1 THE BIG FIVE
A South African safari is a big dream for many people, but sadly a bucket list experience that many think too expensive. However, when you look at what you actually get and the value included (all meals, accommodation, game drives, etc) and the spine-tingling, heart-stopping, life-changing experience you get, it’s worth every penny and a holiday that’s very hard to beat. There are a variety of packages to be had and as someone who has had the pleasure of experiencing both ends of the scale I can honestly say that however you experience a South African safari, it is always absolutely price–LESS.
On my latest leopard spotting expedition I stayed at the Kapama River Lodge. It spans 13,000 hectares of magnificent African Bushveld, is teeming with wildlife and is right next door to Eastgate Airport in Hoedspruit. The majestic northern Drakensberg Mountains form the backdrop to the 64-suite River Lodge, which is positioned along a bend of the Kapama River. It’s the largest luxury game lodge in the Greater Kruger National Park area and is stylishly furnished to ensure an unforgettable African safari experience.Traditional South African dishes and accompaniments, such as mieliepap (African-style polenta) and Chakalaka (a hot, spicy relish) are served in the ‘Rhino Boma’ every night, giving a great taste of real Africa. Menus include warthog stew, kudu casserole, impala sausages and oxtail curry. Don’t mind if I do!
The best part, of course, is being woken at 5am for a rusk and a coffee before watching the sun rise and the bush come to life on the back of the Land Rover. I could go on a thousand game drives and it would never be enough. It’s one of those things that are so hard to describe – you HAVE to go. The sights, sounds and smells are invasive and get into your soul – there is nothing like it. We were lucky enough to see loads of lions with the highlight being three lionesses and their cubs chewing away on a freshly-caught kudu. Elephant, buffalo and rhino add up to the big four but annoyingly (particularly as this feature is all about fives) I didn’t get to see my leopard...but there’s always next year.
Other highlights included Russie, our amazing ranger, who literally talked ‘shit’, informing us of the benefits of elephant dung. Apparently burning it can keep mosquitoes at bay and (far more impressively) cure a hangover! Finding us nine lions straight after this talk was the icing on the dung. And the surprise sundowners and snacks before we returned to the lodge underneath a blazing African sunset – a great way to finish a great day.
2 CAPE TOWN
This is such a vibrant, fun and beautiful city beside the Atlantic with the backdrop of Table Mountain. It has incredible coastal roads, floral kingdoms, vineyards and memorable beaches, and with one Australian dollar buying 10 rand, is also exceptionally good value for money. Catch the cable car to the top of the mountain to fully appreciate the panoramic views of the city, or if you’re feeling adventurous climb Lion’s Head that runs adjacent to Table Mountain and get the city and mountain’s view.
Among the multitude of other things to do in Cape Town are the vineyards (a mere 45-minute drive away – Franschhoek is my pick), Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years), Bo-Kaap (the Malay district) and the V&A Waterfront for great shopping. Then drive the Cape Point Route and make sure you visit Boulders Beach to check out the little black and white birds in their tuxedo’s (more commonly known as penguins!).
The list is endless and you could easily spend two weeks just in Cape Town experiencing its beauty and hospitality. I stayed in the One&Only hotel on the V&A Waterfront and it definitely lived up to its name. (See my review http://www.traveltalkmag.com.au/hotels-and-resorts).
3 THE PANORAMA ROUTE (Mpumalanga Province)
If you love waterfalls, soaring mountains peaks, verdant valleys, raging rivers and the odd pothole, you must drive South Africa’s Panorama Route.The route guides you through multiple attractions such as the Blyde River Canyon, God’s Window, The Three Rondavels, The Pinnacle, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and Pilgrim’s Rest. Many towns on the route, such as Pilgrim’s Rest, were established during the Transvaal gold rush in the late 1800s.
Thousands of fortune seekers crossed the treacherous mountains and rugged terrain in search of gold. One of these was a former storekeeper from Pilgrim’s Rest, Percy Fitzpatrick. He wrote the popular book Jock of the Bushveld, recounting some of the adventures he shared with his faithful bull terrier Jock while traversing this famous route.The highlight of the route is the Blyde River Canyon: one of the longest chasms in the world, consisting of remarkable geological shapes and outstanding scenic views of the country. The route is easily reached from Kruger National Park, making it a popular self-drive for the thousands who journey through Mpumalanga every year.
If you’re a fan of this great man (and who isn’t?) you can see where he lived, where he was imprisoned, where he ate and, on my recent trip, I saw his capture site.About five hours from Johannesburg, near Howick, is the site where apartheid police captured Mr. Mandela in 1962, which led to his 27 years in prison. The Capture Site is now home to a memorial sculpture, exhibition and café and is well worth a visit. Just outside Johannesburg, business is booming in Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Mr. Mandela lived from 1946 and later returned after his release from prison in 1990. This now very famous street is the only one in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Mr. Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Now that’s great value for money!
5 OYSTER BOX
There are loads of great things to see and do in Durban. Eat a Bunny chow (yummy curry in a hollowed out loaf ), hit the Golden Mile (the surf beach in Durban is fantastic), go to the uShaka Marine World, visit the Valley of a Thousand Hills and learn all about Zulu history and culture, or go and explore the Indian district. When you have done all that, head to Umhlanga (a mere 30 minutes away from downtown ‘Durbs’) and spoil yourself with a night at the Oyster Box. This is understated colonial luxury on the sands of Umhlanga beach right opposite the famous lighthouse.
It’s like going back in time as you enter this very special hotel. Part of the Leading Hotels of the World, the property hosted Prince William recently, but this is a place where everyone gets treated like royalty. It has 86 rooms and suites including the Presidential Suite, panoramic Indian Ocean views, dolphin watching from the Ocean Terrace and Oyster Bar, a 24-seater cinema with complimentary treats and an award-winning spa featuring a Turkish Hammam.