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Explorer’s Journal: Taking on southern Africa with Destination Expert Jeanie

As a team of explorers first, our Destination Experts are constantly on the move, becoming familiar with our featured destinations, hotels, and exclusive activities. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get up-close and personal with them on their journeys. Follow along with our Destination Expert Jeanie O’Halloran as she takes on southern Africa.

Hello from southern Africa!

It’s Jeanie here, one of SA’s Destination Experts. I recently took an incredible trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Allow me to share this journey and take you from the “Mother City” of Cape Town and its gorgeous winelands to the roaring Victoria Falls and the Greater Kruger National Park.

South Africa’s “Mother City”

My first stop was Cape Town, a city bursting with culture, beautiful landscapes, significant history, and an endless list of things to do. For me, October was the perfect time to visit as the temperatures get warmer, but still comfortable enough to carry out a jam-packed itinerary. What struck me the most was the beauty of Cape Town and the variety of nature-led activities available within the city and the Western Cape. From hiking flat-topped Table Mountain to kayaking with dolphins in Sea Point to paragliding off Signal Hill, adventure seekers don’t need to go far to get their fix. For me, Cape Town truly fulfils the cliché of “the city that has something for everyone.”

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Cape Town, South Africa’s “Mother City,” is stunning from any angle. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Next Stop: Cape Peninsula

I hadn’t expected to see wildlife until my safari later in the week, but to my surprise, even on the Cape Peninsula I managed to spot cheeky baboons and an ostrich with their chicks, and even catch a glimpse of a Cape Cobra! We drove down the coast toward the Cape of Good Hope and made a few stops along the way, including Simon’s Town to visit the local penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Sadly, these penguins (also known as the African or Jackass penguin) are endangered due to overfishing. I met with local conservationists to learn more about this bird’s plight and the efforts being made to save them.

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An example of local signage (left) and the endemic wildlife (right) such signs are designed to protect. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

What fascinated me on this daytrip was learning about Fynbos, a type of shrub vegetation found in the Cape Region. Fynbos comes from the Dutch word ‘Fijnboch’ which literally means ‘fine bush’. The Fynbos Biome is vital as it produces an abundance of endemic species. While the Cape floral kingdom is the smallest of the world’s Six Floral Kingdoms, it is one of the most diverse - a botanist's dream! Interestingly, South Africa’s national flower, the Protea, is a type of fynbos, as is Rooibos, so I was sure to pick up a box of delicious local tea to bring home.

To the winelands!

A recent hobby of mine has been learning about the production of wine and regions that grow grapes, so I couldn’t make a visit to South Africa without taking a trip to one of the Cape Winelands. Franschhoek was founded by French Huguenot settlers (hence the name) and is located 1.5 hours inland from Cape Town. The Huguenots brought along their winemaking traditions in the 17th century. The local geography and climate lend itself to producing some wonderful wines, including excellent traditional style sparkling wines (also known as Cap Classique in South Africa).

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The gorgeous amenities at the Babylonstoren guest house and the nearby vine-filled vistas made the perfect combination for this oenophile. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

After a round of tastings, I was able to check out the wine cellar and see the wine bottles being labelled and packaged for distribution. However, Franschhoek isn’t only for wine enthusiasts. The quaint single-street town is packed with world-renowned restaurants and boutiques, art galleries, and coffee shops. I only wish I could’ve stayed longer!

Cape Town from above

Table Mountain is Cape Town’s famous landmark that receives thousands of visitors a day. The flat-topped mountain can easily be reached via cable car or a morning hike. However, I decided to visit Lion’s Head, a peak adjacent to Table Mountain which offers similarly wonderful views and takes only 1-2 hours to summit. Though the hike itself is fairly easy, the final portion involves using chains to help ascend (this hike is not for the faint-hearted). Reaching the mountain’s peak, I was rewarded with 360˚ views and a spectacular sunset. I was also told that sunrise can be even more impressive – just another reason to add to the list of why I’ll definitely be returning to Cape Town someday soon.

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Soaking up the panoramic views from atop Lion’s Head peak. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

On safari at the Greater Kruger National Park

From Cape Town, I took a 2.5-hour direct flight to Hoedspruit, the gateway to the Greater Kruger National Park. The drivetime to my first accommodation should’ve been one hour but turned into at least twice as long, given all the animal sightings we made along the way. Although I have been on a safari before, I have never seen a hyena and still can’t believe my luck when we were met by a pack of hyenas on my first game drive that evening.

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Look out for giraffes crossing – they always have the right-of-way! (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Going on safari is a special experience not only for the animal sightings, but also for the incredible hospitality offered by each and every property we work with. If a 4:30 am wakeup call is too early for you, you can sit the morning game drive out by sleeping in and enjoying a morning spa treatment. Or you can simply chill by the pool, from which elephants sometimes decide to drink! A favorite memory of mine is enjoying a gin & tonic around the campfire, recalling the day’s events with other guests, and enjoying a traditional ‘Braai’ (South African Barbecue).

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Although game-sighting on safari can be truly wild, accommodations are anything but – comfort and serenity are the name of the game here. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

Catching a Natural Wonder of the World

Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. When combining the waterfall’s height and weight together, it creates the largest single sheet of flowing water in the world. The falls are located midway along the course of the Zambezi River, bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s also only an hour or so away from the Botswana border. All this made visiting Victoria Falls an obvious no-brainer while I was in southern Africa.

I was lucky enough to experience the falls from Zambezi National Park, which has a trail along the opposite side of the waterfalls that allow you to appreciate its length and magnitude. Though I visited in low-water season, I still found the falls just as wonderfully impressive and could even see some spray from my hotel back in town.

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Postcard-perfect Victoria Falls – and this is during low-water season! (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

The next day, I began my exploration of the Zambezi River on a Zambezi Cruise, which sails down the stream as you enjoy your first African sunset, complete with wildlife sightings, sundowner drinks, and appetizers. As the sun set, I caught a special sight of elephants swimming, as well as plenty of hippos flashing their teeth while we sailed by. The cruise was a super relaxing way to settle into my time in the area, and it served as a great taste for visiting the falls the following day.

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Just one of the many “pinch me I must be dreaming” wildlife moments on the Zambezi River. (Photo: Jeanie O’Halloran)

We hope you’re feeling inspired, because we’d love to take you on this journey from South Africa to Victoria Falls! Maybe you also want to go on safari in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, or even have the ultimate Luxury South Africa Safari & Wine experience –  contact a Destination Expert  today to start planning your custom Africa safari.

About the author: Born and raised in Ireland, Jeanie O’Halloran has long been a part of SA Expeditions and has since become a leader of our destination team. She has helped hundreds of people explore the Americas, and now also serves as our Africa specialist for travelers interested in making their safari dreams come true.

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