Travel

Why Our South African Honeymoon Was The Best Month Of My Life

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Adventurers, foodies, animal lovers, wine connoisseurs, surfers, fashionophiles I have a secret I almost don’t want to gift the world: you should be traveling to South Africa.

Our yearlong honeymoon included a lot of “bucket list” dream destinations, spanning the entire globe. Jack and I spent ample time in Asia, Africa, Europe & the American West and loved just about every stop along the way. But nothing, nowhere, compared to our beloved five weeks spent traversing from fashionable, windswept Cape Town, through the picturesque Garden Route, across the Cape to our final destination: a safari at Amakhala Game Reserve.

It was the best five weeks of my life. Truly. Cape Town & South Africa blew all of our expectations out of the water. Imagine landscapes as dramatic as California’s Big Sur, but with baboons bumbling along the highway. Imagine exquisite meals in a breathtaking wine country but without that prohibitive Napa price tag. Shop affordable handmade couture in Africa’s fashion capital. Lions, elephants, giraffe, cheetah, penguins, whales, great white sharks…

I’m hesitant to give up this “great big secret” love of mine, as I want to return to the same gorgeous South Africa for decades to come without the crowds. But the truth is, the South African people could benefit greatly from tourism and improved reputation from our naive understanding of what South Africa truly is.

So, I’m here to tell you all the reasons why our South African honeymoon was the best month of my life, so you can plan a trip just as fabulous…

South African honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 24

The Itinerary

Your itinerary will depend on how much vacation time you have to spend – Jack and I planned five weeks (we were heartbroken to leave even that soon!) It’s likely you’re flying in from afar, so we’d highly recommend a minimum two weeks for a road trip like ours.

If you must travel for less time, focus on a smaller area. For instance, Cape Town through wine country to Hermanus. Or, fly to your next SA destination vs driving.

Our Itinerary

Simon’s Town, Cape Town (six days)
Vermont, Hermanus (four days)
Bonnievale, Robertson Valley (three days)
Wilderness, The Garden Route (three days)
Plettenberg Bay, The Garden Route (four days)
Chelsea, Port Elizabeth (seven days)
Bukela Game Lodge, Amakhala Game Reserve (four days)
Mossel Bay, The Garden Route (two days)
Constantia, Cape Town (two days)
Glencairn, Cape Town (six days)

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
South Africa Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza – Bridal Musings
Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 25

Cape Town

Would I move to Cape Town tomorrow? Yes. A smaller, cosmopolitan city filled with nature parks, great food, cutting-edge fashion, wineries, wildlife and jaw-dropping coastline, Cape Town is a delight.

In our two weeks in Cape Town, we stayed on the False Bay side of the city – in and around Simon’s Town & Kalk Bay. Just 20 odd minutes from downtown, this area of Cape Town feels like a small fishing village far from city life. You can access some of the best surfing beaches in the morning, have lunch at a winery by noon, take an afternoon shopping excursion into the city and be back in your cozy beach house rental for your honeymoon sundowner, giggling over Simon Town’s charming wild penguins.

To do: Surf at Muizenburg Beach (one of the world’s best places to learn to surf). Capture epic ocean views alongside wild baboons at Table Mountain National Park. Shop in the city’s many stylish local fashion-houses, my favorites being: Selfi, AKJP STUDIO, & Bastille. Hop on a whale-watching boat in False Bay to Seal Island see seals, the many migrating whales & if you’re lucky, even a great white shark. Visit the local African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. Take a sunset dip in the natural tide pools of Kalk Bay.

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Klein Constantia – Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 1
Image courtesy of Klein Constantia

To eat: Spoiled are you to be dining in Cape Town! Discover tantalizing Cape Malay cuisine in the colorful neighborhood of Bo-Kaap. Enjoy an affordable 5-star lunch & wine pairing at Jonkershuis in Constantia’s breathtaking wine country.

Kalk Bay hosts a few of our favorite seaside bites: SALT for sophisticated seafood & small plates as well as Olympia Cafe for a casual fine-dining experience with fabulous bread, pasta & seafood. Certainly, there are plenty of fish & chip joints from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town after your boat ride through False Bay.

