The Visions Blog / Visions of Africa

The Visions Blog

  • Top Tips for seeing Game in Africa
    Mention the word ‘safari’ and most people will envisage the open plains of the Masai Mara or Serengeti that we often see on television. 

    However Africa offers more than the grassy savannahs, with arid desert, lush deltas and thick forested bushveld. All of these are home to the amazing animals that we associate with a safari holiday. The animals are adapted to live in certain conditions which means that some areas have animals unique to that region, such as the Gerenuk Antelope which favours certain areas in Kenya. 

    This is a quick guide to the best places to see some of the most popular animals in Africa.

    The Big 5

    Comprising of Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Buffalo and Leopard, the ‘Big 5’ can be found in reserves in Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. Some of the smaller reserves, do not have the larger herbivores such as Elephant and some do not have the large predators. Almost all reserves will have the other popular animals such as Giraffe, Zebra and Antelopes.

    Big Cats

    Cheetahs favour open spaces, where they can use their speed to wear down their prey.

    For this reason places such as the Masai Mara, Serengeti, and Namibia are the best areas to view them. Leopards use an ambush technique and need trees, making them harder to spot. Wildlife film makers often travel to the Sabi Sands Reserve in South Africa where Leopards are found in large numbers. Lions are common all over the east & southern African continent and can be found in most reserves. For something a little different, visit the Black Maned Lions of the Kalahari, or the tree climbing Lions of Lake Manyara, Tanzania.

    Birds

    Africa is a “twitchers” paradise.  Choose from the many game and nature reserves, national parks, lakes, lagoons, wetlands and bays – habitats are very varied and specialist guides are available.  We recommend the Okavango Delta in Botswana, South Luangwa in Zambia, and St Lucia Wetlands, South Africa.

    The Annual Migration

    Nowhere other than Kenya and Tanzania gives you the opportunity to view the spectacle of the Wildebeest migration. Whilst rain dependent, the migration occurs all year round, constantly moving to find the lush new grass. It is estimated something like 4 million animals participate. The Wildebeest lead this annual exodus followed by the Zebra and lesser Antelope, with the ominous presence of the carnivores trailing the herds. The best times to observe this event, is during the months of May to June in the Serengeti, Tanzania, and from July to October in the Masai Mara, Kenya.

    Meerkats

    These adorable members of the canine family, can be found in Namibia, southern Botswana and the Karoo in South Africa. They favour a hot, desert terrain, where they can easily construct their burrows. There is an ongoing research project just outside Oudtshoorn on the Garden Route, South Africa where you can view this habituated group.

    Gorillas & Chimpanzees

    Gorilla Permits are like gold dust and must be purchased by anyone wishing to see the Lowland Mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. To view these magnificent apes requires at least a couple of nights which can be combined with a stay in Kenya or Tanzania. 

    Chimpanzees can be found in Uganda, western Tanzania and on a large sanctuary in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.  

    Getting About in South Africa

    South Africa is over 1,200,000 square kilometres and has a coastline of 2,954 kilometers (1,836 miles), with the cold Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the Indian Ocean on the east coast. It slightly bigger then Holland, Belgium, Italy, France, and Germany combined.

    Getting about the country by road can be time consuming, so most visitors opt to travel by air between the larger cities. The country has a number of domestic airlines that operate between the popular destainations such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kruger, Durban and Port Elizabeth.  Aside from the national carrier, South African Airlines there are 2 smaller subsidaries, SA Airlink and SA Express  that fly to some of the smaller regional hubs and 2 ‘low cost, no frills’ airlines that fly between the majot cities. 

    Coaches

    There is a good network of coaches that operate to a fixed schedule between the cities. These double deck coaches offer reclining seats and stop en route for ‘comfort breaks’ and an opportunity to buy snacks. They are a good low cost alternative but journeys can be tiring, and take many hours if not days.

    Rail There are a number of options for travelling by train but these are really sightseeing rather than as a viable means to get from place to place. Rovos Rail and the Blue Train are high end operators offering the African equivalent of the Orient Express, superb food, sumptuous accommodation, all at a price.

    Shogololo Express and Premiere Classe offer more affordable options, either for touring or for travelling from Johannesberg/Pretoria to Cape Town. 

    Self Drive Roads in South Africa and good and well signposted, and they drive on the left, the same as in the UK. We recommend several areas for self driving such as the Garden Route, around Durban and Cape Town. We provide our clients with a personalised Travel Digest which gives detailed driving direction for every leg of the journey as well as maps, places of interest, suggested self drive day trips and contact numbers.

    We can also arrange GPS systems in the hire car, for anyone who prefers it. Our hire cars are sourced from the major suppliers such as Avis, Hertz or Europcar and have 24 hour help lines, and numerous regional offices who can assist in case of accidents or breakdowns.  

