Neil Perry headed out of the city to experience the Big Five –and some heavy duty marine life – in South Africa. Lucky for him, the food and wine in South Africa’s reserves and lodges are top-notch.

When you’ve finished with the fun and food of Cape Town, it’s time for a look at the big attraction – South African game. The so-called Big Five – lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinos and leopards – are incredible, but I recommend looking beyond them to the country’s marine-based wonders, too.

To this end, my family and I headed two hours south of the city to Grootbos, a beautiful lodge surrounded by what I like to think of as the “big four” of the plant world: proteas, giant heather, South African bulbs and Cape thatching reeds. These plants are spectacular.

We were seeking a glimpse of the ocean’s “big five”, and the area did not disappoint. Heading out on our first day, we managed to see majestic southern right whales, great white sharks, seals and my girls’ favourites, African penguins. Our only miss was the dolphins – but four out of five isn’t bad!

Whale watching at Grootbos... Image supplied

Back at Grootbos that night, the lodge’s chef cooked the most superb steak using beautiful South African grass-fed beef. It was tender and perfectly seasoned, with roasted vegetables and a dollop of hot mustard. We washed it down with two delicious red wines: the Eagles’ Nest Shiraz, which had big cherry and red berry fruit flavours and a lovely peppery finish; and the Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage, all big dark fruits and a wonderful cedar finish. Pinotage is a unique South African variety that is a graft of pinot noir and shiraz or heritage, and it seems to display the best of both worlds.

The Wine Cellar at Grootbos... Image supplied

Marine life explored and wonderful wine savoured, we headed to Singita Boulders Lodge in Kruger National Park. This is an incredibly special experience – the staff here really know how to look after you. The same team that picks guests up at the airport leads the game drives. A waiter is assigned to you for the duration of your stay, the food is thoughtfully prepared and the wine program is truly wonderful.

Dinner and lunch is at the main lodge, but can also be enjoyed further afield. Breakfast is likely to be served in the bush, cooked over charcoal, and we had one meal at the quaint little airport, dining by candlelight on a five-course meal with matching wines. Alternatively, you can eat at the BOMA (British Officers Mess Area), where there’s fireside cooking and a well-stocked bar.

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The Singita sommelier is both incredibly knowledgeable and fun to work with. Among many delicious wines we tasted, the Stellenrust Chardonnay, with its clean citrus flavors and almond butterscotch finish, was particularly special. The Tierhoek Grenache was also great: plums and cherries and some great spice. I love those rich fruit flavours with balanced tannins and a little spice – I guess that’s why I love the Rhone wines so much!

But, yes, the animals. There are drives into the park each day to sit among the lions and watch them interact. You may see a cheetah in full stretch or, as I did, a leopard climb a tree to eat a recent kill with a hyena underneath, waiting for the spoils to fall to the ground. Then there are the rhinos, elephants, antelopes, and the enormous male kudu with its magnificent long twisted horns.

You're guaranteed a glimpse of the Big Five in Kruger. Image: ThinkStock

From cosmopolitan Cape Town to magnificent Kruger, this is a truly amazing country. To be in its nature reserves is to be a part of a truly unique landscape, full of animals that I hope will be here for future generations to experience. It is one of the most peaceful and relaxing places on earth. That statement may seem little strange when you think of all the predators doing their thing here, but that’s just nature in balance. It’s the circle of life. It’s as old as time. Put it on your bucket list.

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