South Africa — Exploring the Cape

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South Africa

by Beth Habian, Features Editor

We all travel for different reasons. Some, needing to escape extremely hectic lives, like to go to a quiet corner of the world to relax, enjoy a lush, natural environment and indulge with fabulous food and wine. Others need a bit more excitement, opting to get down and dirty with an adventurous journey, while still others like to immerse themselves in a different culture, absorbing the history of a place and interacting with the locals.

My last adventure, to South Africa, provided all of the above and more — and I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it!

Easing in

South Africa

I couldn’t have imagined a better place in which to kick off my South African sojourn than Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, located less than two hours south of Cape Town.

Tucked into the green hillside near the town of Gansbaai, idyllically situated between the blue waters of Walker Bay and the Klein River Mountains, Grootbos is much more than a 5-star luxury retreat. What started as a family vacation home is now a 1,700-hectare reserve boasting an amazing variety of flora and fauna lovingly restored from the once-depleted land.

Our group of journalists, led by a representative of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, arrived at the lodge late, our drive from Cape Town done in complete darkness and offering no clue to our surroundings.

After an incredibly warm welcome, I was guided to my “suite” — actually a private cottage enveloped by milkwood trees and other indigenous growth — complete with a living room warmed by a woodstove and a separate bedroom with an enormous canopied bed decked out in crisp white linen.

I was gone as soon as my head hit the pillow, awakening the next morning to the serenity of chirping birds and a view of the incredibly picturesque coastline we had passed in the night. It was an amazingly peaceful beginning.

Warming up

We had a wonderful breakfast in the lodge. I recommend the one-egg omelet, which is not on the menu but was introduced to our group by Grootbos owner Michael Lutzeyer and is available by request; it’s perfect to prepare you for the day’s activities without weighing you down. Then we were off for some whale watching.

South Africa

My 2006 visit took place in September — a good time for area whale sightings, as large numbers of Southern rights as well as, reportedly, humpbacks and Bryde’s migrate to the warmer waters of the bay from July to November. This coastal area is known for some of the best shore-based whale watching in the world, and I couldn’t believe just how close they got!

From the rocky beach, a shoreline which greatly reminded me of the coast near my home in Oregon, we watched as these magnificent creatures cruised by sometimes no more than 20 yards offshore. As someone who doesn’t take kindly to small boats on rough waters (as would be evidenced later), I found sitting on the sun-warmed rocks a great alternative.

Our next low-key activity was a safari — but not the type that usually comes to mind when one thinks of Africa. We were going on a flower safari!

The botanical reserve of Grootbos is home to 650 plant species belonging to what is collectively known as the fynbos, vegetation unique to the Cape. Guided tours of the property, on foot, on horseback or by open 4x4 vehicle, are included in the price of a stay and offer interaction with an incredible variety of plant life as well as over 100 species of birds and a variety of mammals, reptiles and insects — a great learning experience for both young and old.

Time for a little adventure

South Africa

While I was content with our land-based whale-watching excursion, we were destined to get up close and personal, so it was off to the boat (and, to my chagrin, the not-so-calm waters).

Boat-based whale watching in South Africa is strictly controlled, with a very limited number of permits issued throughout the country. Dyer Island Cruises (Gansbaai; www.dyer-island-cruise.co.za) is one of the few permit holders in Walker Bay, allowing them to get within 50 meters of the whales, although the curious whales often get much closer.

After strapping on life vests we were off, bouncing over waves and climbing up walls of water on our way out to the open bay. Splashing along in the 24-passenger boat, it was fun, at first. But after about 10 minutes of bobbing up and down and swaying side to side at our first stop, I knew this was going to be too much for my tried-and-true motion sickness pills.

By the excited “oohs” and “ahhs” I heard all around me, I can deduce that it was a fabulous trip, with whale tails galore and incredible photo ops. However, I sat glued to my seat, my eyes focused intently on the horizon, for the entire 2-hour trip.

South Africa

Needless to say, in weather like we had it’s not the most enjoyable trip for those without their sea legs, but for everyone else this amazing trip offers super-close whale viewing as well as the chance to spot great whites and penguins (swimming nervously) in the infamous Shark Alley, located between Dyer Island and neighboring Geyser Rock, home to an enormous number of Cape fur seals.

Trips can be arranged by Grootbos at a cost of 690 rand ($94) per adult, June-December, or ZAR450 ($61), January-May. Also available, for adrenaline junkies, is shark cage diving off of Dyer Island (ZAR1,100, or $150, per adult), extremely popular in this area.

