Craig & Jeane Visit South Africa Feb 2016

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Feb 24th, 2016, 01:35 PM
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Craig & Jeane Visit South Africa Feb 2016

Jeane and I are a late 50’s - early 60’s couple from the Hartford, CT area in the US. I have been posting on Fodor’s since 2000 and if you click on my name you can bring up previous reports on our 2 to 2-1/2 week trips, which have focused mainly on Asia. Having almost exhausted the possibilities there, we have started to branch out and explore other places. We had heard great things about South Africa. So after our trip to Australia and Bali in the fall of 2014, Jeane and I decided that a trip to Cape Town, the Winelands, the Garden Route and a safari at a southern private reserve would be a perfect respite from the cold New England winter in 2016.

We generally begin our planning about a year in advance of a trip, first by redeeming frequent flyer miles for our flights. Our loyalty for many years has been to United and the Star Alliance airlines. After a careful search, I found that our best options for business class seats were United and South African Airways flights from Hartford to Cape Town via Washington Dulles and Johannesburg and from Port Elizabeth to Hartford via Johannesburg and Washington Dulles. We are fortunate in that we are able to charge all of our personal and business expenses to rapidly accumulate miles with our United Mileage Plus credit cards.

With the flights in place, I next had to map out a suitable itinerary. Since we didn’t want to move around a lot and didn’t want to do any internal flights we settled on 4 destinations, all in the south: 4 nights in Cape Town, 2 nights in the Winelands at Franschhoek, 3 nights along the Garden Route in Knysna and 3 nights on safari at Shamwari Private Reserve. We would rent a car in Cape Town on our last day there and drop it off in Port Elizabeth after our safari. Now that the basic itinerary has been laid out, I am ready to start my trip report.

For a winter trip, our biggest anxiety is always that the weather might mess up our flight plans, but we were lucky this time. There had been a huge blizzard which shut down Washington Dulles a couple of weeks prior to our trip but with just some rain and light snow, the weather was fine for flying. Our connection was tight so there was no time to relax in the business lounge in Washington.

Boarding and our 5:40 pm departure on the South African Airways flight were prompt and soon thereafter we were being served one of the most delicious entrees we have ever had on a flight - a flavorful African beef stew. Wines and spirits were good. The flight from Washington Dulles was billed as “direct” but there was a stop in Ghana to refuel and pick up/drop off passengers after about 10 hours. Since we knew this in advance, we lay down to sleep right after our meal on the comfortable mattress pads South African provides, along with their comfy duvets. The Business class section was about 1/2 full.

Shortly before arrival in Ghana, we were awakened and the flight attendants stashed the duvets, allowing us to keep the mattress pads. If a meal was served, we slept through it. Our stay on the ground was about an hour - pretty painless. Before we departed again, the interior of the cabin was sprayed - not sure with what, but it was supposed to be environmentally friendly. After another 6 hours with some additional sleep we were on the ground in Johannesburg. Customs and immigration were similar to the US with pick-up and recheck of bags. The business lounge before the connection to Cape Town was not conveniently located, so we endured a short wait before our flight.

The domestic flight to Cape Town was full and we enjoyed a light meal and drinks. We were met on arrival by a driver arranged through Four Rosmead, our B&B and taken directly there - about 20 minutes. Since it was approaching 11 pm, we were taken directly to our suite, spent some time unpacking and slept until morning.

Four Rosmead is located in “the Gardens”, a residential area below Table Mountain. It is a small but luxurious B&B with a small pool and an excellent buffet and hot breakfast combo. Our suite had a sleeping area and a living area with many amenities including an outdoor shower (which I used every day), double sinks in the bath, internet access, mini bar, coffee maker and all of the comforts that you would expect from a luxury property except the price (about $200/nt).

Our plan for our first day was fairly light - just an 11 am tour of Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated and then we would go on from there. We bought our tickets in advance, which is a good idea as they sell out. The Robben Island Museum and departure point is located at the V&A Waterfront and they ask that you arrive by 10:30 for the tour. Four Rosmead arranged a taxi for us and we arrived shortly after 10:30. There was already a long line of folks waiting to board the ferry to the island. We waited until 11 to board, which I considered a total waste of time as there was plenty of room on the ferry. We sat downstairs and on the journey, which lasted about an hour, we observed some dolphins in the distance.

