Recently our Africa Travel Expert Washington went on a Garden Route and Eastern Cape holiday. It wasn’t all fun and games though, as he had quite a lot of accommodation site inspections on his list! Organised by Samantha, owner of Somewhere South, he was joined by 12 other travel consultants.
But over to you, Washington!
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Garden Route holiday
I had gone on a Garden Route holiday twice before, but this experience was one-of-a-kind. Our adventure started with a night’s stay at Cascade Country Manor, a peaceful luxurious country retreat in Paarl, the Cape Winelands. A perfect introduction to the 7-night jam-packed tour!
This regal, yet unpretentious, former royal homestead is situated on 23 glorious hectares among sprawling Olive groves. Cascade Country Manor has 20 rooms (including family and honeymoon suites) and a wellness spa, indoor and outdoor pools. I can safely say it’s a hidden gem to be explored by travellers as it offers tranquil and exclusive picnic spots and the cascading waterfall is just a mere 300-metre stroll away. It’s also the spot where the outdoor spa is being built and without doubt will be the unique feature that guests will love!
Then my group and I hit the road along the world-renowned Route 62, passing through the town of Robertson towards Oudtshoorn where we stopped at the beautiful La Plume Boutique Guest House. On this hot, sunny day the welcome drinks gave us with much-needed revitalisation after about 4 hours of driving.
A warm welcome from Karin, Bartel, Jenine and the rest of the team gave us high expectations for our lunch. And, indeed, the lunch at La Plume outdid my imagination! The food was more than delicious, the presentation eye-catching and the taste just delicious. I’m sure this explains why I kept visiting the buffet table with its variety of tasty dishes.
The site inspection went well at this charming 1902 Victorian homestead with its serene surroundings. Here old-world charm meets modern comforts. Besides the food that blew my mind, I also loved the size of the rooms and the cosiness of the spa area.
After we finished our site inspection, we took a 1.5-hour scenic drive from Oudtshoorn over the magnificent Outeniqua Pass to Knysna. The Belvidere Manor, overlooking the shimmering lagoon, was our home of choice for the evening.
Each of the 26 Cape-style cottages has a choice of 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms with a spacious lounge, fully-fitted kitchen along with all the services of a 4-star hotel. We were welcomed by the energetic team and the owner – it was lovely! We had our dinner and retired to bed after the long drive. The following morning, I woke up to see the sun rising over the distant horizon.
After the delicious breakfast, we headed to the Featherbed Nature Reserve! Thanks to Nicole and team for assisting nature in rejuvenating after the tragic fire in 2017. It’s incredible to see how nature and humans have worked together to restore this famous Knysna landmark.
We enjoyed a full Featherbed Eco experience with lunch and oyster tasting! The oyster tasting was hosted by Vuvu – a young woman who excitedly explained how to open the shell and swallow the oyster. Without doubt, lunch at Milkwood Restaurant is part of the Featherbed experience and I’d recommend guests to book this activity with lunch as it was delicious!
After a fun-filled morning and delightful lunch at the Featherbed Nature Reserve, we bid Knysna farewell with sad hearts and hit the road again.
Our next stop was the picturesque seaside hamlet of St Francis Bay, an easy 2.5-hour drive from Knysna along the scenic N2. We stopped off at The Sands, a 5-star thatched African Beach House located on a cliff with 5 spacious ensuite rooms. Each bedroom opens onto a private veranda with stunning views of the beach. I’m sure there is no other place in St Francis where guests can be closer to the beach than here!
The upstairs room is popular with honeymooners with an outdoor shower and a Jacuzzi on its deck, from where spectacular sunsets can be enjoyed. Their glass-fronted Octagon Restaurant has a central fireplace and panoramic views of the bay. I loved this place but sadly we didn’t overnight here as Port Elizabeth was calling us.
Eastern Cape holiday
We drove for just over an hour along the Indian Ocean coastline to the friendly city of Port Elizabeth. We arrived after sunset and checked in to the 4-star The Beach Hotel. The 58-bedroom hotel enjoys a prime location on the popular seafront promenade opposite Hobie Beach. This is a family-friendly hotel but also caters for FIT travellers and groups.
