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South Africa's Scenic Garden Route
South Africa’s southern coast is a land of stunning beauty and enchanting cities facing the sea. On the itinerary that Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel, and a member of the AFAR Travel Advisory Council, has created, you’ll begin in Cape Town in the southwest and end in Durban while hitting many of the highlights between the two cities. 

From Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, a colorful neighborhood settled by Cape Malays, to the lively markets of Durban, you’ll have a chance to meet many of the country’s human residents. And with stops at safari lodges, you’ll also meet its four-legged ones—elephants, rhinos, and more. 

Everywhere you turn, you’ll be surrounded by landscapes that you will literally see nowhere else. This part of South Africa includes the Cape Floral Region, the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms and recognized by UNESCO’s World Heritage list for its remarkable biodiversity. 

From big-city excitement to days on the beach, with game drives along the way, this 11-day trip does justice to the varied appeal of South Africa.
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    Photo By South African Tourism
    Day 1
    Cape Town
    After landing in Cape Town, you’ll be met by a representative to assist with your luggage and transportation to the Table Bay Hotel. Overlooking the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the 329-room hotel has an ideal location for exploring the city. It also has a swimming pool, gym and spa; three restaurants; and two bars when you want to relax before or after your urban outings.

    After getting settled, you’ll begin getting acquainted with Cape Town on a private half-day tour with a driver. You’ll stop at landmarks like the Castle of Good Hope, built in 1666 by the Dutch East India Company, and the City Hall, an opulent Baroque building—both sit on Cape Town’s main square, the Grand Parade. A drive along the main thoroughfare, Adderley Street, passes St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You’ll also see the Company's Gardens and the brightly painted houses of Bo-Kaap, the hub of the city’s Cape Malay community.

    Finally, weather permitting, you’ll ascend to the top of iconic Table Mountain on its revolving cable car. You’ll see wild flowers and the famous silver tree, and marvel at a birds-eye view of the city and its beaches. On a clear day it is even possible to see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. After you descend from the Upper Cableway station, you’ll return to your hotel.
  • Day 2
    Cape Peninsula and Winelands
    Venture beyond the city itself to explore the surrounding natural beauty, namely, the Cape Peninsula and the Winelands on a self-guided tour in your own rental car.

    Up ahead, expect craggy mountain peaks that contrast with endless ocean vistas and lush green valleys as well as historic and modern sites worth braking for. At Cape Point, you can see the spot where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Hout Bay is a charming fishing village, Noordhoek is famous for its long sandy beach, and Chapman’s Peak Drive, connecting the two, is a wonder of engineering with stunning ocean views. From penguin colonies to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the route has more interesting detours than you’ll be able to visit in a day, but your travel advisor at Valerie Wilson Travel will be able to suggest the ones that best fit your interests.

    In the afternoon, you’ll head to the Winelands and hop aboard the Franschhoek Wine Tram Experience. Six routes cover different parts of South Africa’s most famous wine-growing region, each with its own winery stops. It’s a chance to discover the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley—picturesque vineyards, breathtaking scenery, warm hospitality, and fine wines—in an open-side tram. Your storytelling guide will also take you on a tour through Franschhoek village, sharing the history of the French Huguenots.
  • Day 3
    Whale Coast
    After breakfast, you’ll depart on a drive along South Africa’s Whale Coast, bound for the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. This rugged stretch of South African coastline snakes along the Atlantic Ocean, with magnificent mountains rising up on the other side. The spectacular scenery is made up of charming seaside villages, farms, rivers, coves, and valleys. During the right season, the region’s namesake—whales—can be seen spotted in the coastal waters.

    On your way to Grootboos, stop at the Houw Hoek Farm Stall, where you’ll be greeted like an old friend. As you step inside, you’ll enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread and homemade pies. The farm stand also sells a selection of Elgin Valley and Cape wines.

    The name of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is Afrikaans for “heaven and earth,” which feels fitting as you take in the landscape. Its hills are covered in fynbos, the name for the varieties of shrubs and flowers that are unique to this part of the world. There are also some 15 wineries where grapes thrive in the cool ocean breezes. Each grows relatively small volumes of grapes to produce individual wines. The Bouchard Finlayson winery, one of South Africa’s most awarded boutique wine estates, makes an excellent lunch stop.

    You’ll arrive in the afternoon at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve where you will be greeted with a welcome drink before checking into your one-bedroom suite in the reserve’s forest lodge. Your stay includes full board, so you’ll have time to relax before a five-course dinner prepared by Executive Chef Benjamin Conradie’s team, with many dishes incorporating ingredients grown on the reserve’s own farm.
  • Day 4
    Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
    The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve offers opportunities to explore the unique indigenous fynbos of the region, as well as encounter some of the reserve’s unusual bird and animal life—all while enjoying the five-star luxuries of the lodges. After a leisurely breakfast, you can choose from a range of activities, including:

    Take the Living the Future Tour and you’ll discover how the entire Grootbos experience has been designed around benefitting the community and environment around you. Learn and connect as you witness how the reserve’s various outreach projects are changing lives and conserving this protected wilderness.

