Just back from…South Africa

After a few weeks of jet-setting in the southern hemisphere we finally pinned down Clare, our South Africa guru, to get her insider recommendations on her favourite country in Africa.

Clare in Cape Town

Why do you love South Africa? Or do you? We can’t just assume….

There’s so much to do here from the city buzz to rolling valleys, rugged coastline and safari, and they’re all spectacular.  Being a true foodie, wine lover, and outdoor enthusiast (with admittedly, a distinct love of the odd bit of R&R) South Africa truly ticks all of the boxes, and much, much more.

What’s your favourite part of visiting SA?

I’d really have to say the people.  Everyone was so incredibly warm and welcoming wherever I went.  Some of my friends and family were sceptical about my travel to this part of the world having read some less than glowing news articles, but I couldn’t have been more swayed by the charm of South Africans.  Absolutely nothing is too much for them to organise, and they really will go out their way to make visitors feel completely at home – utter bliss when you’re travelling solo and ready for a good natter!

Cape Grace and Table Mountain, Cape Town

We’re yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love Cape Town, but where’s your favourite place to stay?

Arriving in Cape Town after an 18 hour flight, I couldn’t have been more excited to sink into my large and seriously inviting bed at the Cape Grace.  It’s on the bustling Waterfront (albeit tucked away enough to still be peaceful) and is the ideal spot to head out for an evening stroll and dinner at one of the nearby seafood restaurants.  The day beds in the spa are the perfect place to read a good book and take in the glorious views up to Table Mountain. For something a bit livelier I’d probably head down to the hotel’s Bascule Bar for a cocktail, or try to choose from one of their 400 whiskies.

Top tip: every evening the Cape Grace offers complimentary wine tasting hosted by one of the hugely informative sommeliers – it’s a great way to meet other guests and to swot up on your wine facts.

If you had to give a personal recommendation for family trips to South Africa, where would you suggest?

If you’re headed to the Winelands then Boschendal caters for even the fussiest family member.  There’s a wonderful farm school where children are looked after by qualified childminders and taught all about foraging, outdoor cooking and upcycling – maybe even enough to teach the parents a trick or two!  Each child receives their pair of wellies and hat, ready to explore the greater countryside.  For the more active, there are mountain bike and hiking trails galore as well as horse riding and plenty of farm tours.  If you’re craving some adult time, ask for a babysitter and sample some of the seriously good food in their fine-dining restaurant, the Werf.

Top Tip: If you’re there on a Friday during the summer, be sure to check out the evening market.

Tree House School at Boschendal

Where’s your secret hotspot that no-one really knows about?

Morukuru Beach Lodge is one of those gems that you don’t want to shout too much about for fear of it being fully booked for evermore.  The drive there isn’t for the faint hearted but boy is it worth it!  Spend the day doing nature drives (in a safari vehicle with heated seats no less!) and ocean walks along the beach, before arriving back to warming hot chocolates laced with Amarula. Afterwards enjoy drinks and delicious food with your fellow guests, all whilst lapping up the most incredible sea views.  I was too busy watching the whales out the window to eat my breakfast – I think I counted 8 at one time, incredible!

Top Tip: Take an early morning stroll over the sand dunes and you will more than likely find the place to yourself to really appreciate the stunning views.

Dunes at Morukuru Beach Lodge

This is a hotly debated topic at Extraordinary Africa HQ, but where would you choose to go for safari?

Tanda Tula. Set in the Timbavati Nature Reserve on the edge of Kruger, it epitomises the rustic safari camp vibe.  All rooms here are tented but seriously well kitted out.  There’s something rather romantic (with possibly some nervousness mixed in) about lying in bed, looking straight out of your tent and knowing that any form of wildlife could quite happily wander up to within a few feet of where you’re lying.  Rest assured though, the wonderful staff here will ensure that your nerves are kept well under control!

Top tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive white lion, known to be seen from time to time in the Timbavati

White lion in the Timbavati

As an outdoors lover, where would you go for an active adventure?

