Category Archives: South Africa

Captivated by Kruger: review of MalaMala Private Game Reserve, Sabi Sands, South Africa

The Greater Kruger is an unfenced wilderness in South Africa , stretching over 400km from north to south. It combines private reserves and the national park and is known for high densities of lion, leopard and elephant. There are many ways to explore this wonderful and very accessible region which is at its peak between May and October during the long cool winter months. A safari in Kruger lends itself perfectly to being incorporated into a longer holiday in Southern Africa. 

Here, we review our recent stay at MalaMala as well as giving general information about the Kruger and how to combine it in your holiday.

Location

Three distinct camps (Main Camp, Sable Camp, Rattray’s Camp) stretch out along the Sand River in the vast MalaMala Private Game Reserve. The reserve is sandwiched between the famous Sabi Sands region of Greater Kruger and Kruger National Park itself -it  is the largest private Big Five game reserve in South Africa, comprising 13 300 ha (33 000 acres). The borders are unfenced allowing wildlife to migrate unhindered. The size of the reserve ensures guests enjoy an exclusive safari experience – you’ll see other MalaMala vehicles and anti-poaching teams going about their work but very little other traffic.

This area is known to be one of the best in Africa for seeing leopard. Guests have a good chance of seeing the MalaMala Big Seven (Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Wild Dog).

The setting is very beautiful with the Sand River in front of camp. The reserve has lots of contrasting scenery with dramatic granite kopjes (punctuated with klipspringer), mud holes perfect for white rhino and buffalo wallowing,  the river for crocodile, hippo and elephant, open plains, forest, huge sausage trees and statuesque euphorbia candelabrum.

Access

MMDSC_1771The camp can be accessed via fly-in from Johannesburg (and Cape Town), either fly and transfer via Skukuza (about an hour’s drive away) or Nelspruit KMIA (2 hour road transfer) or a private charter to the airstrip moments from camp.

We hired an SUV in Johannesburg and stopped off in Hazyview for a night (staying at Rissington Inn – an easy 4 hour drive mostly on the N12, from OR Tambo) which then made MalaMala a simple 2 hour drive the following morning. The first hour or so is on tarred road, we then registered at Shaws Gate, paying our park fees, to enter the reserve area. There is an undulating  dirt track which is well sign -posted with plenty of passing places. We came across this beautiful male leopard within moments of starting our 20km journey to MalaMala. We also saw elephant and white rhino along with many antelope and zebra.MMIMG_4930

view IMG_4971Accommodation and style

MalaMala Camp Bar3MalaMala Camp Rooms5.6_2We stayed at Main Camp, the largest of the three camps, which consists of 19 luxury air-conditioned thatched rooms and suites. The lodge has been on this spot since the 1930s, originally a hunting lodge and converting to conservation and photography in the 60s – the first to do so. The camp was completely refurbished in 2018 and transformed from the old-school and old-fashioned hunting lodge style,  to a beautiful far more contemporary property – the refurb has been sensitive with the historic exterior, boma, where Nelson Mandela has dined and various artworks all preserved.

MMDSC_1786Travelling as a family we stayed in one of the Waterhole Suites. Other rooms/suites face the other direction towards the Sand River. The children had their own twin room and bathroom which led to a huge double bedroom, bathroom with bath and shower and wonderful outdoor shower.

Along the front of the room and accessed from both bedrooms by sliding glass doors was a wooden deck looking over the waterhole where we had hippo, nyala, kudu and mongoose as visitors. Rooms are extremely comfortable and stylish, retaining an African flavour with a natural colour palate, porqupine quill  lamp and wildlife artworks. There are many thoughtful touches, for instance umbrellas in the hall, USB ports, extensive mini bar and fresh ice, a sweetie jar for the children. Closets had lighting, towels were fluffy and complimentary bath products smelt divine.

Sable and Rattray’s camp are smaller and quieter. No children under 12 are permitted at Sable Camp and no children under 16 at Rattray’s Camp.

