Amazing South Africa - Cape Town/Franschoek/Hermanus/Oudtshoorn and Knysna
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
I heard so many good things about travelling to South Africa and after my trip I must say this destination really exceeded even my expectations. The country has so much to offer that you really need to make a wise selection where to go, but in any case you will have a breathtaking scenery, spectacular attractions and an amazing wildlife and nature. Moreover South Africa is treating you very good as well in the F&B sector - I can not remember any other trip where I always had such a good food and excellent wines for such low prices. Also all the hotels that were booked through our agent were great and often unique Boutique Hotel properties.
South Africa is a destination where I will come back for sure for more - it can be highly addictive. Also for this blog I could write so much as I am very excited about all the wonderful experiences we had there - but I will try to keep the description of each place short and put more pictures instead.
Our whole trip was booked through a local tourism company, Royal African Discoveries (firstname.lastname@example.org/+27113941660)- who did excellent hotel choices for us and also all other services were provided with great quality and service. Most of the trip we did on self-drive basis, which was easy to navigate even if you are not used to driving on the left hand side - traffic in South Africa outside of the big cities is pretty relaxed and therefore you can get used to it easily. The rental car was also booked through the agent - the handover at the hotel in Cape Town was quick and sufficient. Wherever we had drivers/guide from the agency they were excellent and well experienced. In general you will notice that South Africans are very friendly and always willing to help you.
In Cape Town we were staying at the Southern Sun Waterfront Hotel (www.tsogosun.com), which is a convenient city hotel with a great location in the main business district. It has a small outdoor swimming pool and terrace plus a good breakfast. Moreover the hotel offers a shuttle bus service to the Waterfront, which is only a 5 minutes drive away.
V & A Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za)- is a nice area to have dinner and a small walk around. It is basically a shopping mall around a harbour area with many indoor and outdoor restaurants. If the weather is nice it is great to sit outside there with a view over the harbour and onto the Table Mountain. There are many restaurants and bars for every taste - for good seafood I can recommend Baia , which is also known as one of the best fish restaurants in town (www.baiarestaurant.co.za).
Have a walk around and you can explore many things at the Waterfront as an Aquarium, an art/souvenir market and an interesting food hall.
City Center - on a walk or drive around the city center the main sights are the Old Fort, Company Gardens as well as the colorful houses of Bo-Kaap.
On a stroll through the city you can still find silent reminders of the past Apartheid laws.
If you are in town on a Saturday - don't miss to visit the Neighbourgoodsmarket (www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za) at the Old Biscuit Mill, which is running every Saturday from 09.00 - 15.00 hrs. It is a very nice food market with lots of food stalls serving delicious food for every taste. With a very relaxed vibe and live music it is a weekend hang-out place for a mixed crowd from youngsters, over families, couples and tourists.
Also on other days the Old Biscuit Mill (www.theoldbiscuitmill.co.za) is worth the visit. It is an creative art space in the middle of Woodstock with restaurants, galleries, workshops, design stores, office spaces and has interesting line-ups of live entertainment.
You can end a day in Cape Town with some drinks and dinner in the famous Long Street - the place where all the nightlife is happening. You have one bar after the other here and later at night the streets around get really crowded with party folks. For a nice dinner I can recommend Mama Africa (www.mamaafricarestaurant.co.za) - ok, it is honestly maybe a bit touristic, but still with good food from different countries of Africa and good game dishes. You are entertained by some live band and it just feels so much Africa in there.
For the main city center of Cape Town one day will be enough to explore the main sights there and the most interesting visits you will anyway have around the city. One famous excursion would be the boat ride to Robben Island with the visit of the prison, where Nelson Mandela was held. There are various operators at the Waterfront with which you can book that excursion - however as that will take around 5 hours we have skipped it and concentrated on the other sites around.
Table Mountain - of course one of the main attractions of Cape Town, but also not so easy to get good weather conditions there. Often the top is covered in clouds or the cable car has to be stopped due to strong winds. However we were lucky and had a beautiful sunny day. Try to come very early to avoid long waiting times at the cable car and also purchase your ticket in advance through a local agent or on their website www.tablemountain.net. It is only a short ride up and on top you can have a nice walk around the plateau and have some refreshments at the restaurant afterwards.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens - (www.sanabi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch) is known as the most beautiful garden in Africa. Founded in 1913 it was one of the first botanical gardens world wide and is up to now one of the most important places to preserve the countries unique flora. Nestled at the eastern foot of the Table Mountain it is a beautiful place of tranquility and nature. Bring enough time to explore the various flora regions of the park and just laze down on the grass and enjoy the views over the lush greenery.