Despite the three restaurants at The Beach Hotel, we didn’t have dinner there but went to Hacklewood Hill Country House. It’s a 5-star Victorian Manor House with 8 rooms, built in 1898, located in the leafy suburb Walmer in Port Elizabeth. Superbly decorated and exquisitely furnished with antiques, fabrics and paintings, the spacious ensuite bedrooms are all individually and luxuriously decorated.
Their award-winning restaurant, voted one of the 100 Best in SA by American Express, is a culinary gem offering fine dining and an impressive selection of local and imported wines. The food was delicious and – even though I was full – I couldn’t stop eating and don’t know where I got the extra stomach. Visitors to Port Elizabeth should have dinner at this restaurant!
Following breakfast at leisure at The Beach Hotel, the end of our tour as a group was sadly in sight. But that couldn’t happen before we experienced the amazing hospitality of Pumba Private Game Reserve. Pumba Private Game Reserve is one of only two private reserves in the whole of South Africa with free-roaming white lions.
We arrived in time for lunch at the Water Lodge – overlooking Lake Kariega – and we saw lazy hippos lying on the river banks. We had a quick site inspection before being transferred to the Bush Lodge to check into our rooms. On our way we even saw honeymooners – a white lioness and a brown male. A lovely moment for everyone!
Bush Lodge is well situated in the middle of the bush and Msenge chalets are spacious and have plunge pools. The game viewing was fantastic; we saw a lot of wildlife although we didn’t spot the buffalo and leopard. Next time!
After our morning game drive, we were transferred to Port Elizabeth and I bid my farewell to the group as I proceeded to No. 5 by Mantis Hotel by myself. I visited The Windermere Hotel on the way. It’s located 5 minutes away from Port Elizabeth airport with 10 spacious rooms. I loved the size of the rooms and it’s great for families. From there, I also visited Villa Tuscana which is a 12-room villa. The rooms are small but comfortable and it the location is in the affluent suburb of Summerstrand.
I was then dropped off at No. 5 by Mantis to continue my Eastern Cape holiday. The hotel is beautiful with a collection of art and its own cinema. My room was big – so much so – that I could divide it into 2 rooms and still have space on either side.
The following morning, it was time to check out and head to Founders Lodge by Mantis. My driver Glen from Pembury stopped off at Amakhala Game Reserve’s lodges. Amakhala Safari Lodge is located on its own unlike the brand’s other lodges. The rooms at safari lodge are beautiful and showcase a real safari experience. I also visited Amakhala Woodbury Tented Lodge as well as Woodbury Lodge. The tents are tucked in the bush which makes them blend well into the environment. I loved the communal swimming pool on a deck-like platform with beautiful views of the valley. Woodbury Lodge is close to a tented lodge and sits on mountain slopes with panoramic valley views.
I didn’t spend much time at the Amakhala properties as Founders Lodge by Mantis had opened its hands to embrace me! The check-in was smooth, and I was welcomed by the friendly staff. I spent time watching the rhinos that came for a drink at the waterhole. I could spend the whole day looking at the rhinos; they come so close to the fence, it was such a unique experience.
After my delicious lunch, I grabbed my binoculars for the evening game drive. I love game drives. I love animals. And I can say with certainty, I was at the right destination at the right time. Just like Pumba, I saw a variety of wildlife and in this case, it also included cheetahs. What made it more beautiful was the distance our guide Phillip spotted the cheetahs from the vantage point where we had stopped. The cheetah were resting but he still spotted them!
But there was more on my game drive menu! As we were driving back to the lodge, we saw 2 male lions. The one started calling the other. They walked along the road; we followed them slowly in our 4×4. These boys are good hunters and are born to kill. Within a few minutes, they had mauled a young kudu and we watched them rapaciously tearing their kill apart. All we could hear was the deep breaths and light roars. I’m sure those sounds were compliments on how delicious it was!
The following morning after my game drive, I left for Shamwari Eagles Crag. The lodge is superbly located on the northern part of Shamwari Private Game Reserve and its nothing but beautiful… I enjoyed my stay and the food was amazing. I had the opportunity to visit Bayethe Tented Lodge and Riverdene Family Lodge. All I can say is that the Shamwari lodges are all designed uniquely to suit a target market so that guest can simply state their preference and they will be matched with the appropriate lodge.
All good things sadly come to an end and following my morning game drive and a delicious breakfast at Eagles Crag, I was transferred by Pembury Tours to the airport and connect on my flight to Cape Town.
Written by: Washington Makuzva