The Editor's Pick: South Africa
Ask any world traveler for their top ten bucket list trips and it is highly likely that Africa is in the top three if not number one. For most people living in North America, the trip to Africa can seem like a world away but it truly is a once in a lifetime adventure that is worth every minute in the air. After a cross country flight to New York from LAX and then another 15 hour flight via South African Airways to Johannesburg which hopefully includes a full nights sleep and movie marathon, you have arrived. A quick jaunt through customs and its on to another flight, this time only two hours to the heart of South Africa, the "Mother City" know to us as Capetown.
As you drive in to the east coast portion of the city from the airport you pay notice to the raw natural beauty all around you. White sandy beaches that seem to go on forever await, while dramatic rocky mountains that hug the coastline create an incredible picturesque journey to witness during your first encounter with the "Mother City" of South Africa.
With only 13 individually styled rooms in the entire house, you will feel that you have the property all to yourself with the staff outnumbering its guests majority of the time. As you drop your bags with the bellman you are escorted to your home away from home for the next few days and it doesn't take long before you feel every bit of stress melt away from the long day of traveling. A gravitational pull draws you to your balcony and as you enjoy a glass of Chenin Blanc you are caught in a long interrupted gaze at the opulent Atlantic coastline below. Life is easy at the Ellerman House, no schedule, no rush, whatever you want whenever you want it. A stay at Ellerman provides numerous complimentary amenities from arrival and departure car service to daily gourmet breakfast, top shelf spirits, wine tasting and art tours, to name a few. Stroll down to the pantry for a light snack to take to the pool, pull up a sunbed and become entranced by your surroundings. There is zero reason to leave the property as a natural relaxing itinerary is set before you every day. Lunch at the pool followed by wine tasting in the gorgeous wine cellar makes for the perfect afternoon. The sommelier on staff will gladly take you into an intriguing wine cellar housed on property, displaying an array of worldly wines and an over the top champagne collection.
After an educational wine tasting experience head down to the lower garden and explore the property's art gallery. The Ellerman House's in-house art guide will gladly take guests on an educational journey through their incredible collection of local pieces showcasing the trials and tribulations of the countries past over the last century to present day. As the sun goes down make your way to the middle terrace as cocktails and canapés are served daily with a gin trolley to add that extra flare of opulence.
Dining at Ellerman is quite the experience each and every time you pull up a chair. Gracious staff are on hand to take care of your every need, from blending up a refreshing glass of green juice at breakfast to offering advice on an off-property excursion. Chef Grant Daniels brings the best of South African flavors to each and every dish he presents, from his ever famous Eggs Benedict in the morning to a savory seafood dish at sundown.
Apex Shark Expeditions
If you love sharks like we do then an excursion with Apex Shark Expeditions is an absolute must when visiting Cape Town! Producers of Discovery Channel's "Air Jaws" Apex Shark Expeditions are the worldwide leaders in shark cage diving with the infamous Great White Shark. If you are a die-hard fan of "Shark Week" then you most likely have seen owner and shark enthusiast Chris Fallows doing what he does best, pushing the limits with the ultimate Apex Predator. For years we have watched Chris conduct extensive research on the Great White and other shark species in South Africa and a day out on the water with him and his staff will take your trip to the next level.
This excursion leaves from the Simon's Town Wharf daily and takes roughly twenty minutes to arrive at the infamous Seal Island where the death-defying activity begins. Pulling right up next to the island one can't help but be enamored when witnessing the 65,000 resident seals that call this place home, all which are comprised of females with their pups. The males are only on the island for three months out of the year to mate and then they return back to the sea. As the boat circles the island the captain looks for the perfect place to drop anchor and in the water, the cage goes. Four people enter the cage at a time and depending on the time of year this will decide what species of sharks will arrive at the dive site. During our trip, we were a few months short of Great White season and instead, we were paid a visit by the "dinosaur of the sea" the Seven Gill Shark. This amazing shark species is said to have been in existence for up to 200 million years and as the name suggests it is the only shark to have seven gills where others species of sharks have only five.
