Johannesburg, South Africa
Art Museum in Capetown
Mountain Manor Guest House in Capetown's Waterkant District
Shopping in Capetown's Waterfront District
Treacherous waters along the Cape made for countless shipwrecks
Like most wild animals, penguins' smell is a defensive mechanism.
Huguenot Memorial Museum
A friendly road sign reminds the drivers about wildlife.
The Indian Ocean Pounds the African eastern coast
A private game reserve is truly the best way to see
Africa's wildlife close up.
Hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the continent.
Many native dance shows can be seen throughout South Africa.
This sign was at the Kimberley Diamond mine. Tours are available...
as well as a convenient gift shop. Smiles.
Visitation of school in Soweto
John Mills and Tom Petersen at Victoria Falls
South Africa continues to allure the
free spirited traveler. Its vibrant ethnic
communities, cosmopolitan cities and sun-drenched beaches make it one
of ...believe it or not... Americans' top vacation spots. The exotic
and unique natural beauty are here too- all of which make a travel
in South Africa simply irresistible.
We first settle in at a cozy B&B in
Capetown in a funky Green Point District near the intersection of Waterkant Street and Main Road.
Here the pace is laidback and casual, but a strategically central location for
exploring this vibrant metropolis. Late afternoons are a
good time to honor a local tradition of sipping a latte while savoring something
decadent like a Chocolate Chunksicle or a Frozen Peppermint Soufflé. You can’t
leave Cape Town without indulging yourself with a coveted Peachy Keen Sundae, a
diet-killer of whole fresh strawberries enveloped in heavy whipped cream and
scrunched between two chocolate/marshmallow waffles.
Footsteps away from Green Point lay one of South Africa’s biggest tourist
attractions, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.
Warehouse and factories of the past have been magically transformed into upscale
restaurants, hi-tech aquariums, interactive museums, specialty boutiques and
elegant hotels. Even a former prison is ironically now a world-class resort,
the Ports Wood. A meticulously restored antique train, the Pride of Africa,
chugs between the piers, inviting gleeful tourists to climb aboard. The harbor
itself is always bustling with tugs, fishing boats and gargantuan cargo ships-
all maneuvering precisely around each other as if choreographed in an aquatic
ballet. Not to be missed is a harbor tour on one of the small boats that scoot
in and out of this maritime mania. The excursion climaxes when the skipper
spins his craft around for our unobstructed view of Cape Town with craggy Table
Mountain soaring behind it.
Along the docks you can also arrange for passage to Robben Island, some 25 miles
off the coastline. Little more than a few
acres of barren rocks protruding about the ocean’s surface, this desolate
location has been a penal facility for many centuries. Former president Nelson
Mandela was incarcerated here for nearly three decades. Robben Island is one
of South Africa's three World heritage sites, dedicated as a symbol of
emancipation from Apartheid. The guardhouses, prison halls and even Nelson
Mandela’s cell are open for view.
travel agent’s recommendation, I acquire a rental car and head out for a
day’s drive down the Cape of Good Hope. We first skirt through the resort town
of Clifton with its spectacular miles of glistening white beaches. Sandy Bay is
nearby, the shoreline most frequented by Cape naturalists. The roadway twists
and turns along sheer bluffs high above the raging surf. I meander my way to
the southernmost tip, Point Dias.
The Cape of Good Hope with the lighthouse at the southern most part of the
I abandon the car
and ascend on foot to the lighthouse whose 19 million watt candlepower qualifies
it as the most powerful in the world. As gulls cry a discordant symphony
from above, the icy waters of the southern Atlantic thrash violently below.
face tingles from the updraft of salty air. A plaque remembering the
countless shipwrecks offshore marks this eerie site as a watery grave for
thousands of unfortunate sailors. (Legend has it that the ghost ship “The
Flying Dutchman” still patrols off shore.) As I circle back to town I enjoy a comic pause at
Boulders Beach, where hundreds of sassy Cape penguins shuffle about their
permanent sandy residence. Except for these quirky, waddling fellows, Tom
and I are alone on the beach and it seems almost instinctive to ponder how we somehow fit
into the scheme of things.
