout and lots of good bass fishing at Maguga Dam. Horse riding is a good option too. Some stables even offer overnight trails.
Just stroll. The hotel’s orchards are very pleasant and you can have high tea in the Grand Pavillion which is in the rose garden. Marvellously sedate and marvellously marvellous. Sit and bask in the excellent idea of holidaying here.
Day 10 & 11: KwaZulu-Natal - Maputaland ( 2 nights )
Brush the cake crumbs off your khakis as you’re off. Goodbye Eswatini it’s time to explore Maputaland. You’re off to the coast. And what a stunner. This is one of South Africa's last great stretches of untouched coastline. And as the warm, tropical waters lap away the turtles come out to play.
On the way: This is a longer drive - 4-5 hours, 350km. Maputaland is all forested dunes, wetlands, sandy beaches, grasslands, savannah and sea. The lodge you're heading to is within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, one of South Africa's World Heritage Sites.
When you're there: Welcome to turtle breeding land. Hundreds of leatherback and loggerhead turtles emerge to lay their eggs. Who can blame them, the beaches here are pretty special. There’s a lot of colour too. In the sky, bright beauties fly, in the sea iridescent fish hug the coastal reefs. Definitely pack your snorkel. Although, saying that, flippers and snorkels can be borrowed at your lodge. Phew. You’ll be staying at Thonga Beach Lodge. Monitoring and tracking the turtles is something they've been doing since 1963. This is one of the longest continuous research projects in the world. Every night during the summer months, a trained guide patrols the 40 kilometres of beach at low tide monitoring egg-laying turtles and hatchlings. You can go along with them. Ever seen a film of a turtle laying her eggs or those babies hatching? No? Google one now. See what we mean? It’s a phenomenal sight to witness and could very well reduce the hardiest of you to floods of heaving tears.
So, where exactly are you? That’s the Indian Ocean you’re staring at. The Lebombo Mountains are in the distance. Maputaland lies in a transition area between the tropical and subtropical zones, which is why there’s a big variety of endemic animals and plants. And the whole coastline here is a formally protected marine environment.
You’ll be staying right by the ocean. Twelve eco-sensitive rooms offer either ocean or forest views with the deluxe ocean views room sporting private plunge pools. The suites are positioned to afford maximum privacy & minimal environmental impact. Excellent cuisine is enjoyed al fresco on the dining deck or beach deck overlooking the sea. Sigh...
When you get there you will see the miles and miles of perfect, undeveloped coastline. Clearly, you can chill. Chill. Right. Out. Here. Immediately. The lodge also offers excellent bird watching, fishing, sundowners and kayaking on Lake Sibaya or head onto the open ocean. Immerse yourself in nature on a guided forest walk or enjoy a spa treatment. Simply relax.
*Your stay includes the use of snorkeling equipment, guided forest walks, kayaking and sundowners at Lake Sibayi and a cultural tour.
Thonga Beach Lodge
Day 12: KwaZulu-Natal - Dolphin Coast ( 1 night )
Ok. Now where? So, day 12 is Salt Rock, a small town just north of Ballito and Shaka's Rock on the Dolphin Coast in KwaZulu-Natal. Once the home of King Shaka, ruler of the ancient Zulu tribes, his maidens would collect salt for his home and for currency with his traders. It’s a place for beach lovers and admirers of excellent tidal pools. And you’re only 40 minutes from Durban.
On the way: You will drive along the coast towards Salt Rock. Approximately 4 to 5 hours, 350km. If you don’t feel like going out to dinner when you get there, don’t - you’re staying at Sea-Rendipity Guest House and they serve food.
When you're there: You are just 400 metres from the beach. Hallelujah.
Ocean pursuits galore. Dolphin boat rides, whale watching (sometimes from the beach), deep sea fishing. There are lots of spots to fish along the coast from Salt Rock, through Shaka's Rock to Ballito and Salmon Bay. Or take a micro-light flight. Or quad bike. Ballito isn’t far and there are lots of restaurants and shops. If you like golf, there are good courses too.
Then there’s the Flag Farm Animal Farm which houses more than a thousand animals including reptiles, birds, alpacas and wolves. The majority have been rescued.
You could also head to one of the many heritage sites in the area where you can learn about the Zulu culture and King Shaka.
Or just grab one of the B&B’s books, switch off and head to the swimming pool. Each room has a private entrance which leads straight into the gardens and pool. Perfect.
Sea-Rendipity Guest House
Day 13, 14 & 15: Garden Route - Plettenberg Bay ( 3 nights )
So you thought the last place was the highlight hey? Hmm. You're gonna hit the skies next. Then it’s Plettenberg Bay time. And, if you’ve timed it right, you may be about to run into one of nature’s mightiest beasts. The whale. The Southern Right to be specific. But do hide your hysterical joy because to be frank Southern rights have enormous heads and they don’t need inflating further. Seriously though, it is true. Their heads are up to a quarter of their total body length. Yikes.
