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Rolling through five countries in 14 days, the opulent Pride of Africa whisks passengers from the tip of South Africa to Tanzania’s largest city. The trip includes two nights at a five-star game lodge, a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, and lectures by an onboard historian. From $10,600. 27/(0) 12-315-8242. Photo courtesy of Rovos Rail. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
Muizenberg is a fresh air escape. Straight down Metrorail's Southern Suburbs line, you'll go through the suburbs, wetlands, and eventually arrive at your destination - the False Bay side of the Cape, right in the heart of Surfer's Corner. This area, once a bit derelict, has changed since significant renovations and community investments have been made to keep it safe and clean. There are a few shops to rent boards and wetsuits from, if surfing is your thing. People watching is one of my favorite activities from the Knead cafe on the beachfront - all ages and races flock to this beach and you'll see why they call South Africa a "rainbow nation". If you've got time for another detour, I recommend the Muizenberg to St. James walk, just to the right once you leave the station. It's a promenade between the train tracks and the ocean that make for a really nice walk to the nearby town Kalk Bay.
When you search for "gardens" and "Cape Town," you will inevitably be directed to the Company's Garden or world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Sure, those are worth a visit, but for something a little more unique and off the beaten path, I'll direct you to the Arderne Gardens. What was once a family's private estate is now property of the city and has one of the finest collections of exotic trees in South Africa. The original owner, an English timber merchant, collected seedlings from all over the world. Six of the trees have now been distinguished for their age and significance by the City of Cape Town as 'Champion Trees,' one of the most popular trees being the vast Moreton Bay Fig in this photo. There are a few different areas within the gardens—a great lawn beneath a giant Norfolk Pine, a Japanese inspired koi pond, and one section filled with hydrangea bushes (resembling something straight out of Alice in Wonderland). On any given weekend, you'll brush past groups of girls in bright orange or maybe turquoise taffeta dresses at the entrance. The gardens are a cultural gathering point for some in the community, and the giant fig is known as the wedding tree, where newlyweds have their photo taken. If you're looking to escape the chaos and see a hidden gem, Arderne is perfect place for a romantic stroll or afternoon picnic.
In a city with no shortage of great lodgings, Cape Town’s Grand Daddy Hotel offers guests something a little different: a night’s sleep in a vintage Airstream trailer parked on the roof of the hotel. The top-floor trailer park—which includes seven units, all with views of Table Mountain—was conceived by owner Jody Aufrichtig and local design studio Whatiftheworld. A different South African artist imagined the look of each trailer, and themes include the pink-hued “Love of Lace,” by Tracy Lynch, and Mark and Joe Stead’s “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” featuring a human-size bear suit in the closet. During your stay, take advantage of the adjacent rooftop bar and picnic seating, a more sociable option than trailer-side room service. —Diane Vadino Grand Daddy Hotel, 27/(0) 21-424-7247, from $90. Photo courtesy of Grand Daddy Hotel. This appeared in the March/April 2010 issue.
Tennis, swimming, stargazing, and photography classes are standard summer camp activities here. Guests can also view elephants or hippos from a treehouse lookout. Rope bridges connect the 11 canopy suites of the Safari Lodge, recently updated with hardwoods and African textiles. Moonlit bush dinners are extravagant affairs. From $600. (877) 577-8777, ulusaba.virgin.comPhoto courtesy of Ulusaba Private Game Reserve. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
Located across from Sakhumzi Restaurant and adjacent to Thali's Snack Bar I encountered wall art that captures the spirit of the people of Soweto and all of the once segregated townships. Walk up the street and you'll encounter vendors, dancers and all of the other things that cater to tourists. Soweto is a bit touristy but definitely worth a visit. I'd go in the morning or evening when the buses clear out. That's also when you can hang with the locals and get away from the Lonely Planet guides.
This semi-outdoor market on Juta Street in Joburg's Braamfontein neighbourhood is fun fun fun. Eat oysters from Namibia, drink craft beer from South Africa, and devour paella, gelato, cheeses, chocolate...a food lover's paradise! Open on Saturdays.
