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The extraordinary MINI Road Trip of South Africa’s Western Cape

published on 2012-05-30 by Sara
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Although I’ve never owned a car, I always loved taking road trips through foreign countries. Moving from place to place on your own accord is liberating; getting lost in a maze of unknown signs is exhilarating; and stopping wherever you want to, just because you have a feeling that it might be something you’d like, is adventurous. So when I was asked to join a MINI roadtrip of the Western Cape in South Africa with fellow bloggers RenéIsaCamilla and Nico, it felt like a dream come true.

We took off from Frankfurt to Cape Town with South African Airlines, who generously sponsored our flights. I was on adrenaline the whole time. I obviously didn’t know what to expect from South Africa. I’d never been south of Morocco, and to be honest, I had heard some crazy stories. But rest assured that South Africa is usually safe for any traveler with a basic understanding of how the world works.

The full itinerary through the Western Cape

Within 7 days, we completed the following stops:

Cape Town – Cape of Good Hope – Tintswalo – Westcoast National Park – Rebeek Castle – Riebeek Valley – Paarl – Grande Roche Hotel – Sanbona Game Reserve – Hermanus – Cape Town.

My following report on the trip might seem like much, but honestly, we did much more than that. Here’s comes only a round-up of the highlights. If you’re planning to make a trip like this through the Western Cape, you should definitely consider stopping by some of these great places!

Highlights of the Western Cape road trip

We arrived in Cape Town, a vivid, vibrant city of color and diversity. I had imagined the cute town nothing like this. Instead of graffiti, ghettos and urban decay – you know, the typical urban dystopia of African cities – we were met with bright shining sunlight, the warmth of autumn and a charming, eclectic little student town. The Table Mountain in the background of the cityscape kept us on our feet despite being super tired from the flight (take my word of advice: try to stay longer than 7 days!)

Impressive colonial style architecture, fantastic and friendly people, and rainbow colored houses is all I can remember visually. I kept asking myself: wow, this is Cape Town? How can one place be so beautiful? This is a question I’d continue to ask on our way through the country. Of course, we had passed the little townships on our way from the airport. Here is where most of the citizens of Cape Town live, and although I have ample to say about tourism that neglects the majority of the country, I wasn’t here to find a political angle. I was here to be just that: a tourist who could appreciate beauty in nature and, I gotta say it, in luxury, too.

1st stop: Signal Hill / One & Only Resort

Our sundowner drink on Signal Hill was the perfect conclusion to our first day in Cape Town. We were all eager to continue our road trip after seeing what this little city already had offered us – but first, we jumped into our very comfortable beds at the ultimately decadent One & Only Hotel. After all, we had a tight schedule!

2nd stop: The Cape of Good Hope

After an elaborate breakfast – oysters and champagne, hello – we finally got into quirky little Mini Cooper S Roadsters and drove to the Cape of Good Hope. Although the weather was stormy, I was thrilled to be at the southernmost point of the world – and finally, I had something to strike off my bucket list. We continued our drive to the Tintswalo restaurant, definitely a culinary highlight of our trip through the Western Cape. This fine dining experience had me stunned, not only for the panoramic view over the ocean which the establishment offers next to its hotel rooms, but also because of the amazing food.

3rd stop: Bartholomeus Klip

It was time to leave our beloved One & Only resort in Cape Town for another luxury hotel: Bartholomeus Klip. This old, colonial farmhouse lay amidst a game valley full of exotic animals. We saw zebras, antelopes and baboons and this wasn’t even the part where we went on a safari yet! Bartholomeus Klip turned out be a very traditional chic lodging, but killer comfortable. I’d never been to a country lodge before, so I was pleasantly surprised at how cozy a hotel like this can be. Bartholomeus Klip is extremely romantic, quiet and sweet – a perfect getaway from Cape Town, only a one hour drive away.

4th stop:

I had a really hard time parting from Bartholomeus Klip, but alas, we had to leave. We continued our trip into the Winelands of South Africa. After all, the Western Cape is famous for its wine production. Don’t be afraid of the stigma. You don’t have to be a white, golf-loving heterosexual to appreciate the mountainous landscape and of course, the great wines. Trust me – I should know.

