This 16 DAY FULLY ESCORTED SELF DRIVE FIVE STAR TOUR takes us from Cape Town in the south through the highlights of South Africa to Johannesburg. We will stay in luxury five star accommodation, drive the fabled Garden Route, the desert areas of the Karoo, tour the historic Boer War battlefields and take a total of six game drives in two of South Africas best private game reserves to see the Big Five up close.
With sealed roads all the way, we visit the wine lands of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, visit a world famous elephant sanctuary to get up close with these beautiful animals, overnight at a luxurious beach front hotel at Hermabnus for whale watching and cross some of South Africa’s famous mountain passes to drive through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and mountain regions before crossing the border into Swaziland then back into South Africa for our Farewell Dinner in Johannesburg.
Arrive in Capetown and take time in the afternoon to tour the sights of this stunning city. Table Mountain overlooks the city and Robben Island is a short boat ride away. In the evening join your fellow travellers at the luxurious Table Bay Hotel in the heart of the V&A Waterfront for pre-dinner drinks before our Welcome Dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbour.
Leaving Cape Town, we head north towards Wellington and take a loop through Tulbagh, a wine town known for its champagne style wines and we’ll enjoy a country lunch under the trees at a local restaurant. Turning south we pass through a precipitous cleft to a stretch of rapids, waterfalls and natural pools to cross the Bainskloof Pass (594 metres) offering unsurpassed views. We’ll continue south to Stellenbosch the second oldest town in South Africa, known for its natural beauty and oak-lined avenues, Cape Dutch architecture, history and culture. Surrounded by wine farms, the town is abuzz with hotels, wine shops, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and museums. It’s quite small, so there will be time in the afternoon to wander around on foot before dinner tonight at our hotel, the Lanzerac Wine Estate.
Leaving Stellenbosch we take the the highway through Helshoogte Pass to Franschhoek a beautiful city nestled between the towering mountains of the Franschhoek Valley. The outstanding Franschhoek Motor Museum is on the way and there is a vast choice of restaurants here for lunch. Early afternoon we turn back south across the mountains to Gordons Bay for the fantastic Clarence Drive around the coast of Betty’s Bay to see the African Penguin colony. Our hotel tonight is The Marine at Herma.
Driving north from Hermanus we pass through the Heme-en-Aarde valley. Hemel-en-Aarde (meaning “Heaven and Earth” in Afrikaans) is an area of 15 wineries that rises from behind the coastal village of Hermanus. The 20km-long meandering route through the valley is rich with vineyards, wine estates, restaurants and is undoubtably one of the most scenic areas in Hermanus. The village of Greyton follows and a walk down the main street offers several morning tea options.
Our destination today is the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve but we will stop for lunch at Montagu before heading into the park. Known as the ‘mountain mecca’ of the Cape, Montagu lies surrounded by the Langeberg mountain range nestled between the Keisie and Kingna Rivers in the western corner of Kannaland, and is famous for orchards, vineyards, local herbs, rock formations and healing hot mineral springs.
Once we have been escorted to our lodge in Sanbona there’s time for afternoon refreshments before the first of our game drives. The drives are led by a qualified ranger in a comfortable open Land Cruiser and during the drives, either in the early morning or at sunset we will have the chance to see the birds, animals and big game that roam freely throughout the park. A hot beverage of your choice is offered during the sunrise game drive and Sundowner evening drives offer spectacular displays of light as the sun sets over the Little Karoo. Don’t forget your binoculars, camera, warm clothing, a hat and sunscreen. Dinner tonight will be a Briaai in the Boma at the lodge.
An early rise this morning for another game drive before returning to the lodge for breakfast. Leaving the park we head east to Calitzdorp, a quaint little town on Route 62, nestled in the heart of the klein karoo and known as the port wine capital of South Africa. Our destination today is Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world where we have a guided tour of the private Cango Ostrich Farm and lunch in the farm restaurant with spectacular views of the lush Schoemanshoek valley. There will be time to visit the Cango Caves after lunch or it’s just 5 minutes drive to La Plume Guest house, our home for tonight.
