Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, is a good place to start any trip to the country. With the captivating beauty of flora running through the city and creeping across its landscape, as well as its proximity to places of interest relating to the time of apartheid, and other activites, Johannesburg offers a great introductory “base of operations” to begin your adventure.
Soweto, bordering the mining belt of Johannesburg, is one of the city’s most famous townships, and was once home to South African heroes Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Soweto was a hotbed of activity in the midst of the country’s apartheid in the late 1970’s. The Soweto Uprising was one of the most memorable moments in the clash of opposing forces in the apartheid system. Though much has changed since the dismantling of the apartheid system in Soweto, there is still a great deal of painful history and important reminders permeating life within its borders. While in Soweto be sure to visit the Mandela House, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane. No. 8115 was home to Mandela prior to his imprisonment, and a place he returned to briefly after his release from Robben Island. Mandela’s house stands just the same today as it did when he was in residence, and offers a fascinating look into the life of one of South Africa’s most notable figures.
Another place of historical depth in Soweto is the Hector Pieterson Museum. Hector Pieterson was one of the youngest victims in the violence between police forces and rioting students. The museum dedicated to Pieterson sheds light on the significance of youth in working towards changing an oppressive system and fighting for a better future.
Just outside of Soweto is the Apartheid Museum, a worthwhile stop for anyone looking to discover more about South Africa’s social struggles. The museum is a deeply cathartic and uniquely interactive experience.
The best way to start a morning in South Africa is with a hot air balloon ride. Bill Harrop’s “Original” Balloon Safaris is located an hour northwest of Johannesburg, and offers scenic tours of the Magalies River Valley, as well as lodging at their balloon inspired country base. With a charming and fun staff, it will be sure to be a morning to remember. After you land, and after the customary post-flight toast, aeronautic explorers are treated to a full South African breakfast on Harrop’s base, overlooking a tranquil and serene river valley. If Bill himself is around, be sure to ask him about his signature breakfast porridge, with a not so secret ingredient of a healthy bit of whiskey. Bill will gladly prepare and share a bowl with you over casual conversation, accompanied by his infectious smile.
One of Cape Town’s biggest attractions is Robben Island - the famous prison where Nelson Mandela and many others were held as political prisoners during the time of apartheid. Though much of Robben Island’s notoriety is tied to Mandela, what makes the prison tour truly unforgettable are the tour guides, some of whom are former inmates, political prisoners once held in less than desirable conditions behind those very walls.
Table Mountain, recently named one of the Seven Wonders of Nature, is only a short trip from the city and offers visitors incredible views of Cape Town. A short cable car ride from the base of the mountain gives access to an array of walking paths that curve their way around the summit. Panoramic views, accompanied by a calming quiet mountain atmosphere provide a great adventure not far from the city.
Further along the Cape Peninsula is Boulders Bay, home to the one and only African Penguin. A network of elevated boardwalk paths provide a platform to view the beach’s famous residents in action. For those adventurous enough to take a closer look at the tuxedo-wearing locals, a walk down the beach, some climbing over boulders, and crouching through beach caves might leave you lucky enough to come face to face with these beautiful birds.
Down at the southwestern most tip of the Cape Peninsula is Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Both areas within Table Mountain National Park give a chance to take in the rare moment of being at the tip of southern Africa, looking at the convergence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. While in the park be sure to stop in at Two Oceans Restaurant for an exceptionally scenic lunch. They specialize in local seafood on an innovative menu,with talent behind it to surely please any palate.
For lodging in Cape Town, Cape Grace (www.capegrace.com) on the city’s buzzing waterfront is second to none. Cape Grace offers guests luxury at its finest, steeped in Cape culture, and with service that truly goes above and beyond. Dining at Cape Grace leaves nothing to be desired, from an incredibly lavish breakfast to dinner services including wine pairings and wonderfully fresh and locally sourced ingredients. After dinner, head down to the Bascule Whisky & Wine bar for a taste of some of South Africa’s best wines and an impressive Scotch collection. Cape Grace is more than just a beautiful place to stay right in one of the most energetic and entertaining parts of the city, it is a home away from home.
Malamala Game Reserve (www.malamala.com), located in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin outside of Nelspruit, offers one of South Africa’s finest safari experiences. Malamala is not only the largest reserve in the Sabi Sand, but also has the most river access, and less restrictive game viewing. At Malamala, your ranger will take you on an off-road adventure to find as many wild residents as possible. As true testimony to the skill of our ranger, we were privileged to see the all of the “Big 5” on our first day out. While at Malamala, your ranger will accompany you throughout your stay, from arrival to departure. At the reserve a ranger is not only a guide, but also provides cocktail service, shares meals with guests, and caters to the individual needs and requests of visitors, providing a much more intimate and rewarding safari experience.
Malamala has a traditional safari hunting lodge aesthetic, paired with the finest meals, as well as very comfortable thatched roof boma style rooms which are equipped with simple luxuries and amenities. Being a guest at Malamala is to be totally immersed in the wild, while being nothing less than totally relaxed and overly satisfied. If looking for a true safari experience and make memories to last a lifetime, Malamala Game Reserve will most certainly fit the bill.
In South Africa, you will experience culture, luxury, and adventure that is rewarding beyond expectations; life at its fullest. To be reminded that we are never too old to stop learning, and that one of the greatest gifts we have is the ability to teach and to learn from one another, South Africa reminds us to make the most of what we have, and to never forget that there is virtue and salvation to be found in a small house full of love.