South Africa From Beach to Bush

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The Oyster Box hotel in Durban.
The Oyster Box hotel in Durban.

At INDABA 2016, one catchphrase that kept ringing throughout Africa’s largest tradeshow was “value for money.” While this notion could easily apply to hotels alone in South Africa (five-star lodges at less than $200 a night are just the start), value in this country goes far beyond the physical.

“One of our biggest advantages is value for money, but also value for time. So when you come here, you don’t only experience South Africa, you experience southern Africa,” explained Bangu Masisi, South African Tourism’s North America president, during a press conference at INDABA. “By the time you go back, you feel like you’ve seen two or three countries in one. For us, value for money and time is the biggest drive for the North American market.”

Over the course of two weeks, Recommend hopscotched around South Africa (with the help of internal flights from South African Airways) experiencing destinations that capture the best the country has to offer: golden beaches, cutting-edge city culture, and safaris that head to the heart of the bush.

The seaside city of Durban is known as the gateway to the beach and bush, with its Golden Mile stretch of shoreline extending south from the harbor up to Umhlanga in the north. While we saved the bush for a later portion of our journey, we took advantage of the beaches hugging the Indian Ocean at Umhlanga Rocks, cozying up at colonial chic hotel The Oyster Box. The five-star, 86-room hotel includes eight gardenside villas with private plunge pools, as well as the award-winning B Africa spa, the only one in the country with a traditional Turkish hammam.

The historic hotel’s allure, besides its stunning 19th century decor, is that guests feel they’ve really slipped away from city life and have landed on an island resort. An hour away, travelers can take a 2-hour bushwalk at Tala Game Reserve or, for the braver ones, head to the Natal South Coast to go cage diving with sharks. Rates at The Oyster Box start at $373 per night (including breakfast).

Cape Town
After a quick flight from Durban, we were greeted at The Table Bay hotel in Cape Town with a lavish 3-course high tea spread that could easily rival the best-of-the-best in London. Chocolate tarts, mini opera cakes, saffron and cardamom creme brulee…you name it, they have it. The 329-room hotel sitting on the mouth of the historic waterfront is known for more than its tea, though; it was inaugurated in 1997 by one of the country’s most celebrated political figures—Nelson Mandela. Rooms are divided by view overlooking the sea or Table Mountain, and guests step out the door and are instantly in the heart of all the dining and shopping action on the V&A Waterfront. Rates start at $392.

One of the best ways to get to the heart of a culture is by breaking bread with its people, and at Cooking With Love, your clients can learn how to craft Cape Malay cuisine in an authentic Bo-Kaap home with local chef and TV personality Faldela Tolker. Set in her personal kitchen in the middle of the colorful former Malay Quarter, Faldela takes her guests through the steps to perfecting chicken curry, roti and samosas during an hour-and-a-half long cooking course, followed by a tour of one of the city’s oldest residential areas.

“Hidden gems are where tourism growth in South Africa is going,” Masisi predicted while chatting with us at INDABA. While in Cape Town, we had the chance to set off and explore one of these so-called gems first-hand on a 2-hour drive to the Cape West Coast to the fishing village of Paternoster. Set on the westernmost point of Southern Africa—the spot where you can see the sun set last in the whole country—the traditional fishermen’s village with its white-washed homes and blue shutters is one of the oldest in the area, yet one of the least touched by tourism.

Tour operator Escape to the Cape teamed up with local Dianne Heesom-Green, owner of Stone Fish Studio & Gallery, to map out a 1-day itinerary that you could easily replicate for your clients. Start with a ceramics class at Stone Fish, then Dianne will share a bit of the town’s history before heading for a taste of what makes this fishing village worth the drive—lunch at Gaaitjie Salt Water Restaurant, overlooking the beach and offering a menu of gourmet-inspired seafood fare. For guests staying the night, recommend a room with a view at the 10-suite Abalone House, featuring jacuzzis on the rooftop decks overlooking the sea (rates from $115).

Safari Style at Karongwe
Skirting Kruger National Park, you’ll come across a number of private game reserves that are not only more luxurious, they also give visitors more freedom when it comes to off-road game drives and activities. It’s common to end a stay in South Africa on safari, and we spent two days on the 22,000-acre Karongwe Private Game Reserve, overlooking the Drakensberg Mountains, about an hour and a half from the Hoedspruit Airport. The reserve is home to five properties, two of which are five-star—Kuname and Kuname Manor House. At Kuname, the five luxe air-conditioned chalets include private baths in the bush, while the manor house is a fully equipped 2-bedroom home with a loft and outdoor pool that’s perfect for families or couples traveling together. Fifteen minutes away by open-air game drive vehicle (the very same one used for safaris), four-star Karongwe River Lodge is a more rustic option with 11 treehouse-style suites set over the Makhutsi River. Rates at Kuname start at $235 pp for a suite or $310 pp for the Manor House, while suites at Karongwe River Lodge start at
$142 pp (including meals and two daily
game drives).

Contact Information
Abalone House:
Escape to the Cape:
Karongwe Private Game Reserve:
The Oyster Box:
South African Airways:
South African Tourism:
The Table Bay: