Real honeymoon: A South African road trip

Kosi Bay

To kick off a new series on real honeymoons, I thought I should start with my own honeymoon. As I’ve mentioned before, we honeymooned in South Africa last year. We were fortunate enough to have just under four weeks off work after the wedding, and we wanted to go somewhere we could really see and explore. We’d been to South Africa a few years previously but had just stuck to Cape Town and the Winelands, so we were eager to see more of the country, while also having the chance to return to one of our favourite cities.

Our trip was pretty much built around two things – Cape Town, and a hotel I’d found near the Mozambique border that I was desperate to stay in. As a result, we decided to avoid the traditional honeymoon destination of Kruger Park, which would have meant going quite out of our way, and focus elsewhere, which was no big problem, considering the country has a wealth of parks that are home to the big five. We weren’t prepared to fly to get around, which meant that we did have to do a fair bit of driving to get from place to place, but we both really enjoyed the road trip feel, and felt that it enabled us to see a great deal more of the country than we would’ve done from the air.

What we did

Durban beachfront

We began in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal – we didn’t do a great deal while in the city as we were so tired out from the flights, but we did head down to the seafront and have some fantastic seafood, which got things off to a great start. From Durban, we travelled north up to Kosi Bay, near the Mozambique border, stopping to overnight in a B&B in Matubatuba. This was actually a much more interesting stop than we had anticipated – Matubatuba was one of the more African towns that we stopped in, and it was great to go somewhere where it felt like we were perhaps the only tourists.

Kosi Mouth

If I had to recommend one place that you really should go in South Africa, it would be Kosi Bay. It’s relatively untouristy at the moment, and worth the fact that it takes a little while to get up there. The area is famous for its four interconnecting lakes, which eventually empty out to the Indian Ocean at Kosi Mouth, and it’s absolutely beautiful. We spent our three days here enjoying the various activities on offer, which included zipping around the larger lakes on the look out for hippos before a picnic on the beach and a splash in the sea, and snorkelling at Kosi Mouth – where even the shallow water was home to some amazing fish.

Zebra grazing at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi

Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away from Kosi Bay, and so we headed back south to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, KwaZulu-Natal’s major game park and considered the best place in the world to see rhino. The great thing about the park is that it’s easily self-driveable – just driving around over three days, we saw rhino, zebra, giraffes, buffalo, elephants and baboons, among many many others. The scenery here alone is worth coming for – and fortunately there are designated areas where it’s safe to park the car and just take in the views. One of the best memories we have of the park is having to stop the car for about fifteen minutes while we waited for giraffes to finish eating from the trees at the side of the road, and of rhinos suddenly appearing out of nowhere and coming up unbelievably close.

Sunset in the Drakensberg

From here, we headed into the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains, northwest of Durban – this involved a very long day of driving, though it was worth it for the amazing scenery was saw en-route.  This region is really quite spectacular, and it’s a great choice if you like walking – unfortunately for us, clear skies quickly gave way to rather dramatic thunderstorms, so we spent quite a lot of time by the fire in our cottage rather than exploring the area (not that that was such a hardship).

Driving down to Graaff-Reinet

From the Drakensberg, we skirted around the top of Lesotho and, after a night in Bloemfontein to break up the journey, headed southwest to the stark semi-desert of the Karoo, staying overnight just outside of the little town of Graaff-Reinet. I’d definitely recommend stopping for at least a day in the Karoo – it’s a fascinating part of the country and the scenery is just phenomenal, in the barren way that only the desert can be.

Feeding time at the Elephant Sanctuary

From here it was a short drive south to the coast, where we stopped for a well-deserved four days in Plettenberg Bay, one of the Garden Route’s seaside towns. The highlight here was undoubtedly visiting the Elephant Sanctuary, where we had the chance to walk trunk in hand with the elephants – a really amazing experience. Plett makes an excellent base – the beaches are beautiful, there’s lots of great seafood on offer, the surrounding countryside is beautiful, and there’s countless things to do – from whale and dolphin watching to long cliff-side walks and bungy jumping.

Beautiful Camps Bay

Our final stop before Cape Town was the historic town of Montagu, on the edge of the Winelands, so on our way into Cape Town we stopped by one of our favourite vineyards to pick up a few bottles of wine. If you’re going to be in this part of South Africa then do make some time for wine tasting – it’s generally very reasonably priced, and even good bottles of wine are priced quite keenly. We rounded off our honeymoon with five nights in Cape Town – having already been there, we didn’t feel any real pressure to do the tourist sights, so we were able to really relax and just enjoy being back in a city we liked and indulging in lots of good food and drink.

Where we stayed

Rather than focus on everywhere we stayed (seeing as there were quite a few places), I thought I’d highlight our very favourites.

Audacia Manor, Durban

The main building

Our first hotel was just the kind of luxury we wanted to begin our honeymoon with. We splashed out on one of the Superior Deluxe rooms, which was well worth the extra cost, boasting a huge bedroom with a lovely four-poster bed, an outdoor jacuzzi and a private terrace, plus both an indoor and an outdoor shower. The hotel has a great little restaurant and bar on site, which has views over the city, and the friendly staff were happy to recommend good places to eat nearby so we didn’t feel obliged to eat in the hotel every night.

Kosi Forest Lodge

Tent exterior

This has to be one of the most magical places that we’ve ever stayed. The rooms are in luxury “tents” – though that doesn’t really do them justice – with fabulous outdoor bathrooms; it’s hard to beat showering outside with birds singing all around you. The lakeside setting is absolutely beautiful, with the tents hidden away among the trees, so it feels completely secluded, and with lanterns and candles lighting the paths at night it’s unabashedly romantic. The price includes daily activities – we actually ended up doing everything on offer because we were having such a great time, but there’s no pressure to do anything if you don’t want to (though that would be a shame with so much worth seeing in the area).  The staff are what really make this place special – whether it was the guides telling us about local traditions, arranging a surprise romantic candlelit bath, or joining us for a drink at the bar in the evening – and at many times it felt more like staying with friends than at a hotel.

Abbotsbury

The gardens at Abbotsbury

This beautiful little guesthouse lies on a farm in the Karoo, with gorgeous gardens surrounding and views that’ll just take your breath away. We had the Garden Suite, which was the perfect space to wind down after a long drive. Dinner is offered here, which is served in the suite (each has its own dining/living area) – the food was really delicious and homely, and it was nice to feel like we could completely relax during dinner by being in our own private surroundings. Each room has an honesty fridge, where you can help  yourself to wine or beer (at really reasonable prices), and just pay when you leave, which was a great touch.

Emily Moon River

View from the honeymoon suite

With stunning position overlooking the river valley just outside of Plettenberg Bay, Emily Moon River is a really special place to stay, with accommodation in free-standing “lodges” that really feel private. We had the honeymoon suite, which was absolutely gorgeous, with a substantial living area, plus a private balcony (including an outside shower) that afforded beautiful views over the river. There’s a gorgeous swimming pool and the hotel has kayaks and other boats that you can use to explore the river, plus the owners will take time to let you know exactly what’s on offer in the area. Best of all is the restaurant – well-regarded as one of the best in the area – which serves superlative food and to-die-for cocktails. I’m always a bit hesitant about hotel restaurants but this place was amazing – whether sitting on the terrace drinking a pre-dinner cocktail, enjoying a three course meal or indulging in an after-dinner liquor and impromptu dessert by the fire, it never failed to impress. Best of all, as a guest you don’t have to face the waiting list that they normally have for a table here – you automatically have one reserved for every night of your stay, but it’s entirely up to you whether or not you use it or not.


For recommended Cape Town hotels, click here.


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