    Escorted Tours & Day Tours Many of our guests  prefer to join an escorted tour, either moving from place to place os simply as a day excursion. We offer a number of different styles of tours from a private guided day tour to small group tours that offer a chance to travel with like-mided people and enjoy the commentary of a qualified tour guide. We offer a number of routes, some which cover the whole country over 2 or 3 weeks and some which last just 3 or 4 days, such as the highlights of the Garden Route. These tours can be combined with a city stay or a safari.

    Moving around in Africa

     There is a huge network of flights around Africa and it is possible to travel from country to country relatively easily. Nairobi and Johannesburg act as major hubs for other destinations for visitors coming from Europe or the USA.

    Anyone wanting to go to Namibia, Victoria Falls or Botswana will need to travel via Johannesburg and similarly in East Africa, Nairobi is the most popular transit point for onward flights to Rwanda, Zanzibar and Tanzania.

    Whilst it is relatively easy to connect to other countries, schedules can be limited, with perhaps only one flight per day. It is not always possible to move from say Livingstone/Victoria Falls to Mauritius on the same day because of connections.

    We always advocate booking the flights with the same carrier where possible for the whole itinerary as this offers the best saving and in the event of a missed connection, travellers will be rebooked on the next available flight. 

    Aside from the carriers that depart form London Heathrow, there are other options for travel to Africa, which often suit people departing from regional UK airports better.

    Emirates and KLM both offer flights (via Dubai or Amsterdam respectively) but sometimes into cities that are not serviced by the Heathrow departures. For example KLM offer flights into Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam and Emirates offer flights into Durban. These can save time, and are competitively priced.

    Safaris in Tanzania – North or South ?

    Anyone researching a safari holiday in Tanzania might come across the terms, ‘Northern Circuit’ and ‘Southern Circuit’. These refer to the National Parks which are grouped to the north close to Arusha and the border with Kenya and the reserves and parks that are grouped closer to Dar es Salaam.

    Northern Circuit safaris

    The northern parks are by far the most popular, and include the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater which  form a UNESCO world heritage site. Also close by are the Lake Manyara National Park and the Tarangire National Park. A northern circuit safari will combine some or all of these parks, so visitors can experience the high lights of these reserves, such as the famous tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara; the vast migratory wildebeest herds of the Serengeti and the magical land that time forgot – the extinct volcano crater at Ngorongoro.

    Visitors fly into the nearby Arusha or Kilimanjaro airports and then travel by road or light aircraft onto their first safari destination. Visions of Africa offer a number of guided safari tours that include some or all of these wildlife reserves, from intimate safari camps to  lodges. Each day will include safari game drives and guests enjoy their stay on a full board basis, staying one or two nights at each lodge. Alternatively Visions of Africa can arrange private tours which also include the different reserves but can be tailored to suit guest’s preferences, time scale and budget.

    It is possible to combine a safari in the northern reserves with a beach break on Zanzibar or the coast. Flights depart each day from Arusha direct to  Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

    Southern Circuit safaris

    Best reached from Dar es Salaam, the southern reserves include the Selous, Africa’s largest reserve set aside for wildlife. Selous is shares a border with the  Mikumi National Park and close by is the Udzungwa National Park. Slightly further afield is Ruaha National Park, Tanzania’s second largest and home to over 100,000 elephants. 

    The southern reserves are game-rich and mush less visited than the northern reserves, giving a more wild and authentic bush experience. You are unlikely to see a vehicle from another lodge during your time in the reserves.

    Being close to the coast, the southern circuit reserves are easy to combine with a stay on the beach, either on one of the tropical islands of Pemba and  Zanzibar or the Swahili Coast, south of Dar es Salaam.

    Visions of Africa recommend the southern reserves for honeymooners looking for  a romantic safari location away from the crowds which can be easily combined with a few nights relaxing on the beach. There are no set tours to the southern reserves, but it is easy to arrange a 2 or 3 centre safari followed by a short flight to the coast and islands.

    If you are thinking of visiting Tanzania for a safari holiday, speak to one of our Africa experts on 01444 225 640 or have a look at our Tanzania Safari Holidays section.

    Self Driving in Namibia

    Our adventure started at Windhoek Airport where we were met by Charles who took us over to the Avis Counter where we picked up our hire car. We had chosen a mid range saloon car rather than a 4x4 as we didn’t feel we would be going off-road anywhere. On balance if the budget would allow, I would go the 44x4 option next time as there were a few places that we would have explored had we had the right vehicle. We did opt for a 2nd spare tyre as a back up, but never needed either.

