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South Africa: WESTERN CAPE in spring: Need HELP getting addicted!

South Africa: WESTERN CAPE in spring: Need HELP getting addicted!

Sep 8th, 2012, 12:43 AM
  #1  
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South Africa: WESTERN CAPE in spring: Need HELP getting addicted!

Tell me about the best of the Western Cape of South Africa in the spring (September). It's my first trip, and I'm searching for sweet addiction!

In spring 2013 (September) my husband and I will fly from San Diego or Los Angeles into Cape Town. (We may fly via Europe with a stopover in London, Paris or Frankfurt. We will then spend 17 incredible nights in South Africa before flying home out of Cape Town. Nothing is booked yet but I want to book soon. I'm both nervous and excited!

Please help me select our best 3 or 4 “bases” for a total of 17 nights to stay in the Western Cape of South Africa, for a beautiful and hopefully sunny spring trip (September)? We will have a car and ideally prefer to spend 4 nights at each "base", and take day-trips from there in our car.

Most of what we want to see is in the Western Cape. But we are also tempted by the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, although I don't see how we can fit it in, unless we add a flight to Port Elizabeth. (Addo would have to be included in the 17 nights.) Each of our “bases” should be well-located for day-trips to beautiful natural areas, and with tasty places to eat nearby. (We like great food with fresh ingredients in a friendly, casual setting...places that are “favorites” with the locals.)

Our 3 or 4 bases will be well-located, to allow us to explore some of these amazing areas, which I hope are beautiful and sunny in the spring:
WESTERN CAPE:
Cape Town & Cape Peninsula
Table Mountain National Park
Cape Winelands
Cederberg & west coast wildflowers
Hermanus & the Whale Coast
Overberg
Southern Coast & Garden route (& Tsitsikamma National Park?)
Route 62 & Prince Albert?
Little Karoo area? (not interested in ostriches)

EASTERN CAPE:
--Addo Elephant National Park?
--Kwandwe? (pricey and not sure my husband is convinced Kwandwe is for him)

My husband and I are as different as boiling water and a tea bag. We are in our 50's and love to travel. (Switzerland, New Zealand, Costa Rica...awesome!) I am a dreamy poet who enjoys fresh tasty food and inspiring scenery, and I can only hike for an hour or 2 due to current hip and foot issues. When I'm inspired I whip out my pen and paper. My husband is an active biologist who can hike all day, and is passionate about exploring native flora & fauna, especially tortoises, reptiles, and natural stands of native annual wildflowers. When he's inspired, he whips out his camera.

We both enjoy meeting the locals for a chat; discovering locally owned eateries with fresh, tasty food; cultural experiences; music and art; and staying in owner-run guesthouses, b&bs, or small boutique hotels where the owners have time for a chat, and where we can meet other guests at breakfast.

I have read 2 Fodors guidebooks, the Frommers guidebook, and the AAA guidebook for South Africa. Now its time to book the trip. I haven't booked anything yet. Our budget is flexible. We normally like an interesting mix of accommodations ranging from luxury to moderate to inexpensive, each of which is special within its price category. (I'm using the prices in the Fodors guidebook as a reference point.)

THANKS as ever for your help! Right now I'm hoping you can help me select the cities, towns, or villages which will become our “bases”. But I'm also open to specific accommodations, if something pops into your mind. Feel free to give me your subjective personal opinions, and if everyone disagrees, it's even more fun and interesting.
Melissa5 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2012, 06:21 AM
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We spent a month in the Cape Peninsula in Simonstown - you might want to make it one of your bases. It's a cute town with several good restaurants (and nearby towns also have good restaurants serving the cuisine you describe). We used it as our base for Cape Town and as far east as Hermanus - but then we prefer to stay in one place and do long-ish day trips or overnights. We rented a lovely apartment in a large house with a view of the bay and a pool. It was very reasonably priced -

http://www.capetownrents.com/index.html
Elizabeth_S is online now  
Sep 8th, 2012, 10:55 AM
  #3  
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Elizabeth_S: Thanks for your reply! I will check out your link. I can understand why you'd prefer to stay in one place and do long-ish day trips. For me it's stressful to move from one accommodation to another. Moving me is like trying to rip a tree out by grasping the trunk. My poor husband, he's so patient! Fortunately both of us have found benefits to staying put for a minimum of 4 nights in one spot. He gets more time to do some biology walks in greater depth, while I relax in our accommodation and write poetry. Of course we do lots together as well!