The tour of the Robben Island prison is rather controlled and on arrival we were herded onto several buses for our tour. The focus of the tour is not so much Nelson Mandela but the conditions under which all of the political prisoners had to live, which were far worse than for those that were held at “normal” prisons. The buses circumvent the island and various sites are pointed out - there is a brief stop for refreshments and bathroom midway. The tour concludes at the part of the prison where Nelson Mandela was held and is guided by a former inmate of the prison. We got a very clear idea of how the prisoners were treated as well as how Nelson Mandela negotiated the process for their release. While many of the individual cells have displays about those that were incarcerated there, not much time is allotted for guests to explore and read about them.

Our group reached the ferry just as it was about to depart and we arrived back at the V&A around 4 pm. We had a difficult time finding a taxi near where we were dropped off so we walked over to the mall near the Victoria and Alfred hotel where there was a taxi stand outside. From there, we took a taxi to Prins and Prins, a jewelry shop near Long Street that Jeane wanted to check out. Jeane had a specific diamond necklace in mind that she had already received a quote for in the US. She wanted to see if the folks in Cape Town could do better. Because it was near 5 pm, the shop was just about to close and we were only able to get the process started. The sales associate agreed to be in touch with Jeane via e-mail with some details about what she was looking for. They arranged for a taxi to take us back to Four Rosmead.

Dinner that night was at Miller’s Thumb, a funky kind of place which specializes in fresh fish, prepared in numerous ways. The highlight for me was their grilled calamari appetizer - very light and delicious. We asked the staff to call us a taxi, which would be the last traditional taxi we would take during our stay in Cape Town. We arrived back at our B&B relatively early and an early bedtime after a long day.

Next: Day 2, Cape Town
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Feb 24th, 2016, 02:04 PM
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Thanks for sharing, Craig. With my own trip to South Africa about six weeks away, I awaited in eager anticipation of your report, especially of Cape Town and Franschhoek, and am glad it's finally here. My first day is planned to be very similar to yours.
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Feb 24th, 2016, 03:27 PM
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Reading along and enjoying..

Hope she also found a suitable tiara as well
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Feb 24th, 2016, 04:45 PM
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Welcome back! I'm also following along...
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Feb 24th, 2016, 05:23 PM
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Enjoying the start of your report, Craig.
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Feb 24th, 2016, 05:30 PM
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Can't wait to sit back and relax with a good read. My absolute favorite country in Africa, so very excited to learn from your experiences.

More please.
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Feb 24th, 2016, 09:56 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to share your trip with us.

Looking forward to more along with links to photos.
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Feb 25th, 2016, 08:39 AM
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Following along and enjoying.

Aloha!
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Feb 25th, 2016, 12:05 PM
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Day 2, Cape Town

The staff at Four Rosmead were all mostly helpful with their recommendations, one of which was to have an early breakfast and head to the Table Mountain gondola before the mountain clouded over. Breakfast at the B&B normally starts at 7:30 am, but the staff were willing to serve us at 7 so we could get going.

My intent was to use the Uber app on my phone to arrange a taxi but I was having difficulty getting it to accept my credit card. So at the last minute I reluctantly asked Jade, one of the managers, to summon a taxi for us, which she did willingly. About 10 minutes later the taxi showed up and we headed toward the gondola. While it was a totally clear morning, there was a sign at the entrance indicating that the gondola was not running due to high winds. Time for a new plan - Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We asked the driver to take us back to Four Rosmead first and wait for us, so Jeane could pick up her camera lens that she uses for close-ups of flowers. Then we set off for the Kirstenbosch, about a 20 minute drive.

The Gardens are in a gorgeous setting with Table Mountain looming over them. We wandered around for about 2 hours, exploring the paths through the various sections of the property, trying to picture how nice the Gardens would be at spring time. We would rank Kirstenbosch among the top botanical gardens in the world - comparable to those in Sydney or Singapore.

Just before we were ready to leave, Jeane headed for the gift shop. While she was there, I managed to figure out how to get my phone to verify my credit card card on the Uber app. At the gift shop, Jeane bought some pretty throw pillow cases and I picked up some African coffee beans for my office assistant back home. Afterwards, I used the Uber app for the first time to hail a taxi. Three minutes later we were being taken back to our B&B so that Jeane could drop off her camera before we headed out again for some shopping.