Hout Bay and Seal Island - Hout Bay is a picturesque village on the Atlantic coast. From there you can take boat ride to Seal Island which is a beautiful stretch of nature - and as the name says - home to the many Atlantic seals, which you can observe sunbathing there. The drive between Cape Town and Hout Bay is a scenic coastal drive passing the villas of the rich and famous.
Cape Point - from Hout Bay to Cape Point you will drive on the spectacular mountain drive of Chapman's Peak - which has recently undergone some renovations in order to ensure the safety of the travelers.
After around 40 minutes drive you will then reach Cape Point (www.capepoint.co.za) at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. It is a declared Natural World Heritage with a rich and varied flora and fauna. You can reach the lighthouse either by funicular or more sportive in a 20 minutes walk. On top you can enjoy the spectacular views over the coastline as well as having a lunch at the restaurant there.
Before leaving the Peninsula drive down to the beach area to get your picture taken at the famous signboard of the Cape of Good Hope.
Simon's Town and Boulder Beach - after your visit of Cape Point head down the 25 km to Simon's Town a nice little village where you can have some excellent fish in one of the harbor restaurants. You actually eat much better and cheaper here than at the Cape restaurant. Otherwise you have to visit the Boulder Beach Penguins colony - that cute little fellows have settled down here in 1982 and since then have never left that spot of beautiful beach surrounded by granite boulders.
Franschoek and the Wine Valleys
After two days of sightseeing in and around Cape Town we took our rented car to drive to our next destination - Franschoek, which is around 90 km away from the city. We took the slightly longer route over Stellenbosch and had a coffee break in that little wine town. You can then either head straight to Franschoek or stop by one of the many wineyards en route for some tastings. I can recommend here a stop for a wine & goats cheese tasting at Fairview Wine Estate (www.fairview.co.za) or a picnic lunch with wine tasting at Warwick Wine Estate (www.warwickwine.com).
We then reached Franschoek and our lovely Franschoek Hotel & Spa (www.lefranschoek.co.za) - which I would actually say was the best hotel in all the trip. A very luxurious property nestled in between wineyards and with beautiful views towards the mountain range. We were lucky and got an up-grade to the higher room category inclusive of fruits and sparkling wine inside the room. The rooms are spacious with a real cozy feel and are divided in different houses as well as are located inside the main building. Breakfast is served on a beautiful terrace and has many healthy options. Also the hotel restaurant serves delicious meals for lunch and dinner and of course outstanding wines. Further you have a swimming pool on site. The hotel is well known for weddings as well with ceremonies inside their own chapel and also other events can find their special ambiance here in the garden area including event space in some glasshouses. In case you are planning a destination wedding this would be really a place to be considered.
One night we had dinner in town at Reubens (www.reubens.co.za) - South African cuisine with a twist from a well-known Chef, Reuben Riffel. So for anybody who visit Franschoek I can really recommend to go there.
The next morning we woke up in beautiful blue skies again.......
And we decided for a wine tour in the valley booked through the hotel concierge and guided by their super nice hotel driver. Well, the idea of wine tasting from the morning was new for me and I did not know how I would end the day, but it was fun and simply delicious in all aspects. We paid around 100 USD pp including all tastings and lunch. Another alternative in Franschoek for a different way of wine tasting would be the Wine Tram (www.winetram.co.za).
So we started our tour with a visit to La Petite Ferme (www.lapetiteferme.co.za) a lovely premises with great views over the valley. We learnt here our first basics of how to grow and press the wine. In La Petite Ferme is struggling a lot to protect their prestigious grapes against the wild monkeys around who also have discovered their love for that delicious fruit. You later learn more about the history of this place including their huge fire and you see how the wine is stored in the oak barrels. And of course you got to taste your first wines - soooooo yummy!
After that time for some Bubbly - which was served in another beautiful and very elegant estate Le Lude (www.lelude.co.za).
After that we moved onward for some solid lunch to be gentle with our stomachs after all that wine :-) Lunch was served at Roca (www.rocarestaurant.co.za)again with a super nice view at the garden terrace and with excellent food. So all these places I must say are not only about their outstanding wines, but also for the real amazing food they are serving. What a delight!
Already totally full and usually with no more space we moved over to Le Grand Provence (www.grandeprovence.co.za) - where we skipped the wine tasting and ventured more into art, visiting their sculpture garden and the photo exhibition that currently took place there.
