Posts tagged Travel
It’s the question that gets me every single time.
“Is it safe to visit South Africa?”
Inevitably, my blood starts to boil as I brace for the next hammer blow, “Because you know, from what I’ve heard it’s very dangerous and they’ve told me not to visit”.
Who are the ominipresent “they”?
Have they ever been to South Africa?
Have they ever travelled through the many parts of our countryside?
Have they taken the time to educate themselves on our nation, or are they just regurgitating snippets that they’ve heard on the news, found on the web or overheard from some disillusioned, white, ex-South African who emigrated because “the country is going to the dogs under that black government”?
[Please, excuse my frankness, but those are often the people trash-talking South Africa]
But, despite the resounding success that was the 2010 World Cup, despite 19 years of freedom for all, despite everything, people are still reticent to visit South Africa because they deem it too dangerous, too risky, too threatening.
In my work with American tour groups, I find that the travellers have inevitably been warned (by well-meaning relatives and neighbors), not to book that package tour to South Africa, yet the groups all thoroughly enjoy South Africa and would “highly recommend it”. In the advent of travel bloggers, more and more bloggers are visiting South Africa and I have yet to hear a bad word spoken against South Africa.
Disappointingly though, despite all the positive experiences we hear about, negative media about South Africa still abounds.
Enough! It’s our job as responsible South Africans to change that.
So, I polled a variety of travel bloggers who have visited South Africa for their Top 2 reasons on Why You Should Must Visit South Africa. There were some common themes that surfaced together with some touching, heart-felt responses. Let’s hear what some of our favourite bloggers had to say….
Diverse & Spectacular Scenery
Not surprisingly, this rated highly on many blogger’s lists. Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape highlights the “jagged snow-capped peaks of the Drakensberg to expansive savannah and rugged coastlines” as an example of the natural beauty that South Africa has to offer. Africa lover Sandy Salle (Hills of Africa) echoes this sentiment as she celebrates South Africa “for its spectacular wine lands, unspoiled beaches, as well as Cape Town, which compares to a mini San Francisco!”.
Perhaps one of the most enthusiastic votes for this category came from Wandering Earl who notes “From large, vibrant cities to beautiful coastal communities, from mesmerizing wine regions to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, and everything in between, every region of South Africa feels as if it is an entirely different country in itself.”. Nothing quite beats an African sunset either for amazing colours against wide open skies. Check out Craig Zabranksy’s amazing gallery of South African sunsets, and see for yourself.
The “Big 5” Safari Experience
Many visitors to South Africa come solely for the purpose of visiting the Kruger Park to spot wild animals in their natural habitat. “Seeing all these amazing animals in their natural environment while enjoying the beautiful landscape” was a personal highlight for Earth Xplorer J.D. Andrews and “viewing the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant & rhino) in person was a remarkable experience” for Landloper Matt Long. Jen Pollack Bianco and Cailin O’Neil both share this common sentiment, after their visits to South Africa included a safari expedition.
Sandy Salle highly recommends visiting some of our many monkey and elephant sanctuaries, all of which offer guided sightseeing tours, allowing you to get within meters of the animals. Don’t discount our offshore wildlife either, home to whales, dolphins and Great White Sharks, all off which can be spotted along many parts of our coastline.
Delicious Food and Drink
There was no shortage of enthusiastic comments regarding the variety of top class South African cuisine. Some bloggers, like The Travel Tart, raved about particular South African dishes, quipping “There’s nothing like stuffing your face with a half-loaf of bread packed with tasty curry” (known as a Bunny Chow). Cailin O’Neil was particularly smitten with our local game meats, particular “springbok and kudu” and shares our fondness for a “braai” – the Afrikaans word for a barbeque. Cape Town in particular offers a huge diversity in cuisines and, if Indian food is your flavour, head to Durban where you’ll find some of the best curries outside of the subcontinent.
South Africa is well known for its world-class wines, something that Keith Jenkins is particularly passionate about. The Stellenbosch & Franschoek regions in the Western Cape are home to many award-winning wine-farms, so be sure to add this destination to your itinerary. And, if you prefer your tipple a little sweeter, be sure to sample Amarula, a cream-liqueur made from the fruit of the Marula tree. It’s exceptionally delicious, very South African and very, very addictive as Craig Zabransky discovered when he attended the World Cup in South Africa in 2010!
