South Africa - Pilanesberg & Cape Town

November - the big holiday we’d been waiting for so long for! We were setting off from Heathrow direct to Johannesburg to spend a few days on Safari at the Pilanesberg National Park with a day at the Sun City water park. From there on to Cape Town where we would spend the remainder of the two weeks fitting as much in as we could and seeing family that live there. 

Day 1:

The flight is a long one, it’s downwards so you don’t have much of a time difference. The flight was on a modern plane but was so cramped. I was behind somebody who was responding to the person in front of her who is one of those people that I hate on planes who put their seat reclined the entire journey even when they weren’t sleeping making it even more cramped for others. We were on an overnighter which was great because it meant we weren’t loosing a day of the holiday flying but we didn’t get much sleep! Arriving at Johannesburg we sorted our hire cars and were on our way, it was beautiful reaching the African heat after it had been so cold and dull at home. The drive to the accommodation (which was just outside the gates to the National Park) was an interesting one, it was a beautiful landscape and it was interesting to see the way of life but you do have to have to your wits about you, no stopping for anybody. 

When we were getting close to the accommodation we decided to go through park rather than around despite it being the midday sun so we could see it despite expecting the animals to be hidden away asleep. Even though it was the hight of temperature we did see some animals which was amazing, especially as many of us hadn’t been on safari and seen these animals before. We saw what was at first a lone zebra and then many zebra, antelope, a warthog, wildebeest, hippos in the water, a rhino shading under a tree & lots of guinea foul which we termed the African chicken! How accurate that is a don’t know but it was an intriguing looking bird with blue on it.

We got checked into the accommodation and then took a look around and had some lunch before heading back out to the safari park again. The accommodation was a little dated but it worked out perfectly for what we needed, the settings were stunning, we had a large pool, a dedicated restaurant and were right next to the National Park gates. 

On the afternoon drive we were again very lucky and had some amazing sightings. We were across two cars as we were a large group but we had radios to stay in contact and they came in so useful. We saw a rhino stood near the road, springboks including two of them fighting and locking horns, jackal (which we later learned is a sign of lions near by), giraffes in the distance walking on the hillside, another warthog (which loved showing us it’s backside), a couple of crocs in the water just sticking there heads up now and then looking like they were after the springbok. It was when we were watching the crocodiles and springboks that we had a radio call from the other car that there was a pride of lions in the road so we went as fast as we were able to catch up and sure enough straight ahead of us was a lion pride with Alfa male, females and their young! It was amazing to see, they were casually walking down the road and were right next to the car (which made a couple of us jump as we were watching some others a little further back!). In my mother in laws words, she could have stroked one! We advised against it funnily enough! As they were walking along some of the stances of the lions changed and it was because they had spotted a warthog in the bushes, it didn’t take long for one of the youngsters to  take chase and we saw the warthog darting out of the bushes. The lion had been a bit too far off when started to chase and the warthog got away.

We had dinner at the on site restaurant, it was lovely food with great service and great value for money (which we found everywhere, with the difference in the cost of living and the exchange rate in our favour we ate out pretty much every day without it costing us much). It was early to bed as we all had early starts.


Day 2:

Four of us from the group were booked onto a hot air balloon safari so for us it was a nice 3:45am start! However it turned out we couldn’t fly because the conditions need to be just right and they weren’t suitable so we went out to the park early. We found an amazing view point over the park, we were overlooking one of the large dams and could see right across the park which was stunning. We joined up with the other car and started to see more animals including two rhinos, zebras and a huge pack of springbok. We were delighted to see giraffes too, first one we saw was in the trees but we then had a radio call that there was one up really close so we caught up with the others and it was amazing, it was right next to the track happily eating away. It was amazing to see, we sat and watched for a while but eventually had to make a move. On the way out of the park we saw what we thought was a mongoose which was small but pretty cool.

We had a siesta by the pool, it was lovely basking in the warmth of the sun, we had some food and were able to dip in and out of the pool as we liked. There were some monkeys nearby and they were entertaining us by running down and drinking from the pool.

Going back out to Safari we did things differently this time, we booked an escorted evening safari and it was amazing, went on a large vehicle with open sides which we had it to ourselves. The guide was really friendly and knowledgable, checked with us what we wanted to see and worked really hard to get us to be able to see them. 
Immediately we found elephants and rhinos, saw more giraffes and a warthog. We then went to a site where there were a couple of poached rhinos as there were lions nearby. Seeing the Rhino’s was really sad but we were pleased to find out the poachers did not get away with the rhino’s horns. 