    Charles gave us the personalised Travel Digest that contained all of our travel directions for each leg of our stay. Not only did it include detailed directions, but distances and also how long to allow for each journey, so we could gauge when we needed to leave each day. It is also included local information and some suggestions of places to stop.

    Roads in Namibia are well maintained and sign posted and for the most part really quite empty. They drive on the left as we do in England, so it really couldn’t have been easier. Petrol stations are marked on maps and it is important to fill up at regular intervals as distances can be quite far with little in between. The petrol stations have toilet facilities and double as a mini-mart with cold drinks and hot & cold snack food. 

    Next time, I would pack a collapsible cooler bag to store some cans/water for long journeys. The petrol stations often have an ATM where you can use a UK debit card to draw Namibian Dollars.

    Pre 2010 it was not possible to pay for petrol with a credit card. This has now changed but in more rural locations be prepared to have to pay cash, or at least check first.

    We spent 2  weeks touring and even self-drove in the Etosha National Park on one of the days. The whole trip was a wonderful experience, we felt safe at all times and the directions were spot on. Hire car companies now offer GPS navigation as a standard feature, giving additional peace of mind, but I would still opt for the Travel Digest with its maps and written directions.

    Self driving the Garden Route

    Self driving the Garden Route in South Africa is especially popular with British visitors who enjoy the freedom to explore this scenic area at their own pace. The route is straight forward and although it technically only stretches from Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth, most travellers depart from Cape Town, adding in a stopover in the Winelands and Hermanus.

    It is possible to follow the same highway, the N2, all of the way, but there are plenty of scenic diversions along the way which encompass some quaint and historical towns and villages as well as points of interest. The roads are well sign posted in English, and South Africans drive on the left, the same as the UK.

    Visions of Africa only use reputable hire car companies and cars are fitted with Sat Nav  to assist with the navigation, but clients are also given a personalised travel digest on arrival in South Africa. This gives detailed driving directions, maps, contact details for the hotels and information about places of interest to stop at on the way. The digests are prepared for each client individually and give directions for every leg of the itinerary.

    It is approximately 800km from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, so it is best to divide the journey into manageable bites. The staff at Visions of Africa have made this journey numerous times and are familiar with the best places to stop along the way. It is important to spend time enjoying the actual locations rather than seeing everything from the car window in a mad dash. 7 days is a recommended minimum but 10 will give more time to explore and a chance to unpack the suitcases for a few nights in the same location.

    The most popular itinerary starts in cosmopolitan Cape Town, possibly then heading the short distance to the Cape Winelands and the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek for a couple of nights. From the winelands it is just a couple of hours to the old whaling town of Hermanus. The town is now a renowned whale watching centre and visitors throng to the coastline here between July and November when the whales can be seen from the cliffs.

    Continuing on, some visitors head inland towards Oudtshoorn, famous as the ostrich capital of the world, and also the location of some of the most spectacular caves in Africa at Cango. The road to Oudtshoorn is a famous wine route in its own right and there are a number of places to stop along the way and try the local speciality which is a fortified wine.

    Alternatively visitors can continue to drive parallel to the ocean, catching glimpses every now and then as the N2 winds through farming land and small villages. The next large town is Mossel Bay, a thriving fishing port and home to some large refineries. For visitors to the area, there are a number of attractions including the Diaz Museum and some wonderful coastal walks.

    George is the next stop for most people, either reached by a spectacular mountain pass from Oudtshoorn or along the N2 from Mossel Bay. This lively farming town has a vibrant community and is renowned as a golfing centre in South Africa, home to Fancourt and a number of other golf courses. 

    From George the road winds between a number of  lakes and lagoons and follows the coast to Knysna. There are a number of seaside communities along the way, including the rugged coastline of Wilderness a popular spot for visitors that enjoy some beach time.

    Knysna is probably the most visited location along the way. The town sits on the banks of a tidal lagoon which is almost entirely enclosed by the ‘Heads’, towering cliffs which guard the lagoon from the ocean. Knysna is famous for its oysters which are grown in the lagoon and for seafood generally, with a number of quayside restaurants. There are plenty of activities in the locale, from the elephant sanctuary to sunset boat trips, shopping and the Birds of Eden tree top aviary walk. Using Knysna as a base it is possible to explore Plettenberg Bay, George and Oudtshoorn as day trips.

    Continuing east the road passes through the Tsitsikamma Forest that offers a number of adventure activities from bungee jumping and zip lining to more sedate walking trails. It is also possible to explore and participate in these from either accommodation in Knysna or Plettenberg Bay, but there are a number of small lodges hidden in the forest that offer a lovely relaxed and tranquil setting.

