Hubbie and I spent our honeymoon backpacking around South America. We snorkelled with sea-lions in the Galapagos, chewed coca leaves in Cusco and pretended (with varying degrees of success) to be cowboys on the slopes of Cotopaxi in Ecuador. We also spent a considerable amount of time hugging toilet bowls, waiting hours for buses and generally feeling wretched. Not the most romantic of starts, but we always say if our marriage survived that, then we’ll be together forever.
To make up for this less than luxurious experience, we’ve dedicated the last 11 years of holiday time to exploring the world in style, and checking out all the places we perhaps could have visited instead. Recently returned from our 21st ‘honeymoon’, we’ve fallen in love again. This time with a country – South Africa.
Perhaps you’re planning your own honeymoon, or maybe like us you’re pretending to still be on one. Whatever the case, a holiday in South Africa has enough to keep everyone happy, whether you’re a lounge lizard or an adrenaline junkie.
So just what are the key ingredients for the perfect South African honeymoon? After several trips to South Africa, here’s what we think:
Let’s be honest. If you’ve come to South Africa, the chances are you’re here for a safari experience, and there really is no better place than here. Whilst there are many different reserves to choose from, there is only one which really stands out as the place for ultimate indulgence. Sabi Sand Game Reserve borders the Kruger Park and is only a few hours drive from Johannesburg. It is home to several private reserves, each with their own unique style of luxury. Being big fans of a bit of pampering with our adventures, we opted to stay at Ulusaba and can honestly say we had the time of our lives. From surprise bush breakfasts of chocolate pancakes and champagne to tracking leopards and sipping sundowners whilst watching rare wild dogs going for a swim, it truly was the safari experience of a lifetime. The staff almost had us convinced we were royalty, and the rangers really knew their stuff. When you pay a lot of money for something you expect a great deal in return, and refreshingly we felt it was worth every penny.
You can’t go to South Africa and not visit the Cape Winelands, the perfect way to relax after the heat and dust of the bush. Our favourite spot is Franschhoek, a laid back yet sophisticated village surrounded on all sides by mountains and vineyards. Perhaps it should have been called heaven? There are enough wine estates to keep you occupied for an entire year, but for those with just a few days we recommend the Franschhoek Wine Tram. An ingenious idea and surprisingly unique to the town, the tram takes eager wine connoisseurs on a hop-on hop-off tour of some of the best estates enabling them to drink as much as they like without having to worry about driving (because lets be honest, who actually uses the spittoon?). We loved Mont Rochelle for it’s hearty reds and delicious cheese and meat platter, and also Rickety Bridge, for having friendly sommeliers and such a cool name.
There’s nothing quite like sitting on the dock with the sun on your back, eating fresh calamari in the shadow of Table Mountain in Cape Town. Of course to earn this pleasure you’ll have to work up an appetite by checking out the country’s most iconic landmark. Hiking up is an option, but if you want to take it easy (you are on your honeymoon after all) then the revolving cable car is heaps of fun and there are plenty of mountain trails at the top if you want to stretch your legs. The mists do descend very rapidly and sometimes without warning so the cable car will get you up there much quicker! Cape Town is the place to go for refined and chilled out boutique accommodation, and if you want a dose of culture and city entertainment.
I’ve always thought mountains are romantic places, full of mystery and adventure, and the vast Drakensberg escarpment running down the eastern edge of Lesotho is simply out of this world. By day you can walk amongst giants, enjoy peace and solitude in the river valleys or admire the world from above if you dare to tackle one of the lofty ridge lines. Depending on where you decide to stay, night time can involve anything from curling up around the fire circle, chatting to fellow guests over a beer and steaming bowl of stew, to luxuriating in bubbles with views of the peaks from your private mountain lodge jacuzzi. We loved staying in the central Giant’s Castle area and hiking to the wonderfully named ‘World’s End’, across babbling brooks, past herds of enormous Eland antelope, and up to, well, a viewpoint that seems like the end of the world! If you want to get in touch with your inner caveman, this is also a wonderful place to discover ancient rock paintings and carvings from the San, the indigenous bushmen of South Africa.
BURST OF ADRENALINE
When you fancy a change from the champagne, the pampering and the kings of the bush, step up the action by trying one of South Africa’s many adrenaline sports. From bungee jumping to surfing, its guaranteed to get your heart pumping for real! We signed up for a spot of microlighting on our last trip, something that was new to us both. I love doing things that scare me (granted it doesn’t always take much!) and this was definitely one of those experiences where the butterflies needed calming. Yet when we were up in the air all fears were banished by the stunning scenery below. We flew over the Blyde River Canyon (known as the 3rd largest canyon in the world!) as well as game reserves, and whilst I was admiring the geology, hubbie was counting elephants. And buffalo. And rhino.
INTO THE WILD
If you like your romantic experiences to be a little wild, then I suggest you head over to Swaziland and see if you can survive the night in an open-sided stone cottage. Nestled in the heart of the bush at Mkhaya Game Reserve, the cottages are completely open to the wild, and lit at night with the comforting and seductive glow of dozens of parafin lamps (there is no electricity). Yes the game drives are fun and on the bush walk we got to track rhino, but the best bit is most assuredly the experience of living in the bush alongside nature. We had a Nyala fawn sleeping just yards from our bed, whilst it’s parents munched away happily nearby, not really concerned by our presence. Hubbie was over the moon at discovering a bush baby regarding us solemnly from it’s perch on our door post that evening. By definition, these nocturnal creatures are rarely seen, another advantage of spending the night in the wild. Although I fell asleep clutching the safety whistle, our only night visitor was a fruit bat trying to impress us with a display of acrobatics, and our bed was so comfy we weren’t awake for long. Finally, if you like a loo with a view, then this place is for you! Nothing quite like sitting on your throne in the morning being observed by some breakfasting antelope.
PRIVATE PLUNGE POOLS
You don’t need to be on a honeymoon to dream about chilling out in your own exclusive plunge pool in a private tropical oasis. I’ve been doing quite a bit of first hand research on this and they don’t come better than in South Africa. Timamoon romantic lodge between Sabie and Hazyview has to be the sexiest hideaway on earth. There are just a handful of secluded African-style villas, nestled amongst the hillside banana plantation, each with sublime views, their own plunge pools and complete and utter privacy. Staff are discrete and always call out before walking down your little garden path to deliver a sumptuous champagne picnic or stock up your minibar. Perfect for a few days of snuggling with your someone special! Our Blue Moon villa even came with an outside shower and copy of the Karma Sutra! They think of everything here!
I never tasted any of my own wedding cake (a fact which hubbie is reminded of frequently!) as it had all gone by the time it came to me. Yet I always think the icing on the marriage cake is the honeymoon, which in my book is just as important as your wedding! Hopefully I have given you a little inspiration to help your dreams become reality, and remember, you don’t have to have just one honeymoon…life after all is simply one big adventure!