Between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, there's so much for your family to experience. Take your time and enjoy all the natural beauty, luxury accommodations and adventure that South Africa has in store.
The bottom of Africa is tops when it comes to a breathtakingly beautiful vacation, and as costs drop in response to the current global economic downturn, you might even call an African adventure a steal! Families will find plenty of sights and activities in the coastal region known as the Garden Route. This route stretches from the Eastern Cape’s Port Elizabeth, once a small British settlement nestled on the Indian Ocean to Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa, in the Western Cape.
Safari & Spa at Shamwari Game Reserve
A great way to start off your Garden Route sojourn after your long journey from North America to Port Elizabeth is with a safari and spa experience. Just over an hour east off the route, toward East London, is a private oasis called Shamwari Game Reserve (27/41-407-1000). Shamwari offers a number of luxury accommodation options, including the Bayethe Tented Lodge, which makes for a wonderful family experience.
Originally, I was to stay at the lodge called Eagles Cragg, but was bumped to accommodate actor John Travolta and his large entourage. Your stay at Shamwari includes a number of game drives, and, unlike other parks, it is malaria free. The reserve boasts of two spas, including the Lobengula Lodge, which offers an array of treatments like a romantic couple massage both in-room and outdoors. In fact, golfer Tiger Woods became betrothed at the lodge — must have been a good massage!
While in this region, be sure to plan a stop at the Addo National Park, one of the best places in the country to see African elephants in their natural habitat.
Natural Beauty & Adventure
Back on the Garden Route leaving Port Elizabeth, we enjoyed the spectacular foliage, driving past more than 22,000 species of plants including 1034 types of daisies and 150 different geraniums.
We traveled over Stormsriver Bridge to Tsitisikamma National Coastal Park (27/42-281-1607), the only coastal park in the country. You can see many birds and other wildlife during a Stormsriver Adventure (27/42-281-1836), and experience blackwater tubing, mountain biking or a canopy tour.
The canopy tour sounds innocent enough, until you realize what it means — gliding 30 meters above the forest floor in a cabled harness from one tree top platform to another. The operators swear that they have had octogenarians attempt this, but for those who are very young or very old with sore backs or are just plain chicken, a tandem ride with a guide is advised.
Getting to Know Knysna
Continuing on the Garden Route you will come to Knysna, a charming town famous for its headlands, that attracts the rich and famous of South Africa and Europe to its shores. A great way to see the Knysna Heads is from the water, be it in a rented canoe or motorboat or by taking a sunset paddleboat cruiser that includes a sumptuous seafood buffet dinner.
Many artisans have been drawn to Knysna because it is surrounded by forest, water and mountains. Ask the locals about immigrant George Rex. Mr. Rex is purported to be the illegitimate son of George the Third of England and the first born. If this is true, the real Royal Family of the British Empire does not live in Buckingham Palace at all, but on the beaches of Knysna.
After Knysna, visitors have a choice of staying on the coastal highway, passing farmlands, or heading toward Cape Town on the scenic route through the Outeniqua Pass to the Klein Karoo, a narrow semi-desert adorned by river valleys.
Ostriches, Cheetahs & Bats, Oh My!
In the Klein Karoo, you will come to the town of Oudtshoorn, the world capital of the ostrich industry. You can actually go on a guided tour at the Safari Ostrich Farm (27/44-272-7311-2), sit on one of these not-so-friendly critters and even ride one too, if you dare. If after meeting the ostriches, you want to taste one, lunch can be provided with your tour in their restaurant.
Other attractions in the area include the Cango Wildlife Ranch (27/44-272-5593), perfect for kids, where you can feed goats in the Kiddies Farmyard and those over 15 years old can pet a cheetah for an extra fee.
You can also go underground in the Cango Caves (27/44-272-7410), a series of limestone caverns below the mountains of the Swartberg Range.
Exploring the Winelands
As you head closer to Cape Town, you will come across the famous Winelands. Your visit will take you through Paarl and Stellenbosch — the second oldest town in South Africa — famous for its university, historic buildings and imported oak trestles that line the streets. Many of the area wineries offer tours with tastings, of course.
Also in the region is Franschhoek, where the Huguenots (French Protestants) settled after their exodus from persecution in Europe. If you stay for lunch or dinner, there are many quaint French restaurants to choose from.
Getting to your Garden Route holiday is an easy, if long, trip. Many airlines fly from major world capitals to South Africa, and the national carrier, South African Airways, flies directly from New York to Port Elizabeth or to Johannesburg, with frequent domestic connections to Port Elizabeth.
Since mid-2008, the US dollar has proved strong against the South African Rand (ZAR) making the urban areas of South Africa a true value destination. Additionally, families can count on special airfares and packaged vacation offerings available from South African Airways, and widely sold by travel agents.
For more information on booking a vacation in South Africa, visit the official South African Tourism site at www.southafrica.net.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.