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Top Sightseeing Experiences in South Africa

March 9th, 2015, by Sherwin Banda

Top Sightseeing Experiences in South Africa

1. City and Regional Tours
“I would definitely recommend taking a private half-day tour of Johannesburg if you have a layover in Johannesburg or are staying in the city. I enjoyed seeing the sites of downtown Johannesburg, including Constitution Hill, but the highlight of the tour for me was definitely the Apartheid Museum. This moving and provocative experience educated me about the plight of the South Africa people through this tumultuous time in South Africa’s history. I highly recommend anyone the tour to everyone.”

“I really enjoyed our Peninsula Tour that took us to the Cape of Good Hope and included a trip to Boulders Beach. It was thrilling to see the Jackass Penguins up close! Hearing our guide, Mark, comment about the history and culture of the area was enlightening and truly added to my appreciation of the area.”

2. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
“The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is an important experience for Cape Town visitors. Definitely plan on doing it in the morning, as the wind picks up and often the afternoon trip is canceled. Also, try to get there earlier rather than later if you can because the queue gets long very quickly. We arrived about 9:30 a.m. and by the time we got to the Gondola, the line had tripled from the arriving buses.”

3. Robben Island
“Robben Island, located just 11 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, has a long and harsh history as a place of banishment for those deemed to be a threat to the ruling society. Those imprisoned here over the centuries have included Khoikhoi leaders, exiled Muslims from the east, African chiefs opposing Dutch and British imperialism, as well as petty criminals, lepers and the criminally ill. At one point during World War II, it even served as a military base. If you are fascinated by the real history of South Africa – and not just its gorgeous, serene landscapes – this tops the list as a ‘must-see’ experience.”

4. Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum with Antoinette Pieterson Sithole
“The Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot that 12-year-old Hector was shot in June 1975 during the Soweto uprising. Today, the museum is a symbol of resistance to apartheid government’s brutality. I even had the opportunity to meet and speak with Antoinette Pieterson, Hector’s sister, just steps from the famous photograph of her running alongside her brother in the arms of Sam Mzima. Antoinette gave us a stunning recount of the Soweto school children march, the tragic day that changed the course of South African history, and I believe every traveler should take advantage of being able to hear her firsthand account.”

5. School Visits
“I had the honor of visiting a local elementary school in the township of Langa, just outside Cape Town. The children were adorable, so happy to have visitors, and they entertained us with native songs and dances before we joined them on the playground. I was fighting back tears when we left as the children gave us big hugs good-bye and blew kisses as we drove off. This heartwarming opportunity to see Africa in its authenticity allowed me to truly connect with the destination and I plan on visiting again when I return.”

6. Kruger National Park and Private Game Reserve
“The first time I saw a leopard in the wild was during a game drive in South Africa, and the beautiful cat literally took my breath away. This was during my very first visit to a private reserve, one that lay along Kruger National Park’s western border. We were very lucky. These cats are one not only spectacularly gorgeous, but very difficult to find. Staying at a private game reserve as opposed to sojourning in Kruger National Park certainly has its benefits – and one of them is the ability to find reclusive game.

The other benefits are pretty important too. Within Kruger National Park (South Africa’s version of our Yellowstone), only closed vehicles are permitted to drive on the limited access roads. This is for safety, so when a car is surrounded by a pride of lions, ‘Windows up and doors locked!’ With nearly one million visitors a year, it’s easy to imagine how crowded the park road become. The facilities in Kruger are basic and not well-suited for international visitors.

Loding in a private game reserve, however, permits licensed park rangers to drive off the main roads during day and night game drives in an open (no roof) Range Rover. Walking safaris are allowed and the lodges and camps are superb! By staying in a private game reserve, you have a great opportunity to experience the African bush in an up-close-and-personal way. And like I said before — leopards!:

7. Bo-Kaap
“Visiting the colorful Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town definitely belongs on your bucket list, thanks to the richness of blended cultures. On my trip, we walked along the festive streets and ventured into a gorgeous little spice shop. We left, with some new aromatic additions, and went to the home of a local Bo-Kaap woman who instructed us on the art of making samosas – with a great deal of sass and charm, I might add. After cooking up a storm, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor. While every traveler might not be so lucky to go home to feast with a local, the charming area is definitely worth experiencing – and I highly recommend buying some spices.”

8. Whale Watching
“Few things in life are as magnificent as spotting a majestic whale and realizing it’s even bigger than you imagined it would be. Every year, from June through November, Southern Right whales migrate from the Antarctic waters into the Indian Ocean – and unlike many other declining African populations, these whales are quite plentiful. They also have a propensity to inhabit shallow waters, close to the shore, so travelers can easily sight these gentle giants from shore. I always highly recommend my clients partake in land-based whale watching during their stay, because it’s much more convenient and much less expensive than sea-based excursions. And let’s be honest – this is an unforgettable experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life.”