Set just outside Plettenberg Bay, Hog Hollow is the perfect place for lovers of the outdoors.  The huge rooms here are perched amongst the trees with large decks offering sweeping views over the valley.   There are a wealth of activities to choose from whilst staying at Hog Hollow; hikes for even the most serious of walkers, adventure playgrounds for the younger members of the family, various animal sanctuaries to visit, horse riding (which Hog Hollow are well known for), or for those wanting to put their feet up, a quiet day on the beach. And the best bit after a busy day of exploring is to curl up by the warming fire pit for a sundowner with your fellow guests.

Top tip: There’s a great walk down the valley and up the other side (not for the faint hearted!) to Birds of Eden or the Monkey Sanctuary and once you’re finished, you can ask for a complimentary lift back to save those weary feet.

Knysna Turaco at Birds of Eden

If you were sending a friend on honeymoon to South Africa, where would you recommend for romance?

For a serious dose of romance, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Dulini River Lodge.  Sleeping just twelve guests in six suites, this is the perfect place to escape the rat race and indulge in some well-earned R&R.  Each suite is vast, with the sort of bed you could easily get lost in.  The shower and bath make the most of the wonderful views out to the river bed, and on warm days there’s a hugely inviting (heated) plunge pool out on deck where I happily spent a few minutes lapping up the peaceful surroundings while watching a herd of elephants slowly walking past. There was so much love in the air that one of the other guests assumed the manager, who had kindly offered to eat with me, must have been my newlywed husband…

Top tip: Do try their ChocaMocharula (hot chocolate, coffee, amarula) mix as a sundowner on a chilly game drive, it certainly warms those cockles.

Private dining in suite at Dulini River Lodge

You’re known in the EA office for your love of good food: where would you recommend to fellow foodies?

The winelands (and Cape Town for that matter) are renowned for seriously good food, and drink.  So picking one is an arduous task, however, Babylonstoren is just one of those places that oozes foodie charm in the bucket loads.  There’s a serious ethos here encompassing ‘from nature to plate’, and nearly everything found on the menu in the various restaurants, and for sale in the farm shop, comes direct from the farm.  Not only is the main restaurant here (Babel) award winning and with utterly scrummy food, their harvest tables at breakfast are also a true work of art. If you’re lucky enough to be staying here in one of their charming cottages, we’d highly recommend scouting out some goodies in the farm shop to take back to your private state of the art kitchen via the chefs in the main restaurant who will more than happily provide you with some top notch cooking tips.  If you’re after a bit of an Italian twist, do be sure to head to the bakery on a Monday or Friday for their Italian inspired homemade pasta and wood-fired pizzas.  After all that eating, walk it off with an informative tour of the farm grounds to see exactly where all their delicious food originates from, followed by a warming glass of red in the tasting room…

Top tip: If you’re looking for somewhere to propose, there’s an island in the middle of the lake which is called the “yes spot”, and staff will do everything to make it magical.

The breakfast spread at Babylonstoren

Etiquette…for gorillas

Though they may, technically, be animals, it turns out that gorillas have every bit as complicated social rules as we do. Obviously, no-one wants to visit somewhere new and not fit in with the locals, so we’ve put together our very own gorilla trekking etiquette guide to help you get the most out of your adventure.

Gorilla from Buhoma Lodge

  • When you first meet the gorillas your guide will normally advise you to crouch down behind him, in such a position that the alpha male can see you clearly. This is a submissive and unthreatening position and shows you aren’t trying to challenge his authority. The silverback is the big boss, and we’ll all do well to remember it!
  • Try to keep your distance. Young gorillas are irredeemably curious and may try to come close, or even touch you. However, please try to move away slowly and keep space between you and them as you really don’t want the dominant male to see you as a threat to his family- a gorilla charge is nothing short of terrifying. Getting too close is also a major health risk for the gorillas- they share 98% of our DNA so can easily pick up the smallest human bug. Ideally the distance between you and the gorillas should be 7 metres, though with sudden gorilla movements and dense forest this isn’t always possible.

