Ecotourism & Accommodation in
South and Southern Africa
10-Day Tour: Durban to Cape Town
via the Free-Sate and Karoo
Day 1 – Durban - Himeville
We will collect you from your overnight accommodation in Durban or from the King Shaka International Airport and travelling on the edge of the "Valley of 1000 Hills" and then past the capital city of Pietermaritzburg onto the “Midlands Meander”. The Midlands Meander is what weavers, potters, woodcrafters, leather workers, artists, metalworkers, box makers, herb growers, cheese makers, beer brewers and pianos have in common. You will find them all, and a great deal more on the Midlands Meander map - South Africa's first, largest and most popular art and crafts route. From a very small beginning, the Midlands Meander has grown to well over a hundred stops on four routes. Originating with the arrival of the first settlers in the early 1800’s the area boasts many wonderful homes and barns, an attraction to lovers of architecture. As you tour the Midlands Meander you will also notice that this area is home to a number of the country’s most famous schools.
From here we travel inland, to the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains on the scenic route through the frontier towns of Bulwer, Underberg and Himeville, where we overnight at Moorcroft Manor (or similar). Moorcroft Manor offers classically decorated rooms all with bathrooms en suite. Lose yourself in the sheer comfort of their king-size beds, crisp vanilla scented linen and finest quality Makoti down duvets and pillows. Selected satellite television, ceiling fans, hairdryers and robes are available in all their rooms. All their bathrooms have under floor heating to keep away the midnight chill and in winter, a covered hot water bottle in your neatly turned down bed is a welcoming treat. Freshly brewed tea or coffee with homemade biscotti is delivered to your room each morning and can be enjoyed whilst marvelling at the uninterrupted views of the Giants Cup from the private patios which adjoin each room. The remainder of the afternoon you are at leisure.
Day 2 – Himeville - Sani Pass
This morning we transfer to our 4X4 vehicles for the ascent up the Sani Pass and into Lesotho. Breathtaking scenery and alpine conditions dominate this truly magnificent corner of this province. The Sani Pass is a spectacular mountain road that is a well-known entry point into Lesotho from South Africa’s Natal Drakensberg Park. It is the gateway to the ‘Roof of Africa’ scenic route that links the spectacular scenery of the Drakensberg with the mountains of northern Lesotho. The Sani Pass is the only border post between Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho. The Sani Pass was once a rough mule trail descending the Eastern Highlands of old Basutoland into Natal. Tough drovers brought wool and mohair down the Pass on donkeys and mules to be exchanged for blankets … clothing … maize meal … the essentials for life in a remote, impoverished country. And a young man had a dream … of operating a motor vehicle service up this fantastic Pass, using the 4-wheel drive vehicles he had seen on service in World War II. The Sani Pass was born. Once we have entered Lesotho we will stop off at a Basutho village where one can learn more about the life of these very friendly people, in this, one of the world’s poorest countries. Lunch will be at the “highest pub in Africa”, the Sani Top Chalet, for your own account. We will also have some time here to walk along the edge of the escarpment for stunning views into KwaZulu Natal, before descending the pass to Moorcroft Manor. *NB. Warm clothing is a must, no matter the season of the year! You will also need valid passports for the crossing into Lesotho. The ascent of the pass is subject to the prevailing weather conditions.
Day 3 – Golden Gate National Park
Today we depart for the northern Drakensberg Mountains to the Golden Gate National Park. Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State lays the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park's sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, keeping vigil over the main rest camp. This 11 600 hectares of unique environment is true highland habitat, providing home to a variety of mammals – black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell's zebra - and birds, including the rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis, which breed on the ledges in the sandstone cliffs. Ribbokkop, the highest point in the park, reveals a breathtaking tapestry of red, yellow and purple hues as its warm shades merge with the cool mountain shadows towards evening in the area with a full and uninterrupted view of the Drakensberg's most famous part, the Amphitheatre escarpment. This afternoon we will do a short nature trail - and these are between 1 and 5 hours, or we will do game viewing on our own.
Day 4 - Gariep
From the Golden Gate we travel along the scenic Eastern Free State Province to the Gariep Dam. The Eastern Free State is the land of a thousand pictures; with each season offering its own attractions - roaring, open fires in winter, cherry blossoms and then succulent fruit in spring, hot summer days and golden autumn sunsets. The Eastern Free State is a feast for the eye, soul and gastronome. Cherry orchards cling to the sides of flat topped sandstone mountains which reflect the different colours of the sunrise and sunset, as you gently meander along the border between South Africa and the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Apart from cherries, other deciduous fruit and asparagus thrive in the champagne climate, making spring and early summer a feast of fresh fruit and vegetables. Many people visit the Eastern Free State especially for its picturesque beauty. But no matter whether you are driving through, en route to somewhere, or just retreating from the rat race for a couple of days, you will be tempted to linger a while longer.