Seasonality

MMDSC_1736MalaMala is open year-round. Visiting in April we knew it was the end of the rainy season and the bush would be very lush. As expected the weather was rather unpredictable. One day we had blue skies and temperatures of 38 degrees and the next it was 22 degrees cloudy and raining – we quite enjoyed the contrast – we still saw amazing wildlife, the landscape was beautiful,  and even when we got soaked on the morning drive we knew we were returning to lovely hot showers, coffee and breakfast!

May to October (the cool dry winter) is considered the peak time for this area – the bush starts to dry out and die back, and weather is more  consistent and reliable. Wildlife is easier to see as it gathers around the water sources and is not so easily concealed by the bush.  If you are keen to combine a safari in Greater Kruger with a stay in Cape Town then April/May and September/October are the best months.

The safari day

MMDSC_1734The daily schedule changes with the seasons – for our stay we would be woken at 515am, for tea/coffee and a light snack on the deck at 545am with other guests,  before departing at 6am. We would usually be back at camp for a hearty breakfast by about 9am.

After breakfast there is time to relax and enjoy the camp – for instance the swimming pool with its glorious views over the Sand River. It’s lovely to sit and read, or watch the wildlife come and go from the waterhole. We’d have lunch about 1pm – lunch is delicious!! Depending how much you indulge you may need a lie down afterwards…

Breakfast and lunch are both in a buffet format and very high quality with a good choice. Where possible we dined alfresco on the deck. Breakfast included fresh fruit, juice, a hot buffet including pancakes or waffles and fresh breads. Lunch  always included a lovely selection of salads plus cold meats, quiche and condiments as well as a hot option, for example, a curry. There was a choice of desert from fruit salad and ice-cream to lemon meringue.

In the afternoon we would meet at 3-315pm (more bite size treats on offer plus tea/coffee and cold drinks) and leave at 345pm, returning to camp at around 7pm. On one evening we did stop for sundowners out on the reserve but wildlife viewing certainly takes priority here. Pre dinner drinks and nibbles would be in the bar at around 745pm with dinner following. We enjoyed gathering in the bar and completing the ‘sightings board’ each evening with all the guests and rangers – a very communal activity.

Dinner is chosen from a set menu with Michael the barman suggesting suitable wine pairings from the delicious range of South African wines. We enjoyed a candle-lit dinner on the deck on our first evening and joined fellow guests around the camp fire in the ancient boma, beneath the jackalberry tree on the following evening. Members of staff presented a cake and sang traditional songs around the fire to help one couple celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Staff

MMDSC_1707The staff added greatly to our experience from the efficient management team of Nerine, Alex and Vusi to the waiting staff such as smiling Stephalina with 22 years service. Everyone gets to know Michael-the-barman, who is a joy.  Our guide was Thabisani from Richard’s Bay – he was a lovely chap, a skilful driver and very knowledgeable – we even learnt some Zulu and Shangaan in two days. We enjoyed talking to him about all manner of things from culture to wildlife. It is customary for rangers to join guests for breakfast and sometimes at other meals as well.

The folder in the room dodges the question of tipping and leaves it very much at the discretion of guests which we can understand as it is a tricky one. For many people, a safari holiday is the most expensive trip they will ever make but if you can tip then it is hugely appreciated by the staff.  As a very general budget we usually work on $10-$30 US per person per day.  You tip your guide/ranger directly with the ‘golden handshake’ at the end of the stay,  and place your contribution for behind the scenes staff into the tip box (usually at reception).

Vehicles

The vehicles are completely open allowing for unrivalled wildlife viewing. They have 3 rows of 2 seats meaning everyone had a great view. They are very comfortable and the camp has steps to help those with reduced mobility get in and out more easily. There is a central hatch between each pair of seats for putting your camera or binos. In here you’ll also find blankets and ponchos. There is also a place to put your water bottle (each guest is presented with a smart named metal water bottle on arrival and can refill this with still or sparkling water from the main deck water station as needed).