There is a great selection of international food and drink at the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock (Saturdays, 9am-2pm), from Belgian waffles, burgers, bratwurst, and thin-crust pizza, to craft beer, fresh fruit smoothies, tea, and coffee. After your first wander through the food tent, you're sure to commit to coming back another weekend to try something you missed. My favorite eat? It sounds silly, but, I love the bagels. It's hard to find a good bagel in Cape Town, even at the grocery store, so this is where I stock up. There are benches and old doors repurposed as table tops to sit and relax (and people watch—this market draws all types!).
The small town of Gansbaai, about an hour and a half from Cape Town, South Africa, is the Great White Shark capital of the world. Every winter scores of these ocean giants descend on the small channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock known simply as Shark Alley. Thousands of tourists follow the sharks every year for what has become one of the most popular tourist activities in South Africa, cage diving with the Great Whites. The experience of climbing into the chilly waters with nothing in between you and the apex predators of the sea is daunting but exciting. Watching first hand these majestic animals swim and chase after bait is a privilege and it, hopefully, instills in each guest the need for shark conservation and protection.
Trips to Cape Town find me returning to a quaint little Mexican bistro called El Burro. Fantastic food at perfect prices with superior service have me and my guests always itching for more. Pictured above is a speciality, Prawn and Mango Tacos. My only qualm with this dish is that it's not part of the standard menu offering!
On a street that looks a lot like one in the French Quarter of New Orleans sits one of the best markets on the planet. The Pan African Market is three stories of small shops filled with collectibles from all over Africa. My favorite section was on the second floor, full of masks and unique items I hadn't seen anywhere else. I walked off with a weathered pink leather jewelry box from Nigeria. And while you decide if you really should buy the gigantic ceremonial headpiece made of purple feathers, take a rest at the cozy cafe on the second floor, decorated with African statues and random American paperbacks. Plop down on a comfy couch, order a tea, and watch the world walk by below.
On the western edge of downtown Johannesburg, a neighborhood named Newtown has emerged as the city’s cultural heart. Once a gritty industrial center, Newtown is now a gathering place for South African writers, artists, and musicians. Begin your exploration at the neighborhood’s hub, Mary Fitzgerald Square, where the community comes together for national holiday celebrations and outdoor performances such as Venda tribal dancing. At Xarra Books, an indie bookstore on the square that’s dedicated to African literature, you can pick up local author Lebo Mashile’s latest collection of poems and drop in on talks by such South African luminaries as anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs. Next, walk to the nearby Bus Factory, a cavernous brick building that was once a bus depot and now houses a collection of traditional crafts and contemporary sculpture by local artists. Check out the murals of Jo’burg’s skyline and a “forest” installation built from African walking sticks. When evening comes, join the crowd at Bassline, a half-block south of the square. This live music venue features a mix of jazz, world, Afro-pop, hip-hop, and kwaito—a township-born music genre that combines hip-hop and house with lyrics sung in a blend of most of South Africa’s 11 official languages. For all the activity, Newtown is still a small scene where you can mingle with local heroes. One evening I ran into Pops Mohamed, a reserved South African world-fusion musician, at a music conference held on the square. “There’s always something going on here,” he said. In front of us, a gospel choir was just warming up. Photo by Toby Corkindale. This appeared in the March/April 2010 issue.
On a random drive out with my cousin one weekend, we decided to venture out to some wine estates in the Stellenbosch area. We happened to stumble upon this gem called the Hidden Valley Wine Estate. Stunning views all around, provided us with an amazing drive right up to the door of the on site restaurant which happens to be the award winning, Overture Restaurant. A little further up the mountain, and you're privvy to a view stretching right out to the ocean!
