We knew we’d want to get away from it all on honeymoon, but we have never been ones for sunbathing when there’s a whole world out there to explore. We needed a trip that offered as much rest, relaxation and downright make-your-friends-jealous luxury as all honeymooners deserve, but with enough action-packed adventure to keep us entertained. South Africa ticked all of these boxes, plus neither Jon or I had been there before – another essential for our perfect honeymoon.
Frist stop: Cape Town
We landed in Cape Town after a 12-hour flight and set off in our hire car for Stellenbosch in the heart of South Africa’s wine region. We pulled up at The River Manor Boutique Hotel and Spa less than an hour later, the first of four stops on our itinerary. Our room – past the roaring fire in the sitting room, and up the wooden staircase – felt like home immediately. The bed was covered in brightly coloured throws and silk pillows, and the enormous bathroom had been dressed with red and yellow rose petals.
Wine tour in Stellenbosch
A short walk away are the lilac tree-lined streets of Stellenbosch where – after an hour-long massage in the hotel spa – we spent the afternoon exploring its shops and galleries, and choosing a restaurant for dinner. Stellenbosch really is a foodie’s paradise – the really wild menu at Sosati is really worth tasting – and most local restaurants let you bring-your-own-bottle too, so you can enjoy your wine tour purchases. The wine tour is a must for visitors to Stellenbosch and ours started at 9.30 the following morning, after breakfast in the sun-filled conservatory. Guided by a local expert, the drinking began little more than half an hour later in the spectacular lakeside setting of the Jordan Winery. The day drifted from one winery to the next – we couldn’t fail to feel relaxed after all that.
Boulders Bay penguin colony
The journey from Stellenbosch to Cape Town, along the False Bay coast was an unexpected highlight. With the deep blue Indian Ocean to our left, we wound our way through a string of quirky coastal towns, stopping at historic Simon’s Town for lunch. In the cove between Simon’s Town and Cape Point is the legendary Boulders Bay penguin colony. For a 25ZAR entry fee (less than £2), we hit the beach and went in search of its famous residents. And there they were, basking in the sun or sleeping in the shade of the enormous rocks – it was absolutely magical. Inland, a scenic route between Table Mountain and Constantiaberg led us to Hout Bay, where the super-stylish Hout Bay Manor perches between the beach and the lush, green foothills.
View from the top – Table Mountain
Despite the spectacular scenery and broad sandy beaches, Hout Bay itself has never been a very trendy spot for tourists. But the newly re-opened Manor, with its top-class restaurant and fashionably eccentric décor, is doing its bit to change that. And with the nightlife of Camps Bay and the centre of Cape Town just a short drive away, for us it was the perfect base to explore the area. Our trip up Table Mountain on a warm and cloudless morning was well worth an early start. We could see the whole of the Cape coast, Robben Island in the distance, and turquoise sea in every direction. But just an hour or two later, the mountaintop was shrouded in thick cloud – or the Table Cloth as locals call it.
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesberg. From there we were driven to Makweti Safari Lodge, in the Welgevonden Game Reserve in the Waterberg Mountains. We had no idea what to expect from our first safari experience, but nothing could have prepared us for the thrill of meeting a white rhino in the road on our way to camp. But close encounters is what Makweti is all about – it’s an unfenced camp, which means that rhinos and the rest of the Big Five (elephants, lions, leopards and buffalos) are free to roam around as they please. A steady procession of zebras, kudus, warthogs and baboons make their way through the watering hole at the lodge by day. By night, as we ate gourmet dinners in the bonfire-lit “boma” or on the deck of the lodge beside the waterfall, our guides kept us safe from more dangerous visitors.
Big game spotting
The heartbreak of leaving the tranquillity of Makweti was only bearable because we were off to Tintswalo. Set in the Manyeleti reserve, which shares a fenceless border with the Kruger National Park to the east, it has a reputation as one of the most luxurious lodges in the country and one of the best locations for Big Five spotting. We were in the romantic Baker Suite which, like all seven of Tintswalo’s suites, had a private plunge pool and deck surrounded by trees and tall grasses teeming with wildlife. After the first rains of the summer, a river flowing through the camp attracted a pair of hippos, who wallowed there each morning.
Searching for the Big Five
The game drives started early, but the sights and sounds at sunrise made getting out of bed easy. After a 5am wake-up call we blearily stumbled along the elevated walkways (and, on one occasion, straight past an elephant) for a much-needed cup of coffee. When the sun was up there were animals at every turn, but unlike in the busy Kruger, there were almost no other people. When our Jeep disturbed a leopard in the long grass, our search for the last of the Big Five came to a pretty terrifying halt. Our hearts pounded as he prowled around us, bearing his teeth and reminding us that, despite the 5 star luxury, we were at the mercy of wildest Africa.