While waiting for Jeane at Four Rosmead, Jade showed me how I could check the Table Mountain gondola operating status on the website. She also showed me how to exchange the morning pass that I had purchased online before arriving, for an all-day pass that would give us greater flexibility. Afterward an Uber driver came to pick us up to take us to the Long Street shopping area. Jade had recommended our first stop, AVOOVA on the corner of Shortmarket and Bree streets, which is a purveyor of handcrafted ostrich eggshell gifts and accessories. Jeane saw several items that she liked, including an aluminum Nambe-type bowl decorated with ostrich eggshell pieces. She decided to think about it while we checked out some other recommended shops on Long Street. This area turned out to be disappointing for the most part - not for anyone looking for an abundance of upscale shopping.

Jeane was having trouble picking up her e-mail and had not heard from Prins and Prins. Since it was only a couple of blocks away on Loop Street, we decided to pop in. As it turned out, the sales associate had indeed sent an e-mail to Jeane. He had received some information from his contact at the flagship store in Johannesburg which he could now share with her in person. What they had come up with was not quite what Jeane was looking for and to make a long story short, we spent a couple of hours going back and forth with the sales associate and his contact in Johannesburg to try and get her what she wanted. At one point, while waiting for a return call from Johannesburg, Jeane and I returned to AVOOVA and picked up the bowl that she liked. During another lull we toured the small diamond museum in the shop’s basement.

Meanwhile, it was a totally clear day and now the Table Mountain website said the gondola was operating. It was almost 3 in the afternoon, so I told the sales associate that we needed to get going and that he could e-mail us both with any final details. He agreed and arranged for a cab to take us to Table Mountain. I should mention that Prins and Prins picked up our cab fare on both visits.

The Table Mountain website had also indicated that the wait for the gondola would be about 10 minutes. It turned out to be twice that, but it was well worth it. The gondola ride itself is short - about 5 minutes each way. Interestingly, the gondola floor revolves 360 degrees so that everyone on it can enjoy all of the scenery while ascending and descending. The views of the city and its surroundings were truly spectacular once we arrived at the top. We spent about a half an hour checking it all out before getting in a much shorter line for the ride down. An Uber driver was very nearby to return us to Four Rosmead.

Dinner that night was at Bistro Bizerca, which returned us to the same Long Street neighborhood we were in earlier in the day. This reminds me that I was incorrect about taking a taxi for dinner at Miller’s Thumb on day one. Miller’s Thumb is a short walk from Four Rosmead and we did not need a taxi. We did however use Uber to get to and from Bizerca, where we enjoyed gnocchi appetizers, two different beef mains and apple tarts for dessert. Upon returning to the B&B, we headed straight to bed.

Next, Day 3 Cape Town: District Six and Heart of Cape Town museums
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Feb 25th, 2016, 12:47 PM
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so glad you posted the link to this, else I might not have found it, Craig,

We did a very similar trip a few years ago with our kids so I'm very interested to read what you thought about SA, some 8 or so years later.

I enjoyed your first day, particularly about Kirstenbosch, which we loved too. We were lucky enough to be able to go up to the top of Table Mountain on our first morning on Cape Town and followed that up with a trip to the gardens so my first day in SA is still pretty vivid.

keep it coming!
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Feb 25th, 2016, 03:27 PM
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Craig, your description of Kirstenbosch has me more excited about our visit there than we have been; for some reason, it did not feature high in my mind even though we planned on visiting. Did you do any walks on top Table Mountain? We intend it scale it and take the cable car down. Also taking notes on your dining and shopping choices for our visit.
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Feb 25th, 2016, 03:36 PM
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tripplanner - we didn't do any walks per se on Table Mountain. Timing was the problem and we didn't have a lot. Hiking up would be an interesting challenge as it is quite steep, but keep in mind that conditions change constantly and could very well result in disappointment when you actually reach the top. Personally, I would not do this hike, even if I had the time. There are wonderful hikes at Cape Point and further on near Plettenberg which I will be reporting on in future posts.
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Feb 25th, 2016, 07:00 PM
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Thanks Craig. We plan on visiting Cape Point but will be turning around after Franschhoek and won't be going along the Garden Route.
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Feb 26th, 2016, 11:44 AM
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Day 3, Cape Town

Every day at Four Rosmead began with an excellent full breakfast comprised of a choice of hot entrees plus a buffet of deli meats, cheeses, a wide variety of fruit, cereals, pastries, breads and jams. The breakfasts were included in the rate and served either indoors or outdoors, depending on one’s preference. We found that this was the standard at every place we stayed. Our plan today was to arrive at the District Six Museum when it opened at 9 AM and then head to the Heart of Cape Town Museum for an 11 AM tour.

