cape town tour

South Africa - how to make a fairer country

How does one rebuild a formally colonised country? It's perhaps the biggest unanswered question up and down the African continent - much of the 20th century was concerned with self-rule and independence movements which lead in many cases to military juntas and anti-democratic governance and protracted civil wars.

In South Africa, we managed through some very shrewd brinkmanship to avoid both a war and a dictatorship: whilst that was a massive achievement, the massive inequalities present in colonial times have unfortunately only worsened, even if some of the beneficiaries now have black skins.

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Knysna - sustainable and fun things to do!

What's so impressive about Knysna? This pretty town on the Garden Route, South Africa, is a whole destination in itself where one can easily spend an entire holiday.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the beautiful natural harbour that is the Knysna Lagoon but the town itself has so much to offer too. The high street and shopping centres are full of small, owner-managed shops coupled with the convenience of national chains but there’s also a sophisticated range of dining options and trips that you can take around the town.

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Cape Town dams are overflowing!

The long drought is over and Africa’s most cosmopolitan city welcomes you with open arms.

 We’ve never been so grateful for the winter in Cape Town!  After a series of very cold and wet months (long were they awaited), last week Friday the combined system water storage for the city got to 75.9% full. 

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Explore South Africa's largest wilderness with ease

The inland section of South Africa north of the Garden Route (i.e. not along the coastline) holds so many treasures.

This week, whilst planning a trip for two of our clients, we came across this super offering near Willowmore. This small town in the Western Cape is the gateway to the Baviaanskloof Wilderness, an enormous public park and largest wilderness reserve in the country.

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Follow in the footsteps of the world's oldest extant human culture

Follow in the footsteps of the oldest extant human culture

A wilderness safari in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana

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Franschhoek - beyond the libation and mastication!

Franschhoek - known to most people for two key things: its gourmet food and its superb wine experiences.

However, Franschhoek has far more to offer than just libation and mastication: its utterly splendid rural location is in itself worth exploring either by bike or on foot.  We particularly like the offering of the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

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Solitaire - the gateway to the Namib

We just can't get enough of Namibia at Where It All Began - and who can blame us?

Whilst building a trip for Swiss family this month, we came across the newly-built Solitaire site. This is a tiny settlement on the borders of the Namib-Naukluft which is the largest game reserve in Africa (yes, bigger than the Kruger, bigger than the Serengeti and Masai Mara) and is in total about the size of Switzerland.

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Montagu - surprises at every turn.

We're writing an itinerary for Irish travellers this week: they're being driven from Addo in the Eastern Cape to the Winelands in the Western Cape by our guide, Chris Hannival.

On the way, we're suggesting they stop off at Montagu, one of the many villages on the eastern side of the winelands, about two hours from Cape Town.

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Desert Wine (no, not dessert wine!)

The Karoo Desert is famous for a lot of things: long, lonely landscapes, amazing rock formations, art festivals and sheep! One thing it's perhaps less famous for is wine.

Despite this, for the third year in a row,the Karoo Art Hotel in Barrydale has won the Diner's Club Wine List Diamond Award, which celebrates those establishments that offer a creative and dynamic wine list that pairs wines as part and parcel of the food menu. Considering that most of the establishments in South Africa who win this award are urban, five-star hotels, this is a major achievement.

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Safari meets Cuisine

The concept of safari is rapidly changing in South Africa: many private game reserves and lodges are realising that whilst the wildlife and environment are the major attraction, the really innovative establishments are offering learning experiences as part of their stays.

One that crossed our desk recently is that of Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape, who now offer a Campfire Cooking Course as part of any three night stay there.

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Wellington - the South African winelands town you didn't know about

Anyone who's been to South Africa even if it's just once will have heard of the famous winelands towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

But there are many more lesser-known, smaller towns which have a great variety of offerings, for instance Wellington. This particular town has none of the over-marketed feel of its more famous cousins yet is less than an hour from Cape Town.

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Why ethical tourism so important to rural communities

Ethical travel and tourism has the ability to change the lives of entire communities - as the story below shows.

The Pilanesberg National Park is a small state-owned reserve about 90 minutes' drive from Johannesburg. It's particularly famous for its proximity to the love-it-or-hate-it Sun City, South Africa's answer to Las Vegas.

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The San community of the Kalahari

A splendid photo sent to us today by travelers who have just returned from Botswana.

