Our Vacation to South Africa (by Earl’s mom)

Derek South Africa 66 Comments

Table Mountain from the waterfront (Cape Town)
Hello everyone. I’m Sue and I’m Derek/Earl’s mom and right now I’m on my way home from the most amazing vacation to South Africa. I asked Derek if I could write a post, and of course, he wouldn’t say no, however, keep in mind that I am not a writer and have never written a post before.

When Derek (aka Wandering Earl) was a child and I was a young mother, I would never have imagined that I would be in South Africa with him one day. He was the son that wouldn’t sleep overnight at his friends’ houses, he cried until I returned whenever I left him somewhere and when he went to overnight camp, we received letters begging us to pick him up and get him out of there or else he would never speak to us again.

[Earl: You’ve been threatening to tell my readers about this for a year now…I guess it’s better to just get it over with!]

Somehow, later on down the road, during his college years, he decided to spend a semester studying in Australia and when he came back to the United States he was a completely different person. He had left in sneakers, with a crew cut and a life that revolved around sports and he came back in sandals, with a huge bushy afro and with his eyebrow pierced. He had discovered a world out there and that was the beginning.

We all have a bucket list and as I approached a ‘big’ birthday, Derek reminded me that South Africa was always at the top of my list and there was no time like the present. So, thanks to DSA Vacations who planned this excellent itinerary, I got a chance to experience this wonderful country, to meet its friendly people and to have a trip never to be forgotten. And I got to spend this trip with my son…

I left my home one morning at 10:30am and after 3 flights (the longest being 15 1/2 hours) and 30 hours of travel, I was at the Winchester Mansions Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. This was my first taste of a country that friends and family wondered why I wanted to visit in the first place. They just all told me to “be safe” and that it was too far away for them.

Cape Town – Wow!

The Winchester had an elegant charm to it. The room was perfect and the bed must have been really comfortable because I was asleep in 5 minutes!!! The hotel reminded me of a hotel in Florida, with the bar overlooking the street and the restaurant in a beautiful courtyard. In the morning we had breakfast with an impressive spread of cheeses, fruits eggs to order and the staff was warm and hospitable. The location was perfect with the ocean in front and with a bus stop across the street where it was easy to catch either a local bus or a double-decker tour bus straight to the popular waterfront area.

[Earl: It was definitely a great hotel with a classic feel to it and being in front of the water, and so close to the city center, was a huge bonus.]

Winchester Mansions Hotel (Cape Town)

Winchester Mansions Hotel courtyard (Cape Town)

Our first day we spent visiting Table Mountain. We chose to take the cable ride up, although if Derek was without me, he probably would have walked.

[Earl: I would have tried, not sure if I would have made it though.]

The top is 3500 feet above sea level and the view of Cape Town and beyond is breathtaking. Of course, we were very lucky to enjoy a clear day and we did not experience the “tablecloth” or the man smoking (as the legends go), when the top is covered by the clouds.

View of Cape Town from Cable Car

The next day we were up early and decided to take a day tour. Our guide was Rob, the founder of Cape Convoy Tours, a very knowledgeable and friendly guy whose stories and information gave me my first insight into the South African culture, history and politics. We shared our day with two honeymooners from the UK.

[Earl: A huge thank you to Rob as he is just a splendid guy and a brilliant guide and we had such a perfect day traveling around with him!]

Our first stop was to see the African penguins at Boulders Beach where hundreds of penguins were relaxing and frolicking on the sand. We also saw a baby penguin being born. We continued to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, which are located on the tip of South Africa, and we then visited three wineries in Stellenbosch for wine tasting and in one place, wine and chocolate tasting. We had a fully packed day and Rob made it most enjoyable and fun. I know what Derek means when he says he learns through his travels. I was learning so much already and I was falling in love with South Africa at the same time!!!

Cape of Good Hope

Stellenbosch wine region

Plettenberg Bay – Wow!

The next morning we flew from Cape Town to George which is located on the Garden Route, further east along the coast. We picked up a car (of course, since they drive on the opposite side of the road, Derek did the driving) and we proceeded east to the Hog Hollow Country Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. The drive was a few hours and the scenery stunning at all times. We did get a little lost though, maybe because Derek is so used to just wandering around, but we found our way eventually.

We were greeted at Hog Hollow by Carmine who made us feel right at home and like old friends. She showed us to our cabin which was large, comfortable and had such gorgeous views from the balcony (and from the shower too which had a glass wall, allowing you to stare out into the wilderness while taking a shower). It also had every possible amenity one could need or ever want.

