As part of our joint 40th birthday celebrations, we planned a no expense spared trip to South Africa and the Seychelles. Two places we had always wanted to visit.
For the first part of the trip we decided to base ourselves in Cape Town for four nights before heading north to Sabi Sands Game Reserve for three nights safari at Londolozi Lodge.
We flew into Cape Town via Dubai with Emirates. You can fly direct with British Airways, but as they hold a monopoly on direct flights from London to Cape Town they charge double the price – poor form BA! So we decided we would rather take the longer route in Emirates business class than the shorter route in BA economy. This was a sound decision.
Emirates business class is definitely a notch up on BA and comparable to Singapore Airlines service which is also very good. In general, the seat design is better, as is the entertainment system and food / wine. I only ever use BA to get Avios points, not for the quality of their service.
So after an uneventful and enjoyable flight, we landed in Cape Town in the early evening and were chauffeured to The Twelve Apostles Hotel which would be our base for the next four nights.
By the time we had checked in and settled into our room, hunger had gotten the better of us, so we took the short walk down the corridor to The Cafe Grill. I ordered Hake and Chips, and Gemma chose the Fish Cakes. Both were excellent, and I was excited by the culinary potential Cape Town had shown so early on.
After a good nights sleep and a nice lie in (we don’t get many of those back home!) we headed out to the V&A waterfront for a spot of light retail therapy and a bite to eat.
Safari hats were purchased before we spotted the enticing Harbour House restaurant out on the quay.
The views are great, and we enjoyed a very pleasant platter of seafood tempura, washed down with a nice glass of Chenin Blanc (we would come to love this new found grape variety).
That evening we ventured down into Camps Bay town centre for dinner at The Cod Father, following a recommendation from the hotel concierge. It was a great tip.
Don’t be fooled by the slightly shabby exterior (Gemma’s face was a picture as we got out of the taxi), and this restaurant is a must visit for any gastronaut out there. The interior is very much Shoreditch shabby chic with rustic tables and soft low lighting, which creates a romantic, but lively atmosphere.
After being seated near the revolving sushi bar and huge fish tank (bonus) our waiter escorted us to the fish counter, where you select and order your fish by the weight – does it get any better?
We opted to share King Prawns to start, which came with some tasty dips, with the Piri Piri coming out as the clear winner for me.
For the main course we both chose King Fish and Yellow Tail, which were served up seared and spitting in cast iron dishes – just the sound made you salivate.
Everything was so fresh, literally off the boat that morning I’d say. We rolled out merrily back to the hotel, stomachs full, and palette’s refreshed with another cracking South African Chardonnay.
Every wine we had tasted in Cape Town so far had been superb – I had definitely underestimated South African wine from my limited experience back in the UK. So we were super excited to be taking a private tour of Stellenbosch and the surrounding area on Saturday.
The private tour was arranged by the outstanding concierge at the Twelve Apostles, and we were picked up at 10 am by our driver Chris who, as it transpired, would give us an unforgettable day and touch our hearts with his kindness and humility.
After a beautiful drive along the coast and a quick photo stop in Camps Bay, we headed for the vineyards of Stellenbosch.
Along the way, Chris gave us an informative and profoundly touching history of South Africa’s troubled past, from personal experience, and we were left humbled and touched. Chris is from a large township on the outskirts of Cape Town himself, where toilets are communal, and accommodation built of tin is like an icebox in the winter and oven in the summer. South Africa has come a long way since apartheid, but it still has a long way to go.
Before Chris became a chauffeur he had worked in the wineries and recommended we stop at Spier as our first port of call.
We tasted a mix of white and red wines, all were good, before taking a stroll around the scenic property. The winery also houses a bird sanctuary which includes large Ostrich! This wouldn’t be the last nature we would see on our South African trip…
Next up was Waterford, which was situated just outside Stellenbosch in simply breathtaking surroundings. It was like taking a vineyard in Provence and dropping it in a scene from the iconic film Zulu.
We enjoyed a chocolate and wine tasting, which was a delight, before driving into Stellenbosch in search of some good food to soak up the morning’s vino.
Chris dropped us off in the centre, and we took a wander in search of some local delicacies. We stumbled upon Wijnhuis on Andringa Street and took a table in their small and pretty courtyard.