Happy to have my feet back on dry land, I was whisked back to the lodge for a final adventure: whale watching by air. After the day’s earlier experience, I was a bit hesitant to climb into a 4-seater plane to fly in circles above the water, but I’m so glad I did!

From the air I got a much better view of the size and astonishing number of whales and could clearly see mothers with their calves and whales breaching farther offshore. I would highly recommend it. Scenic half-hour flights, departing from an airstrip near the lodge, cost ZAR670, or $91, per person.

Moving on

I was sad to leave what, after only two days, now felt like home, but it was time to head back up the coast to the city of our arrival, Cape Town.

Cape Town is a beautiful place, a cosmopolitan city surrounded by intensely blue waters and dominated by the dramatic presence of Table Mountain, the vibrantly colored buildings of the Malay Quarter sitting near its base.

But it is a city of contrasts. Stately homes surrounded by protective fencing with 24-hour armed response vehicles posted nearby lie close to the city center, while rambling townships littered with makeshift shacks line the freeways on the outskirts. It is a heartbreaking dichotomy.

Dramatic landscapes

Our stay in Cape Town included nearby visits to some impressive natural sites: the waves crashing against the rocks at the Cape of Good Hope, and the jagged ridge of Cape Point jutting up from the sea, separating False Bay from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But one of Cape Town’s most dramatic views can be found on Table Mountain, provided you can withstand the often piercingly cold winds at the top.

After once rescheduling our visit due to unfavorable weather conditions on the mountain, we rode the cable car to the top (ZAR120, about $16, round trip), its rotating floor offering varying viewpoints along the way. Exiting the station, I was immediately blasted with wind — icy but invigorating (I think my cheeks stayed pink for hours!). The views around the city were amazing.

Back down at the water’s edge, we warmed up with a bit of sunshine while visiting the African (jackass) penguin colony at Boulders Beach in nearby Simonstown. As most of the penguins were just “hanging out” and not very active, the Caribbean-green waters of False Bay and the large granite boulders that give the beach its name offered a nicer view. Then it was time for some more adventure.

Road trip

South Africa

Imagine my surprise when we were led to a parking lot where three vintage World War II motorcycles with sidecars waited to take us on a unique tour of the Cape’s coastline.

Cape Sidecar Adventures (www.sidecars.co.za) offers chauffeured rentals for a truly unusual way to take in the sights of the Cape.

Okay, so we looked a bit ridiculous in our padded leather helmets and borrowed leather jackets, but no one cared! As we leisurely tooled along Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most scenic coastal routes in the world, in the crisp sea air and with the sun on our backs, I ticked this adventure off as one of the most enjoyable surprises of the trip.

Full-day tours cost ZAR1,200 ($164) per sidecar, which can accommodate two people, one on the bike and one in the sidecar; multiday trips and self-drive rentals are also available.

After a bit of exploration of the wineries and rolling vineyards in the area, a must for wine lovers and nature lovers alike, we were transported to the airport by our driver/guide, Jamie, who had made our stay in Cape Town all the more enjoyable with his friendly, easygoing nature and professional manner. We were headed to Port Elizabeth for the final leg of our journey.

Addo

After a 40-minute drive from the Port Elizabeth airport, we arrived at the Elephant House, a 9-room lodge located near Addo Elephant National Park. I found it a perfect place to relax, sitting in a comfortable chair on the covered veranda breathing in the sweet scent of orange blossoms that permeated the air in this area rich with citrus orchards.

South Africa

After a tour of the surrounding back roads by open vehicle, we stopped in a nearby township for a drink at the local tavern, colloquially called DVD (because they have a player and the electricity to run it). Clive Read, owner of the Elephant House, is well known by the locals and is warmly welcomed, as are his guests, into a place where most tour operators wouldn’t take American travelers. It was an unexpectedly powerful experience to be able to just hang out with the locals as they unwound in the evening, without feeling like it was a staged stop on the tourist track.

The area attraction is, of course, the 164,000-hectare Addo elephant park, home to over 450 elephants. While a safari here does not compare to those in areas more rich in wildlife, like Kenya and Tanzania, this is an ideal location for those traveling with children, as the area is malaria free and thus eliminates the need for antimalarial pills, some of which are not suitable for children.