Wildlife

Leo DSC_1716webIMG_5003Sabi Sands is known to be one of the best places to see leopard in Africa but we really did not expect to come across one within 5 minutes of driving through Shaw’s Gate! This was one of three leopard sightings during our short 2 night stay. We also had the joy of observing a pack of 8 Cape Hunting Dogs (wild dogs) as they socialised and warmed up on the tarred airstrip as the sun came up. I was not expecting to see cheetah with the bush so dense but we were treated to a fascinating face off on the last morning between an injured male and a hyena.

MMDSC_1655We enjoyed numerous and incredibly rewarding white rhino sightings, seeing several young with their mothers and being able to watch really interesting behaviour.

MMDSC_1808We saw elephant on the way to MalaMala and caught up with a lovely big bull on one of the afternoon drives but we had to work hard to see any others which is unusual for this area. Rhino DSC_1699  We were rewarded for our patience in the end with one the most memorable elephant sightings I’ve ever had – a huge herd on the move surrounded our vehicle just before sundown – there must have been at least 80 elephants with lots of babies. It was incredibly special – you can see the short video clip on our social media feeds (Facebook; Instagram; Twitter).

MMDSC_1867Lion were equally elusive – one large pride had been feeding on a rhino carcass for a couple of days (died from natural causes) on the neighbouring conservancy of Londolozi and continued to feast there during our stay, not appearing until we left! (We managed to see fabulous lion feeding on a buffalo kill further south in Kruger National Park.)

Antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, hippo and many different bird species were all easy to see. We even saw a crocodile in the river. The most unusual sighting had to be the honey badger as it raced across the track right in front of us.

Value for money

Make no mistake, MalaMala is at the top end of the safari spectrum. Rates included all meals, drinks, game activities and WiFi. Hospitality, food and drink, guiding and accommodation were all exceptional, generous and wildlife sightings were rich and varied.

South Africa is an excellent holiday choice currently – the South African Rand is about 18 to the Pound (April 2019) so you can enjoy a diverse holiday combining a few days on safari with time on the Cape coast for example, for really good value, in comparison to other destinations.

Staying in a private reserve permits off-roading and the chance to have very close wildlife encounters. You can also drive at night. If you are on safari in the national park you are limited to using the set road routes and you can only drive between sunrise and sunset. They each offer very different experiences.

We offer many different camps and lodges in the Greater Kruger covering a range of price points, from small tented camps such as Garonga and Honeyguide to luxury lodges including MalaMala, Arathusa and Motswari. Please speak to us for advice.

 

cropped-logo-1.pngWild weekend – how we like to incorporate a safari to Greater Kruger within a holiday

How long to safari? 2 nights is really too short – we prefer a minimum stay of 3 nights in any one camp so you can really have a chance to see as much as possible (Kruger is a vast area so it also works  well combining stays in different locations as we did).

Whether you fly-in or drive-in there are many ways to combine safari time in Greater Kruger within a longer holiday. Here are a few ideas:

CPTshutterstock_102271513Stay in the Cape – fly from Johannesburg or KMIA Nelspruit to/from Cape Town. Kruger and the Cape are best combined April/May or September/October.

Visit Victoria Falls – you can fly on to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg or to Livingstone (the Zambian side of the Falls) from KMIA Nelspruit making for a fabulous cross border holiday.

Zambia 1 Coral Lodge Kayaking on lagoonEscape to the beaches of Mozambique or Mauritius – there are many options here – you can travel by road from Southern Kruger across the border to Maputo in about 3 hours, for beaches in Southern Mozambique, or you can fly to Vilanculos for the Quirimbas. Alternatively you can overnight at Johannesburg airport and fly to the island of Mauritius.

Go golfing – wish list golf courses are within reach of Kruger including Leopard Creek on the southern edge. Sun City is also easily combined with a safari to Kruger.

Take the train –  two of the world’s most luxurious trains operate in southern Africa out of Pretoria including the Blue Train and Rovos Rail. The Blue Train has a special Kruger itinerary as well as a 2 night journey to Cape Town. Rovos operates to Cape Town as well as a special golf and safari itinerary.

