Travel Obsessions: South Africa
South Africa is having a bit of a moment. Sometimes one country just seems to capture the zeitgeist perfectly and right now that hotspot is the fascinating and multi-faceted nation at the base of Africa. Suddenly everyone I know seems to be planning a trip here next year, and with attractions ranging from wild safaris to world-class surf beaches, iconic mountains to fields of wildflowers in full bloom and vibrant, multicultural cities; it’s not hard to see why SA is on the to-do list of many travellers.
Sunrise over the Kalahari Desert. Whitewater rafting down the Orange River. Seeing the Big 5 at Kruger National Park. Sleeping under the stars. Climbing iconic mountains. South Africa is full of OMG moments. Want to push yourself even more out of your comfort zone? How about diving with great whites off the Cape? Or try kloofing – the South African version of canyoning. You can even go sand boarding down the Atlantis Reserve dunes.
While South Africa’s natural attributes may lure the adventurous traveller; its cities now make headlines for all the right reasons too. Former no-go townships are now open to eco-friendly bike tours, and you can get an insight into South Africa’s path towards becoming a rainbow nation by revisiting the sobering monuments to its past. Yep, there’s no escaping the spectre of apartheid, but the future’s as bright as a non-conflict diamond.
South Africa is definitely not a one-size-fits-all kinda holiday. There’s no less than 11 official languages (including English), and this cultural gumbo boils down to a spicy mix of tribes, traditions, religions and histories. A visit to South Africa still comes with a certain caveat (ahem, high crime) but we say: get yourself over here for a braai already, bru!
Best time to visit: Luckily for Aussies, South Africa is also located in the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are somewhat aligned. Summers are hot; so locals can be found at the beach en masse, while expect chilly mornings and cold nights in the wintertime. Spring is all about the Cape Floral Region where the area is blanketed in blooms – this is also the optimal time to get the khakis on and go on safari, and autumn is another good season to head outdoors and get the adrenalin pumping. Surfing SA? Point your board at the Cape Peninsula all year round (March to September is your best bet): go to Durban (Bay of Plenty) for consistent breaks, surf supertubes galore at Jeffrey’s Bay and brave the winter big waves at Dungeons.
Know: You've heard of Burning Man, now get acquainted with AfrikaBurn, South Africa's version of the anything-goes festival of performance, art, music, mutant vehicles and out-there creativity in the desert. Held annually in the Tankwa Karoo, around 300 kilometres north of Cape Town, this year's week-long festival attracted 9,000 'burners' to rave in the desert, ride in sequinned cars and see epic sunsets. Keen to let your freak flag fly for next year's gig? AfrikaBurn 2015 is slated for April 27 to May 3 and the theme... 'The Gift'. Start assembling your art now!
Places to go:
Cape Town’s rep as an epic party town is well deserved. Come for the bi-coastal beaches and Table Mountain hiking, and stay for a braai and a brew with your newfound backpacker mates on the main nightlife hub of Long Street in the City Bowl. Recently reopened, the Airstream Rooftop Trailer Park at The Grand Daddy Hotel is the place to lay your head after diving with great whites, visiting Robben Island Museum and getting your fill of culture (and multicultural cuisines) at Bo-Kaap and Woodstock.
Johannesburg – Also known as Jozi or Jo’burg, may lack the colour of Cape Town but South Africa’s largest city and its economic powerhouse is worth more than a stop on the way to your Kruger safari. Jo’burg also has a pumping after-hours scene from clubs to student pubs, plenty of multicultural cuisines to sample alfresco like the locals, and must-see sights like the Apartheid Museum, Origins Centre and Cradle of Humankind.
Soweto – The one-time segregated shanty town known as South West Township is 20 kilometres from Jo’burg and where you’ll find the real heart of South Africa, not to mention stylebite the latest trends. Depending on how you feel about tours, it’s best to go with a guide to see Soweto and a cycling tour is the ideal way to see sights like Nelson Mandela’s former home and other important historic sites and eat, drink and mingle.
Elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos and rhinos – oh my! It can only be Kruger National Park, a whopping reserve that spans almost two million hectares and is populated with all the safari animals your inner child could wish for. Throw in hundreds of species of birds and it’s your dream zoo in a real natural habitat. Multi-pocket, zip-off cargo pants optional.
If your ideal vacay is best spent in the water, Durban is probably already in your crosshairs. Protected by shark nets, it’s a laidback surfing mecca with year-round consistent breaks and sunshine. Durbs (or eThekweni in Zulu) also has the largest amount of people of Indian descent outside of Mother India, so expect the subcontinent meets South Africa in cuisine, sights and culture. Bunny chow – a hollow loaf of bread filled with curry – is your new fave street eat.
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