We saw more jackals and a hyena which we’d not yet seen and hidden amongst the grass were the lions. The mum we could see the head of as she was checking it was safe for her cubs to play. As it was we had an amazing experience of watching the three cubs playing and the came right up to the vehicle and then to eat from the rhinos. It was beautiful to watch, they were running about, pouncing and rolling around. 

As this was going on an electrical storm was developing over the mountains which was pretty spectacular. On the escorted tours you can stay in the reserve for an extra hour so as it was getting dark we had some spectacular lighting shows. 

After seeing the lions we moved on to try and find the elusive leopard that Pete wanted to see (he’s been on several Safari’s and is the only one of the big 5 he’s never seen as they are so rare and difficult to find) and hippos out of the water as they generally do not come out in the day. We didn’t find them but we did see an owl on our way back.

Day 3: 

Today we visited Sun City Valley of the Waves water park. It was a stunning place, Sun City itself was made up of hotels, shopping centres, gardens and golf courses and then the Valley of the Waves was set up beautifully. You walk across a bridge and are on a platformed area where you can see right over the water park. As well as the slides they had a beach and a swimming area that became a wave pool at certain points. 

We had a brilliant time going on the slides, swimming and sunbathing (39 degrees C that day). I was defeated by one of the slides, fair play to those that went on it, it was one where you got shut in a pod and dropped down the slide. Got into the pod and got straight out again, decided I wasn’t going to regret it if I didn’t do it so moved on! There were food and drink places around, had a lovely slushy. We were straight on the slides without queuing as we were a couple of weeks before peak season. They had lockers that we could keep our stuff in and go back to as many times as we needed. We had technical issues at first but they happily swapped our locker. 

Once we finished in the water park we went to a steak place for dinner and it didn’t disappoint, the food was amazing. Had a couple of beers too as it was our 2nd wedding anniversary that day.

We finished at Sun City with a light show in the gardens of one of the hotels which was very pretty and a lovely end to the day.

Day 4: 

The hot air balloon went ahead! Really thought we weren’t going to be able to go up because the conditions have to be so particular but it was the big activity I really wanted to do this holiday, we were all so excited it was going ahead. We were up very early again and were collected from our accommodation and taken to the balloon. On our journey there the guide slowed and pointed, turned out to be a leopard! A young female was out hunting and she walked in front of us for a good 15 minutes. Couldn’t believe it, such an amazing sight. She was using the grass along the edge of the road to cover her whilst having the flat surface to make walking easier. She really was gorgeous, could see how muscular she was as she was walking along and the pattern on her coat was gorgeous. It was an amazing start to a spectacular day.

We arrived at the hot air balloon site as the balloons were inflating, I knew they were big but close up they were huge, pretty colours too, fitting with the National Park. The pilot went over a few things with us, safety and a few interesting facts and then we were in the air. There is little the pilots can do to control direction other than using the different air temperatures and winds so we stayed low to move out of the valley before rising up. The balloon ride itself was so tranquil, apart from the odd burst of the fire it was a very peaceful way to travel. It gave us a whole new vantage point too, we were able to see the animal trails you can’t see from the ground and the view over the reservoir was spectacular. We saw a few animals including zebra, warthog, hippos and birds and towards the end of the journey there was a pride of lions sitting in our landing site! Needless to say we carried on to another spot, it was lovely to see the lions from the air, they looked like they had just fed so they were just relaxing by the watering hole. 

Once we landed we made our way to a hide where we had some champagne and got to view the watering hole from the ground. Some zebra were very close to the water and there was a chance we would see a hunt as the lions were so close but with them having just fed they didn’t go for them. There was a hippo in the water in front of us too so there was plenty to see.

We were then taken to have an amazing breakfast at luxury resort overlooking the National Park and presented with a flight certificate and hot air balloon badge which was a lovely touch.

On way back to our accomodation we had a few more amazing sitings (even the guide was wishing he had his camera!) we saw hippos out of the water which is very rare. It was a Mum & baby having a short sunbathe. We also saw a large male lion having a long drink and 3 male cheetah shading under a tree, a giraffe and it’s baby and baboons. Closer to the resort we saw a massive Jenny of giraffes and some elands. It was an unforgettable morning, and we were pleased to hear those that hadn’t been out on the balloon had also had an incredible time watching a heard of elephants who were warning other animals to stay away from their baby.

It was round the pool again for siesta and we decided to were going to have dinner at a close by resort and some of us booked to go on another twilight safari from the other resort. 