It's of a guide called Joseph, a member of the San community living in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana. He and his tribe live near Deception Valley Lodge, one of only two formal lodges you can stay in across the whole desert.

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South Africa's Gandhi legacy

It comes as a surprise to many visitors to South Africa to learn that Mahatma Gandhi who famously liberated India from colonial British rule began his resistance to racial oppression as a young lawyer in South Africa.  In fact, he lived in South Africa for no less than 21 years. This part of his life is alluded to in the Richard Attenborough film where Gandhi was famously thrown off a train for sitting in the First Class carriage (which he had paid for) during the apartheid era.

Much of the Gandhi legacy is to be found in the KwaZulu Natal province (more on that another time) but not many people know that Gandhi also lived for a time in Johannesburg at what is now called Satyagarha House.

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Living on the edge - ethically!

We're always looking for ethical alternatives to the run-of-the-mill offerings and came across Gorges Lodge today. It’s run by Imvelo Safari Lodges which is corporate but only (we feel) in a positive sense. They run a series of five medium-sized lodges in the Hwange National Park area (Zimbabwe, close to Victoria Falls), all of which operate on community owned land by concession and have, since inception (1996), been about working not only in harmony with but actually creating direct benefits for the communities that live in the park. One notable example is the water program, where ironically, despite the Zambezi actually flowing through the park, there is little other water for communities to access or for the lodges to use. As such, the boreholes that Imvelo has sunk serve their lodges and the communities’ water needs in tandem.

Gorges Lodge is not actually at Victoria Falls: it’s about 30 minutes away and as such you’ll obviously visit the Falls but won’t be staying in the town. Personally I think this works well: there’s no real need to actually stay in the town of Victoria Falls (it’s an ugly little town!) and you'll love the location right on the edge of the Batoka Gorge.

Affordable eco-chic, South African style.

A new accommodation offering came across our path today: from its name, you might think this was some kind of hippy relic from the 1970s, whereas in fact Purple Haze Eco Lodge is an avant-garde, and highly affordable, accommodation choice.

Surrounded by beautiful wild land (protected Amathole coastal forest) during the day there is almost total silence other than birdsong and the crashing of waves – while the nights are dark, except for the moon and stars. The views of the Indian Ocean from this hillside are magnificent, as is sunset and sunrise, with early mornings accompanied by the smell of wet earth and crisp, fresh air. This is the start of the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

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Limpopo and the Mapungubwe Rhinoceros

We’ve clients travelling in the northernmost part of South Africa this week as we said yesterday, in the province of Limpopo.

The story of the Limpopo border region between South African and Zimbabwe is a fascinating one, playing out over the last 800 years, and it’s all centered round a tiny golden rhinoceros.

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Northern South Africa - an untouched paradise

Really a very impressive photo today from American clients of ours travelling in the north of South Africa.

This particular shot was taken not at sunset but at sunrise (hence the rather alluring pinkish hue to the sky): we think they've done very well to capture the sillhouette without losing the foreground detail. The photo was taken at Umlani Bush Camp in Timbavati Reserve, Greater Kruger.

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The Wild Coast - paradise untamed

Ever been to the Wild Coast? No? Well you should!

The Wild Coast in South Africa lives up to its name in so many ways. It's a beautiful stretch of coastline over 600km long that stretches from East London in the south to Port Shepstone in the north.

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Game reserves - small is beautiful!

A week or so ago, we posted on the benefits of visiting the smaller nature reserves in South Africa over the larger and better known ones.

Continuing with that theme, you might like Masebe Nature Reserve in Limpopo which is small but has some very interesting attractions and good facilities.

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Madikwe Game Reserve - why it's better than Kruger!

This week we've been finalising the itinerary for a very loyal German couple (their third trip with us in as many years!). It's always a pleasure to be booking Madikwe Game Reserve, most especially The Bush House there.

The Bush House is a most unusual safari lodge: it’s an old building by Madikwe standards, having been a farm house many years ago before Madikwe became the reserve it is now. It’s also owner-managed by Sue and her team, which again is most unusual at this standard (four star) and hosts only six rooms, which makes the whole experience much more personal than larger lodges without affecting your privacy.

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To GPS or not to GPS?

Today a good question we get asked a lot: should I bother with a GPS in South Africa?

