South Africa 2013


This trip marks my fifth visit to South Africa, and I arranged the itinerary based on several places I haven’t had the opportunity to see.  I also had a colleague traveling with me who has never been to Africa, and I wanted to be sure her first visit would be unforgettable. 

We were met at the Johannesburg International Airport and transferred to the beautiful SAXON HOTEL.  This was my first visit to the property and it is stunning.  The hotel is located in a residential neighborhood and upon entering the gate you have the feeling of being an honored guest at someone’s home.  The all-suite accommodations have huge bathrooms with his and hers vanities and closets.  The gardens surrounding the hotel are delightful and you have no idea that the center of Johannesburg is just a short drive away.  

I have never had the opportunity to sightsee in Johannesburg, and I wanted to make sure I saw more of the city.  Our first full day in the city we had a Johannesburg city tour with stops at Soweto and at the Apartheid Museum.  It is well worth the time to learn about the history of the city and the country of South Africa.  I can highly recommend this tour.  The following morning we drove almost an hour outside Johannesburg to visit the Cradle of Humankind site.  You need to plan on a full morning to see the museum and cave. 

If you are not familiar with this area it is a World Heritage Site and contains a complex of limestone caves where they have found the 2.3 million year-old hominin fossil known as Mrs. Ples, along with many other fossils.  The countryside is a desert and it is almost always hot and windy, so dress appropriately.  Once you set off into the caves there are many stairs and some tight areas that are low to the ground where we had to climb on our knees.  Obviously, anyone with trouble walking or back problems should not attempt walking through the caves.

We made our way to Pretoria to board the ROVOS RAIL TRAIN.  I 've wanted to experience this journey for a long time and it exceeded my expectations.  Our journey was for two nights and it would end in Cape Town, making stops along the way.  As you can imagine, the sleeping accommodations can be tight on a train, but I didn’t feel we were that crowded.  The beds were comfortable, the en-suite bathroom was small, but I have seen smaller and we had plenty of room to store our suit cases. 

The staff, service, cuisine and attention to detail are 5-star, and it makes for a wonderful way to relax and see the countryside of South Africa.  The train is all-inclusive of tours, accommodations and unlimited beverages.  During lunch and dinner South African wine is paired with each course.  What a great way to sample the local produce!  

Our first stop was Kimberly, where we toured the museum and saw the “Big Hole” diamond mine.   The following day we stopped in the high desert in a town named Matjiesfontein.  This small town was built around a hotel that used to be a popular stopover point for people traveling by car from the Cape Town area to points north. 

Once we arrived into Cape Town we were met and transferred to the Ambassador Hotel, located in Bantry Bay.  This small hotel is situated on the beach and has a restaurant popular with the locals.  Our room was comparable to a Hilton hotel room, nice size and our view was amazing, but the window would not close completely and the wind howled through it all night.  The bathroom was very small, with the smallest sink I have ever seen, and not having hot water the following morning made for an uncomfortable stay.  It is unfortunate because the location is great and the food is good.  But because of what we experienced I can’t recommend this property.

The following morning we scheduled a city tour of Cape Town and I finally made it to the top of Table Mountain.  In the past, whenever I have visited Cape Town, the mountain has been 

closed due to bad weathe, or they were working on the cable cars.  What a beautiful view from the top-- absolutely breathtaking. 

After our morning tour we checked into the fabulous ONE & ONLY CAPE TOWN.  Located in the Alfred & Victoria Waterfront area, I wasn’t sure if I would like the location because that area can be noisy.  Fortunately you cannot hear it at the hotel, and look at our view!  Waking up to a view of Table Mountain is priceless.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about the accommodations, the food (they have a Nobu restaurant) and the staff at the One & Only.  They do know how to spoil you in Cape Town.

The following morning we made our way to the wine lands of South Africa, an hour's drive from Cape Town.  The scenery is much like our Napa Valley with Dutch influence architecture.  Our first stop was a sight inspection at the stunning LA RESIDENCE.  What a gorgeous property and location.  I can’t wait to visit South Africa again so I can stay here for a couple of nights.  I found it  romantic and a great venue for a group of friends or family.  The rooms in the main building are huge, with large bathrooms, and they also have several villas on the property that would accommodate a group.  After our visit we made our way to the Franschhoek area for a lovely lunch, visited some wineries and did a bit of shopping.  

Our next day’s itinerary had us returning to the Cape Town airport to make our way to Kruger Park to stay in the Sabi Sands Reserve.  This reserve is the best in South Africa for wildlife viewing!  It has never disappointed me, and on our first game drive we saw the Big 5 : Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Rhino. 

Our accommodations for three nights were at the &BEYOND property KIRKMAN’S CAMP.  Previously a working ranch, the main building is the “big house,” where there are public rooms and dining.  The accommodations are located in several smaller buildings which resemble ranch hand quarters.  The rooms are large with good size baths and a patio or balcony for viewing wildlife.  The staff and cuisine are outstanding, and on the game drives I had some of the best wildlife viewing I have had in a long time.  We witnessed a number of wildlife confrontations I have never seen before.   A leopard fighting a hyena for his kill, and an elephant digging up the roots of a tree.  It was astonishing to witness these events.  Having three nights in the bush to end our memorable trip to South Africa was priceless.   

For more on travel to Africa, we invite you to contact Nancy Decker Davidson.