After the first group enters the cage the staff use a ring of salmon heads to entice the sharks to approach the cage and everyone is instructed to go "down' underwater for the best viewing. There truly isn't a better adrenaline rush than the ultimate predator literally inches away from your face opening its mouth to nibble on the cage right in front of you. Taking turns the two groups are given multiple opportunities to get back into the cage before returning back to Simon's Town. Although seeing the seven-gill shark was a once in a lifetime experience, we have vowed to return in their winter period (June/July) for the ultimate encounter with the Great White Shark. Not only will you be able to look this magnificent beast directly in the eyes but this time of year is also breaching season where you can witness one of the most phenomenal things you will ever see. Do yourself a favor and google "Air Jaws" if you haven't already seen it and you will know why so many people worldwide seek out Apex Shark Expeditions when visiting South Africa.
DINING IN CAPETOWN
It is rare to find a dining experience that celebrates its local culture, food and entertainment. Authentic cuisine coupled with vibrant singing and dancing provide a recipe for an amazing evening at GOLD Restaurant. A great way to dive right in to everything Africa, GOLD provides a high energy ambiance with passionate entertainment and a feast fit for a king, The evening begins with an all-encompassing drumming session where the guests are invited to partake. After a solid workout banging on the djembe drums patrons are escorted to their table where they begin diving into a tasting menu comprised of local dishes popular throughout the entire continent of Africa. Fourteen dishes later and an evening of rhythmic dancing and singing leaves guests grinning from ear to ear. Mali puppetry, marimba percussion and djembe drums play throughout the restaurant while plates of signature items from an edible map of Africa include Tunisian Harissa Spiced Chicken Wings, Algerian Prawn Briouats and more. Every dish is delicious and the diversity in the menu makes this a dinner you won't soon forget.
Rooftop Dining on the Waterfront
We couldn't think of a better introduction to the beautiful city of Capetown then sunset dining and drinks at the magical Silo Rooftop Bar. Perched high above the V&A waterfront the Silo Hotel has changed the standard for luxury accommodations in the city. Built in the grain elevator portion of the historic grain silo complex the Silo Hotel celebrates a melding of old meets new with its stylish contemporary design. The Silo rooftop bar has quickly become the hottest place in town and tourists and locals alike flock to take in the panoramic beauty of the shoreline paired with the adjacent mountain range that includes Tabletop Mountain. Awe-inspiring sunsets, light bites and an award-winning cocktail list make this rooftop the place to see and be seen! After a few refreshing cocktails head down to the Granary Cafe for a unique dining experience featuring fine wines and regional cuisine that highlights the talents of Executive Chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert. A small but diverse menu celebrates locally sourced ingredients with menu items including the Cape Seafood Curry, Springbok Loin and a Root Vegetable Terrine. The staff at Granary Cafe is highly trained on pairing your dish of choice with a glass of South Africa's best wines, opt for a glass of Pinotage or Chenin Blanc and your taste-buds will thank you.
ESCAPE TO WINE COUNTRY
A short drive from the city of Capetown and you are transported to the beauty of South Africa's wine region. You will immediately feel as if you are in a different country upon arrival with the lush, vibrant foliage everywhere you look. Driving through the town of Stellenbosch there is a feeling of overall happiness that comes over you, life seems easy here. People pass by on bikes, walking their dogs smiling from ear to ear and it's easy to imagine the secret ingredient here, ah, yes it's the wine! Continue your drive just past the downtown area to the charming property that is the Lanzerac Wine Estate.