Hog Hollow, Plettenberg Bay

Hog Hollow Room, Plettenberg Bay

Hog Hollow Reception, Plettenberg Bay

The reception building had a large sitting area outside and we were soon enjoying some drinks, not to mention a perfect view of the forest and mountains, while we waited for dinner. Dinner was served in the main dining room where all the guests are asked if they would like to sit together. Our first night we sat with 12 other people and everyone was from a different country. And the conversations we had made you realize that no matter where you are from, we all have common ground.

[Earl: Hog Hollow was as impressive a country lodge as it gets, I imagine. I had never really stayed in a place like this before and I absolutely did not want to leave. Thank you to every single one of the staff members who worked hard to make our stay at this lodge such a special experience. I would absolutely recommend this place for anyone looking for the perfect splurge or a romantic getaway.]

The next morning, after a breakfast consisting of a waffle with bananas and poached eggs (almost too pretty to eat ), our first stop was the monkey sanctuary. I was a little skeptical as the name of the place was Monkeyland and we probably wouldn’t have visited if it weren’t for some other travelers at the lodge recommending it to us. It turned out be a wonderful sanctuary, where numerous species of monkeys are all free to roam around as they please and free to leave the sanctuary at any time if they wish. There was no touching, no feeding, no playing with the monkeys at all and a guide walked us around the land, providing us with some interesting information the entire time. We saw lemurs, some howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and even a white handed gibbon. As soon as our walk was over, Derek and I looked at each other and said, “That was surprisingly good.”

[Earl: I must admit that I really didn’t want to go to Monkeyland at all but I am very glad that we did visit in the end. It seemed to be run exactly how a sanctuary should be run, without falling victim to the temptation of commercialization. It was simple, informative and clearly focuses on what is best for the monkeys, not what is best to try and attract more visitors.]

Monkey at Monkeyland, Plettenberg Bay

The bird sanctuary (Birds of Eden) was next and it was home to beautiful and colorful birds flying all over the place. Most of them were unfamiliar to me and even though we assumed we’d be inside the aviary for about twenty minutes, we ended up spending an hour and a half just watching these birds in this peaceful environment.

Colorful Bird, Plettenberg Bay

We then proceeded to the elephant sanctuary. Let me just state here that I love elephants. I am not really sure why. But as a result, whenever I travel, some kind of elephant item is always my souvenir of choice for myself. Friends and family also give me all kinds of elephant things as well and my home is filled with all shapes and sizes.

[Earl: Actually, my mom’s apartment is currently home to approximately 62,394 elephants, from ceramic elephants to stone elephants, glass elephants, tiny elephants, huge elephants, an elephant table, elephant lamps, elephant pillows, elephant blankets, elephant paintings, wire elephants, elephant incense holders, elephant place mats, elephant mugs and coasters, elephant key chains and elephant magnets (that’s just a small selection). She loves elephants and so off to see the elephants I knew we would go!]

Elephant at Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

We were greeted at the elephant sanctuary by a trainer and we spent the next hour observing these amazing creatures, feeding them, learning about them and walking with them while they held our hands. I was in complete awe and my love for elephants remained in tact. This was the perfect ending to another perfect day in South Africa.

Elephant Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay

Tsitsikamma National Park

After breakfast the next morning we drove 25 miles to Storms River Mouth which is located inside of the Tsitsikamma National Park, right along the water. We hiked through the forest to an impressive suspension bridge hanging across a beautiful valley. Another thing I need to say is that I am not one for exercise. I try my best but it always gets put on the back burner. I tried to get myself in shape before I met Derek because i knew we would do a lot of walking. Yes, I was getting tired walking up and down along the path to get to the suspension bridge, however, when I had to move over for an 85 year old couple from Germany who flew right by me, I realized that I need to put more of a focus on exercising and eating healthier. I am going to start that philosophy as soon as I get home.

[Earl: It was a steep walk up at several points and I’m sure that many people are unable to make it up those steps.]

Back to the bridge, I did make it and I am glad I did. Once again the views were breathtaking.

Suspension Bridge at Storm's River Mouth

After the park, we took a slow drive back towards Plettenberg Bay, stopping for a lunch break and rest at a tiny beach community called Nature’s Valley with its huge stretch of sand where the massive waves constantly crashed onto the shore.

Nature's Valley Beach, Garden Route

When we eventually returned to the lodge, we had drinks with the other guests and shared our daily activities, with the staff treating us so well as usual. At dinner, we enjoyed our conversations once again, speaking with a couple from England and meeting our first Americans on this trip, even though they were both living in Australia. It was interesting to learn that her job in Australia requires her to take 1 month of vacation each year and it made me realize that people from other countries really do travel more than folks from the US.

The next morning we woke up very early for our 3-hour drive to the airport in Port Elizabeth. It was hard to say goodbye to the staff and leave Hog Hollow but I was happy that we had such an excellent few days in this part of South Africa.

