South Africa

For Michael’s family

April 2016.

Weighty history, mighty nature

Dear Michael,

I was delighted when you again reached out to me to craft a family vacation. The news got even better, though, when I heard you were interested in visiting South Africa. I know that, in travel, you seek a balance of interpersonal interaction, historical experience, and natural wonder, and all these abound in your destination of choice. Your journey will start on a more solemn note, as your children will have a chance to experience the horrific—but ultimately hopeful—history of South African apartheid. This will surely make for important conversations and growth, which I know are chances you relish. Carrying this gravity with you, you will move forward to appreciate the natural beauty of waterfalls and safari, perhaps appreciating them all the more as they are intermingled with a narrative of struggle and freedom.

Day 1: Arrival and relaxation

On arrival in Cape Town you will be met by your private guide, Jess. She’s a beautiful person, full of knowledge and life, with a great capacity to engage children in travel. Jess will bring you to Cape Grace. With a classically inspired exterior and gracefully elegant within, Cape Grace seemed to be perfect for your family. It’s set on its own private quay on Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, and has an intimate atmosphere.

As Cape Grace is situated in the heart of the Waterfront, many activities surround you. On the afternoon of your arrival, you might be inclined to explore the Victoria Wharf which offers upmarket shops, restaurants, cinemas and a theatre; or you may choose to stay in the hotel, order room service and visit the spa. Nothing will be taxing this evening, I promise!

Day 2: The Cape Town experience 

Jess will pick you up this morning for a full-day tour of the cape peninsula. This is an awe-inspiring tour to the towering headland known as Cape Point. Along the way, you will see warm beaches, imposing views, and historic coastal villages. The Cape Peninsula is one of South Africa’s most scenic areas, and stretches from the city center to Cape Point. You will start the trip with a cable car ride up Table Mountain, and after that you will travel along the Atlantic Coast through the upmarket suburbs of Clifton, Camps bay and Hout bay.

Leaving Hout Bay you will continue to the well-known Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1913 the gardens are world-renowned for the beauty and diversity of the Cape flora it displays and for its ideal setting against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Kirstenbosch grows only indigenous South African plants. The estate covers 1,305 acres and supports a diverse fynbos flora and natural forest. The cultivated garden displays collections of South African plants, particularly those from the winter rainfall region of the country. From Kirstenbosch you will continue on the eastern side of the peninsula along the False Bay coast to Simon’s Town, a village with classical Victorian architecture and home to the South African Navy.

Your tour will stop at Boulder’s Beach to visit the large resident African Penguin colony. Make sure to let your son know to listen to your guide as I remember he loves penguins. In 1983, a pair of African penguins was spotted on Foxy Beach at Boulders and in 1985 they began to lay. Since then the colony has grown rapidly, increasing initially at about 60% each year. Estimates now put numbers at around 3,000. After visiting Boulder’s Beach you will stop at Seaforth Restaurant for a meal consisting of locally caught fish and shellfish.

You will continue on to Cape Point and the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which has fynbos vegetation, birdlife, endemic antelope species, and zebra. If this isn’t exciting enough, your kids are sure to delight in the other offerings, including historic lighthouses and shipwrecks. Cape Point is said to be the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the convergence of east and west. From Cape Point, you start your return journey to the city via the seaside towns of Scarborough and Noordhoek and over Chapman’s Peak, a coastal drive reminiscent of Big Sur, with African flare.

Tonight, you and your family have a reservation at Signal Restaurant, not far from the hotel. Afterward, feel free to roam the streets of Cape Town, go to a stylish bar in Cape Town’s hip Woodstock district, or catch a gallery opening in the Three Anchor Bay district. Your kids will have plenty to do at Cape Grace: if they feel adventurous, Jess can take them to a movie, or for a walk on the docks.

Day 3: South Africa’s Freedom Trail

This morning, Jess will be waiting at your hotel to take you on an inspiring full-day Cape Town Walk to Freedom tour. “No easy road to freedom” was a central theme in most of the Mass Democratic Movement’s campaigns, from the early days of apartheid through to the late 1980s. Any understanding of present day conditions in South Africa is greatly enhanced by looking at past injustice, the legacy of their struggle, and the promise of reconstruction and development currently under way. This tour offers a wealth of insight into South African history. It includes a brief educational introduction to Cape Town, one of the world’s most varied and sought-after cities and a look at the picturesque “Malay Quarter”, its dynamic museum and the oldest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. You will discover the unique culture, lifestyle and personality of the Cape Muslim community and their contribution to South Africa’s development.

Any understanding of present day conditions in South Africa is greatly enhanced by looking at past injustice, the legacy of their struggle, and the promise of reconstruction and development currently under way. This tour offers a wealth of insight into South African history. It includes a brief educational introduction to Cape Town, one of the world’s most varied and sought-after cities and a look at the picturesque “Malay Quarter”, its dynamic museum and the oldest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. You will discover the unique culture, lifestyle and personality of the Cape Muslim community and their contribution to South Africa’s development.

You will then venture to District Six, one of Cape Town’s saddest tales. As a result of the Group Areas Act of 1966, 60,000 Capetonian families were forcibly removed from this once vibrant suburb in order to further segregate racial groups. You will then head to the Living Museum, which attempts to represent and recapture this now desolate area, once called Zonnebloem, as a fine-spun tapestry of communal life torn apart but not forgotten.