To stay: We stayed at a few Airbnbs: this modern beachside home with incredible ocean views & this Dutch Cape beauty hidden amongst Constantia’s stunning vineyards.

Want to splurge on a hotel? 12 Apostles Hotel in Camps Bay is a travelers’ favorite (see a beautiful real wedding at this hotel featured on Bridal Musings).

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Babylonstoren – Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 1
Photo courtesy of Babylonstoren

…to the Garden Route

On your way to the famous Garden Route, you’ll pass through a few can’t-miss regions that offer world-class wine tasting & whale watching. Below I’ve listed all the important pit stops from just outside Cape Town, through wine country and along the Garden Route.

Stellenbosch, Franschoek & Paarl – The most coveted wine region in South Africa, these three small towns host some of the most beautiful wine country views in the world. Marvel at jagged cliffs as you taste world-class wines. Enjoy farm-to-table fare & luxury accommodations at the world-renowned Babylonstoren.

Hermanus – The closest on-land whale watching lookout on Earth, Hermanus offers seaside charm & wild experiences. Hermanus boasts an unrivaled food scene for seafood lovers. If you’re lucky enough to stay through the weekend, visit De Vette Mossel for an authentic hours-long seafood braai & gain a true sense of Western Cape culture and community. The most memorable meal of our South African stay was just beyond the Cape’s other famed African Penguin colony at the rustic Hook Line & Sinker. Listen to the waves crash against the rugged shore as you feel the warmth of this pub-like hearth & devour local seafood.

Our stay in Hermanus was during Jack’s birthday, so I booked this incredible seaside cottage which we loved. If you want to whale watch from your bed pillow, The Marine Hermanus is a worthy splurge.

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Frans Lemmens – Stellenbosch – Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 1
Photo by Frans Lemmens of Swellendam

Swellendam – Just at the doorstep of the Garden Route sits Swellendam. Visit adorable neighboring farm & mountain towns of Robertson Valley (for wine), Montagu and Barrydale (both for fabulous food & small-town charm). It’s really all about the unmissable mountain views no matter which towns you make your stop.

Ready for a glimpse of wildlife? Drive through Bontebok National Park to view herds of wild antelope & the Cape Mountain Zebra.

Wilderness – At the heart of the Garden Route you’ll feel compelled to break in the forested beach town of Wilderness. Stay in cliffside lodges featuring your first breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. We relished in grilling dinners on the deck of our private chalet at Boardwalk Lodge (and the adorable vervet monkeys who greeted us at the door).

 

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Our Wilderness Chalet
South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Plettenberg Bay – Nearing the end of the Garden Route, you’ll reach the beach town of Plettenberg Bay. After your morning beach stroll, you’ll want to refuel with a farm-to-table lunch at Bramon Restaurant Wine Estate at the heart of South Africa’s best sparkling wine-growing region.

No stop in Plett is complete without a visit to Mungo: a local textile brand handcrafting gorgeous blankets & towels (featured in our What to Wear on Safari guide). The factory itself is a modern marvel while the woven towels & blankets are the perfect honeymoon treasures to display in your newlywed home.

Jeffrey’s Bay – If you’re aching to put those Muizenberg surf skills to good use, now is the time pull your wetsuit back on. Home to the World Surf League championship, every year “J-Bay” beckons the best surfers from around the globe. Even if you’re not surfing yourself, you’ll take pleasure in witnessing South Africa’s biggest waves and best surfing talent. Plus, shop swimwear from the town’s own luxury surf shops & brand name swimwear outlets.

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Bramon Wine Estate
South African honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Addo Elephant Park & Amakhala Game Reserve

Once you reach Port Elizabeth things begin to get warmer and drier: here is your vision of the South African bush.

We recommend renting yourself a lovely cottage (our cottage with a fabulous braai for grilling here) to DIY day drives through Addo Elephant National Park. Next, check into a luxurious resort for a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience…

Bukela Game Lodge – The most luxurious hotel experience I have ever enjoyed, Bukela Game Lodge must be the apex of South African safari honeymoons. The luxury tents are massive: featuring lavish interiors, a luxe bathtub & semi-outdoor shower, your own fireplace and a spacious deck to watch the wild elephants passing through camp.

