A local’s guide to South Africa
South Africa is the pot of gold at the end of the African rainbow. CANDACE WATERMEYER gives a local’s insight into this amazing country and advice on some different trips you can do to make you time in South Africa suit your needs.
LOCATED on the southern tip of Africa, the country famed for Nelson Mandela, biltong and a rather inconsistent rugby side has something for everyone. It is the safari, surf and scenic gateway to the African continent and is also the perfect place to break the tedious journey between Australia and the UK. With a cheap exchange rate, sunny climate and fantastic range of accommodation, South Africa is both a wonderful and economically viable place to escape.
Here in one country, an entire world awaits: from sultry sea-swept beaches to great wine, electric night life and the jaw-droppingly magical wildlife reserves.
Must be scene
South Africa’s scenery is simply spectacular. From untamed wilderness in the northern interior to charmingly cultivated wine lands in the south, South Africa is a true kaleidoscope of experience.
It is also rich in adventure sport amenities for the braver among us. The Bloukrans Bridge, en route between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, is famed as the highest bridge jump in the world, while the nearby Tugela River hosts some exciting white water rafting courses.
The Drakensburg in Kwazulu/Natal is a world heritage site credited with some of the most difficult hikes on Earth, but is also full of comfortable mountain resorts catering for the whole family. Across the whole country activities such as quad biking, mountain biking, horse riding and multiple water sports are easily accessible, with many tour operators offering specialised packages.
Another way to take in South Africa’s scenery is to self-drive the beautiful Garden Route, which meanders northeast along a stunning stretch of coastline from Cape Town. This route includes the towns of Mossel Bay, George, Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and finally Nature’s Valley, each with its own unique attractions. You can enjoy a walk in the forests of Sedgfield, watch for whales at the Knysna Heads or stroll for miles on uninterrupted beach in the unspoilt tranquillity of wilderness.
For many, Cape Town is the highlight of a South African holiday. This cosmopolitan city is breathtakingly beautiful and teeming with national heritage. There is much to do and see, so be sure to set aside at least four days.
Accommodation is widely available, and prices vary with location and season. Options range from luxury hotels to backpackers lodges as well as many self-catering options, including private designer villas.
Table Mountain is a definite must see, and you can either hike to the top or take a cable car. After taking some photographs of the incredible views, relax with a beer or lunch in Table Top Pub, do some curio shopping and send a postcard from the resident post box.
For a wholly unique experience, take a tour to one of the many townships surrounding the city. This is an excursion you will never forget, and will give you a true picture of what life is like for many South Africans, while providing a chance for you to sample some of the country’s most enterprising local industry. Never visit the townships on your own, as this could be dangerous. Instead, choose a tour that includes transport to and from the township from a public meeting point.
A further place of interest is the V&A Waterfront, a developed harbour with restaurants, shops and tourist attractions such as the Nelson Mandela Gateway. Here you can book a trip to nearby Robben Island and learn more about the Freedom Struggle and Apartheid. This tour is very interesting and will also afford some fantastic views of Cape Town from across the bay.
Cape Town is a perfect base for exploring the adjoining region of rolling vineyards and quaint Cape Dutch homesteads known to locals as the ‘wine routes’. The most popular and well-known routes are Stellenbosch, Franschhoek,Wellingtonand Paarl, all with exquisite scenery and stops along the way. Many wine farms offer guided tours with an opportunity to taste their award-winning samples.
South Africais home to many wildlife reserves and game parks, most easily accessible from all the main airports. It is here that you will have an opportunity to spot the Big Five: Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhino and Buffalo, as well as many other varieties of animals indigenous only toAfrica. If you have never seen one of these exquisite creatures in the wild before, a safari holiday will be an indescribable thrill.
Located in rugged savannah, many game reserves cater for both the luxury and budget markets, with either fully or self-catered accommodation available. The most well-known game reserve is Kruger National Park which hosts a wide range of accommodation and safari packages.
The general order of the day is to book a few game drives at sunrise, sunset or late afternoon, and spend the rest of the day languishing around the pool or going on day-excursions to the surrounding areas. You can, of course, also drive around the reserve in your own hired car. At night, you can usually expect to be entertained with African dancing and exotic meals, often under a starry African sky.
Jeffrey’s Bay is a destination on every surfer’s wish list. The host of the Billabong 500, its magnificent beaches are matched only by the perfect, hollowed waves it offers up on a daily basis. Located on the lower half of the Eastern Coast, this charming seaside town is only 45minutes away from Port Elizabeth International Airport.
Further south along this coastal route are many other quality surf spots such as Seal Point (famous for Bruce’s Beauties), Still Bay and Dungeons.
Another good place to surf is Durban’s North Beach, home to the Annual Mr Price Pro Surf Contest and good for a decent wave year-round. Staying along Durban’s beachfront will also introduce you to its wide array of nightclubs, top class eateries and weekly outdoor markets. Hire a car and drive south along the coastal route to find some secluded and less crowded surf spots of your very own. Be aware that some beaches are not protected by lifeguards or shark nets, so you will surf at your own risk.
The best way for a surfer to travel to South Africa is to fly to Durban or Port Elizabeth and hire a car for a self-drive surf safari, with the best time for surf being April to September.
While it is advisable to do the many trips outlined here in your own way with a hire car, there are many tour operators that provide exciting packages for every taste. You can find much of this information on the official tourism website: www.southafrica.net
It is probably more time efficient to fly between major cities such as Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town unless you are planning on doing one of the scenic routes. These roads are safe, well-marked and exceptionally maintained, except in rural and non-tourist areas. Kalula, South Africa’s answer to Easyjet, flies between the major centres for the equivalent of £40.
Most people in South Africa speak English, and you will find them generally friendly and eager to help visitors, so feel free to ask for directions or advice. Public transport can be nightmarish if you do not know what you are doing, so do not attempt it unless being escorted by locals who you know and trust. It is generally easiest to hire a car or rely on tour services.
You can buy nearly everything you will need for travelling in South African very cheaply once in the country, so leave space in your suitcase for all the goodies you will surely bring back. Feel free to barter for items, as this is a widely accepted custom especially in outdoor market settings.