“It will change your life”
At a first glance, I thought The Explorateur’s comment about a visit to South Africa being a life-changing experience was a little bit of a cliché. But, as I received more and more responses along similar lines, I began to realize that she had a point. The Explorateur is well known in South Africa, and she found the “real” South Africa when she chose to break out of the “safety” of her hotel and took a tour through Soweto, a local African township. From meeting a tour guide who was imprisoned during the Apartheid era, to being musically serenaded by school children in tattered clothing, The Explorateur discovered that when you look beyond the surface of South Africa, “you’ll gain a whole new perspective on yourself and what’s important”.
Kirsten Alana recalls shared a similar experience, “I remember standing on Vilakazi Street in Soweto and thinking that if two Nobel Peace Prize winners could come from one such humble street, surely nothing was stopping me from changing the world.”
South Africans have long been recognized as some of the most hospitable people in the world, a fact graciously acknowledged by both Keith and J.D. If volunteering is close to your heart, you’d do well to pay attention to Sandy who notes, ”South Africa’s volunteer opportunities are some of the most humbling and rewarding experiences to be had and allow families, individuals, groups and couples to immerse themselves in the local culture, whilst providing locals with the gift of upliftment”.
Perhaps the last word in this section should go to Matt Long, who, like many bloggers, discovered that South Africa really does get under your skin. He says, “Before I first visited South Africa I was warned that the ‘bug’ would grab hold and not let go. Everyone tells me that I’ll love every location I visit, so I didn’t think a lot about it. This time was different though and by the end of my adventures in South Africa, I had indeed caught that mysterious bug. South Africa enjoys a unique mix of qualities including staggering beauty, a rich culture and people so kind your teeth hurt. These and many more factors coalesce and truly do become more than the sum of their parts. A special magic is created that doesn’t just ensure a great trip, but changes at a molecular level turn any trip into a personally transformational experience. Before you accuse me of extreme bouts of hyperbolic imagery, just wait. Visit South Africa for yourself and then, and only then, can you tell me that I’m wrong.”
Are you ready to book your trip to South Africa now?
Sincere thanks must go to all the travel bloggers who shared their heartfelt thoughts on South Africa. Please, keep spreading the positive news on our amazing country.
Tucked away in a corner of the old Eastern Transvaal is the hamlet of Kaapsche Hoop. Comprising little more than a sandy, rutted main road, lined with period houses and quaint shops, the town has become well known for the large number of wild horses that roam freely in the area.
We knew very little of the town prior to my partner entering the 2012 Kaapsche Hoop marathon. Advertising for the marathon announced the opportunity to “run with the wild horses”, but we had very little knowledge of the area, let alone the famous wild horses.
The day of the marathon dawned cold and misty and as we walked the “high street” towards the dreaded race porta-potties, a group of horses emerged from the mist and drifted towards us. Seemingly tame, a few approached me, sniffed my hands cautiously and allowed me to pat them. For the non-runners (like myself), this was really our only interaction with the horses, but for the runners, a forest detour on the race route was an opportunity to watch in awe as the wild horses galloped alongside them, a “magical experience”, as Davina reports.
The day after the race, we headed back to Kaapsche Hoop to get closer to these wild horses. Theories as to how the horses originate abound. Some suggest that when the area’s gold rush petered out, prospectors simply left their horses behind and moved on. Other theories range from horses left behind after the South African War (or the Boer War to us locals) in the early 1900’s to horses abandoned after the local police station shut down. Whichever story is true, these wild horses are the only herd in South Africa and are fiercely protected by the locals.
The current herd is estimated to number up to 200 horses and have full run of the town. We discovered a table of hungry visitors at a local pancake restaurant having to guard their breakfast from the foraging equines. You normally might lose your meal to a bird, a dog or even a monkey in Africa, but a horse? That’s a different story altogether!
We took a stroll through some of the open fields behind the local houses and discovered a group of about 8 horses, grazing contentedly. Some of them came up to us, clearly looking for some easy treats, so Davina headed off to the car to pick up a bag of apples.