    St Francis Bay is about a 90 minute drive further along the coast, this quaint little town is characterised by white wash houses and thatched roofs. It could easily be a country village in Britain. The town sits on a magnificent beach and is especially popular with surfers. The houses are built along small canals that wind through the community and can be explored on a guided boat trip. 

    Port Elizabeth is the end of the Garden Route but not necessarily the end for everyone’s holiday. Just an hour beyond the city there are a number of game reserves offering big 5 game viewing at luxurious safari lodges. The region has the added bonus of being malaria free and is a great way to incorporate a safari.

    It is best to explore the Garden Route as a one way trip to maximise time without doubling back. It is easy to drop off the hire car at Port Elizabeth airport and then fly back from Port Elizabeth via Johannesburg. The hire car companies do charge a one way drop off fee but it would equate to no more than the cost of petrol to drive all the way back to Cape Town.

    Petrol in South Africa is currently (Sept 2013) just over 80p as litre, and costs the same amount everywhere in the country. Stations are plentiful and offer good amenities such as coffee shops, clean toilets and usually an ATM should you want cash. They are generally large places much the same as our motorway service stations – busy and safe.

    Self driving is suitable for anyone that enjoys this kind of travel. Daily distances can be restricted to a couple of hundred kilometres a day, there are numerous places en route to break the journey, even families are well catered for.

    Accommodation on the Garden Route can range from 5* hotels to family run guest houses and even farm stays. The staff at Visions will pre book the accommodation for you, and plan the route to ensure that you will always have plenty of time to drive to your next destination. We will never recommend a route whereby you arrive after dark.

    Swakopmund

    The sleepy and unassuming town of Swakopmund in Namibia is more than just a stop point between the northern circuit and the southern dunes. Styled on the Tyrol, visitors can be forgiven for thinking they have been transported back to Europe. The sharp pitched roofs and carved wooden decorations are completely out of place in this desert landscape. Further proof of the country’s German occupation can be seen in the café windows that offer Apfel Strudel and hot chocolate!

    Swakopmund is a small town, and most guests can ditch the car and spend a couple of days exploring on foot. It is a safe town, making it ideal for visiting restaurants and bars on foot, without needing a designated driver. There are a number of lively bars and restaurants serving everything from Pizza to locally caught seafood.

    By day the main street comes alive with tourists looking for the ultimate thrill. Swakopmund bills itself as the Adventure capital of Africa, and it certainly does have plenty to offer. The more sedate visitors opt for scenic flights up the Skeleton Coast or a boat trip from Walvis Bay. Those looking for an adrenaline rush can choose from ski diving, to quad biking in the dunes or sand boarding.

    The quad biking tours cater for everyone from the timid first timer (me!) to the gung-ho bike enthusiast (my husband) who propels themselves at great speed over dune faces. The beginners group inched along at a snail’s pace but never the less found it exhilarating. The whole group met at the end for a glass of bubbly and amazing views of the coast.

    Sand boarding was just as fun, with some people achieving speeds of 80km! The tough part was walking back up the dunes with your board – no sand-lifts here unfortunately. It was energy sapping, and best left to the fit, youngsters. The really advanced were able to stand up on the board surfer-style but most people lay flat.

    Scenic  flights depart from the local airport, and can be booked in several offices in the centre of Swakopmund. Each plane takes four  guests and the cost per person depends on whether the plane is full. For example  two people will pay double the cost than if there are four. For this reason it is best to book when you get there, as you can usually find a flight with other people already booked, so the cost per head is reduced. 

    Back on terra firma, Swakopmund has a number of historic buildings, including the old train station which is now a hotel and casino and down on the waterfront there is a large curio market – for that must-have wooden giraffe statue! It is a fun town, and we heartily recommend a couple of nights to soak up the atmosphere.

    Zambia Walking Safaris

    Zambia is renowned for its walking safaris, as it is one of the few places that allows guided walks inside the national parks. There are a couple of well established safari companies that specialise in walking safaris offering guests the chance to move from one lodge to the next on foot (or partly on foot and partly by vehicle).

    South Luangwa is the most popular destination for walking safaris, where  guests can leave the more popular tourist areas behind and follow tracks along  the river and into the bush. There are a number of seasonal bush camps located deep inside the park, where guests can opt to stay for a couple of nights.

    The bush camp facilities are more rustic than the splendid safari lodges but the service, attention to detail and food are just as good. These small, personal camps generally have 4 -6 rooms in total and are designed to be low impact on the environment, this brings the wildlife closer into the camp, and it is not unusual for four-legged visitors of all shapes and sizes to appear in camp, passing through!

    Walking safaris do not require a high degree of fitness, think more of a gentle stroll. You will depart in the early morning when it is much cooler, and your guide will take a leisurely pace to ensure that he is aware of what lies ahead. You will stop to see the smaller details, such as the medicinal plants and insects that would be impossible to see from a safari vehicle.

