Thursday, October 7, 2010

Intinerary for Africa in July 2011 or Feb 2012


We aren't sure when, but this is the 33-day adventure we have planned for a Southern Africa trip next year.

Today we arrive in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.

Part of Maasai land when the British arrived, this modern capital grew with the development of the railway. Derived from a Maasai word meaning "Cold Water," Nairobi is a pleasant mix of colonial British with modern and traditional African influences. This evening we enjoy dinner at the famous Tamarind Restaurant.

Today we travel from Nairobi, through the "White Highlands," so called because of the large number of Europeans who settled here, northwards to the Samburu National Reserve arriving in the mid-afternoon. En route we stop for lunch on the lower slopes of Mt Kenya where we may catch a glimpse of the glaciers coating the summit of Africa's second highest mountain.

The Samburu Reserve is mainly semi-desert savannah plain with the seasonal Ewaso Nyiro River supporting a wide variety of game such as elephant, buffalo, cheetah, leopard and lion as well as dik-dik (a tiny antelope), and warthog. On our afternoon game drive you can almost certainly be guaranteed close-up sightings of elephant, giraffe and gazelle.

Overnight in the Samburu National Reserve. Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Today we have a full day of game viewing in Samburu National Reserve where we have a good chance of seeing the so-called "Northerns" -- the Grevy's zebra, reticulated giraffe and the blue-legged Somali ostrich -- species of animals found only in this dry area of Kenya. In addition, crocodiles can often be seen along the river bank.

This afternoon we may have an opportunity to pay a visit to a nearby Samburu village (optional expense - approximately 15 USD). The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists well-known for their proud adherence to traditional tribal customs and elaborate personal adornment.

Overnight in the Samburu National Reserve.

This morning we will depart for the lower slopes of Mt Kenya, rising to 5199 m (16,728 feet), Africa's second highest peak. Our drive will take us into the Central Highlands, the heartland of the Kikuyu people. This is a very fertile region, well-watered, intensively cultivated, and thickly forested. The land was coveted by the Europeans who began arriving in ever-increasing numbers once the railway through the area was completed. The settlers established coffee and tea plantations on the eastern slopes of Mt Kenya and cultivated wheat on the western slopes. The higher regions of the slopes are left to the leopard, buffalo, lion and elephant.

Tonight we overnight at a "Tree-Style" lodge, uniquely designed and situated to provide one with a close-up view of a wide variety of wild animals as they come to drink and cavort. We highly recommend an optional guided nature walk (approx USD 30, payable locally) offered by the lodge. All rooms have a waterhole view and en suite facilities.

Overnight in Mt Kenya Conservation area.

This morning we travel to Lake Nakuru, a shallow soda lake in the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley was created millions of years ago under the strain of enormous volcanic eruptions which resulted in a giant split in the earth's surface from Syria to Mozambique. Lava flowed into the valley, forming escarpments on either side of the gigantic trough which can be up to 80 km (50 miles) wide, big enough to be visible from space. At the lake, depending on the water levels, we may have the opportunity to see up to two million flamingos, in addition to the over 340 species of birds that have been recorded in the Rift Valley!

Lake Nakuru is very shallow and can fluctuate up to five metres (12 feet) each day. When the water is low, you can see a white band of crystallized soda along the shoreline. This is also one of the best places in Kenya to view the rare White Rhino as we explore the park on our afternoon game drive.

Overnight in Lake Nakuru National Park.

Early this morning we depart from Lake Nakuru National Park and continue our journey through the Rift Valley, passing by Lake Naivasha and nearby Mount Longonot, a relatively young volcanic reminder of the Rift's violent past. We arrive at our lodge (via bad road) in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in time for lunch.

The Maasai Mara is a natural extension of the Serengeti eco-system and has an amazing concentration of wildlife. The largest population of lions in Kenya is found here, along with large herds of plains game. The Maasai Mara may also be the best place in Kenya to view cheetah. Later this afternoon we enjoy another game drive.

Overnight in the Maasai Mara.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve consists of rolling grassland and is located at the northern end of the Serengeti Plain. Considered the best of Kenya's parks, it is on the pathway of the yearly wildebeest migration, which comes north from Tanzania about the end of June and returns to Tanzania around the end of September. "The Mara" sustains all of the "Big Five" -- lion, elephant, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo -- as well as an astonishing wealth of herding animals and other wildlife. You can see the stately Maasai men and youth along the road tending their cattle and goats.