    Gorillas from Virunga Lodge

  • Also to protect the gorillas, you should steer clear of eating or drinking within 200 metres of the gorillas. If gorillas learn to be interested in the contents of your day bag there’s potential for serious safety problems for trekkers. On top of this, human food isn’t necessarily ideal for gorillas, and is an easy way for them to pick up human illnesses.
  • Avoid showing your teeth (this includes broad smiles) or making direct eye contact with a gorilla as these can be seen as an being quite aggressive.

    Gorilla

  • Keep noise to a minimum- sudden movements or loud noises can startle the gorillas. Your hour with them is so precious you don’t want to scare them away!
  • Make sure to learn how to use your camera before you head into the forest. Any flash photography, noises or whirs could startle your subjects and electronic noises are a surefire way to ruin the magic of the forest.

And there it is- a guide to gorilla trekking etiquette that should leave you well set up for a magical hour in the forests of Uganda or Rwanda.

Our top tips on making your trip to Africa more eco-friendly

1. Stay in eco-friendly lodges

We can help you choose lodges with eco-friendly credentials such as Mwaleshi in Zambia’s remote North Luangwa, or Mumbo Island in Malawi for the true Robinson Crusoe getaway. Many of these lodges are powered from solar panels, use compostable loos, and will recycle as much as possible. Even if a lodge doesn’t have particular credentials, you can still do your bit by reducing the number of towel changes in your accommodation, kindly refusing any plastic straws in your sundowners, and trying not to use too many paper napkins.

Mwaleshi Camp, Zambia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Choose lodges that give back to the local community

Many of the lodges we use make various forms of charitable contributions to the local area to help with sustainable tourism and other benefits to the environment.  Serra Cafema is one lodge where nearly all the staff are locals, and the land is leased to the Himba people for their livestock grazing.  Make your own contribution by helping with “Pack for a Purpose” which is widely recognised by a lot of the lodges we use.  This involves packing items that will be of use to the area you are travelling to and handing them over to your accommodation when you arrive for distribution.  Let us know if you’d like to contribute and we can suggest some suitable items depending on your destination.

Local Himba People, Serra Cafema

3. Consider alternative modes of transport

Walking and horse riding safaris are the obvious choices here, but how about looking at a mountain bike safari, or for those who’d like a more relaxed version of a biking safari, there’s the option of hiring e-bikes as well.  A few of the lodges, Lewa Wilderness being one, are now adopting electric safari vehicles too, many of which are being charged through solar panels back at the lodge.  Another option would be a leisurely canoe down one of the many rivers, in particular the Okavango Delta, Botswana in a mokoro.

Safari at Lewa Wilderness

4. Use a reusable water bottle

Often these will be supplied by lodges to be used instead of sipping out of plastic cups, and can often be taken home with you afterwards to continue the good work at home!  Many bottles will also claim to keep your drinks ice cold for up to 24 hours, perfect for those long days on safari in the midday heat.

Nomad Tanzania Water Bottle

5. Take a reusable shopping bag

Foldaway shopping bags take up very little space in your luggage and will eliminate the need for plastic bags during your trip.  These would be especially useful if you’re planning a trip to the shops in places like Cape Town, Zanzibar and Nairobi.  Tanzania have also now banned plastic bags completely, so all the more reason to go prepared!

6. Meet the local community

Take a trip into the local villages to meet the locals and browse the local shops.  These shops will provide you with much more authentic gifts and souvenirs than the larger hotel gift shops, and it will help to inject some money back into the local area.  If you’re off gorilla trekking in Uganda, be sure to visit the Bwindi Bar in Buhoma for a refreshing drink or a quick bite to eat.

Bwindi Bar, Buhoma

 

 

 

 

 

Insider tip: where to start your honeymoon when you’re tired from the wedding

It always seems such a shame that so many honeymooners jump right into an adrenaline-pumping safari when they’re still tired from the wedding and, more often than not, an exhausting overnight flight or two. So, wherever we can, we try to tempt our guests on a safari honeymoon to spend a day or two relaxing before they head off on their adventure. Here’s our pick of places to really relax…

Ras Kutani Honeymoon Relaxation

Lie back and relax at Ras Kutani

Ras Kutani– This ultra laid-back beach lodge is just a 20 minute light aircraft hop south of Dar es Salaam, so if your priority is to get your feet in the sand as quickly as possible it should be top of your list. There isn’t masses to do here except eat, sleep, snooze with your book and take a dip in the Indian Ocean. Ideal preparation for a safari in the Ruaha or Selous Game Reserve.