Apparently they’re wild horses for a reason. No sooner had one horse sampled an apple, they were all clamouring around us to get a bite. Suddenly, they were showing signs of aggression, attacking each other to get to the bag and nipping at us (I have a rather nasty blue bruise on my arm from an impatient horse). We narrowly avoided getting kicked as one horse suddenly turned heel on us, so, tossing the last two apples into the field, we dashed back to the car as fast as we could, thankful that no hooves connected with our jaws!
It was only as we popped into a local store to fortify ourselves with a drink that we saw a “Don’t feed the horses” sign *sigh* …we should have known better. Next time you’re on your way to the Kruger Park or Mpumulanga, stop off at Kaapsche Hoop and meet the wild horses, but leave the apples and sugar lumps at home!
London is one of those cities I always love to visit. If there is an opportunity to stop off for even a few hours in transit or for a single night, I’ll absolutely do it. “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life”, quotes Samuel Johnson and it’s a quote that many travellers will agree with.
Finding suitable accommodation in London can be a daunting task. It can also be a relatively expensive exercise if you look only at hotel options. Consider the possibility of self catering apartments in London or a bed & breakfast option if your budget is limited.
With London being such a thriving, diverse and huge city, it’s almost impossible to know what to do or where to start on your first visit, or when you have a limited amount of time. Here are some of my favourite London stops (in no particular order):
Lillywhites Sports Store
You have yet to convince me that there is a better sports store anywhere in the world. Lillywhites provides sports lovers like myself with 5 floors of pure, unadulterated sport porn. There’s a football floor housing every replica footy shirt you can imagine, an outdoor sportswear floor and, best of all a sale floor. Yep, the best thing about Lillywhites is the ongoing sale. It doesn’t seem to matter what day of the year you visit, there is always a sale on and the knock-down prices will leave your jaw gaping – even if you do have a horrible exchange rate conversion. Find them at Picadilly Circus, easily accessible on the Picadilly or Bakerloo tube lines.
Oxford Street is a perfect one-stop shopping street. Littered with sports stores galore (yes, I’m obsessed. So what?), electronics stores, souvenir stores and retail and fashion giants such as H&M, Next, Selfridges and Gap, this is the only shopping street you’ll ever need in London. Put on your walking shoes prepare to shop ‘till you drop
Harrod’s Food Hall
Harrod’s, perhaps the most famous department store in London, houses one of the most enticing collections of food ever. I find it difficult to stay away from their extravagant food emporium. Divided into multiple sections over an entire floor, each section is dedicated to a particular foodstuff. Whether you are looking for seafood, charcuterie meats, chocolates or cheeses, the selections and displays will leave your mouth watering. Each section has a dedicated food bar where you can order lunch and watch the shoppers go by.
One of the things I love about London are the lovely parks. Whilst the streets can be cold, grey and concrete, you don’t have to walk far to find a patch of green. In summer you will find any available patch of grass strewn with locals who are soaking up the sun, eating lunch, reading a book or just watching the world go by. Hyde Park is one of the bigger and more popular parks in London and is home to recent memorials honouring Diana, Princess of Wales and the victims of the 7th July 2005 London Bomb blasts. It’s a great place to wander and soak up the natural environment.
City Lights at Night
Night-time can transform a city. The veil of darkness can hide a city’s least attractive attributes and a string of lights can make it the most enticing place on earth. Not that London is the least bit unattractive, but Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge all shimmer and shine at night. The London Eye makes for fantastic photographic opportunities, both from within the capsules and as a star photographic attraction itself. Take your tripod and hit the streets after dusk to see London come alive.
This is a sponsored post, but all opinions and experiences expressed in this post are the author’s own.
No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican City. With all there is to see and do in St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, you’d do well to allocate an entire day to your visit. You’ll want to spend at least 4 nights in Rome and there is no shortage of accommodation options, from 5* hotels for the luxury traveller, or Rome holiday apartments for budget-conscious traveller. We were fortunate enough to stay in the Visconti Palace hotel, courtesy of our travel club and found it to be a great, central base.
Taking an organized tour of the Vatican is undoubtedly the best way to see this historical and religious landmark. You’ll get to bypass the inordinately (even in winter) long queues and a professional tour guide will give you far more insight and knowledge than you could possibly gain on your own or through an audio tour.
