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Visiting South Africa
A Virtual Tour of the Land of the Rainbow Nation
South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. It is also the land of my childhood and where all my children were born. It is a place populated by so many different ethnic groups that Archbishop Desmond Tutu dubbed us the 'Rainbow Nation'.
Many of you may never have the opportunity to visit South Africa, so I will take you on a virtual tour. Come with me and see my favorite haunts, try our food, meet the locals. And if you can visit, you can get ideas here on what you can do during a real visit to South Africa!.
This lens was made as part of the Jenga challenge on Squidoo. I was challenged by GreekGeek to make a lens on South Africa seen through my eyes. Enjoy!
Before You Leave Home
It is always a good idea to get a feel for the country you are visiting before you leave home. I love reading so my first choice for you would be to select one or more of these books set in South Africa to read. Apartheid, the segregation of whites and non-whites, which dominated most of South Africa's history, has left its legacy on the country. Although now all people are equal under the law, the scars remain. I highly recommend you read at least one of these books to understand something of what our country has gone through.
A South African classic! This is a book one usually reads at some point in school.
Set in the area near Knysna, a beautiful story you should read if you plan to visit the area.
This is one of my favorite books and gives a great portrayal of life in South Africa in the apartheid era. Not all whites were"bad" and not all blacks "good". The truth was far more complex and Paton does an amazing job of telling it.
South African Movies
If you aren't a reader, then I suggest you watch one of these films. The God's Must be Crazy has a sequel which is fun too. It is meant to happen in a neighboring fictious country. The director and most of the actors are South African.
A very funny movie! There is a sequel too if you enjoy this one.
This is SciFi action - not my type of thing but my son watched it and you will hear South African accents in it.
This is the story of the leader who made the Zulus into a great nation.
My favorite of all these. And history I lived through! Morgan Freeman made me forget I was watching an actor. This is the story of how rugby helped heal some wounds of apartheid.
There is a movie of this book too which I haven't watched but I believe it is also good. This is a gripping portrayal of life in South Africa in more modern times.
Let's plan our itinerary for our South Africa trip
We will start in Johannesburg, then fly down to Cape Town, my favorite South African city. From there we will rent a car and drive to Knysna down the beautiful Garden Route. Another flight will take us to the Drakensberg Mountains. And finally, we will fly to the north eastern corner of South Africa and visit a game park.
If you want to add more stops, this is an excellent book to use.
The Start of our Journey: Egoli, City of gold
If you can, fly to South Africa on South African Airways. It will give you the first experience of the culture. The largest international airport in South Africa is Johannesburg International, so we will fly in there and spend a day or two getting rid of jet lag. Johannesburg is the financial hub of South Africa and the largest city. It is also not one of my favorite places to visit as it is a big city! But there are some fun things to do. Here are my recommendations if you decide to visit Johannesburg:
- Gold Reef City Theme Park
The 'Disney World' of South Africa, this theme park lets you experience a bygone era of South Africa. Make sure you go down the old gold mine which is an unforgettable experience.
- The Apartheid Museum
Visit this museum to learn what it was like to live in South Africa during the Apartheid years.
Time for your first meal in South Africa
South Africa has great food. Tonight we will visit the best fast food chain here - Nando's. Nando's makes Portugese-style chicken and I can still remember how great it tastes even after 8 years of not tasting it!
Nandos sauces are really really yummy. They come in a variety of 'strengths'. Start with mild if you aren't sure which to get. They also have various flavors - Peri-Peri is their signature one, but Lemon & Herb is my favorite. Amazon carries all of them, I think!
J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Now on to visit Cape Town
Cape Town is possibly the most beautiful city on earth. It is nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, so named because it looks like a table. I went to college here, met my husband here and my third and fourth children were born in Cape Town. So, it also has many great memories for me.
Cape Town has exquisite beaches, but as the water is rather cold - even in summer - I preferred walking along them to swimming. But Cape Town also is a great place for people who love history and nature. Come with me to visit my favorite places.
