A Different Kind of African Safari
Touring South Africa’s coast
When you live in Cape Town, safaris are basically weekend getaways. There’s also a version that has nothing to do with the African bush or spotting the Big Five. You can simply follow the coastline along the Western Cape, chasing waves and hanging out on white sand beaches. I learned this from my friends Ingram and Ryan, who grew up in Cape Town. After years of hearing their stories, I finally pulled the trigger and joined them for a four-day road trip along the southern coast, hiking, biking, and surfing as we went.
The original plan was to depart Cape Town for a low-key day of bodysurfing in Pringle Bay, just outside the city.
But a surf report texted from a mutual buddy—“the Berg is glassy perfection”— immediately detoured us to Muizenberg, a suburb on the south side of town. We grabbed boards and zipped into wetsuits, then paddled out. After catching some nice lefts, I noticed the green flag above the lifeguard tower had been replaced by a white one, the signal for a shark. Ingram calmly encouraged me to “paddle my ass” toward shore. I saw the fin in the distance as I collapsed onto the sand.
Cold beers and fish and chips at Tiger’s Milk, a sort of South African pub, took the edge off ahead of our two-hour drive to Grootbos, a 27-room luxury eco-lodge overlooking Walker Bay. Set on a 6,177-acre private nature reserve, Grootbos is home to a small ecosystem called the fynbos, a shrubland-like biome that is found on the southern tip of Africa—and nowhere else in the world. After a botanical 4×4 safari to see some of its 800 unique plant species, we fat biked across towering white dunes that lead to the sea. After more than a few over-the-handlebar spills while careen- ing down the vertical dunes, we reached the water, nostrils full of sand. A pod of dolphins appeared offshore.
Afterward, behind schedule as usual, we made the two-hour drive to DeHoop Nature Reserve just in time for a sun- downer boat ride on the wetlands before settling into whitewashed cottages. That night, under a starry sky, we fired up a braai—the South African version of barbecue—as Ingram and Ryan reminisced about childhood trips to DeHoop, one of the largest marine protected areas in Africa. From June to November, it’s one of the best land-based whale-watching spots in the world, and we were up at dawn to trek a portion of the 34-mile Whale Trail, a coastal route perfect for spotting the marine mammal. Along the way, we snorkeled the periwinkle-filled Hippo Pools, so called because they’re big enough for hippos to wallow in. But even in a hooded wetsuit, the waters were too frigid for me. We warmed up quickly on the trail, pausing every time one of us spied the spout or tail slap of a southern right whale. More than six hours later, we arrived at Lekkerwater Beach, where we had prearranged a 4×4 to make the hour-plus journey back to our cottages. Zebra and ostrich lurked in the distance as we feasted on potjie, a lamb stew cooked over the fire. Pinotage flowed freely,and I went to bed with a feeling that I’d never experienced in Africa before:safariing like a local.
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