Origin roasts and serves, arguably, the best coffee in Cape Town. They're known for their quality and provide beans to around 80 city-wide establishments. I frequent their headquarters and cafe on Hudson Street whenever I'm in Cape Town for my caffeine fix. It's a trendy venue, tucked away in a small neighborhood where the Waterfront district meets the slopes of Signal Hill, making it a great place to people watch. Origin makes what they call "Montreal-style" bagels, which are a bit thin but still satisfy my cravings. For R30 their mini-breakfast includes a scrambled egg, tomatos, bacon (or mushrooms), and a bagel, and this is one of the best breakfast deals in town. If you're a caffeine addict like me, you'll want to ask for the loyalty card which will earn you a free drink every 10 stamps/beverages purchased.
Knysna - South Africa : In a park for orphaned elephants, one of my favorite memories of South Africa was getting to interact with the 'families' of elephants that the park gave home to. The animals were gentile and playful and interacting with them close-up gave me such an appreciation and overwhelming happiness. In addition, we had the opportunity to ride the elephants throughout the park with the African wildlife and beauty surrounding.
This is the rooftop at a wonderful small hotel in Houghton between the golf course and the new mosque just off the M1. It was the home of Edgar and Aaron, and thankfully they have decided to share it with guests. They recently bought the house next door and plan to increase from 5 to 11 rooms in June 2012.
An amazingly curated museum, the Wits Art Museum, fondly referred to as WAM, hosts a stunning collection of contemporary and traditional African art. It's located in a bright and airy space and feels relatively undiscovered. My favorite piece was Sam Nhlengethwa's "It left him cold", a tribute to the death of Steve Biko. Definitely put this on your list.
The only land-based penguin breeding colony, Boulders Beach reserve is part of Table Mountain National Park. Here you can see the little black-and-white fellow previously known as the Jackass Penguin. His new name, the African Penguin, might be more politically correct, but it's anybody's guess who the name reflects most poorly on: Africans or jackasses. When you hear their braying mating sounds, you won't ask why 'jackass'. INSIDE INFO: Don't think you must pay the entry fee to get into Boulders Beach reserve within the National Park. Following the boardwalk is free and will enable close-up viewing of their nesting sites. Even better: head onto the tranquil and wind-protected Seaforth Beach on the western edge of the Boulders Reserve. On the rocky outcrop on the west of Seaforth you will be sure to find plenty of penguins that will allow you up close and personal, with no fences in the way. Be warned, though: a penguin beak is a dangerous thing, and they will not hesitate to attack you if they get annoyed. If you are extremely lucky, you might see a Cape Clawless Otter there too just as night falls. These creatures exit the sea at a freshwater stream, and come searching for penguin eggs.
It's a weekend ritual for my cousin and his friends to pop into either The Loading Bay or Origins Roast right next door for breakfast. With a gorgeous view of the mountain, both cafés have coffee to die for and stellar food. This particular beauty of a breakfast was from The Loading Bay; banana topped with walnuts accompanied with creme fraiche, served on top of toasted rye and drizzled with honey. Both venues are open for breakfast and lunch; the Loading Bay is also open for burger night, on Thursdays, served with their famous fries (sprinkled with truffles).
Lion's Head is a mountain in Cape Town between Table Mountain and Signal Hill. Lion's Head peaks at 669 metres (2,195 ft) above sea level. The peak forms part of a dramatic backdrop to the city of Cape Town. It can be climbed during the day- it is a busy and popular climb or once a month under the full moon and starlight for some extra magic. It starts off relatively steep as the path winds around the mountain- it is not a straight ascent. It is a walk that turns into a hike that turns into a challenging climb but the views are gorgeous and you can stop and turn around at any time, so even people with moderate fitness can manage the walk part (locals often take their dogs with!) It's free and fun and gives you a wonderful perspective of the city glittering below either lit up by the sunshine or the moonlight. If climbing in summer please remember that the African sun gets very hot, very quickly so you should start your climb by 7am. Remember to take with water, sunscreen and a hat as there is nowhere close by to purchase these items. At night you will need a warm jacket and torch and good climbing shoes. The very fit can summit in 45 minutes but the average person may take between 75- 90 mins however it is best to go at your own pace and enjoy the spectacular view.
