Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I know you have been waiting for the good stuff from South Africa!

Going on a safari in South Africa was not even on our travel radar. However, the couple we traveled to Chile with last year bought a safari at a charitable auction, and it was offered at the same price to anyone they wanted as companions. Hmmm, do you suspect that the price paid was over the minimum? So now the new next big trip was for a safari and road trip in South Africa. The first week of our vacation was at a private game reserve in the Zulu Natal region, which is in the Northeast corner of South Africa near the Indian Ocean.

If you have been on a cruise, the organization of the luxury safari was very similar. You received a great place to stay, excellent abundant food, a basic activity plan, and the option of spending a lot more money on add-on alternatives that were hard to resist. I think the company planned on breaking even on the basic safari package, and then made their profit on the alternatives and our beverages. You certainly needed to sample a lot of South African wine! We were in a group of eight and did all of the game drives together, and all eight opted for most of the extra pay alternatives. For the entire week we were assigned a wonderful ranger who drove us on the morning and evening game drive (and could he ever drive that open Land Rover on some very rugged roads), picked us up from the plane, delivered us to Richards Bay after the safari, and arranged all of the extras. You also would then tip the ranger like the staff on a cruise ship.

The searching and finding of the animals was much more than we ever expected. It was incredible to have elephants, hippos, rhinos, wildebeest, nyala antelope, wart hogs, monkeys and giraffe within feet or yards of the Land Rover. I, of course, came within inches of near death! A mother elephant took umbrage at our presence and came directly at me in the seat nearest her. She swerved away, just like the ranger predicted. I was trying to breathe again at that point. He told us that the animals are used to the vehicles and “please people, don’t move or stand and make the animal single you out”. Our excursions “off the reserve” were to two of the South African national game parks, the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, a nearby Zulu village, and to satisfy the world’s greatest shopper … stopping at a fantastic craft center and nearby towns.

Following the safari we worked our way down the eastern side of South Africa along the Indian Ocean. We spent several days in Umhlanga, a suburb of Durban (of course waiting to get to the U.S. Consulate) but we put the time to good use enjoying the amazing surf and beaches of the Indian Ocean, taking the midland meander in the Drakensburg Mountains, visiting Pietermaritzburg, and partaking in the holy week holidays. Our format for this part of the trip was to stay at Bed & Breakfast homes all the way to Cape Town. B&B’s in South Africa are very well developed and we always had a great place to stay. From Durban we flew south to Port Elizabeth on Kulala Airlines, which is a discount regional airline, like Jet Blue or Southwest. We had some really inexpensive flights on this leg and the flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town we drove along the Garden Route and East Cape, taking in the wonderful ocean bays, beautiful landscapes, visiting Kynsa, St. Francis Bay, Mossel Bay, and spending two days in the wine country of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. The wine country is truly magnificent, with rugged rock mountains and lush producing valleys. South African driving was on the left side so I really tuned up my skills, keeping to the left while shifting with my right hand. Only a few times did I turn on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signals!

The trip was topped off with several days in Cape Town, which many claim to be the most beautiful city in the world. The city is wrapped around the imposing Table Mountain and every neighborhood is on the water. We did all the mandatory tourist visits to the Cape of Good Hope, the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, the restaurants, and Robben Island. Mary Ann did her shopping reputation proud with all the available African crafts and exploration of the shops of the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This is definitely a place we would return to. There was too much to see and do in just three weeks.

(Published in the Spring 2006 ABA JD Record)

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