I’ve been to South Africa only twice and both visits were far too short. But even after my first day in this beautiful country I knew that it had me hooked for life. People always ask me why I love certain countries and up until now I’ve given fairly generic answers. Well, I decided that wasn’t good enough for South Africa and so I sat down to properly hash out what it is about this country that has me so enthralled. Rather than broad themes though, I wanted instead to highlight key moments that all had a role to play in my love affair.
1. Waking up at Camps Bay – I was fortunate to stay in a beautiful short term rental in the posh area of Cape Town known as Camps Bay. With amazing views looking over the ocean, I awoke each morning to a brilliant and beautiful landscape at my doorstep. I love nature and especially anything near the water, so this was a perfect house for me. It also provided a calm almost pastoral retreat after a long day of sightseeing in and around the Mother City. This view though, this view is still something I think about even if the moment of joy it created may never be replicated.
2. Biking around Soweto – Soweto is well known around the world as a symbol of the brutal apartheid era. Still the largest township in South Africa, the scars of those decades of repression are visible even today, but so is hope. I was led around the township on bike by a young resident, too young to remember anything before 1994. He showed me a city that I didn’t expect. As dynamic as anything other with all strata of society and one that I felt comfortable exploring. It’s an experience everyone should try, not just to learn more about the country’s history but to see the promise of its future.
3. Climbing up to Cape Point – I can’t explain why, but visiting Cape Point, the extreme southern tip of Africa, moved me in a way that is simply inexplicable. Standing there watching the waves crash on shore around the Cape of Good Hope, a watery graveyard for thousands who tried to make the trip was at the same time moving and inspiring. The ocean has always inspired me though, there’s something about its beauty and magnitude that I find amazing. It was hard to leave, even amongst the crush of tourists, but it remains a special moment for me.
4. Sundowner in Kruger – Many people make the long trek to South Africa not for its wine or urban escapes, but for safari and the promise of untamed beauty. On most evening game drives in the famous Kruger National Park, guides stop the Jeeps and everyone hops out for a cocktail as the sun sets below the grassy horizon. Sundowners aren’t only for safari drinks, but they are absolutely best enjoyed in the bush listening to the sounds of nameless birds flying past and wildlife at a sometimes uncomfortably close proximity.
5. Boutique hotels in JoBurg – I’m a luxury guy when it comes down to it so I feel compelled to mention how impressed I was with the five-star, luxury boutique hotels in Johannesburg. I’m not normally a big fan of small hotels, I can never be sure of their quality, I was nevertheless surprised by the service and comfort at all the hotels I experienced in Johannesburg. While each was very different from one another, they found ways to carve their own niche and introduce style, design and of course service to my stays with them. They were an unexpected highlight on trips that featured so many others.
6. Driving Chapman’s Peak Drive – Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the areas surrounding it along the Cape Peninsula are just as stunning. For a good overview of the opulence of this natural beauty, there is no better excursion than driving along Chapman’s Peak Drive. The 9 kilometer drive features 114 curves as it runs between Noordhoek and Hout Bay and offers views almost unparalleled in the world. There are also plenty of places to stop and admire the views or to enjoy a picnic in the middle of the natural beauty.
7. Watching lions in the wild – Part of South Africa’s promise to visitors is that of wildlife experiences that are unique in the world for their variety and shear numbers. The ultimate for many safari goers is the opportunity to see lions in the wild. My first safari experience left me wanting for the king of the jungle, but on my second attempt I got my wish and finally saw them. It was a small group of juveniles, lounging in the high grasses of the bush waiting for their parents to return with something to eat. We got so close to them I felt I could reach out and touch them and their beauty and majesty in the wild far exceeded anything zoos or reserves can match. It was a priceless moment of wonder that just can’t be quantified.
8. Hot air balloon ride over the Magalies River Valley – Hot air balloon rides are magical, they just are. Maybe it’s the fact that one is usually intensely sleep deprived, but I imagine it’s more to do with the rising sun and the quiet floating of the balloon that creates this magic. I felt especially privileged to see South Africa from the air as I floated effortlessly above the ancient Magalies River Valley at sunrise. Farmlands extended in every direction to the large lake in the distance. It’s a special experience anywhere, but there just seemed to be something extra special about ballooning in this beautiful country.
9. Learning how to cook in Bo Kaap – Food is an indelible part of traveling, and learning how to make new dishes at home is a great way to relive favorite travel memories. Cape Town is well known for its unique Cape Malay cuisine, a mélange of cultures and styles that has evolved into the delicious food it is today. I joined a tour that took me into the home of a Bo Kaap resident who taught us recipes passed along through her family, including her neighborhood-famous samosas. I still use those recipes at home and every time I make roti and curry I can’t help but think of that special day and smile.