That evening safari really showed how lucky we had been so far, we still enjoyed the trip but it wasn’t quite as exciting as the others as the guide wasn’t so enthusiastic and as there were others on the truck that hadn’t been into the park before he was stopping at every single animal, some we had seen thousands of. We did see a baby zebra feeding from Mum and a baby rhino which were cool and there was a bull elephant right at the resort gates which was actually quite scary with how close we had to get to it to get by. The dinner was lovely, they had quite different things on the menu, I had impala and somebody else had ostrich and both were really good.

Day 5: 

Last day at the reserve. We went on an early morning drive before packing and moving on to Cape Town. Went to some watering holes hoping to see hippos out of he water before they submerged for the day but they were already in the water. There were some interesting birds and on the way back we saw a caracal.

In Cape Town we met up with John & Marg at a near by market. We just missed the sun set but enjoyed some food. There were some craft stalls there but we didn’t have much chance to look around as we needed to have been there earlier but it was still a lovely night to sit out, eat and chat. It actually felt pretty cold in Cape Town after the heat of the Pilanesberg - mid 20’s coming from high 30’s meant I needed a jumper and my mother in laws coat! (As cold as it felt though it was nothing compared to when we got back to the UK!).

Day 6:

Our first stop was Simons Town which is a lovely coastal place with restaurants where we had lunch and a little look round the shops and harbour. It’s also the home to South Africa’s naval fleet.

We then went to boulders beach, we prefer to go to the area where you can get onto the beach than the boardwalk as it’s a more emersive experience and less rammed. We settled on the beach and then went for a scramble over the rocks to find the penguins. They are incredible to see, they have to have some human intervention to stop them from becoming extinct but are otherwise in their natural home and it’s amazing to be there and experience. It’s a place I’ve been before but it really enjoyed it an I’d go again.

For the evening we went to Hout Bay market which we all loved. There was a brilliant vibe to the place. There was craft stalls everywhere, loads of places to eat and live music. We had a good walk around before having dinner and a few drinks whilst listening to the band, it was a lovely end to the day.

Day 7:

Went to the waterfront mainly to get a few activities booked. When we first arrived we were in a cloud, we couldn’t see any landmarks. After looking around and booking what we needed to book we stopped at Den Anker for a drink and whilst in there the mist started to clear and it was our first sighting of Table Mountain. 

We stopped at Ferrymans for lunch before setting off back to Simons Town for Kayaking which unfortunately turned out to not be running so we stopped off at the accommodation to change and headed back to waterfront to go on the sunset catamaran. When we go there the Tigress was full so we got on a smaller catamaran run by the same people and it turned out to be more fun because it was less crowded. We loved the trip, it was a beautiful sunset, the settings were great and we were being served sparkling wine throughout. We get a bit wet and cold though! We stopped at Quay 4 for dinner which was lovely food and after the sports had finished had a live band on, which we preferred.

Day 8: 

Today we went up table mountain, we were unsure if it was going to be open but fortunately it was so we headed there. There was some cloud but it was great to go up and see the top of the cloud and then the views as it burnt off. The cable cars themselves are fun and we enjoyed a walk around at the top with the views all over Cape Town and the sea.

In the afternoon we went managed to go sea kayaking which was amazing. From Simons Town we did a bit of open water stretch to a rock with loads of seals. It was lovely to see the seals both bathing in the water and on the rock. One of the people in the group scared us all by saying they saw a dorsal fin so we were convinced we were about to be eaten by a shark - turned out to be seaweed! We then went on boulders beach to see the penguins which was brilliant, we saw some out in the water and we had a completely different view point of them on the beach. We did 7k in all and was completely different kayaking in the sea to the river we go to in Leamington (unsurprisingly) but we were glad we had pre-kayaked so we were a bit more used to it and could make more of the experience. The waves were good fun even if difficult and the guides were fantastic, they gave us loads of info and were really friendly.

Dinner was at the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay. It was lovely food, so fresh, and it’s right on the water so was a brilliant view and the waves were coming right up to the building. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would be a place we’d have gone back to if we had enough days.

Day 9: 

Three people in the group snorkelled with seals from Hout Bay. First we went for breakfast and then split into groups with a couple going to the Botanical Gardens and the others on the seal trip. I decided I didn’t want to go in the water (far too cold - more so than normal because of a storm in the Antarctic pushing up cold water) but I love boat trips so decided to go along as a spectator.

It was a small speed boat that you sat on the edge of and was really good fun to ride, it was worth going just for that bit but it was also brilliant to see the seals. There were hundreds of them in the water and even a dusky dolphin. The water was very cold but they had an amazing time swimming with the seals playing around them and I enjoyed watching, I especially liked the seals jumping out of the water! They were so much like puppies playing.

