South Africa: Eight days, four stops, one incredible journey

A new tour of the Eastern Cape mixes safari with activities such as cooking and canoeing. Olivia Greenway tried it out

We crept forward, Etienne the ranger leading the way. I felt anxious – why had I worn a cherry-red coat? I whispered my concerns to Etienne. "Keep quiet," he ordered, adding with a smile: "Don't worry, you look like red meat."

Suddenly, he halted and held up his hand. "There!" he hissed, pointing. Ten feet ahead of us sat the male cheetah we had been tracking. It tolerated our intrusion for a few minutes before standing up and, with a flourish, flinging the remains of a monkey's arm in the air, five of its fingers disappearing inside its mouth.

This was just one of the highlights of a new luxury eight-day group tour of South Africa's Eastern Cape. Titled "Incredible Journey" and offered by Odyssey World, it visits four different luxury stopovers by private plane, and offers wildlife watching plus other activities.

We began our journey on George Airport, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, where I boarded my third flight in 18 hours since leaving Heathrow, this time in a single- engine Airvan designed for six passengers. First stop, Prince Albert, a small dorp buried deep in the Great Karoo, an oasis fed by water from the Swartberg mountain range.

Our stopover was African Relish, a cookery school with accommodation co-owned by Jeremy Freemantle, who gave up a career in advertising to pursue his culinary passions. Jeremy has sensitively renovated three Cape village homes for guests to stay in, simple structures with whitewashed walls and verandas. He has also recruited Vanie, one of South Africa's up-and-coming chefs, as head tutor.

The next morning we set off on a hike up the nearby Swartberg Pass (wickedly sold to us as a "stroll"). The untarred pass was built by a Victorian engineer with the help of 200 convicts and lots of gunpowder. For most parts its sides are sheer rock, at times falling away on one side to reveal a valley. But the real interest lies above this almost perpendicular path (which caused me to catch my breath at least once – the very fit can view it from the saddle of a borrowed mountain bike). Unusual, towering rock formations cast eerie shadows by the light of the morning sun. It's said mountain lions live up here.

Back at African Relish, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get cooking. After a quick introduction to knife skills, Vanie showed us how to stuff a leg of lamb and make tagliatelle. But the school, which uses local produce exclusively, also teaches recipes from the Karoo. So we also made a traditional meat potjie, which included kudu, lamb belly and local cured ham, and cooked it on the fire.

Too soon, we were in air again bound for the Sneeuberg mountains and the Camdeboo game reserve. Giraffes and ostriches ran for cover as the plane bumped down on the tiny grass strip by a small collection of exquisitely restored Cape homesteads with polished stone floors. But while this place says luxury it also feels homely and relaxed.

Game drives are offered morning, afternoon and night at Camdeboo and guests can expect to see rhinos, impala, wildebeest, zebra, giraffes and lions, as well as mountain eagles, secretary birds and long-tailed warblers. But here too wildlife is complemented by something completely different. In this case history, because it is near the Boer War battle site at Paardefontein where the Boer commander Johannes Lotter was captured by the British.

A turn in the weather meant the temperature dropped, so we welcomed the homemade ginger beer and blazing log fire that greeted us at our next stop, the Addo Elephant Back Safari and Lodges, near Port Elizabeth. The tents here are of a semi-solid construction, a combination of wood and canvas that is arranged on stilts and accessed by a wooden walkway.

Three elephants that were saved from a cull live at the park and, although semi-tame, they are allowed to roam freely during the day. The main attraction here is a bareback ride on the back of them through the bush. It takes a bit of an effort and the help of a platform to get on the beasts, their backs are so wide. "No one has fallen off yet," laughed our guide.

Onwards, and after a thrilling flight along the coast to Port Alfred, we travelled on to Kenton-on-Sea and sailed up the Kariega River – the only route to our final destination, the tented camp of Sibuya. Conservation is the key here so the wood used on the site is from the surrounding bush: pine, blue gum, driftwood and old stinkwood. Electricity is by a generator or solar driven.

With the river on hand, canoeing is a popular activity, and a way to see more than 40 different bird species. There is wildlife watching, too. And after an evening game drive, dinner is served by candlelight in a boma – an outside dining area with a fire in the middle, with tables and chairs arranged in a convivial semicircle. It was a great way to spend our last night – I just wished I could start this Incredible Journey all over again.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Until 30 Nov 2010, to those who mention The Independent on Sunday when booking, Odyssey World (01453 883937; odyssey-world.co.uk) is offering the eight-day "Incredible Journey" for £2,650 per person, based on two sharing; £2,250 each, based on three sharing; and £1,920 each based on four sharing. Single supplements cost £490. Includes all food, accommodation, game drives, advertised activities and private transfers from Prince Albert. Transfers from George to Prince Albert cost an extra £210. Virgin Atlantic (virgin atlantic.com) flies from London to Cape Town from £759; Odyssey World offers this flight for £677 when booked with this tour, subject to availability.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments