FROM BIG CITY TO WINE COUN­TRY AND WILDLIFE, EX­PLORE THE LAND OF CON­TRASTS

FROM SO­PHIS­TI­CATED CITY TO WINE COUN­TRY TO SPEC­TAC­U­LAR WILDLIFE – ALL IN THE ONE WEEK

Life & Style Weekend - - WELCOME - WORDS: BRIAN JOHN­STON

Cape Town is a mis­lead­ing place, I de­cide as I study a map. Its sub­urbs have gen­teel names such as Kens­ing­ton, Rose­bank and Gar­dens, but as my eyes stray south­wards, clash­ing con­tours are sprin­kled with se­ri­ous names like Skele­ton Rock and Devil’s Peak. Over the next days of ex­plo­ration, I dis­cover how ap­pro­pri­ate these names are. Cape Town is a lovely, el­e­gant city squashed up against crash­ing surf and mist-shrouded moun­tains. Love­li­ness in wild land­scapes is a South African spe­cialty.

I find a lot to like about Cape Town, which has a cul­tural blend as dra­matic as its set­ting. The city feels part African, part Euro­pean with an un­ex­pected dose of Asia, es­pe­cially on its Malay-in­flu­enced cui­sine. I en­joy the city’s for­mi­da­ble ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage, in­clud­ing the coun­try’s old­est build­ing – a 1697 Dutch cas­tle – and fine white­washed Bri­tish-era gov­ern­ment grandeur. Parks are stud­ded with stat­ues, Malay quar­ter Bo-kaap erupts in colour­ful houses and Green­mar­ket Square is packed with week­end stalls sell­ing African wood­carv­ings and bronze lions.

Victoria and Al­bert Wa­ter­front is a favourite for its restau­rants, pubs, shops and aquar­ium. As the sun sets, I sit on the wa­ter­front watch­ing frol­ick­ing seals, Ta­ble Moun­tain a brood­ing mono­lith be­hind. Next day, a 15-minute ca­ble-car ride takes me to the sum­mit. Views are won­der­ful over city and ocean, but I’m gob­s­macked at the rugged­ness of Cape Penin­sula stretch­ing south­wards.

Cape Penin­sula’s beach­side sub­urbs such as Clifton and Hout Bay hun­ker be­tween misty Ta­ble Moun­tain and buf­fet­ing ocean. I ex­plore the next day, find­ing Si­mon’s Town a high­light for its Vic­to­rian build­ings and un­ex­pected African pen­guins trundling across nearby Boul­ders Beach to sand-dune bur­rows. Here on the city’s doorstep, I get a glimpse of things to come in South Africa, not only in pass­ing wildlife – road­side ba­boons, os­triches, even moun­tain ze­bras – but in mar­vel­lous scenery, which gets wilder as the road winds along the coast to Cape Point. Chap­man’s Peak Drive, carved out of the cliffs, is surely one of the world’s most stun­ning coastal roads.

I quickly dis­cover that breath­tak­ing land­scapes are ev­ery­where in South Africa. Only 80km east of Cape Town, the coun­try’s winelands is an­other fab­u­lous com­bi­na­tion of lovely towns and eye-pop­ping scenery. Neatly pegged vine­yards sit against a back­drop of jagged blue moun­tains. Cel­e­brated cel­lar doors and Dutch-era manors shaded by gi­ant cam­phor trees and flanked by hy­drangea- filled gar­dens are scat­tered around el­e­gant colo­nial towns Stel­len­bosch (best for red wines) and Fran­schhoek (whites).

Fran­schhoek means French cor­ner, named for the French Huguenot refugees who ar­rived in the early 18th cen­tury and brought vines and their food cul­ture, with the town fa­mous for its top-notch restau­rant scene.

Of course, as with most vis­i­tors, the most an­tic­i­pated South African ex­pe­ri­ence is a sa­fari at a pri­vate game re­serve. I visit sev­eral, and find each pro­vides com­forts such as lux­ury lodges, top nosh and gin and ton­ics, while still dis­play­ing na­ture at its wildest.

Early morn­ing and again just be­fore sun­down, we set off in open-top Land

Rovers, a tracker perch­ing on the car’s bon­net to look out for paw­marks or crea­tures in the grass. We’re all thrilled with the sight of the Big Five – lion, leop­ard, ele­phant, rhino and cape buf­falo – but I soon re­alise other an­i­mals are just as ex­cit­ing. Ele­phants am­ble and oryx with curved horns gal­lop. Stately gi­raffes, long-legged as su­per­mod­els, blink lush eye­lashes. Warthogs snuf­fle and black horn­bills with white wings and bizarre red faces watch us from the road­side.

The ra­dio hisses: a lion has been spot­ted nearby. We stop within arm’s reach and no­body moves, thrilled and half ter­ri­fied at such a close en­counter. The lion stares back with golden eyes in my ul­ti­mate South African mo­ment.

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