    Everyone wants to know what happens if they meet something ‘scary’!? Your guide is highly trained and will carry a gun. The gun is an absolute last resort and the guide should never have to use it, because he will never put you in a position of danger. They are experts in animal behaviour and ‘body language’ and quite often are familiar with individual animals, especially lions, elephants, leopards and rhino . They will know which animals are nervous and which are comfortable around humans. Never-the-less they will all be given a wide berth.

    What happens if someone gets injured or it tired? There is generally a backup vehicle that trails the group at a discreet distance. If needed, the vehicle is called up to transport guests that need assistance.

    When is the best time of year to go on a walking safari? April to September is the dry season when game congregates around waterholes and are more visible, many of the bush camps are seasonal and are only open during this period. December to April is known as the ‘green season’ and is much quieter. It is a great time to see migrating birds but can be very wet.

  • Visions of Africa offer a range of budget adventure tours, one of the best ways to see the countryside, its wildlife and meet local people. 

    The tours travel overland by road and are best suited to anyone that is not constrained by time, who enjoys a bit of adventure and is not looking for luxury accommodation.

    The tours depart on set dates and take a maximum of 12 people in an air conditioned custom built vehicle. Each tour is accompanied by a driver/guide and a cook. Guests are encouraged to assist with meal preparations and help around camp, if the overnight stop is at a camp site. Tours are a mixture of tented and guest house accommodation, depending on the location.

    A typical day on an adventure tour:

    Wake up to the sound of the birds and animals and soak up the atmosphere before the alarm clock tells you it is time to emerge from your sleeping bag and get dressed. A quick splash in the shower at the ablution block and then back to the camp where your cook will be busy with a hot breakfast and the kettle will have boiled. Gather with the other  travellers for a hearty breakfast before you pack up your tent and possessions and  get into the truck.

    Travel for a few hours to your next location, enjoy sight seeing along the route, stop for a cold lunch of self service sandwiches, then join the cook on a visit to the local market haggling for fresh produce for the evening meal. Arrive at your next destination which could be a national park where you will enjoy game drives, sightseeing and a range of activities. In Swakopmund sign up for sand boarding; quad biking in the Dunes or a boat trip from Walvis Bay. In Botswana, head out for a 2 night mokoro canoe safari, camping on an island in the heart of the Okavango Delta; in South Africa you could hike the Drakensberg Mountains, Cage dive with Great White sharks near Hermanus or  go wine tasting in the Cape Winelands.

    In the evening, set up camp around the truck whilst the cook get the fire going and sets up the chairs ready for everyone to gather with a beer,ready for a delicious dinner.

    Facilities in the camp sites are excellent particularly in the Southern African countries, that are geared up to receive ‘locals’. Camping is a very popular activity especially with South African’s who tour the continent  in impressive custom-built off road vehicles complete with roof tents and  solar powered fridges. As a result camp sites offer modern, clean ablution blocks, swimming pools and bars offering hearty pub-style food. It’s camping – but not as we Brits know it!

    Adventure tours are suitable for all ages from 12 years up. All you need is a sense of humour, a willingness to get involved and a desire to see Africa, the good and bad bits, away from the cossetted 5* hotel luxuries. You will make friends for life, and come back with a real sense of achievement.

    If you would like to know more about this style of holiday, speak to Lucy K about her experiences travelling across Africa on an overland adventure tour.

    Gorilla Trekking in the Congo

    We arrived at the Virunga National Park office early in the morning, part of a group of 8 tourists of varying nationalities. We were given a receipt for our gorilla permits and our anxious guide then inspected our clothing to make sure we were properly attired! Of course, we all had sturdy walking boots and rain proof jackets but his concern was touching. He offered some of the ladies pairs of gardening gloves but they were declined (and not needed!)

    We were then taken by road passing small villages and subsistence farming, where the Congolese were growing bananas and cassava. The houses consisted of mud huts built in a circle around a central area of bare earth. As we drove past each village, children ran out to wave and smile, we all waved back, excited to be on our way.

    We were dropped off at a small bamboo hut where there was a long drop toilet and we were given a last briefing before we started our trek. We crossed through some farmland, passing close to quite a large rural village before we came to the wall that marked the edge of the National Park and which ringed the mountain that we were to visit. Our guides pointed out the damage (and footprints) in the soil of the Forest Elephants that come down from the mountain at night and ravage the villager’s crops. For people with so little, it must be heart breaking.

