In 2009 we were privileged to spend a couple of weeks in South Africa. This was a present from our daughter and son in law who, though living in England, have a wildlife sanctuary 35 miles outside Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape. They also treated us to a stay in Cape Town and a few days in the historic town of Stellenbosch, with its ‘Dutch’ architecture and vineyards. It is just north of Cape Town, so just a taxi ride away. After exploring the area, which included a visit to another historic town of Franschhoek (French Corner) and the’ wonderfully verdant gardens at Kirstenbosch, we flew the 760 km (470 miles) to Port Elizabeth, where we picked up a car to do the other 35 miles to Hopewell Private Game Reserve. Although everyone talks about “The Garden Route” (a misnomer) we decided that it would take too long to drive all the way.
We flew along the coast in daylight and it looked very pleasant in with many sandy beaches and very blue sea.
We were greeted at Hopewell by Bruce, who has been a mainstay in the ten year development of the game reserve and has an intimate knowledge of wildlife, most of which used to be indigenous in the area but, unlike other parts of Africa, few would survive in a country which has been thoroughly developed over the last 300 or so years. Hopewell was created by fencing off a large area of a rough, undulating, redundant farm. It has since been stocked with elephants, giraffe, zebra, a large number and variety of antelope, some rhino and hippos. All are free to roam and breed at will and many are successfully doing this, so the total number of animals is uncertain. The area is covered with bush, so they are able to disappear into the countryside and it is Bruce’s skill, on frequent safari trips, that enable you to see the animals close to. Unlike large parks such as Addo Elephant National Park, which is not far away, the policy is not to keep predators, with the exception of a group of adorable cheetahs. These are not easy to find so Bruce has to track them by use of radio. They are quite used to him and, to our amazement, when he eventually tracked the female and her cubs, they followed him back to the safari truck and lay there for the photo shoot!
I must stress that the part of South Africa is completely malaria free. I never quite know how this can be arranged. Whether there are notices to tell malaria infected mosquitoes to keep out! Apart from the cheetahs the most dangerous animals are undoubtedly the elephants. They go where they like, usually in a herd. They can often be seen down by (or in) a conveniently constructed waterhole in front of the Lodge.
The Lodge was built from scratch on the side of a hill and was built with local stone and is thatched. There are two guest rooms inside and a further chalet a short way along the ridge. All the accommodation is of a very high standard and the food and service leaves nothing to chance. Breakfast is on the huge veranda and one can watch the animals from there and from the plunge pool. Safari runs inevitably are rounded off with a picnic somewhere up in the hills, so one can see the sun go down over cocktails. The best of these was a complete ‘Bush Dinner’, which was a complete surprise and was the full deal with tables, chairs, candles and a barbecue and was held under the branches of a vast overhanging tree. Bliss!
Another town not to be missed is Grahamstown, with many colonial buildings and a fascinating ‘Camera Obscura’ overlooking the town, one of the few in the Southern hemisphere. Port Elizabeth itself is a large sophisticated city with new shopping areas and an extensive promenade. However, you don’t have to go far to find the inevitable poor township. Daughter runs a charity at www.theoliverfoundation.com which was set up to try and alleviate some of the deprivation found in such places and help young residents to find a way out via education and sport. They have raised a great deal of money for these activities and have had some amazing results.
If one wishes to combine the stay at the Lodge with a break by the sea, about ten miles further on there is a pleasant small town of Kenton at the mouth of the Bushman’s River. The beaches there are superb. One can also hire horses for a canter along the beach. Further still is the sizeable Port Alfred, which is also a tourist attraction with golf course. But, for us, walks along the beach at Kenton-on-sea and dinner by the river on the Sandbar floating restaurant were a superb finish to the most luxurious holiday we have had.