In the Mara you will have an optional opportunity to ascend over the northern Serengeti at daybreak in a hot air balloon (optional expense). From over 300 m (984 feet) above, you will be able to view the vast land and the myriad animals that inhabit the Maasai Mara. During our stay in the Mara we enjoy a full day game drive in Africa's most famous game park.

Overnight in the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

After breakfast we depart for Nairobi. En route, just outside the capital, we visit the Karen Blixen Museum. Baroness Karen Blixen-Finecke emigrated from Denmark to Kenya in 1918 and, in 1937, wrote under the pseudonym, Isaac Dineson, "Out of Africa." The novel tells the tale of the Baroness's experiences on a Kenya farm. Her home is now a museum, restored to the style in which she maintained it.

Tonight will enjoy an evening at the famous Carnivore Restaurant where we can sample exotic roasted meats (vegetarian meals available).

Overnight in Nairobi.

Today we travel south from Nairobi to the Amboseli National Park. Just across the border from Tanzania, this park is situated on the African plain at the foot of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, the continent's tallest mountain at 5894 m (19,300 feet). Here the cone-shaped mountain seems to hover majestically over the shimmering African plains.

The Amboseli National Park is also famous for its large herds of elephants. Here they cover themselves in red dust, giving them an even more imposing appearance. On this afternoon's game drive we hope to view animals grazing on the open plain with Kili providing the classic backdrop (weather permitting).

Overnight in the Amboseli National Park.

We depart early this morning as our destination today is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania.* We pass through Arusha, the starting point for the northern safari routes of Tanzania, and one of the country's most attractive towns. The surrounding area is primarily a highland forest park and it is a good place to see black and white colobus monkeys and bushbuck. You may catch a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance.

After lunch in Arusha (on your own account), we continue to Ngorongoro via Lake Manyara, another Rift Valley lake, renowned for its unique rainforest micro climate. The road takes us up the rift escarpment, through dramatic rolling green fields and tiny traditional villages. Our arrival at the crater rim near sunset coincides with the best time to see the elusive leopard as they quietly patrol the thick forests.

Called the 'eighth wonder of the world' and stretching across some 8,300 sq km, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania boasts a blend of landscapes, wildlife, people and archaeology that is unsurpassed in Africa. The volcanoes, grasslands, waterfalls and mountain forests are home to an abundance of animals and to the Maasai. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the world's greatest natural spectacles, its magical setting and abundant wildlife never fail to enthrall visitors.

Overnight in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Today we enjoy a half-day tour in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.* After an early breakfast we descend into the crater far below for a game drive in this incredible setting, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explore the Ngorongoro Crater, 20 km (13 miles) wide and 700 m (2,300 feet) high where we may see the "Big Five" as well as many herbivores like wildebeest, gazelle, zebra and hippopotamus, as well as thousands of flamingos.

* As of July 2005, in order to reduce congestion and stress on wildlife, the Tanzanian government began limiting visitors to half-day visits of the crater. Depending on what time "window" we are assigned, our excursion may take place first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon (both of which are equally advantageous for game viewing, given the relatively mild climate at this altitude).

Overnight in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

Departing the Ngorongoro Conservation area this morning we descend onto the Serengeti Plain, stretching out endlessly before us. Indeed the name "Serengeti" derives from a Maasai word meaning "Land-without-end." This is a land of superlatives, both in the vast landscape that surrounds you and the incredible biodiversity it supports. It is here that you have a chance to witness one of the most compelling natural dramas on earth -- the annual migration, a sight unparalleled anywhere in the natural world. Our afternoon game drive provides an excellent introduction to this fantastic landscape and the biodiversity it supports.

Overnight in the Serengeti National Park.

Today we have a full day of game viewing on the Serengeti. We will visit the "kopjes," a series of low, incongruous hills dotting the open landscape that often provide a vantage point for hungry predators contemplating the endless stream of hoofed animals parading past them. During this time, up to 1.5 million wildebeest and a half a million zebra embark on a single-minded and perilous quest for water and grazing land. Following this spectacle, of course, are the meat-eating opportunists, hoping to capitalize on the physical toll this journey exacts on the desperate grazers.

Overnight in the Serengeti National Park.

Travelling back to Manyara today we make a stop at Olduvai Gorge, site of the Leakey excavations in the 1960s and 70s that established this region as the prehistoric habitat of some of the earliest species of hominids with some finds dating back 1.8 million years. Pundits in the life sciences have argued that the Olduvai contribution to the story of human origins remains unsurpassed by any other prehistoric site in the world. A small museum on site outlines the unique geological and human history of the area.

