South Africa has so much to offer from an authentic South African safari to the beauty of Cape Town, the Winelands and everything your travel heart may desire.
Team Tailormade Africa took a trip to South Africa in early October. As well as celebrating a small birthday it was a chance for team TMA to get together with our South African contingent. Also, to remind ourselves of a small part of the cape, something which we strive to do across all our destinations on a regular basis.
Knowledge is power as they say and as things are changing all the time, we wanted to check out what is new and what else there is to see and do in this beautiful part of the world. Our 4 night long Western Cape journey was planned to incorporate Cape Town , the Winelands and then down to the coast, just along from Hermanus on the tip of South Africa.
Ethiopian Airlines - Yes, Ethiopian
We flew with Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa. Don’t knock it until you try it. Our stop on the way out was only one and a half hours which flew by especially if you find the local beer. Ethiopian have a young fleet and have been voted Africa’s best airline. We had two great flights there and back and breaking up the journey was actually quite refreshing. With an overnight journey and a one to two-hour time difference, there is no time wasted when travelling to South Africa.
The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town
Our first accommodation during our stay was at the Table Bay Hotel. Superbly located in the heart of the V&A Waterfront, Sun International’s Table Bay is an established landmark and an ideal retreat for 2 or 3 nights in the city. The hotel has a great vibe and is located next to, well technically joined to, the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre. With many rooms facing majestic Table Mountain, waking up here on your first morning in Cape Town is a treat. The extensive breakfast buffet is like no other and worth skipping lunch for!
The V&A Waterfront
South Africa’s oldest working harbour, the V&A Waterfront, named after Queen Victoria I and her second son Prince Alfred who developed strong links with the colonials during a visit in 1860. The V&A thrives with many retail outlets, restaurants, art galleries and live musicians.
During our short time in Cape Town, we hopped over to The Silo to have a nose and view the inside of this architectural masterpiece. It is fabulous. A member of The Royal Portfolio family, so under the stylish eye of Liz Biden, The Silo sits above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art and overlooks the buzz of the working harbour. The hotel has been beautifully crafted from an old grain store and creatively and stylishly designed by Liz Biden. Each suite is wonderfully flooded in natural light and affords exceptional views of Cape Town. Even if you don’t stay there, go and have a drink on the roof terrace, but make a reservation – numbers are limited.
A tour around Cape Town with a twist
Having all visited Cape Town several times before and having experienced the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Robben Island and Table Mountain we wanted to spend a day exploring the area more extensively and in a slightly different way. We were lucky enough to spend the day exploring the Cape Peninsula with four times South African surf champion turned guide Nikita Robb. The first lady to achieve 4 back to back wins, Nikita knows the waters surrounding the cape like the back of her hand and her inland knowledge of this particular part of Africa is also astounding. After getting a little too excited about breakfast we set off towards Muizenberg on the east side of the peninsula and to the best coffee for miles!
Rolling Wood Surf and Skate store and café sits on the fringe of the surf mecca of Muizenberg. Home to the revolutionary Wawa wooden surfboard, Rolling Wood, run by Cobus Joubert, is an example of forward thinking and sustainable living. This little shop and café not only serves the best coffee and red cappuccino (rooibos and frothed milk) but epitomises quality and a developed approach by handcrafting these lightweight boards. Each board is handcrafted for durability and weight from locally grown woods such as swamp cypress, pencil cedar and redwood. These woods are sustainably sourced and are of course environmentally friendly in contrast to the majority of surfboards which are one cause of pollution in the oceans.
From multi-generation farming stock, Cobus firmly believes in the sanctity of nature and the protection of our environment and is now growing mushrooms, the spores of which can be condensed to fill the centre of wooden boards. It is an incredible story which is still being told and is paving the way for more environmentally friendly surfing worldwide. Cobus keep up the great work!
Simon's Town and penguin sanctuary Boulders Beach
Not far from Muizenberg in False Bay is Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach, home to the African Penguin and our venue for a spot of stand-up paddleboarding (or supping as those in the know refer to it). Sadly, these characterful little birds have dwindled in numbers over the past few years, mostly due to overfishing in their feeding ground just off the coast.
Awkward on land, penguins are incredible swimmers darting through the water at astounding speeds under us and around us whilst we did our best to retain our balance (and dignity) on the boards!
Once in a lifetime event
Whilst the 'supping' was a highlight we weren’t prepared for the sighting of an 18 metre long, 40 tonne Southern Right whale and her calf spotted just 100 metres away from us. Southern Rights are so named because whalers in the past thought they were right to kill. Thankfully now, since the abolition of whale poaching in the 1800s, Southern Right worldwide populations have grown and increased from a sorry 500 to a healthier 50,000 animals.
The pair eventually approached us and we found ourselves holding onto each other's boards whilst they danced underneath. Spending time with this whale and her calf was a once in a lifetime experience - the cause of apprehension and exhilaration in equal measure and almost too incredible to put into words.
What was interesting about this trip was seeing the cape from a slightly different angle. We felt like locals and experienced the best of the coast whilst escaping the crowds. Lunch was in a small hidden away café called Whole Earth Cafe, which served the most delicious homemade soups, salads and main dishes all with sustainability and creativity in mind and was unknown to the travelling masses.
Table Mountain National Park and Cape of Good Hope
The expanse of Table Mountain National Park stretching from Signal Hill in Cape Town to Cape Point includes the Cape of Good Hope where we stretched our legs along the coast that afternoon and walked the beautiful coastline keeping a lookout for playful baboons and ostriches. There are even 4 resident zebras in the park but obviously due to the number, are slightly harder to spot!
Originally named the Cape of Storms by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, the residents of the cape renamed it the Cape of Good Hope so as not to put people off visiting. We wiled a blissful hour or so sipping gin and tonics and tasting a few along the way, eating locally produced biltong and freshly baked brownies and playing cricket on the beach.
