Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city, set between Table Mountain and the blue waters of Table Bay, and transfer to the Table Bay Hotel, situated at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront at the ocean’s edge. This evening, there’s a welcome reception and dinner at your hotel.
Take the cable car (weather permitting) to the top of Table Mountain, with tremendous views all around the Cape Peninsula. Then visit renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, showcasing the Cape’s flora (including a great collection of proteas) in a beautiful setting. As a special treat, take in a musical performance by one of South Africa’s leading groups before you embark National Geographic Orion in the late afternoon. Sail along the Atlantic coast and round the Cape of Good Hope this evening.
The seaside town of Hermanus is your base for a choice of activities. Visit the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, renowned for the beauty and diversity of its plant life, and walk through the fynbos (“fine bush”) in search of flowers and wildlife that includes birds, baboons and mongoose. Or dive with great white sharks (from a steel cage) in Gansbaai (additional cost). Explore the town of Hermanus on foot.
From Mossel Bay, take an excursion along the coastline to Knysna, gateway to South Africa’s “Garden Route.” Cross the Knysna Lagoon by ferry to explore the private Featherbed Nature Reserve, and take a leisurely downhill walk with great views through forest, seeing the steep sandstone cliffs and ancient Khoi Khoi sea caves. There are many bird species and great views across Knysna Lagoon. After a buffet lunch under a canopy of milkwood trees, return to Mossel Bay and set sail.
Spend these days sailing along the South African coast, with talks by your staff and the chance to prepare for the exciting days ahead.
Durban is South Africa’s third-largest city and a multicultural center known for its Indian and Zulu populations. The hinterland is a stronghold of Zulu culture and rich in nature, and offers us some interesting excursions. Visit a Zulu village, meet the people of the community, and see a performance of dancing and drumming. At Eshowe, visit the Zululand Historical Museum (Fort Nongqayi) and other locales of interest. Alternatively, you may wish to tour the center of Durban, seeing its Golden Mile, harbor, city hall and an Indian spice market.
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a World Heritage site, protects remarkable habitats near the coast, including wetlands, savannah, forest, woodlands, beaches and reefs. The centerpiece is Lake St. Lucia, where you can go out by boat in search of large groups of hippos, crocodiles, fish eagles, and much more. Among the park’s habitats are forested dunes and papyrus marshes. Also look out for black rhinos in the Eastern Shores Nature Reserve. Stay at a lodge at St. Lucia.
Drive to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, one of Africa’s premier game parks. It’s renowned for wildlife that includes the “big five” (rhinoceros, elephant, lion, leopard, and buffalo), along with giraffe, antelopes, cheetah, and outstanding birdlife. White rhinos can be seen here, and there’s a chance of spotting black rhinos, too. Take a game viewing drive in an open four-wheel drive safari vehicle in this superb habitat. Return to National Geographic Orion in the late afternoon.
This afternoon, tour Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, a city full of character and charm, known as Lourenço Marques during the colonial era. Visit the fortress of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (completed in 1787), the colorful Central Market, the fine Museum of Natural History, Iron House, and the Botanical Garden, as well as Maputo’s historic railway station.
Spend these days in the Inhambane region of Mozambique, settled by the Portuguese as early as the 1530s. Conditions permitting you may be able to take local boats in search of whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, and turtles. Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, can reach a length of 40 feet and a weight of 20 tons. They do not pose a danger to humans, and if conditions permit the adventurous are able to snorkel with the whale sharks of the area. You may also explore the historic colonial town of Inhambane. Enjoy a walk along the town’s lanes, admire the architecture, and visit the Inhambane Maritime Museum.
Sail eastward across the Mozambique Channel toward Madagascar, with a chance to learn about some of the wildlife you can expect to see in the coming days.
Dock in Toliara, Madagascar, and set off on the long drive to Isalo National Park. This spectacular habitat has striking sandstone cliffs, with unusual formations and great vistas. Visit the well-known “window rock” in the late afternoon. Because you are spending tonight at a lodge near the park, both the afternoon and following morning are yours to explore this beautiful and diverse region. Search for ring-tailed brown lemurs. Look for colorful birdlife. The plant life is unusual too, with endemic species including palms and aloes. Drive back to Toliara and rejoin our ship for the sail northward.
From Morondava, drive to the renowned “Avenue of the Baobabs”: a large stand of photogenic Adansonia grandidieri trees, and one of the classic sights of Madagascar. These beautiful, endemic trees can grow to 100 feet, and individual specimens may be hundreds of years old. There are plenty of chances to view and photograph them, and to see the people who make the region home.
If you haven't yet already, take advantage of your onbaord amenities. You may also want to crack that book or simply enjoy the sea breeze as your ship sails the open seas.
From Mahajanga, drive to Ankarafantsika National Park, a superb deciduous lowland forest. Walk in the forest to look for lemurs including Coquerel’s sifakas, along with horned and rhinoceros chameleons, frogs and the turtles which breed here. Birds include banded kestrel, rufous vanga, and Madagascar fish eagle. Ravelobe Lake has Nile crocodile and waterbirds. The flora is interesting as well, with a number of native medicinal plants. Return to your ship and sail to Mayotte.
Although geographically within the Comoros Group, Mayotte is a territory of France. Your visit reveals French colonial architecture, colorful local cultures and a distinctive style of dress. See the fragrant ylang-ylang tree, cultivated here, whose oil is prized by perfumers. You may choose an extended walk to look for birdlife, or else to go diving or snorkeling if conditions permit.
Your last day onboard is a chance to reflect on all you’ve seen and done, to look at photographs your shipmates have taken, and to enjoy a farewell reception and dinner.
Disembark this morning and continue on the extension to northern Tanzania. Or tour Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city and commercial capital, in the morning. It has a picturesque harbor and a mix of African, Muslim, and South Asian influences. Transfer to the airport in the afternoon for flights home.