It's possible to rent at GPS when you pick up a rental car in South Africa They aren’t cheap: R95 a day so it adds quite a bill to the car rental. They are also in South Africa pretty clunky machines that don’t work brilliantly. We normally advise our clients not to bother and use a smartphone instead. Even a basic smartphone these days uses its internal GPS coupled with internet it gets from its SIM to work out exactly where you are. We recommend downloading an offline version of the route you’re taking that day on wi-fi before you leave your accommodation in case you get spotty connections en route.

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Glamping amongst the desert wild flowers

A simply wonderful idea, very original: not even an hour from Cape Town, up the West Coast, is the beautiful semi-desert area where every spring, fields and fields of wild desert flowers burst forth from the earth for a few short weeks.

It's one of the most photographed natural events in the Cape, with the flowers seemingly creating carpets of colour in the middle of the desert.

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South Africa's smaller national parks - bijoux gems!

Many of the national parks in South Africa steal all the limelight but often, it's the smaller, lesser-known ones that are the best to visit.

This is especially true if you're coming at a very busy time of year, like Christmas or Easter, when the national parks appear to have more people than animals in them!

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How to travel as a family in Africa

South Africa brims with alternatives and roads-less-travelled: this week, for a family of six, we're building a trip focused on adventure and excitement for the younger members with slightly more sedate options for the older members.

This can be quite a challenge to get right anywhere in the world but luckily there are just so many options all over SA for this kind of group.

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Christmas in the Cape - without the crowds and expense!

We're helping one of our clients today with a Christmas stay in the Western Cape - even though it's only July, Cape Town itself gets seriously busy and expensive over Christmas and New Year, so we've suggested some out-of-town ideas for him and his partner.

Over Christmas, staying outside the city but somewhere hiking friendly would make a lot of sense. You might like to consider the small town of Darling, which is about 60 minutes north of Cape Town, with the coastline 30 minutes to the west (if you wanted a day at the beach), the West Coast National Park and the Cederburg mountains about 45 minutes to the east (for hiking). It’s got all the amenities you’d want from a small town and happens to be right in the centre of the desert flowering area (and you may still in late December catch the spring flowers) which are a marvel.

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Train travel - the African way

We're getting a lot more enquiries these days from travelers looking for train journeys in Southern Africa.

So we thought we'd do a series of posts about them (as with many things in this part of the world, once you start researching, you uncover a world of options).

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Cape Town has a proper winter again!

The weather in Cape Town over the last week has been like the 'winters of old'. Gone are the warm, dry winters that have lead to our prolonged drought over the last four years and back in the swing are the blustery, hard rain, cold days of yore.

There's even snow on the mountains most notably actually on the road (the N2) that crosses Sir Lowry's Pass (the former border of the Cape Colony in the early years) and flooding in Sea Point.

And whilst all this can only be good for the dam levels in the Western Cape, spare a thought for those still living in informal settlements (slums) in the Cape's towns, who are literally rebuilding their houses on a weekly basis whilst trying to stay warm and dry in between.

Land Reform - a new challenge

As the pressing issue of Land Reform in South Africa becomes ever more urgent (at least from the ANC's perspective) in the run up to the national election next year, the complexities of the problem get only more, well, complex.

The last time we posted on this issue, we stopped at 1913, with the Native Land Act. This was the act that stopped all blacks from owning land or property anywhere in South Africa and in many cases, they were literally removed from it overnight and sent to 'homelands'.

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Cape Town's creativity has a new home

Whilst on a very boring trip to the offices of the City of Cape Town at the Civic Centre to conduct a very boring bit of administration, we happened upon this wonderful collection.

Inside the Civic Centre (which is itself quite an iconic building) is a place called the Concourse, which is a sort of forum on the first floor.

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About

We’re an ethical private travel planning company focused on Southern Africa.

We offer ready-made and also customised holidays and journeys across this unique region of the world.

When our clients travel with us, they are assured that their travel spend is directly supporting local African companies that offer sustainable products and services, both in terms of people and planet.

Ethos

Our logo is an image of a skull found in the Rising Star Cave System in Gauteng, South Africa in 2013. It was named ‘homo naledi’, meaning ‘human of the stars’.

The cave system has so far given rise to the remains of over 15 individuals, making it the largest hominid fossil remains site ever discovered.

Travelling to Southern Africa is truly a return to the source of humankind, to Where It All Began.