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Answer the call of the wild – South African safari trip is animal travel magic that'll leave your hunger for ...

Answer the call of the wild – South African safari trip is animal travel magic that’ll leave your hunger for …

THERE were some shadowy figures hanging round the side of our accommodation when we pulled up in the darkness after arriving at Gondwana.

I manoeuvred the car and flicked on the headlights, which picked out four shifty-looking zebras staring back at us.

Owen Conlon gets up close and personal to the wildlife

This was the real beginning of our South African trip and what an adventure it turned out to be.

We had flown into Cape Town, a city which packs a massive amount of history into its 365 years.

Our base? The stylish Grand Daddy Hotel on Long Street, the commercial and nightlife centre of town.

We needed someone to guide us through all that complicated past and Drew from Kiff Kombi tour turned out to be just the man.

The iconic Bo Kaap area proved a great starting point, famous for the colourful houses of its original Muslim inhabitants.

Drew, a native Capetonian who grew up in Australia, was keen to point out the Islam practiced locally was of the tolerant kind, informing us the area possessed possibly the world’s only gay mosque.

We next moved on to District 6, full of murals and strangely vacant for such a prime city centre property.

This was because it had been forcibly emptied during the apartheid years because inhabitants refused to obey race laws requiring blacks, whites and ‘coloured’ people to live apart.

They are still fighting to get their land back 30 years later.

Some neck- special shot of a giraffe at sunset over Inzolo Game Lodge

One of South Africa’s most famous exports is its wine and one of the main production regions, Constantia, lies a short scenic spin from Cape Town.

We passed a pleasant afternoon tasting three different vintages with picture-postcard views of the rolling countryside at the Groot Constantia estate.

No visit to Cape Town would be complete without a trip to the top of scenic Table Mountain with its panoramic views of the coastline.

Energetic sorts can walk up its steep slopes in about an hour and a half, but a far quicker way is via the cable car. Best get there early though, as queues can be lengthy.

After drinking in the sights from above, we then took one of the most spectacular drives you will see anywhere.

The road up to Chapman’s Peak gives absolutely jaw-dropping views of False Bay and Hout Bay.

Mane event – lions are relaxed about visitors and observers within the game reserve parks

If you prefer your tours more standard, you can take the Red Bus, where a €13 day pass will allow you access to all of its four routes across Cape Town.

The ferry to Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated, sells out pretty quickly, so it’s well worth buying tickets in advance.

The tour of the island and prison itself is a bit rushed but it gives an idea of how miserable the place must have been back in the dark days of apartheid.

As well as regular rooms, the Grand Daddy also offers festival-style trailer accommodation on its rooftop with an outdoor cinema screen and views of Table Mountain, plus a very hearty breakfast.

After a fulfilling few days, we left the city streets behind and headed inland for the magic that draws so many people to this country: safari.

The first thing that strikes you about Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay is its size.

Set on 11,000 undulating hectares, it takes you 15 minutes to drive to the lodge itself from the nearby main road.

Aerial view of Cape Town CBD and Table Mountain with Cape Town Stadium, Waterfront and Green Point in the foreground, Cape Town, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

It was stunning to see zebras and baboons hanging around the accommodation areas, some of which are luxurious as a five-star hotel.

Our guide Lise Anne was thoroughly knowledgeable as she took us right up close to grazing giraffes, elephants and, of course, lions.

Despite being entirely wild, the animals are so used to being observed, they pay no attention and we had a 1.5-tonne rhino grazing calmly just two feet away from our jeep.

The delicious food meant we left Gondwana reluctantly but more was to come.

Our next stop was the recently-refurbished Old Rectory Hotel in Plettenburg Bay.

This resort is where South Africans come to bronze themselves during the hot summer months, and the Old Rectory takes particular pride in its kitchen. It showed too.

My partner declared her fairly simple starter of baked bone marrow the best she had ever had.

Aerial view of Cape Town, with Green Point and Sea Point, Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak, South Africa

After that, it was back to the animals, though this time on completely different terrain.

Newly-opened Inzolo Game Lodge is truly out in the wilderness, set deep inside forested ground.

When we visited, the country was just coming off a particularly dry winter, but managers Dave and Christine have built a watering hole right in front of the terrace, which should mean you’ll be able to watch wild elephants hosing each other down while sipping your morning coffee.

Just as at Gondwana, the animals were comfortable with being watched but the dense bush at Inzolo meant you could literally turn a corner on the dirt track and be confronted with a massive swaying grey backside walking calmly ahead of you.

Huge herd of elephants becomes a dirt road. Sunset in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Dave’s knowledge of his subject was fascinating as he explained how rhinos and hippos were better at keeping the grass down than any lawnmower and pointed out the spots where elephants had ripped up trees and created mudholes for their own amusement.

We watched as Toyboy, the supposed dominant male rhino, was henpecked by one of his pregnant cows and as swallows darted back and forth in front of our vehicle, eating the insects kicked up by the engine.

Dave also pointed out lion claw marks on trees, woodpecker holes and told us of how his shrub planting right beside the lodge was frequently destroyed overnight by mischievous trunks.

The food at Inzolo was no less spectacular either, Sebastian the Zulu chef combining exquisite blends of local recipes like avocado and banana with kudu antelope meat that off the bone.

We left there amazed and fulfilled, already thinking ahead to when we might return.

GETTING THERE: Flights to Cape Town from Dublin, via Amsterdam, start at €610 return with Air France.

WHERE TO STAY: The Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town has rooms with breakfast from €60 per night. See https://granddaddy.co.za/

The BB at the Old Rectory in Plettenburg Bay costs from €530 per night. See www.rareearth.co.za/the-old-rectory-summary/

GOING ON SAFARI: One night full-board at the Gondwana Game Reserve costs €218 per person, including game drives. See www.gondwanagr.co.za/

The Inzolo Game Lodge experience is priced at €436 per person, including full board and game drives. See www.inzololodge.co.za/

THINGS TO DO: Urban safari tours with Kiff Kombi in Cape Town cost €45.

See www.kiffkombitours.co.za/

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