Friends, it feels good to be writing and connecting with you after a lull of three weeks over here. To tell you the truth, it also feels bad that our Mommy Labs team (Pari and Rashmie) was out of touch with you all for such a long duration without letting you all know where we would be; what we would be doing all along.
So, well, let me share without any pretexts – we'd gone to South Africa for a three-week vacation/learning/expedition. Did I hear – "Voila" in unison? You bet. Also, did I hear "what a surprise"? But, honestly, I never intended it to be a secret or any such thing. I had meant to do an 'announcement' post about this vacation a day before we were leaving, but thanks to some last-minute rushes, I never got around to writing it. I convinced myself that I would do that post after landing in Cape Town. Never knew Cape Town would hold me captive to its effervescent, breezy (actually, windy) charm and resplendent natural beauty, leaving me with little time and inspiration for even my devout passion – blogging.
This South Africa trip, if I may say so, happened on a whim
We had almost planned to go to Malaysia in July when we heard and read about the extreme humid conditions that can so dampen the spirits and drain your energy. No, we had had enough heat and grime in Delhi to take more of that even when holidaying. So, we changed our mind and plans. We then considered New Zealand and Switzerland before realizing that South Africa would perhaps be our best option given our passion/obsession for nature and wildlife. (My hubby and I are devout Animal Planet/Discovery/National Geographic lovers).
So, in a span of two weeks, we devoured every bit of information about South Africa in order to plan an itinerary. Packaged tours don't excite us. Hence, an extensive quest to find out what place/activities would suit our interests as well as Pari's. And, of-course what places to stay, events to attend, mode of travel within South Africa - flights/trains/self-drive.
And, you know what – the decision to do a self-drive expedition across South Africa starting from Cape Town in the southern most corner to Kruger National Park in the North East – has been the most rewarding. Except for a train journey somewhere in the middle, Avie, my hubby drove over 4,000 Kilometeres! To support this, the GPS (Garmin) came in really handy. Without it, it probably would not have been as easy.
Self-drive was the reason we were able to explore at our own will and convenience and without shelling out hefty taxi fares. Well, not that car rentals are cheap in South Africa. Seriously, they aren't. But, it turned out far more reasonable than the taxi affair.
This is what our itinerary looked like
We came up with this itinerary after much reading and research and also keeping a 5.5 year old's interest/education in mind. Hence, sharing this so it will help my readers who may plan a SA holiday with your kids. Nailing this list was all the more daunting given that we had to submit it to the South African embassy with day-to-day confirmed accommodation bookings – two weeks before we had to leave – which means, within two weeks after we made up our mind to go to SA!
Cape Town – 4 days
- World Famous Table Mountain – emerging from two oceans – the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It's called "Table" mountain because it's flat at the top – just like a table! Right from the journey up through the cable car to the 6 hours we spent at the top – filled us with a life-time experience. It sure deserves to be one of the seven wonders of the world.
- V&A Waterfront
- Boulders Beach – home to the African (Jack Ass) Penguins
- Cape of Good Hope, Cape Peninsula, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
- Top Stone Gemstone Factory in Simon's Town – near Cape Town
Drive Northward from Cape Town:
Stallenbosch – 1 day
- Vineyards and wine-tasting
Hermanus – 2 days
- The best season and best spot in the world for land-based as well as boat-based Whale watching and Shark cage diving.
- Other activities – paragliding, scuba-diving
Yes, that's Pari in blue leggings. This girl has go the grit!
Knysna (pronounced – 'naaisna') - 4 days
Knysna is part of the breathtaking Garden Route. Here, these words ring really true - "Journey is the destination".
Knysna Elephant Sanctuary
- Plettenberg Bay
- Wilderness Nature Reserve
- Strawberry Picking in George
- Many trekking trails
- Knysna Heads to watch the views and the sunset
Outdashoorn – 1 day
- Cango Ostrich Farm
We had one of the most memorable interaction with these fastest birds in the world with the fluffiest of feathers and the most alluring eyes!
- Cango Wildlife Ranch
Tsitsikamma (pronounced Sit-si-kaamaa) – 1 day
This place is called "the garden of the garden route" and rightfully so. This is a piece of the earth that looks more like a paradise – dotted with ancient Milkwood, Yellowwood, Ironwood, Stinkwood trees dating back to more than 1000 years; air so ridiculously pure and fresh you will feel 10 years younger from within; and the magnificent mountain range through which age-old rivers seek their path. Witness to this divine beauty are the endemic birds like the Knysna Lourie and others in a myriad of colours who cannot help but regale in the atmosphere with their incessant melodies.
We stayed here for 1 day and swore right then and there that we are coming back here for sure and for a longer stay. Just a day here will cause unthinkable misery to your heart and soul. The highlight of this part of the trip was the Canopy Tours in the Tsisikamma forests.
Train from Port Elizabeth to Johannesberg
We chose the train over flight first and foremost to keep a chek on our budget and secondly to be able to see more of the country be means of a train journey. In hindsight though, flight would have been a better option primarily because we could have had a day more had it not been for the train.
The last leg of our trip – in the Graskop and Kruger area – is so darn out-of-this-world that a day lost in train journey was regretted big time. But then, yes, we did save on money! Amen.
Drive from Johanneshberg to Sabie (450 Kms)
Kruger, Sabie, Graskop – 4 days
The Panorama route is considered one of the most beautiful routes in the world as it winds through the rugged mountains of the northern Drakensberg range and surrounds the towns of Sabie, Graskop, Hazyview and Origstad. Our jaws dropped as we watched the splendour of the 1400 meteres deep Blyde River Canyon from various vantage points – God's Window, the Three Rondavels, Bourke's Luck Potholes.
A visit to the 240 millions years old Sudvala caves turned out to be the most interesting and educational destination for Pari and for us too . We were able to see massive Stalactitte and Stalacmite formations; bats hanging overhead and listened in rap attention the stories of the cave dwellers narrated by the tour guide.
Elephant Plains Private Game Reserve (Sabi Sands – Greater Kruger)- 3 days
This was the last leg of our journey and time for the wild-side of our African dream adventure! I had always dreamt of an African safari with the best digital photography gear in tow. Prior to this trip, I bought a Canon telephoto 100-400 IS lens, exhausting the last drop of savings that we had. Wise or not, I will leave that for you to judge. (smiles) But, in the middle of the Safari, when we witnessed that collaboration of three male lions digging their canines and their claws into the beheaded wild buffalo, every bit of the expense was accounted for. Or, when we were privy to a baby leopard's playful tender love with her mother, we realized that our money was much better off – outside the savings account (winks).
Keep an eye out for exclusive photos of many more wild encounters in another post.
It was a rather long post, friends. And yet – just a cursory look at and an outline of our 3-week expedition through South Africa! May I humbly put – three weeks sound like a whole lot. But, in all honesty – that's like scratching the surface of a country that is limitless when it comes to nature, wildlife, vegetation, marine life, birds and adventure activities.
Not without reason is South Africa called "a world in one country". We second that whole-heartedly.
And, on this note, I can't help sharing this wonderful blog of a lovely South African home-schooling family. They live in Fish Hoek – near Cape Town. Incidentally, on our way to Simon's Town, we drove slowly through Fish Hoek, admiring the relaxed pace and soothing beauty of this town. Meet the seven+1 family.