At 12:30pm our flight took off and the final leg of our journey began, which would include the 3-day safari that I had been looking forward to for so many years…

Thank you for reading everyone! More to come soon. And I hope you’ll consider going to South Africa!

*While our accommodation at Winchester Mansions Hotel and Hog Hollow Country Lodge were complimentary as part of our package through DSA Vacations, all thoughts and opinions, as always, are our own and are in no way influenced by anyone else.

*For Cape Town, Plettenberg Bay, accommodation options, we recommend checking AccommoDirect.com


Thank you mom for writing this post…and I hope everyone enjoyed this little taste of our South African experience!

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Comments 66

  1. Pingback: A South African Safari You Wouldn't Want To Miss - Wandering Earl

  2. Earls Mom

    Thanks for the compliment. Derek has always been an inspiration to me also. However, I don’t think he would like me to tell all his childhood secrets..but it was fun to talk about what he was like…

  3. Earls Mom

    I thought about starting my own blog…”the mother of a wanderer” I am not sure it would be that interesting and I don’t think I could write like Derek does…thanks for making me rethink that..

  4. Michelle

    Wow! You sure collect a lot of elephants! I was reading the Guinness book of world records, and I think that you could actually enter for your collection!

    1. Earls Mom

      I do have a crazy amount of elephants…not even sure why..but I felt as if they knew that when we saw them..Guinnes book..hmmm..good idea

  5. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

    Hahahahaha! I too was the kind of kid who couldn’t bear to be away from my parents! I distinctly remember being 7 years old and sitting on the school bus waiting to leave school with my mother who taught at the school (we were living in Ecuador at the time). My mom forgot something and got off the bus to go get it, leaving me there. The bus started it’s engine and I just started crying and crying as I thought the bus was going to leave without her and leave me all alone! (Of course, she came back before the bus left.)

    I think I’ve come a long way since then… 😛

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Aaron – Haha…I appreciate you sharing that tale and it’s great to know that we have both advanced past that stage in life!

  6. kle

    ah well! i was already fascinated by Earl, now i’m completely taken by his mother too! I think i’m ready for the marriage now! lol
    JUST KIDDING! 🙂
    I think Earl’s mum have a great writing style and i especially loved the introduction part with the insights of her son’s changes toward travel. I can’t believe he was so reluctant about being away for too long!
    South Africa looks an amazing place and i’m now really curious to visit it myself…
    Oh, and as other readers pointed out, we want more of these posts from earls mum!!

  7. Lorraine Thomson

    That was such a great read – and I loved the photos! I started following your son’s blog when I read about how much he loves Veliko Tarnovo/Bulgaria (where we have a house, because we love it too!) and since then become interested in his travels. Lovely that you travelled with him! Our son lives in NZ and travelled to Bulgaria with us this Christmas and we had a wonderful time together. Special times. I will forward this on to my sister who is currently planning a trip to South Africa for her 60th! Thanks again!

    1. Earls Mom

      Tell your sister to definitely go..I don’t think anything could be better. What am amazing country South Africa is and to get to see it with my son was the best

  8. Sofie

    ” He had left in sneakers, with a crew cut and a life that revolved around sports and he came back in sandals, with a huge bushy afro and with his eyebrow pierced. ”

    –> That sooooo made me laugh! It’s so… stereotypical, maybe? This makes me think of the ‘geitenwollensokkentype’ (‘the type of people who where socks of goat’s wool)’, as we say in Belgium.

    Great report of the trip. It actually reeeeeaaaaaally makes me want to go. And the pictures add to that. I must say the places you guys stayed at look amazing to me as well, but probably way beyond my budget:-)

    Oh and Earl, tell your mom she’s beautiful:-)

  9. Paul

    Brilliant! Glad to hear that you both had an amazing time. I’m sure she’s got loads more embarrassing stories for us to hear too someday 😉

  10. Patricia GW

    WOW – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit South Africa on my travels, but after reading your mom’s well-written and informative post, it’s definitely on my list of places to go! 🙂

  11. Gloria

    As usual Sue you did an excellent job writing your blog!
    Really enjoyed it – especially the pics.
    It was a vacation you will never forget, and a special vacation with Derek. Feel like I know Derek after working with you over the years. You should be proud!

  12. Sarah Somewhere

    Wow what a memorable experience! It was great reading about your perspective, and i’m so glad you got to spend time with your favourite creatures!!! And, don’t worry Earl, I had to get picked up from sleepovers on more than one occasion 🙂

  13. Sarah Somewhere

    Wow what a memorable experience! It was great reading about your perspective, and i’m so glad you got to spend time with your favourite creatures!!! And, son’t worry Earl, I had to get picked up from sleepovers on more than one occasion 🙂

  14. Preeti

    Earl, I think its adorably sweet that you went to South Africa with your mom for her birthday. It’s always nice to travel with your parents. When my brother & I were little, our parents tried to take us some place at least once a year. It wasn’t always out of the country but most of the time it was. Because of them I got a chance to get a lot of South America and Asia before I was out of high school and not many people can say that.

