Traveling to Africa
Mike and I traveled to South Africa for our honeymoon from Los Angeles, California. We planned the trip over a year in advance, and we booked our flights 11 months in advance. Our original flights got changed, so we had some difficulty with flights getting there, but everything finally ended up working out fine. We flew from Los Angeles, California to Amsterdam, Netherlands, and then from Amsterdam to Cape Town. Both flights were 11 hours long, and a 1.5 hour connection in the middle. Luckily, we flew business class for our second flight, and we were able to relax. We landed in Cape Town at 10:00PM local time, so we were able to fall asleep right away when we got to the hotel. Because of this, we woke up early the next morning ready to go, and we were already adjusted to the time change.
African Pride 15 On Orange Hotel
In Cape Town, we used my Marriott points to stay for free at the luxurious African Pride 15 On Orange Hotel. It is located in the Gardens neighborhood of Cape Town. The hotel was very modern and beautiful, we with a very nice lobby and dining area. The breakfast buffet was very large and offered a huge selection of hot and cold options. We also got massages at the hotel for a very reasonable price. We loved the hotel and its location.
We used Ilios Travel to get around in Cape Town since they drive on the other side of the road. We were escorted daily by our tour guide Mervyn, who was absolutely the best. He was so knowledgeable and gave us so many great suggestions. We learned so much from him, and we saw so many amazing sites. We couldn’t be happier with our experience.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch is located in an affluent area of Cape Town, in the eastern foot of Table Mountain. The gardens are supposed to be one of the greatest botanic gardens in the world. There is an entrance fee of R65, which is about $5.25 USD per person. The gardens are over 1000 acres, and offer the largest variety of African trees, plants, and flowers; many of them were rare and endangered. We really enjoyed our beautiful morning in the gardens.
Robben Island is an island in Table Bay just off the coast of Cape Town less than 5 miles away, which was used as a political prison; similar to Alcatraz in San Francisco. We purchased our tickets in advance. There are various tours throughout the day, and the tour begins in the V&A Waterfront, where we took a 30 minute ferry over to the island. Once we arrived, we were greeted with shuttle buses and a guide, and we set off to the jail site. We received a tour of the jail from an ex-prisoner. It was really interesting to hear the story from someone who once lived in the jail. We learned so much about the South African history of Robben Island, and we were even able to see the jail cell that was Nelson Mandela’s. It was a very interesting and informative tour.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is located on the northern side of Cape Town, and it is an epicenter of shops, restaurants, hotels, and mixed use space. The space reminded me a lot of the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. There are very nice stores like Calvin Klein, Ted Baker, etc. Many tourists enjoy the area.
We took a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope (below), and stopped in Simon’s Town for lunch. Simon’s Town is located on the shores of False Bay, on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. We ate at a restaurant called Saveur, which was a Mediterranean fish restaurant. Mike got a delicious fish platter with different types of fish, and I ordered a fish sandwich, which was delicious as well. It was a very cute and quaint little town to stop in.
Boulders Beach is located just past Simon’s Town, and it gets it’s name from having so many granite boulders along the beach. This beach is home to the African Penguin. You can pay a small R65 conservation fee, and then make your way down to the beach where the African Penguins live in the hundreds. When we were visiting, they were “molding”, meaning that they were shedding their coats, so they cannot swim. We got to see so many of the penguins hanging out the beach, which we LOVED. They were so cute and happy.
Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point
The Cape of Good Hope is the south western most point in Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans touch. When the Dutch originally came down to the Cape of Good Hope was the most southern point in Africa, but if you travel east more, there is actually a more southern point in South Africa. Cape Point is a nature reserve, which is home to many ostrich, baboons, buck, hundreds of birds, and many plant species. The day we visited, it was “raining”, which was really just a mist, so we took the Flying Dutchman Funicular up to the top, where many people walk.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
After we left the Cape of Good Hope, we drove along the toll road, Chapman’s Peak Drive, which is a windy road along the western coast of the Cape Peninsula. It reminded me of the “Big Sur Drive” from Los Angeles to California. The road is right in the side of the mountain, and it offers beautiful views the whole way along the coast. Many people even bike along this road, which seems extremely dangerous to me, but people love it. I definitely enjoyed the drive.
Camp’s Bay Beach
Camp’s Bay Beach is a beautiful beach located in the western foothills of Table Mountain. It is a very affluent area, and there are so many beautiful and huge houses! There are numerous trendy shops, cafes, and nightclubs, along the strip, and the beach is a very popular place for swimmers. You can see the 12 Apostles Mountains in the background as well. Very lovely place.