We actually considered spending the whole 17 nights in 1 "base" in Cape town area! There's so much to do from that base.

But the wildflowers along the west coast area are also calling to the biologist in my husband...plus the other little creatures all springing to life in September.

The biggest question is whether we will venture into the Eastern Cape at all. That would take extra time...I'm not sure if 17 nights is enough to have a nice slow relaxing trip, and get as far as the Eastern Cape.

If anybody has some ideas of the 4 best bases in the Western Cape, feel free to chime in! Right now I'm leaning towards this plan, which is a little too busy for us (too many bases):

5 nights: use Cape town or Cape peninsula as base
3 nights: Bushman's Kloof or a base in Clanwilliam, Cederberg
2 nights: Stellenbosch
3 nights: Gondwana Game reserve or Wilderness or Knysna?
3 nights: __________________????????
1 night: Cape Town
Fly home
Melissa5 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2012, 11:17 AM
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Darn, the itinerary I proposed above doesn't include Tsitsikamma National park, which I understand is a highlight of the southern coast.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 03:05 PM
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What do you all think of this itinerary, below, to enjoy wildflowers and scenery, beautiful unspoiled natural areas, and good food in the spring (September)? We'd like the drive times between our "bases" to be less than 6 hours. We like to spend at least 3 nights at each "base" and do day-trips in our car to explore each area.

Fly into Cape Town

5 nights: Cape Town

3 nights: West coast: Bushman's Kloof Wilderness Reserve, Cederberg; or Clanwilliam; or Paternoster)

2 nights: Swellendam

3 nights: Tsitsikamma (Storms River Mouth); or Plettenberg Bay or The Craggs

2 nights: Garden Route: Gondwana reserve near Mossel Bay; or Wilderness; or Knysna

2 nights: Hermanus

Fly home from Cape Town

The above itinerary gets us as far east as Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route...but it's a bit fast-paced for us, as we don't like to change accommodations so often. Ideally we prefer 4- or 5-night stays, with day-trips.
Melissa5 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2012, 04:43 PM
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We visited SA in June but the focus of our trip was safari, so we didn't spend as much time in the Western or Eastern Cape as you plan to. We did spend 4 nights at Kwandwe and really liked it. If you go, ask for Ryan as your guide, he is wonderful. Why does your husband think he might not like it? It has a lot of the mammals SA is famous for, though not many leopards (however we did see one) but also some of the less commonly seen nocturnal animals which are fun to see. I understand the concern about having the time for it though, if you want to see all those other things, but it's a fabulous place. We stayed at Ecca Lodge and it's lovely with good food and a very warm, hospitable staff.

We also spent 3 nights in Jeffreys Bay (Eastern Cape) but that was for my husband who's a surfer, and Jeffreys Bay has one of the most famous surf spots in the world. For anyone else, not necessarily a must see.

We then flew from Pt. Elizabeth to Cape Town and spent 4 nights there. We made it as far as Hermanus in our exploring. Hermanus wasn't great for us - very windy day and saw no whales and the famous whale crier wasn't around - not sure of what might be happening in Sept. But we enjoyed stopping to see the penguins at Bettys Bay and comparing that site to the penguins seen at Boulders Beach in Simonstown on the Cape Peninsula. They are adorable.

We didn't do the Garden Route or most of the other things you mention so I can't comment on that.
Jane62 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2012, 08:44 PM
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Jane 62: Thanks for sharing your experiences and suggestions. My husband isn't sure he would like Kwandwe as well as other safari type destinations in South Africa because he isn't actually too interested in mammals. As a biologist he's always got his eyes on the ground, searching for interesting native plants & wildflowers, tortoises, reptiles...the little things. However he is interested in seeing the Okavanga Delta in Botswana someday. But the challenge for this trip to South Africa is to find things that both of us can enjoy together. You won't find me searching for tortoises or reptiles! I like inspiring scenery, tasty fresh food, and cultural experiences.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 08:48 PM
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I should add that we are willing to try new experiences together.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 01:21 AM
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Hi Melissa

Some observations. Husband will like Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town & there is another Harold Porter Botanical Gardens on the scenic coastal drive R44 (that goes to Hermanus) close by is the penguins (jackass var.) at Stoney Point/Betty's Bay, plus at Kleinmond there is a large King Protea farm (also on this route). I'm sure you will both enjoy Cape Point.

