South Africa is an enchanting land endowed with natural beauty and bounty. Here tradition and modernity beautifully blend to enrich its essence.
The country's clean, green and well-laid-out pavements and roads would tempt anyone to take a leisurely walk, or drive in comfort.
All along the way, sturdy palm trees and flower beds compel you to look at them and admire at what man can do to unfurl nature's offerings!
South Africa can offer a complete travel experience to any visitor: from the mountainous terrain of the Cape to the soothing waters of Durban; from the sophisticated malls of Johannesburg to the flea-markets of Pretoria; from big nature reserves to dolphin land and ostrich farms; and, from heritage monuments to ancient caves.
Hotels to suit all budgets and eating joints abound in the country.
Johannesburg is the financial, economic and cultural hub of South Africa. All flights from Mumbai to South Africa terminate at Johannesburg. So, tourists to South Africa usually go around Johannesburg before venturing out to other cities and sights. Affectionately called Joburg or Jozi by the locals, it is endowed with an ideal climate, where summers are hot but pleasant, and winters are cold, but soothing during the day. So, one can visit the city anytime during the year. Only don't forget to carry an umbrella if you are here in summer as rains may catch you unawares when you go sightseeing!
Laid out on a flat landscape, Joburg opens up in front of you as you drive along the highway. You can observe tiled cottages in residential complexes, vast stretches of golf courses and parks, plush buildings, and huge malls. Once a mining city, Joburg is also referred to as Egoli or City of Gold. No wonder, you can observe gold hills scattered across the land as you go around the city.
To know more about Joburg's golden heritage, you have to visit Gold Reef City. Here, step into the Information Room to understand the process of gold making. You will also get to touch a real piece of extracted gold bar! Further, you get a chance to go down to a real mine! When you visit the curio shops and kiosks, you can buy gold powder and gold polished jewellery along with necklaces in semi-precious stones, or wood.
Tourists usually combine a visit to the Gold Reef Casino that is just across the bridge. Beautifully illuminated and decorated, you can find the young and old excitedly trying their luck at the many machines.
For history enthusiasts, Apartheid Museum, in the neighbourhood, is the best place to visit to know about South Africa's struggle for Independence. Museum Africa and Cradle of Human Kind are other places that can quench your thirst for history.
South Africa and Nelson Mandela are two sides of the same coin, especially for foreign tourists. So, if you can't meet the Man of South Africa, you can surely get to see his image prominently placed at Nelson Mandela Square at Sandton. The larger than life-size black granite statue of the leader looks impressive in the large square that is surrounded by cafes and shopping arcades. From here, you can go over to tread on the sky walk to reach Sandton Mall, a shopper's delight.
Joburg is also a shopper's paradise. If you want to buy everything in one place, from cakes and cosmetics to clothes and cutlery, visit Norwood's Hypermarket.
To pick up curios, drop in at Bruma World or Rosebank African Craft Market. Beautifully carved ebony figurines and show-pieces in wood as also Haemetite and Tiger eye necklaces can be bought here at a bargain price.
Call of the wild
No tourist to South Africa can leave the place without watching its wildlife. If you have a few days to spare, head towards Kruger National Park or Mabula Game Reserve to get the thrill of travelling in open jeeps to have close encounters with the wild kind! Otherwise, a visit to Lion Park will give you the opportunity to view herds of lions and hyenas, apart from wild beasts and zebras at close quarters.
Pretoria, the legislative capital of South Africa, can be reached in 40 minutes from Joburg. The city of heritage buildings and blooming Jacarandas attracts visitors to its Church Square with the imposing statue of Paul Kruger - farmer, soldier, and statesman, who is venerated in South African history as the builder of the Afrikaner nation - overlooking the official buildings. If you are lucky, you may find native dancers entertaining you with their performance. Voortrekker Monument and Pretoria Zoo are other places worth visiting.
Sun City, the marvellous man-made wonder and the ultimate destination in entertainment, is just 100 km from Pretoria. Walk through the main complex to observe its stone carvings and architecture. Tourists can spend a few days here to visit its family friendly casino and indulge in water sports.
Durban is the real playground of South Africa, with most of the national sporting events held here. After five hours of pleasurable drive from Joburg, tourists can stop over at Harrysmith to refresh and have a quick bite. Durban comes alive with its beaches, also known as Gold Mile. You can see scores of people fishing, surfing or swimming, on the foaming waters of the Indian Ocean, even as you take a walk on the beach.
Do take a ride on the colourful and very popular Tonga and watch the beach artists creating beautiful images in sand. Or, take a ride on the ropeway to view the beach activities as the sun sets on the horizon. And, if you want to pick up a colourful bead necklace, do so just outside the beach.
To view the heritage buildings of Durban, visit the Central Square. A visit to Phoenix Farm can tell you about Mahatma Gandhi's life in South Africa and his Satyagraha Movement. However, the incident that transformed Gandhi, happened at Pietermaritzburg, the town just outside Durban. Visit the Railway Station where the Father of our Nation was thrown out of the compartment. To carry back memories you can take a snap with the bust image of Gandhi placed prominently at the spot.
If you have time at hand, do stop over at the Valley of Thousand Hills, midway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is amazing to view the astounding hills along the banks of river Umegeni, as it meanders through the picturesque Zulu tribal land. Don't miss out on shopping at the colourful Craft Village.
Cape Town is the gem of South Africa. Direct flights operate from Joburg and Durban to Cape Town, though travelling by car through the Garden Route to this scenic city is the best option. You cannot help but admire the changing hues of mountains, long stretches of wine-yards, windmills whirling in the green fields and ostriches running in gay abandon! If you can stop over at Knysna, the quaint little township nestling on the shores of an estuary, you can boast of having visited the Jewel of the Garden Route!
Cape Town, with its rugged mountains and vast beaches of white sands lining the blue-green ocean, is a painter's delight. As you drive on the sloping roads, you will notice cute cottages and villas on the hills, with the magnificent Table Mountain always remaining in the background.
Tourist buses and cars operate to take you on a city tour and also to the Cape Point. The starting point of the trip is the V&A Waterfront that serves not only as the car, bus and boat station, but also as a delightful shopping centre and food corner. Heading towards the Table Mountain, you can observe tourists having fun at the beaches that overlook cottages on hills and restaurants on the roads.
At Table Mountain, board the cable car to reach the top and get a magnificent view of the city and clouds caressing the hills. From here to the Cape Point, it is a meandering drive with hills on one side and sea on the other. If you are lucky, you can observe mountain zebras, a variety of antelopes, baboons, ostriches and penguins at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
At the Cape Point Peninsula, you can experience the joy of standing almost at the tip of the southern continent. Only you may find huge Chacma baboons observing you, ready to snatch your food packets. So, watch out and escape their view to reach the top. A cable car will take you to the highest point from where you can observe the roaring waters of the Indian Ocean merging with the Atlantic Ocean.
It is a thrilling moment you can treasure and remember, after your visit.
South African [SA] Airways, Emirates, Kenyan Airways, and Gulf Air, fly from Mumbai to Johannesburg
Travel time: 9 1/2 to 10? hrs
Time difference: India-SA: 3 1/2 hrs.
SA and local flights are available from Joburg to Cape Town and Durban.
Area: 1,221,037 sq km
Coastline: Approximately 3,000 km long
Major cities: Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town
Population: 44.8 million
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English.
Best time to visit: September/October [Spring], April/May [Autumn]
Currency: Rand [Approx: Rs 6.50].
International Dialling Code: + 27.
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