A Family South African Safari
1 – Introduction
2 – A Pit Stop in Paris
3 – Tanda Tula
4 – Londolozi Founder’s Camp
5a – Safari Photos – Part A
5b – Safari Photos – Part B
6 – Cape Grace Hotel
7 – Cape Town Activities
8 – Emirates First Class – Thoughts and Observations
9 – Conclusion, A Few Safari Tips and Future Plans
As we concluded our trip, we spent two days in Cape Town with the benefit of a private guide. For us, this was definitely the way to go, as everything was looked after and we were able to visit a diverse set of sites.
With the kids only having so much tolerance for riding around in a van, we cut each day to about six hours (retreating to the hotel pool towards the end of each day), though you could have easily added other stops.
Our first day was anchored by a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope. It was essential to arrive early (which we did) as the queues to enter when we were leaving looked to be well over an hour.
Situated at what was once considered the southernmost point of Africa (and now called the southeastern-most point), the Cape certainly offered some scenic views.
We saw a few wild ostriches and other animals in the broader park, but compared to our time in the bush, the animal sightings weren’t that exciting here.
The lighthouse at the top of the Cape’s peak (gotten to via tram) was overwhelmed by flies. This was downright unpleasant. Other parts of the peak did not have this problem, though crowds and litter were an issue all around the peak.
I’m glad we stopped here, but more just to have seen it, and perhaps because I am a geography geek. The views were very nice, but not extraordinary. We have plans to visit Cape Horn in 2017 as part of a contemplated Antarctic trip, so I guess it is nice to tick the boxes for both Capes.
From there, we headed off to The Foodbarn in Noordhoek for lunch. The restaurant is owned by Franck Dangereux, a frenchman who started his career in the kitchen in Paris and ultimately migrated to Cape Town, where he ran La Colombe, which was one of the top rated restaurants in Cape Town. The story goes that he wanted a simpler life in the country, and opened the Foodbarn with a partner. Our meal here was extraordinary. Lunch for four, including a bottle of wine, cost US$48.
We also visited a small penguin colony nearby. The kids enjoyed seeing these animals. The viewing was from an oversized wooden deck, which was quite crowded.
We made one or two other stops, but they were uninteresting.
Our second day of touring incorporated a fairly diverse set of activities.
Our first stop was an intentional eye-opener for the kids (and adults). We took a driving tour through one of the shanty towns on the outskirts of Cape Town. We probably spent half an hour driving through what was quite a large community. We learned some history, notably how during apartheid, communities like this typically had only one way in and one way out, and that during periods of unrest, the police simply sealed the sole entrance.
Even within the community, there was an apparent dispersion of economic means. There was even a small part of the community where people had late model Mercedes and BMWs in their locked car ports. Merely a few hundred yards away, there were dilapidated cinderblock structures, serving as residences, where kids (aged between four and eight) played naked outside.
We drove past a market where meat was being cooked on a large, open grill. We saw people bringing live chickens to the market and being sold to butchers for cash. When I pointed this out to my daughter (9), she was taken aback. I asked her if she liked to eat chicken nuggets – which she does – and pointed out that the same cycle takes place in the process of creating her food. This definitely gave her something to think about. I wasn’t trying to be mean or crass, but she is old and mature enough to understand these sort of matters. While she still eats chicken (and I wasn’t trying to dissuade her from eating chicken), her first hand observation is clearly still with her.
It was also quite common to see small satellite dishes for television on the side of various residential structures. We also saw a fair number of flat-screen television boxes strewn about on the streets. While one could question spending scarce resources (recall kids were playing naked outside, presumably for lack of clothing) on satellite television service and flat screen TVs, one sociologist friend of mine explained that many people around the world of lower economic means use television as a tool to help them dream of things greater than the impoverished live they otherwise lead. Certainly an interesting point of view, and while to me, perhaps not the best choice, I don’t have the same perspective to make the decisions that these consumers are.
Part of me felt odd driving through in an air conditioned van simply looking at others’ poverty. And even now, two months later, I still feel a bit off put by this. Against that, I’m very glad that my kids, who lead a very lucky life, were able to see, first hand, the difficult conditions that so many people in the world live under.
