A personal account from South Africa
As a person who grew up in an era when South Africa was vilified as a nation, I was looking forward to seeing the country for real and making my own mind up, and it did not disappoint!
Our route for this short tour was to start in Cape Town and follow the Garden Route into the Western Cape, stopping at Franschhoek, Oudtshoorn and Knysna, before returning back to Cape Town for the flight home.
On arrival, we made our way to the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which were dominated by huge fog-shrouded mountains. Table Mountain stood sentinel-like guarding the city and again covered in fog, which meant we were unable to take the cable-car to the top. Undaunted, we went to the Mount Nelson Hotel for high tea, a wholly delightful experience.
Our first evening was spent at the Gold Restaurant, firstly having a drumming lesson (great fun for all!) followed by a meal of various African dishes.
The following day we explored the Cape Peninsula, visiting the beaches at Houts Bay and Boulders Bay which is reserved for penguins. The Cape of Good Hope is the most south-westerly point of the African continent and if felt amazing just to be there. We made the long climb to the Cape Point Lighthouse where we could see Cape Agulhas (the southernmost point of Africa) in the distance. For me, just being there will be a lifetime memory.
We left Cape Town the next day, having had dinner on the RMS St Helena the previous evening. She is the only working Royal Mail ship left in the world. We were unable to take the cable car to Table Mountain because of high winds, but went to the nearby Signal Hill, where we had great views of Table Mountain and Robben Island which on that day, looked entirely calm and benign and gave no clue to its dark recent history.
A brief stop was made in Stellenbosch, a beautiful little town full of Dutch colonial architecture and made our way to Franschhoek, which means “French Corner.” A delightful little town, which oozes class. There are many little restaurants and bistros offering excellent local and international cuisine and as the town is in a wine-growing area, a tour of the local vineyards (some allow free-tasting!) is a must.
On the way to Franschhoek, we stopped at Pollsmoor Prison, from where Nelson Mandela had been released in 1990. Later that evening, we heard the sad news that “Madiba” had died. Leaving aside the political implications of his passing, we noted the great respect South Africans of all types had for him.
From Franschhoek, we followed Route 62 to Outsdhoorn and the scenery on this part of the tour was simply put, stunning. Huge imposing mountains and endless green plains, interspersed with various forms of local wildlife; it made a 5 hour journey go very quickly.
Outsdhoorn is another Dutch-style colonial town. We visited an Ostrich farm, where there was the opportunity to ride the Ostriches, stand on their eggs and eating Ostrich steaks! Our short visit ended with a visit to a crocodile and cheetah park.
Our final stop was Knysna and the highlight here was a boat trip in the harbour, the mouth of which is so dangerous Lloyds of London will not insure vessels wishing to pass through it. The boat trip was followed by an amazing meal of local fish that had been caught that day.
Before returning to Cape Town there was time for a brief visit to Plettenburg Bay, known for whale-watching. Our route to the airport was via road and the Rovos Rail luxury train, which made for an extremely mellow end to the tour.
In summary, this was a really wonderful trip to a beautiful country. It would be naïve to ignore the problems South Africa faces in terms of the protracted transition it is undergoing, but any tourist who visits is assured of a warm welcome, incredible memories and will return longing for more.”