Each day of your stay includes lengthy game drives through Amakhala Game Reserve at sunrise and sunset, with stops in the bush for snacks & sundowner drinks.  You’ll be greeted every step of the way with warm hospitality & with a passionate staff making every effort to make your stay a special one.

Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 1
Bukela Game Lodge – Dream South African Honeymoon Itinerary – Claire Eliza Destination Wedding Photographer – Bridal Musings – African Wedding Week 1
Photo courtesy of Bukela Game Lodge

We saw lions hunting impala and cheetah hunting red hartebeest. Baby elephants chasing after their mothers. More types of antelope than we knew existed. We ate Michelin-star worthy meals of Kudu steak and laughed over copious amounts of South African wine (and post-safari Sherry, as well). We drank gin and tonics beside giraffes snacking on their favorite acacia trees, just as the sun fell below the horizon.

Lucky, our game driver, spoiled us with so many incredible tidbits about the flora, fauna & land we traversed. Something you’d never properly graspe from a book or even the best David Attenborough description. The staff spoiled us with their knowledge and love for their homeland. We learned about the stars of the Southern Sky as a ranger walked us home to our tent every night.

It was every bit a dream, and my eyes well up in tears as I write about it now.

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
Photo by Claire Eliza via Bridal Musings

A New Perspective

We couldn’t believe no one in our lives had told us to visit South Africa. That’s when Jack and I realized we needed to be South Africa’s champion among our family and friends. But that extends beyond our tight circle, it extends to you!

Forget the bad press from media who make money on sensationalism and fear. Just like any city or country around the world, what’s happening in real life, the goodness, the beauty rarely makes the news. Jack and I are smart travelers who understand how important it is to be aware of what’s happening in the world, but the gross number of warnings we were given about traveling to South Africa were simply unfounded. To put it bluntly, I felt safer in most of South Africa than I do in most of America. (For reference, I’m a New Yorker).

Always be street smart, aware of your surroundings no matter where you travel: Paris, Italy, the American Southwest, or South Africa. Don’t let fearmongering press stop you from exploring and discovering for yourself how truly beautiful this world is.

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Lodging, Car Rentals & Logistics

Lodging: The most common form of lodging for travelers in South Africa is self-catering accommodations: ie Airbnbs and private rentals! SA has a vast number of Airbnbs available across the country making it easy to organize your stay, leisurely plan your road trip before or even while on the road. South African vacation home rentals tend to be remarkably affordable (relative to the US & UK).

If road-tripping, we recommend buy a cooler at the start of your journey to stock up on provisions along your route. After all, you’ll want to make use of your Airbnb’s braai (a beloved South African barbecue setup).

Hotels, spas, luxury safari stays & bed & breakfasts are aplenty in the many tourist destinations. When looking for cool hotels I like to consult Tablet Hotels first, which populates a more curated selection of properties. You’ll find our favorite stays above, but the one hotel we missed (and would try to visit next time) is Babylonstoren. A dream for wine lovers, foodies and luxury travelers alike.

 

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Car Rentals: Renting a car is easy in South Africa. We picked ours up with no trouble at the Cape Town airport & embarked on our first journey driving on ‘the wrong side of the road’ (for us Americans). Anyone worried about transitioning to the left side of the road, don’t! We found it quite simple to switch from the start.

When it comes to driving through SA, a few things to note. One, they do have speed-checking cameras. So even if you don’t see a ‘speed trap’ with police, if you’re speeding, you may get a bill in the months to come. Two, there are wonderful parking agents in most parking lots that will help you find a spot, park your car without hitting anyone else (love!) and keep an eye on your car while you’re doing your business. Just remember to have coinage ready to tip when you leave. I wish we had this service here!

South African Honeymoon by Claire Eliza
South African honeymoon by Claire Eliza

Ready to start packing? Here’s what to wear on your safari honeymoon. Follow all of our African Wedding Week coverage here & get inspired by all of our favorite honeymoon destinations in our Travel section.

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