"Jackass"Penguins at Boulder Beach
packed day trip awaits me in the Cape’s Wine Country. Just 45 minutes northeast of
town is a succession of romantic wineries and small towns like Paarl,
Stellenbosch and Franschoek. Their distinctive buildings with whitewashed
walls, thatched roofs and pointed gables characterize these gentle-paced
villages and sleepy estates by a style known as Dutch Cape architecture. But
not all the immigrants were from Holland. French Protestants settled here too,
bringing with them their cherished heritage of expert winemaking skills.
continue to garnish prestigious international awards year after year. Most
tasting rooms have picture-perfect settings with unsurpassed vistas overlooking
rolling foothills, manicured vineyards and a horizon of luminous granite
As captivating as
the Cape may be, it is only gateway to the many other African adventures
awaiting you. With so many choices to make, we were elated to discover that
tourism in South Africa is highly organized. Travel modules and excursions
within South Africa’s nine diverse provinces can be harmoniously mixed and
matched. As always, having a savvy travel agent to plan your ventures is
invaluable. I had the good fortune to hook up with Luke of African Angel Tours
who was able to pair my interests and vacation time with those of a small group
of other hip guys and gals. The chemistry between us is phenomenal mix of
contagious enthusiasm and exuberant curiosity. New friendships are quickly
From Cape Town our
two-hour flight whisks us northeast to Durban, an ever-popular seaside
playground. Embracing the coast of the Indian Ocean, Durban with its balmy
subtropical climate is a year round resort.
Stylish condominiums, sleek
luxury hotels and fashionable outdoor restaurants line the Marine Parade just
across from the beach. Unique to Durban are the brightly painted rickshaws,
operated exclusively the members of the Zulu
tribes. Adorning themselves with feathered costumes, they fearlessly negotiate
through a tangle of motorized traffic along the beachfront called “Durban’s
The city has many
attractions, including Water World, Sea World, Durban Botanic Gardens and the
Natal Maritime Museum. Surfing on this part of South Africa’s beaches draws
buffed competitors from all over the world. In the center of town Victoria’s
Market houses an authentic Middle Eastern bizarre, jammed-packed with vendors
hocking everything from aromatic spices to ebony carvings.
Durban also has many hot spots, most clustered in the Berea District.
Frequent haunts include the clubs “Axis," "The Zone” and the “Feline Groovy.”
Favored restaurants are the “Shaftsbury Avenue,”
“ Bistro 136” and “Garth’s Place.” Battery and Driftwood Beaches are the sexiest
beaches, but be well advised: man-eating hammerhead and great white sharks
inhabit these waters!
From Durban our tour heads inland through sugar cane territory to the Valley of
the Kings and Ngungundlovu. Luke is quick to point out the important Zulu
battle sites of the 19th century. The road from Nkandla descends to Eshowe, with
dramatic views across the hazy blue Tugela Valley over to the lofty mountains of
Kranskop. This sage scented route is cherished as one of the most stunning
scenic drives in all of South Africa.
To make the African adventure
complete, Luke has arranged for accommodations at the Isibindi Lodge.
traditional Zulu architecture, the hotel’s rooms are actually six individual
beehive huts. Their primitive exteriors are in amusing contrast to the
sumptuous amenities and unsurpassed comfort inside. An evening just
lollygagging around a crackling campfire is a joyous time for our congenial
group. Suddenly we are “visited” by a neighboring Sangoma, the Zulu’s version
of a witch doctor. Once settled, he retrieves an ominous looking leather pouch
from his beaded belt. Inside is a hodgepodge of animal bones, shells, pebbles
and feathers. He hands the bag to me, gesturing to shake the contents
onto a flat stone by the fire’s edge. As Luke interprets into English, the
Sangoma analyzes the meaning of the objects’ positions to one another. And so a
spellbinding evening of fortune telling and folklore begins, continuing until
the fire’s embers are only a faint glow. A beefy guard holding a lantern
before him escorts us to our hut. The night resonates with an unfamiliar,
disturbing cacophony of sounds.
Before the break of dawn we’re tumbling into Land Rovers, pumped for our first
game drive. The Isibindi Reserve consists of ever-changing habitats,
ranging from verdant grasslands to the scruffy
bushvelds. The increasing daylight reveals more and more and more animals:
antelopes, elands, rheboks, baboons, hyraxes, jackals and a bazillion species of
brilliantly colored birds. From time to time we stop in a clear space. One is
above a river, where we spot the beady eyes of a crocodile lying in wait.
Walking in the reserve is forbidden, in consideration of visitors’ safety. For
one thing, this is the realm of the Puff Adder, the most feared snake
in Africa. The Adder’s skin makes such an effective camouflage that the snake
can be accidentally encountered by humans and startled into its deadly,
By mid afternoon we reach the
silent battlefields of Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana. A native historian
explains the tragedies and strategies of these heroic conflicts during the
Anglo-Zulu Campaign of 1879. It was then that 4000 Zulus clashed with 100-armed
British soldiers. As night falls we enter a Zulu Village where natives
entertain us with dancing, cultural talks and traditional Zulu food.
Almost exclusively vegetarian, the
Zulus have only about 40 dishes that they prepare from their diet of maize,
potatoes and pumpkins. I am quite comfortable until asked to try a frothy
concoction called “Amazi.” It’s actually a form of curdled milk, which the
Zulu’s consider a delicacy. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Trust me.