Our tour started in the Vatican Museums, staring at the most impressive collection of marble statues and busts. It is estimated that there are so many treasures in the Vatican, that if you spent just 60 seconds looking at each one, it would take you 12 years to view each piece.
The statue of Laocoön and His Sons was particularly fascinating. Estimated to date back to 25BC, the statue was unearthed in 1506, with Laocoön’s right arm missing. Michelangelo (yes, he of the Sistine Chapel) proposed that the missing right arm was bent behind his head. Raphael (yes, the Renaissance painter) adjudged that the right arm was extended upwards and a replacement, extended arm was attached to the statue.
In 1906, an archaeologist discovered a bent marble arm in a Roman building yard and, believing it to be Laocoön’s arm, he donated it to the Vatican Museums. It lay in the museum storerooms for 50 years until the Vatican decided that perhaps, after all, Michelangelo had been right and affixed the bent arm to the statue.
Many of the museum rooms are dedicated to particular items, for example the Map Room, where the map of Venice is exactly correct, even though it was first drawn hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, each map was drawn with the assumption that Italy was the centre of the universe so many maps are “upside down” relative to what they should be.
A great addition to our tour was the chance to enter the “Vatacombs”, the underground part of the Vatican where the tombs of former Popes are located. Unsurprisingly, no photographs were allowed in this area and for many people this is perhaps the most religious part of the tour. Yes, even I kneeled at the tomb of Pope John Paul II and crossed myself!
Both the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica are highlights of the Vatican City. The size of St Peter’s is awe-inspiring and the focal points are both the central dome and the massive baldacchino, designed by Bernini. An optional extra to most tours is to take the lift and then climb the steps to the roof of St Peters. Affording 360° views of Rome, most impressive are the statues of Christ, 11 of the Apostles and John the Baptist. The sheer size of these statues makes you realize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Be prepared to be amazed by all the Vatican has to offer and set aside at least an entire day to explore all the treasures – you’ll be glad you did!
This is a sponsored post, but all opinions and experiences expressed in this post are the author’s own.
Paris. The name conjures up visions of love….and food. Well, it does in my mind at least. So when the opportunity arose to take the Eurostar from London, to spend a weekend in Paris, we leaped at the opportunity. Long summer nights, wandering down the Champs-Élysées and munching on croissants, what could be better?
With only 48 hours to make the most of one of the world’s most visited cities, we had to hit the ground running. Luckily a cousin of ours, who has lived in Paris for many years, was on hand to show us the sights and sounds. Thanks to our family connection, we didn’t have to look far for a place to stay, but if you’re short of Parisian friends, there is no shortage of hotels or Paris apartments to rent for the weekend.
Hungry and thirsty after an early morning Eurostar trip, we headed to the local supermarket to pick up a feast of food. Colourful fruits, crusty breads, delicious patés and more cold meat and cheese than we’d ever seen before greeted us. In South Africa, we’d have to have visited a specialty store to sample such delicacies.
In truth, you need way more than 48 hours to make the most of Paris, but we did what we could. Many guidebooks made mention of a visit to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, in Montmarte. Situated on the highest point in the city, it serves both as a Roman Catholic Church and a political and cultural monument. A good pair of walking shoes comes highly recommend, you’ll be walking up some steep cobbled streets and a significant number of stairs to reach the summit! We were there in the height of summer, so the steps of the Basilica were crowded with tourists and locals alike, unwinding on a Friday afternoon and enjoying the slowly setting sun.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is every bit as impressive as it is made out to be. The detail in the architecture is nothing short of amazing and the gargoyles keep a watchful eye around each wall and parapet. After a quick, brief glance inside the cathedral, we briefly toyed with the idea of climbing up to the top of the towers for a sweeping view of Paris. However, mention of climbing 387 steps (there is no lift like there is in the Vatican!) in the muggy heat, combined with the queue that snaked around the cathedral and down the road soon put paid to that idea.