Wildwaters Lodge

Tub for two overlooking the Nile? Could be worse

Wildwaters– most people come to this luxury lodge beside the Nile for the excellent white water rafting that Jinja has to offer, however, the truth is that this tiny private island seems much better suited to doing nothing at all. The bathtubs out on the deck of your room are seriously romantic, and a dip in the pool just inches from the rapids would certainly be a great start to making life-long memories together. Follow this on with more magic with gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park.

Tongabezi Honeymoon

Sundowners on the Zambezi? Yes please.

Tongabezi– this charming, rustic lodge on the banks of the Zambezi is one of our dream spots to start a safari honeymoon. It just seems made for the sort of magic you don’t find elsewhere- lunar moonbows over Victoria Falls, swimming in the Devil’s Pool, and gentle early evening cruises to watch the sun set. From here, it’s an easy hop on to safari in the South Luangwa National Park.

Giraffe Manor Honeymoon

Making memories of a lifetime at Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor– OK- so this one technically does involve a little wildlife- aside from the giraffes that you’ll meet at breakfast there are also a few friendly warthogs scampering around the lawns. However, with a couple of nights here you can truly relax before the early starts and long drives of a safari in the Masai Mara.

Winelands

Wandering in the Winelands

The Winelands– South Africa’s Cape Winelands are a truly blissful spot to spend a few days, whether it’s snuggling up beside the fire on a chilly winter’s day or riding through the vineyards on a hot sunny afternoon. Staying in central Franschhoek is the place to be for buzzing restaurants and the (occasionally raucous) wine tram, but if your wedding was party enough, there are some peaceful boutique hotels tucked away in the vineyards. Afterwards use the direct flights from nearby Cape Town to get up to safari in the Okavango Delta or Kruger National Park.

How to bargain well in Stone Town (even if you’re British and it’s all rather awkward)

One of the great delights of visiting Stone Town (and if you are on holiday in Zanzibar, this is the No. 1 on our do-not-miss list) is in buying treasures to bring home. There’s the fun of discovering some hidden gem you’d never find anywhere else, the post-holiday boast-factor (“Oh this? I picked it up in a little shop I know in Zanzibar…”) and above all, the fun of the bargain.

First of all- know where to bargain. Stone Town hotel boutiques or swanky air-conditioned shops where all of the stock has price-tags are unlikely to be as flexible as cash-only market stalls and owner-run shops.

Stone town

Perfect bargaining territory – visiting Stone Town from Matemwe Retreat

Serena Inn Zanzibar

Exploring Stone Town from the Serena

Do your research… If you spot something you like and want to buy it, ask around before you approach the store owner and get embroiled in negotiations. Who to ask? Well- ask the staff in your hotel (though don’t follow them to their brother’s shop) or our guide if you’re on a tour of the town.  It’s also possible to ask multiple store owners for a rough guideline price before you buy so you can compare, but you must make it clear you’re not looking to buy right away, or be  entangled in hours of unwanted bargaining and the poor stallholder will get his hopes up.

Remember, you really, really like the person you’re bargaining with, even if you’ve only known him for 5 minutes. Charm- and a touch of Swahili- always gets you the best price.  Try “Ni ghali sana” (“it is very expensive”) to help your cause.

Bargaining is supposed to be fun– be prepared for the odd touch of melodrama (“Oh, my friend, my children won’t eat if I sell it at that price”/”But my wife will divorce me if I spend $200 on a Zanzibar chest”). Making a good deal is fun. Be prepared to walk away if you really feel you’re being ripped off, but don’t come back unless you’re seriously planning to make a deal- it’s not fair on the man or woman who’s devoting half an hour of their day to you and not their other customers.

If you reach a price that you’re happy with, and the stallholder will sell to you at- go for it! There’s no perfect price- just the perfect one for two people in that moment. You might pay more or less than others, but you’ll always have a memory of striking a fun deal with a proper Zanzibari merchant.