    Thrilling, awe-inspiring, and unforgettable—shark cage diving is an experience that will stay with you for years to come. Face these predators as you learn more about their underwater world in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

    Whale watching (seasonally dependent) in this unspoiled environment is an almost spiritual experience, which is why travelers from around the world flock to Walker Bay in the Western Cape. You may spot southern right whales on either land-based or boat-based excursions or take a flight for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Get into a more relaxed rhythm as you traverse this landscape in a very natural way, on a horseback riding excursion. With its own stables on the reserve, you can explore Grootbos whether you are a beginner or an expert rider, as you trot slowly through the fynbos or ride on the beach.
  • Day 5
    Drive to Plettenberg Bay
    Next up is a five- to six-hour scenic drive along South Africa’s southern coast to Tsala Treetop Lodge, with a few fun stops to break up the ride.

    At Ou Meul bakery in Riversonderend, you can sample their traditional homemade pies, pastries, or a signature pink rice crispy cookie. They also sell ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads and drinks perfectly for a picnic on the side of the road.

    Along the N2 highway, you’ll break in Albertinia at the Alcare Aloe Factory. Aloes are known for their healing and rejuvenating characteristics, and Alcare extracts juice and gel from harvested aloe blades to create health and beauty products. You’ll learn about the plant’s uses and have the chance to pick up products to bring home.

    In Stillbaai (or Still Bay), you can sample the Inverroche Distillery’s gins, flavored with the flowers and herbs unique to South Africa’s fynbos botanical zone.

    Finally, before you arrive in Plettenberg Bay, stop for dinner at Butterfly Blu in Knysna. The restaurant has an outdoor/indoor deck, lounge areas, a cocktail bar, and a contemporary interior. Directly below the restaurant is a stretch of white sandy beach and rolling dunes, making it an idyllic setting to enjoy a rosy sunset.

    After dinner, make your way to the Tsala Treetop Lodge where you will spend two nights in a treetop suite. It combines African and European design elements in a small inn amid indigenous forest.
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    Photo By Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary
    Day 6
    Tsala Treetop Lodge
    The Tsala Treetop Lodge has 10 suites and six two villas, as well as a library, wine cellar, and spa. But you won’t want to linger long after breakfast given the excursions the hotel has to offer.

    The Cango Caves, one of Africa’s most spectacular natural formations with vast caverns and majestic dripstone caverns, stalagmites and stalactites, can be explored on guided tours. From below ground to up in the air, the Birds of Eden is an enormous two-hectare dome that spans a gorge filled with verdant, indigenous forest, as well as 100 species of African birds. Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, meanwhile, allows a close look at a variety of primates living in a natural forest environment, while visitors to the Elephant Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay can touch and interact with the rescued animals that live there.
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    Photo By Kwandwe Private Game Reserve
    Days 7 and 8
    Kwande Private Game Reserve
    More wildlife awaits, so after breakfast, it’s time to head to the Plettenberg Airport for a charter flight to the Kwande Private Game Reserve Airstrip.

    A pristine 54,000-acre wilderness extending along 19 miles of privately owned Great Fish River frontage in the Eastern Cape region, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve is rife with wildlife including the “big five,” as well as cheetahs, hippos, springboks, and giraffes. It provides superb game and bird viewing as well as a habitat for protected species such as the black rhino, blue crane, and martial eagle.

    Your stay here, in one of the four modern, yet intimate and luxurious lodges, includes twice daily game drives; nature walks and a big game walking safari with an armed specialist ranger and tracker team (subject to availability); volunteering activities at the Mgcamabele Community Centre (to be booked in advance, subject to availability); a special dining experience; three meals with drinks daily; laundry; emergency medical evacuation insurance; transfers to and from the reserve's airstrip; and complimentary childcare.
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    Photo By The Oyster Box
    Day 9
    Umhlanga Rocks
    Cap off your South African adventure with some beach time. After leaving the Kwande Private Game Reserve, you’ll return to Port Elizabeth on a charter flight and then fly from there to Durban (at an additional charge).

    The seaside resort town of Umhlanga Rocks is just outside of Durban, and its tropical weather and lush vegetation lure visitors from all over the world. It’s the perfect location for ocean enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers, with opportunities for diving, swimming, scuba diving, whale watching, dolphin viewing, deep-sea fishing, and kite boarding. There are also excellent golf courses.

    You’ll spend the night at The Oyster Box, an iconic local hotel on the edge of a white-sand beach, where the Indian Ocean laps the shore and entices with its warm waters. The exquisite seaside setting and well-preserved colonial architectural touches are complemented by gourmet dining options. Whether you sip a sundowner at the Lighthouse Bar, dine at the casual Ocean Terrace, or opt for the more formal Grill Room, the Oyster Box Hotel will end your South Africa trip on a high note.
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    Photo By South African Tourism
    Day 10
    Durban
    Spend the morning on a guided tour of Durban, traveling along the Golden Mile, the revitalized beachfront promenade and continuing past City Hall to the harbor. At the University of Natal – Durban Campus, you can take in views of the city. You’ll then visit the bustling African/Indian Markets at Warwick Triangle, home to nine distinct markets developed around Durban’s largest public transport interchange. The Victoria Street Market, on the corner of Queen and Victoria Streets in Durban, is like stepping into another world, with its blend of all things Indian and African. The scents of spices and incense fill the air and more than 170 stalls display their wares. You’ll also visit the peaceful Durban Botanic Gardens founded in 1849, and conclude your tour with a visit to the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

    At the end of the tour, your guide will return you to the Oyster Box, and you have the afternoon free, though Jennifer and her team can weigh in with recommendations.
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    Photo By South African Tourism
    Day 11
    Depart
    The journey home begins this morning, when a driver will meet you at your hotel to transfer you to the Durban airport.