Our midday safari offered lots of elephant sightings as well as views of zebras, warthogs, ostriches, tortoises and Cape buffalo. While we didn’t see any, there are lion and black rhino in the park as well.

Soon we were heading back to the airport, our South African expedition drawing to an end. It had been a wonderful introduction to some of the spectacular scenery and assorted adventures that the Western and Eastern Cape provinces have to offer.

Accommodations

Big Five Tours & Expeditions teamed up with their South African travel partner Inspirational Places to provide truly memorable accommodations on this trip. Our first lodge, the 5-star Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (www.grootbos.com), was perhaps my favorite, offering so many things to do without having to travel more than a few minutes away.

While a stay here can stretch the budget for some (rack rates start at ZAR1,840, or $250, per adult, sharing), the room rate does include all meals and activities offered on site. What the lodge did lack, thankfully, was the arrogant attitude that can be found at some luxury resorts; after each outing, I felt like I was returning home (okay, not my home, but the home I would have if money were no object).

It was also impressive to learn that Grootbos is greatly involved in giving back to those around them, spearheading a number of community-conscious projects, including the Green Futures Program, which provides marketable skills in horticulture, conservation and ecotourism for unemployed people in the surrounding towns of Stanford and Gansbaai.

South Africa

Next on the list and coming in a very close second was Constantia Uitsig (www.uitsig.co.za), situated on a private wine estate in Cape Town. In addition to beautifully appointed rooms, the property offers lovely grounds that beckon visitors to take a stroll, plus a wine shop that entices tastings. But what elevates this hotel to being a top contender is its food.

While the food we had at Grootbos was very nice, both in quality and selection, the meal we had at Constantia Uitsig Restaurant, situated in the estate’s original Cape Dutch-style manor house, was outstanding. Everything, from the starter to dessert, was impeccable. (Rooms here start at ZAR1,650, or $225, including breakfast.)

We spent our next night at the nearby Colona Castle (www.colona castle.co.za), situated along False Bay. While this is a lovely property, with stunningly decorated rooms, I missed the homey feel of the previous nights’ accommodations, although, to be fair, we spent only one brief night here before heading off.

Starting room rates for this 5-star hotel range from 690 to 1,350 rand ($94-$185) per person, sharing, with prices increasing depending on the season. Breakfast is included.

Our final accommodation in the city was Welgelegen (www.welgelegen. co.za), located in Gardens, a well-established area of Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain. This quirky guest house with an incredibly difficult-to-pronounce name (every time I made an attempt at the proper pronunciation, it sounded like I was in need of the Heimlich maneuver) is an understated gem.

Well located — actually, that’s the translation of its name — close to city restaurants and shops, Welgelegen had a comfortable B&B feel, from its cozy, secluded outdoor spaces to its funky, eclectic décor. I would definitely recommend a stay here for those wanting a comfortable place to come back to after a long day of exploring Cape Town’s sights. Including breakfast, rooms range from 650 to 1,650 rand ($89-$225), depending on the season.

Finally, our Eastern Cape accommodation, Elephant House (www. elephanthouse.co.za), earns a mixed reaction from me. While the property and rooms were beautiful and provided a great atmosphere for pure relaxation, there were a few things that I felt could be improved.

The food was not great and the menu selection was minimal (although afternoon cake-and-tea time on the veranda was a big hit with everyone in our group). Some of the rooms, backing onto a busy road, were quite noisy, and one member of our group had a bit of a shock on our last day when trying to get his camera bag out of his room — he considered implementing a MacGyver roll to dodge a swarm of bees that had taken refuge there.

However, owners Clive and Anne Read were very attentive and did their best to make everyone feel comfortable. There are even complimentary on-site massages for guests during high season.

Rates here range from 690 to 1,875 rand ($94-$257) per person, including breakfast and depending on the season.

Booking a tour

This was my second trip with Big Five Tours & Expeditions, and I was again impressed. Many of the sites we visited can be found on Big Five’s “South Africa Family Highlights” tour, which includes a stay at Grootbos. Focusing on children-friendly activities and accommodations, this 14-day tour starts at $4,650, land only, per adult (sharing); children ages 2-11 can join for $1,950 each. Custom adventures, including all of the activities we experienced, also can be arranged.

For more information, Contact Big Five Tours & Expeditions (Stuart, FL; 800/244-3483, www.bigfive.com).