Later we will enjoy a leisurely lunch at Gibb's Farm. Founded during German colonial times and still privately owned, Gibb's Farm is now a small hotel perched on the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro Highlands, surrounded by coffee plantations with long views over lush and beautiful agricultural country. We continue to the vicinity of Lake Manyara National Park, the smallest of the northern parks in Tanzania (330 sq km, of which two thirds is the actual lake) hosting a wide variety of vegetation, ranging from savannah to ground water forest to riparian habitats. The park is host to thousands of pelicans, ibis and flamingo that can be heard from afar. Other common visitors to this beautiful lake are hippos and the majestic African fish eagle, which can be seen swooping down from its perch to snatch a fish from the still waters of the lake.

We will spend the night at a lodge near Lake Manyara.

Overnight near Lake Manyara.

We have a morning game drive through this beautiful park, located at the base of the Great Rift Valley escarpment and comprising of forest, woodland, grasslands, and swamps. Wildlife interest at Lake Manyara is not confined to bird life only, many game animals such as buffalo, elephant, giraffe, impala, hippo and a great variety of smaller animals also inhabit the park. After lunch we continue to Arusha.

Overnight in Arusha

Today we fly from Arusha to Johannesburg, South Africa.

NOTE: Depending on flight schedules, we may have to travel to Nairobi and fly to Jo'burg from there. Final arrangements will be advised closer to departure.

Overnight in Johannesburg. Garden Court, Sandton City Hotel

This morning we have a tour of the city of Soweto.

Soweto unto itself is actually one of the largest cities in Africa with an estimated population of 2 million. It also has one of the most dubious histories of any city in Africa, as it was the site of some of the more infamous events during the struggle against apartheid. The name "Soweto" simply stands for South Western Township, due to its location outside Johannesburg. It was here that thousands of black workers were forced to live in order to provide labour for the gold mines.

We will see the good, the bad, and the ugly of Soweto -- from affluent neighbourhoods to shanty towns; the world's largest hospital, Baragwanath; and the former homes of Soweto's Nobel Laureates, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. We also visit the excellent new museum dedicated to the victims of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

En route to Pretoria (recently renamed Tshwane*) we will visit the extraordinarily powerful Apartheid Museum, an obligatory stop for visitors and residents alike. The large blown-up photographs, metal cages and numerous monitors with continuous replays of apartheid scenes will make you feel that you were in the townships in the 70s and 80s, dodging police bullets or teargas canisters, or marching with thousands of school children. One can easily spend the better part of a day in this museum; however, for the sake of timing on a busy day, we will be taking in the highlights only.

We continue to Pretoria, the administrative capital of the Republic of South Africa. Surrounded by hilly countryside, this relaxed capital is known for its colourful gardens and lush green parks. We will see Church Square, dominated by its statue of the Boer Republic's first President, Paul Kruger, and lined with buildings of architectural and historical interest. From here we will proceed to a panoramic view of the city at the Union Buildings, the administrative headquarters of the Government of South Africa and scene of Nelson Mandela's inauguration as the New South Africa's first democratically elected State President in 1994.

* Tshwane is the name of a pre-colonial local chief and means "We Are the Same". In 2005 the city council approved the switch from Pretoria to Tshwane as part of an effort to make place names more African.

Overnight in Johannesburg (Sandton).

Today we fly from South Africa to Zambia where we will spend three nights next to one of the world's most spectacular natural sights, Victoria Falls. Our arrival point is the town of Livingstone, once an important town in southern Africa during the first days of European settlement and the beginnings of colonial rule.

This area has actually been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years. The first known name of the falls was "Shongwe"; the current name did not come into being until the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone was brought to the falls in 1855 and named them after Queen Victoria. The falls and the nearby town of Livingstone are on the mighty Zambezi River, the fourth longest in Africa, forming the border with neighbouring Zimbabwe.

We will pass through the sleepy colonial town of Livingstone, the main street of which is lined with classic colonial buildings. These Victorian tin roofed houses with wooden verandas, many of which are decaying, are a typical example of English settler architecture. In 1905 settlers moved in to the higher ground at Livingstone to escape malaria. Livingstone became the capital of Northern Rhodesia in 1911, but the capital was moved to Lusaka in 1935.

After settling in to our hotel, we will have a leisurely walking tour of the Zambian side of the falls. One special vantage point is the Knife Edge Bridge which affords views of the Eastern Cataract; the Main Falls, the Boiling Pot, where the river turns into the Batoka Gorge; and the famous Zambezi River Bridge, commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes. The bridge was completed in 1905 but Rhodes never lived to see it completed.