    As we entered the park, we stopped at a small encampment where the Park Guards stayed. They are employed to protect the Gorillas from poachers, and they live in the forest shadowing the gorillas around the clock. For this reason they already have a good idea of where the gorillas are and you are almost guaranteed a sighting. We climbed up the gentle slopes of the mountain through the rain forest and the reason for the gardening gloves became apparent, some of the trees had very vicious spikes and we were warned not to hold onto anything.

    Our first sign that we were close was the discovery of their overnight ‘nests’. These were on the ground in a clearing and consisted of flattened areas of bush which had been lined with leaves and small branches. Our excitement built as we could hear the sound of movement nearby.

    Our guides stopped us abruptly in our tracks, no more than 30 metres away we could see the head and shoulders of the Silverback. He did not deign to turn his head and look at us, but we knew he could see us and we crouched down in the bushes. Within a couple of minutes 3 boisterous sub adults emerged from the bushes and started to play less than 10 metres away. Their antics and play fighting crushed the surrounding bushes, creating a perfect amphitheatre for us to view the increasing numbers of the family that came to join in. Our guides had to use branches to shoo away inquisitive youngsters that wanted to come and play with us. We were no more than 2 metres from them.

    At one point the Silverback got up and charged through the clearing, my heart was in my mouth, but we had been given clear instructions what to do, and he continued to ignore us, even though we had been ‘warned’! He was magnificent, solid muscle and far bigger than I had imagined. In total we saw 14 members of the family including a baby just a few days old, peeping out from it’s mothers arms.

    We left after the allotted hour, speechless and ecstatic, it was truly one of the most awe inspiring and memorable experiences of my life.

    Our top 10 restaurants in and around Cape Town.  

    Restaurants seem to come and go but the really good ones endure. These are our personal favourites in no particular order..

    Five Flies 

    14-16 Keeron Street, central Cape Town 

    021 424 4442

    Fine dining in a courtyard setting that has won many accolades. It has a good selection of European/African fusion dishes and is really good value. There are 2 nice bars for pre or post meal drinks and a lively atmosphere.

    The Test Kitchen

    Shop 104 A, The Old Biscuit Mill, 

    375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town 

    021 447 2337

    www.thetestkitchen.co.za 

    After 4 years as Executive chef at La Colombe, Luke Dale-Robert’s has opened a new restaurant in Woodstock, on the slopes of Table Mountain. He has already won several accolades including San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in the Middle East & Africa and ranked as the No2. in the Best restaurant of South Africa.. This is a restaurant for food aficionados who enjoy modern cuisine, with an emphasis on flavour combinations and design.

    Café Orca, 

    88 Beach Road, Melkbosstrand

    021 553 4120

    www.cafeorca.co.za

    A personal favourite of Lucy K’s, this quaint local seafood restaurant offers unbelievable value with huge portions of fresh Atlantic Ocean fish. The star dish has to be locally caught Kingklip. In summer sit out on the deck and watch the sunset, or on cooler nights enjoy the view from inside. Booking essential for dinner, closed Sunday evenings and Mondays. Open for lunch as well but no bookings taken.

    Delaire Graff

    R310 road, Helshoogte Pass

    Stellenbosch (off the main road between Stellenbosch & Franschhoek)

    Tel 021 885 8160 www.delaire.co.za 

    Probably the most glorious restaurant setting in South Africa. This Relais & Chateau eatery comes with a stiff price tag, but spend 5 minutes sitting on the shady terrace and you won’t mind a bit. When the food arrives you will be even more delighted. This really has the ‘wow factor’ if you are celebrating a special occasion during your holiday. Wash your food down with a glass of the estate’s crisp wines.

    96 Winery Road

    Winery Road, Zandberg  (off the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West)

    Tel 021 842 2020

    www.wineryrd@mweb.co.za

    Another Wineland’s restaurant, serving rustic, wholesome food. Portions are on the large side but retain the finesse of top quality cooking and locally sourced ingredients. Choose from delights such as Steamed West Coast Mussels and Orange Scented Springbok Shank. This restaurant is partly owned by Ken Forrester and you will find a large selection of his wines on sale along with many others from the region.

    La Colombe

    Constantia Uitsig Estate

    Spaanschemat River Road

    Constantia

    Tel 021 794 2390  www.constantia-uitsig.com

    Located in the Constantia Valley on the other side of Table Mountain from the city but worth the drive! La Colome restaurant is located on the Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate and is rated one of the top restaurants in the world, and rightly so. Each dish is crafted form a host of different ingredients that never cease to surprise and delight.

    Le Quartier Francais

    Corner of Berg & Whilhelmina Streets

    Franschhoek

    Tel 021 876 2151

    www.leqf.co.za 

    Yet another Wineland’s restaurant, Le Quartier Francais is located on the main street of Franschhoek and is one of the reasons that the town has its reputation as the gourmet capital of South Africa. There are 2 restaurants at Le Quarter Francais, both overseen by Relais Grand Chef Margot Janse, voted Chef of the Year 2012. The Tasting Room is the signature restaurant serving a la carte or a tasting menu which can be paired with wines. For more rustic cuisine The Common Room serves international fusion food using South African ingredients, served tapas style and meant for sharing.

