Just back from their luxury Original Travel holiday to Cape Town, South Africa, Andrew and Valerie Bentham have been kind enough to share their experiences.
""Are they seals?"" My wife asked me.
""I don't think so."" I said, looking down from the craggy outcrop at Cape Point in to the broiling Atlantic below. ""Unless seals have dorsal fins.""
The friendly German family standing next to us handed us their binoculars so we could take a better look. Not seals at all, but a mass of Hammerhead sharks, with a Great White weaving ominously between them. And then, just as we thought it couldn't get any better, a giant manta ray floated below them.
""Wow."" I said. In South Africa, 'wow' is everywhere. The food, the people, the weather, the scenery...and it perfectly sums up our incredible, life-changing trip through the Western Cape, the Winelands and the Garden Route.
We began in Cape Town, taking in the bustling waterfront, the markets and the mouth-watering smells of barbequing seafood. There's really nothing like cracking a few king prawns in the sunshine, washing it down with a crisp white wine and sleeping it off on the beach. It also offers the best wake up cure: swimming in the Atlantic!
The most moving and eye-opening experience for us was our trip with Uthando, a charity also recommended to us by Original Travel. It showed us the side of South Africa that isn't in the guide books - where people are struggling against the odds to grow vegetables, educate children and improve living conditions in their communities. It was a heartwarming and moving day for us, and one we'll always remember.
Another 'wow' moment came a day later, when we carried on our tour and stopped off on Boulders Beach to meet the African Penguins. It's not every day you snooze on the beach and wake up to find yourself face to face with a grumpy penguin- but we duly moved out of his way.
One glass or Four?
With so much to do and only 14 days to do it, our next stop was Hawksmoor House, a hidden treasure trove of Dutch antiquity and lush gardens, just outside Stellenbosch. It was here where we kicked back with our paperbacks, soaked up the sun by the pool and wandered through the stunning gardens, playing with the owner's dogs.
From there, we began our tour of the winelands, drinking in (and rarely spitting out) the vast array of amazing wines, food and unbelievable scenery the region had to offer. It's completely unique: like a bigger, bolder Tuscany, with wines to match!
Canoes, Kudus and Treehouses
I couldn't write about our trip without mentioning the Phantom Forest Lodge, where we had two nights sleeping in a tree-house in the canopy of the forest. The days were spent exploring the Knysner Lagoon by canoe and finding deserted beaches for our own private sunset. Bliss!
Though we were sad to leave it behind, nothing could prepare us for the amazing Amakhala Game Reserve. I'll never forget sitting in our plunge pool as a family of giraffe wandered happily by. Or the delicious Kudu we had for dinner. Or the lions, elephants, zebra, buffalo, hyena and antelope that were only metres away from us in our jeep...
No holiday is long enough and no amount of writing about it can explain what an amazing place South Africa is. Our trip felt like four holidays in one, giving us a perfect combination of everything we were hoping for- and more - along with some serious 'wow' moments that we will never forget. The question we're asking ourselves now is- when can we go back?
For more information on tailor made holidays to South Africa, contact Original Travel.