Have Fun - One trip just isn't enough to South Africa's Cape

WINE, WHALES AND WILDEBEEST

WE knew we were getting too close to the lions when one of them let out a roar that shook the ground beneath our jeep and echoed to the hills.

Graeme, our safari ranger, stayed relaxed. It was "just a territorial warning", he said. This pride weren't a real threat because they had only just been fed.

Oh really, said one of the girls in our party.

In that case, could she be let out of the jeep to "pet" one of the lion cubs? (I kid you not!).

It was only when Graeme warned that he would use his rifle on her, not an attacking lion, that she thought better of it.

When you arrive at malaria-free Shamwari Game Reserve on South Africa's Eastern Cape - outside Port Elizabeth, a two-hour flight from Cape Town - you can see why it's popular with the likes of Brad and Angelina, John Travolta, Tiger Woods and Nicolas Cage. Set in 50,000 acres of countryside with wide-open plains, bare hills and thickly wooded slopes, you feel you have arrived in the real Africa - one where Ernest Hemingway could be propping up the bar having a chinwag with David Attenborough.

No such luck - but within an hour we were up close to some stunning wildlife. In a threehour evening safari, we saw giraffes, a leopard, wildebeest, rhinos and those lions. Amazing.

Shamwari is so well organised they take your post-safari drinks orders and serve them from a hamper while you are out in the wild.

And it is not just safaris that South Africa has to offer. It's a booming tourist destination with something for everyone. More than 750,000 Brits visit every year, with 80 per cent of them staying in and around Cape Town.

Two days before our safari we were relaxing on a wine farm for a tasting hosted by British businessman Tony Hindhaugh.

Tony, 36, bought the Eaglevlei Wine Estate in Stellenbosch for £1million last year - and his story was told on The Discovery Channel's Grape Escape series. A fomer pub chain manager from Tyneside, Tony had little more than ambition and an amateur passion for wine.

But he was inspired to buy his vineyard after a trip around Africa in a 1996 gap year and, though it took him a decade, he worked hard to make his dream come true.

The turning point came at a dinner hosted by singer Sting when Tony pitched the idea to a businessman. Before long he had the funding he needed and the TV company was keen to chart his progress.

After several hiccups, he got the place up and running within 10 months, and he is now supplying Eaglevlei wine to Sainsbury's and taking part in the supermarket chain's Wine Relief project, in which producers donate profits to Comic Relief.

Tony said: "When I first came here in 1996, its beauty hit me like a thunderbolt. You are sandwiched in between Table Mountain and the sea and there is a real aura around the place. I always knew I would come back.

"With South Africa hosting the World Cup in 2010 there is a real buzz about the place and more and more Brits are coming over."

Tony's wine farm is a working vineyard which also hosts tours and tastings for tourists. It's a great day out, and we learned a thing or two about winemaking too. Some amateur tasters spat their samples out, but the majority made the most of it!

We matched the wines up with superb food from chef Herbie van Schalkwyk in Eaglevlei's five-star restaurant. The estate has a jungle gym play area for kids too.

The Stellenbosch Wine Route is the country's most famous, and the nightlife in this university town is lively too, with excellent inexpensive restaurants.

It's a great base for exploring the Cape, and if you're in a big group it's a good idea to hire a driver too. Ours was Deon, a former teacher who knew everything about the area's colourful history and gave a great running commentary as he ferried us round in a minibus.

One trip worth making is whale-watching from a small boat at Hermanus, about a twohour drive away. We saw several whales - one even swam up close to show off before diving under our boat.

I wish I'd taken it easier on the food and drink before the trip though. I was so seasick my "friends" found this spectacle just as entertaining as the whale-watching.

Cape Town itself has a lot to offer - bars, restaurants, good shopping, markets and entertainment. It's one of those places you enjoy so much you start planning a return visit while you're still there.

And we took a short boat trip to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 26 years behind bars.

The island is beautiful. The prison and its history are ugly. You get a tour from a former inmate - ours, Sparks, knew Mandela himself - and the bleakness of the place is unbelievable.

It's like a prisoner of war camp.

The great man's cell has been maintained as it was, and it is hard to imagine how he did not lose his mind being caged there for so long.

It was a valuable insight into the history of this beautiful land - but what a relief it was to then see this beautiful coast during a morning of pure, unfettered freedom enjoying the panoramic views from Table Mountain.

Article by: By Mike Hamilton