On the way: Durban Airport is a 30 km drive so it will take about half an hour. Drop off your car and fly to George - you have to arrange these flights yourself. When you arrive you’ll collect your new rental car and drive to Plettenberg Bay. This town is bang in the middle of the Garden Route. 95km, approximately 1-2 hours.
When you're there: Built on the hillside, most of the town is on a steep slope leading down to the sea. Consequently you get marvellous vistas. The bay, the hills, the mountains. Take a long, deep breath.
The waves below surf 12 feet high off the Indian Ocean. There’s sand for miles. Southern right whales can be found in very shallow water including estuaries and bays. If you get very lucky, you may even see mothers and calves playing together. It’s an important time for the calf, mum is teaching it the skills it will need to make a success of returning to the Antarctic. You can learn more by going on an ocean safari or a sea kayaking trip.
The Garden Route is also excellent if hiking is your thing. There are many different trails from easy to difficult. The Robberg Nature Reserve is definitely worth heading for.
Just a few minutes outside of town is the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary. This is the world’s only multi-species, free roaming primate sanctuary. Want a drink? Want to see it made? Then try the Mampoer and Witblits distillery. You can watch the whole process and sample them both.
If you’re hungry there are lots of restaurants and cafés in the town.
And if you have time, go visit Knysa too. This town is all indigenous forests, lakes and beaches. It’s on a lagoon which is a protected marine reserve. And it’s the home of the Knysna seahorse and over 200 species of fish. Knysna seahorses have the smallest geographical range of any seahorse and can be found in 3 estuaries, Knysna, Swartvlei and Keurbooms.
Your bed and breakfast is Lily Pond Country Lodge. Enjoy relaxing overlooking the gardens and the yellowwood forest. Bask in the sun at the swimming pool, grab a book in the library with views over the lily ponds (hence the name).
Lily Pond Country Lodge
Day 16 & 17: Garden Route - Hermanus ( 2 nights )
Did you see a Southern Right? Don’t worry if you didn’t because today’s the day for Heaven on Earth. No joke. Hermanus is both the whale capital of world and the Rivièra of the Cape. See that valley there? That’s Hemel en Aarde valley which means Heaven on Earth in Afrikaans. And that’s where you’re heading. A valley on the Wine Route.
On the way: Today you drive for 5 hours, 445km. It's scenic and beautiful. If you decide to go wine tasting the route is R320. Look out the window. See that? Woah. Stunning, uninterrupted views of the valley.
When you're there: Book a whale cruise. We repeat. Book a whale cruise. This is the best land based whale watching in the world.
And touring the valley on horseback at Cloud’s End makes for a pretty cool afternoon too. Want more action? Fine. Head to Hermanus Forest Adventures for paint ball wars, quad biking or zip line tours. And if that feels too much, go hiking or mountain biking instead.
You’ll be staying at Whale Rock Luxury Lodge & Villa. It’s in Westcliff in Hermanus. Lovely gardens, two pools, one block back from the sea. You get a distant sea view if you stand in the front garden and an excellent view of the New Harbour. It’s across the road and the place where all the whale watching charters board. You’ll also be right beside the cliff path which meanders along the whale coast.
Whale Rock Lodge
Day 18, 19 & 20: Cape Town ( 3 nights )
It’s the final stop of the ultimate tour. The big guy. Beautiful Cape Town. A Table Mountain backdrop, the crashing waves of two oceans. The Indian and Atlantic. Cape Town needs no sales pitch. It began life as a kitchen garden in 1652 to restock ships en route to India. Today it’s known as the Mother City.
On the way: On a non-stop highway drive, you could be there in under two hours, it’s about 120km. Or, you could take the route which hugs the coast, guaranteeing spectacular views across False Bay and some worthy stops along the way.
When you're there: Cape Town is a sprawling beast which oozes natural splendour. The craggy beauty of Table Mountain is in your face. In the nicest possible way. The beaches are white and positively smashing. Although they are cold. Brrrr. This city is known for its harbour and for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region.
Explore on your own or with the red hop-on, hop-off buses. Or let the hotel organise a professional guide for you.
There’s the V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, SA Museum and Bo-Kaap, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Point, the penguin colony at Boulders Beach. The list goes on and on and it’s all good.
Cape Town also has a cool urban edge. Good art galleries, hip bars, world-rated restaurants and boutique shops.
Your B&B is in Sea Point. The Hyde Hotel has a rooftop pool, a fitness centre and a courtyard restaurant with a bar. Free fibre WiFi and secure parking is also available. An independently owned boutique hotel with 36 luxury suites.
The Hyde Hotel
Day 21: Cape Town ( Departure / End of Tour )
And that, my friend, is it. The 21st day of this holiday sees you handing in your rental car at Cape Town Airport and checking in for your flight. You’ll need extra baggage for all those memories. Sunrise, sunset. The smell of the storm, the smell of the wild, the smell of the open road. The ultimate, South Africa.