"Sunny South Africa : a Diamond of a Country"
by Nicky Hinchliff
SOUTH AFRICA: THE LAND OF HIDDEN GEMS
South Africa is a country that possesses the effortless ability to bewitch one’s mind completely. Its picturesque scenery, natural and cultural diversity and delicious cuisine and wine make it an interesting, educational and enjoyable visit. Savannah, grassland, forest, desert, thicket, woodland and fynbos (‘fine bush’ in Afrikaans) are some of the various and contrasting forms of vegetation located in this magnificent country. Fynbos is referred to as the “World’s richest floral kingdom” by website South African Tourism. This unique floral blanket, including proteas and ericas, covers only 6% of the country but contains 50% of flower species found in southern Africa, with 6000 of these being endemic to the region. This is one of South Africa’s many exotic landscapes worth scoping.
“Cape Paradise : Suburban bliss”
Cape Town, commonly referred to as the “Mother City”, is a paradisal heaven worth visiting, a suburban bliss. One of the three capital cities, it features the world-famous landmark, the flat topped Table Mountain. Table Mountain alone has more flora species than all countries of the United Kingdom combined! It is definitely worth hiking up to the peak to maximise the opportunities of viewing these stunning vistas. Not to fret, though – if you do not own hiking boots, you can take the shortcut via the cable car for R240 (£11) return. Cape Town contains a harmonic fusion of cosmopolitan urbanisation and rural nature not yet spoilt by the hands of man. One can engage in swimming on the beach with penguins on Boulders Beach or a leisurely stroll along the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. For a historical fix, visit Robben Island, the prison in which Nelson Madela was held for almost three decades. Then proceed to The Castle of Good Hope, a reconstruction of Jan van Riebeeck’s colonial fort signalling the Dutch settlement in the Cape. Then unwind and relax in one of the many beachfront restaurants and indulge in a glass of juicy wine. Do not worry about draining the bank balance, this will only set you back approximately R100 (£5).
If you’re thirsty for more of this delicious goodness, fifty kilometres from this wondrous gem, one will locate the magnificent town of Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch, also referred to as the “City of Oaks” is renowned for its vineyards. It is known locally as the wine capital of the country; your thirst will indeed be quenched! Hop onboard one of the many winemaking tours.
GARDEN OF YOUR DREAMS
If you’re feeling rather adventurous, hire a car and drive cross-provinces via the Garden Route. You’ll be allured and charmed by the seductive scenery and gorgeous wildlife in just under 300 kilometres! Typically starting at Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and ending in Storms River in the Eastern Cape, this route is admired by locals and tourists alike. One of the highlights of the journey is the stopover in Knysna, a town full of respite, relaxation, recreation and refreshment. One has the occasion to view the Knysna Heads, the jagged mouth of the lagoon where an antique ship crashed to its demise. It is rich in flora and fauna, with many nature reserves and animal sanctuaries. Be sure to engage in canoeing, swimming or dolphin and bird-watching to fully reap the benefits of this natural paradise, if you’re looking at cost-effective ways of spending your days. Also, this exotic town offers eccentric and contrasting forms of accommodation: from beach lodges, to cabins in the woods, to boats on lagoons and mansions, one is far from limited for choice.
FROM WEST TO EAST:
The Garden Route journey may be concluding when one enters the Eastern Cape, but the splendour is far from over. Storms River offers plenty of kayaking, scuba-diving and snorkelling adventures as well as a five day Otter Trail. Continuing up north from Port Elizabeth, proceed ‘off the beaten’ path to Port Grosvenor. This town of marvels provides a rustic sanctuary, a glorious escape from the city rush and buzzing traffic of everyday life. Spend the afternoons sand boarding the massive dunes, plunging the plenty waterfalls, or basking in the derelict beaches and hiking nature trails, encompassing several species of birds and animals. Nights entail watching the absinthe-glow of fireflies, soaking up the deliciousness of the day and listening to the gentle crashing of the waves meeting the shore. The Eastern Cape allows one the refreshing golden opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate in the natural, rustic landscape far from metal skyscrapers. Forget the five-star hotels and camp underneath the five billion star hotel!
…AND THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES:
Continuing the satisfaction of the ever-expanding lust for this unique country, you can head up north to KwaZulu-Natal. Some highlights include Durban’s uShaka Marine World: including a giant sea wreck themed aquarium (in a huge ship), a large shopping mall, restaurant outlets and a water park, this action packed adventure arcade is well worth the R199 combination day ticket (£20). For a heightened adrenalin rush, one can plummet Africa’s highest water slide or dive with the great white sharks. For a more educational experience, one can engage in an Ecology course in one of the plenty research laboratories. Durban exhibits a certain eccentricity and innovation, noticeably with its infrastructure: Gateway shopping mall, another must-see attraction, encompasses a skatepark, water park, rock-climbing facilities, neon lights, abstract decor and Africa’s tallest fountain. Going in for the routine grocery shop was never this entertaining! Located in Zululand, two and a half hours north of Durban is Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. This is the oldest nature reserve in Africa! Amidst the endless savannah and plenty biodiversity, perhaps with a pair of binoculars on a ‘safari’ (I’ve never known locals to use this term!), one might be blessed with the outcome of spotting the ‘Big Five’ (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and ever-elusive leopard) in their natural habitats. This is the only nature reserve in the province that contains all animals of the ‘Big Five’. Be vigilant with walking amongst wildlife or hiking, there is an abundance 0f snakes in this region. Stand still if ever encountering a snake, it will be far more inclined to attack if a person moves suddenly. ALWAYS wear closed shoes when hiking in South Africa – even my own back garden had plenty of diverse species of snakes. Looking down is wise, looking up is beautiful: there are many colourful birds to be spotted too!
A CULTURAL GEM, AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE
South Africa’s culture is as diverse as the scenery. It is known as the “Rainbow Nation” due the integration of various ethnic backgrounds; Zulu and Afrikaans, Indian and Chinese. One can most certainly taste this in the cuisine when trying the fiery Zulu chakalaka (vegetable relish), the sugary sweet Afrikaans ‘koeksister’ (syrup glazed doughnut), or red-hot Indian ‘bunny chow’ (curry in the hollow of half a bread loaf). One cannot miss the classic boerewors (sausage) roll infused with onions, or deliciously seasoned biltong (dried meat), both equally flavoursome. Very seldom do I meet people who have not taken a liking to these South African dishes!
It might be difficult to vigilant when you’re soaking up the delicious atmosphere, warm sunshine and pleasant people, but this is extremely important. South Africa is rife in poverty and crime. It is not wise to wander alone at night, or indulge a ‘midnight stroll’ along the beach. Follow neccesary precautions of the area that you’re in. Stellenbosch is regarded as far safer than Johannesburg, but still be wary of each area. Be warm but wise. You can also involve yourself in plenty of the volunteering projects amongst the country to help reduce some of these frightening statistics.
A country brimming with culture, nature, diversity and paradoxes, South Africa is indeed a country with something that caters to everyone. Experience, learn and love it yourself.