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Abbreviated Trip Report: Cape Town, Garden Route, Drakensberg, Johannesburg and Madikwe

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In planning our trip, I very much appreciated the advice received from so many Fodorites. I don't have time to type out an extensive trip report, but I did want to share a brief rundown of our trip in the event anyone is planning a trip or had any questions.

We arrived into Cape Town on January 20, rented a car and headed to our hotel, the Mount Nelson. We initially were inclined to stay in the waterfront area, but after having read some posts we became concerned that the area might be a bit to commercial/busy. For us, we made the right choice. While we enjoyed walking around the waterfront area, it was also good to leave it. For a business traveler or one interested in shopping, the area may be a good choice as it is centrally located and there is much to do and buy within a short walking distance. However, we were looking for a quieter spot and the Mount Nelson was just right. The grounds of the hotel, situated not far from the base of Table Mountain, are beautiful and you often forget that you are still somewhat "in the city". The rooms are spacious and nicely appointed and the service was some of the best we experience on the trip. While some posters commented on the distance of the hotel from the waterfront, I found it to be negligible - only a ten minute complimentary van ride away.

Cape Town may have the prettiest and most dramatic setting for a city anywhere in the world. We hiked Table Mountain, took in the Kirstenbosch Gardens, and drove the route to Cape Point (where, in addition to the striking scenary, we enjoyed encounters with penguins, baboons and ostrich).

From Cape Town, we drove along the N1 through the Klein Karoo and Prince Albert and ultimately through the Swartberg Pass. Very dramatic. From there were spent a few days exploring the Garden Route, basing our stay at the Plettenberg hotel. Perched high on a hillside, the hotel has an awesome view of the coastline. One of the best meals we had on the trip was at a restaurant called The Grand located on the main street of the town. It is new and has a deck that overlooks the sea.

From the Garden Route, we flew out of George into Durban, where we rented a car and drove to the Drakensberg Mountains where we stayed at the Cathedral Peak Hotel. The day we arrived was a bit overcast, so there was not much to see in terms of scenary, and the weather was not expected to improve. As the gods would have it, however, the next day provided a crystal clear sky providing a stunning view of the mountains (which I understand technically aren't mountains). Not only are the rock formations something to take in, but the colors of the area (particularly the rich greens) are extraordinary. From my research on this site and others, the Drakensberg does not appear to be a very popular destination. In one sense that is understandable given how many other wonderful places there are to visit in the country. However, for those who enjoy dramatic mountains, fresh air, emerald green valleys, and maybe a little hiking (at all levels), then I would highly recommend this area.

From the Drakensberg, we drove to Johannesburg where we stayed at the Westcliff. Very nice hotel perched on a hill with expansive views of the area. Our first night we dined at Linger Longer in the northern suburbs. Excellent. In fact, we liked it so much that we did something we almost never do on a vacation - we returned there the following evening. Just as good. We really didn't have much time to spend in Johannesberg, but we did make sure to set aside time to take a half day tour of Soweto. Our guide, who was arranged by the hotel, was excellent. He lives in Soweto and did an excellent job educating us on the history of the area (and all of SA for that matter). I must confess that I had no idea how huge an area it was or how many people lived there. The place is alive with energy. I also did not realize how diverse an area it is. Photos I had seen previous to our trip depicted the worst of Soweto, and there are some places where the living conditions are deporable. But the area also boasts some very nice areas. In the end, I came to realize that Soweto is really much more diverse that I had imagined. As our guide described it, in Soweto (like most other places) "there is the good, the bad and the ugly." Even if your stay in JB is short, I highly recommend a visit to Soweto.

Finally, from JB we drove to Madikwe Game Reserve where we stayed at Madikwe Hills Lodge. I cannot say enough about the Reserve or Madikwe Hills. The lodge is stunning. The rooms, beautifully designed and decorated, are huge (three separate rooms each: a living room with a floor to cathedral ceiling stone fireplace, a bedroom and a spacious bathroom). This was just what was inside. Off the bedroom was a large deck, surrounding by rocks and trees, complete with a plung pool and an expansive view of the bush down below. The service was top notch. I have often heard the phrase "they anticipated my every need." Well, this was the first place I had ever stayed where that was true. The food was phenomenal. The setting is stunning. The lodge and individual rooms are build right into a hillside and there are trees and rocks that actually grow up out of the floor. It is not inexpensive, though, and that is the only downside. Overall, a very classy affair. I thought the game viewing was very good, which included:

lion (in one case a pride of nine - a full grown male, three full grown females, and five cubs);
elephant (in one case a group of nearly 40, and in two separate instances a bull came grazing within 10 feet our of vehicle);
a herd of buffalo;
several rhino;
four male cheetah;
a pack of 15 wild dogs (just after a kill);
spotted hyena;
jackal;
giraffe (two of which playfully fought with their necks);
zebra;
oryx;
warthog;
springbok;
impala;
kudu;
eland;
wildebeest;
tortoise;
ostrich and loads of other beautiful birds; and
more wildlife I wasn't lucky enough to photograph.

We selected Madikwe, in part, because it is malaria-free. Having now been there, I can't imagine we sacrificed much, if any, in the way of game viewing as opposed to Kruger. We ran into very few other lodge vehicles - maybe three or four over the course of a four hour game drive. The reserve is much larger than I expected. In fact, it took us a little more than an hour to arrive at the lodge (which is located around the center of the reserve) after having entered one of the gates to the reserve.

It was a wonderful trip. If any of you have any questions, I would be happy to try to answer them.

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