Our time in South Africa was divided between Johannesburg to see Kruger National Park and Cape Town. We enjoyed Kruger and Cape Town, but didn't spend any time in Joburg itself due to the overwhelming advice of many other travels and locals about safety concerns. So, we spent the day before our safari catching up on the blog and budget.
Kruger National Park
We were up super early and it was freezing cold. Our tour guide, Justin, made us breakfast and our guide for the day, Frankie, showed up with his open-air jeep. Our entire group was thankful he had heavy wool blankets for us to use because the 45-minute drive to the park was freezing.
We got to watch the sun rise over the landscape as we pulled up to the Phebeni gate around 6:15 am. We were all so excited we could hardly stand waiting to fill out the paperwork and get the jeep pass. The line was already long with other tours and self-drivers and it was only 6:30.
Kruger National Park is the size of Israel, so imagine our surprise when as soon as we started the drive we were spotting animals. Like everyone else, we were looking for the Big Five: elephant, leopard, lion, water buffalo and rhino.
Elephant came first and amazingly enough, as we spotted our first giraffe, a leopard came out of nowhere just wandering around, marking its territory. We couldn't believe it! Two of the Big Five in about 30 minutes! The leopard, the most difficult one to see on any safari, was an incredible sight.
By this time, we were quickly becoming obsessed with seeing all the Big Five before 9 am. But what started as a joke, really happened! We spotted the buffalo in the distance and a rhino that refused to put its head up for a picture.
Frankie radioed for info on a lion location. The answer came back: two lions about 15 minutes away. Now we were racing. It was 8:45 am and we could actually see the Big Five before 9 am, in around 2 hours. We couldn't believe our luck!
Frankie was an amazing driver and always seemed to get us into the prime location to see everything. As we pulled up to the lion location at 8:59, he skillfully maneuvered around all the self-drivers and put us directly in front of two lioness with three cubs. We spent nearly 20 minutes taking pictures and watching them play before another leopard was spotted walking across the road. Two leopards in one day! To put this in perspective, Brian went to Kenya as a teenager for a week of game drives and never saw a leopard.
Unfortunately, everyone quickly surrounded it and the poor thing became spooked and took off into the protection of the bush. One of the self-drive cars got so close I thought for sure it was going to hit it. It is extremely frustrating to see that happen.
Our afternoon on our first game drive was less eventful, as the animals retreat for shade as the sun gets higher. Our experience was just so unbelievable; our group talked of nothing else the rest of the evening.
We arrived in Cape Town excited to finally sleep in a bed. Our safari was over and we were looking forward to a bit of R&R until we left for the craziness of Southeast Asia on August 16th. We slept in as often as we could considering our bodies were now used to 5:30 am days. Our AirBNB was fantastic and located in the heart of Green Market Square. A bonus: it also had a pool table!
We made several attempts to go up Table Mountain, but as is frequently the issue, it was closed to high winds. We decided to hike up Lion's Head instead because the day was too perfect to pass up being outside. Lion's Head is a mountain directly across from Table Mountain.
The hike was much more intense than we had planned for but was still an incredible experience. We committed to making it all the way to the top which took around an hour and a half, up chained rock facings and lots of long step scrambling. That was a day Lindsay wished she had longer legs! Ha!
The view was worth it as we climbed higher around the mountain, with the scenery on your left constantly changing between Table Mountain, the Atlantic Seaboard and the city of Cape Town in the valley. Just stunning.
We never made it up to Table Mountain, but many locals say this is their favorite way to see the views anyway. In fact, we made the hike back down along side a sweet and chatty South African named Michele, who was a great help in pointing out her safer routes to me. She does the hike about once a week.
Another bonus is that Lion's Head is free. But, be mindful to not hike alone, as when the path is quiet, people have been known to be mugged.
We really didn't spend enough time in Cape Town to do it justice and will look forward to spending more time there in the future. Our other quick stops were to see the colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood and the fantastic Apartheid Museum. The museum tells the history of Apartheid through the eyes of the residents of the District Six neighborhood.
Stellenbosch Wine Region
Stellenbosch is what we were looking forward to most. It is also what kept Lindsay going during the roughest days of the safari. She had planned just enough to keep us busy.
We stayed at a lovely vineyard call Marianne in the heart of Stellenbosch and spent several days vineyard hopping. Some of our favorite experiences were at Fairview and Spice Route, including fantastic wines, foods and a gourmet chocolate tasting. Both places are almost like a small village, with many different "shops" on the property. We also enjoyed lunch at The Goat Shed on site. If you ever make it to Fairview, pay for the upgraded tasting. Our host was a local named Deirdre and she was so knowledgable about the history of the lands.
Another favorite stop was Mulderbosch. This vineyard recently switched locations with another and we are so glad we didn't throw in the towel on our search for it. They serve gourmet pizzas next to a cozy fire and had an amazing red wine called Marvelous Blue, a blend of Merlot, Cab-Franc, Petite Verdot & Malbec. Mulderbosch isn't a well-known name, but this particular wine is consistently an award-winner.
One day we took a break from the vineyards and spent the day driving along the coast. We started at Muizenburg, watching the surfers brave the freezing water and ended our day on Chapman's Peak Drive, one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Along the way, we stopped at Boulder's Beach to see the penguins, which smell worse than a frat house trash after a weekend of parties, and a few of the other small towns. A highlight of our day was making it to Cape of Good Hope and eating a picnic lunch in our car while watching a pod of whales play. It was a perfect day even though it was a lot of driving.
Chapman's Peak Drive deserves its title as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Rocks hang above you while the ocean stretches before you. Even turn of this short seven kilometer drive is breathtaking. We stopped every chance we could and before we got to the end, turned around and went back the other direction.
We had dinner at the famed Jordan Restaurant, but were seriously underwhelmed by the food. The wine, however, was simply amazing. We enjoyed a Cobbler's Hill 2012, which unfortunately, is not available in the States.
Our time in Western South Africa wasn't nearly enough, but it was a great way to decompress following our safari. We can't wait to go back, see more of Cape Town and also drive the Garden Route.