It was my first time to South Africa and, having held a lifelong dream to see big game wildlife in their natural habitat, I was thrilled to be asked to join the ‘Sensational South Africa’ trip, hosted by ‘Leading Hotels of the World’. With an incredible itinerary, designed to showcase the very best of South Africa, I was set to visit luxurious and unique properties, discover diverse destinations and be thrilled with bespoke experiences, throughout. As many of my colleagues had predicted, the scenery, wildlife, people and cuisine would leave an imprint far beyond that of my passport stamp.
On touching down in Cape Town, it almost felt like I was arriving home, as there were welcoming faces and an instant sense of well-being. Our first stop was 26 Sunset Villas, Llandudno, which is just outside Cape Town itself and only a one-hour transfer from the airport. We were spoilt with exquisite cuisine, made by our private chef, impeccable service and absolutely breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean. This really did ‘set the scene’ and standard for the rest of my visit to South Africa.
Next, we set off into Cape Town, and were met at the iconic Cape Grace hotel by chauffeur- driven ‘Cape Sidecars’, where leather jackets and bandanas were provided! We took a thrilling two-hour tour through the inner city, to Signal Hill, past Camps Bay and Hout Bay and up to the lookout on Chapman’s Peak, stopping along the way to take photographs and to enjoy the incredible views and open space. On the way back, we were met by the most wonderful downpour, but as we were fully covered in ponchos, this only made for an even more memorable experience!
The following day, we travelled approximately 20 minutes outside of Cape Town, to the 12 Apostles Hotel, which was our home for the night. We were met by Luxury Africa, in their very plush Land Rovers, for some fun on the awesome Atlantis sand dune field, about an hour’s drive from central Cape Town. Luxury Africa provide guests with a morning of adventure experiencing the capability of a state-of-the art Land Rover Discovery. Guests can learn new driving skills and tackle some of the most challenging terrain you’re ever likely to encounter. Equipped with the latest off-road vehicles, guests are invited to enjoy a truly scenic and engaging excursion, followed by an alfresco lunch.
As if this wasn’t exciting enough, we were later swept up into the clear blue skies for a 15-minute helicopter ride (courtesy of NAC Helicopters), to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular coastline, mountains and sprawling city of Cape Town. En route back to the hotel, we stopped to sample some fine cocktails made with local gin. Of course, not being a fan of gin myself, there was always Champagne to hand as an alternative — in fact, they pretty much had every alcoholic beverage imaginable, which was rather impressive out of the back of a Land Rover!
Following a full day of activities, we freshened up and went on to sample some of SA’s finest cuisine at ‘Azure’ restaurant. With beautiful views, we dined alfresco, savouring the last of the warm air, and watching the glorious cape sunset. With endless options for dining, and delicious local produce, Cape Town certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of gastronomy!
The next part of our exceptional journey involved us taking a flight north to Durban and driving to Umhlanga, alongside the striking Indian Ocean. Standing majestically, with views to the landmark lighthouse, is the stylishly colonial Oyster Box hotel. A beautiful property, with rocky beachfront, I took an early morning run the next day and was overwhelmed by the natural beauty and diverse scenery. One minute, I was running along the promenade admiring the beach views and the next, I ran through the luscious Hawaan Forest, within Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve — where I had my first sighting of a troup of monkeys, complete with infants. It was such a wonderful start to the day!
South Africa really was far beyond all my expectations. When it came to my first safari game-drive, the early morning wake-up call, hailed what was to be one of the best experiences of my trip. Absorbing the sights, sounds and scents of Africa was phenomenal — I was fortunate enough to see elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, cheetahs and hyena — in fact, my list feels almost endless. Not forgetting, of course, the impressive birdlife, plus native flora and fauna.
Sundowners out in the wild, and bush meals by candlelight were magical and unforgettable experiences.
Our sensational journey concluded with a memorable stay at the historic Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa in Johannesburg. Beautifully boutique and nationally significant, due to Former President Nelson Mandella's past stay, it was a privilege to experience this exclusive property. South Africa really does have it all – fine, locally produced, wines and delicious fresh cuisine, a diverse landscape, spectacular coastlines, activities for all the family, plus a culture of friendly and welcoming people – I cannot wait to return!