9. Wine Tram Tour
“I think the Franshhoek Wine Tram tour might have been my favorite experience on the whole trip, and it definitely belongs on any South Africa Top 10 list. This truly fun experience included tram, train and tractor rides with various stops along the way. Our favorite was at the top of the hill on the Red Line at Dieu Donne – we enjoyed fantastic views over the valley, sampled artisanal cheeses that went perfectly with the fabulous wine, and ventured on a nice little stroll down the hill to the next stop. Blue skies, green grass, yellow cheese and (for me) red wine – various hues of the rainbow paired with multi-million dollar views. Most stops offer restaurants, so you can make reservations as you go and plan your evening that way. I tell my guests, I was there! I did that! And I can personally recommend it’s something you’re sure to love as well.”

Time Spent Giving Back

February 3rd, 2015, by Susannah Zani

Time is such a precious commodity – and leisure time even more so.  But I don’t ever regret the time I have spent “giving back” while on my travels to Africa.  Furthermore I always come away having gained more from the experience than I could have possibly contributed. 

On my last trip to Cape Town I spent a day with the volunteers of African Impact at a pre-school in Khayelitsha.  Despite the language barrier in such a short time I became an accepted part of the school community, singing, dancing and playing with the children and learning about the challenges the teacher had as they worked toward becoming an accredited school for this area. 

I encourage you to share your time and talents with Africa on your next adventure.

The Rescue Of Roi

January 15th, 2015, by Joanna Bielawski

On the 22nd October Richard Roberts from the Mara Elephant Project contacted us about the plight of a young milk dependent calf, approximately 10 months old, whose mother had been found dead on the plains of the Masai Mara that day.  Closer inspection of the dead mother revealed that she had been poached and died from a poisoned spear wound on her cheek.  She had been photographed by a visitor happily feeding with her little baby underfoot, both alive and well.  

The next day the tragedy unfolded and the same visitor found a very different scenario with the baby confused by her dead mothers side, but in the company of the rest of the herd, trying to come to terms with it all.  The little calf was then whisked away by the rest of the herd but not before she had said her painful goodbyes to her lifeless mother.  As a milk dependent baby she would have little hope of survival without being rescued as a lactating mother in the herd would never have enough milk to satiate two calves.  The tragedy was reported to the Mara Elephant Project and KWS. Everyone realized that her young milk dependent calf had little hope of survival without her Mum and that she needed to be rescued before the herd travelled great distances with her, possibly into Tanzania where the hope of any rescue would be lost forever.  The baby without sufficient milk would only get weaker and weaker and eventually be unable to keep up with the herd, and be left behind.

Coordinating together with the DSWT elephant Keeper rescue team, who had by now landed at Olare Orok airstrip, Richard Roberts of MEP had the unenviable fraught task of separating this baby from the herd before she was spirited away and lost.   With careful maneuvering the calf was separated by vehicle in order to enable the DSWT Keepers to quickly leap from the moving land cruiser and restrain the baby.   This took some planning as the matriarch was extremely protective of the young orphaned baby.  What had been observed in the meantime was when the orphaned calf tried to suckle her (She had her own calf a little older than the orphaned baby so was lactating) she would push her away, not prepared to share her milk and deprive her own baby.  The separation was done extremely effectively by the DSWT, so experienced in restraining elephants, and with so many others from the MEP prepared to jump in and help.  The little calf was wrapped and strapped and prepared for her flight to Nairobi, while the rest of the team from the MEP together with the DSWT funded Mara Mobile Veterinary Unit headed by KWS Veterinary Officer Dr. Limo went to do an autopsy on the dead mother to absolutely confirm her cause of death.  Her tusks in the meantime had been removed by the authorities.  

We named the little girl Roi and she was watched and cared for closely throughout the flight by the DSWT Keepers and given some tranquilizer to take the edge off what had been an extremely traumatic and heartbreaking day for her.  She finally arrived at the DSWT Nursery in Nairobi National Park after dark.  She was a very robust baby from the outset not having been without mothers milk for long, and thankfully very soon took to the bottle which made things simpler.   She was confined to a stockade for a couple of days but remained aggressive and clearly agitated when the others left her orbit for the day out in the Park.  We made the decision to let her out despite her not having tamed down as much as we would ideally like and this made all the difference.  She was immediately comfortable and content amidst the older orphans who paid her attention and provided her with the elephant love and affection she craved and missed.  She was hooked on her milk bottle so continued to gravitate towards the Keepers for her three hourly feeds.

As the days have passed little Roi has settled in completely and is now extremely attached to her Keepers, familiar with the routine and is playing once more and she appears to be genuinely  happy.

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