Our trip begins today in Cape Town, South Africa. Affectionately known as "The Mother City," Cape Town's natural beauty, cosmopolitan atmosphere, outdoor accessibility and rich cultural diversity all combine to make South Africa's oldest city (founded in 1652) a fantastic starting point for our adventure. Meet at the Cape Town airport for our midday group transfer to our centrally located boutique hotel in the leafy Gardens neighborhood. A welcome gathering will be held in late afternoon, followed by a short orientation conducted by our guide. Overnight in Cape Town for the next two nights.? Dinner included.
After breakfast this morning, we head out for a full-day exploration of the wild Cape Peninsula. Our first stop will be Simonstown (approx. 45-minute transfer from our hotel) where we'll jump into our double kayaks for two hours of relaxed paddling in the fresh sea air of False Bay to Boulders Beach and the nearby African Penguin colony. After enjoying the antics of these little birds, we'll stop for lunch in a local seafood restaurant before continuing our drive down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope in Table Mountain National Park. Near the convergence point of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean currents, the Cape was first reached by European explorers in the late 15th century and later became an important stop along the spice trade route between Europe and the East Indies. Our own stop will include an hour-long uphill hike from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Point, a rocky promontory offering awe-inspiring views of the rugged coastline and shimmering waters of False Bay. En route back to Cape Town, we'll navigate the 114 curves along Chapman's Peak Drive, one of the world's most spectacularly scenic coastal roads, before returning to our hotel in late afternoon. Dinner tonight will be at the lively Cape Town Waterfront where we'll enjoy the festive atmosphere of our surroundings. Breakfast and lunch included.
Sea kayaking: Approx. two hours (suitable for novices). Hiking: 2 miles on a well-marked path, Elevation gain: 850'
We get an early start today as our sights are set on conquering the 3,000-ft summit of Table Mountain! Following the switchback Platteklip Gorge route, we?re treated to magnificent vistas and an introduction to the "fynbos" flora of the Cape region. On top we're greeted with jaw-dropping panoramic views. After a breathtaking descent via cable car, we'll take a short drive to the township of Langa. In addition to a stop for lunch, we'll enjoy a walking tour of the township and gain a better understanding of the efforts being made to face the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa. This afternoon we continue on to our country-style hotel nestled in the Cape Winelands. All meals included.
Hiking: 2 miles, 3?4 hours, Elevation gain: 2,300'
The majestic mountain scenery, picturesque vineyards and historic Cape Dutch architecture of the winelands combine to make this area one of the most beautiful wine-growing regions in the world. We set out to explore the Winelands by bike today, cycling the quiet backroads and stopping at some of the estates to taste the celebrated vintages produced here. Our loop ride begins this morning in the lovely village of Franschhoek, founded by the French Huguenots in 1688 and nestled in a valley between towering mountains in the heart of the Winelands region. Our route leads us through the peaceful countryside to a number of charming wine vineyards. Dinner is on our own tonight, allowing us to choose from the many excellent eateries located in town. Breakfast and lunch included.
Cycling: 15 miles, 3?4 hours, Elevation gain/loss: +715'/690'; terrain: gentle gravel and paved roads
We transfer to the Cape Town airport this morning for the two-hour flight northeast to Durban where we'll board our private vehicle for the drive to uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park (uKhahlamba translates as "Barrier of Spears" in Zulu and Drakensberg as "Dragon Mountains" in Afrikaans). The jagged mountain range that lies within the park forms a 120-mile-long barrier between South Africa and the independent Kingdom of Lesotho to the west and, rising to more than 11,000', includes Africa's highest peak south of Kilimanjaro. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the park contains a variety of habitats that play host to almost 300 bird species and 48 species of mammals including reedbuck, duiker, eland, caracal, jackal, mongoose, baboon and porcupine. The region also contains the highest concentration of rock art south of the Sahara with more than 20,000 individual Bushmen (or San people) paintings having been recorded. We arrive at our hotel in late afternoon, in time to appreciate our first views of the park's lofty peaks before sitting down to a hearty dinner. Overnight at the Cathedral Peak Hotel for the next three nights. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving time: 3 hours from Durban to the Cathedral Peak Hotel
We spend the next two full days in this hiker's paradise, discovering the trails and dramatic natural beauty of the park's Cathedral Peak region. The location of our hotel allows us to begin our hikes directly from our doorstep and local guides intimately familiar with the Cathedral Peak trail network join us on our explorations. Many of the walks in this area treat us to marvelous views of cascading waterfalls, lush yellowwood forests, massive rock buttresses and the soaring 3,000-meter summits of the Cathedral Peak range. Our guides will assist us each day in selecting memorable hikes based on current conditions that showcase the variety of scenery and terrain this fantastic area has to offer. All meals included.
Hiking: 6?10 miles (4?6 hours) each day, Elevation gain: 1,200'?2,500'
The final leg of our odyssey has us packing our hiking boots away and pulling out our safari shirts as we bid farewell to the Drakensberg and head north towards the wonders of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Sharing a 31-mile unfenced border with the immense and wildlife-rich Kruger National Park, the Sabi Sand Reserve offers some of the best opportunities in Southern Africa to observe many of the continent's large predator and prey species, as well as a large variety of smaller mammals and birds, in their natural environment.
On the morning of Day 8, we return to Durban for our short flight to Nelspruit, followed by a 90-minute transfer to our deluxe safari camp located within the Sabi Sand Reserve. Our days begin before dawn as we want to be out and about at first light when wildlife activity is at its most intense. Each morning, after a hot cup of coffee or tea, muffin or croissant, we'll climb aboard our vehicles and head into the reserve in search of the "Big Five" (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo) as well as a host of additional species including hyena, zebra, warthog, hippo, giraffe and the critically endangered African wild dog. Birding is also outstanding here and may include sightings of the Lilac-breasted Roller, Red-backed Shrike, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Marabou Stork, Lappet-faced Vulture and raptors such as the Brown Snake Eagle and Martial Eagle, the largest eagle in Africa.
After each morning exploration, we return to camp for brunch and have the middle of the day to ourselves to read, swim, watch for wildlife gathering at the camp's waterhole or even take a short bushwalk with one of the lodge guides. Each afternoon, we gather again for lunch at approximately 3pm and begin our late-day game drive shortly thereafter. As our game drives all take place within the borders of a private reserve, our rangers have the liberty of driving off-road allowing us to get closer to the animals we find (always, of course, making sure to maintain enough distance to avoid interfering with the animal's natural movement and behavior). Our open vehicles offer unobstructed views of the animals and the landscape ensuring we don't miss any exciting moments and allowing group members interested in photography to capture the best images possible. With almost 25,000 acres of accessible wilderness in its backyard, game drives from the lodge are always varied and generally filled with close-up wildlife encounters from start to finish. We spend three nights in the Sabi Sands Reserve, celebrating each day's extraordinary sightings with our guide and traveling companions. All meals included.
After a final early morning game drive, we enjoy breakfast at camp before transferring back to the Skukuza airport for our flight to Johannesburg. We arrive in Johannesburg by mid-afternoon, in time to catch evening connecting flights back to the U.S. Breakfast included.