Our destination today is the fabulous Plettenberg Hotel where we will spend the next two nights for some R&R. Enroute is the 13 kilometre Outenique Pass at 580 meters with several excellent viewing sites before we reach the beachfront at Wilderness and continue eastwards to Sedgefield where we turn inland to drive the spectacular scenery of the Phantom Road and lunch at a Farm Restaurant. After lunch its less than an hour’s drive to the Plettenberg Hotel situated on a rocky headland in Plettenberg Bay, regarded as the ultimate South African seaside escape. With only 35 beautifully appointed rooms with views of the ocean, mountains and endless stretches of golden sand we will enjoy world-class cuisine where fresh seafood is the order of the day. Dinner tonight is included.
Be prepared for a fabulous experience today as we visit the Knysna Elephant Park, just 15 minutes from the hotel. The park was founded in 1994 by husband and wife team Ian and Lisette Withers. Ian’s family had lived and worked in the Knysna area for several generations and Ian himself grew up surrounded by the legends of the forest and the famous Knysna forest elephants. Sadly, by the time Ian and Lisette settled on their farm just outside Knysna, the elusive forest elephants were all but extinct, with a mere five animals thought to still survive. Then, in 1994, Ian and Lisette heard of two young elephant calves, rescued from a cull in the Kruger National Park, that were in need of a safe home. And so the foundations of the Knysna Elephant Park were built on the struggles of the elephants in the Knysna Forest. Harry and Sally (named after a famous movie of the 1990’s) arrived at the Park in October 1994 and twenty years later, more than forty elephants have passed through the gates of the park. There are no fences to spoil the close encounter and you can lunch at the park restaurant after the tour if you wish. Dinner tonight is your choice.
We head east this morning through Storms River then turn north onto the last section of the famous R62 route which will take us through the Langkloof fruit growing area to Uniondale and then Willowmore, a small town littered with antique furniture stores, delis, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. It’s colourful, to say the least. There is a donkey cart ride around town, known as the Willow Limo, but don’t try taking a sneak photo of the donkeys without asking permission first, as the oom who drives the cart is more likely to remonstrate with you about the R5 fee he charges to have his face and cart grace your camera, than comply. The town is filled with historical architecture (even the old jail is now a unique overnight venue) and includes a wonderful old Boer graveyard, and a well cared for Jewish cemetery. Look out for the little yellow vintage car on the south side of town, the red pedestrian bridge (rooi bruggie) used during floods and the antiques at Sophie’s Choice where will have lunch. After lunch is a 90 minute easy drive to our overnight stop at Graaf-Reinet.
The Drostdy Hotel, our home tonight, was initially built in the early 1800s and has its own fascinating story, having been refined over the years into one of South Africa’s top 10 hotels. Although it bears modern touches and a contemporary atmosphere, it remains true to its roots with furnishings and antiques that point to the past. After checking into the hotel, late afternoon we take a drive to the Camdeboo National Park to visit the Valley of Desolation (beautiful views and a great spot to watch the sunset). Dinner tonight is included in Camdeboo Restaurant in the hotel.
New Bethesda is our first stop today. In times gone by, agriculture was the driving force of Nieu Bethesda’s economy; the region’s Angora goats and Karoo lamb are famous. Nowadays much of the industry is based around art. There are craft shops and galleries, potteries and sculpture gardens – most famously, the late Helen Martins’ extraordinary “Owl House”, often cited as South Africa’s finest example of outsider art, an extraordinary, other-worldly home of concrete and ground glass sculptures. We’ll stop for morning tea here before continuing north to Gareip Dam and our hotel. The dam is the largest in South Africa and the township is a busy placed as the halfway point between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Dinner tonight is your choice.
An early start today as we plan on reaching our overnight stop at Clarens by early afternoon so there is ample time to explore the village. We’ll stop at The Cabin Farm Stall which serves up a wide variety of delicious food, including a curry peach salad and boerejongens – perfect for a road trip lunch! Just before Clarens we visit the Lethoteng Weavers in Clocolan, started as local women attempted to eke out a living by producing saleable merchandise. Today, it’s a successful business that produces beautiful hand woven wall hangings from typical African fibres including wool, mohair and cotton.
Clarens lies at the foot of Mount Horeb, on the Free State Highlands Route close to the Golden Gate National Park.
The town first enjoyed a revival when it became something of an artists’ haven during the early nineties and a stroll down the Artists Amble with its tree-lined streets and enticing restaurants, art galleries and boutique style stores will fill the afternoon. Dinner tonight is your choice on one of the village restaurants.