Explore by car –  self-drive the stunning Panorama route in Mpumalanga or connect south to Durban to explore the battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. The Drakensberg Mountains are another option.

Looking for a malaria free safari option? South Africa has several malaria free Big Five reserves – speak to us about Madikwe or the Eastern Cape.

To find out more about holidays to South Africa please visit the dedicated country page on the Real Africa website or call us for a chat on 01603 964 730.

The joy of Private Conservancy Safaris

 

DSC_6229Mara DSC_6236

There are so many safari options, it can be tricky working out what’s best for you. Here we look at the joy of private conservancies and how they differ from a national park/reserve experience.

Mara DSC_6446Private Conservancies vs National Park Private conservancies are privately owned and run conservancies or reserves which tend to be located just outside the main national park or reserve. To maintain migration corridors national parks (like Kruger in South Africa or the Masai Mara in Kenya) are unfenced wilderness areas allowing for the free movement of wildlife.

National parks are managed by local councils and government bodies who are responsible for monitoring wildlife, anti-poaching, security and maintaining roads and facilities. Lodges are usually quite large to accommodate demand and visitor numbers are not usually limited. In peak seasons there can be a high density of vehicles. There are strict rules in the national parks – drivers must keep to designated trails and safaris can only be enjoyed between sunrise and sunset.

Private conservancies in contrast,  work in partnership with the local community landowners. Because they are owned and managed privately, visitor numbers are strictly controlled. In Mara North in the Masai Mara for instance there is one guest on average to every 350 acres.  Camps and lodges tend to be small so guests see very few other vehicles compared to the national park.

There are significant benefits of the private conservancy model for both the visitor and the local community:

  • Environment Private conservancies protect important ecosystems, for example the Greater Mara Eco-System in Kenya and the Okavango in Botswana. They help to stop the degradation of these eco-systems, conserving wildlife and bio-diversity and allowing the habitat to recover.
  • WWDSC_5360Community Local people are able to earn an income from eco tourism and wildlife conservation. In Kenya, Maasai landowners are able to benefit directly from working in partnership with camps and lodges, being paid a ‘bed night’ fee for every guest staying.  In South Africa’s Greater Kruger the conservancies operate in the same way – collaborating with the local communities.
  • Eco-tourism Private conservancies champion low density responsible travel. In a nutshell this is the best way to safari without the crowds.

Serian Lion Cubs DSC_6888The exclusive private conservancy safari experience

Private conservancies are often accessed by light aircraft flight, served by their own airstrip. Flying-in helps to maximise your holiday time and gives you a wonderful bird’s eye view in the process.

Guests can enjoy a wide range of activities. These include 4×4 safari, night drives, walking, bush dining and sundowners on the plains. You don’t have to be back in camp by sundown so you can enjoy the conservancy to the full – stopping for a gin and tonic at sunset or heading out on a night drive with flashlights after supper.

Private conservancies offer a quality, low density experience.  Instead of large lodges you can stay in small tented camps/lodges. You’ll see fewer vehicles and enjoy better quality game viewing.

You can get closer to the action. It’s good safari etiquette for guides to stick to trails to prevent grass erosion, however in private conservancies should you come across something exciting, like these gorgeous lion cubs,  you can go off road to observe more closely – something you are prohibited to do in a national park.

You can safari in the knowledge that your stay will be benefiting the local community and contributing to wildlife conservation.

Mara DSC_6556Focus on Mara North, Kenya

The Mara North Conservancy offers 64,000 acres of prime wilderness situated immediately to the north-east of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, and works in partnership with local Maasai landowners. In MNC, there are eleven member camps. Each is represented by a land management committee. The committee meets monthly with the Maasai Landowners Committee representing over 800 Maasai landowners, who have opted to lease their land for conservation. The MNC is one of the largest community and private sector owned conservancies in the world and this is the first time many Maasai have been able to receive a direct income from wildlife.