Last but not least we paid a visit to the Country Kitchen inside the Mont Rochelle Estate (www.virginlimitededition.com), another beautiful wine estate this time with a bit more modern and almost Mediterranean features. Apart from the culinary delights you could also venture on horse rides with wine tasting of course from there.
The next morning we recovered from our wine tour and maybe with the last little drops of alcohol in our blood left this amazing place and set off for the drive towards the coast - for our next stop Hermanus. As there is not much to see en route except the huge farmlands, we reached there quickly after a 90 minutes drive.
We checked into our cute little - Harbor House Hotel (www.harbourhousehotel.co.za) which is directly located in the city center of Hermanus on the coastal road with a beautiful view over the bay and cliffs. Rooms have a modern decor and breakfast (which has a bit limited choices) is served in the main building, the seaside Manor House built in 1920. Outside the main building you can also find a small garden area with a nice pool overlooking the sea. Beautiful spot for some sunset drinks in the pool bar - even if you are not a hotel guest.
The must-do-thing in Hermanus is to take a walk on the Cliff Path (www.hermanus.co.za/nature-walks). When you step out of the hotel turn to your right and then just follow the trail - it will take you around one hour on top of the cliffs through beautiful flora and fauna (in the main season- July to November- this is also a famous place for whale watching). At the end you come to a small harbour called New Harbour - you need to leave the path there and enter the harbour gate, pass through there and you will see on top of the harbor pier a restaurant. Sorry folks can not re-call the name of that restaurant - but there is only one in the area and it has real fresh fish and Sushi. You can also do another trail to the other side of the hotel/Hermanus on top of the cliffs.
For the evening there is mainly one place that I can highly recommend - La Pentola (www.hermanus.lapentola.co.za) - the creative team around Chef Shane Sauvage cooks up cross-country cuisine which is paired with great wine recommendations and magnificent views over the bay. I do not want to talk too much here, just go there and let them surprise you with their creations. Beside the superb food, the service is very friendly and even the Chef himself came to our table that night to check that all is in order. Thumbs up for La Pentola.
From Hermanus we then moved inland to a total different scenery - the dry and vast lands of Oudtshoorn. Already on the way the green vegetation of the coastline is giving way to rocky and wild canyons.
It is a good 4 hours drive from Hermanus to Oudtshoorn with not much sites to see on the road - so you can get through quickly and then have more time in Oudtshoorn and surroundings. We started our tour with a visit to the famous Cango Caves (www.cango-caves.co.za) - you can choose here between the easy Heritage Tour or the more challenging Adventure Tour, which includes some climbs and scrawling through narrow tunnels. During the Heritage Tour you will see some of the impressive stalactites formations made of limestone and you will enter various of the bigger halls and chambers of the mountain. Temperatures in the cave are pleasant and on the Heritage Tour leisure clothing will be fine. On the Adventure Tour good sport shoes are required.
After leaving the Cango Valley, which is part of the popular Swartberg Mountains we came back to the town of Oudtshoorn - which is a real Outback town and reminded me somehow of the real Wild West. It is impossible being in Oudtshoorn and not seeing one of the main income sources of the area - Ostriches. There are many farms around and most of them can be visited and you will learn all about the breeding of these feathery fellows. Although they might create the first impression that they can win you over with a glimpse of their huge eyes and magnificent eyelashes, but you better stay away from them as they can be really nasty. Nowadays farmers even replace their watchdogs with them to look after their cattle, as everybody is so afraid of the ostriches that nobody comes even close. Yes, they are huge, heavy and with their claws they can easily cut your chest open. They will first try to sit on their victims - uffff, remember an average male ostrich is about 120 kg! and after they will decide to keep you alive or to kill you. Yeap, I told you nasty fellows and even among each other a lot of fighting is going on. So an ostrich on a plate is the much better choice :-) at an ostrich farm with the attendance of the staff you can however get close to them, feed them, stand on their super big eggs and even ride on them - however for the ostrich as well as you not the best way to become friends, so we skipped that experience. A nice farm to visit is the Highgate Farm (www.highgate.co.za)
The rest of the day we just enjoyed at our Boutique Guesthouse - La Plume (www.laplume.co.za)- which is an ostrich, alfalfa and cattle farm itself and with a beautiful Victorian ambiance of the early 1900's. Each room or cottage has an individual design with antique furniture, sunny terraces and also all modern amenities of our century. From the garden which includes a swimming pool you can enjoy the amazing view over the tranquil Olifant River Valley until the Swartberg Mountains. A perfect place to relax and unwind.
Dinner was served in the main hall as well as the breakfast which were both excellent. For dinner I tried first time in my life ostrich and it was fantastic - super tender and no fat.