NOTE: Due to variable flight schedules and weather considerations, the order of Victoria Falls area sightseeing activities may vary at the discretion of your Tour Leader.

Overnight at Victoria Falls, Zambia.

Today we make an early morning excursion into Botswana to visit Chobe National Park, located only 1.75 hours away from Livingstone. Our journey includes a private 5-minute boat crossing at the point where four counties (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia) meet on the Zambezi River. We complete Customs and Immigration formalities and continue with a fifteen-minute drive to the lodge that we will be using as a base for today's activities.

Our safari starts with a cruise on the Chobe River (shade and refreshments available) that takes us close to the waterfowl and wildlife on the river. Large flocks of birds, big pods of hippos and very large crocodiles can be viewed from the safety of your boat.

Our lunch (included today) is served back at the lodge overlooking the river.

After lunch we board open (covered) safari vehicles and head off into the park to view some of the 70,000 local elephants, buffalo herds, sable, wildebeest, giraffe, and with luck, some resident lion and hyena. The game drive meanders its way back to the park gates for Customs and Immigration formalities and the crossing of the Zambezi River into back into Zambia and the road transfer back to our hotel, arriving at about 18:00.

Overnight at Victoria Falls.

This morning we visit an authentic Zambian village. The chief has invited visitors into his village to get a glimpse of how his people have lived for generations and to learn a little about their traditional customs and beliefs. The Chief's guides and the people of the village are more than happy to show visitors their huts and take you inside, explain how they are built and decorated, introduce you to various craftsmen and women at work. This is a working village, not a purpose- built tourist attraction, and it is a privilege to be welcomed in.

This afternoon is free for optional activities: Scenic flights, river boat trips, an excursion to the Zimbabwe side, or trips into Livingstone to visit the David Livingstone and / or Railway museums, can be arranged with the assistance of your Tour Leader. Costs and bookings for these optionals are available upon arrival in Zambia.

Overnight at Victoria Falls, Zambia.

Today we fly from Livingstone / Victoria Falls to Johannesburg (flight times are variable).

Overnight in Johannesburg (Sandton).

From Jo'burg we head off through the vast wilderness of Mpumalanga (formerly The Eastern Transvaal), the "Land of the Rising Mist". Along the way we travel from the vast grasslands of the High Veld, with its huge farms and ranches, down to the drier Low Veld region characterized by rocky hills and acacia scrub forest. This is an expansive landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, primal forests, and colourful flora. Steeped in a history of pioneers and fortune-seekers, we will pass many Gold Rush towns and farming communities en route. Lydenburg ("town of suffering") established by Voortrekkers in 1849 lies at the bottom of Long Tom pass. This pass, named after the big gun used by the Afrikaners during the Anglo Boer War, is one of the most scenically dramatic in the country. It links Sabie on the escarpment with Lydenburg on the Drakensberg plateau.

A highlight of our sightseeing today is the spectacular Blyde River Canyon. This great escarpment is the kind of place where brochures and guide books run out of original adjectives to describe the fresh mountain scenery and magnificent panoramic views. The Blyde River Canyon is one of the most spectacular in Africa and its cliffs rise between 600-800 m (2,000-2,640 feet) from the river bed. At the "Three Rondavels viewpoint" is an unforgettable view of three huge rock spirals rising out of the far wall of the canyon. Their tops appear to have a hut-like rounded roof.

Following the road and the Treur River south, there are further viewpoints; Wonder View, God's Window and the Pinnacle. Their names help to conjure up the indescribable vastness of the scenery. From here we continue to Hazyview near Kruger National Park.

Overnight in Hazyview.

Early this morning we enter South Africa's largest game reserve, Kruger National Park, named after Paul Kruger, the first to initiate the setting aside of this area as a reserve in the 1890s. Here we transfer to open safari vehicles and make a full-day excursion through the southern sector of this fascinating and beautiful park.

The Kruger Park is an enormous area of flat veld, broken by rivers and comprised of mixed vegetation and terrain. The park, officially founded in 1926, supports more species of wildlife than any other African reserve -- over 137 mammal species, 49 fish species, 112 reptile species, and nearly 500 bird species! With some luck we may see and photograph lion, leopard, cheetahs, elephant, zebra and many other wonderful African animals.

We return to Hazyview in the late afternoon.

Overnight in Hazyview.

