A Jaws moment for Eileen and Roger in South Africa
PUBLISHED: 12:27 24 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:27 24 April 2018
Eileen Wise and Roger Hermiston saw South Africa by motorbike and sidecar - then got up close and personal with a Great White Shark
It was our first trip to South Africa, and we were raring to go to throw off the shackles of a prolonged English winter. So, in the warmth of the country’s late summer we forsook the attractions of languid days by beach or pool and opted to plunge into a series of adventures in its great outdoors.
We began our holiday in cosmopolitan Cape Town, quickly completing an exciting cable-car trip to the top of the stupendous Table Mountain, and then joining a boat out to Robben Island, that barren outpost of history where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly two decades in a cell barely six-foot square with nothing but a bedroll on the floor, a tiny stool and a ceramic pot.
Then the action really began. First we clambered aboard a motorcycle and sidecar (in stylish bandanas and leather jackets – well, we thought so) for an exhilarating ride around Cape Town and its pretty suburbs, and round the spectacular coastline where we held our breath as the edge of the road hung out over high cliff faces with sheer drops into the Atlantic Ocean.
Our 750cc machine was one of Chairman Mao’s military vehicles from the 1970s, now pressed into service for the adventurous 21st century tourist. We won admiring glances from the locals as we whizzed around the city – even being asked to pose for a photograph outside the Cecil Rhodes memorial with our charming and knowledgeable driver Bradley.
No trip to the Western Cape is complete without a trip to the winelands, so we indulged ourselves with a curated tour around two estates near the pretty town of Franschhoek. Eileen was first to burn off the calories with a visit to the nearby Paradise Stables for a rendezvous with an Arabian horse – a breed that is famously strong and high-spirited. She needn’t have worried, because accompanied by her expert riding companion Jonathan Kriel she enjoyed a gentle, scenic hack through the countryside.
Then, in the afternoon, we set off on a hike into the Franschhoek Mountains on the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve trail with our excellent guide Robyn Kadis, enjoying spectacular views of the valley, spotting the odd exotic bird and learning about the great variety of fynbos (shrubland vegetation).
But the most bracing, elemental activity was to come the next day once we had made our way along the coast to the ‘whale town’ of Hermanus. On an overcast, windy day we boarded Dyson Island Cruises ‘Whale Whisperer’ boat along with about a dozen others and a young and enthusiastic crew of four and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean. For a time all was calm - and fruitful - because we had some great sightings of the endangered Humpback dolphin, and soon afterwards, a brief one of a very large Great White shark which had been lured to the surface by some tasty bait. Then we passed Geyser Rock and had a close look at the thousands of smelly, bawling grey seals who make this little island their home.
The real fun started on the way home. As the boat picked up speed in the foaming, rolling waves, those of us on the upper deck had to cling on tight to the rails as we were buffeted left and right, rocking and rolling as if on a fairground rollercoaster, the spray lashing into our faces and the wind whistling through our hair. Battling the elements was physically hard work but utterly absorbing and exhilarating.
Later in the week having crossed into the Eastern Cape, we enjoyed a more tranquil turn on the water, on the expansive, picturesque canal system in St Francis Bay in the company of our skipper ‘Captain Kev’, a vivid raconteur with an intimate knowledge of the area and all its inhabitants.
Finally, we headed out on safari at the privately-owned game reserve of Sibuya in the glorious Kariega Estuary. Our morning trips in search of the ‘Big Five’ were especially magical, with much animal activity developing in the glorious, translucent light.
At these times we were lucky enough to see a pride of lions, the cubs cuffing each other playfully while the father looked on benignly, a couple of elephants making short work of prickly pear trees just yards from our land cruiser, and elegant giraffes fixing us with their unflustered stare.
We were fortunate that the downtime from all our adventures was spent in a series of great hotels and country houses – chic, stylish The Marly in Camp’s Bay, Cape Town, the restful, immaculate Holden Manz on a wine estate in Franschhoek, the environmentally friendly Schulphoek House in Hermanus, and the welcoming and tranquil Dune Ridge in St Francis Bay.
Fortunately, the Western Cape’s water crisis had waned a little by the time of our visit. South Africa certainly has this and rather more deep-seated social problems to tackle, but we came came away feeling there is nothing this young, vibrant democracy with its big-hearted people cannot ultimately solve. We will certainly be back.
Where to stay
• The Marly Hotel, Camps Bay, Cape Town www.themarly.co.za
• Holden Manz Country House hotel in Franschhoek www.holdenmanz.com
• Schulphoek House, Hermanus www.schulphoek.co.za
• Dune Ridge Country House, St Francis Bay www.duneridgestfrancis.co.za
• Sibuya Game Reserve,
For more information, visit www.southafrica.net