I'm sitting in a café on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront in Cape Town, waiting for my ferry over to Robben Island. The sun is just rising over Table Mountain on the final morning of our fantastic eight-day South African adventure. Our kind hosts, Premier Holidays, together with their 'ground handlers' Thompson Africa have given us - eight ladies - some of the most inspirational and memorable lifetime experiences. It began on arrival in Port Elizabeth where we drove 110km to the internationally renowned Big 5 game reserve, Kareiga, 10,000 hectares of pristine wilderness incorporating the picturesque Kareiga and Bushmans' rivers. The game viewing and birdwatching experiences are perhaps the best in the eastern cape. After checking into our lovely luxury Ukhozi suites with private plunge pools, we were acquainted with our game ranger Shelley and taken on an early evening game drive for rhino, giraffe, zebra and eland.
It lasted two hours and as the sun went down, and with our tummies rumbling, Shelley lead us to our "boma" - a roaring campfire with delicious barbecue and wine where we all gathered round and listened to stories of life as a ranger. A 5:30am start, fuelled by hot chocolate, began day two with a real high point: time with a herd of elephants, taking photos (that is we took them - they couldn't manage the buttons) and just witnessing their splendour.
After a short visit to the nearby Pumba Private Game Reserve, we spent five hours on the road to Knysna. It's a small town rich in flora and fauna, with a stunning waterfront shops, cafes, restaurants and the country retreat of Knysna Hollow, where we stayed for two nights. That evening we dressed up and headed to JJ's waterfront restaurant for the most delicious meal, cocktails and entertainment from the staff who sang local songs. The next day saw a visit to the Ostrich Safari at Oudstoorn, where we got to ride the animals, watch them race and, ahem, enjoy some of their friends in a buffet lunch. Absolutely superb! This was en route to Hermanus, an upmarket spot for retail, adventure and a very special pastime that keeps the area busy: whale watching, which happens from late June until early November. That night was spent at the Harbour House Hotel, set in the heart of the old harbour, a seaside manor house of understated luxury built in the 1920s, with a lookout terrace inviting guests to gather around the infinity pool and maybe enjoy a sundowner cocktail or two and gaze over the ocean. Next stop Stellenbosch, one of the prettiest towns in the whole of South Africa, rich in local history and, above all, wine. We had two tastings that day: one at the luxurious Lanzerac Manor, with its superb spa, lovely grounds and pool; and the second at Ernie Els' wine farm hosted in his own private trophy room. After that, hiccup and a good night's sleep at the Protea Stellanbosch. The tour's final leg was lead by Alan, Thomson Africa's amazing guide and driver, on a peninsula tour cruising a stretch of coastline known as 'Millionaires' Paradise', from Clifton to Camps Bay and on towards the charming working harbour of Hout Bay, hugging the cliffs and overlooking the water.
We head to the Cape of Good Hope, meeting point for the Atlantic and Indian oceans, grabbing some serious photos of Boulders Beach and the penguin colony. Back in Cape Town, Richard's Supper Club put on a fabulous show highlighting life there during the dark times and the fate of the infamous District 6. How times have changed, as we saw with some of the prestigious properties such as Table Bay at the waterfront, Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay Retreat. Our final evening was at the 5* Cape Grace Hotel for a remarkable, unforgettable 7-course dinner. Only one landmark left to visit now: Robben Island. South Africa's most famous prison was a place of exile for political prisoners such as President Jacob Zuma and prisoner 46664: Nelson Mandela. We were shown around by former prisoners who are now official guides, bringing a unique dignity and real meaning as we looked on to the cell that caged Mandela for 18 years. I end this piece at home, a week on. I cannot stop thinking about the countryside, coastline, culture, the warmth, wildlife and the wine. I feel I really am truly blessed.