We travel south today and enter the Kingdom of Swaziland, an independent country completely landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique, and smaller than Kruger Park! Naturally fortified by beautiful mountains, Swaziland remains one of the last kingdoms in Africa, a continent once dominated by colonialism. The pace of life here is relaxed and the lifestyle traditional; we will see rural people working their farms and tending their herds as we make our way to the vicinity of Mbabane, the capital city.

Overnight in / near Mbabane.

This morning we travel into the Swazi Lowveld, an area of tiny villages and endless rolling hills planted in sugarcane.

Later this morning we cross back into the Republic of South Africa and travel into the province of Kwazulu-Natal. This area is a nature-lover's paradise, boasting unforgettable untamed African wilderness. This is the traditional homeland of the Zulu people whose informal economy was historically based upon livestock, subsistence agriculture and hunting. The Zulu have lived in southern Africa for over 300 years and have maintained their traditions and customs perhaps more than any other indigenous southern African ethnic group. In the late 18th century, the Zulu clan was but one of a number of small groups among the northern Nguni. By the 1820s, a powerful Zulu state had emerged under the control of Shaka. Historians continue to debate the reason/s for the rise of a militarised and authoritarian Zulu state.

This afternoon we settle into our comfortable lodge in the African bush, situated in close proximity to the Umfolozi, Mkuze and Hluhluwe National Parks.

Overnight near Hluhluwe.

This morning we will participate in an early morning game drive through Hluhluwe Game Reserve. The reserve is the oldest conservation area in Africa, established on 30 April 1895, and is famous for saving the White Rhino from extinction. The area currently boasts the largest rhino populations in Africa; both the Black and White Rhino are endemic to the area. Apart from the "Big Five," the area is also refuge to the endangered wild dog and the elusive cheetah.

This afternoon we travel toward the Indian Ocean and continue on to Durban, the 'Garden City' of South Africa. This area was opened up to white settlement by the Voortrekkers in the early 19th century, though the Portuguese were navigating the coast here as early as the late 15th century. Vasco da Gama was the first European to sail along this coast, giving it the name Natal to commemorate his Christmas Day arrival. In 1899 the British and the Boers went to war, but under reconciliation in 1910 formed the Union of South Africa with an agreement signed in what is now Durban's modern-day Main Post Office.

This evening we fly from Durban to Port Elizabeth, the start of the famous "Garden Route." (As this will likely be an evening flight, we will not be including dinner this evening).

Overnight in Port Elizabeth.

Port Elizabeth is South Africa's fifth largest city and the third largest port. This morning we will have a brief panoramic tour of this city seeing the Market Square and the beaches of Algoa Bay.

From Port Elizabeth we travel along the world-famous 'Garden Route' toward Knysna. This route is parallel to the ocean and features lakes, mountains, beaches, and steep cliffs. This part of the garden route reminds one of the Oregon Coast (USA) with its sand dunes and great surf beaches. We'll make a lunch stop at Storm's River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. You will have time to walk a short section of the famed Otter Trail, widely regarded as one of the finest in the world, stretching 41 km (25 mi - 5 days) from Storms River Mouth to Nature's Valley.

We continue to Knysna, a charming coastal town with tremendous water and mountain view and a laid-back lifestyle. The town was founded in 1817 by George Rex, reputed to be an illegitimate son of King George III. Known for its picturesque lagoon, the town was first established as a timber port. Today, Knysna is proud of its riviera atmosphere with many sidewalk cafes and shops.

Depending on limited accommodation availability in Knysna, we may overnight here in Knysna or continue a little further down the road to the town of George.

Overnight in Knysna or George.

This morning we travel down the coast to Mossel Bay. Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias arrived here on February 3, 1488, thus proving to his sponsors that Africa had a southern tip; making it theoretically possible to sail from Europe to India. Our destionation is the Dias Museum Complex, which marks the spot of the historical landing of Bartolomeu Dias. The 500 year old Post Office Tree, a national monument, can still be seen at the site, now harbouring a post box shaped as a shoe.

We then head inland and over the Outeniqua Mountains to the Little Karoo (Klein Karoo), a semi-arid yet fertile valley or depression surrounded by formidable mountian ranges. This is the ostrich capital of South Africa with thousands of these unusual birds dotting fields throughout the area. At the turn of the century ostrich feathers were in such demand that the fashion conscious paid a premium and feathered the nests of the barons who built magnificent mansions known as "Feather Palaces." This fine architecture can still be seen around the sedate and pleasant town of Outdshoorn (pronounced 'Oats-horn'), our final destination.

