South AfricaÂ’s Western Cape Province is an especially blessed region in a number of ways. By casually strolling in stunning mountain scenery and along a magnificent coastline, you will be brought to the brink of tears by its sheer beauty. The roadsides are adorned with midsummer displays of a huge variety of indigenous wild flowers. The delightful wine region, exceptional accommodation, whales just offshore and Cape Town - perhaps the most beautiful city in the world Â– can all weave a never-to-be-forgotten spell around your heart.
The word is out that you should include a visit to South Africa on you 'Bucket List' of places to go, and here is why:
South Africa’s Western Cape Province is an especially blessed region in a number of ways. By casually strolling in stunning mountain scenery and along a magnificent coastline, you will be brought to the brink of tears by its sheer beauty. The roadsides are adorned with midsummer displays of a huge variety of indigenous wild flowers. The delightful wine region, exceptional accommodation, whales just offshore and Cape Town - perhaps the most beautiful city in the world – can all weave a never-to-be-forgotten spell around your heart.
One of the highlights of a walking tour, one that will take your breath away, is to be found in the tiny coastal village of Hermanus, acknowledged as one of the prime whale-watching sites in the world – and the place which the Southern Right whale has chosen as it's calving and nursery grounds.
Driving north along the scenic coastal road outside Cape Town is a fine introduction to a stroll on a impeccably, clean white sand beach where sea birds such as Kelp and Hartlaub's gulls soar gracefully. Taking a lunch break at a quaint, old-time lighthouse, one can enjoy a snoekbraai repast, and be introduced to the Jackass penguin colony.
At the Cape of Good Hope, we come across an ancient monument to Bartolomew Diaz (a Portuguese nobleman who sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa 1488, the first European known to have done so.) Nearby one finds a Nature Reserve, where we see dolphins, Bryde's whales and Cape fur seals cavorting in the sea – and amazingly, on land, rock hyraxes (ungulate mammals of Africa with rodent-like incisors and feet with hoof like toes), baboons and Cape mountain zebra inland. Dinner in the evening features unique South African dishes such as Bobotie, Boerewors, Chicken Curry Potjie, Frikkadels, Oxtail Potjie, Skaap Wors, Sosaties, Tomato Bredie and Vetkoek.
A circular walk in the Kleinrivier mountains behind Hermanus follows paths through the indigenous fynbos in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. The Cape Flora Kingdom, despite being the smallest in area, is the richest in the world for number of species. Midsummer is the time to marvel at the display - the proteas and ericas are particularly impressive, but the restios (a unique group of plants resembling grasses or reeds) and the tiny sundews are intriguing.
The reserve is also home to tortoises and several species of iridescent sunbirds. After a picnic under a shady wild fig tree, one can again whale watch as we follow part of the eastern cliff path back into Hermanus. The harbourside whale museum has an underwater microphone listening in to the whales in the bay. That almost hypnotic sound alone is both mesmerizing, and entrancing.
Heading into the interior of the Western Cape we follow one of the world famous wine routes, stopping for a tasting at a picturesque estate with an international reputation for its superb Pinot Noir Rosé. A bumpy dirt road delivers us to a agrestic little restaurant with surprisingly sophisticated food. Increasingly spectacular roads winding up into the mountains takes one to a very comfortable lodge in the minute village of McGregor, with appropriately Scottish décor and sweeping views of the mountains and vineyards.
Now, on to the Greyton Nature Reserve – where some significant ups and downs on the trail bring stunning, tear-jerking views and the spotting of local antelope such as duiker and klipspringer.
We must open our eyes for South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, to be seen at the head of the Franschhoek pass. Walking steeply down through head high proteas into this celebrated wine-making valley, we are encouraged to pause and sample a variety of wines and enjoy a superb lunch in a champagne cellar restaurant.
A visit to the majestic estate called Boschendal Manor gives one an understanding of the lifestyle of the first settlers to cultivate vines in the Cape and their connections to other Dutch colonies, particularly the East Indies. Walking along a sharp ridge through the vineyards surrounding Stellenbosch – we are relieved to encounter a trail which is not only easy walking, but also with far-reaching views.
Eating the traditonally substantial South African breakfast, one can take advantage of the cool air of morning and depart early for an energetic hike in the mountains above Franschhoek. The weather is clear, so there are marvellous views both of the high peaks and vast, virtually uninhabited valleys. Returning to the village for a midday wine-tasting and lunch, we are introduced to the local cheese and chocolate specialities.
Travelling north over the dramatic Bainskloof Pass we reach Tulbagh, the finest example of an early rural settlement in South Africa. Here we savour the delights of a Cape Malay lunch, where we then follow a gravel road to a private farm at the foot of the Winterhoek mountains. In the late afternoon we walk on the estate - and return to the homestead to enjoy a traditional ‘braai’ (a wood-fired barbecue) under the stars.
Now we make our way back to Cape Town, where our first stop is the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the perfect showcase for the Cape's unique flora, with its extensive grounds, fascinating glasshouse collections and tempting shops. We walk through the 'Company Gardens' – which originally was a vegetable garden cultivated to supply ships traversing the seas internationally, and rounding the Cape.
If you are fit, walking up the slopes of Table Mountain is a must (although a cable car ride is an optional extra for the less energetic). The mountain is a National Nature Reserve and boasts an amazing list of endemic plants, interesting geology, resident Verreaux’s eagles and superb views over Table Bay, Robben Island and the Hottentots Holland mountains. To celebrate our hike on one of the world’s most recognizable mountains, we are encouraged to take a sunset and champagne cruise on a local yacht from the world renowned Waterfront and then to relax in the informal atmosphere of a restaurant noted for its ethnic flavors - African decor, dishes and music!
On our last stop we can spend time shopping for local handicrafts, exploring the quaint Cape Malay Quarter, sailing to Robben Island, where the iconic Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years. By this time, your mind surely, will be spinning, reflecting on the many, and varied, and indeed unique and mind boggling array of the hidden secrets of what Sunny South Africa has to offer!