Crucially, all the camps in the private conservancies promote low density tourism. This ensures an exclusive safari experience and minimal impact to the environment and its wildlife. This is the same across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Take your pick from Olare Motorogi and Mara North to name just two of many fantastic conservancies in the Masai Mara, Chyulu Hills on the edge of Tsavo and Amboseli or undiscovered Kalama or Sera north of Samburu. Kenya has many wonderful conservancies to choose from.

Explore Kenya safaris

Tanzania also offers wonderful private conservancies including five star Singita. Further south you can enjoy legendary Selinda or Linyanti in Botswana’s Okavango among many other excellent choices, Linkwasha in Zimbabwe’s Hwange, Ongava in Namibia, or Sabi Sands and Timbavati in South Africa’s Kruger. Private conservancies offer guests the chance to get off the beaten track, for example Tswalu Kalahari also in South Africa, or Namunyak in the Mathews Range of northern Kenya.

 

 

 

What do you do when you and your partner want different holidays?

Do you and your other half disagree on what holiday to book? This is the time of year, when the days are long and dark, when most people are looking into booking their big holiday for the year. It’s hard enough trying to decide where to go and how much to spend but it can be a total minefield if you and your partner want completely different things.

Hands up – who wants to lie on a beach but has another half who wants to be active? Who wants to enjoy fine food and drink in a luxury hotel but your partner wants to rough it in the great outdoors? Does one of you hanker after bright lights and city breaks but the other prefers fantastic scenery and wildlife?

Well I have the perfect solution for those of you with this dilemma – South Africa!

It may be a cliché but South Africa really does have something for everyone. If you want a city break with luxury hotels, fine food and wine, nightlife, shopping and galleries then Cape Town is the place for you. Cape Town is not only a vibrant and exciting city but it is also surrounded by amazing scenery. Accessible from Cape Town is a wide range of scenery from mountains to vineyards, beaches to bush and incredible wildlife including whales, sharks and dolphins. While you are relaxing on the beach, visiting galleries, enjoying a superb lunch or shopping your partner could be sailing, fishing, shark diving, taking a helicopter flip, whale watching or golfing. You see what I mean? There aren’t many places in the world where you can do all this in one place!

If one of you wants great beaches and the other wants to go on safari then this can also be done easily in South Africa. (Actually Kenya or Tanzania are also good options as you can easily combine a safari with a beach stay on the coast or on Zanzibar.) The world famous Garden Route is chock full of beautiful beaches and you can stay at Knysna or Plettenberg Bay two small but lively beach towns surrounded by amazing scenery. Combine this with a few days on safari in one of the 5 star private game reserves in the Eastern Cape and you can both be happy!

If one of you wants to experience the great outdoors then staying in a tented camp on safari or a lodge tucked up high in the stunning Drakensberg Mountains are both excellent choices. If you are is super sporty then you can play golf at one of the numerous golf courses all over SA, go surfing at Jeffrey’s Bay on the Garden Route, go shark-diving in Cape Town, mountain biking, horse-riding or hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains, fishing, whale watching, dolphin spotting all along the Garden Route – the list is endless. If the other half is not so keen then there are plenty of alternatives on offer in all of these places.

If you also cannot decide on what kind of accommodation you both prefer perhaps you could mix and match and combine both your preferences? If you do one of our wonderful self drive holidays you have a huge range of choice. You can stay in everything from private luxury villas to boutique bed and breakfasts. We have eco-lodges, luxury hotels, self-catering apartments, safari lodges, city hotels, beach resorts, bed and breakfast accommodation, country houses, vineyards – the list is endless. You can find our full range in the Lodge Library.

If you would like to talk to one of our experts about your holiday dilemmas then just give Paul, Helen or Lily a call –we are very good at finding the perfect solution!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

 

 

 

Where should I go on safari?

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s dark. At this time of year, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to holidays! If you’re having a destination dilemma, and are tempted by a safari, read on – you’ll find the top ten questions we get asked at travel shows every year (with answers.) It might just help you narrow the selection down! 

In the entertainment world the New Year is punctuated by a series of glittering awards ceremonies – in January you have the Golden Globes, followed by the BAFTAs and then of course it’s the Oscars at the end of February.

