A self-drive holiday for my husband's 60th, took us from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and combined adventure with luxury accommodation. The only problem...I needed a week longer everywhere we stayed!
Frank made stipulations about his 60th birthday holiday. It had to be somewhere neither of us had been, only one flight, no jabs and no heat. So South Africa it was, an eight night self-drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth.
(from £162 per room per night incl breakfast)
We arrived in time for morning coffee by the poolside at the Commodore Hotel, five minutes toddle from the lively waterfront and overlooked by the new 2010 World Cup Stadium. It was tempting to linger there under the pure blue sky; but Cape Town has an energising charge to it that invites exploration.
Once an island, Table Mountain National Park is the world’s richest area for flora, and we ooh’ed and aah’ed our way up in the revolving cable car and around the extensive trails that afternoon, enthralled by panoramic views and unfamiliar birds like mobile colour charts. It was the first of many “unable to tear ourselves away” moments.
My diary for the next day says: “Dash to Cape of Good Hope on organised day trip, (baboon stole shoe from tourist’s car then threw back, obviously wrong size), colourful beach huts at Fish Hoek, wine tasting, kite festival.”
Hermanus was a convenient lunch stop en route to our second night’s accommodation, and the southern right whales must have known it was Frank’s birthday. The show of mass breaching they put on was sensational, distracting us from the best prawns we’ve ever eaten. Several badger-sized guinea pigs on the cliff path, dassies - actually related to elephants - seemed an anticlimax.
We ate at the Two Oceans Restaurant where our three course meal with wine cost us £22 each
Grootbos Nature Reserve
(From £322 per room per night - full board and this includes some activities such as horse riding)
Activities are included at Grootbos Nature Reserve, our next destination, so I opted to ride out in the fynbos, local endemic vegetation boasting more species than the entire British Isles. Winding paths through ancient milkwood trees led us to our bungalow - with lounge, outside shower for the daring, and a canopied bed fit for a princess.
After a morning boat trip to see more whales, and a heart stopping, close up view of a great white shark leaping around a dive boat cage, we opted for a gentle afternoon stroll with hotel guide Silence, recently back from advising the Eden Project about fynbos. We were fortunate enough to see a mongoose; as well as a highly venomous puff adder being removed from the hotel pond.
(From £104 per room per night incl breakfast)
We chose the Palms Wilderness hotel because we liked the name, and it was a fortuitous choice. Wayne and Vicky showed us to our enormous room, where our bathroom had a thatched roof - inside our bedroom. Vicky explained her philosophy: “if being in a hotel isn’t nicer and more comfortable than being at home, what’s the point of going away?” We took sunset beach shots, then had my favourite meal of the week, sole for starters, then steinbock, with a dreamy wine. My diary says: “Wayne proudly showed us his koi carp, which he thinks far more interesting than whales.”
Hog Hollow Country Lodge
(from £193 per room per night including breakfast)
Hog Hollow Country Lodge, sat in the Tsitsikamma Mountains like a sugar lump on a saucer rim, was our final destination. We were lulled into contentment with hammocks, bedtime story books and chocolates; and a real fire in our bedroom for the surprisingly chilly nights. For dinner, thirty or so multinational guests, including three Irish honeymoon couples, ate together round one huge table. “I’m Brenda,” said our very handsome (male) host. We were far too polite to look surprised. Then he roared with laughter, said “Just kidding, I’m Solari,” and performed his party trick of faultlessly reeling off all our names from memory.
At Pletts, a local game reserve, Frank had a jeep drive, while I rode on horseback for three hours among hippo, rhino, giraffe, and zebra. I was petrified, thrilled - and freezing. We thawed out by a log fire and ate the most amazing toasted sandwich to celebrate still being alive. Detouring back via Bloukrans, we watched crazy people hurtling themselves off the world’s highest bungy jump. I offered to pay for Frank. “Next time,” he said.
Nearby is the coastal Otter Trail at Storms River, a long distance hiking path that winds its rugged way along the shoreline, between rainforest and the crashing surf of the Indian Ocean. The hike takes five days; but for us there was only time for an afternoon’s challenging boulder hopping to a waterfall tumbling down precipitous cliffs to a natural pool. A giant Pied Kingfisher watched us as we reluctantly turned to retrace our steps along the yellow otter-paw way markers.
I had two problems with South Africa: firstly the food was so irresistible I gained six pounds; and secondly, everywhere we stayed needed a week longer. Sounds like a good plan for my own grand retirement tour on the not-too distant horizon. Besides, I want to give Frank another shot at that bungy jump.