From what I've heard the spring flowers can be hit & miss, consider this as a day trip from CT & spend the extra nights elsewhere.

If you are going as far as Storms River then consider your safari experience near PE as it is only 2 hours from Storms River. The Western Cape is not a natural habitat for most wildlife you see in the reserves in the Eastern Cape.

Consider Addo National Park, you could do a day trip & drive around if you are pushed for time, the flora & fauna is different in the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape. Husband could look for the dung bettle while you watch the mammals :0)

Simon's Town is lovely, laid back, although it is an hour's drive from the city but close to Cape Point. The Black Marlin restaurant just out of the town is very good. Kalk Bay is lovely, sit out the back of the Brass Bell pub watch seals, sharks & whales, the best fish in CT comes from this small town.

I love the Overberg area, Hermanus is nice but I feel it's over-rated, it sits high on a cliff whereas there are other better land based areas to watch whales at sea level (in my opinion). It also has a whale festival week in Sept & it gets packed so I really don't recommend a visit during this time. Check out De Kelders, Gansbaai, Cape Agulhas, (I feel it will inspire you with it's mystic rugged coastline), Grootbos Nature Reserve, Arniston, Infanta, De Hoop Nature Reserve or Witsand, take the pont across the Breede River at Malgas for a unique experience.

Check to see if the flight stops at Jo'berg as you could fly from PE to catch a connecting flight instead of going back to CT to save time.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 06:40 AM
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We totally have fallen in love with the west coast - Paternoster, West Coast National Park, Darling... at that time of year. Although it's quite popular with locals, we were surprised at how little the word has gotten out of SA about the beauty of this area. To be sure, the Hermanus/Garden Route/East Coast zone is also quite breathtaking, but for us the west coast was a real revelation. West Coast NP is what, 2 hours from Cape Town? But it feels like a million miles - expanses of wildflowers with antelope or zebra grazing in daisies, an incredible selection of birds and small beasties (including a lot of tortoises etc.) with sudden views of the sea. All very low key and do-it-yourself. http://gardyloo.us/aug24b%20066s.jpg

Then go see a hilarious Evita se Perron show with the amazing Pieter-Dirk Uys in Darling - http://www.evita.co.za/ . Darling's wildflower show takes place in mid-September. http://www.darlingtourism.co.za/

Eat fabulously fresh seafood right on the beach in Paternoster, ooh and ah the flowers all over the hillsides... it's really a stunning region.

As for the Indian Ocean coast and Garden Route, what if you hopped a quick flight to Port Elizabeth, picked up a car there, then drove one way to Cape Town rather than a there-and-back drive? You could start with a day in Addo Park, which is also a very enjoyable and very accessible place, and you'd have at least one encounter with larger game than you'll see farther south. Elephants in daisies is also pretty cool. http://gardyloo.us/africa13J%20026a.jpg

You have so much to choose from at this time of year; are you sure you can't take a month? Two?
Gardyloo is online now  
Sep 12th, 2012, 02:44 PM
  #11  
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Gardyloo: Thanks so much for sharing. It's great to hear from someone else who loves the west coast. It's our 1st trip to South Africa, but my husband the biologist is drawn to exploring the west coast in spring (September). We find that we enjoy our trips more if we select only 3 or 4 "bases", and spend at least 4 nights at each "base", then explore the surrounding areas in our rental car, as day-trips.

But that makes it really tough for South Africa, to narrow our "bases" down to just 3 or 4 bases! Especially since we plan to fly into and out of Cape Town, that limits the area we can cover in 16 or 17 nights.

We have considered adding a flight to Port Elizabeth in order to fit in some of the Eastern Cape. But that would be at the expensive of being able to properly see Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula, the west coast, and the Garden Route. That's not even to mention the inland areas near the Little Karoo.

I've done a lot of research, but we are having trouble deciding where else to base ourselves, besides the west coast and Cape Town. We'd like to add at least 1 more base.