The District Six Museum was established in 1994 to honor the memories of those 60,000 people of black and mixed race who were forcibly removed from the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in the 1960’s and 1970’s in the name of “urban renewal”. While tours were offered, we chose to explore the two-story museum on our own as it was well-organized and the displays were clearly labeled. The experience was highly educational and a must-do, in my opinion. We spent about an hour and a half there before using Uber to take us to the Heart of Cape Town Museum.

The Groote Schuur Hospital was the site of the world’s first heart transplant, performed by Christiaan Barnard. The Heart of Cape Town Museum is located within the hospital in the original rooms where the heart transplant occurred. The excellent two-hour tour was conducted by the late Christiaan Barnard’s personal photographer and provided insight into Barnard’s rise to international acclaim, the donor of the heart, the recipient, and the ethical and moral implications that came up at the time. This was a particularly interesting experience for Jeane with her medical background. While I do not consider it a “must do”, I found it to be an extremely worthwhile experience.

The taxi stand that we used after our Robben Island tour was near an upscale mall that had looked promising, so after the Heart of Cape Town tour, we returned to the V&A Waterfront using Uber. The mall is attached to the Victoria & Alfred Hotel and proved to be a worthwhile stop for Jeane. She purchased a stylish African-themed jacket at one store and a matching handbag at another. Afterward, we walked toward the Two Oceans Aquarium through another mall that was a little less upscale, but no less promising. Jeane bought some cute Christmas ornaments and some other small items. At the aquarium, Jeane checked out the gift shop and afterward we decided to contact Uber and call it a day.

Our final Dinner in Cape Town was at Savoy Cabbage Restaurant, which is located quite close to Bizerca Bistro. It was here that we enjoyed our first African game. After a small appetizer salad, Jeane had the springbok loin and I had the warthog loin. Springbok and other antelope are often referred to as “venison” in South Africa and the taste is similar. I had never had warthog before, but the taste was similar to our pork. Both of our mains were quite good. We finished with a tasty peach cobbler and an apple tart. Afterward, we went back to the B&B to do some packing before our drive to Franschhoek via Cape Point the next day.

Day 4 (Valentine’s Day) Cape Town to Franschhoek via Cape Point

We rose early to finish packing, have breakfast and check-out before heading to Dollar-Thrifty to pick up our rental car at 9 AM. After breakfast I requested and received an envelope so that I could leave a general gratuity for the excellent staff. Uber has an option to request a larger (SUV- type) vehicle at a slightly higher cost and because we had several bags, we took advantage. Our driver arrived quickly as usual and afterward we bid Jade and the staff good-bye.

Dollar Thrifty was located about 10 minutes from Four Rosmead. When we arrived, we saw a big sign saying “Open at 11 AM Sundays”. After a momentary panic, we realized that the sign belonged to the liquor store next to Dollar Thrifty. We unloaded all of our bags and brought them inside the rental office. After signing all of the paperwork, I crammed our bags into the trunk of a brand new (only 1000 km on the odometer) Infiniti Q50, which we rented for $35/day with unlimited mileage and a drop-off in Port Elizabeth. I chose a “Premium class” vehicle because we wanted all of our luggage to fit in the trunk so as not to be visible and subject to theft.

The M62 is located quite close to Dollar Thrifty and, with the help of Google Maps, we headed to Chapman’s Peak Drive. There had been a passing shower as I was loading the bags, but the rain had now stopped and the sun was coming out. Chapman’s Peak Drive is a toll road, but it hugs the coast and is very scenic. From there we continued to head south, arriving at Cape Point by 11 AM. Prior to arriving at the Point there is a gate where we paid a small fee to enter the park. I had heard that there could be a wait as traffic can back up here, but we sailed right through and were able to park fairly close to the visitor’s center.

The funicular to the lighthouse was not operating that day, but there was a shuttle bus running up and down on a regular basis. While the climb would not have been particularly difficult, our time was short so we opted for the shuttle. After spending some time admiring the views around the lighthouse, we headed back down to the parking lot. We could have also hiked down to the new lighthouse which is closer to the Point, but we opted not to, again in the interest of time.