Reluctantly loading ourselves into the car, we headed back to Cape Town along the breathtaking Chapmans Peak Drive. Not wishing the day to end, we stopped off for a sundowner at Noordhoek Farmers Village, a weekly celebration of food and full of locals with a relaxed yet vibrant vibe. The indoor and outdoor courtyard style location houses 3 of South Africa’s 800 top restaurants.
We had experienced a fabulous and fun-filled day.
Our home for the night was the Queen Victoria, a hop, skip and jump away from the waterfront yet located in a quiet corner near the old dock house.
Babylonstoren - A true hidden gem!
Driving over the dramatic Franschhoek Pass the next morning, we were excited to be heading to Babylonstoren , nestled between Paarl and Stellenbosch and our lunch stop on-route through the Winelands. A Tailormade team favourite and a must in any Western Cape itinerary, we have highlighted Babylonstoren as our chosen property of the month.
Dating back to 1692, Babylonstoren is a historic Cape Dutch Farm and one of the best preserved in the Cape. Eight acres of gardens are divided into 15 sections comprising fruit, vegetables, berries, indigenous plants, fragrant lawns, ducks, chickens and bees. We even met the resident tortoises having an altercation on the path through the fruit trees en route to the Greenhouse for lunch. Every aspect of Babylonstoren, including the contemporary farm hotel and spa, the farm shop and bakery are influenced by the ever-changing rich tapestry of botanical diversity in the garden.
Babel and the Greenhouse Restaurants
Babylonstoren is a happening place yet so peaceful at the same time. Excellence in cuisine is apparent here through the food served at Babel, the main restaurant, and the Greenhouse, the more relaxed garden café. The menu philosophy is one of “pick, clean and serve” with a strong emphasis on honest, fuss-free food. We enjoyed a picnic style lunch of fresh bread sandwiches at the Greenhouse all wrapped in iconic blue and white Babylonstoren paper and accompanied by a delicious Babylonstoren red.
The chocolate planter dessert proved a must have too and provided a lot of pleasure!! The gardens provide the majority of produce for both restaurants which is, as a result, unashamedly fresh and delicious. There is even a tranquil herb garden with descriptions of the various ailments they can treat. As aptly described by one staff member, “Working alongside this garden is like having a big, deep pantry of living plants. It makes one look at fruit and veggies in a fresh way”.
The individual Cape Dutch cottages and farm accommodation are all spacious and relaxing and a perfect retreat from where to enjoy the endless activities on offer at Babylonstoren. The boating lake will soon open too, enabling guests to kayak in the peace and serenity of the farm with the glorious backdrop of the Simonsberg, Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek mountains.
Boschendal Wine Estate
Staying in the Winelands we drove the short distance to Boschendal in the Franschhoek Valley where we enjoyed wine tasting, a delicious 4-course dinner and witnessed Clyde sabering a bottle of South African sparkling wine! He did it rather deftly, we think he’s done it several times before! Boschendal is a 300-year-old farm and wine estate growing much of its own produce and houses an incredible restaurant where we enjoyed four courses of locally sourced fish, meat, vegetables and cheeses.
Grootbos Private Nature Reserve outside Hermanus
We spent our final night near Gaansbaai, a little along the south coast from Hermanus , overlooking breathtaking Walker Bay and home to one of National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve sits proudly above 2500 hectares of fynbos and ancient forest and which provides refuge for 800 plant species, 118 species of bird, 29 mammals and 21 amphibians - some of which are under threat of extinction.
Two lodges, Garden Lodge and Forest Lodge provide extremely comfortable accommodation, most with views of the bay and all situated close to each main lodge amongst the landscape of the reserve. In addition, Grootbos now offers two incredible 4-bedroom villas each with wine cellar, pool table, gym, pool, outside kitchen and breathtaking uninterrupted views of Walker Bay.
What to do at Grootbos?
Activities are boundless at Grootbos, the most exciting of which at this time of year is the chance to view one or some of the marine big 5. We had heard that the number of whales seen in the bay was unprecedented this year - and we weren’t disappointed.
We had arrived early enough in the day to take part in a couple of the activities available at Grootbos and sure enough, just off the coast, close enough to watch from the cliffs, as if we were on a boat, we witnessed several Southern Right mothers and their calves bathing in pairs. It was mesmerizing, extremely humbling and annoyingly hard to capture digitally! We watched for a while, as the sun started to creep lower and the wind picked up but that didn’t stop us wanting to stay in the presence of these incredible creatures.
The Southern Right Whale
The Southern Right whale comes up from Antarctica in spring each year to give birth to their young and retreats after a few months back to their home waters. The whale watching season along the south coast of South Africa is typically from the beginning of September to the beginning of November so we timed our trip perfectly!
Walker Bay Nature Reserve
Earlier that afternoon we had explored the local Klipgat cave in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve, where stone-age families made their home and benefitted from the riches of the land, which is now obviously completely covered by ocean. We then related our experiences over dinner, for which Grootbos is renowned, in front of the warming log burner and prepared to say goodbye.
South Africa will creep into your heart
On the morning of our departure, we found it hard to believe we had only been in South Africa for 3 full days. We had seen and done so much yet knew a 2-week stay would ensure seeing and doing so much more! This part of South Africa is ideal to explore and could include a game experience at the end, something which sadly we did not have time to do. So, the big question remains – where shall we go next year!
The Tailormade Africa trip in summary
The Tailormade Africa team flew with Ethiopian Airlines and stayed at the Table Bay Hotel, the Queen Victoria, Boschendal and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. For information on any of these hotels and lodges or any location mentioned in our blog, please contact Rob or Clyde who will be delighted to chat through the best itinerary for you.