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    Volume 9 Issue 14| April 2, 2010|

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Safari in South Africa

Dr Shamim Ahmed

After an almost 24 hour gruelling flight, the big bird landed past noon at Cape Town International Airport. Sandwiched between the Cape Bay and its best known landmark, the Table Mountain, Cape Town is Africa's most popular tourist destination. It is the second most populous city in South Africa and also the provincial capital of the Western Cape Province, where the National Parliament and many government offices are situated.

South Africa, often called 'the rainbow nation', a title which illuminates the country's vibrant cultural diversity envelopes African, European and Asian traditions and practices into its socio-cultural fabric. The country divided into nine provinces has three capitals: Cape Town is the legislative capital; Pretoria, the executive capital and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital. The population of South Africa is one of the most complex and diverse in the world. Of 45 million population, black Africans (78%) comprise more than three quarters of South Africa's population ,whites 10%, coloureds (people of mixed race) 9%, and Asians (mainly Indians) 2.5% make up the remainder. Of the whites, more than half are Afrikaners and most of the rest are of British descent.

The country has 11 official languages. Among them, the predominant being Zulu 22.9% followed by Xhosa 17.9% and Afrikaans14.4%.

In the evening, we dashed to the Victoria & Alfred (V & A) Waterfront Shopping Plaza at the harbour front. With several hundred trendy shops and cafes, it is arguably one of the city's most popular shopping and entertainment venues. It is noteworthy to mention that most of the clients as well as the sales girls at the shops/restaurants are white. The following morning, we cruised to the infamous Robben Island located at a distance of 12 km from the coast of Cape Town. Located at the V&A is the Nelson Mandela Gateway, through which ferries depart for Robben Island. We availed the 45 minute conducted bus ride of the island including a tour of the infamous Maximum security Prison. The sojourn took us to the B Section prison cell where many political leaders including Nelson Mandela, spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. We were greatly moved by the inhuman experience shared by one of the prisoners.

The next day, we drove along scenic Atlantic coast for about four hours to reach the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern tip of the African Continent. The entire Cape Peninsula is a wild rugged, scenic and generally unspoiled natural park. The beauty is all the more stunning due to proteas in full bloom. Mentionably, proteas is the national flower of South Africa. Another hour drive and we reached Cape Point - the southernmost point of the African continent. The mountain peak, made famous by the lighthouse offered spectacular view of both the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Both the Cape of Good Hope and the Cape Point offer breathtaking scenery. On the way, we came across several ostrich farms.

Nestled in a sheltered cove between Simon's Town and Cape Point, is the Boulders Beach - world famous for its thriving colony of African Penguins. Apart from Namibia, Capetown happens to be the only habitat on earth for the black penguins. The Penguins were best viewed from broadwalks in Foxy Beach. It was well past noon and we settled for a much deserved lunch with king lobsters at the Seaforth Restaurant overlooking the stunning landscape of the Atlantic Coast.

The following day, we visited Seal Island, half an hour journey by ferry across the Capetown harbour. The island is so named because of the great numbers of cape fur seals that occupy it. The thrilling journey offered a panoramic view of the Cape town. Because of the inclement weather, the landmark 'Table Mountain' remained covered with heavy cloud-“table cloth”. In the evening, we drove through Hout Bay - one of the most picturesque seaside villages along the Cape Peninsula.

The African Cultural Night at Moyo Resort, an hour drive from Cape Town was extremely captivating. We enjoyed the traditional African music and dances till the wee hours as we gobbled mouth watering items including antelope meat curry, ox tail, springbok keema and hundreds of items including desserts and fruits.

Our next destination was Johannesburg also known as Jozi or Jo'burg, the largest city in South Africa. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa and houses the Constitutional Court South Africa's highest court. Johannesburg is one of the world's leading financial centres and is the economic and financial hub of South Africa. Jo'burg is one of the most modern and prosperous cities in South Africa and the city skyline have most of the tallest buildings on the continent and houses most international organisations. Black Africans account for 73% of the population, followed by whites at 16%.

We landed at the O.R. Tambo International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in Africa in the evening and lodged ourselves at the Emperor's Palace and Entertainment Complex-The Peermont Metcourt Hotel.

The following morning, under the able guidance of our competent Dutch tour guide Louis, we settled for an almost 12 hour drive through the mesmerizing countryside. We stopped at the beautiful quaint town of Dullstroom and at Mashishing Restaurant at Lydenburg set amidst picturesque mountains for a cup of coffee. We were rather late for lunch since we embarked at several wayside picnic spots including Nkhulu picnic spot and Mayakini Hill Resort. Later we enjoyed a late lunch at Kadisi Restaurant overlooking the rather dried Kadisi River.

Driving through the Mpumalanga Province, we captured magnificent views of the majestic Blyde River canyon. Known as 'Paradise country', very few regions can match the beauty of the Lowveld Escarpments and lush wetlands. We stopped at God's window-700 metres above the surrounding landscape to further capture magnificent views of Canyons and several waterfalls. Three Rondavels- the three mountainous peaks with legendary folk tales was worth viewing. On our way, we never failed to stop at several wayside curio shops with eye catching wooden handicrafts.

At dusk, we finally reached our destination - the peace and tranquil Umbhaba Lodge in Hazyview perched on a hillside overlooking the Sabie Valley.

We all passed a sleepless night because of the excitement generated regarding our visit to the Safari Park the following day. We woke up very early and entered the Kruger National Park through the Numbi Gate at dawn. The time is ideal to view the wild game, particularly the “Big 5s”.With the rise of temperatue, the animals tend to retire under shade and is almost impossible to view them. The Kruger National Park, about 7000 sq.miles - larger than Israel is the largest game reserve in South Africa. Driving inside the park for almost eight hours was an incredible wildlife experience as we explored and experienced one of the largest National Safari Parks in the World. We were extremely fortunate to come across all the “Big 5s”-lion/rhino/leopard/buffalo/elephant.It was a treat to spot the other animals including the antelopes, giraffes,zebras and wildebeest at frequent intervals. The hippos were spotted drowned in the pools while the crocs were enjoying sunbaths. For lunch, we stepped in to Lower Sebi resort within the game reserve area. In the evening, we dined at “Little Chennai” a South Indian retreat.

On way back to Johannesburg, we visited the Shangana Cultural Village - an hour drive from the Park. The visit provided us an opportunity to have an insight into the lifestyle of the Shanganas.The chief of the Shangana exchanged pleasantries with us. We stopped at Maykini Hill Resort for coffee and lunched at a wayside restaurant.

We also paid a brief visit to Pretoria, the administrative capital of the country - 2 hrs.drive from Jo'burg.Among the places of interest visited included Kruger House, Voortrekker Monument, Church Square & the Union Buildings with the imposing garden. Virtually, the entire city is a city of gardens with the spectacular violet colored zarakondas in full bloom. Mentionably, Pretoria's main street, Church Street is the longest urban street in South Africa and one of the longest straight streets in the world .We rounded our Safari with sumptuous dinner at “Jozi Restaurant” at the famous Nelson Mandela Square in Jo'burg.


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