Positioned in the idyllic Jonkershoek Valley on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, Lanzerac is surrounded by sheer-faced dramatic mountains, endless rows of bountiful vineyards and beautiful flowers as far as the eye can see. On a bright sunny day, the color contrasts are undeniably remarkable to the eye with radiant blue skies, pink bougainvillea and lavender fields set against the bright green grass. With a steep history dating back to 1692, Lanzerac Wine Estate has been producing the area's best wines for ages and to this day continues to be a Stellenbosch iconic landmark. It truly is amazing that Lanzerac was established only thirteen years after the town of Stellenbosch itself and has been producing the regions finest grapes ever since. Fast forward well over 300 years later and Lanzerac is still a major wine producer and boasts an elegant five star country-style boutique hotel which is made up of luxury accommodations, casual and fine dining, an ever-popular tasting room, acclaimed bars, and full facility day spa.
As you enter the Lanzerac entryway you will be enamored by the majestic oak trees that perfectly line the drive leading you to your escape from the stress of everyday life. Highly trained staff around every corner guarantee your stay to be first class from the moment you enter the front door. Modern, yet sophisticated rooms offer the best of both worlds, all the comforts of home accompanied by the latest technology blended with the rich historical feel of the property make for the perfect escape. Step outside your back door and you are a stone's throw away from rows of vines as far as the eye can see. A dip in your private pool and a glass of Pinotage with the dramatic mountain range in the distance; it simply doesn't get better than this. The dining program at Lanzerac is nothing short of spectacular with its gourmet pub style menu at Taphuis, award-winning fine dining menu at the Manor Kitchen and let's not forget about the cheese & charcuterie boards in the Tasting Room. Grab a seat outdoors on a beautiful sunny day while the staff at the Tasting Room takes you through a flight of their best wines. Visitors can choose from a range of experiences including a premium tasting, wine & chocolate tasting or the ever popular heritage tasting.
Whether you are staying at the estate or just dropping by for a day of relaxation the options are endless at the Lanzerac Spa. After a mouthwatering tasting experience head over to the spa for a day of rejuvenation that will leave you in utter bliss. Providing a selection of wine-themed treatments there is no such thing as a bad choice. Arrive 30-60 minutes before to enjoy the onsite facilities which include a jacuzzi, steam room, and sauna. For those seeking serenity, lounge in comfort as you await the attentive and knowledgeable staff. From hydrating facials to ultra therapeutic massages and calming eye mask treatments, there truly is something for every taste. Opt for the resort's signature AromaVine Pinotage Massage which is sure to relax the senses and leave you in a harmonious state of mind for the remainder of your stay.
THE GRAND FINALE
Sundowners & Sunsets on Safari
The reason most people visit Africa is likely for a chance to see the most magnificent animals in the world. A three-hour drive from Capetown along a winding stretch through wine country drops you at the gate to one of South Africa's best kept secrets, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. Situated at the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains in the heart of the Little Karoo and roughly 54,000 hectares (making it the size of Singapore) Sanbona is made up of desert plains that are now home to a long list of Africa's majestic beasts that roam the land freely.
Sanbona offers a welcoming lounge roughly nine miles from the main gate. A complimentary transfer from the welcoming lounge to the different lodges is available on request and must be booked at least 72 hours in advance. This is highly recommended as the roads can be a bit rough during the transfer. There is secure parking available for vehicles and guests can enjoy a refreshment while they wait for a shuttle to take them to their respective lodges. A 45-minute drive from the welcome lounge on a winding dirt road and you arrive at Gondwana Family Lodge, the go-to spot on the reserve for groups and those traveling with children. This spacious thatched Lodge offers guests a sense of modern comfort with a touch of bush authenticity like a watering hole just off your balcony which ensures an up and close view of the animals passing by on a daily basis. The grounds offer indoor and outdoor play areas, a child-friendly pool for guests of all ages and an on-site Kids on Safari educational program.
There are several options of rooms available at Gondwana Family Lodge and each option features air conditioning, a private mini bar, tea and coffee making facilities, an electronic safe, an en-suite bathroom, under floor heating and a private deck or balcony.
