You never know where life takes you, especially in South Africa—perhaps a cage-diving experience with great white sharks eyeing you as chum sticks to your wet suit—but if there’s something you learn here, it’s that there’s no real need to rough it on the way.
Indeed, adventure is all well and good for some until it gets a little too real, but once you polish up the edges with a luxury tent stay, a five-star meal and good wine, you realize even the pickiest of city folk can have a go at it.
That fresh sense of adventure complemented by fabulous luxury is why we choose South Africa as one of our Editors’ Picks; it still feels shiny with possibilities and infinite in scope, like it has yet to fulfill its prophecy. It’s a place that opens up to you whether for play or contemplation—sometimes saucy and sometimes stately, but always warm and inviting. This time around, we’re serving three experiences we’d sign up for again.
wild things Fresh off the World Cup adoration of South Africa and the pesky vuvuzela madness it spurred, we turn to the bush, where there’s always something fun lurking. About 40 minutes away from Kimberley, in the Northern Cape, the family-owned Mattanu Game Reserve rolls out the welcome carpet with the aforementioned tents with their own decks, air conditioning, jacuzzis and other creature comforts, plus a heck of a good time out on the field. Spotting giraffe for the first time would make the most stoic of travelers emotional, but when it’s a baby about a month old and her mama—who’s keeping an eye on us from a distance—it’s almost a religious experience.
Dr. Kriek, the owner and a veterinarian, keeps an eye on different species of antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and other animals that roam thousands of acres. Think you’ve seen it all? Just watch him dangle off a helicopter and shoot animals with a tranquilizer gun from above.
Packages here are tailored to suit guests’ needs, but a luxury tent is priced at $200 pp per night (based on exchange rates at press time; please note these and the other rates may vary at time of booking), which includes two meals and two game drives per day. There’s also a gorgeous chalet with complete kitchen, living room with fireplace and viewing deck that accommodates up to 10 people and runs $317 pp for the first two guests and $72 pp for each person after that. Guests and visitors may also arrange for helicopter game viewing or romantic bushveld dinners.
Kimberley itself is worth a stop to step back in time and explore its diamond mining-rich history. The Blue Hole, hand-excavated by miners beginning in the late-19th century, is impressive as seen from the Kimberly Mine Museum, but even more so when seen from a helicopter.
she’s a man-eater Cage diving with sharks, it turns out, really is as exciting as it sounds, but with before, during and after caveats. From Gansbaai, in the Western Cape, one boards Marine Dynamics’ 30-footer cruising past seals and (during season) whales putting on a show and head to open water, where a rickety, dubious-looking cage bobbing about awaits. You suit up and hop into the cage with three or four others as the crew chucks the oh-so-aromatic chum and fish heads around you. The sight of those creatures and those teeth coming at you—from the safety of the cage—is exhilarating, to say the least. Once back on board, it’s a question of avoiding motion sickness before you get back on land…and even the most experienced of sailors might fall prey to it. But it’s worth every roll of your stomach.
Gansbaai itself is a beachy haven with a sunny disposition less than two hours away from Cape Town. To reach the village from the city one has to drive through the town of Hermanus, pretty and shopping-friendly, worth at least a day of exploring. The whole of the Western Cape is just beautiful, with expansive views of the ocean and fields throughout, and it’s home to one of our new favorite stays: the five-star Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, through which you can arrange the cage-diving experience. Grootbos is as inexpensive as it is luxurious, with huge accommodations and grand views from every room—even your bathtub. Your own fireplace in the living room keeps you toasty in the evenings, an outdoor shower cools you off and wispy mosquito netting protects you as you sleep (although we didn’t see anything flying about). Birds will wake you up in the morning and a roving plant will try to sneak up through the floorboards of your terrace, and you’ll be sad when you leave. Rates here start at $212 per night, inclusive of meals and land activities such as horseback riding, land-based whale watching, flower safaris and birding excursions.