Just 20 minutes from Clarens we enter the Golden Gate National Park that derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. The park is also home to a variety of mammals that include Burchell’s Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Eland, Blesbok, Springbok and the threatened Oribi so keep the camera handy. Some great scenery as we skirt the Drakensberg Mountains and the Sterkfontein Dam with its deep blue waters on the way to Dundee and finally to Rorkes Drift and the Fugitive’s Drift Lodge. Lunch will be served on arrival and at sunset we’ll drive to the nearby battlefields to hear the story of Rorke’s Drift, one of the most famous battlefields in the country, and also perhaps in British history. It was here that, in a furious two-hour battle, Zulu forces armed primarily with traditional spears and shields thrashed the mighty British Colonial Empire forces, one of the few times they were ever routed by an indigenous army. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to those who defended Rorke’s Drift where 139 British soldiers were attacked by 4,000 Zulu warriors, winning more Victoria Crosses than in any other battle in history. We’ll return to the Lodge in time for a drink around the fireplace and dinner.
After breakfast we continue our tour of the Boer War battlefields at Isandlwana and our host David Rattray will talk about the background to the Anglo-Zulu War on the Day of the Dead Moon and the remarkable story of this fantastic Zulu victory in 1879 when the British invaded Zululand.
After some refreshments we head back to Dundee then north to cross the border into Swaziland. The country here is lush and productive with dense forests and great mountain vistas. Our hotel for tonight, The Summerfield Botanic Resort is set in 100 hectares of garden, featuring lakes, waterfalls and cascades with exhibits of rare, indigenous, tropical and exotic plant species including a grand display of the much admired pre-historic cycad plant. The garden lies close to the banks of the Bobokazi River and is situated in the Nokwane valley, renowned for its scenic beauty, spectacular rock formations and majestic mountain range. Dinner tonight is included in the Palm Cascade Restaurant.
Not far from our hotel this morning we tour the Ngwenya Glass’ charming complex set in large indigenous gardens and is considered one of Swaziland’s major tourists attractions. As we cross the border there is the option to visit the Matsamo Cultural Village before we enter the Kruger National Park through the Malelane Gate to Jock Safari Lodge in the heart of the park.
It’s the Lodge’s location within Kruger that makes the experience completely unique and untamed as in the heart of the original Kruger the wildlife has never been displaced or had to be reintroduced to the area. It also sits next to the Napi Wilderness Area (an untouched area of Kruger) so as bigger animals and predators search out new territories they often filter into the Jock private concession. The lodge itself is perfectly positioned on the confluence of two rivers, inviting all animals directly in front of the lodge to drink and is widely known for its intense Big 5 game viewing. The lodge also received a complete multi-million rand face life in 2018, completely elevating the property to a new height and we stay in individually screened and private suites with outdoor bath and shower and beautiful double indoor showers.
We will arrive in time for lunch and later in the afternoon board the covered 4×4 Land Cruisers for the first of our four game drives in the park conducted by highly experienced rangers. The wildlife here his sometimes staggering with elephants, prides of lions and buffalo. At dusk, a vantage point is chosen to overlook one of the many breath-taking views of the park for Sundowners and tales of what this unique wilderness has to offer. On the way back to the lodge there’s the opportunity to see nocturnal animals such as leopard, hyena and lion. Dinner tonight in the boma is included.
A day to relax and enjoy the lodge. We have scheduled morning and evening game drives again today but the rest of the day is yours to relax. Enjoy your private pool, lunch on the veranda overlooking the river or join one of the Wilderness Walks. Jock’s qualified walking guides provide the opportunity for us to experience the excitement of approaching species on foot rather than in a LandCruiser. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included.
Our last day on the road as we head towards Johannesburg and the final night of the tour in the luxurious Fairlawns Hotel & Spa. We’ll stop for lunch at Milly’s of Machado a restaurant and farm stall that has grown from a wooden stall selling fresh trout next to the N4 highway in 1974 to a popular stopover on the way to Johannesburg.
On arrival at the hotel, we have time to freshen up before pre-dinner drinks and our Farewell Dinner in the hotel’s Amuse-Bouche Restaurant.
Our tour ends after breakfast when it’s time to bid farewell to new and old friends, return our cars to the Johannesburg Airport to head home or continue touring.