“What I did on my holiday.” Every Kiwi kid has probably had to stand in front of the class and tell this story at the morning “show-and-tell” session. Or when they were older, write the essay. (Does that happen elsewhere in the world?) So, always a diligent student, here I go.
Our wonderful 17 days in South Africa was, for us, a relatively short trip. But once again, Africa worked its magic on us, and we almost instantly forgot about life at home and spent a blissful two weeks totally focused on enjoying ourselves. Yes, it sounds hedonistic. And yes, I guess it was. But isn’t that the point of going on holiday?
I had planned our trip carefully, and we book-ended it with time at two different game reserves at opposite ends of the country. The thing about a visit to a game reserve is that as soon as you arrive, you need to surrender into the routine and rhythm of the property; surrender to the routine and rhythm of nature, surrender to the weather, surrender to the fact that someone else controls what you will do and when you will do it, surrender to the animals (if the leopard doesn’t want to be seen, it won’t be seen), surrender to the 5 am wake-up call, surrender to the fact that they will feed you more frequently than you probably want or need and you will eat it because it is there, surrender to the fact that there are no decisions to be made, and just … surrender. And when you surrender, even the rain doesn’t matter. When you surrender, the world does its magic. As it did at the Kwandwe Game Reserve.
After we left Kwandwe, we took just a few days to explore Cape Town and the very beautiful Cape Winelands further inland. We’d been to Cape Town before, so enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose what we did. We rented a car, and headed south along a magnificent coastal road to Cape Point, where the warm current from the Indian Ocean meets the cold current coming up the Atlantic from the Antarctic. We arrived on a beautiful sunny day, then endured torrential downpours and wild winds down at the Cape. Just along from Cape Point is the Cape of Good Hope, the place that always seemed so unreachable as I was growing up and poring over the world map.
It was at Franschhoek in the Winelands where I celebrated my birthday, over probably the most innovative meal I’ve ever enjoyed, a 10-course menu, matched with wine, that delighted me, and at times horrified my husband. (I had to try hard not to laugh when the list of ingredients for our first course included most of his most hated things – mayonnaise, beetroot, and cucumber.) The meal provided a wine tasting tour of the region, though a couple of days later we felt able to face wine again, and visited some local vineyards. Driving gave us a freedom that we enjoyed, navigation was easy (except when the husband thinks he knows better than the GPS), and they drive on the correct side of the road. It was little different to exploring one of New Zealand’s wine regions, though you don’t go round a corner in Marlborough and find a family of baboons sunning themselves on the road.
Then it was back to Ulusaba. We stayed down in the bush this time, viewed animals on the river bed from our room, or at breakfast or lunch. I liked feeling that I was amongst the action, as much as I had enjoyed the gorgeous views from Rock Lodge last time. I realise now how extraordinary our first visit was, and what magnificent photographs we got at the time. But Ulusaba still delivered. We saw a lot of lions and leopards – they’re just big pussycats really. And a close encounter with a lion cub was amazing. Afterwards, we smiled for the rest of the day. And even now, remembering it, I get shivers up my spine, and break into a grin. Now, that’s what I call a wonderful holiday memory.
Of course, every travelogue must have a slideshow. Feel free to skip it. Or sit back, relax, and let South Africa cast its spell over you too.