The most famous wildlife region of South Africa extends across the northeast of the country. There, private reserves like Sabi Sand, with their renowned lodges such as Singita Ebony and Londolozi, merge with the immense Kruger National Park. However, this area has a prolonged rainy season from December to March, during which the dirt roads are often impassable and the animals can be hard to see — they have no need to congregate at water holes, and the new vegetation is extremely thick. This, of course, is summer 1,200 miles to the south, and much the best time of year at which to visit Cape Town. Fortunately, excellent safari lodges and game areas are within relatively easy reach of the city.
Tswalu Kalahari is an ideal safari option to pair with a Cape Town itinerary. The 270,000-acre conservation area, owned by the Oppenheimer family (of De Beers and Anglo American fame), is accessible by daily scheduled flights. The lodge is built in a traditional mud and thatch style, but its suites offer opulent amenities including large private verandas that overlook a water hole frequented by wildlife. On game drives, you will likely see a wide variety of animals including desert black rhino, sable and roan antelope, Kalahari lion and cheetah. However, because of the arid environment, elephants are not found here. Horseback and walking safaris are available for more active wildlife enthusiasts.
In 1931 only 20 wild elephants remained in Cape Province, so Addo Elephant National Park was founded to protect the remaining animals. The conservation effort was a triumphant success and now over 600 elephants roam the park. Gorah Elephant Camp operates a safari lodge in a 12,300-acre private concession. Plush tented suites at the camp overlook the grasslands, where you can spot rhino, lion and leopard, in addition to the large elephant herds. The camp is a 90-minute drive from the Port Elizabeth airport, which is a 75-minute scheduled flight from Cape Town. Gorah also makes a splendid finale to a driving itinerary along the Garden Route.
Oceana Beach is a hybrid beach resort and safari lodge near Port Alfred, an 80-minute scheduled flight to the east of Cape Town. The 1,850-acre reserve has over 4 miles of private beach, plus a variety of wildlife that includes white rhino, giraffe, zebra and other herbivores. There are no predators or elephants on the property, so you can safely enjoy hiking along the coast without fear of an unfriendly encounter. A lack of age restrictions and numerous beach activities make this an ideal option for families with younger children.
The 6,200-acre Grootbos Reserve is a two-hour drive along the coastal Garden Route from Cape Town. The property comprises 27 suites — with fireplaces, four-poster beds and private decks — in two lodges, plus two villas. All accommodations come with sea views. The lodge’s location on Walker Bay provides some of the best whale-watching in Cape Province (June through December). And as well as 4WD excursions, guests can also experience nature on horseback, or on a cage dive with great white sharks.
Located 100 miles northeast of Port Elizabeth (a 30-minute scheduled flight by light aircraft) is the 54,300-acre Kwande Private Reserve. The property comprises five lodges including Uplands Homestead, a restored colonial-style 1905 farmhouse. Luxurious suites come with private plunge pools and wraparound decks. The standard of the cuisine is exceptional, and there is an extensive wine cellar. The reserve offers excellent game viewing for a full-range of species including the big cats. As is the case elsewhere in Cape Province, the reserve is malaria-free, making this an ideal place for a safari with younger children.
This 15,000-acre reserve is located in the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape, a three-and-a half hour drive north of Cape Town. (There is also a private airstrip.) Dramatic rock formations conceal 130 rock art sites created by the San bushmen around 10,000 years ago. Guests can tour these petroglyphs with a guide and then head out on a game drive. Bushmans Kloof does not have the charismatic large mammals — leopard are present though seldom seen — but guests invariably encounter antelope species such as bontebok, red hartebeest, grey rhebok and the ostrich, as well as abundant birdlife. The rest of your time here can be spent relaxing on the opulent country estate, which includes swimming pools, a large spa and three restaurants.