Lunch was exactly what we were after – Gem had Atlantic Salmon, and I had a selection of Springbok, Ostrich (yes I felt mildly guilty after meeting one only an hour earlier!) and Beef fillets – everything was executed well with the salmon cooked to the point and the meat succulent and juicy.
We headed back to the hotel just before sunset and said an emotional farewell to Chris; I hope we meet again.
We were too stuffed to eat that evening, so we retired early after a quick couple of cocktails in the wonderfully colonial Leopard Bar, taking in the magnificent views of Camps Bay and the Cape peninsular. I wondered how many Great White Sharks there might be out there. I would find out tomorrow…
I was up with the larks the next day for a 5 am pick up to take me to Gansbaai for my Great White Shark cage dive with Marine Dynamics. My planned trip the day before had been cancelled because of bad weather, so I was super excited to get my second chance.
I left Gem in bed, who had chosen the less risky option of a spa day in the Twelve Apostles.
After a long but scenic drive, we arrived in Gansbaai at 9 am. It really does have an Amity Island feel to it (Jaws reference for any youngsters out there).
I scoffed down a complimentary croissant and some coffee but made sure I wasn’t too full as I had been warned it’s a pretty choppy ride out to the dive site. I had taken the advice of a work colleague and consumed a couple of sea sickness tablets as well.
My vomiting fears never materialised thankfully (only one person was afflicted on our boat) and the 15-minute ride wasn’t too bad after all – that said it was a pretty big swell for a ‘calm day’.
We arrived at the dive site, and the cage was lowered into position. I was full of adrenalin and anxious excitement – there was a minor risk to this after all. The cage fits ten at a time with your head just above water level. There are hand and foot bars, and you can lower yourself below the ice cold water to catch glimpses of the passing man-eaters.
It really is something special to behold when a Great White Shark glides past the cage within touching distance – don’t forget your GoPro!.
You spend between two to three hours out at sea (roughly 20 minutes in the cage) and we were very fortunate to encounter eight different sharks, a couple of Copper sharks, but mainly Great Whites, each circling the boat a number of times. They are awesome and quite beautiful creatures up close and the horror films have done these graceful creatures a huge injustice over time.
I was shocked at the stats provided by Marine Dynamics on the millions of sharks killed each year, mainly for their fins in Asia, and we must do more to protect this wonderful marine species.
You really do get up close and personal with the sharks, and on a couple of occasions, they thrashed menacingly out of the water at the bait on the line. It’s important to note however that the sharks are not goaded, and Marine Dynamics number one priority is a conservation effort. Not all tour companies apply the same principles I fear.
Back on shore, we were warmed up with a bowl of hot soup before making the drive back to Cape Town.
On our last evening in Cape Town, to celebrate Gemma’s 40th birthday, The Twelve Apostles Hotel had very generously invited us to dinner at Azure restaurant, indulging our taste buds with chef’s tasting menu paired with wines.
The dinner was simply sublime.
The entrée of Chicken and Ham Terrine was packed full of flavour, as good as any terrine I have eaten previously.
The Terrine was followed by Smoked Hake with Hen’s Egg, the egg’s creamy yellow yolk oozing over the perfectly cooked fish like gold lava.
The Lamb Shank Tortellini that followed was a revelation. Both of us made sure we used the succulent soft meat to mop up every last bit of the silky lamb jus.
The Springbok Loin was surprisingly tender and hit you with a rich, gamey taste.
All the wine pairings, a mixture of white and red, were excellent and reinforced my already converted opinion that South Africa produces some top-notch vino, consistently.
I’m generally more savoury than sweet with my dessert choices, but the Manjari and Coffee Ice-Cream Sandwich was the perfect end to the meal – like the best Ice Cream Crunchy Bar you have ever eaten!
It was the perfect end to the perfect four days in Cape Town. An amazing city that blew us away with the beauty of its scenery, the excellence of its food and wine, and the generosity and kindness of its residents.
The Twelve Apostles Hotel had been the perfect hosts, and it is the ideal luxury hotel to base yourself when exploring Cape Town and the surrounding area.
The next morning we said a sad farewell to Cape Town, knowing we would be back, and headed off for our safari adventure at Londolozi…