They say Zambia is the real Africa, and I wholeheartedly agree. By contrast to East Africa, Zambia has little or no sophistication for the traveller. But if you can turn a blind eye to the slow service, empty gift shop shelves and the occasional power cut, you’ll be rewarded with the most thrilling excitement when you experience the very heartbeat of all of Africa in Zambia.
Mosi-oa-Tunya–the smoke that thunders–a mile-wide avalanche of twisting, leaping water. David Livingstone was the first European to view the Falls. “The most wonderful sight I had witnessed in Africa,” he wrote, “dense white cloud…two bright rainbows.” He named them after his Queen, Victoria. You can visit Livingstone’s Museum in Zambia for a fascinating story of Zambia’s history, or cross the bridge to Zimbabwe, passing the crazy bungee jumpers, over the Zambezi River to the town of Victoria Falls. In one visit you are drawn to the Falls over and over again, and each time you look it catches your breath as though it were the first time you’d set eyes on it. We flew over in a helicopter and felt humbled by its magnitude. We rafted through its white water, tossed and tumbled and felt respect for its power; and we stood and peered over its brink–silent at the sight of the vast crescendo of water.
A week later we were standing on a rock gazing out to the ocean at the Cape of Good Hope. Here, south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the two great oceans–the cold Atlantic and the warm Indian–crash together in a stormy tumult. Cape Town, busy, bustling and nestled under Table Mountain, was a welcome return to civilisation and home comforts. The charming Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is filled with good shopping and good eating!
From our close encounters on safari with elephant, zebra and giraffe in Zambia, this time our attention stayed fixed to the ocean. Right whales swimming as close as fifty yards from the beach were a common sight. Oblivious to the goosebumps they gave us, they just enjoyed their watery playground. Cape Town has so much to offer, wonderful wineries at Stellenboch, curious ostrich farms and, of course, you must ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. We weren’t lucky to see it dressed in its white “tablecloth”, but that didn’t lessen its grandeur in the least. We spent a melancholic morning visiting District Six–a sad reminder of unhappier times, as is the view of Robben Island, out in Table Bay. There is no trace of bitter feeling in this now cosmopolitan, melting pot of a city–and it was certainly extremely safe to go out and enjoy the city nightlife after dark.
South Africa is often described as “a world in one country” because of the diversity of its attractions, from the sun-drenched beaches of Natal to the wild, adventuresome Kruger National Park. Kruger National Park is roughly the size of Wales. The best time to visit is from April to August. Without the rains, the bush is sparser forcing the animals to drink at rivers and waterholes, which means close encounters with Africa’s Big Five (elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo).
When our flight ascended into the evening sky, I looked longingly at the big red African sun as it dipped into the horizon. Africa has captured my imagination!