Addo Elephant Park does sound appealing to both of us, but even with adding a flight to Port Elizabeth one way, we still can't fit in everything into a slow leisurely itinerary.
Melissa5 is offline  
Sep 12th, 2012, 02:46 PM
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Whoops typo above! The word "expensive" appears in the 3rd paragraph, but it should say "expense", which totally changes the meaning of the sentence! It has nothing to do with money.
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Sep 12th, 2012, 02:53 PM
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braaiseason: Thanks for all your great observations and suggestions! We are still perplexed about our itinerary. We are positive we want to "base" ourselves in both Cape Town and on the West coast (probably in the Cederberg area). But we need at least 1 more "base" for our ideal itinerary. But it needs to be within driving distance of the Cederberg area, as our ideal itinerary will look something like this (spring trip, September):

Fly into Cape Town
6 nights: Cape Town
3 nights: west coast (Cederberg area (Bushman's Kloof?)
5 nights: ____________________________ ???
2 or 3 nights: Cape Town or Cape Winelands

Fly home from Cape Town
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Sep 12th, 2012, 03:36 PM
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Maybe the issue is trying to do things from bases, rather than combining some bases with a "road trip" model. Last time we went on the Garden Route, we started from Addo and drove down to Plettenberg Bay where we stayed for two or three days, then on to Cape Town. If I recall correctly, it's only around 9 hours "wheels turning" from PE to Cape Town, so if you break it up with 2 or 3 nights in "Plett" or Knysna, you could still get to Cape Town (or Stellenbosch, where we sometimes stay and "day trip" into Cape Town) with plenty of time there.

We've had friends who stayed at Bushman's Kloof and they liked it well enough; however they commented that the price was quite high. There are many really excellent B&Bs all over South Africa that (just IMO) offer better value than some of the "luxury" lodges.
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Sep 12th, 2012, 06:55 PM
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On our last trip to SA we found wonderful places to stay at reasonable costs. Also be aware when eating out, porrtions are often quite huge.
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Sep 13th, 2012, 04:44 AM
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How about McGregor near Robertson, another hidden jewel, in the winelands, say 3/4 nights then onto the Overberg region for 3/4 nights ?
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Sep 14th, 2012, 01:01 PM
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Braaiseason and gardyloo: thanks you've given me more good ideas. Will look up mcgregor near robertson. Haven't heard of either. I like hidden jewels too
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Sep 14th, 2012, 01:03 PM
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Hey I have a great idea. I'm gonna close my eyes and plunk 2 fingers on the map. And that's where we will stay! whoops that didn't work as 1 finger landed in the ocean. 0-:
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Sep 15th, 2012, 03:08 AM
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Well if the fingers landed on Dassen Island you might be ok :0)

Some other known places are Tulbagh, Prince Alfred Hamlet, I've stayed in Ceres very peaceful, there are some fantastic mountain passes such as Michells Pass, on a rainy day the waterfalls are stunning !
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Sep 15th, 2012, 02:55 PM
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braaiseason: I've heard of Tulbagh but wasn't sure if we should stay in Tulbagh, Stellenbosch, or do the Winelands as a day-trip from Cape Town. Thanks for recommending Tulbagh and Prince Alfred Hamlet. It sounds like a beautiful area, up in the Winelands, with the mountains in the background.

gardyloo: I think I've massaged my itinerary so much that it's getting bruised! I do enjoy researching travel, though, because I learn so much about the country I will be visiting. I always research more places than we can actually visit in the end, but that's ok. I might have enough research for 4 trips! I do appreciate your friend's comment that although Bushman's Kloof is nice, there are some guesthouses/b&bs that offer better value. Greenwood Guide does seem to offer additional choices.

We are positive that we want these places on our itinerary:

6 or 7 nights: Cape Town/Cape Peninsula & day-trips

3 nights: west coast (Cederberg area or Paternoster on coast)

After that I am really torn! We can only choose 1 or 2 more choices out of all of these beauties:

--Prince Albert (includes scenic drives)

--Cape Winelands (Tulbagh or Stellenbosch)

--Swellendam (as a base for day-trips)

--Garden Route: Wilderness or Mossel Bay

--Plettenberg Bay?? (This is the furthest we could comfortably drive on this trip...not even sure we can get this far.)

--Addo Elephant Park?? (Would love to see it, but we can't actually drive that far comfortably on this trip... Would have to fly which presents more complications.)

--Tsitsikamma National park (sounds beautiful but again, we probably can't drive that far comfortably on this trip.

Anybody have any suggestions about crossing off some of the places from the list above? They all sound equally great which makes it hard to choose! We want "bases" which offer both great food and plenty of scenery & sites nearby to inspire both a poet and a biologist in spring (September).
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