After lunch in the city you will take the ferry from Clock Tower Terminal at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to Robben Island. On Robben Island, you will take a tour of the former political prison, which was a leper colony even before that. This historic landmark was recently established as a museum and national monument.

You will experience the conditions of incarceration—view Nelson Mandela’s maximum security prison cell and see the lime quarries. It was in these cells and quarries that prisoners, most of whom were imprisoned for outwardly speaking out against apartheid, discussed strategy, freedom and the future. Later, many would develop eye problems as a result of the sun’s reflection off the lime surfaces. This well-preserved landmark is a monument to the triumph of freedom and the dignity and determination it took to get there. Back at your hotel I’m sure you will want to rest for your early start tomorrow.

Day 4: Elephant necessities 

On arrival to Livingstone, Zambia, you will be met by Francois and transferred to your accommodations, Thorntree Lodge. The lodge practically sits on the Zambezi river and you will all have time to relax before you’re picked up for your elephant back Safari at 2:00. This is an elephant ‘experience’ and your guides are highly trained experts in the behavior of elephants and the wildlife around them. The trails begin at Thorntree Lodge and continues through the Mosi oa Tunya National Park overlooking the Zambezi River.

Tea and coffee are served on the elephants’ arrival and, after a short introductory lesson, you will all be introduced to the elephants and their handlers before mounting the great animals. You will be two to an elephant, and once you’re mounted you will head off through the riverine bush, crossing the river on the back of your elephant to get onto the islands. During your ride the guides give an interesting and informative history of the African Elephant’s relationship with man. Only on the back of one of these grand yet subtle creatures while you stand in the middle of one of Africa’s great rivers can you begin to understand the majesty of this continent.

Day 5: Waterfalls and wildlife

At 8:30 a.m. you will be collected for your tour of Victoria Falls, an UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Zambia’s view of the falls is spectacular. From January to June, Zambia benefits massively from the increased water flow over the falls. As you traverse the walkways of this unspoiled rainforest, your guides will explain the natural history of the falls and how they came to be through the moving of the African continental plates.

After your visit to the falls, you’re headed to Maun, Botswana. On arrival to Maun you will be met by your pilot, Linga. You will take a small six seat puddle jumper, just enough for the whole family, and Linga will fly you to Mombo. Because you will not fly very high, the view from above the Moremi Wildlife Reserve will be like nothing you’ve seen before. The sun dances off the water in the Delta as you watch scores of antelope gallop across the savannah.

You then land in Mombo, a secret paradise hidden from the world and situated just off the northwestern tip of Chief’s Island. Mombo Camp is situated deep within Moremi, beneath huge trees on the edge of a broad floodplain. Large concentrations of wildlife occur in this remote and isolated wilderness region. Giant umbrella thorns and ilala palms dot the expansive plains to form this special place. When you arrive at Mombo it will be the middle of the day, which means time for relaxation—dozing outside your tented room, gazing out over the floodplain from the lodge’s hide, or enjoying a dip in the pool as you watch the heat rise from the marshes.

Once the afternoon kicks in, your guides will take you on a drive in open 4×4 vehicles to explore the savanna and floodplains. Prides of lions and lionesses lounge together on jutting rocks, Hyenas play in the scattered marshes, Giraffe herds eat from the canopy of Acacia trees. Take in this noble display of animals in their natural habitat—there are few other places in the world where you can see anything like this.

Day 6: On safari

Today you are headed to Singita to explore virgin African bush country. Secluded and unique, this privately owned wildlife reserve is an intimate sanctuary on the banks of the Sand River. This is where you will discover the most diverse wildlife viewing terrain on the African continent. Bordering the Kruger National Park, 4,695 acres of sun-drenched, animal-rich, wide African plains, are what makes Singita the best example of the Sabi Sand eco-system.

Your accommodations consist of two separate lodges, Boulders and Ebony. Boulders Lodge is sensational and distinctly African. Organic furnishing makes up the textures and colors that create the unique, legendary African mood. Your rooms are sensitively designed to ensure a low impact on the environment. Each room, built into the landscape on a cliff’s edge, will allow you to view the wildlife on the flat, open plains across the Sand River amongst giant ebony and knobthorn trees.

This is Africa’s big game terrain, so of course your days and early nights resolve around spectacular wildlife viewing drives in open safari land rovers. Adjoa, a professional wildlife ranger and Shangaan tracker from the local community will enlighten you with her profound knowledge of the bush and its animals. In the quiet, beautiful African bush, you can see elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhino. To truly experience the magic of your surroundings, you will go for a morning walk with Adjoa. The plains and roads of Singita are named after the locals, who are accustomed to tracking territorial markings in this unspoiled habitat. This is where you will learn about the lesser known animals of the bush–the rhino beetle, elephant shrew, buffalo weaver, antlion, and leopard tortoise.

For your last night on the continent, you all can choose where you want to eat: dinner on the wooden deck, or perhaps a picnic in the bush near the rhino’s favorite waterhole. Or, and this is my recommendation, dine under the stars around a roaring open fire, while you sing along to local Shangaan songs with your guides.

Day 7: Trail’s end

Take your time waking up. You will have a few hours to enjoy the activities at Singita Boulders before your journey home.

Michael, like every other trip I have done for you, making this one for you and your family was incredibly fun. Please call me if you have any questions.