Go Wild in South Africa with South African Airways
By Max Milano
“When elephants want their waterhole”, our guide said in an Afrikaans accent from the driver’s seat of an open top Range Rover, “all the other animals have to get out of the way, they’re the real kings of the Jungle”. Or at least kings of the South African veldt, though I, as the majestic beasts took control of the waterhole, scattering warthogs and zebras in their wake. We were in South Africa’s Addo Elephant Park, and were not disappointed. We had driven hundreds of miles from Cape Town to the outskirts of Port Elizabeth to watch elephants in their semi-natural habitat, and once again, South Africa had delivered. Many countries promise a lot to visitors and end up disappointing. Not South Africa. Since our arrival into Cape Town a few days before, South Africa had amazed us, and then some. We had sunbathed with penguins on Boulder Beach, gone whale watching at Hermanus, hiked to the top of Table Mountain, gone wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and had been amazed at the friendliness of the people and the multicultural blend of Cape Town. The Cape Region of South Africa was both familiar and exotic. With echoes of Southern California, the West Indies and Southeast Asia, but also uniquely African. Isn’t it time you discovered this amazing country?
Now you have the chance to discover South Africa with Vayama and South African Airways’ “Ready to Go Wild?” contest. Click on this link, send a picture of your beloved pet or favorite animal, and get ready to see for yourself why South Africa really delivers in its promise of an exciting and beautiful vacation destination.
South Africa’s Top 8
1-Cape Town’s Victoria & Albert Waterfront
Cape Town is gorgeous. There is no town on Earth like it. From the moment you land at the airport you will be amazed at the majesty of Table Mountain, looming above it all. The day we landed, Table Mountain had its ‘tablecloth’ on, as the locals call the cottony clouds that wrap over it during the morning hours and at dusk. After checking in our hotel we headed directly to Cape Town’s famous Victoria & Albert Waterfront. The colorful Dutch style piers of the Victoria & Albert Waterfront are a perfect introduction to South Africa; with souvenir shops, pubs and restaurants serving local Cape Malay curries. You can also catch the Ferry to Robben Island from there; the famous island prison (now a museum) that held Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters during the apartheid years. One of the coolest shops at the Victoria & Albert is called “Presidential Shirts”, where you can buy fateful copies of the colorful shirts favored by President Mandela. They even come with a picture of the president wearing the actual shirt you are buying.
Victoria & Albert with Table Top Mountain (and tablecloth)
Cape Town is a melting pot of African, European, East Indian and Southeast Asian cultures. You can get amazing Ethiopian food, enjoy a pint in a British style pub and then head out for a spicy Cape Malay curry, all within a small radius. And if you’re in the mood for a traditional Cape Malay curry, head up to Cape Town’s colorful Bo Kaap district. The houses are painted in pastel colors, reminiscent of the West Indies, and most of the residents hail from Malaysia. Visit Biesmiellah, the best curry house in the Bo Kaap, for a true taste of a traditional Cape Malay curry.
Colorful Bo Kaap
If you love penguins and the beach, then Boulder Beach is for you. This beautiful seaside suburb, south of Cape Town, is reachable via one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the world. The road climbs a steep hill, as it passes gorgeous beaches and bays. Boulder Beach is divided in two; one part is exclusive for the penguins, with a visitor center and wooden viewing platforms from which to enjoy these beautiful birds as they frolic in the surf. Then there’s the boulder part of Boulder Beach; a secluded cove with massive sandstone boulders right on the water, where humans are allowed to sunbathe and swim with the feathery African Penguins. This is an experience you will never forget.
Boulder Beach Penguins
The Cape Region is famous for its wines and Stellenbosch is their answer to the Napa Valley. This beautiful whitewashed town is home to some of the best wineries in South Africa. You can also wonder around its downtown, lined with outdoor cafes and shops. The perfect day trip from Cape Town.
Table Mountain is impressive. It evokes the power of nature while at the same town, accentuating the beauty of the Cape Town beach suburbs. You can hike to the top or take the cable car. But no matter how you get to the top, you will be amazed at the stunning views it offers; Cape Town in all of its splendor, lined with beaches and tranquil bays. There is also a café and a souvenir shop up on the top, perfect to relax before hiking back down.
Top of Table Top
6-The Garden Route
This stretch of road connects Cape Town with Port Elizabeth and it’s one of the most scenic roads in the world. It first cuts through the South African veldt (a dry savannah with low shrubs) where you can see many species of South African springbok (antelope), before veering to the coast, passing many Californiaesque beach towns, where you can stop for steamed mussels or for a day of sailing or windsurfing. The Garden Route ends in Jeffrey’s Bay, a laid back surf town, with beach front bars and one of the best right hand point breaks in the entire world.
This beach town at the beginning of the Garden Route is famous for its whales. There are many whale watching spots on this earth, but none like Hermanus. Due to some quirk of nature, and the currents, Hermanus’s tranquil coves are the preferred spot for southern right whales to give birth and raise their young. The massive whales get really close to the shore, and can often be confused with beach rocks, until they start to move (yes they get that close). You can often see a mother and her calf, swimming in a cloud of whale milk. A true spectacular spot.
8-Addo Elephant Park
Kruger National Park may be more famous, but Addo wins my heart. The beauty of the South African National Park system is that you have three ways to enjoy the experience: On an open top Range Rover, driven by an official guide, in your own car with a local village guide, or a self-guided tour in your own car. The accommodations are top notch. We booked a luxury hut with all the mod cons and a thatched roof, overlooking a waterhole (more on that later). Our first day at the park, we booked a two hour tour with a park ranger on an open top Range Rover. Our guide was a joyful and informative Boer who knew a lot about all the different types of animals roaming around the park. In our first outing we were able to get up close and personal with a herd of elephants, zebras, warthogs and several species of springbok. The park has a pride of lions, but they are a bit shy, but trust me, they are out there (no one is allowed to step out of the vehicles for safety reasons). There is also an electrified picnic area that reminded me of Jurassic Park, only that the fences are designed to keep the park’s lions from turning visitors into their next lunch. The next day we went out with a local village guide. He spoke several native dialects, as well as English and Afrikaans (there are 11 official languages in South Africa). He was quite amused when we tried learning the Xhosa ‘click’ language, which is spoken in a series of clicks. On our last night in the park we sat outside our hut, gazing at the stars, when a wild roar startled us. The bushes around the lit waterhole next to our hut began to shake as a huge animal with a phalanx of sharp teeth appeared, followed by many more. We stood speechless as a pack of massive hyenas trotted around the waterhole, grunting and sniffing the cool night air. Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they headed back into the blackness of the bush, and the African night was quiet again. Just another day in South Africa.
Addo Elephant Park
* Max Milano is a travel writer and the author of “The Mechanicals of Recoleta”, available at Amazon.