The spectacular sights of South Africa

Posted on: 25 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

Television presenter, broadcaster and lecturer, John Carter shares his love of South Africa with 50connect readers.

Like most of my generation, I thought I knew all about Africa before I ever went there. We were, you see, raised on a diet of Saturday morning cinema shows featuring the adventures of Tarzan, and an assortment of similar "jungle" epics.

So I expected to find all those wild animals among tall trees festooned with vines from which one could swing one's way from place to place. (Try as I might, when we played out our schoolyard fantasies, I never mastered the "Tarzan yell" - but, then, who did?)

The reality was, of course, utterly different. I learned that animals roam wide open plains, game lodges are smart and comfortable and the jungle terrain of Hollywood is rarely encountered. So I settled for the plains and the game lodges and dawn excursions in Land Rovers, thinking that was all I would encounter.

I was, of course, wrong again. After attending a conference in Cape Town a few years ago, I hired a small car and explored the coast, which is known as the Garden Route. I did not venture far, but found a very different Africa. An Africa of thatched cottages and small communities, where old-fashioned restaurants served old-fashioned afternoon teas.

It was like Somerset on steroids. And the fact that one could remain on the shore and yet see whales - probably the only place on the planet where this is possible - was the kind of bonus for which Tarzan had not prepared me.

Having been fortunate enough to travel to all corners of the world, I envy those people who have yet to experience certain destinations - people who tell me, for instance, that they are going to Venice or the Grand Canyon for the first time.

And I certainly envy anyone who has yet to experience Africa and its wonders. Those dawn rides when, fortified by mugs of hot tea and wrapped up against the cold of darkness, you set out from camp to see the animals emerging as the sun appears to bring life and warmth to the day.

Your first sight of a lion. Your realisation that, unlike a zoo, the animals are roaming free and you are "confined" in your vehicle. Your amazement at how close you can be to an elephant before you see it. Your wonder at the grace of a giraffe. Such things combine to create the African experience.

I have written before about the Drakensberg Mountains and the excellent Cathedral Peak hotel located on the edge of the Royal Natal National Park there. Along with the Cavern Bay Resort. it is used as a base for a 17-day holiday which, in 2010, will cost from £1,923, including return flights between Heathrow and Johannesburg. Ideal for anyone who wants to explore a magnificent terrain.

As for the coast of Cape Province, I've spotted a couple of offerings which will appeal to people who want to get close to nature. One is an 18-day walking trip, part of which covers the Wild Coast Meander - a 35-mile long trail running along an unspoiled section of the coast, and which is covered in a leisurely five days. A couple of nights in the Tsitsikamma National Park is also part of the holiday, which costs from £2,550.

For £2,085, a 19-day Cape Province holiday is available, covering Stellenbosch at the heart of the Cape's wine country, as well as Oudtschoorn, at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, and the fascinating town of Prince Albert.

The holidays I have so far mentioned feature the landscape rather than the wildlife, but that most important aspect of Africa is to the fore in other packages (in the Ramblers Worldwide 2010 brochure).

"The Eastern Cape" offers game viewing in the Addo National Elephant Park, and the Mountain Zebra National Park (20 days from £2,495) while 19 days to KwaZulu Natal - which also features the Cathedral Peak and Cavern Berg hotels - costs from £2,335.

These holidays are at the top end of the price range, but represent real value for money - the more so if you have yet to experience the wonders of Africa.

For further information about these and other holidays visit or call 01707 331133.

John CarterAbout John Carter

A freelance travel journalist and presenter for many years, John was one of the founders and original reporters of the BBC’s Holiday programme when it was launched in 1969 and later co-presented Thames Television’s Wish You Were Here…?. Since then he has made many contributions to BBC radio and national newspapers and is widely acknowledged as one of travel’s most experienced and respected commentators. 

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