No trip to Paris would be complete without two things – a viewing of the Mona Lisa and a trip up the Eiffel Tower. In truth, we could happily have skipped a trip to the Louvre, but a sudden attack of culture from our teenage son had us joining the crowds, staring at the postage stamp size picture that is the Mona Lisa. We didn’t get what the fuss was about – she’s small, non-descript and not particularly attractive either. And what’s with that smile? But, it was something else ticked off the list and at nightfall we set off up the Eiffel Tower.
Personally, I think that most cities look best at night. The dark skies eliminate the smog, dirt and dull grey buildings and a scattering of lights makes every city look like a fairy tale. Paris is no different and the 360° view afforded by the top viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower is breathtaking. We could have spent hours staring into the sparkling lights that truly did make Paris feel like the City of Love. Alas, our trip had to come to an end far too soon, but I’m sure we’ll find another reason soon to visit Paris again.
This is a sponsored post, but all opinions and experiences expressed in this post are the author’s own.
Let me set the record straight before we start. I’m not a spontaneous kind of person – I like a good plan. The better and more comprehensive the plan is, the more comfortable I am with it.
So, when one evening my partner comes across an advertisement for an 80’s music concert in Durban (and we live in Johannesburg), I’d be the last person you’d expect to suggest travelling 600km’s for one night. But I did. You see, in my mind, 80’s music rocks. Having grown up listening to Wham, Duran Duran, Yazoo and much more, a significant portion of my music collection is dedicated to this unforgettable era. Unfortunately, some of the fashions were far more forgettable.
Thus, it was a Saturday a few weeks back where Davina and I piled into my car mid-Saturday morning (she had run a half-marathon at 6am that morning) and bombed it down to Durban’s King’s Park Stadium for the biggest 80’s reunion concert you can imagine. With a line-up including Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Go West, The Village People, Marc Almond and Rick Astley, we knew we were going to have our fluorescent socks blown off.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the seats I’d carefully selected were the nose-bleed seats. Worse still, the acoustics were awful. We had no idea what the artists were saying, and we could just about hear the words to sing along to Nik Kershaw’s (one of my 80’s favourites) “Wouldn’t It Be Good”. By the time the third artist took to the stage, management had realized that the poor souls in the stands couldn’t hear a thing and they let us down on to the field. With great joy we found ourselves right next to the VIP zone and just 20m from the stage.
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of the concert was seeing the great outfits that people dressed up in. There was big hair, leg-warmers, fluorescent lycra, Village People characters, a Star Trooper and even Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner made an appearance.
Each artist took to the stage for approximately 30 minutes, although old favourites like Midge Ure (the lead singer of Ultravox) got a bit of extra air-time – he treated us to classics like “Vienna”, “Dancing with tears in my eyes” and even sang Visage’s “Fade to grey”, a track that he originally penned for them. Most artists sang original 80’s songs, but a few recent covers were thrown in when Go West pelted out Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” and Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley treated the crowd to his rendition of The Killer’s “Somebody told me”.
Marc Almond was suitably flamboyant with his pink pashmina, and when the opening strains of “Tainted Love” filled the stadium, the crowd went wild. The Village People delighted with their popular track “YMCA” (what else?!) but it was Rick Astley, the last act of the night, who surprisingly showed the most character.
“Who bought my first album?” yelled Rick to the crowd. “Thank you very much! You’ve put my daughter through school, bought me a lovely house in London and bought my mum a house too”. Swearing at regular intervals and stopping the music to have beer brought on to stage for the entire band, he had the crowd enthralled. When he left the stage without singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”, you just knew there had to be an encore. Not disappointing, Rick came back onto stage, having swopped his striped shirt and jacket (not a tie in sight) for a Sharks rugby jersey, he pelted out his classic 1987 hit.
Happy and exhausted, we left the stadium at 10:30pm for a solid night’s sleep before the long drive back to Johannesburg the next day. Was it worth a 10 hour, 1200km round trip? Absolutely – long live 80’s music!
P.S. If you’re in the UK and love 80′s music, check out the 80′s Rewind Festivals happening later this year in Scotland (July) and England (August).
The town of Outshoorn, in South Africa’s Klein (Little) Karoo, is famed for two things – the Cango Caves and ostrich farming. Why farm ostriches you may ask?
