A country once identified largely by its strict division of black and white, South Africa has now been a democracy for almost 20 years, and is home to some 50 million people who proudly lay claim to their diversity of ethnicity, culture and 11 official languages. Thus, dubbed “the Rainbow Nation” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, this incredible country has also been declared one of the 17 mega-diverse destinations in the world by Conservation International.
From its legendary scenic wonders to the culinary and cultural diversity, and not to mention some of the world’s finest wildlife viewing and wonderful sub-tropical climate; this is most definitely a travel destination that should be high on your “bucket list.”
Cape Town, affectionately known by locals as “the Mother City,” is South Africa’s oldest city with an eclectic history spanning more than 360 years. A visit to this cosmopolitan destination must absolutely include a trip up the infamous Table Mountain by revolving cable car, the main feature of which is a level plateau some 2 miles wide. The view from the top of the mountain is said to be unmatched as one looks out over Table Bay and up the west coast of the African continent.
From Table Mountain, you can see Robben Island, to which you can take a boat trip to visit the very cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned along with various other political prisoners during the fight against the apartheid government. The trip will include a tour of the island, the prison and a visit to the museum.
Don’t be surprised by the baboons sitting on the side of the road as you drive to the Cape Point nature reserve, a narrow piece of land jutting out into the currents where the Indian and Atlantic oceans often meet. Please also remember to stop and see the world famous colony of African Jackass Penguins in their natural environment on Boulders Beach on your way up the coast of False Bay.
While in False Bay, you should also not miss the opportunity to do an early morning boat ride out to Seal Island where you will see the Great White Sharks breaching. This is one of the few places in the world where breaching is a common occurrence for these incredible creatures, who can reach speeds of up to 25 mph on their ascent and are said to sometimes launch themselves up to 10 feet in the air as they chase after cape fur seals — their natural prey. It is quite a sight to behold and for those wanting to get a closer look, there are carefully controlled cage-diving opportunities which take you into the water — both for experienced and inexperienced divers. Southern Right whales can also be seen in the bay in spring time as they come to warmer waters for calving.
Cape Town is also famous for its collection of vineyards and its certainly worthwhile spending a few hours wine tasting at any of these beautiful wine farms. Many of these well known estates still have their original Cape-Dutch style farm houses and outbuildings and provide for picnics on their lawns at lunch time.
Of course, the live music, art, restaurants, shopping and wonderful nightlife should also not be forgotten. Yes, the experiences are endless and there isn’t a moment to spare — you certainly won’t run out of things to do in this part of the world.
When coming to South Africa, you simply must go on a true African wildlife safari in the Kruger National Park. Kruger Park is one of the largest national parks in the world, covering an area of approximately 7,500 square miles of land that borders with both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is the home of the African “Big Five,” which includes Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Leopard and Buffalo, and an enormous range of other mammals, reptiles, birds, insects and plant life.
Whilst, a self-drive tour in the park, can provide for some very rewarding wildlife viewing. A guided tour with a trained and experienced ranger is highly recommended as it provides for an educational and cultural richness, which is difficult to get on your own. From the moment you enter the park your safari experience begins as elephants cross your path, giraffes peer at you from above the tree tops and warthog families scatter, warning the baboons and monkeys of your arrival. On your early morning and sunset game drives, you will encounter hippos, crocodiles and perhaps a pride of lion or a leopard dragging her kill up a tree after a long chase. Many lodges also offer guided walking tours with trained trackers to give you an even closer experience and the opportunity to seek out rhinos and other creatures more difficult to find on the vehicles.
These are experiences we all dream of for much of our lives and these memories absolutely last a lifetime.
• Gilbert resident Carol Tappenden is a travel entrepreneur specializing in designing and leading tours to South Africa. She was born and raised in South Africa and has traveled to most every corner of her own native country. In 2012 she founded Othentik Tour Design to give others the opportunity to experience the rich cultural diversity and natural beauty of her homeland authentically.