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A South African Journey

A South African Journey

  • Tuesday 26 January 2010

To visit South Africa is to experience a friendly, hospitable people, to view and visit breathtaking scenery, quaint coastal villages, cosmopolitan cities, great safari and wildlife parks including the famous ‘Big Five’, and great wine lands. With a fabulous climate, sunshine almost year round, you can avoid all that typical Irish changeable weather. You will feel humble whilst visiting the local townships, and taking part in the cultural and historical tours which show the birth and growth of the current South African nation. Visit here from the start of November to the end of February - South Africa’s summer season, where the temperatures are at their best. We began our travels in the South African capital ‘Pretoria’. With great weather and a friendly local population, we travelled around the main city stopping at Church Square (the main square of the city), Kruger House (Home of Paul Kruger, the first president of the South African Republic) and Pretoria Zoo. Although we were heading on safari, we prepared for the eventuality that we might not see all the animals that we wished to see, and so a trip to Pretoria Zoo was required. Leaving Pretoria we travelled northeast towards Kruger Park, stopping off at the Cheetah Research and Breeding Centre in Hoedspruit, a must for all animal lovers where one of the leading private research and breeding facilities for endangered species in South Africa is housed. Wild dogs, varied species of vultures, wild cats and an orphaned elephant can all be seen here. Our next stop was the famous Kruger National Park. It is an enormous nature reserve stretching three hundred and fifty kilometres along the Mozambican border and is on average sixty kilometres wide. In residence are the famous  ‘Big Five’, which are elephants, water buffalo, lions, rhinos, and leopards. We spent three days in Kruger Park taking in the spectacular scenery and wildlife and were very fortunate to get a quick glimpse of some animals (leopards and lions) and very up close and personal to others (elephants and rhinos). Travelling in high open jeeps we travelled throughout the park, eager to see as much as possible. Two lone male elephants provided our most exciting experiences of Kruger. Being very territorial they began to intimidate us by tearing down trees and bushes within a few feet of our jeep. This act of strength and maleness was tact to try and scare us off but our great Kruger guide, Ron, talked us through the events and we caught a real wilderness experience. Young lions preying on impala with proud parents looking on and the sight of a newly born zebra, still attached to her mother were both experiences I will never forget seeing. Our tour of Kruger also included two sunrise bush walks - on our first we came upon our only glimpse of a leopard. Caught in our headlights at 5:30 am, he didn’t seem impressed to see us but we felt quite the opposite. A look at those severe fangs and I was glad that we had remained in our jeep! After our second bush walk we came upon a white rhino, which we tried to track but with our scent in the air went scurrying off. Any trip to South Africa, Kenya or Botswana should include a safari or game reserve but be aware that on safari it can require a longer period of time to see your favourite animals due to large land area, while in game reserves with a lot less land area and high animal population you will see the vast majority of the wildlife in a short period of time. We travelled back to Pretoria for a further two nights and used this time to travel to Soweto, a famous township of Johannesburg. Soweto is the most populous township in the country, with a population of approximately 890,000. We visited the local people and their homes. Personally I was lost for words touring this area as I looked at long streets with only outdoor chemical toilets and one water tap to provide for these locals. I left with mixed feelings, having visited an 18-year-old girl who was caring for her three sisters, after the death of their parents, on little or no benefit from the government and relying on mere donations from tourists travelling through the township. We visited the homes of the two Nobel Prize winners - Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu who had resided in this impoverished area. We also travelled to the Hector Pieterson Museum which showcased the 12 year old Hector, who was one of the first casualties of the Soweto uprising on the 16 June 1976, when over 500 people were killed as they protested over the imposition of Afrikaans as the main language medium for a mainly non Afrikaans speaking student population. We flew from Johannesburg to Cape Town and stayed in the Green point area of the city near the stadium. It lies within minutes walk of the city centre and the V&A waterfront. If shopping is your thing then the flea market at Greenmarket Square is a must for local arts and crafts. High street retailers can be found on Long Street or for a little more expensive option, the V&A complex on the waterfront. A wide range of restaurants and bars can be found at the V&A, Long Street and on Summerset road. We travelled to Robben Island, the famous South African prison that held political and non-political prisoners, the most famous being that of Nelson Mandela. We took a tour of the island and of the main prison, looking in at the cell, which held him. The trip by ferry to and from the Island gives a superb panoramic view of the city by the sea. We hired a car and travelled to the most southern tip of the African continent, Cape Point. For any surfers, this is the absolute best location for both wind and normal surfing. Be aware that melting ice from the Antarctic supplies the main water source of South Africa. Don’t go expecting fabulous warm water! We travelled to Simons’ Town, a quaint little town that reminded me of Cabot Cove from ‘Murder She Wrote’ and up to Boulders Beach to watch the tourists swim with the Penguins. All major attractions in South Africa are considered national parks and so be prepared to pay a small fee to enter. For wine drinkers and non-wine drinkers alike no trip to South Africa is complete without a Wine-land tour, such as the garden route. With over a hundred different wine producers in South Africa, a small selection is ideal for anyone to enjoy some of the nicest wine produced in the world. We did a tour of five vineyards and felt like wine connoisseurs at the end. A most enjoyable day was had by all… hic… I would recommend South Africa to anyone looking for a different holiday experience. From the adventurous traveller who looks to experience the thrill of exploring the game of the wildlife national parks, windsurf off the tip of Cape Point and shark-cage dive off the coast of Cape Town, to the cultural traveller who is looking to explore the townships of the major cities to the many different tribal cultures throughout the country, and the comfort traveller who is looking for beautiful sandy beaches, great weather and fantastic shopping, South Africa has it all. Please any comments you may have or any suggestions you feel should be added for people travelling to South Africa. Alan Tyrrell €“ Travel Conultanat Shandon Travel / Sayit Travel

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