We will overnight at the de Stijl Gariep Hotel (or similar) which is now the Upper Karoo’s most stylish hotel, offering chic, contemporary, extremely comfortable rooms. The hotel overlooks the Gariep Dam, giving breathtaking big sky views.
The atmosphere creates spiritual harmony for visitors and their Mondrian Restaurant opens onto indigenous Karoo gardens and horizon views. Surrounded by the stark beauty of the Karoo, the Gariep Dam stretches for as far as the eye can see; jewelled sunsets blaze across the African sky and the sound of silence lulls guests to sleep under the Southern Cross.
Day 5 – Mountain Zebra National Park
After breakfast we depart for the Mountain Zebra National Park. The craggy heights of the Mountain Zebra National Park's Bankberg embrace rolling plains and deep valleys, and have become an entrancing preserve for the Cape mountain zebra. The proclamation of the park in 1937 saved these animals from extinction, and currently their population stands at more than 300, where they roam 28 412 hectares of land. Other mammals found here include the cheetah, Cape buffalo, black rhino, eland, black wildebeest, red hartebeest and gemsbok, while mountain reedbuck and grey rhebok frequent the higher areas.
Our accommodation here is in four-bed family cottages, each with two bedrooms, bathroom and partially equipped kitchen.
This afternoon will be spent on extended game drives into this park.
The highlight of the park’s mammalian fauna is obviously the ±300 or so Cape Mountain zebra after which the park is named. These zebra differ from the plains or Burchell’s zebra, by having narrower stripes, absence of shadow stripes and orange facial colouration. Other noticeable species of the mountain plateau are the red hartebeest, eland and springbok. In the more wooded valleys we should search for kudu, and two of the park’s more recent reintroductions, the African buffalo and the black rhino.
Verreaux’s (Black) and Martial Eagle and Jackal Buzzard soar impressively over this mountain habitat. Pale-winged Starling is very conspicuous on the mountain plateau, where Ostrich, Secretarybird, Blue Crane and Ludwig’s Bustard are the larger more visible species. Grey-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Large-billed (Thick-billed) and Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear (Chat) and Orange-breasted Rockjumper should also be searched for, while Pink-billed Lark and African Rock Pipit are less common. The wooded kloofs and acacia stands host species such as Red-fronted Tinker Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Red-throated Wryneck and Southern Tchagra.
We will go on game drives here, both upon arrival and for the most part of the next day.
Day 6 - Graaf Reinet (Breakfast)
Today we leave the Mountain Zebra National Park en route through the Karoo to Graaf Reinet. The Great Karoo, an area in excess of 400 000 square kilometers was, approximately 250 million years ago, a vast inland sea. As the world's climate gradually changed from cold to hot, the water evaporated leaving a swamp where reptiles and amphibians prospered. In recent history, less than two hundred years ago, large herds of antelope and zebras roamed the grass flats. The Hottentots and Bushmen, the last Stone Age people, shared the “Place of Great Dryness”. They differed basically in their cultures and lifestyles: the Hottentots herding their sheep and cattle in the age-old pastoral pattern and the Bushmen following their traditional nomadic pursuits of hunting and feasting. With the occupation of the area by stock farmers the sheep gradually replaced the game and the grass receded along with the changed grazing and weather patterns. During the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902 three Republican Commandos, reinforced by the rebels from the Cape Colony, conducted widespread operations throughout the Karoo.
Graaf Reinet is home to more national monuments than any other town or city in South Africa. Round every corner a piece of our history is revealed to interested visitors. A short stroll down Cradock Street will reveal more than 50 of these historic homes. This afternoon, if time allows, we visit some of the historical buildings and museums.
We overnight at the historical Drostdy Hotel (or similar) in Graaf Reinet which was completed in 1806 and was originally the seat of local government for 40 years. It has undergone many structural changes during its lifetime, but in 1977 was restored to its original pristine elegance and it is still in operation today. The present hotel is a little museum that cannot fail to fascinate even the most unhistorical-minded person. It offers traditional Karoo meals in a unique setting of brass candlestick chandeliers and many tourists have commented on its wonderful ambience.
The Stretch's Court is a complex of mid-19th century cottages with wooden shutters and whitewashed walls offering beautiful bedrooms, some with antiques and brass beds. These houses were the homes of emancipated slaves in the mid-nineteenth century. Several stylish rooms are decorated with Victorian pieces, while the rest reflect a country style.