Table Mountain is one of the most famous places to visit in Cape Town, known for its flat top mountain side. The mountain has a cable car for people to ride to the top, or many different hiking and climbing trails. We opted to take the cable car because my knees have been bad with hiking lately, and we didn’t want to ruin the rest of our trip. We arrived 30 minutes before the cable cars start, and we were on the first cable car. We wanted to get up to the top before it was over crowded with tourists since we were visiting on the weekend. At the top of the mountain, they have a restaurant, a gift shop, and bathrooms. We walked all the way around the trails at the top Table Mountain and took in all of the beautiful views. There were a surprising amount of animals at the top called dassies, and they look like little gophers. I would highly recommend anyone interested in beautiful views to go to the top.
Mount Nelson Hotel – Chef’s Table
On our final night, we ate dinner at the Mount Nelson Hotel’s Chef’s Table, which is in the kitchen of the hotel. It was such a fun experience. We received a 7 course meal served by the chef’s themselves, as well as a wine pairing with each part of the meal. The chef’s tell you how they made their dish, and it was awesome to talk to them and see how proud all of them were. We also were able to walk around the kitchen and ask the chef’s questions while they were cooking. We really enjoyed the experience. Mike said he had the best lamb of his life at this restaurant.
Stellenbosch and Franschhoek Wine Regions
Classic Cape Cuisine Walk
In Stellenbosch, we began our day with a food, wine, and cultural tour through the city with a tour company called Bites and Sites. We received a private guided tour around Stellenbosch, and we learned how it was the second town established in South Africa by Simon van der Stel (who Simon’s town was also named after). We received a tour through the city center seeing many of the original buildings, we learned how yellow wood birch trees used to florish but there are now only three remaining, we saw the original canals, we learned that the South African flower is the Protea, we tasted traditional foods of South Africa such as biltong jerky, we had a wine tasting, and we also had a tea tasting. It was an very enjoyable morning.
Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch
After our tour of the city center, we headed off to do some wine tasting at a “wine farm” or vineyard as we call it in the United States. We started out at the Delaire Graff Estate, which is a beautiful modern estate located in the foothills of the Cape Winelands. We sat outside for our wine tasting and took in the beautiful views. The Estate also has a restaurant and hotel. I would love to come back and stay here someday.
Boshendal Estate in Franschhoek
We visited a little wine estate called Boshendal, which is a smaller wine region called Franschoek. We visited the Boshendal store downtown Stellenbosch where they have a bakery and sell products that are all locally grown or made.
Vergelegen Estate in Stellenbosch
We loved Stellenbosch so much, we decided to go back another day and stop at the Vergelegen Estate. Vergelegen means situated far away in Dutch, and it is in the southern part of Stellenbosch. The estate has beautiful gardens, and even President Bill Clinton has visited the estate with Nelson Mandela. We spent the day walking around the estate and had a lovely lunch and wine tasting as well.
Cheetahs are endangered; there are only around 7,000 left in the world. The Cheetah Outreach center is an educational community full of volunteers from around the world that promote awareness of the cheetahs and to campaign for their survival. You can pay to have an encounter with an adult cheetah, a baby cheetah, or one of their other animals at the facility. The money goes towards caring for those cheetahs, as well as promoting awareness for all cheetahs. We learned that you have to pet the cheetahs very firmly and pet them from their head towards their tail because cheetahs lick each other like that.
Lion Sands Game Reserve (Part of Sabi Sands)
We flew from Cape Town to the Skukuza Airport in Sabi Sabi. The airport is all outdoors, and only has one gate. It was very nice because it was built within the last 10 years. Once we got to the airport, we were greeted by our Field Guide for the week, Neil, and then we hopped in the Land Rover to our lodge, which was about a 20 minute ride from the airport. We saw many animals just on our ride to the lodge!
The Ivory Lodge was updated last year, and it turned out to be the most incredible experience of our lives. In the Ivory Lodge, there are only nine rooms with one bed, and one room with two beds. Lion Sands also has three other lodges: River Lodge, Tinga Lodge, and Narina Lodge. Ivory Lodge and River Lodge are on the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve side, and the Tinga and Narina lodges are on the Kruger National Park Side. We learned that you can only drive off road on the Sabi Sands Prive Game Reserve side, so we were very happy to stay on that side because we saw many animals by off roading. On the Kruger National Park side, you are required to stay on the roads to maintain the National Park.
