Six epic South Africa multi-centres

By Eloise Barker

Photography by Brit Finucci / Getty Images

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Updated December 2018

In South Africa you can buy a cookbook for making a meal on the engine of your car: in other words, it’s prime road trip territory. Go exploring with our multi-centre itineraries. Walk into the desert, hike in the mountains… but stick to wheels on the game drive.

Cape Town, Winelands, whale watching

Best for: Cape Town capers

If you want to fly in and out of Cape Town, stick to the cape and you can still have an amazingly diverse trip: watch whales in Hermanus, and sip Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch.

The journey: 93 miles

In Cape Town, check in for three days at the luxury Table Bay Hotel on the V&A Waterfront. Before hitting the restaurant scene, take the cable car to catch the sunset view from the top of Table Mountain – or book a tour. There are seasonal game kebabs to be had at restaurant Belthazar and, after exploring the agapanthus-filled Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens on its Tree Canopy Walkway, visit Robben island. It was in this infamous former prison that Nelson Mandela served 18 years of his 27-year sentence.

In this desert region of caves and switchback roads you might spot a meerkat, or even a meteor: the Klein Karoo desert is a perfect wilderness for star gazing.

Though Cape Town could pull you in for weeks if you let it, hire a car to visit the surrounding area. A short drive out takes you in to the heart of the winelands. With a history of viticulture from 1659, the bottles produced on the estates here don’t exactly put the ‘new’ in New World wine. At Stellenbosch, stay at Oude Werf Hotel and enjoy its pool in the dappled shade. Just down the road there’s lunch to be had at Schoon de Comanje Deli. You’ll find that where the vines grow, the best restaurants in South Africa gather. In nearby Franschhoek, lunch at La Petite Ferme is a must for many travellers. From its sunny terrace you can watch the green valley scenery tumbling down before you.

  • Shamwari Game Reserve, Bayethe Tented Lodge

    The lion sleeps tonight

    Stay in a luxury tented lodge with spectacular views of the malaria-free Shamwari Game Reserve.

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  • Colourful beach huts on Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Ferrantraite

    Crime wave

    Even murder mystery novelist Agatha Christie used to surf at Muizenberg beach.

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  • Zebra-watching in the parks. Photo by Beverley Way / EyeEm

    Did you know…

    There are two types of zebra found in South Africa – the common Burchell’s Zebra and the very rare Mountain Cape Zebra. And, though there are many theories, we don’t exactly know why they have their distinctive stripes.

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Drive east along the coast from Stellenbosch to Hermanus in under two hours. As southern right whale migrate from the Antarctic from July to November you can see them easily from the coast – perhaps even from your hotel room at the Harbour House. There’s a whale crier in the town who announces their arrival – as though they’re royalty at a ball. Hermanus Whale Festival is always the first week end in October.

Extend your trip

Once you’ve reached Hermanus, take a short drive to spend some time in Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. This five-star lodge is set near the beautiful coast, where you can whale-watch and penguin-spot – or just relax in an eco-friendly paradise.

Visit Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Cape Town and the Garden Route

Best for: Arty towns and big cities

The famous Garden Route is a popular tourist trail that runs along South Africa's vivid green underbelly from Cape Town. Sandwiched between fynbos-thick hillsides and long, golden beaches, it's an amazing drive.

The journey: 462 miles

Hire a car from Cape Town and stop at Mossel bay for mussels and oysters which slip down a treat with a glass of wine. Head on to the town of George and the Fancourt Hotel with its brilliant golf courses. This large town spreads out in a fertile valley surrounded by national parks. A trek east of half a day gets you to Oudtshoorn. Known as the ostrich capital for its vast flocks of farmed ostriches, in this desert region of switchback roads you might spot a meerkat, or even a meteor: the Klein Karoo desert is a perfect wilderness for star gazing. Visit the impossibly deep Cango Caves whilst you stay at the Rosenhof Country House.

Driving coastward the next day, you couldn’t have a nicer time than on the beaches near Knysna, where you can stay at the upmarket Pezula Resort and Spa. Port Elizabeth is three hour’s drive onwards. Just before the city, stop at Jeffreys Bay, the famous surf capital. All year around it’s warm enough for you to enjoy every water sport, quite literally under the sun. Tearing yourself away from your fully-waxed board, when you arrive at Port Elizabeth, you’ll find it a friendly, relaxed city where you can finally flop onto the sand.

Extend your trip

Go from gardens to game and take to the reserves for two nights; the Eastern Cape has plenty to choose from. Pumba Private Game Reserve is set around a beautiful lodge and Shamwari Game Reserve attracts well-heeled guests for big five game viewing. This luxury game reserve also has a family lodge and welcomes children. Do note that some game reserves do not accept day trippers. Unless you’re a lion.

A guide to Port Elizabeth

Chic Cape Town and a spin in Sun City

Best for: Fun-lovers

Sun City is a leisure resort outside of Johannesburg – and a great contrast to Cape Town. Fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg and transfer to the resort – then end with a safari.

