Throughout my blessed times as a travel show presenter, I have been lucky enough to explore and experience some of the best destinations this planet has to offer, and let me state right here and now; I love that I was given these opportunities. Europe, America, Asia and Russia. New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Mexico and Papua New Guinea. Seriously, who could complain? Each of these places have special attributes that give them something unique to brag about; something that leaves you with a special memory or maybe a moment you witness when the breath is knocked right out of you. My recent journey to Africa gave me all that and much, much more.
Africa has such a strong heartbeat; it practically moves to a rhythm. Its exciting vibe seems to encompass and embrace you and, from the moment you arrive, its welcoming feel takes you in.
This is probably one of the most surprising elements for me, as I had only ever met a few South Africans in my life to date and to be honest, let’s just say…my first impressions were apprehensive ones. On top of that, the whole racial issue and history of apartheid may have given me a negative outlook. Preconceived ideas can often lead you down a dusty path, my friends!
Captivating Cape Town
Arriving in Cape Town, the mother city, and I was already feeling the love. I also had a feeling of familiararity. Cape Town sits on the edge of Table Bay and with its surrounding mountains and escarpments, and its stunning ocean road, it was a little like my current hometown in the Illawarra.
The amount of natural beauty in Cape Town is impressive. Sitting like a proud parent looking over its children stands the colossal Table Mountain. I am not sure what is more incredible, the cable car ride to the top or the majestic view once you reach the plateau. Okay, the view won, hands down, and when the clouds roll over the top and fall gently over the sheer cliff edges, “the tablecloth” as it is aptly named, lets me know that my first course of African magic has just been served.
The city itself is a perfect mix of old and new. Historic buildings meld with freshly built stadiums, hotels and shopping precincts nicely. One of the best historic examples would be the Town Hall that overlooks one of the many town squares. It was here that the great man, Nelson Mandela, gave his maiden speech as a free man after being incarcerated for 27 long years. What a mixed bag of feelings he must have had that day! Even though he has now passed, his legacy is alive and well in Cape Town and you can’t help but embrace it.
Game for Game
A two-hour flight out of Cape Town and I was ready for my first taste of an African game park. All the documentaries that I had seen featuring lions and rhinos, hyenas and the like were about to come to life; at least that was my hope.
Kruger National Park is one of the largest in Africa, covering around 19,000 square kilometers and has some of the richest varieties of wildlife in the country. It’s famous for the Big 5 and I was determined to sight them all.
After checking into my accommodation at Tinga Lodge, I couldn’t wait for my first safari. Tinga is one of a dozen or so lodges in the park and has a distinct African feel along with delicious food, very welcoming staff and all the mod cons. I had to get out and explore and, with our own expert guides at the lodge and an open-topped jeep, it was finally time!
Within a kilometer or so of the lodge, my African dreams were becoming a reality; there were families of elephants, hippos, giraffe, buffalo and zebra in their natural habitat – and it was absolutely mind blowing. It is actually a little hard to explain the feeling because it is so far removed from anything I have experienced before. It’s pure; it’s exciting and also a little scary. The highlight for me in Kruger National Park without a doubt is the moment a Black Rhino crossed my path while I was filming a piece for the show. With only an estimated 3,500 left on the planet and only 300 of those being in Kruger National Park, it was an extra special treat to see one of these majestic beasts up close. It is a moment I will take to my keeper, that’s for sure.
Spirit of Soweto
We were soon to head further north towards Zambia and Kenya, but I was determined to see Soweto first. Soweto may be poor in many ways but it certainly makes up for it with richness in spirit that outweighs it all. It is the lifeblood of South Africa; it sets trends for a lot of the country, whether it is with foods, fashions or enterprising ideas. It was also home to the Mandelas for a long time and the original family home stands as a museum now, even surviving a petrol bomb attack in the ‘80s. Soweto is colourful, intriguing and vibrant, but some parts are considered a little unsafe, so, do what I did, and experience it with a local guide. This will not only get you the best possible local knowledge, but also ensure you feel at ease. If you travel with Scenic Tours this is all-inclusive anyway.
After my taste of Soweto, it was time to take in what many consider to be the jewel in the African crown. The Masai Mara, I had been told will leave me speechless. Me? Speechless? Well I doubt that!
The Mara, as the locals call it, was originally set up in 1948 as a wildlife sanctuary and these days it covers an area of just over 1,500 square kilometers in South Western Kenya. It is an absolute smorgasbord of wildlife and I must admit there were a few times when my jaw hung loose and words were hard to form.
The Big 5 were on show and some of the best moments took place when we just sat atop a rise and gazed across what seemed like an endless landscape of plains and grasslands. The great migration is one of the most impressive natural events worldwide, involving some 1,300,000 wildebeest; 500,000 Thompson gazelle; 97,000 topi; 18,000 eland, and 200,000 zebra. These migrants are followed along their annual, circular route by hungry predators, most notably lions and hyena and being lucky enough to catch the tail end of this phenomenon, I was definitely blessed again.
With my journey coming to a close, I was invited to visit one of the local Masai villages, which was a real treat. Wow! What a truly remarkable race of people. A true, beautiful spirit can be felt through them and I was accepted as part of their family, even inviting me to take part in the traditional jumping dance, which was always going to be a struggle as most of the men had about a two foot head start on my five and a half foot frame!
It was so amazing to see how they lived and survived in what seems to be such an unforgiving land. Their huts, built with sticks and mud and without electricity or any of the so-called conveniences we have, were very impressive. And get this – they are built by the women!! Just one of a few cultural differences on the Mara. The chief who showed me around had four wives and six kids and spent each night in a different hut! As I said to him, he definitely had his work cut out for him. He just smiled and said that life is never boring!
Africa is truly amazing and I will return as soon as possible.