Fortunately, my sadness upon departing was forgotten immediately when we turned into the entrance gate of the Grande Roche Hotel, our next overnight destination. Our jaws collectively dropped. This 5-star, pompous residence wasn’t just a chalet, it’s a modern castle! The luxury and decadence were seeping out of its pores. The house is set on a plateau, overlooking the wine valleys of the Cape. By the time we checked into our rooms, I was praying that my good peasant soul wouldn’t be compromised by all of this glamour. For some people, the Grande Roche may be a bit too much – for me, it was the experience of a lifetime. And I wouldn’t want to miss it at all.

5th stop: Sanbona Wildlife Reserve

Unexpectedly, we had a candlelight-breakfast. That wasn’t part of the Grande Roche Hotel glamour, it was indeed part of a power failure nearby. Although unwanted, this little detail made our stay even more charming. By this time, I was already in love with the MINI Cooper, and easily used to driving on the left side of the road. We continued our dream road trip through the Western Cape to the extraordinary and legendary Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. Finally, everything I ever wished for came true: we went on an African Safari.

Far away from paved roads, our robust cars brought us safely to our Private Sanbona Lodges. They are completely immersed into the wilderness of South Africa, only separated by a tiny electric fence, right next to a reservoir. This was by far the most fascinating stop of our road trip through South Africa. After a quick snack – Antelope Burger – we continued on our first game drive in Sanbona. Sanbona is home of the “Big 5” – The African Elephant, the Leopard, the Lion, the Rhino and the African Buffalo.

Lo and behold, we saw our first Antilopes and Giraffes grazing next to Zebras. I felt like David Attenborough, narrating all the time in my head how extraordinary it is that I get to see something like this in my life. I was truly blessed, and possibly the happiest I’d ever been in my life. Seeing these amazing creatures is nothing I can ever put into words. All I know is that it puts life in perspective to get so close to something you’ve only known from other people’s reports.

But our drive only became better and better. Our guide Pascal received a radio transmission and immediately corrected our course: someone had spotted lions. No, not just lions: white lions. White lion cubs.

I’m getting goosebumps while typing this out. This was an incredible experience. The lions were not just somewhere on the horizon, they got so close that we could smell their breathes. They weren’t scared or fazed by us at all, nor aggressive. They simply passed by our jeeps, doing their things. I almost fainted. This was it: I saw it all.

The next day though, it just got better. The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve isn’t just a place to pitch your tent, it is definitely the most stylish housing for an African Safari. This luxurious hotel is on par with 4 or 5 star resorts for sure. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to waste in the spacious rooms – we had to go on another drive. The Big 5 list had to be completed!

Well – we did see a horde of elephants, and we even spotted a bathing, lazy hippo! That was great. Getting so close… and then shitting my pants because DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW BIG THESE ANIMALS ARE?! Pascal even pointed out a sneaky Cheetah hiding in the bushes. It’s very rare to see Cheetahs, apparently. But I did. These exciting moments of Sanbona are forever burned into my brain (unfortunately, my camera gave up most of the way. It was too dark to take pictures of the lions. But maybe it’s better that way. It’s all in my head!)

6th Stop: The Marine, Hermanus

On our last leg of the Western  Cape itinerary, we drove to Hermanus along a winding coastal road that had me cursing and spitting fire for my co-pilot. I can’t deal with those coastal roads. When we finally arrived at yet another luxury hotel in the little town of Hermanus, The Marine, all was forgiven though: we were drowning in a pink sky, with a view far and wide over the ocean. This place is known for the whales that can be seen from the coast, but they only come in the winter – so June or July.

We only stayed at the ultimate luxury resort of Hermanus, The Marine, for one night. And unfortunately, as the story goes, we had to depart back to Cape Town the next day. I’ve still not managed to cope with all of these impressions that I’d made in the Western Cape.

This surreal road trip – thank you again, MINI and South African Tourism – was nothing short of a miracle. Not only were the people involved absolutely gorgeous, but the places and the moments we experienced together have bonded us forever.

I’ll never forget those beautiful colors of a South African autumn, the oceans waves and the sunsets of a lifetime. If you haven’t been to South Africa yet, I promise you don’t have to do the whole nine yards of luxury in order to enjoy it. You just rent a car and go – that’s what a road trip should be.

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