    Paranga

    No 1 The Promenade

    Victoria Road, Camps Bay

    021 438 0404

    www.paranga.co.za

    A top spot for sundowner cocktails and people watching, this trendy restaurant bar is on the main road through Camps Bay overlooking the ocean. This area gets busy at night as locals and tourists alike, flock to the sunset strip. The restaurant serves a wide range of dishes from seafood platters to sushi and steaks. There is a lively atmosphere and is a great place for dinner if you intend to stay in the area to frequent the bars later.

    Belthazar Grill & Steakhouse

    Shop 153 Lower Level V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

    021 421 3753 / 6

    www.belthazar.co.za Set on the quayside in the V&A Waterfront, with Table Mountain as a back drop,  this is one of the best settings in central Cape Town. Lovely for lunch as well as dinner, you can sit and watch the world go by, and the boats come and go. The menu has something for everyone from sushi platters through to the steaks that it is famous for. Request an outside table if booking in advance. (You can always move inside if it too chilly!)

    La Petite Ferme

    Franschhoek Pass Road, Franschhoek, 

    021 876 3016

    www.lapetiteferme.co.za

    Set on the side of a mountain overlooking the Franschhoek Valley, this working wine estate has a lunch-only restaurant offering superb views, lovely bistro style food and a huge range of wines that are offered by the glass. The menu changes throughout the seasons and feature local produce and meats, including locally caught trout, springbok venison and west coast mussels. A lovely tranquil setting but bookings are essential, request a patio table if available.

    Sundowner spots

    Camps Bay is the top spot for enjoying a sundowner drink particularly at the Bay Hotel or Paranga. Closer to central Cape Town the bar at the Radisson is also very popular with locals, and has a large deck area with plenty of seating. Across the bay, there are a number of bars around Blouberg that face back towards table mountain with the sun setting out to sea behind Robben Island.

    Shark Cave Diving

    The clouds seemed ommonously grey and foreboding as we made our way from Cape Town over the Sir Lowry Pass en route to Hermanus and Gansbaai. This is the undisputed capital of Great White Shark Cage Diving and is the spot chosen by film makers from across the world to film these awesone fish.

    It was still overcast and chilly when we arrived at the offices of Marine Dynamics in the centre of the village of Kleinbaai, in front to the large jetty, packed with its boats and viewing cages. We were logged in on the system and one of the crew assessed our size for wetsuits that are provided on the boat.

    We had been asked to arrive for 8am and whilst we waited to depart, we were then invited to help ourselves to the buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, rolls, cereals and hot tea and coffee. Whilst we finished our breakfast we were given a safety briefing and information about what would happen through the day.

    It was time to leave and as we passed through the courtyard we were issued with thick waterproof jackets and a life jacket. We walked the 100 metres down the road to the jetty where our 40ft boat was launched and ready for boarding. This tailor made boat had an upper and lower deck, 2 toilets, a small cabin and most importantly a large cage on the back. The boat is designed to cater for 40 people and the purpose built cage takes 8 people at a time.

    It was roughly 10 minutes before we were anchored and the bags containing out wetsuits and a towel were handed out. They had an excellent system in place and it took just a few minutes before all 32 of us on board were suited up and waiting anxiously. Already the crew had seen a shark circling, and the cage was lowered over the side.

    The cage floats on the surface of the water and is tethered at all times to the side of the boat. Our group was the first in, as we were about to get into the cage we were issued with a mask and a weight belt to sling over our shoulder. We then climbed a couple of steps down the ladder and into the cage.

    It is not necessary to be a qualified diver to cage dive, nor do you use a snorkel, you simply hold your breath and duck down on the command. Inside the cage there are various bars and it is possible to hook your feet under a lower bar to keep yourself under water. This is enough for you to see the sharks as they glide by.

    We were lucky, we saw 6 different Great Whites, and one was a mammoth 5 metre + in length. The crew are constantly recording the sharks for a scientific study and are familiar with this particular female who had returned for a second year to the area. She was certainly the boss, and the smaller 3 and 4 metre sharks kept their distance.

    We enjoyed about 25 minutes in the cage before we had to come out and let the next group in. You can decide if you want to change immediately or keep your wet suit on in case there is an opportunity to go into the cage again. I decided to change, and avail myself of the snacks and drinks that were supplied in the cabin. I climbed onto the top deck and was able to sit and watch the excitement from above, seeing the sharks circling the baot and the cage!