Upon arrival you are welcomed by Sanbona staff and after a quick tour of the property, feel free to jump in the pool and cool off before lunch. As you lay on your daybed poolside you may be lucky enough to witness a herd of baboons scampering by the lodge with their babies in tow, a jackal stopping by for a sip in the watering hole or a pair of zebras on their afternoon stroll. Make sure to keep your camera handy as there will be numerous photo opportunities throughout the day.
The culinary team at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is as top notch as they come, all classically trained chefs that put together a daily menu comprised of authentic African and internationally inspired plates to keep guests more than satisfied. Post lunch most guests use this time to relax, take a nap, read a book or just be one with nature.
Sanbona is an ongoing conservation project that aims to restore the ecological balance in a landscape formed during cataclysmic times 350 million years ago. During daily game drives travel through three different biomes and numerous habitats, including the quartz fields of the succulent Karoo, a habitat characterized by beds of angular quartz debris and home to a flora of stunning minute succulent shrubs.
Game drives take place daily during sunrise and sunset. On the afternoon game drive which takes place daily at 4:00 p.m. prepare for the excitement to build throughout the lodge as everyone gets ready for their chance to see the elusive white lions and cheetahs. As the jeeps leave the lodge they head to different locations but keep close communication in order to track the
best sightings of the day. On the way throughout the desert plains, you will quickly run into families of zebras, kudus and oryxs that pay absolutely no mind to you at all. Your guide will stop for plenty of photos and educate you on the species and offers a plethora of knowledge and fun facts along the way. Seek out the tallest animal in the world, one that couldn't hide if they wanted to, the incredibly beautiful giraffe. One could sit and watch these gorgeous creatures all day and if you are lucky you might just witness a ritual the males do called "necking". This uncanny graceful "play fight" involves swinging their heads around and as teens, they do it almost for fun but as adults, they can actually kill each other in this manner if a fight does occur.
As the tour continues you may spot a herd of elephants, witness hippos taking a mud bath, spy on the African buffalo and more. During your afternoon tour guests stop for a much needed refreshing cocktail of their choice and slowly watch the sunset. Sundowner evening drives offer spectacular displays of light as the sun sets over the Little Karoo and your heart can't help but fill with gratitude.
Once the sun has faded and the darkness sets in it is time to head back to the lodge to get ready for the evenings gourmet meal. Depending on the day, the team of chefs will either barbecue an assortment of meats on the grill along with a variety of South African side dishes or plan an internationally inspired theme night for the guests. Enjoy each bite under the stars which set the backdrop for a peaceful evening.
Free from light and city pollution, the Klein Karoo offers some of the finest stargazing in Southern Africa.
The next morning after a quick cup of coffee it is time for a morning game drive. Your guide will be ready and waiting at 6:30 a.m. to give you another shot at seeing the gorgeous white lions as they trod along looking for a place to rest for the day. Lions are typically nocturnal so it is important to catch them before they find their preferred daily shaded bush. The guides talk over radio to each other and your odds of seeing them in the morning is quite good. If you are lucky enough to spend more than a few days you may actually get the chance to encounter the lions up close as they come right up to your Land Cruiser and you sit quietly snapping photos that will be the talk of the town when you return home.
After a successful trip, guests tend to leave Sanbona completely satisfied but yearning to stay a few more days. This truly is a magnificent land, a place that is so unique it doesn't seem real. Wave goodbye to the animals as you drive away and feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity. It is now very easy to understand why Africa is so high on every traveler's bucket list, a land that offers more diversity than anywhere else on the planet. From the eclectic vibe of Capetown, cage diving with sharks, to the beauty of Stellenbosch's wine country to the ultimate safari at Sanbona, South Africa has something for everyone.
Getting There: To book your next adventure to South Africa visit www.flysaa.com. South African Airways offers direct flights from JFK Airport to Johannesburg and travel time is roughly 14-15 hours. Cabin experiences include South African inspired dishes, served with excellent South African wines and complimentary drinks, spacious economy and business class cabins and on-demand in-flight entertainment.