Seven things you must do in South Africa, from Table Mountain to the best safari to a luxury lodge

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South Africa Table Mountain
Photo by Nick Burnham

Best natural wonder: Table Mountain, Cape Town

South Africa. View from Table Mountain. 620x349. Photo by Nick BurnhamThe view down and across Cape Town from 3,500 feet above sea level (pictured above), with Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated) in the distance, is simply spectacular. And that’s just the beginning: a variety of walks along rough-hewn, crazy paved paths give you access to all parts of this incredible mountain top.

Table Mountain was recently (and deservedly) awarded the honour of officially becoming one of the seven natural wonders of the world. At one tenth the cruising altitude of a commercial jet (but with rather better visibility), the incredible surrounding topography comes thick and fast. You can easily spend an afternoon up here.

City and beaches: Cape Town

It goes without saying that this vibrant city is a must-see. The waterfront has a host of restaurants, hotels are stylish and there is a bustling arts and culture scene.

South Africa. Cape Town and Table Mountain 620x520

From the city you can visit incredible beaches, a favourite being Boulder Beach with its penguin colony, try your hand at surfing or just soak up the sun. The famous hook of the Cape of Good Hope is a short drive from the city and almost mesmeric in its wild beauty.

Penguins Boulder beach South Africa 620
Penguins at Boulder beach in Cape Town

Where to stay: simple luxury at Hog Hollow

South Africa. Hog Hollow lodge 620x349. Photo by Nick BurnhamFifteen minutes from Plettenberg Bay is Hog Hollow, built into a heavily wooded, steeply sloped hill where vervet monkeys roam wild. It consists of a main reception with dining area and lounges and an outdoor terrace with comfy settees affording views across the wooded valley.

Our two-storey lodge, almost completely circular, used to be a water tower. The ground floor is living space with a sofas and deep armchair, African art, a stereo and fridge in a cabinet, a wood burner and, tellingly, no TV. This is the sort of place you relax with a good book, not Strictly Come X-Talent.

A curved wooden staircase against one wall ascends to the bedroom, where there’s a big soft double bed and a generous en-suite with a deep free-standing roll-topped bath. A large ceiling fan rotates lazily and double doors open on to our private veranda. Simple luxury best sums the place up; it’s gorgeous.

Where to safari: Kariega Game Reserve

South Africa. Kariega Game Reserve 2. 620x349 Photo by Nick BurnhamNo trip to South Africa can be considered complete without going on safari. We chose Kariega Game Reserve due to its community engagement: the family owned reserve is linked to a local school and actively participates in the education of young minds. Beyond that, it is a stunning 38-square-mile reserve with The Big Five (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) as well as many, many other species.

It is set in lush green rolling hills where the animals roam and fend for themselves completely free of human intervention. Add friendly, knowledgeable guides and even its own river and boat and there is something for everyone.

South Africa. Kariega Game Reserve 1. Photo by Nick Burnham

 

Where to meet the meerkats: Meerkat Magic, Oudtshoorn

South Africa. Meerkat Magic 1 Photo by Nick BurnhamThere are only a handful of meerkat experiences in Africa, and this is the only one at which the furry fellas are completely wild (other experiences feed the meerkats to gain their compliance). Years of careful environmental conditioning at Meerkat Magic mean that the animals have become comfortable with human presence and ignore our existence.

Our early start is richly rewarded as first one head pops up and then, after reporting back, the other seven that live at this burrow make their appearance. For an enchanting quarter of an hour we watch these gorgeous creatures take in their brand new day, yawning, stretching and sitting back on their locked tails, soaking up the early morning rays.

Eventually an unseen signal is made and all eight drop on to all fours and head off into the scrubland, an alternating two or three clearly on point duty as they cover the rest in their quest for food. Genuinely magical.

Best way to spend an evening: Magic Moments

South Africa. Magic Moments Oudtshoorn 620x349 Photo by Nick BurnhamBarry, Sissy and their friend Joey host Oudtshoorn’s Magic Moments experience, inviting people to their home for an evening of local home-cooked cuisine and song.

Barry is an expat Geordie who never went home, and a keen musician. He met Sissy and Joey when he set up a small recording studio at his home and invited local people to come and record a CD if they wished. He tells us that many who came were terrible some were good and a few, like Joey, exceptional. He fell in love with Sissy’s voice and then fell in love with her, and they married.

We came across this unlikely trio after noticing their 100 per cent rating on Tripadvisor (their four Very Good ratings are the lowest; all their other ratings are Excellent). They don’t disappoint: Sissy’s voice is incredible.

Underground adventure: Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn

South Africa. Cango Caves Oudtshoorn 620x349 Photo by Nick BurnhamThe Cango Caves are a dramatic complex that stretch over four kilometres, though only a quarter of them are open to the public, and even then you’d need the Adventure Tour to see all of that, which includes a tunnel just 27cm high. We opt for the Heritage Tour, an hour in the company of the polite, knowledgeable and multi-lingual Jason and his distinctive dreadlocks.

The caves are amazing, none more so than the 90-metre-long, 18-metre-high Van Zyl’s Hall. These were discovered in the 18th century, but some of the formations are more than a million years old, which rather puts our ‘blink of an eye’ existence into perspective and reminds us to make the most of it.

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