We planned on going to Cape Point after but when we got there the cloud was so low we couldn’t see anything so had to leave it for another day. We did pop into the ostrich farm, we missed the final tour but was nice to see the ostriches and we were able to feed them which is actually quite daunting, the have a hefty peck on them!

After we went for a drink at Toad on the Road and then to Borruso’s for food which is a must when we are in Cape a Town. It is quite a casual restaurant with a lovely atmosphere and we all had a good laugh. They do pizza and pasta mostly, we love the Calzone they do which they can only do when they are quiet, fortunately for us they were able to cook them for us. One couple had the banana flambé too which is always impressive.

Day 10:

Today was more of a relaxed day, we had a walk on Fish Hoek beach which was beautiful and was good to visit the beach local to our accommodation and then later some of us went for a walk at Tokai forest whilst others stopped off at Blue Route shopping centre. We didn’t have a long walk but it was a nice pine forest to have a stroll around.

We went to Pete’s aunt and uncles house for a braii as a belated birthday party which was so much fun. I love their place, so welcoming and the house & garden are beautiful. They had some friends round too and they were lovely, really interesting talking to them. The food was amazing too, had such a laugh with everybody and the pool and hot tub were spot on. Can’t emphasis how much we loved it.

Day 11: 

Today was a day at the Waterfront, partly for a bit of a look around but mostly because four people in the group were doing a scuba dive at the aquarium. Watching them all go in was so exciting, I was really wishing I was allowed to scuba because it looked so much fun. The instructor was lovely and the whole experience was amazing. We also got to have a look around the craft shopping area, what was the red shed when I was there last, now the Watershed and it looks completely different but we enjoyed browsing the stalls. We had lunch at the food market which we all really enjoyed, was a nice atmosphere with a good choice of food that was cooked well - it allowed us all to eat together in the same place but with the choice of multiple eateries. 

Dinner was at Den Anker, a bit more expensive than where we’d been eating so far but didn’t mind for the treat one evening but it turned out to be disappointing, it was too busy so next to no service, the food was nice but nothing special and we hadn’t been sat where we had requested when we called previously to book. Not really what we were after when we were paying more than normal!

Day 12: 

We had a activity morning at Acrobranch in Constantia which was similar to Go Ape, the course wasn’t massive but we had fun going through all the obstacles and being in the trees (most us anyway, there were a couple of brave people in the group that went up even though they found it scary).

We had an early lunch at a tapas place next door called La Parada which was amazing. It was a beautiful place with stunning surrounding and the food was so good.

We split out after and I went for a walk around Kalk Bay which was a pretty coastal town with some lovely little shops.

The evening was at Gold restaurant which was amazing. We started off with an African drumming lesson which was so much fun, if I could fit the drum in my case I’d have taken it home. The restaurant was decorated beautifully and all the staff were dressed up in amazing African colourful clothing. They were all wearing headscarves and after getting one from the gift shop they showed me how to tie it which was lovely of them. The menu was set with loads of different dishes which came out in courses and you could try what ever you wanted that they brought out and you can request more if you wanted. It all tasted amazing and it was very well presented. While we were eating there were performers moving around the restaurant, with African drumming, singing and dancing. We really got into the vibe of the place and absolutely loved it, somewhere I would happily go again.


Day 13: 

Today we went to Fairview & Spice Route whilst four of us went on to garden route for an extra week (which they had a fantastic time doing and I wish we could have had the extra week too). It was a bit of a drive inland but it was well worth it. Fairview was had wine and cheese tasting in a gorgeous setting. We had a great time with the tasting, there were different menus you could choose from for the wine and they had selected cheeses to match the wine. Some were amazing, it was a shame we couldn’t take some back with us. Spice Route was similar to Fairview but with a few more options which was good for the driver as they had chocolate tasting and an ice cream place as well as wine and beer tasting available. We had lunch at a pizzeria sat outside overlooking the vineyard, it was a beautiful sunny day and so peaceful. 

In the evening we returned to Hout Bay Market as we enjoyed it so much the first time. There was another live band and we had a good walk around.

Day 14: 

We managed to get to Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. It is somewhere I didn’t get to go last time, it is touristy but is worth a look, it was especially interesting to see where the altlantic and Indian oceans meet but probably not somewhere I’d rush back to in a hurry. Lower down from the lighthouse where there were less tourists and with amazing views our friends got engaged, it was lovely, a huge congratulations to them both!

After lunch it was time to head to the airport to fly home, this time I’m a older plane but actually more comfortable. We had an amazing time in South Africa and were so sad to leave. There is so much to do there and we would all happily return at some point in the future. 

Dawn x

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