Ostrich meat is popular game meat in South Africa, available in most major supermarkets. It’s lean, high in protein and quite tasty and tender. Ostrich leather is great for shoes, handbags and belts and those huge feathers make fabulous feather dusters.
But apart from the practical uses to ostrich, there’s some fun to be had in Outshoorn learning to ride an ostrich. Ostrich races are fairly common on ostrich farms in the Outshoorn area, but be warned, it’s not as easy as the professionals make it look!
On a trip to the Cango Ostrich farm, we decided to try our hand at riding an ostrich, and realized that we were going to need a bit more help than we originally thought. Jacobus, our tour guide, had given us a demonstration before hand on how to “drive” an ostrich. How did he demonstrate the turns and stops? By using an ostrich feather duster of course.
The basic principle is that the neck of your ostrich is your control level – to turn left, push it to the left; to turn right, push it to the right. And to slow down? Why, you have only pull back on the neck as if it’s a brake lever.
After this basic driving lesson, we were guided out to the racing coop where our ostrich awaited us. The riding ostriches wore a basic cloth covering on their backs, hardly enough to cushion either the ostrich or the rider. Before mounting the ostrich, it was led into a pen, with a hood over it’s head, sadly making it look like it was being led to an execution.
Once safely in the pen, I mounted the ostrich as if it were a horse, but instead of having stirrups to put our feet in, I had to cross our legs at the front of the bird, holding on as tightly as possible. Each of the giant wings served as a rein, one left, one right and, we were assured that leaning back in the non-existent saddle would keep you stable and upright. Suddenly, with a quick flick of Jacobus’ hand, the executioner’s hood was removed and I was off.
It turns out that an ostrich can run pretty fast. Being carried along at such speed was quite exhilarating, and I was beginning to feel pretty proud of myself for staying on for so long. The sense of achievement wore off however when I realized that on either side of the ostrich there was a handler making sure that I didn’t take a tumble.
Although the ride was short and sweet, it was great fun and will definitely serve as a quick, and inexpensive (R69 for the entire ostrich tour) adrenalin shot. If you find yourself in the Outshoorn area whilst travelling South Africa, be sure to stop off at a local ostrich farm to see for yourself.
New year, new resolutions. At one stage, like most of you, I’d set new year’s resolutions, only to see them fade into obscurity come the end of January. Eventually, I stopped bothering with new year’s resolutions. What’s the point if you can’t keep them?
As my life suddenly changed direction 5 years ago, I learnt the importance of goal-setting. Now, I firmly believe in setting goals and, more importantly, in implementing an action plan to actually achieve those goals.
For most people, the sad reality is that 2012 will be the same as 2011, the same as 2010 and the same as the 10 years before that. People talk about making change, but when it comes to the crunch, they generally can’t be bothered doing anything about it.
Personally, I’m determined that 2012 is going to be a landmark year. 2011 was pretty good, but there’s room for much improvement in 2012. In order to hold myself more accountable to the goals I’ve set for 2012, I’m going to break with the travel-themed postings and am laying out some of my targets for your scrutiny. If I lose sight of my vision, you’ve got permission to kick my butt!
1. I earn a minimum of $2,000 per week residual income by 1stDecember 2012 (Yes, it’s possible).
2. I have bought Davina and myself a brand new car by 15thDecember 2012.
3. Davina, Liam and I are on the Cancun mega DreamTrip in August.
4. Davina and I are in London for the 2012 Olympics.
5. I completed the 2012 Argus Cycle Tour in 4hrs 30mins (Want to join me?).
6. I am attending at least one international travel business training in 2012.
7. I have reduced my body fat by another 5% in 2012.
8. I proudly own a Canon 10-20mm wide angle camera lens.
9. I donate 10% of income earned from all income streams to charity.
10. I save 10% of income earned.
11. I am taking Davina to a luxury lodge in the Kruger Park in 2012.
12. I have completed a digital camera course by December 2012.
13. I am committed to helping 3 remarkable people achieve their goals and dreams in 2012 (Are you one of them?).
What’s important when setting goals is that you write them down as if they’ve already happened. Write your goals in the present tense. If you write your goals as “I will…” or “I intend to…”, your subconscious hears it as something in the future, not as something that is a concrete reality.
