South Africa – A week is not enough

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On Monday we were looking forward with little enthusiasm to another rather routine week ahead. On Wednesday we were thundering down the Gatwick runway on board a flight to Johannesburg. It had been a very special last-minute offer and we had decided to seize the opportunity of a week long glimpse of South Africa. Our charter flight took an hour or two longer than the scheduled non-stop flights of BA or South African Airways, but the cabin service was comparable, if not better, while the normal fare saving would be sufficient to pay for at least a week’s accommodation and food on arrival. So, you pays your money and you make your choice!

All the guide books had warned us that there is nothing of great interest for the tourist in Johannesburg itself. We stayed in Sandton which boasts a complex of excellent hotels and a very prestigious shopping mall. Had we had time we should have liked to visited Pretoria, the capital, and also Sun City, the Las Vegas type resort which lies some two hours drive north west of Johannesburg. Whether our respective wives would have been very enumerated with the idea of our “going wild” in Sun City, however, is rather doubtful! Game viewing in the world-famous Kruger National Park was also ruled out by our very limited time schedule. As a matter of interest Sun City is very close to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which is increasing in popularity and has the great advantage of being non-malarial.

After our lightning inspection of Johannesburg, we flew down to Durban. Unfortunately, our plane was delayed and we only had an afternoon to see the sights. Durban has large Indian population and is a colourful and fairly vibrant city with a thriving tourist industry centred around its long beach and the “golden mile” of hotels, restaurants and amusement areas which border it. We managed to take in the principal sights, including the Juma Mosque and the Indian Street Market with its curios, spices and brightly coloured piles of curry mixes, most of which looked to be in the blowtorch category. We reluctantly decided to abandon an idea of any nightlife activity in view of our 5.30am wake up call and early flight down to Port Elizabeth.

At Port Elizabeth airport we hired a car and set off on our two-day 500 mile drive to Cape Town along the famous Garden Route. The roads were excellent and traffic free, making driving a joy. It is of course ridiculous to think that the Garden Route can be fully appreciated in two days. There are all kinds of things to see and do along the way, often involving short detours from the main road. Several days could be spent exploring some of the many beautiful walking trails for example, while there are many delightful small inns where there would be a strong temptation to linger a while. All we could do in the time was to try and pick out some of the highlights and happily we were not disappointed. We walked a while in the Tsitsikamma National Park with its giant yellowwood trees. We drove down to Storms River Mouth with its breath-taking rocky stretch of coast and pounding surf. It was here that John was reminded of the sea’s unpredictability when he all but disappeared into a cloud of driving white spray!

Other beauty spots were Nature’s Valley with its gloriously peaceful lagoon surrounded by verdant mountains and Brackenhill Waterfall accessed through a plantation of enormous eucalyptus trees. Then there were the pleasant resort towns of Plettenberg Bay, Knysna and Wilderness, all inviting further exploration, which unfortunately time did not permit. As dusk was falling we turned inland toward the mountains and The Eight Bells Inn and Robinson Pass where we spent the night. This was a delightful, small hotel with 400 acres of grounds and spectacular mountain views. Breakfast on the patio was superb and it would have been very easy to laze away the day around the swimming pool.

As it was we left after breakfast and drove over the mountains toward Oudtshoorn and spent the morning on a fascinating tour of an ostrich farm. We would have also liked to have visited the nearby, famous Cango caves but these were closed as the result of heavy rain and flooding.

In the afternoon we drove on down through the mountains and across the rolling wheat fields to Cape Town. By the time we arrived it was beginning to rain and to our great disappointment Table Mountain was totally blotted out by low cloud.

The next morning blue skies reappeared and we headed off toward Stellenbosch and the Winelands. Our first stop was at the Vergelegen estate, one of the oldest, with probably the most beautiful house and garden in the Cape. It was so lovely and the wines tasted so good that the morning slipped away and any chance of visiting any of the other 30 or so vineyards in the area, let alone the attractive Franschoek valley, rapidly evaporated. We had lunch in the historic town of Stellenbosch and after a short walk around the oak lined streets we headed back to Cape Town. Or destination was Table Mountain and we took the cable car to the top. It was a perfect evening without a cloud in the sky and the views were stunning.

The next morning we took the two hour “topless” double decker tour of the city, took some photographs and did some last minute shopping at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, part of the old dock area which has been transformed into an attractive complex of shops, restaurants and museums. Then it was time to drive out to the airport for the flight home. It had been a great trip and we both swore to return with time to enjoy the things we had missed or had to rush over. South Africa has a tremendous amount to offer – magnificent scenery, unspoilt beaches, marvellous wildlife, a pleasant climate, a fascinating history, excellent hotels and hospitable people. It is also tremendous value for money

By Richard Cutler and John Hallmark

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No, I'm not a Travel Guru, but I have loved travelling since I was five years old, and more than love travel... I love to share my experiences... and show you our Wonderful World through my eyes!

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