We will have lunch at one of the region's main ostrich show farms, followed by a tour thereof before continuing to Outdshoorn where we finish our day.

Overnight in Outdshoorn.

From Oudtshoorn we travel through the Huis River Pass with its spectacular rock formations, and the little farming town of Ladysmith, named after the Spanish wife of British Cape Governor Sir Harry Smith. We cross our second mountain range of the day to arrive in the town of Swellendam, the third oldest colonial town in South Africa, established in 1745. Here you will have time to have lunch and visit several historic buildings built in the charming Cape Dutch style with characteristic whitewashed walls and black, thatched roofs.

We then pass through a vast wheat growing and sheep farming area on our way to Cape Town. In the late afternoon we cross the Hottentot's Holland Mountains (our third range for the day), the centre of South Africa's apple growing region, to arrive in Cape Town, one of the world's most isolated and beautiful cities.

Overnight in Cape Town.

Today we have the quintessential full-day tour of the Cape Town area: The Cape Peninsula.

Our tour takes us south along the Atlantic Seaboard where we have spectacular views of some of Cape Town's most affluent neighbourhoods and spectacular mountain and coastal scenery. We have a brief photo stop just before Camp's Bay, a pretty surfside suburban community featuring the classic view of the town with the 'Twelve Apostles' peaks as a backdrop.

We continue south along a seaside-hugging route, through the town of Hout Bay and the famous Chapman's Peak Drive, one of the most spectacular marine drives anywhere in the world. The 9km route, with its 114 curves, skirts the rocky coastline of Chapman's Peak, the 593m high southerly extension of Constantia Berg.

Our next stop is the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Cape Point. The reserve is a wildflower, bird, and animal paradise on 77 sq km (30 sq miles) of the Cape Peninsula. The reserve is also home to eland, springbok, bontebok, baboon, and zebra. Within the reserve are Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwesterly point on the African continent.

After a break for lunch and free time at Cape Point, we head north again, stopping briefly at the Cape of Good Hope, before continuing back up the Indian Ocean side of the peninsula, passing through Simonstown, founded by the Dutch in 1741 as a naval depot and named for Simon van der Stel, governor of Cape Colony from 1679 to 1697. Today Simonstown is famous for its distinctly English architecture and atmosphere, and the southernmost train station on the continent.

We complete our loop around the peninsula, past the well-watered eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Constantia, Bishops Court and the campuses of the University of Cape Town.

Overnight in Cape Town.

This morning we travel the short distance to Stellenbosch, South Africa's second oldest colonial settlement. After a little spin around the town, we'll park in the centre of town and allow some time for some independent, on-foot exploration. You will notice some of the finest examples of traditional Cape Dutch architecture along the town's famous oak-lined streets.

We continue to one of the area's many wineries for a cellar tour and tasting. The Cape vineyards were originated at Constantia by Jan van Riebeeck in 1685 and were advanced in 1688 by Hugenot refugees who brought their vine seedlings and skills with them from France. The Cape's different soils and climatic variations allow a wide variety of wines to be pressed. Along our route today we will see several wine estates with their delightful Cape Dutch houses, thatched roofs and decorative gables.

Today we include lunch at one of the area's wine estates. After lunch we'll continue our scenic drive through the area before heading back to Cape Town for dinner on your own.

Overnight in Cape Town.

We will start our day with a gondola trip to the top of Table Mountain,* a sandstone plateau rising up above the city. The top is approximately 3km wide and at its highest point, Maclears Beacon, rises to 1085m / 3,580 ft. Over the centuries it has become one of South Africa's most famous landmarks. The steep cliffs and rocky outcrops of the mountain play home to a number of animals and approximately 1,470 species of plants -- more than the entire British Isles!

After descending the mountain, we tour Cape Town, the seat of the Parliament which holds a six-month session here each year. We will see the Houses of Parliament, the Malay Quarter with its narrow streets and minarets; the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa's oldest building; and visit the South African Museum.

We also visit the National Botanical Gardens of Kirstenbosch, with over 4,000 species of indigenous plants (2,600 are endemic to the Cape Peninsula). The garden's history dates back to the 1660s, when the first Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape. Governor Jan van Riebeeck planted a barrier of Wild Almonds to protect settlers' cattle from the original inhabitants of the area -- and part of this hedge is still in the garden!

* NOTE: The order of our Cape Town sightseeing may vary depending on weather. Table Mountain is particularly susceptible to cloud and mist and may be accomplished elsewhere in our program at the discretion of your Tour Leader.

Overnight in Cape Town.

Departure from Cape Town.