Beth Habian’s trip was cosponsored by Big Five Tours & Expeditions and Inspirational Places (www.inspirationalplaces.com), a collection of privately owned luxury properties in South Africa.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
South Africa

by Beth Habian, Features Editor

We all travel for different reasons. Some, needing to escape extremely hectic lives, like to go to a quiet corner of the world to relax, enjoy a lush, natural environment and indulge with fabulous food and wine. Others need a bit more excitement, opting to get down and dirty with an adventurous journey, while still others like to immerse themselves in a different culture, absorbing the history of a place and interacting with the locals.

My last adventure, to South Africa, provided all of the above and more — and I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it!

Easing in

South Africa

I couldn’t have imagined a better place in which to kick off my South African sojourn than Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, located less than two hours south of Cape Town.

Tucked into the green hillside near the town of Gansbaai, idyllically situated between the blue waters of Walker Bay and the Klein River Mountains, Grootbos is much more than a 5-star luxury retreat. What started as a family vacation home is now a 1,700-hectare reserve boasting an amazing variety of flora and fauna lovingly restored from the once-depleted land.

Our group of journalists, led by a representative of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, arrived at the lodge late, our drive from Cape Town done in complete darkness and offering no clue to our surroundings.

After an incredibly warm welcome, I was guided to my “suite” — actually a private cottage enveloped by milkwood trees and other indigenous growth — complete with a living room warmed by a woodstove and a separate bedroom with an enormous canopied bed decked out in crisp white linen.

I was gone as soon as my head hit the pillow, awakening the next morning to the serenity of chirping birds and a view of the incredibly picturesque coastline we had passed in the night. It was an amazingly peaceful beginning.

Warming up

We had a wonderful breakfast in the lodge. I recommend the one-egg omelet, which is not on the menu but was introduced to our group by Grootbos owner Michael Lutzeyer and is available by request; it’s perfect to prepare you for the day’s activities without weighing you down. Then we were off for some whale watching.

South Africa

My 2006 visit took place in September — a good time for area whale sightings, as large numbers of Southern rights as well as, reportedly, humpbacks and Bryde’s migrate to the warmer waters of the bay from July to November. This coastal area is known for some of the best shore-based whale watching in the world, and I couldn’t believe just how close they got!

From the rocky beach, a shoreline which greatly reminded me of the coast near my home in Oregon, we watched as these magnificent creatures cruised by sometimes no more than 20 yards offshore. As someone who doesn’t take kindly to small boats on rough waters (as would be evidenced later), I found sitting on the sun-warmed rocks a great alternative.

Our next low-key activity was a safari — but not the type that usually comes to mind when one thinks of Africa. We were going on a flower safari!

The botanical reserve of Grootbos is home to 650 plant species belonging to what is collectively known as the fynbos, vegetation unique to the Cape. Guided tours of the property, on foot, on horseback or by open 4x4 vehicle, are included in the price of a stay and offer interaction with an incredible variety of plant life as well as over 100 species of birds and a variety of mammals, reptiles and insects — a great learning experience for both young and old.

Time for a little adventure

South Africa

While I was content with our land-based whale-watching excursion, we were destined to get up close and personal, so it was off to the boat (and, to my chagrin, the not-so-calm waters).

Boat-based whale watching in South Africa is strictly controlled, with a very limited number of permits issued throughout the country. Dyer Island Cruises (Gansbaai; www.dyer-island-cruise.co.za) is one of the few permit holders in Walker Bay, allowing them to get within 50 meters of the whales, although the curious whales often get much closer.

After strapping on life vests we were off, bouncing over waves and climbing up walls of water on our way out to the open bay. Splashing along in the 24-passenger boat, it was fun, at first. But after about 10 minutes of bobbing up and down and swaying side to side at our first stop, I knew this was going to be too much for my tried-and-true motion sickness pills.

By the excited “oohs” and “ahhs” I heard all around me, I can deduce that it was a fabulous trip, with whale tails galore and incredible photo ops. However, I sat glued to my seat, my eyes focused intently on the horizon, for the entire 2-hour trip.

South Africa

Needless to say, in weather like we had it’s not the most enjoyable trip for those without their sea legs, but for everyone else this amazing trip offers super-close whale viewing as well as the chance to spot great whites and penguins (swimming nervously) in the infamous Shark Alley, located between Dyer Island and neighboring Geyser Rock, home to an enormous number of Cape fur seals.

Trips can be arranged by Grootbos at a cost of 690 rand ($94) per adult, June-December, or ZAR450 ($61), January-May. Also available, for adrenaline junkies, is shark cage diving off of Dyer Island (ZAR1,100, or $150, per adult), extremely popular in this area.