In travel, it is our busiest time of year with wall to wall travel shows, brochure requests and enquiries galore  – so we are just as busy but possibly not quite as glamorous!

Travel Shows offer a great opportunity to find out everything you need to know about your destinations of interest. You can pick up brochures on a whole range of places and experiences, ask the experts your burning questions, and enjoy presentations on world food and travel in the celebrity and destination theatres.

Here are some of the most common questions fired at us during the travel shows (with abbreviated answers – if you want the ‘full’ answer , do give us a ring on 01603 283 517).


Where should I safari in 2016? Here goes with the top ten questions. 

Q.Where’s the best place to catch up with the migration?
 A.Kenya’s Masai Mara or Tanzania’s Serengeti (depending on time of year).
Take a look at this classic tented safari holiday, put together with the Migration in mind.

Q.We’re on a budget – where do you recommend? 
 A.South Africa and Kenya currently offer the best value in Africa. 
This 19 day trip to South Africa, including a stay in a tented camp in the Greater Kruger is fantastic value.

Q.We’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime journey. Where do you recommend?
A.It has to be Botswana…ideally combined with Victoria Falls (but the answer will vary depending on who you speak to!)
To be honest, if you go once, and do it right, we know you’ll be smitten and desperate to return to Africa!
Q.We’ve travelled lots in Africa and are after something completely different? 
A.Namibia or Ethiopia will make a big impression.

Q.Where can I see rhino?
 A.Your best chances are in Kenya (Lake Nakuru or Laikipia); South Africa (KwaZulu Natal); Namibia (Etosha, Damaraland)

Q.Where can we have an adventure? 
A.Take your pick: Zimbabwe (walk in Mana Pools, canoe the Zambezi, track rhino on foot in Matusadona); Botswana (horse ride, canoe, camp) Uganda & Rwanda (trek to see gorillas and chimps); Tanzania (climb Kilimanjaro, dive the Indian Ocean); South Africa (cage dive with a Great White); Zambia (incredible walking safaris)

Q.What do you recommend for a classic safari and beach holiday?
 A.Tanzania is wonderful – combine a classic Northern Circuit with the Spice Islands of Zanzibar or Pemba. Or get off the beaten track, and head to the vast southern parks of Selous and Ruaha, followed by the mainland coast or rustic Mafia Island with its marine reserve.  Alternatively combine a safari in South Africa’s Kruger with the beaches of Mozambique, or safari in Zambia before chilling on the shores of  Lake Malawi. Got more time and a bigger budget? Try Botswana and Mauritius, or Kenya and the Seychelles.

Q.Where can we tick off the Big Five?
A.Kenya is your absolute best bet. We even have a sample holiday called The Big Five! Don’t forget the Big Seven – head to South Africa for that!

Q.We want to see leopard – where do you recommend?
 A.Our top picks would be Zambia (the South Luangwa offers night drives, ideal for catching up with these nocturnal beauties); South Africa (Greater Kruger – Sabi Sands area); Botswana (a private concession in the Okavango)
Q.What’s the best time to go?
A.Sub-saharan Africa covers a vast area so it depends where you are going and what you would like to see! As a very general rule the peak months for Botswana, Zimbabwe , Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa’s Greater Kruger  are May to October. For East Africa the peak months for safari and beach are December to February and  June to October while the weather in Ethiopia and South Africa’s Cape would be best November to March. The peak months for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda tend to be between June and September, the long dry season.

By Sara White.

 

Forget Chelsea Flower Show – South Africa is where it’s at!

Calling all garden lovers! You may have been lucky enough to visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or like me, you are currently enjoying the TV coverage from the comfort of your armchair. Always stunningly beautiful and inspiring, the Chelsea Flower Show has me itching to get out in my garden and copy some of their ideas. However somewhere else in the world really inspired me when I visited it a few years ago. South Africa.

