Written by guest travel blogger A Fork in London.
South Africa. You will be hard pressed to find another country that offers visitors such intense and unique variety. The very southern end of the continent has it all, vibrant cities, stunning landscapes and wild wild plains, an extensive ‘best of’ list before you walk off the edge of the world. On my first trip there, I had no intention of missing any of it!
I wanted the full spectrum, from coast to safari, which led me to join Lekker Adventure’s brand new ‘Best of’ group itinerary. It promised me history, culture, beach, mountain, active days, proper wine tasting, the Big Five and the deep bush. Okay, it never ‘promised’ the Big Five, but we will get to that…
I arrived in Cape Town in the early morning and settled into my week-long ‘base camp’ in a lovely seaside hotel. No surprises when we embarked on delightful neighbourhood walking tours, or when we toured Table Mountain and Robben Island. These are the things you must do on your inaugural visit and I was, after all, in a group trip. I had no expectations of gaining any bragging rights for ‘insider discoveries’.
But then I was wrong, our hosts managed an impressive mix of mainstream and hidden gems. Cape Town is the creative heart of the nation so we went to Woodstock in search of trendy arts and crafts. The weekend market at the Biscuit Mill was so insightful, discovering independent suppliers and enjoying a delicious variety of dishes on long sharing tables, where opinionated locals insisted I ‘must’ try their own favourite foods. ‘Must’ is a popular word in South Africa, one ‘must’ always enjoy!
One also ‘must’ get in on the action. So it was that I was convinced to paraglide over one of the most dramatically stunning cities in the world. Saved by a breeze! The day I was schedule to fly, strong coastal winds shut down our activity so we had to make due with a steep climb up Lions Head. Shark diving, kayaking, horse riding and a heli combat flight were other alternatives but I chose shopping for modern African designs instead.
In a quintessentially outdoor city, we had the benefits of expert know-how to uncover secluded bits of Clifton Beach and Camps Bay and its most divine views of the Twelve Apostles! On our last day in town, we enjoyed a late afternoon concert at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Table Mountain in the background, gourmet picnic in hand, listening to local talent and sharing wine with new local friends.
Onward to the wider Western Cape peninsula: first the must-see Cape of Good Hope, and then, once again, the fun extras, swimming with penguins in the Indian Ocean, YEAH! Plus a market visit in a picturesque fishing village and soooo much ‘just-in’ fresh seafood my tummy reached foodie nirvana. Perhaps I was lucky with my group of enthusiastic eaters, or maybe it is the norm, mealtime on this trip was a definite highlight.
From beach bum to culture vulture…well, maybe wannabe. We left Cape Town for the popular Stellenbosch and drove deeper into the Winelands to Franschhoek valley. Bliss! Tasting at a variety of estates, lunching at lush vineyards, the perfect countryside boutique hotel. Less than an hour away from the city and the contrast of landscape, lifestyle and culture was strikingly apparent.
After a short flight north to Johannesburg, a four hour drive through the sprawling capital took us into the rural heart of the Northwest mining country. With the Botswana border in view, we finally arrived at Madikwe, conveniently malaria-free, the perfect game reserve.
Unlike the larger and more popular Krueger, Madikwe does not allow self-drive so there are no clueless tourists scaring off the game. The park is also off-road allowing seasoned rangers to leave the marked paths and track animals deep into the bush — beware, it gets fast and bumpy! Our spectacular lodge was unfenced, a bit scary in Big Five country, but then there is the benefit of close-encounters with the animal kind. Ever woke up to a view of zebras and wild elephants? I have. It happened in Madikwe.
Life in the bush is raw, your senses sharpen when all the distractions of modern life disappear. Yet in the green lush summer season, with tall grass and babies to protect, even the most experienced trackers may find it difficult to spot animals. We were warned on several occasions that two or three major encounters would be very lucky.
Instead of luck, we placed our bets with expert planning. The lodge we stayed in runs game drives with a team of a ranger and a tracker (spotter). Our very experienced guides were tireless in their search for the best encounters and we manage some spectacular moments early on with lion cubs, cheetah, wild dogs devouring a kill and sleeping giraffes… giraffes look weird when sleeping.
So many bucks, zebras, warthogs and exotic birds but, with a team as dedicated as ours, a full viewing of the Big Five was meant to be. In three days we counted one male lion and his pride, buffalo herds, rhino families in the mud, elephants with shy babies, and one oh so rare leopard chillin’ in a tree. List? Check!
Madikwe was my favourite location, so completely different from the city, coast, mountains and lush green valleys we had visited before. And I was particularly grateful for the sensible and knowledgeable selection of both park and lodge, specially designed to offer indulgent comfort alongside the most authentic wildlife experience.
As an avid (and OCD) traveller, I normally avoid group trips. But I can genuinely say that joining Lekker’s itinerary was a perfect way to explore the highlights of South Africa. My only regret? I wish I had seen Drakensberg. Lekker Adventures, I WANT DRAKENSBERG… hint hint 😉