The dream of most wildlife enthusiasts who visits Africa is to see the “Big
Five,” the world’s largest land mammals: elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and
leopard. For this we venture deep into the grassy bushveld of the Transvaal in
northern South Africa. Kruger National Park is South Africa’s most famous
tourist attraction for that reason. Viewing within the park is limited to
restricted roadways, but there are thousands of animals to see.
Luke has arranged for our group to stay at the private Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
Private reserves like Sabi have an open border to Kruger, so the animals from
the large park can freely enter and exit. When the wildlife steps foot upon the
reserve property, the Land Rovers are permitted to drive off road to view the
perplexing fact is that a bar over the roof of a jeep “disguises” its
passengers. The lions and other carnivorous creatures don’t perceive the
vehicle as a threatening presence. The jeeps, therefore, can approach
large predators within 30 feet without disturbing them. Two drives lasting three
hours each are scheduled every day. The driver and an experienced guide
seek out the animals by their tracks and other natural signs.
As the cycles of life play out before you, nature’s dramatic powers take you
back in time. This intimate encounter with an ancient primeval world is truly a
once in a lifetime experience. An indelible memory for me is watching
giraffes drink from a shallow pond at twilight, the constellation Southern Cross
is reflected in the still, dark waters.
Our days on “safari” concluded, we’re off to see the wild side of South Africa’s
“City of Gold,” Johannesburg. “Jo’burg,” as South Africans call it, is the
largest municipality in the country and the second largest in all of Africa.
It’s an enigmatic metropolis comprised of the incomparably rich and unbelievably
poor living harmoniously in juxtaposition to one another. The Carlton Panorama,
an ultra modern tower stretching 663 feet above the city streets below, affords
an awesome bird's eye view. As the sun sets, you seem miraculously suspended
between the twinkling lights carpeting the valley floor below and the starry
Jo’burg’s nightlife seers throughout the wee hours. Three ever-popular clubs,
“Re-Load,” the “Purple Fly” and “Therapy,” are conveniently situated next to
each other in the neighborhood called the Braamfontein, otherwise known as the
“Heartland Village.” Throughout the city you’ll discover over fifty bars and
after-hour establishments. The “Stardust” maintains its reputation as the best
disco in town.
must for everyone coming here is Gold Reef City, a historical reconstruction of
Jo’burg’s early prospecting days. You mingle with actors in Victorian costumes
going about their chores in the brewery, newspaper office, livery stable, mining
office, bank and pub. Don’t be shocked by what they say if you get in their
way. The caustic bantering with the visitors is all part of the fun. The
centerpiece of GRC is actually a mine dating to 1890. You plunge over 600 feet
into a shaft, finally landing on a platform where you view reenactments of
miners at work in its underground tunnels. The roller coasters, dubiously named
Thunder Mountain and Runaway Train, rumble above.
seek to unwind along the new Randburg Waterfront of the Jukskei River.
Completed in 2001, the complex rivals the charm and popularity of Cape Town’s
Victoria and Albert Waterfront. White umbrellas shade the outdoor tables of the
fifty eateries and pubs that line the water’s edge.
Over 40 retail stores cater to every desire, from
casual to chic- and s
There is virtually
no limit to places you can hang around in Johannesburg. The Oriental plaza,
Diagonal Street, Africa Cultural Centre and Crafters Marketplace are just some
attractions well worth a visit.
So too are the Strekfontein Caves, a world
heritage site that claim one of the richest archeological finds anywhere. Among
the most remarkable discoveries made here is the famous 2,5 million year old
skeleton, the first complete Australopithecus ever to be found.
On a somber note,
Luke offers on a tour of Soweto, the largest all black city on the African
Continent. Some 5 million reside in the humblest of surroundings. The town
resulted from the oppressive Apartheid polices that Nelson Mandela and Walter
Sisulu helped defeat. We actually drive by the Mandela home as we conclude our
visit to this proud, but struggling community.
Because Jo’burg is
only ninety minutes away from Zimbabwe, I follow Luke’s recommendation for a
side trip to see one of the world’s natural wonders, Victoria Falls. More than
a mile wide, the falls is the site where the waters of the mighty Zambezi River
tumble 325 feet into a narrow basalt gorge.
Standing at its
edge, you have a chilling sense of a cataclysmic event, when the crust of the
earth was ripped apart. At sunset we jump aboard a small tour boat that drifts
silently past hippos and elephants feeding along the riverbanks. The Safari
Lodge with its bold African décor and attentive staff is a place we could easily
spend the entirety of our next vacation.
South Africa is an
incomparable destination with something for everyone. It’s a place where you
leave feeling that there’s so much more to be discovered. This enchanting
wonderland is one to which I swear I will return again and again.