When you're staying in Cape Town, be sure to get out to Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula to witness a sunset that I'm convinced is the most beautiful one I've ever seen. I love the Chapman's Peak Hotel in Hout Bay. Even if you're staying in Cape Town, it can be a great place to drive to—park your rental car and take off on a hike or bike ride up the gloriously winding Chapman's Peak Drive. Bring those headlamps or bike lights since you're sticking around for sunset! Then on your return back to Hout Bay, have dinner and some local South African Pinotage on the deck of the hotel's restaurant. Chapman's Peak is the name of a mountain on the western side of the peninsula, about 15 kilometers south of Cape Town. Chapman's Peak Drive hugs the near-vertical face of the mountain from Hout Bay to Noordhoek, and will leave you amazed. In the 1920s this was seen as a major feat of engineering. After several historical road closures due to safety issues, it's been reengineered and reopened as a toll road, much to the delight of motorists, cyclists, and hikers.
Vilakazi Street is perhaps the most famous street in Soweto, or in all of Johannesburg, South Africa. The street claims a rather unique distinction, being the only street in the world to have once had as residents two Nobel Prize winners. Those two men are His Excellency Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu. It is also where where 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead, sparking the beginning of riots, on June 16, 1976. A memorial is nearby in Soweto and that day is now National Youth Day. At the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane streets, is Mandela House which is a great testament to Mr. Mandela as well as to the greater fight against apartheid and for equal rights not only in South Africa but around the world. However, it is Soweto itself which is most important on this street. Vilakazi may be well known around the world but the neighborhood is still a simple one where people live and work every day. Perhaps what makes Vilakazi Street so great is just that simplicity, proof that out of the most ordinary of places can come greatness. All that is needed is for people to decide to stand up and fight. Because Soweto is a home to so many people, approach visiting with respect, particularly on Vilakazi Street. Please hire a local guide and take care while exploring the area.
Cape Town has a lot to offer from penguins, wine and immaculate views to and from Table Mountain, but our most amazing and rewarding time was spent at the Cheetah Outreach in Paardevlei. We were able to handle and play with young cheetahs and watch feeding time for the adults. Cheetahs are endangered so the chance to see these incredible creatures is something to be admired by anyone interested in wildlife.
South Africans love their wine, and with good reason. They’ve been producing wine since the 17th century and the Constantia winery in Cape Town has a long reputation as one of the best wineries in the world. Embargoes during the apartheid era though meant that South African wines couldn’t access the international marketplace, which set back the industry at a time when people around the world were discovering new and tasty wines. South Africa is making up for lost time though and now consumers in the United States and Europe are once again learning about the many delicious wines produced on the bottom of the world. One of the most popular in South Africa is the pinotage. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature red grape varietal and was originally a hybrid between two other grape types: Pinot noir and Cinsaut. Today it’s easily the most popular wine in South Africa and is known for a smooth, smoky flavor. As the go-to wine you’ll look like a travel pro when you ask for it at a restaurant or local wine bar. Groot Constantia is the oldest winery in South Africa and is conveniently located in Cape Town making it the perfect spot to taste your first pinotage.
Patience Bogatsu, who is from Molatedi village just outside northern South Africa’s 185,000-acre Madikwe Game Reserve, is one of the few black, female game rangers in the country. She might be your guide at the Thakadu River Camp, a lodge run entirely by members of the Molatedi community. Bogatsu and other staff share their knowledge about the reserve’s wildlife—cheetahs, black and white rhinos, wild dogs, lions, and leopards—as well as their tribe’s culture. After game-watching drives around the reserve’s savannah grasslands and volcanic outcroppings, travelers can visit Molatedi village or just relax in one of the 12 tented suites along the banks of the Marico River. Thakadu River Camp, 27/(0) 11-805-9995. From $450 per person, per night, including lodging and meals. Village visits are an additional $44 per person. Photo courtesy of Thakadu River Camp. This appeared in the May/June 2011 issue.
Outside the back of the Apartheid Museum, they have a beautiful patch of Highveld with a pretty good view of the Joburg skyline. Of course, you also get the roller coaster from Gold Reef City...
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