Our room at the Ivory Lodge was called Jacana. The designers put so much attention into the details of the room; it was so amazing and perfect. Our room came with a fully stocked bar that was refilled every day, as well as some snacks. We had a very large kitchen and living room, a massive bedroom, and a gigantic bathroom, we also even had an outdoor shower. The room also had binoculars for outside viewing and field guides for you to read during your down time. Outside of our room, we had a very large patio with an infinity plunge pool that overlooked the Sabi river. We heard hippos in the river every night, and we had elephants frequently walking past our room. Across the river from us was Kruger National Park. We don’t have enough good things to say about our Ivory Lodge room!
Game Drives and Safari Activities
- Game Drives: Every day we went on a private game drive with just the two of us and a tracker named Like and our field guide named Neil. Both Like and Neil were so smart, professional, fun, and excited to see the animals every day. They answered every single question we asked, and I asked a lot of questions. We could tell that they really loved their jobs. During our game drives, they would look for animal tracks or droppings on the ground. We saw so many different animals, it was so amazing. We learned that the animals are not afraid of the Land Rovers, or humans in the Land Rovers because they see humans just as part of the Land Rover; the animals grow up with the Land Rovers going by them and learn that they are not a threat. Below are some of the animals we saw with their stories:
- Overall, we saw lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hyenas, black rhinos, white rhinos, buffalos, hippos, mongoose, bushbucks, elands, kudus, impalas, nyalas, warthogs, water bucks, lizards, skinks, geckos, eagles, vultures, and many different types of beautiful and colorful birds.
- We saw the “Big 5” in one drive. The Big 5 refer to the lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants, and buffalo. We saw lions eating a buffalo, and while they were eating it, two black rhino’s came to check things out. It was an incredible experience!
- We woke up to velvet monkeys peaking into our room, and we also saw them at our bush breakfast, and in the morning after our Tree House. During the bush breakfast and treehouse, they stole food! They are very smart little animals.
- Bush Walk: One of the days, we opted to do a bush walk because Mike really wanted to. I was a little hesitant because I knew that the animals feared humans on foot, and it was much less safe than being in the vehicle, but I knew that Neil and Like were trained and would not put us in a dangerous situation. Neil carried a riffle and Like carried a knife during the bush walk, and we walked single file behind them the whole time. We spotted some white rhinos, a mother and her baby, and we followed them for a while. They did not see or smell us, so we were able to get decently close. It turned out to be a really incredible experience.
- Hippo Walk: One of the days, we went down to the river and did a hippo walk. I was also a little hesitant at first to do this because I have always heard that hippos are the most dangerous animals, but I also learned that they do not come out of the water during the day because they get sunburned. We were able to get very close to them on the rocks. They definitely stared us down and made some grunts, but they did not come out of the water.
One night, we spent the night in a tree house in the middle of the bush listening to the animals we’ve seen on our game drives and gazing at the countless number of stars in the sky. We heard many roars, growls, barks, honks, crackles, and other interesting noises, and we woke up with leopard and elephant tracks near our entrance. The kitchen packed us a picnic which included soups, salads, sandwiches, a cheese platter, and veggies. I asked Mike if this counts as camping… he said no… I think it counts.
- Pre-Game Drive Tea/Coffee/Smoothie: Every morning at 5:00AM, our butler dropped off the smoothie of the day with tea and coffee, as well as some type of muffin through a private window in our kitchen. With the morning snack, they gave us details of the ingredients used and how they were important. It was always a really great start to our morning, and the smoothies were always so delicious!
- Sundowners and Bush Tea & Coffee: After every game drive, we had the opportunity to stop for a “sun downer” drink and snack, or a “bush tea and coffee” with some morning snacks. The kitchen prepared delicious snacks every day, and we got to hang out with Neil and Like and learn more about them.
- Afternoon Tea: Every afternoon before our evening game drive, we met at the restaurant for afternoon tea. Since it was so hot out, they had different types of iced tea or juices, and different snacks to go with it. One of the days, we saw a rhino walking along the edge of the restaurant minding his own business eating grass.
- Restaurant: All of the food was very gourmet cuisine; it was definitely 5 star rated. Every detail on the menu was planned out to perfection.
- Boma Dinner: One of the nights, the Ivory Lodge kitchen put on a Boma dinner, which is an outdoor barbecue dinner with a bonfire. Boma’s are a tradition in the African Bush, so it was exciting to be able to experience a Boma as well.
- Bush Breakfast: On our final morning, after our game drive, we went to a surprise bush breakfast. The Ivory Lodge kitchen put on a beautiful breakfast spread underneath a sausage tree that overlooked the river for all of the guests staying at the lodge. We ate with Neil and Like, and it was a great end to our morning game drive.