May 15, 2016
We love the sunrise. It marks the beginning of the day with a bright “here I am” smile. The sunrise is universally loved, with probably the exception of night shift or restaurant industry workers.
The moon rise doesn’t have the same acclaim. Maybe because it’s less consistent. Maybe it’s because no one actually really knows the phases of the moon, even though they pretend to. Waxing, waning, wha???
But if you have the chance to see a full moon rise while drinking gin and tonics among zebras, it will change you.
Such is the magic of Africa.
We hate bucket lists. The whole notion of having a list of things to do before you die is backward. Why not simply live life to its fullest instead?
That said, if you do have a bucket list, a safari in Africa is likely on your list. It should be. Seeing these amazing creatures up close in the wild is not to be missed, period. And learning the art of sundowners is valuable. Sundowners celebrates the sunset each day with drinks and camaraderie, and if you’re on safari, it’s likely you’ll have some wildebeests or zebras hanging out nearby.
As the sun sets and the moon rises, you’ll get this overwhelming feeling that there’s nowhere else you want to be in that moment.
Since I pretty much suck at the romantic flowery language, I’ll move on. (But it was pretty incredible.) Safaris in Africa are a one-of-a-kind experience, and there are hundreds of outfitters that will give the right experience for you. The lodges, the sundowners, the early mornings, the brunches….and yeah, and the animals. From the largest and most menacing (hippos and lions)
to the smallest and cutest (dwarf mongoose), they are just plain incredible creatures.
Don’t just talk about doing it. Do it.
But what else should you do if you make the long trek over to the southern part of Africa? Actually that’s almost as cool as the safari itself:
Yes, Cape Town is a big city with a rich and diverse, controversial history. You still see evidence of the dichotomy of how people live, and even though apartheid is not openly evident, it is a recent open sore. It all makes the city a fascinating learning experience.
It’s also grown into an extremely cultural, artistic, international city. It’s just cool, and worth spending time there. It’s always been a key place among the trade routes that welcomed every wayfarer from everywhere, making it almost the original international city.
The list of hotel and restaurant recommendations is actually endless, but our two favorite places were the Cape Grace, the more famous grande dame (that we typically wouldn’t stay at) because of the waterfront location and the lower level bar.
We also loved the Cellars-Hohenhort, in the Constantia Valley. Still in town, but closer to the Kirstenbosch botanical garden, and in a pocket of wine country in the city. There is also a Taj and a One and Only hotels that are also big dogs with decent locations.
In addition to Cape Town and the great neighborhoods that make up the city, there’s a few must do day trips. First, the penguins at Boulders Beach. Have you ever seen penguins frolicking on the beach? Well, put it on your damn bucket list. It’s more than worth the 30 – 45 minute drive from Cape Town.
Next, go to the Cape Point. Not the very southernmost point of Africa, but close. Why? Because you walk around the point at seemingly the end of the world surrounding by water Oh, and you hang out with ostriches.
And, on your way back from Point, go to Chapman’s Peak (which is basically on the way back).
It’s a drive high above the water with the cliff seemingly dropping straight down. It is actually one of the most beautiful bike rides in the world. Even if you can’t do it by bike, it’s worth it by car. Just get out and take it in (don’t just take a picture). There’s also Table Mountain, by hike or by cableway. The view is worth it on a clear day.
The seafood in Cape Town is literally off the boat. One of my most memorable meals ever (which is a high honor considering we eat out 4-5 nights a week) was the fresh langoustine slightly seared in butter. Kalk Bay is a destination for great seafood, too, in addition to Victoria and Albert waterfront (not far from the Cape Grace).
If for some reason you’re in Cape Town and not going on a “big safari,” spend a few extra days and drive to Cederberg and stay at Bushman’s Kloof Wildlife Reserve. You can do a different type of safari at this special place and meet the zebras and the boks (the various antelopes that beautifully roam the land, such as springbok or the bontebok who looks like he has white go go boots on his feet).
Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
The area had been growing wine since the Huguenots brought wine there in the 1690’s, when they escaped to South Africa for religious freedom.
South Africa’s wine country is actually a really easy 45 – an hour drive east of Cape Town. However, if you choose to do it upon landing from 23 hours of travel in the complete blackness of nearly midnight, it feels more like 4 – 5 days.
But the reward for that is waking up in the morning with the surprise of a new unexplored area. We walked outside on the patio to see unspoiled mountains, valleys and vineyards as far as we could see.
The best thing to do in wine country is to get outside. The second best thing is to taste the wine. We combined both by renting bikes at a small shop in Franschhoek and bicycling to a few wineries.
In wine country, you can stay around Stellenbosch (closer to Cape Town), or Franschhoek. Franschhoek is a little further east, but it’s a quirky little walkable, more significantly Dutch influenced town (in architecture, etc.) and it was by far our favorite.
A few recommendations:
Hike Mont Rochelle. Stop bitching about your age, your knees or your back and hike it. It’s not hard and the views will ease any pain.
Rent a bike in Franschhoek, even if it’s for a short city cruise to a few wineries. The air will amaze you.
Wineries and restaurants to try:
(These are sprinkled between the two locations).
- Babylonstoren (closer to Stellenbosch. A late 1600’s Cape Dutch farm that’s a must do, even if it’s eating at one of the restaurants and wandering around.)
- Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa
- Spier Hotel
- La Residence
- Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa
- Delaire Graff Estate