Happy to have my feet back on dry land, I was whisked back to the lodge for a final adventure: whale watching by air. After the day’s earlier experience, I was a bit hesitant to climb into a 4-seater plane to fly in circles above the water, but I’m so glad I did!

From the air I got a much better view of the size and astonishing number of whales and could clearly see mothers with their calves and whales breaching farther offshore. I would highly recommend it. Scenic half-hour flights, departing from an airstrip near the lodge, cost ZAR670, or $91, per person.

Moving on

I was sad to leave what, after only two days, now felt like home, but it was time to head back up the coast to the city of our arrival, Cape Town.

Cape Town is a beautiful place, a cosmopolitan city surrounded by intensely blue waters and dominated by the dramatic presence of Table Mountain, the vibrantly colored buildings of the Malay Quarter sitting near its base.

But it is a city of contrasts. Stately homes surrounded by protective fencing with 24-hour armed response vehicles posted nearby lie close to the city center, while rambling townships littered with makeshift shacks line the freeways on the outskirts. It is a heartbreaking dichotomy.

Dramatic landscapes

Our stay in Cape Town included nearby visits to some impressive natural sites: the waves crashing against the rocks at the Cape of Good Hope, and the jagged ridge of Cape Point jutting up from the sea, separating False Bay from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But one of Cape Town’s most dramatic views can be found on Table Mountain, provided you can withstand the often piercingly cold winds at the top.

After once rescheduling our visit due to unfavorable weather conditions on the mountain, we rode the cable car to the top (ZAR120, about $16, round trip), its rotating floor offering varying viewpoints along the way. Exiting the station, I was immediately blasted with wind — icy but invigorating (I think my cheeks stayed pink for hours!). The views around the city were amazing.

Back down at the water’s edge, we warmed up with a bit of sunshine while visiting the African (jackass) penguin colony at Boulders Beach in nearby Simonstown. As most of the penguins were just “hanging out” and not very active, the Caribbean-green waters of False Bay and the large granite boulders that give the beach its name offered a nicer view. Then it was time for some more adventure.

Road trip

South Africa

Imagine my surprise when we were led to a parking lot where three vintage World War II motorcycles with sidecars waited to take us on a unique tour of the Cape’s coastline.

Cape Sidecar Adventures (www.sidecars.co.za) offers chauffeured rentals for a truly unusual way to take in the sights of the Cape.

Okay, so we looked a bit ridiculous in our padded leather helmets and borrowed leather jackets, but no one cared! As we leisurely tooled along Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most scenic coastal routes in the world, in the crisp sea air and with the sun on our backs, I ticked this adventure off as one of the most enjoyable surprises of the trip.

Full-day tours cost ZAR1,200 ($164) per sidecar, which can accommodate two people, one on the bike and one in the sidecar; multiday trips and self-drive rentals are also available.

After a bit of exploration of the wineries and rolling vineyards in the area, a must for wine lovers and nature lovers alike, we were transported to the airport by our driver/guide, Jamie, who had made our stay in Cape Town all the more enjoyable with his friendly, easygoing nature and professional manner. We were headed to Port Elizabeth for the final leg of our journey.

Addo

After a 40-minute drive from the Port Elizabeth airport, we arrived at the Elephant House, a 9-room lodge located near Addo Elephant National Park. I found it a perfect place to relax, sitting in a comfortable chair on the covered veranda breathing in the sweet scent of orange blossoms that permeated the air in this area rich with citrus orchards.

South Africa

After a tour of the surrounding back roads by open vehicle, we stopped in a nearby township for a drink at the local tavern, colloquially called DVD (because they have a player and the electricity to run it). Clive Read, owner of the Elephant House, is well known by the locals and is warmly welcomed, as are his guests, into a place where most tour operators wouldn’t take American travelers. It was an unexpectedly powerful experience to be able to just hang out with the locals as they unwound in the evening, without feeling like it was a staged stop on the tourist track.

The area attraction is, of course, the 164,000-hectare Addo elephant park, home to over 450 elephants. While a safari here does not compare to those in areas more rich in wildlife, like Kenya and Tanzania, this is an ideal location for those traveling with children, as the area is malaria free and thus eliminates the need for antimalarial pills, some of which are not suitable for children.

Our midday safari offered lots of elephant sightings as well as views of zebras, warthogs, ostriches, tortoises and Cape buffalo. While we didn’t see any, there are lion and black rhino in the park as well.