So, there they are….my targets for 2011. Will you help keep me on track please?
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!
Guest Post by Basil Stathoulis, Basil Stathoulis Art Inc.
Gl’Uomini Degli Dei – The People of the Gods
Last year we did an amazing walk above the Amalfi coast, Il Sentiero Degli Dei, “The Path of the Gods”. This ancient path was used by shepherds and traders from a mountain top village called Agerola (where, you ask?) to Positano (everybody knows where), a picturesque seaside village on the Amalfi coast and setting of the beautiful film, “Il Postino” , about a postman in love who is counselled by the greatest love poet , Pablo Neruda. The walk ends with two thousand steps descending into the village.
The views along the way are breathtaking, as your eye corners cliffs and swoops down like an eagle to the bay five hundred meters away and seven hundred meters down. Along the slopes are olive groves, vineyards, vegetable patches and patios that absorb the light showered down by the gods. The path is marked by some CAI (Club Alpino Italiano or the Alpine Club of Italy) Rosso Bianco markers. CAI members express their individuality by making new, and I am sure they think better, paths with some other combination of Bianco Rosso. You can easily lose your way at some intersections, so you have to pay attention to commune signs and old hand carved signs in wood, hung framing the island of Capri in the haze.
Everyone knows about the Amalfi coast. Everyone knows of the jewels that sparkle in the stunning vistas. But the real treasure is hidden. Walk through the arches into the main piazza of Amalfi. There is a church to your right with high steps and the large tourist outdoor cafes. I was there last year and my eye caught a young Italian beauty dancing through the crowds holding a tray of three espresso cups. I rushed to follow her under an old arcade and walked into Titziano’s pasticerie. Last year his sister was helping out as his wife had just delivered twins a few days earlier. He baptised us as travellers, not tourists, a badge we proudly wear. His miniature tarts and sweets exploded with flavours as big as mountains in your mouth. His coffee made with old plunge pressure espresso machines announced that this was historic for its difference.
Look skywards from Amalfi after a ride by tragetto (ferry) from Positano and you catch a glimpse of San Lazzaro and the edge of an old Saracen fortress. San Lazzaro is a frazione of the rough diamond of Agerola. Although it is only 5km away as the eagles swoop, they town lies 25km away by hairpin bends and narrow tar road. Last year we arrived in the pouring rain and eventually made our way to Da Ginanino’s, a restaurant just down the road where we stayed at Il Principe, a refurbished floor of rooms in an old apartment block. Named after Toto, a famous Italian comedian with a long nose and longer list of comedies, including one called “Il Principe”.
At Da Gianino we met Salvatore, the son of famous Gianino, the chef who has appeared on RAI (Italian TV) cooking shows. He has designed his own special pasta, a rotella. The rotella arrived, a Swiss roll of double pasta with mozzarella and bathed in a chunky vegetable broth. Last year Salvatore would not accept a tip, and gave us a whole lot of local cheeses, including fior di late from his brothers cheese farm, and this year he just served us a meal we did not order and then the next night took us out to a slow food restaurant in Sorrento where he learned to make pizza. And drove us back home. And delivered even more cheese to Il Principe the next morning while we slept and he started his cheese delivery rounds along the coast on a Wednesday. A package of biscotti, bagels, cheese and his own aromatic and not too sweet limoncelo from trees in his own garden. His wife Monica popped in and out of our lives in Agerola, bubbling with joy and passion, adding colour and laugher to a memorable visit to the Amalfi coast.
As you enter Sorrento there is a viewing pint over the Gulf of Naples. We watched a stunning sunset and focussed on the padlocks fixed to the railing engraved with the names of couples, engaged, married or in love. Sometimes all three. I felt like leaving one there, from us to them. Instead I wrote this to let you know about these incredible people and this amazing place.
Basil Stathoulis is a qualified orthopaedic surgeon with a passion for taking photographs. Based in Durban, South Africa, he is a Greek South African married to an Italian breast surgeon who creates beautiful food. Basil’s understanding and appreciation of quantum physics have endowned him with an understanding of light, a valuable skill that he uses to maximum effect when taking photographs. Equally passionate about writing, Basil’s words and pictures can be found on his website, Basil Stathoulis Photography & Essays.