    Each group had the same amount of time in the cage and we were offered a second ‘dive’, which some people did. My group were getting a little seasick, and one was huddled at the front of the boat, looking worse for wear! It was with some relief (for her) that we were back on dry land about 10 minutes after the cage was loaded back onto the back of the boat.

    Back at the offices we were offered the chance of a hot shower, soup and sandwiches and a chance to view a DVD of the day, which was available to buy. We then made our way, smelling distinctly fishy, back to our car for the 2 hour drive back to Cape Town. Everyone thought it was well organised, and really enjoyed the experience, the whole group said they would be back again!

    Whale Watching in South Africa

    The Western Cape of South Africa is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Once a busy whaling town, Hermanus in particular has become renown as a top whale watching centre. Several species use the coastline to give birth to their calves before heading back out to the deep oceans for the rest of the year. 

    The Southern Right's favour this coast line as a breeding ground because of its sheltered bays with the majestic mammals spending up to five months a year here. They pass their time playing, courting, and nursing their newborn calves. The whales come so close inshore that it is possible to see them from the cliffs as they bask in the relative shallows below. Visitors can get even closer with whale watching excursions that depart regularly from the harbour.

    The best time of year is from June to November but the occasional sighting is not uncommon for a month either side. Hermanus town holds a very popular annual Whale Festival in September with concerts, competitions and lots of whale related activities for young and old alike.  www.whalefestival.co.za

    From a spotter plane it is easy to see just how many and how far the whales are spread along the coast. The large grey forms are easy to spot from the air. Surfers at the beaches off Cape Town regularly see the whales just beyond the surf and whale watching trips are popular in the busy seaside town of Plettenberg Bay over 600km away.

    The most common species is the Southern Right Whale but it is also possible to see Humpbacks and even sightings of Orcas have been recorded but these are very rare.

    Wine Tasting

    Our driver appeared at 9am to collect us, which seemed far to early to go wine tasting but as the Cape Winelands are a 45 minute drive from central Cape Town at least we had a little while to let our breakfasts settle down.

    We headed first to the historic town of Stellenbosch and the Klein Zalze Vineyard, we had already worked out a list of which estates we wanted to visit, but equally most guides are happy to suggest places and plan a route for you, if you aren’t familiar with places. Klein Zalze is located just off the main road that runs into Stellenbosch in a small valley with stunning views across De Zalze Golf Course. It is well known for its fruity white wines and at little over £3 a bottle it was a bargain we couldn’t resist.

    Another reason why we chose this estate was because we knew that they offered cheese platters to go with the wine, at a small extra cost, and we thought this would be a sensible idea to soak up some of the wine, before the late lunch that we had planned. The estate also has a large shady terrace that offers lunches, it is advisable to book, and although we didn’t try the food, the menu boards had us all salivating over the dishes.

    From Klein Zalze we travelled onto Vrede en Rust (Peace and Quiet) which is a wine estate famous for high quality red wines. The estate lies up on the side of the Helderberg Mountain range, some distance from the town and is set in tranquil gardens with the traditional Cape Dutch architecture. Some of our group are particular red wine connisseurs and the wine here was voted the best South African red wine that they had ever tasted (but it came with a top class price as well!) The estate has the distinction of being in the Top 100 best red wine estates and the Top 100 restaurants in the world. 

    From Vrede en Rust we passed through the town of Stellenbosch and onto the Helsghote Pass that runs between the mountains in the direction of Franschhoek.

    Half way along the pass is the Delaire Graff Wine Estate that was to be our next stop and lunch venue. The estate produces both red and white and we chose a particularly smooth Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our lunch. The estate is a member of the Relais and Chateau group which ensures that the hospitality is of the very highest order. The food and service were excellent but what we really went for was the view. This has to be the best view in South Africa – mountains, vines, blue skies, it was a glorious backdrop to a wonderful couple of hours.

    Our lunch ran late and we decided we only had time (and room) for one more stop. We had chosen Noorhoek, a small boutique wine estate on the road from Stellenbosch out towards Paarl. It was located in another valley in the Simonsberg Mountain range and once again offered stunning views and a relaxed tranquil setting as we tasted a range of red, white and sparkling wines.

    All the estates make a nominal charge for the tastings, but if you purchase wine then this is normally dropped. Expect to pay between £3 and £5 for a tasting depending on how many you want to try. Some offer wine platters as well which is charged extra.

    Our group had been wine tasting before in South Africa and knew what they wanted to see. Most organised tours will have a set route which also includes a cellar tour where you can have a guided tour around the winery and see how it is made. If you are on a private tour, you can tell the guide which kinds of wine you prefer and he can tailor the tour to your preference.