Soon we were heading back to the airport, our South African expedition drawing to an end. It had been a wonderful introduction to some of the spectacular scenery and assorted adventures that the Western and Eastern Cape provinces have to offer.

Accommodations

Big Five Tours & Expeditions teamed up with their South African travel partner Inspirational Places to provide truly memorable accommodations on this trip. Our first lodge, the 5-star Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (www.grootbos.com), was perhaps my favorite, offering so many things to do without having to travel more than a few minutes away.

While a stay here can stretch the budget for some (rack rates start at ZAR1,840, or $250, per adult, sharing), the room rate does include all meals and activities offered on site. What the lodge did lack, thankfully, was the arrogant attitude that can be found at some luxury resorts; after each outing, I felt like I was returning home (okay, not my home, but the home I would have if money were no object).

It was also impressive to learn that Grootbos is greatly involved in giving back to those around them, spearheading a number of community-conscious projects, including the Green Futures Program, which provides marketable skills in horticulture, conservation and ecotourism for unemployed people in the surrounding towns of Stanford and Gansbaai.

South Africa

Next on the list and coming in a very close second was Constantia Uitsig (www.uitsig.co.za), situated on a private wine estate in Cape Town. In addition to beautifully appointed rooms, the property offers lovely grounds that beckon visitors to take a stroll, plus a wine shop that entices tastings. But what elevates this hotel to being a top contender is its food.

While the food we had at Grootbos was very nice, both in quality and selection, the meal we had at Constantia Uitsig Restaurant, situated in the estate’s original Cape Dutch-style manor house, was outstanding. Everything, from the starter to dessert, was impeccable. (Rooms here start at ZAR1,650, or $225, including breakfast.)

We spent our next night at the nearby Colona Castle (www.colona castle.co.za), situated along False Bay. While this is a lovely property, with stunningly decorated rooms, I missed the homey feel of the previous nights’ accommodations, although, to be fair, we spent only one brief night here before heading off.

Starting room rates for this 5-star hotel range from 690 to 1,350 rand ($94-$185) per person, sharing, with prices increasing depending on the season. Breakfast is included.

Our final accommodation in the city was Welgelegen (www.welgelegen. co.za), located in Gardens, a well-established area of Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain. This quirky guest house with an incredibly difficult-to-pronounce name (every time I made an attempt at the proper pronunciation, it sounded like I was in need of the Heimlich maneuver) is an understated gem.

Well located — actually, that’s the translation of its name — close to city restaurants and shops, Welgelegen had a comfortable B&B feel, from its cozy, secluded outdoor spaces to its funky, eclectic décor. I would definitely recommend a stay here for those wanting a comfortable place to come back to after a long day of exploring Cape Town’s sights. Including breakfast, rooms range from 650 to 1,650 rand ($89-$225), depending on the season.

Finally, our Eastern Cape accommodation, Elephant House (www. elephanthouse.co.za), earns a mixed reaction from me. While the property and rooms were beautiful and provided a great atmosphere for pure relaxation, there were a few things that I felt could be improved.

The food was not great and the menu selection was minimal (although afternoon cake-and-tea time on the veranda was a big hit with everyone in our group). Some of the rooms, backing onto a busy road, were quite noisy, and one member of our group had a bit of a shock on our last day when trying to get his camera bag out of his room — he considered implementing a MacGyver roll to dodge a swarm of bees that had taken refuge there.

However, owners Clive and Anne Read were very attentive and did their best to make everyone feel comfortable. There are even complimentary on-site massages for guests during high season.

Rates here range from 690 to 1,875 rand ($94-$257) per person, including breakfast and depending on the season.

Booking a tour

This was my second trip with Big Five Tours & Expeditions, and I was again impressed. Many of the sites we visited can be found on Big Five’s “South Africa Family Highlights” tour, which includes a stay at Grootbos. Focusing on children-friendly activities and accommodations, this 14-day tour starts at $4,650, land only, per adult (sharing); children ages 2-11 can join for $1,950 each. Custom adventures, including all of the activities we experienced, also can be arranged.

For more information, Contact Big Five Tours & Expeditions (Stuart, FL; 800/244-3483, www.bigfive.com).

Beth Habian’s trip was cosponsored by Big Five Tours & Expeditions and Inspirational Places (www.inspirationalplaces.com), a collection of privately owned luxury properties in South Africa.