10. Making new friends – One of my favorite aspects of the travel experience is meeting new people, and there are few places where this is as easy and enjoyable as in South Africa. Their complicated history and misconceptions around the world have instilled in South Africans a fierce desire to share the wonders of their massive country with the world. They are deservedly proud of their nation and that is quickly passed along to even the most casual of visitors making every tourist there an ambassador for the rest of their lives. When you go be sure to take the time to meet with some locals and learn about them and their own personal reasons for loving South Africa as much as they do.
11. Eating bunny chow overlooking Durban – A popular seaside retreat, Durban is also well known for its culinary side, especially influenced by the large Indian population who call the city home. Indian cuisine has had a defining aspect on Durban’s food perhaps best seen in the iconic dish known simply as bunny chow. Originally a working man’s food, bunny chow is simplicity defined. A hollowed out loaf of bread is filled with your choice of delicious curry and served in a nondescript brown bag. One of the best take away foods in the world, this spicy meal is filling, delicious and cheap ticking all the boxes of great street food. I enjoyed my first bunny chow experience in a small park overlooking Durban, the contrast of the modern city with the humble meal the perfect metaphor for this sometimes underrated city.
12. FANTASTIC FYNBOS
We are all aware that the attraction of South Africa and the rest of Africa, to an international audience, are the vast open expanses and the spectacular wildlife contained within. What many don’t realize though, is that our country is also home to one of five floral kingdoms – which also happens to be the most diverse in the world, despite it being the smallest!
The Cape Floral Kingdom has the highest concentration of plant species, with 1,300 species per 10,000 km2. The numbers might be meaningless right now, but think of it this way: the Cape Floral Kingdom’s closest rival, the vast South American rain forest, only has 400 plant species per 10,000 km2! This probably best explains why botany experts from across the globe are so keenly interested in it. To date, there are more than 7,700 plant species of Fynbos – and many have yet to be discovered. What an amazing, breathtakingly-beautiful natural treasure trove the Cape has!
13. THE OLDEST MOUNTAIN IN THE WORLD
Spectacularly perched on top of the second-most populated city in South Africa – Cape Town – Table Mountain is widely recognised as one of the most iconic mountains globally; but did you know it’s also the oldest mountain in the world?
There are 1,500 plant species to be found on the mountain, which is more than you will find in the entire United Kingdom! Being one of the most recognizable South African landmarks also means that a tourist’s trip to Cape Town isn’t complete unless they’ve been to the top of the mountain – which also makes it an invaluable asset to our thriving tourism industry. It’s not hard to see why, though!
14. AFRICA’S LARGEST RAILWAY STRUCTURE
South Africa is home to the most developed railway system in Africa. All of our major cities are connected to each other via rail, making it one of the most vital elements of South Africa’s transport infrastructure – not only for commercial transport, but especially for trade and industry sectors. The railway system is 20,000km long, which is actually quite impressive if you consider that the total distance of SA’s coastline is only 2798km long!
As far as luxury railway travel goes, the Blue Train still ranks up there. It’s possible to make use of this service from Cape Town to Johannesburg; and even when compared against its international counterparts, the Blue Train has often been named the best luxury train line in the world – and well-worth checking out!
15. TWO NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS, ONE ROAD
How often do you hear of two Nobel Prize winners living on the same street, a mere few houses apart? Not very often, right? That’s probably because there is no other country on the face of this planet that can boast about this fact, other than South Africa – fact!
Our beloved late President Nelson Mandela and the revered Archbishop Desmond Tutu once both lived on Vilakayi Street in Soweto; with the spinoff being that a thriving tourism industry has been built off the back of this fact alone. Talk about a street filled with inspirational people being turned into a viable livelihood for tour operators to be able to support their families with!
16. THE PEOPLE
South Africans are best known for their friendly nature, where a cheery “Howzit going!” is the greeting most often overheard. We are a nation that also looks out for each other – we can almost guarantee you that your local suburb or community has its own Facebook group, where banter and interaction is encouraged. And, of course, we simply love having a good time – what’s a weekend gathering without your closest friends, the game, and a thumpin’ good braai? After all, we are the rainbow nation – which is just how we like it to be!
What ties all of these amazing aspects together, though? The fact that all South Africans, no matter which walk of life you may be from, are now able to bet on EuroMillions – or any of the other spectacular guaranteed-jackpot online lotto betting games available exclusively to our local market through LottoStar.co.za. For the first time ever, it’s totally legal to bet online for what is undeniably the biggest jackpot prizes we’ve ever seen. Then again, that’s just the LottoStar magic in action – so bet online today to turn your wildest dreams into a reality by laying claim to a guaranteed jackpot prize up to R160 million!