Wilderness National Park
The next day we left the Outback and returned to the coastline - our final destination was Knysna but after around 70 km we made a stop at Wilderness for a hike in the National Park there. The lush greenery was a big contrast to the rocky scenery the day before. We decided to do the Half Collard Kingfisher Trail - which was a total of around 2 hrs and a pleasant walk in the forest on trails and bridges and included to cross a river by raft and see a small waterfall at the end. We did not see much animals on the way, but we heard beautiful bird sounds and the tranquility of the nature was super calming. You can see all the different trails of that area on www.sanparks.org / also the guys from Eden Adventure (www.eden.co.za) can help you to sort out your trail and have further options like canoe tours etc. on offer.
Back at the car on the main road to Knysna we were super hungry and stopped by at the Timberlake Organic Village (www.timberlakeorganic.co.za) - as the name says it is a small village with some cute coffee shops, restaurants and artisan galleries and all is about a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. We had our lunch at the country styled Zucchini Restaurant, which was very tasty and of course healthy.
Knysna is a city located on a big lagoon and is part of the well-known Garden Route. It is surrounded by a rich vegetation and the shrinking Knysna Forest, which is nowadays under a strict protection in order to preserve this natural heritage of the country. In the township of Knysna you can also find the biggest Rastafari-Community of South Africa. On a guided tour they will show you around and let you get an insight into their special community.
We were staying at The Rex Apartments - which is a very modern urban style complex with spacious apartments (www.aha.co.za/rex). The rooms are a mix of modern and classic features and have a real feel-at-home atmosphere. Breakfast was served at the contemporary Rose Cafe and did not disappoint at all.
The hotel is also only a few steps away from the Knysna Waterfront, where you have many choices of restaurants like JJ's (www.jjsrestaurant.co.za) and on nice days you can depart on a lunch or sunset cruise on MV John Benn (www.knysnafeatherbed.com/john-benn). A bit further away is Thesen Island (which is connected by causeway/bridge- www.thesenharbourtown.co.za), a new multi-award winning marina development. 19 man-made islands are linked by 21 bridges - it is mainly a private yacht harbour and residential area, but on one side you can find nice restaurants like the Sirocco (www.sirocco.co.za) and some nice apartments and hotels. My recommendation here would be to stay at the The Turbine Hotel (www.turbinehotel.co.za), which was an old power station before and now has been transformed in a luxury Boutique Hotel.
If you have a full day in Knysna, it is nice to drive in the morning first the way down to Plettenberg Bay (around 30 minutes) to hop on the Dolphin Encounter cruise. They have various timings, but try to catch the first one as that is the best - so you need to be there by 9.00 am for a 9.30 am departure. You will find Ocean Blue Adventure on the main Beach Road in Plettenberg Bay and can get your ticket direct there or better book online to secure your place on www.oceanadventure.co.za. The cruise is a fun speedboat ride including dolphin spotting and you will also see many seals on the close-by cliff.
No, they are not sharks.....but the dolphins took it easy that day and just were a bit paddling around without any major jumps or excitement.
On the way back to Knysna we stopped at the Knysna Elephant Park (www.knysnaelephantpark.co.za)- ok, you can tell here that this is a very touristic place, but it is still an amazing sanctuary for orphaned elephants. In its 20 years of existence the park has cared and raised more than 40 elephants. You can experience the elephants in their natural environment and as they are used to human beings also interact with them. On a tour you will be first introduced to the history of the sanctuary and the details of the current herd residing here. Afterwards you are driven out to the fields, were the elephants are already waiting to get their fruity treats and afterwards you can get real close to them, touch them and get your photo taken.
Again sure you can argue about these kind of activities, but in the end they have helped all these elephants that would have otherwise died or had miserable lifes in circus shows and also for Cityslickers like me they created an amazing opportunity to get one time in a life so close to these huge but friendly creatures.
Coming back to Knysna we took the road to the outer viewing point, which is passing Leisure Island and then goes up onto the cliff. From here you have wonderful views over the ocean and the lagoon.
Coming down the road again you have also some nice restaurants there like the East Head Cafe (www.theastheadcafe.co.za).
So all in all this first part of our South Africa trip was purely amazing with super good foods, beautiful landscapes and a rich flora and fauna. We visited in April and were super lucky with the weather as we almost had no rain, just pure sunshine and pleasant temperatures. We spent for this part of the trip around 8 days, but of course could have stayed in many places much longer. And also the Wine and Garden Route has so much more to see - so sure we will be back!
Some last impressions.........