Hampshire Life editor Elizabeth Barnett takes a once in a lifetime trip to South Africa
PUBLISHED: 16:37 25 February 2014 | UPDATED: 16:37 25 February 2014
Enjoy the romance of rail travel complemented by the colonial charm and elegance of a bygone era on this trip of a lifetime to South Africa
South Africa is one of those countries that should be on everybody’s bucket list. The vast, varied landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful and the diverse mix of cultures is fascinating to observe; something that should definitely be experienced at least once in your lifetime.
The key to visiting South Africa lies in the planning. There is so much to see and do, you want to be able to cram in as much as possible during your stay.
On our trip we decided upon four destinations as being the most important; Kruger National Park, Pretoria, The Blue Train and Cape Town. If there is one thing you should choose above all the others it has to be safari, and this is where our trip began.
Sabi Sabi is a stunning private game reserve on the edge of Kruger with accommodation ranging from the modern Earth Lodge to the intimate and romantic Selati Camp – our home for the first four nights.
Situated on the old railway line and with views out over a watering hole, expect to feel fully immersed in your surroundings within minutes of arriving. The lodge is completely open to the reserve, allowing the animals to come and go as they please; a particular highlight for us was having a ‘friendly’ leopard join us for our evening meal and a family of elephants were there to welcome us on our first day.
Game drives take place in the morning as the sun rises and around 4pm when the sun begins to set. Literally translated as Fear Fear, Sabi Sabi is one of the best places to see the Big 5, and it certainly didn’t disappoint during our trip. Our excellent ranger Craig and tracker Zeb managed to find lions, rhinos, water buffalo, leopards and elephants within the first two days. We were also extremely lucky to come across a cheetah as well as vast herds of impala and kudu, zebras, giraffes and more. It’s difficult to remember that these animals have an area the size of Israel to move around in and that you’re not just driving through a safari park back in the UK.
Taking away memories that will last a lifetime we set off for our next destination, Pretoria. Talk about a difference in culture. Once named as Apartheid’s model city, Pretoria still bears the scars of segregation and was quite the culture shock after the inclusive and inviting atmosphere of safari.
We spent just two nights here before boarding The Blue Train and so managed to find a local taxi company to give us a quick tour before stopping to spend the afternoon in the Botanical Gardens. The extreme difference between rich and poor, white and black was incredibly apparent and gave us a lot to think about on our 271/2 hour journey down to Cape Town.
The luxury of The Blue Train was something neither of us was prepared for. With our butler, William at our beck and call, it took us a while to come to terms with this level of service – especially when the scenes outside are sometimes those of townships and poverty.
With just one short stop off at Kimberley’s diamond mine the main emphasis is on food, drink and relaxation, and it won’t be long before you find yourself sipping on Champagne and tucking in to fine cuisine as you watch the landscape changing around you. It was here that I truly appreciated South Africa’s beauty and it was such a unique opportunity just to be able to sit and watch the world go by, knowing that there was absolutely nothing else that I needed to do.
As we pulled in to a rather misty Cape Town, the atmospheric Table Mountain loomed in to view from under the fog and we realised this was going to be a city with a difference.
Our home for the final part of our stay was a vineyard hotel in the Winelands region on the Steenberg Estate - a white-washed, 17th century farmhouse nestled amongst vines with a mountainous backdrop. After spending a day surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Cape Town, this was the perfect retreat to come back to and enjoy the gorgeous, fine dining restaurant, Catharinas or the new Bistro Sixteen82, where you can gorge on tapas and Steenberg’s fantastic collection of wines.
There is so much to see and do in Cape Town, we will definitely be going back to have a look at the things we missed, like Robben Island. However, we did manage to get up to Table Mountain to enjoy the incredible views from the top; and the open top bus route was a great way to see the whole of the city.
After a whirlwind 11 night tour, we left feeling head over heels in love with South Africa; and with the garden route, whale watching and shark diving (for my partner) still left to explore, it will most definitely be a country that we will return to.
Africa Collection (Tel 01403 256655/www.africacollection.com) is offering this 11 night holiday from £3868.00 per person, until 31 March 2014. This package includes return overnight direct flights from London Heathrow to South Africa with British Airways, return Federal Air flights from Johannesburg to Sabi Sands, three nights at Selati Camp on a full board basis, one night in Pretoria including bed and breakfast, one night on The Blue Train on a fully inclusive basis and four nights at the Steenberg Hotel in Cape Town on a bed and breakfast basis, plus a free bubbly/wine tasting and tapas meal at Bistro Sixteen82.