Victoria and Albert Waterfront
Spend a morning wandering around the waterfront. If you are lucky you are staying in a hotel in the vicinity. I love to just stand and watch the boats coming in and out, but if you get tired of doing that, there are also plenty of unique stores to amuse you.
Eat lunch at the waterfront - there are wonderful restaurants around every corner. In fact, all over Cape Town you will find some of the best eating places to be found anywhere in the world. So, forget about your diet, and enjoy!
After lunch catch a boat to Robbin Island and visit the place Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. It is a very moving experience. If you have time also take a sunset catamaran cruise round the harbor. My husband and I did that for a wedding anniversary. Magical!
Visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach
One of my favorite things to do is to drive down to Boulders Beach and watch the penguins who live there. They are just the cutest critters.
Eating with the Locals
South Africans are very friendly and hospitable, and when you visit South Africa you may well find yourself invited to someone's home for a meal. If you are, you are likely to be invited to a braai. Be sure to watch this hilarious video to see how you should behave if you are.
Day Trips from Cape Town
There are many fishing hamlets you can drive to in a day that make for a fun visit, but the day trip I would most recommend is to the wine farms near Franschoek and Stellenbosch. The Huguenots fled to South Africa to escape persecution and brought their knowledge of wine farming with them. The farms are breathtakingly beautiful and the wines are excellent. Most farms offer wine tasting and some also serve meals. Make sure you are really hungry as the food is plentiful and delicious.
Other things to do in Cape Town
To get a feel for the local history, a visit to the castle (or fort) is a must. It is in the heart of downtown Cape Town, so come with me and see if you can find it. Use the map and the hints to locate it. A few more clues: look near the main railway station and close to the water.
Found it? Now take a tour.
For some other things to do, select from this list:
- Kirstenbosch Gardens
Huge botanical gardens - a wonderful place to walk around for an hour or two. And grab some lunch in the restaurant before you leave!
- Table Mountain
Take the cable car to the top for views of the city. If you want exercise, you can hike down!
- World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park - Largest Bird Park in Africa!
This is the largest bird park in Africa. Spend a few hours walking through the cages and getting up close and personal with the birds. The owls are pretty intimidating!
The Garden Route
From Cape Town drive along the coast to Knysna. This is known as the Garden Route because of how beautiful it is. First you wind your way over mountains, then you hug the coast and enjoy spectacular views on your 4 hour drive. My parents own a holiday home in Brenton, just outside Knysna, but there won't be place for you, so I suggest you stop at a cute Bed and Breakfast in Knysna itself. The town is one of the prettiest in South Africa and has excellent shops. Many artists make their home in Knysna, so don't bypass the art galleries. We have a number of paintings from local artists on our walls.
The Drakensberg Mountains
We will fly to Durban and the rent a car to take us into the Drakensberg Mountains. Durban is on the warm Indian Ocean so stop at a beach for a swim if you are so inclined before you start your drive. Drakensberg literally means 'dragon's mountain' and these beautiful mountains are a great place for hikers and nature lovers to get away from it all. Spend a day or two exploring the area.
Final Stop: Game Parks
The Kruger National Park is the largest game park in the world. We visited regularly throughout my childhood and I loved the experience of staying in thatched-roofed rondavels (round huts) and driving through the park trying to spot the wildlife.
If you can afford it, try to stay in one of the private game parks. My dad treated us to a trip in one just before we left South Africa. You will get to ride in a jeep through the bush and get really close to the animals. A tracker will follow the spoor (markings left by the animals) in order to let you see as many different species as possible. I can't begin to describe how amazing this experience is ... you need to do it to understand! Seriously, you really can't visit South Africa without visiting a game park.
These photos were all taken in game parks by my father, John Temple, or my brother, Peter Temple.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Souvenirs from your visit to South Africa
The cheapest place to buy souvenirs are the stalls set up at tourist attractions and on the edge of main roads. Popular items are wooden bowls, handmade jewelery and items made from wire. And then of course, there are always vuvuzelas!