Off to the side of the parking lot, near the rest rooms, there is a trailhead for the trail that leads to the Cape of Good Hope. One can also drive there, but this is a worthwhile hike with fabulous views, if you are fit and have sturdy shoes. We hiked to the look-out point above the Cape of Good Hope parking lot, about a 1-1/2 hour round trip. The trail continues down to the parking lot but it is a steep hike back up to return. There is no protection from the sun on this trail, so a hat and sunscreen are necessary. After the hike, we headed out of the park, passing a fairly long line of vehicles at the park entrance.

Our next stop was Boulders Beach and its penguin colony in Simon’s Town, about 1/2 hour north. This is a very touristy place, but the penguins are absolutely adorable. There are plenty of great photograph opportunities, but it does get crowded - worth 20 or 30 minutes.

We finished up the day with a 2 hour drive to Franschhoek via the M3, N1 and R45. There is a coastal route but we had been informed that it was slow and not particularly scenic. We arrived at Franschhoek Manor in the late afternoon and were greeted by Wolfgang, the owner and his dogs. The B&B is located in a quiet area about a 5 minute drive from the town’s center. We stayed in the Black room, which was nicely furnished with all of the comforts. There was a pool that we shared with one other room plus a main pool for all of the guests. The public living and indoor dining areas were huge. The views from the outside dining area were lovely.

About a month before departing for our trip, I contacted our hotels in Cape Town, Franschhoek and Knysna and asked each of them to make dinner reservations for us so that we would avoid any disappointment. I had also asked Wolfgang for recommendations for Valentine’s Day. He suggested dinner at the Grand Provence Wine Estate and that is what we reserved.

Grand Provence offered a special Valentine’s menu and seating in our own private luxuriously draped outdoor pavilion under the stars. It was quite romantic. The dinner included a canape platter and a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival, followed by a choice of marsala marinated quail or smoked trout gravlax and then a chef’s taster of poached lobster followed by a candied lychee sorbet. For the mains the choice was baked sea bass or slow-cooked Karoo lamb neck. This was followed by a pre-dessert chocolate custard and a choice of a hot chocolate fondant (rich pudding cake) or Turkish delight ice cream with summer berries. Lastly, mini rose and white chocolate macarons were served with coffee. Needless to say, it was a fabulous evening for both of us.

One of the niceties provided by Franschhoek Manor was a shuttle service to and from dinner - no worries about driving or getting lost. When Jeane and I returned to our B&B it was rather late, so we agreed to “sleep in” a bit the next morning.

Next: Day 5 Franschhoek and the Wine Tram
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Feb 26th, 2016, 04:48 PM
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I loved the granola for breakfast at Four Rosmead, definitely a contender for the best I've ever had.
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Feb 27th, 2016, 07:45 AM
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Did you do any walks on top Table Mountain? We intend it scale it and take the cable car down. Also taking notes on your dining and shopping choices for our visit.>>

tripplanner - when we went, albeit quite a long time ago, there were free guided walks around the top of Table Mountain offered twice a day, at [I think] 10 am and 12 noon, led by local volunteers. It is possible to walk down from the top into Kirstenbosch Gardens and people who were on the guided walk that we did did just that, as we saw them in the gardens later [we had driven round].

Although we were there in the SA winter the gardens were a highlight of our trip for us but as an additional sweetener, there is an exceptional gift shop. Unfortunately we were there at the beginning of our trip and saved our souvenir and present buying for later which turned out to be a shame.

Personally I would get the c/c up and walk down but perhaps that's just me!
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Feb 27th, 2016, 07:51 AM
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ann - while we did walk around the top of Table Mountain, we did not follow any trails, nor did we take any of the free guided walks (which are still offered, by the way).

I did not know that you could walk down to Kirstenbosch - that would have been pretty cool to do...
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Feb 27th, 2016, 07:58 AM
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Craig - we did the same sort of day trip to the Cape as you, except the other way round - we went to Simon's Town, Boulder's Beach, and then the Cape. Enjoying your account of your trip very much.

on our way back from the Cape we tried to do Chapman's drive but it was blocked because of road works/bad weather but I believe that we managed to get up to Chapman's Peak and see the sunset which was quite early, it being winter.
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Feb 27th, 2016, 09:43 AM
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Thanks Ann. From what I understand, the hike down Table Mountain is much more challenging than the hike up.
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Feb 27th, 2016, 10:07 AM
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TP - in my naivity I thought it would be the other way round, but then when we were in Cuba, walking back up the muddy trails we were on was infinitely easier than walking [or rather slithering an sliding] down them.
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