10 days of wildlife photography, great food & wine, and golf.
As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the raindrops pattering on my window on a cold, wet January evening. All I can think about is escaping to some place sunny and warm, feeling the sun on my belly, squinting from all the light. Or drinking a cocktail while watching a beautiful sunset. Ok I’ll stop, I think we’re all ready for a vacation these days, aren’t we…
One of those perfect places to escape to during American / European winter is South Africa. This country has stolen my heart since I’ve first visited when I was only six, and then again when I came back six years ago to spend the summer volunteering in a township outside of Cape Town. This past October, it was no work and just play. Since my sister lives in NYC, my parents are over in Germany and we’re in Zurich, we love to meet up anywhere in the world. After not seeing eachother for months, we fell into each other’s arms in the arrival area of Johannesburg airport – tired, but beyond excited for 10 days packed with impressions beyond the ordinary.
We kicked off our trip with a day in Johannesburg (the Apartheid museum is not to be missed), where we were welcomed by our local friends with a traditional “Braai”. Boy, do they know how to barbeque! From there, we took a long drive east towards the Kruger National park. The map below shows our route, keep scrolling for more details…
1.) Johannesburg: Arrival + 2 nights
2.) White River: Golf / Nature Sightseeing – 1 night
3.) Leopard Creek: Golf right at the edge of the Kruger National Park – 2 nights
4.) Singita Ebony Lodge: Private Game Reserve – 4 nights
– flight to George –
5.) Fancourt: Golf & quick peek at the garden route – 2 nights
Best times to travel: September-November and February-May
Johannesburg might be far less bustling and beautiful in comparison to Cape Town, but it is closer to the natural sights and many direct flights land there. While you’re there (1-2 days are sufficient), definitely visit the Apartheid museum and enjoy a big brunch or lunch on the rooftop of Flames restaurant (part of the Four Seasons Westcliff hotel).
2.) WHITE RIVER
White River is just a small town to stop over, logistically well-situated on the road from Jo-Burg to the Kruger. You can play some fun golf courses if you’re into it, but rather take a day trip by car to visit natural sights and waterfalls such as:
- God’s window
- Bourke’s Luck Potholes
- Blyde River Canyon
- Three rondavels
Be sure to buy some local “biltong” (basically meat jerky, just better) for the road. And don’t be afraid to try something beyond beef, such as kudu, springbok or ostrich.
3.) LEOPARD CREEK
Situated right at the edge of the Kruger (next to the Malelane gate), Leopard creek country club is nothing short of extraordinary. As probably anything owned by Johann Rupert (chairman of Richemont group), the whole estate is manicured to perfection. All the private lodges are located right at the edge of crocodile river, making for frequent animal sightings right from your front porch.
The best part of South African golfing? The half-way house. While you’re driving in your ultra-modern golf cart, you use your touch screen not only to measure your distance to the green, but also to order food. Once you arrive at hole 9, you enter the club house and – voila – your eggs benedict and scones are already waiting for you. Just try to forget about the game you’ll play on holes 10-12…..they’re called hamburger holes for a reason.
4.) SINGITA EBONY LODGE
Sorry about the picture overload. This was, truly, the tiniest selection I could size down to. Literally.
Anyway, as you can see, we had plenty of fun and even more luck when it comes to animal sightings at the Singita Ebony Lodge (8 week-old leopard cubs? Yup.). If you’re planning your honeymoon and you’re considering Africa, look no further. Singita is the place to be. Our 4 days there made me want to quit my job and become a wildlife photographer, this is how much fun I had. Don’t worry, I’m a self-critical person when it comes to my skills, so I’m not quitting my job just yet.
You enter the Sabi Sands private game reserve from the South, which is about a two-hour drive from Nelspruit airport. From the moment they hand you your hot towel, you’re in paradise.
Your day starts with a wake-up call at 5am, after which you meet for a quick espresso and scone at 5.30am to hit the gravel road at sunrise. From then on, from the top of your game vehicle, you look out for wildlife and predators that might not be done with feasting on their late-night kill. Since you’re accompanied by an experienced ranger and tracker, and because wildlife density is just so high at Sabi Sands, you won’t be disappointed. At around 8am, you stop somewhere and hop out, enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and another small bite (you will never be hungry here). After another hour or so, you come back to the lodge where you’re served breakfast, eggs and more on the veranda. After that, it’s all chilling and privacy – you go back to your villa and enjoy the outdoor shower, the private pool directly next to some kudu, paint a picture with the supplies offered or just take a nap. In theory, you can go for lunch, but we never made it. At 4, you meet again for high tea before hopping on the safari vehicle for the afternoon game drive. At this point, animals are still lazy, but there’s plenty to see. Our best experience? Seeing two 8-week-old leopard cubs playing on a small hill and climbing trees. At sunset, you stop for a sundowner Gin & Tonic before the night-time hunting starts. You get back to the lodge around 7.30 and meet for dinner after a quick shower. Dinner is served with a vast but hand-picked selection of (mostly South African) wines. At this point it’s easy to forget you’re basically in the middle of the bush due to the cuisine. Once a week, they host a traditional “boma” dinner in a round sand enclosure, lit up by a bonfire and accompanied by authentic vocals.
Need more convincing?
5.) FANCOURT & KNYSNA
To end our trip, we took a short flight down to George on the garden route and spent a few days in Fancourt (currently golf course no. 1 in SA), which was a complete change of climate and scenery. For one day, we took a car and drove to Knysna, a cute little town at the ocean. On our drive out to see the Heads, we enjoyed lunch on the hidden terrace of the East Head Café – lots of fried fish, healthy salads and great wine!
To sum it all up? This was my third time in South Africa, and I’ll be back soon I hope. It’s worth the plane ride even for just a week, especially from Europe since they’re two overnight trips. Plus, the local pricing is quite low, so the extra money spent on your flights will be compensated for by cheaper food and wine (compared to other, closer winter destinations such as Oman or the Emirates).
Nonetheless, if you haven’t been there before, I’d definitely recommend staying in South Africa for 3 weeks to see it all (safari up in Sabi Sands, the Garden Route, Stellenbosch & the Winelands, Cape Town & the Cape region).
Anything to add? Let me know!