There are many things that South Africa can boast about, but arguably, there are two things that sit on top of that impressively large list of bragging rights: wine and safari. Few other destination can match up in terms of diversity and quality, so why not combine them? Next time you visit the SA winelands, be sure to pair the world class vintages with the might and beauty of the Big 6 and more.
Hemel & Aarde Wine Route
Meaning ‘Heaven on Earth’, the Hemel-en-Aarde wine route is one of the most beautiful in the country and arguably one of the most underrated in terms of its quality of wine, with boutique wineries such as Creation, Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell producing some fantastic vintages.
Located close to Hermanus, the lovely coastal town largely considered to the heart of the whale coast, and one of the best whale watching destinations in the world, the largest of the marine animals is right on the valley’s doorstep. The town is perfect for land-based whale watching and sea-faring tours, with a number of operators in the area to book trips with. Hermanus is a breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale during the winter and spring months – from June to November – with the whales arriving in June to calve and the males arriving in October to mate. Walker Bay in particular, sees a lot of activity over this time of year, while the Cliff Path offers visitors 12km of the best whale watching points in the world. Be sure to visit during the first week of October for the annual whale festival, a celebration of all things cetacean.
Stanford Valley Wine Route
Launched officially in 2015, the Stanford Valley Wine Route is quickly making a name for itself as a world class producer of not only wine, but craft beer, artisanal gin and grappa-based liqueurs.
Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary
The Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary was founded in 2015 by Lizaene Cornwall and Cathrine Nyquist in an effort to raise awareness around the plight of Africa’s big cats. Not really considered so much as a tourist destination, but rather an educational and awareness facility, the sanctuary is a 40-hectare property dedicated to providing captive-born lions, Bengal tigers, leopards, caracals, black-backed jackals and more with a safe haven.
The centre offers three guided tours a day, where visitors are able to explore the sanctuary, while special enrichment or feeding visits can also be arranged, which allow visitors to watch the animals playing, hunting, running and feeding
Klein Karoo Wine Route
The Klein Karoo Wine Route produces a wide variety of wines and is known as both a champion producer of Muscadel and a world class maker of Cape Port-style wines. The Klein Karoo is a vast, seemingly untouched, landscape of raw beauty and there are a number of experiences that allow visitors to view the Big 5.
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Just three hours from Cape Town, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve offers game drives, wilderness walks and bird watching, amongst other things. As part of their conservation efforts, the reserve has re-introduced the Big 5, along with various other animals such as springbok, kudu and zebra, making it one of the top viewing experiences located close to Cape Town. Other activities here include boat safaris, star gazing, spa treatments and a special kids’ safari experience aimed at teaching them about nature conservation.
Buffelsdrift Game Lodge
Enjoy luxury tented accommodation at Buffelsdrift, with the Swartberg Mountains at your back and a beautiful watering hole right on your ‘doorstep’. This fantastic reserve in Oudtshoorn offers game drives to its guests and the public, and while they don’t have all the Big 5 on location, they do offer an Elephant and a Lion Experience. The Meerkat Safari, meanwhile, is highly recommended. They may not be part of the Big 5, but the local meerkats are fascinating – and highly entertaining – to watch. Other activities at Buffelsdrift include star gazing and spa treatments.
Worcester Wine Route
Nestled in the beautiful Breede River Valley, the Worcester Wine Route is responsible for producing more than a quarter of South Africa’s wine and spirits. It is also located close to some of the Western Cape’s best wildlife experiences.
Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve
The closest Big 5 game reserve to Cape Town, Fairy Glen offers horseback safaris and more traditional game drives. Fairy Glen prides itself on an intimate experience with the game, meaning you get close, but there is no petting here. Stay overnight in the luxury accommodation – afternoon nature walk included - or arrange to be picked up in Cape Town and driven through to enjoy the safari options for the day.
Aquila Private Game Reserve
A mere two-hour drive from Cape Town, the Aquila Private Game Reserve near Touws River boasts the Big 5 and many other iconic African animals, such as the Cape Zebra and Hippo. The 4 star Aquila Safari Lodge is the perfect place to start your journey into the Cape Karoo with friendly, engaging guides making the experience all the more worthwhile. Stay over in the luxury chalets and treat yourself to a spa experience before embarking on an afternoon game drive, where, with the exception of the notoriously shy leopard, you are all but guaranteed to spot the Big 5.
In 2012, Inverdoorn became a Big 5 destination following the introduction of elephants onto the reserve. Along with the Big 5, Inverdoorn is also home to a very successful cheetah conservation project with a strong focus on sustaining the natural biodiversity of the region. While the region used to be a natural home to the Big 5 animals, they were virtually wiped out due to human interaction and the animals here have all been re-introduced by the Inverdoorn team. Inverdoorn offers Day Visit Safaris and Overnight Safaris.
Plettenberg Bay Wine Route
Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve
Get up close and personal with the Big 5. The Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve offers horseback safaris or on the jeep with plenty of game to view here. In addition to the stars of the show, you will also see zebra, blue wildebeest, bontebok, bush pig, giraffe, Cape grysbok, caracal, crocodile, cheetah, hippo, honey badger and more. Game drives are open to the public, but it’s worth taking advantage of the luxury accommodation at the reserve to ensure you truly get to soak in this incredible experience.
You’ve seen the Big 5 on land, now it’s time to get a glimpse of some of the sea-faring stars that make up the Marine Big 5. The waters along the Garden Route are home to seals, dolphins, whales and more with Ocean Safaris offering marine safaris and – if you’re looking for something a little more up close and personal – snorkelling with Cape Fur Seals. This incredible experience allows you to view them in their natural habitat and the energetic, inquisitive animals will no doubt put on a show.