South Africa is one of the most wonderful places to visit if  you are interested in gardens and rare or unusual plants. South Africa has a fabulous climate which means it is home to some stunningly beautiful gardens.  I am going to focus on the nations wonderful botanical gardens which are run by SANBI, the South African National Biodiversity Institute. They manage 10 National Botanical Gardens with an emphasis on preserving the indigenous plants and natural habitats which are so unique to South Africa and they are fantastic places to visit as a tourist.

South Africa’s National Botanical Gardens

The ten national botanical gardens are Kirstenbosch, Pretoria, Walter Sisulu, Free State, Hantam, Harold Porter, Karoo Desert, Kwelera, Lowveld, and KwaZulu-Natal. Altogether they make up over 7,400 ha of natural habitats and vegetation now protected for future years.  They also provide a wonderful tourist attraction for local economies with nearly 1.5 million visitors a year. Kirstenbosch, is one of the world’s very best botanical gardens and it has almost a million visitors a year on it own. It’s also one of my favourite places to visit when I am in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch is one of the most dramatically scenic botanical gardens in the world, as it sits nestled on the inland side of Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Kirstenbosch is also one of the world’s most important botanical institutions as it is home to some of the rarest species of plants. The garden was established over a hundred years ago by English botanists who settled in Cape Town. It makes the most of its stunning backdrop and the wonderful balmy climate to focus on the vast and diverse indigenous flora of South Africa. This creates a very natural atmosphere perfectly at home within the landscape and large sections of its huge acreage have been left as native fynbos. Many visitors head straight for the Protea garden and these South African flowers, showy and strange, have become popular now in the UK and can be seen at Chelsea! The botanists based at Kirstenbosch are still making important scientific discoveries on a regular basis.

Hantam

Situated just outside Nieuwoudtville, award winning Hantam is one of the world’s very special biodiversity treasures and the first National Botanical Garden in the Northern Cape. This, unlike Kirstenbosch, is a relatively new botanical garden having been founded in 1982, but it has been a popular public garden since the 1800’s.  The natural vegetation of this area, Gauteng, is known as the ‘Rocky Highveld Grassland’ and it accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species. This kind of vegetation means that it is home to plenty of wildlife including a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nest on the cliffs alongside the waterfall.  There are over 220 birds species recorded on site and a number of reptiles and small mammals, including small antelope and jackals.

The Karoo

The Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden is different to all the others as it specialises in a wide variety of desert and semi-desert plants. The 154 hectare Garden lies at the foot of the Hex River Mountain range in the arid Karoo Desert region north of Cape Town. Only a small part is cultivated and the rest is all wild and natural giving the visitor a great chance to explore a natural but protected environment. There are also two fantastic hiking trails here. This is the place to come if you are interested in desert plants such as cacti and succulents and the best time to come is in the South African spring (August and September) when many of them are flowering and the sight is spectacular.

Kwazulu-Natal

The beautiful and tranquil KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden is in the east of South Africa and once again has its own special atmosphere created by the local landscape and natural vegetation. It too was set up by Victorians and they added a fascinating collection of rare specimens of northern hemisphere plants, such as the swamp cypress, tulip trees, camphor trees, plane trees, giant figs and magnolias. There is even an avenue of London plane trees which is over 100 years old! Of course there are plenty of local plants from the eastern grasslands such as Clivia, Gerbera, Kniphofia and Watsonia. It is also a protected environment for local birds with over 150 species recorded. Another fabulous section of the garden is the fascinating Useful Plants Garden, which displays local plants used by the Zulu people for medicine, craft, and food.

The scenery here is much as you would expect in this stunningly beautiful region. There are two main rivers which cut through the gardens and they create spectacular waterfalls and there are two wonderful viewpoints to see them. The Crocodile and Nels Rivers create the green and lush scenery and the African rainforest section which has some unique plantlife as well as a suspension  bridge with great views over the tumbling river below.  Various plant species have been introduced into the Garden in order to conserve them including South African coastal species and a unique collection of plants which represent the rapidly disappearing tropical forests of central and west Africa.

If you fancy a tour of the best of South Africa’s gardens then give us a call. We tailor-make all our holidays and we can create a holiday around specific gardens and any other interests you have.

Posted by Ruth Bolton