    Sue, you did a great job on the post. You are a natural writer and its easy to see where Earl/Derek get’s his writing talent from. Happy Belated Birthday!

  15. Kate @ 30Traveler

    That’s so great that your Mom was able to travel with you. There is almost nothing I like better than spending time with my Mom. It feels really restorative and is a great way to remember what really matters. It’s fantastic you got to have some new experiences together, and that your Mom is interested in your blog.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Kate – I definitely agree and I always look forward to meeting my mom out there in random places every now and then. People often think I am some kind of hermit that just walks around the world on my own, without any connection to my family/friends back home…and that simply isn’t true as I feel that maintaining that strong connection is extremely important, no matter where I am!

  16. M

    I loved the visual of Earl’s return from Australia with a fro and a piercing! Too funny! Would love to see a picture of that.
    I was impressed with your blog post Sue! The elephant sanctuary is going on my list for sure! I’m so glad you and Earl got to spend some time together having an adventure! You raised a good one there!

    1. M

      Get a life, Willsteed. I’m so sick of seeing your negative, whiny comments every week. Why don’t you go bother someone else? Earl’s mom did an awesome job writing her first blog post, and nothing you say can change that fact. Hey, why don’t you follow Earl’s example and take a trip somewhere so we can all have a vacation from your bad attitude?

    1. Earls Mom

      No better present..tell your mom that if I could take a 15 1/2 hr non stop flight, anyone can…after a few movies, a few meals and a some naps..you are there

  17. Judy

    You certainly had a wonderful time. Did your son take after you or was it the other way round?! Travel certainly does broaden the mind. I look forward to hearing more of your tales. Do we get the safari next? 🙂

    1. Earls Mom

      Not sure who he takes after..he has actually taught me!! I am going to write about the safari and hopefully Derek will let me post it !!

  18. Iggy Pop Pbt

    Wow, great writing Earl’s mom, like mother, like son. It is amazing all the exciting places you have visited so far and your writing is brilliant. Congratulations, you should feel very proud of yourself and Derek. Derek is such a wonderful name, but Earl doesn’t like it much. Mmmmm.
    I hope you writer more frequently in Earl’s blog, you are very fluent and interesting to read, as well as Earl.
    Love your wanderers’ adventures!

  19. Mark Baron

    OK Sue, now that you have a taste I think you should come to India on Earl’s next tour there!! I’ve signed up and I’m also having a “big” birthday soon so if I can do it so can you…… I’m sure the accommodations won’t be quite as eloquent, in fact I sure of that but I’m betting it’s going to at least as interesting and exciting!!! Who else better to travel with than The Wander Extraordinar Earl!!!!

    1. Earls Mom

      Happy soon birthday..I did travel to India with Derek and it was fabulous..maybe I should go again, I will think about that one..

    2. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mark – That’s not a bad idea and I’ll see if I can convince her to join the tour! And while the accommodation will definitely be a little different, I am very confident that you’ll enjoy it just as much!

  20. Emmanuel

    With all due respect, Mrs Baron, let me say that you are gorgeous!
    You wrote a very interesting chronicle, and it was very kind from your part to let us know more about Earl’s early years. Sometimes people wonder, (by people I mean me) how was this traveller’s life like before being a traveller? Now we have a glimpse 🙂 Everytime I read about Earl’s travels and adventures, I compare him to the wind, not only because he travels free wherever he wants whenever he wants, but because in the proccess, he gently pushes us forward to the realization of our dreams, and your words are a clear example of this, since Earl was encouraging you to make South Africa come true. As he said, there’s no time like the present.

  21. Will

    Hi Sue!

    Wow! Looks like you had a great time in South Africa and thanks for sharing all of your pictures. I’ve never seen a bird like that!

    I wish I had discovered travel as early as Earl did but I guess it’s never too late. I got my first taste of international travel a couple of years ago and was hooked. So this lead me to discover Earl’s blog. I’ve learned a lot from reading your son’s posts and especially his eBook, “How to Live a Life of Travel.” I’m happy to say that after some delays and some excuses I’ve finally booked my flight to begin my own “life of travel.”

    Thanks Sue and thanks again Earl!

    1. Earls Mom

      The birds were unbelievable. Also, take it from me, it is never too late to travel. Congratulations on beginning your travels..have fun doing it ..

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