The journey: 922 miles

Stay for a week at The Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, half an hour drive from Cape Town’s airport. Lounge in the sunset at Sandy B Beach Club, and enjoy the glamour that your well-dressed fellow guests bring to the sundowner scene. Take a day trip to Simon’s Town and the Cape Peninsula to see a pair of extraordinary sights: two oceans at once and African penguins on the beach. A flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then a two-hour transfer takes you to Sun City, the miniature Vegas of South Africa. From here it’s easy to have a day trip at the Pilanesburg Game Reserve.

The standout hotel at Sun City is The Palace of the Lost City, a fairy tale African palace elevated so that it’s viewable from the whole park. Alternatively, for a sophisticated five star stay that’s family friendly, stay at Cascades. For a budget option, try Cabanas. You’re here to relax. Do so by the pool whilst kids get involved with daily activities and entertainment. Put on your best poker face at the casino and lose your poker face somewhere on the water chutes at the Valley of Waves waterpark.

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  • Victoria Falls. Photo by 3dan3 / Getty Images

Cape Town, Kruger and the Victoria Falls

Best for: Close encounters

The Kruger National Park is considered one of the best game reserves in the world. And the Victoria Falls is considered one of the world's 'Seven Natural Wonders'. To visit both, fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg, then from Johannesburg to Zambia or Zimbabwe.

The journey: 1,780 miles

Start off in cosmopolitan Cape Town before flying to Johannesburg. Collect a car and drive east to reach the Kruger National Park in half a day. 180 cheetahs, over 1,000 leopards and 1,500 lions call it home, and you can too, for a few days at Motswari Private Game Reserve. It’s time to go big and try and cross these native residents off your list of sights: the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros make up the so-called ‘big five’ species you have to see if you’re playing safari bingo. Go out on a self-drive or borrow a good pair of eyes and take a guided tour.

From Johannesburg, fly to either Livingstone, Zambia or Harare, Zimbabwe. At their border on the Zambesi river is the world’s largest waterfall. Before it was called Victoria Falls, it was called Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ – a name that fits the tumultuous sheets of water that bring your African adventure to its crashing grand finale. Stay close by at The Victoria Falls Hotel, a five star beauty overlooking the Victoria Falls Bridge.

Durban and the Drakensberg Mountains

Best for: Beach breaks and peaks

British Airways flies direct to Durban, so head straight to this coastal city for a beach break. When you're ready, head inland to the astonishing Drakensberg Mountains for hiking heaven.

The journey: 109 miles

You can now fly direct to Durban from London Heathrow. Arriving in Durban, it’s clear that the place to go first is beach-wards. The Dolphin Coast is known for its bottlenose residents. Stay at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort. It faces the Indian ocean and the water is warm, averaging 23-26 degrees in the summer. For a classic golden sand beach holiday, you could stop here and learn to surf – the golden mile at Durban has beaches with the right breaks for both beginners and experts. But you may find inland adventure calls.

A day’s drive north takes you to the Drakensberg mountains, considered the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. Stay in the foothills of the mountains at the boutique Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse. The Drakensberg peaks have an evocative Zulu name: the ‘Barrier of Spears’. The 620-mile range hides formidable sculptural peaks, the world’s second-highest waterfall, and 22,000 examples of rock art that might be new compared to the natural rock formations, but are an ancient wonder to us. While you’re here, see the Drakensberg Boys Choir perform an African repertoire, including "Night Sounds" where they imitate the sounds of the bush – by now, you’ll be familiar with them all.

  • Photo by Mambriyu Pratama / EyeEm

    On safari

    Malaria-free game reserves make South Africa a brilliant choice for a wildlife-spotting holiday.

  • Maritim Resort & Spa. © Maritim Hotelgesellschaft mbH.
  • Sandton city, Johannesburg. Photo by Henrique NDR Martins / Getty Images

    Southern hemisphere shopping

    Sandton City Shopping Centre contains 300 shops, restaurants and a cinema.

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Johannesburg and Mauritius

Best for: Urban living and an island heaven

Jo'burg is South Africa's largest city. Escape the metropolis after a few days and twin your visit with a beach holiday in Mauritius, just a short flight onward.

The journey: 1,910 miles

Fly to Johannesburg – see its emerging arts scene and embark on excellent shopping trips. Stay in the affluent Sandton district for three nights at the Hilton Sandton and get lost in some of the biggest shopping malls in the southern hemisphere. Gnaw biltong for sustenance whilst you find your way. In Soweto, visit the former houses of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu on a street which has housed as many Nobel Peace Prize winners as it has public telephones (two).

A direct flight to Mauritius gives you the ultimate escape. The jewel of the Indian ocean has white sand and calm lagoons. Surrounded by a shallow shelf, coral bound and beautiful above and below the water, Mauritius is a sight for sore eyes and its Indian, Chinese, French and Creole communities create a cuisine that’s worth leaving your hammock for. Stay at The Oberoi for twenty acres of beach and one superb spa, or go All Inclusive at Maritim Resort & Spa.

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