Our honeymoon had a tough act to follow: our joyful, emotional, meaningful wedding! Yet, as we hopped on a plane to South Africa, we were confident our 12-day honeymoon would be equally joyful and meaningful (but without the tears!).
I’m blessed to work at Travel Beyond, so I fully trust our creative, detailed and knowledgeable consultants. Amid planning our wedding, my husband John-Paul and I happily gave Jeanie, Craig and Julia control over our honeymoon planning, confident that all we needed to do was pack our bags and charge our cameras.
We were richly spoiled from the moment our hosts at Fairlawns Boutique Hotel and Spa whisked us away from the Johannesburg Airport for relaxation and refreshment after our long international flight. Fairlawns set the bar high, and every property we visited followed suit. Our safari gave us two distinct atmospheres to compare, contrast and enjoy—from our luxury tents at Ngala Tented Camp to our sprawling khayas at Rattrays on MalaMala. We then jetted off to the Western Cape, relaxing amid the splendor of La Residence, exploring Cape Town from More Quarters’ boutique apartments, and enjoying the waterfront experience at the modern and sleek One & Only.
Bottles of champagne thoughtfully popped up at each accommodation, and we never lacked a reason for a toast: to adventure and beauty, to South Africa, to travel, to our countless blessings, to our past and our future.
Upon returning home, our friends and family immediately asked, “What animals did you see?”
We rattled off our list of animals viewed, eager to introduce our exotic friends: “Lions, leopards, rhino, jackals, a pangolin (!), lots of elephants and giraffe and buffalo…” and on.
It’s easy to rehash the species checklist, but as any traveler knows, a trip is so much more than the animals or museums or monuments seen.
A trip is about what we feel. What we hear. What we taste and try and learn. It’s about standing in awe, inhaling the breeze at the end of the continent where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. It’s the bout of laughter inspired by that same ocean breeze, when you realize that a dress wasn’t the best wardrobe choice and desperately hope another tourist hasn’t captured an about-to-go-viral photo. A dream trip is fulfilled by watching your favorite trip mate’s face light up on the first safari game drive. It’s the surprise of a private lantern-lit dinner outside your safari tent, enraptured by the magic of the African night.
Did we see lions? Sure. But better yet, we felt a lion’s roar vibrate through our own chests as he led us toward the brothers he called. The red light of our safari vehicle highlighted his silhouette against the darkened sky as we eagerly accompanied him toward his family.
We saw leopards, too. But the mere sighting is nothing without the backstory, like how on our first game drive at Ngala Tented Camp, we excitedly drove toward a tree where a young leopard had been spotted earlier in the day, only to encounter a family of three rhinos a few hundred feet away. We arrived at the leopard’s tree as he rearranged his porcupine prize, the golden hour of the afternoon sun illuminating his mystical beauty.
Or how I nearly fell off the treadmill at Rattrays on MalaMala when I saw a leopard walking confidently in the riverbed toward the (fenced) camp; I was so eager to share the remarkable moment with someone else that I forgot I was running. And how as darkness fell, we quieted ourselves and our beating hearts in the stillness of the night, waiting in a clearing to track that same leopard in the dense bush. We were captivated by the thrill of the hunt as we spotted him emerging, time and time again as our eyes darted from tree to tree. “There he is!” our excited not-quite-whispers proclaimed. He walked so close to our vehicle that my camera didn’t need to zoom, and I’ll forever remember looking into his eyes between camera shots.
Each animal sighting provided a special magic, whether we stumbled upon a sighting or tracked an animal for hours, whether the sun was rising or setting, whether it was in a sandy riverbed or dense forest. We learned each animal’s story from our guides, made memorable by the personality, knowledge and humor of each guide.
We could’ve stayed on safari for weeks (months?! years?!) but there was more of South Africa to discover. If a safari is known for seeing, then our time in the Western Cape was focused on tasting.
We relaxed for hours sipping coffee and swirling wine upon our balcony in the Winelands. Nestled in the valley between stunning mountains, patterned by rolling vineyards, dotted by floral gardens and bordered by vivid ochre walls, the opulent La Residence quite literally caused my jaw to drop upon arrival.
We meandered through Franschhoek on our own before a full day of private touring of the Cape’s highlights: vineyards, Stellenbosch, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulder’s Beach and more. We enjoyed delicious wine and talked shop with local winemakers, indulged in fresh seafood at a beachside restaurant and retained a wealth of knowledge from our engaging guide Rob.
Over the course of the honeymoon, we savored 19 different species of meat and fish, tasted countless new dishes and enjoyed healthy servings of dessert. If you asked our taste buds about the highlight of our honeymoon, they’d undoubtedly point to Test Kitchen, a trendy hotspot in the Old Biscuit Mill that’s definitely worth the international hype. The 9+ course tasting menu dazzled us—each plate touting dozens of flavors and textures and dollops of creativity that made each bite a unique adventure.
But the delicious tastes of Cape Town weren’t solely reserved for five-star restaurants. We scouted out the local (but world-renowned) coffee shop Origin and ended up across the counter from Winston, a barista training for South Africa’s National Barista Championships. After discovering that we were home-brew enthusiasts, he crafted us a number of delicious cups of coffee using a variety of brewing methods, including a taste of the secret recipe he was perfecting for the competition. (He ended up getting 2nd overall!)
For 12 incredible days, we saw and tasted, relaxed and explored, learned and laughed. We stayed in gorgeous properties, met welcoming and gracious South African hosts and marveled at the immense beauty of South Africa. But most importantly, we celebrated the best part of any travel experience: the adventure together.