Sing along with me (and Toto) now…
Yes, I am a child of the 70s and 80s, flares, ponchos and Farrah-Fawcett-flick hairdos, but this song and its cutting edge film clip (for its day) does capture the essence of my South African adventure.
1983 was the year I grew up, had my mind opened (no drugs involved), and experienced the great outdoors of the Africa you see featured in postcards and travel brochures. I feel that, in some ways, I got to know Southern Africa better than many people because I lived there for 12 months, eventually learned the language, and travelled extensively.
On the surface, South Africa is very similar to Australia. It’s super-friendly, its people love the outdoor life, they are passionate about rugby and cricket, and possess a willingness to BBQ absolutely everything.
It is the country’s flora and fauna that make our nations so different.
Like many visitors to South Africa, I ticked off all the big name destinations such as Kruger National Park, but through local connections and friends-of-friends, I managed to visit lesser known corners of this astounding part of the world.
Tsitsikamma Hiking: One of those connections, saw me invited to don a backpack and head out into one of South Africa’s glorious national parks. The Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park was declared in 1964, and includes a marine reserve made up of over 80km of coastline. When it was established, it became the first Marine National Park to be proclaimed in all of Africa. Although we hiked for four days/three nights, there are also a number of short hiking trails (2-6km), if you are short of time, which allow you to explore the coastal bush and rocky shoreline. This is a great walk if you wish to see a diverse landscape and equally diverse plant life.
Namibia: A long, long, long road trip from Cape Town finally deposited me in Windhoek, Namibia (or South West Africa as it was then known). It was very hot, very dry and felt like home. What was incredibly different were the machine-gun toting men guarding shopping centres, breathtaking sand dunes as far as the eye could see around Swakopmund, and vibrantly dressed Herero women hawking their wares on street corners.
Botswana: Lucky me! A school science excursion was organised to visit Botswana. After getting special permission from my Rotary club to participate, I packed my bags and began to get excited by the thought of seeing African animals in the wild. I was even more thrilled when we were 500km down the road and the teacher realised he had accidentally left all the worksheets and assignments back at the school! Yes!! We camped out in the bush and rose at sunrise every day to see hippopotami frolicking in the Limpopo, and warthogs snuffling the ground for their breakfast. The local children were fascinated by all these new, white faces and we were equally fascinated by their toy cars made out of wire or their simple joy of rolling a hoop of iron down the road. The children were more than happy to take us on in a game of soccer, and their natural sporting ability left us all standing in the dust wondering where the ball went.
Stellenbosch: It wasn’t all bush hats and scrubby vistas. I managed to squeeze in some memorable visits to the Stellenbosch area. ‘Memorable’ may be a generous description due to the impact of the Stellenbosch produce. Located approximately 50km east of Cape Town, the Stellenbosch area is world famous for quality wine production. Along with Franschhoek, there are around 200 wineries producing everything from crisp dry whites to big, bold reds that pack a punch. On one ‘memorable’ (there’s that word again) bus tour, the passengers started the day very quiet and proper, and by the end of the day we were singing our hearts out and pledging our undying love.
Table Mountain: Cape Town would not be Cape Town without its dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain. It is a solid panorama that softens and greens the city by bringing the natural world to the very edge of the suburbs. You can venture to the top of the mountain via a cable car, but it is worth the effort to climb up on foot. The reward for the exertion is a much more intimate perspective of the delicate flowers and other plants that nestle amongst the rocks and boulders. It also gets you up close with the cheeky baboons who would give anything to steel your backpack! Be warned!
One of the nicest things about Table Mountain, other than the spectacular view from the top, is when its table cloth materialises and edges down towards the city. It is a magical thing to see the soft blanket of cloud form and then cascade over the edges of the ‘table’.
Outdtshoorn: Out in the Klein Karoo, I learned more about ostriches than I thought possible. Our Rotary District Conference was held in the ostrich capital of South Africa, Oudtshoorn. Ostriches have been farmed in this area since 1859 however the first ostrich show farm didn’t open for business until 1930. As a result of tourism and its related leather, curios and the meat trade – ostrich numbers peaked at about 100 000 in the 1980s and have remained at that level ever since. While it was all a bit touristy, you have to give them points for making the most of every aspect of an ostrich. We ate ostrich biltong, saw ostriches being ridden (not sure about the ethics of that), watched ostrich eggs being blown and stood on the darn things. It gave me a whole new appreciation of the concept of value adding.
Like Australia, South Africa offers a truly diverse range of interesting sights and sounds, from the highly cultured and civilised, to the remotest bush adventure. Add to that a fascinating history, and political and social structure, and you are set for both an entertaining and interesting adventure.
What’s on your African bucket list?
All year long – 1983
What: A Rotary Youth Exchange year of adventure, new experiences, and lots of growing up.
Where: I have only touched on a small range of South African attractions. There are also beautiful coastal driving tours, and innumerable game parks and national parks to explore.
When: Visit South Africa anytime of the year. The climate is very like Australia – rug up in Winter, sunscreen for Summer.
Why: Big Game is always popular reason to visit South Africa, their food, wine and cultural tourism has also gone through the roof. The South African rand and Aussie dollar are also at parity. A very cost effective destination.
How: Flights from Sydney to Cape Town start from around $1200 with Virgin and South African Airways.
Who: Whatever your age or budget, South Africa awaits you..
Related Posts: To find out how I ended up there in the first place, see my post about leaving the farm at the tender age of 17 as a Rotary Exchange to the Republic of South Africa.
Related Blogs: For a delightfully watery view of South Africa, have a look at: http://www.thertwguys.com/diving-two-oceans-aquarium/