Day 7 – Graaf Reinet - Oudtshoorn
This morning we visit the “Valley of Desolation” outside Graaf Reinet before we make our way to Oudtshoorn via the towns of Aberdeen, Willowmore and de Rust. We will overnight at the Turnberry Boutique Hotel (or similar). The four star Turnberry Boutique Hotel in the centre of the picturesque Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn. A warm welcome, awaits visitors to this tiny piece of Scotland set in the heart of the Klein Karoo. Relax in the comfort of one of the well appointed air-conditioned bedrooms (each with satellite television, a coffee station and a mini bar), all with en-suite bathrooms, and cosy double beds fitted with crisp white linen. Each room also has wireless Internet connection.
Day 8 – Oudtshoorn - Knysna
Today we visit the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn, which are among the biggest stalagmite formations in the world. Some of the sandstone formations are colourfully illuminated and the bizarre shapes in the caves are mainly composed of calcium carbonate. They develop as limewater drips from the stones and evaporate. The structures growing down from the cave ceiling are called stalactites, while those that grow from the ground to the top are called stalagmites.
We will also visit a working ostrich farm where one can learn more about these fascinating birds. Commercial ostrich farming started during the late 1880's in South Africa; this was also the start of the ostrich industry worldwide. The fashion demand in Europe for ostrich feathers inspired the growth of the industry, with the Oudtshoorn district quickly being established as the “ostrich capital of the world”. During the first decade of the previous century, ostrich feathers gained record prices on foreign markets, ranking 4th on the list of South African exports, after gold, diamonds and wool. The consequence of this newly found opulence meant that ostrich farmers were able to build beautiful sandstone mansions. A unique feature of the farm experience is a visit to the Ostrich Palace "Welgeluk" which was built at the height of the feather boom in 1910. The homestead is a National Monument and is a superb example of the type of architecture that was used at the time. Safari Ostrich Show Farm was established more than 40 years ago. Lunch will be enjoyed at this farm.
From here we will make our way to Knysna, where we overnight at the Knysna Hollow (or similar). Knysna Hollow Country Estate is beautifully set on a secluded old country estate near Knysna's famous lagoon. Set amongst timeless oaks and pecan trees, the gracious old manor house forms the focal point of the lodge. Built in a bygone era, it is finished with pressed ceilings, yellowwood floors and indigenous furniture.
The Knysna Hollow Country Estate Restaurant is situated in the Manor House and serves fine food in relaxed and warm surroundings. The scintillating, yet refined menu reflects flavours and influences from around the globe, with a selection of dishes sure to stimulate the senses. Choose between ocean-fresh seafood such as Cape crayfish and linefish, South African specialties such as Karoo lamb and venison dishes or decadent desserts.
Day 9 - Mossel Bay
After breakfast we make our way to the “Featherbed Nature Reserve”. This spectacular four-hour eco-experience includes a return ferry, walk and lunch and a 25-minute ferry trip on the Knysna Lagoon to the Western head (The Reserve is only accessible by ferry.) Upon arrival, guests board a Unimog drawn trailer and drive up to the top of the Reserve. While stopping at a scenic lookout point, our specialist guides will share with you some fascinating tales about Knysna and the surrounding area while you enjoy the panoramic views. An optional 2,2 km guided nature walk takes you through the forest, onto the cliffs, into the caves and along the scenic coast. Once back in the Food Forest, a unique outdoor restaurant situated under the Milkwood Trees, guests can enjoy a spectacular 12 dish buffet lunch.
From Knysna we make our way to Mossel Bay where we visit the interesting Diaz Museum in the town. This building was originally erected in 1901 to serve as a grain and sawmill. It was adapted to serve as a unique Maritime Museum and houses, among others, the impressive life-size replica of Bartolomeu Dias's caravel, the ship in which he sailed into Mossel Bay in the year 1488. It also displays ship models of a bygone era, route maps to the East and exploration of the Dark Continent in general, as well as the Post Office Tree, the Granary, the Shell Museum and more.
We will Overnight at the Point Hotel (or similar). The Point Hotel is built right on the rocks above a huge natural rock pool and overlooks the endless blue expanse of the Indian Ocean. From your balcony you can watch the Humpback and Southern Right Whales or the Dolphins passing.
Day 10 - Cape Town (Breakfast)
This morning we make our way to Cape Town. If this is during the whale season (July to November) we travel via Hermanus, which is built along the shores of Walker Bay near the Southern most tip of Africa. Magnificent mountains watch over the town which is home of the Southern Right Whale. Nature lovers from all over the world visit Hermanus to view these magnificent creatures from the best land based whale-watching destination in the world.
We drop you off at your overnight destination in Cape Town or at the Cape Town International Airport in time for your flight.
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