Sun City: Is it really worth the effort?
Sun City, is, as marketers would have us believe, Africa’s Kingdom of Pleasure. Having visited on numerous occasions, I wouldn’t have listed another stay as high on my priority list. However, when my travel club asked me to host a weekend getaway there for our club members, I wasn’t going to say no. After all, we were saving approximately 50% off the normal hotel price.
Sun City established its popularity in the early 80’s, when gambling and topless revue shows were illegal within the borders of South Africa. This ban didn’t deter entrepreneur and hotelier Sol Kerzner, who built his palatial holiday resort and casino within the boundaries of one of apartheid South Africa’s former “homelands”, where the South African government had no jurisdiction.
Fast forward 32 years and the gambling ban in South Africa has been lifted. Now, you can visit up to five casinos in Johannesburg in one night. Would Sun City still have appeal I wondered? It did start life as a gambling destination, and given that you can now gamble across in Johannesburg, would locals still willingly travel 2.5 hours to Sun City?
It turns out that they would. They arrive in droves for the weekend, via cars, coaches and taxis. Yes, Sun City still seems to reign as the Kingdom of Pleasure.
On reflection, it’s not actually hard to see why. Now focusing primarily on family fun rather than just gambling, Sun City offers a wide variety of activities for both adults and children. With a choice of five accommodation options, from the Cabanas and Vacation Club targeted at families and children, to the luxurious Palace where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous, finding the right place to stay is the least of your worries.
Of all the activities and entertainment on offer, the Valley of the Waves is by far the most popular. South Africa’s most extensive waterpark provides free entry to any Sun City residents and the queues start early! Strangely popular is the massive wave pool and the sirens that warn of impending waves are met with whoops and shrieks from swimmers of all ages.
The Temple of Courage is not for the faint-hearted – I refuse to ride it more than once per visit! Ladies, loose bikini tops are not advisable as you could end up topless with the force of the water down the chute. Gentlemen, cross your legs, otherwise…
Sun City is also home to two world-class golf courses, the Gary Player course and the Lost City course, both exceptionally popular (and, a touch pricey). The Sun City Entertainment Centre houses a cinema, a teenage, a fast food court, a number of restaurants and the “Superbowl”, an uber-venue for visiting musical artists.
Right next to Sun City you’ll find the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, my personal favourite reserve in South Africa. Home to the Big Five (elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo and lions), you can take guided game drives during the day or at night, from within Sun City. Or, you can head on through the Bakubung Gate in your own car and try your luck at spotting an elusive leopard or cheetah. We took an organized night drive (R410 pp), in the hope of finally seeing leopard, but alas, all we saw were a few rhino.
Sun City is large, ostentatious and, at times, borderline kitsch, but you can’t help but stare in amazement at the architecture for the Palace or the Bridge of Time, that leads from the Entertainment Centre to the Valley Of Waves.
Be warned though, Sun City is not for the budget traveller. Most activities and foodstuffs are over-priced – you can pay R90 to watch somebody zipline or R100 for a tour of the Palace hotel – so make sure you budget accordingly. At the end of the day though, I have to admit that yes, we did have a good time and yes, we’d probably do it all over again!