There were multiple beer halls in and around the walled community. Our guide said that they typically don’t open until “after work,” but that things can get quite rowdy.
Our guide said that he is able to arrange walking tours of several of these communities. He works with local individuals who live in the communities to serve as a co-guide with him.
As we had an early start, we were early for our next event, so we made a pit stop at a non-tourist beach. Nearly everyone here appeared to be locals. The beach was very wide, reminiscent of some of the beaches near Los Angeles. The water was cool but not cold. While we didn’t have swim suits, it was a pleasant break to stop and get our feet wet for a while.
Our next stop was at a private reserve for rescue cheetahs called Cheetah Outreach. The reserve, founded by Annie Beckhelling, rescues Cheetahs that farmers would otherwise kill (as they attack farmers’ livestock). The Cheetahs are held in captivity, which all else equal is not good, but that is better than being killed. It wasn’t clear why this organization didn’t simply try to relocate the cheetahs to other parts of Africa, as that might solve the farmers’ issues while also allowing the animals to lead a life out of captivity.
The organization also breeds Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs and gives them to farmers. We were told that these dogs help scare away Cheetahs and other predators from farmers.
Notwithstanding the fundamental question about holding the wild animals in captivity, it was fascinating to be able to get up close to, and actually pet, some baby cheetahs. Their fur was quite rough and coarse, and upon close examination, the structure of their bodies was quite similar to our cat at home. We signed up for the baby petting. There was also an option to pet adult cheetahs.
Our guide was wise in that he got us here slightly before they opened, such that we were the first party into the petting area. Again, by the time we left, the queue would have been over an hour.
The next stop was the Bilton Winery in Stellenbosch. Here, they offered a series of wine and chocolate pairings. Both were quite good. The kids loved having the chocolate, and it made the wine tasting more tolerable for them. (We do let the kids have a small sip of wine, so they got to participate in the full event, just to a much lesser degree on the wines!)
In general, though my studies haven’t been exhaustive, I find South African wines available in the US to be of poor quality. These wines, though by no means expensive, were of a much better quality than I expected.
Our guide arranged for their reserve wine to be included in our tasting (though it wasn’t on the sheet), and this was quite good.
I inquired about the price was floored to learn the price was about US$10. A wine of this quality would have easily been a $30-$40 bottle in the US.
The rand had really weakened going into our trip (and had dropped since), making things very reasonable. Almost to the point where I was doubting my own math. Throughout the trip, I used the XE currency translator app on my iPhone to double check my self calculations.
We ended up buying a case and a half. While the wine was extraordinarily reasonable (in dollar terms), the shipping was significant – greater than the cost of the wine. The wine just arrived at my office last week – this was money well spent.
We moved on to a different winery for a bit of a later lunch. We went to the Vergelegen Winery (quite a mouthful to say!) and had a wonderful meal at their Stables bistro restaurant. (They also have a higher-end Camphors restaurant.) My wife ordered the Club Sandwich, something unusual for her. I don’t know fully why she did order this, but we both agreed it was extraordinary. (Quite a statement for a club sandwich!) My food, and the kids’ meals, were also very good. With the “premium” wine pairings, lunch four for was US$39.
We did not do a tasting event at Vergelegen, though their wines which we had with lunch were quite good.
Vergelegen also had large gardens and even a small playground for the kids. This allowed for the grown ups to enjoy a more leisurely meal (and second glasses of wine!).
Though our guide had a few other options that he offered to us, the kids had reached their touring tolerance threshold, so we headed back to the hotel for some more pool time.
On our final day, New Years Day, we were un-escorted. We gave consideration to going up to Table Mountain. Whereas each of the prior days, there were 2+ hour queues to get up, on New Years Day, the queue was only 10 minutes. (Their website lists the queuing times.) Now just shy of two weeks into the trip, we decided a quieter day was in order.
We spent some time in the morning at the Aquarium (located a few hundred yards away from our hotel) and had lunch at a surprisingly good restaurant in the V+A Waterfront development.
While we certainly could have fit more activities and sights into each day, for us, we were able to get a good flavor of many of the highlights of what is definitely a wonderful corner of the world.
At around 3pm, our drivers from Emirates arrived to take us to the airport for the long trip home.