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South Africa

South Africa is without doubt one of the most exhilarating and spectacularly beautiful countries on earth. And it can offer many unique experiences for travellers with a keen sense of adventure.

Most visitors to the country choose to tour as, inevitably, watching the best of Africa’s wildlife (including the big five) in one of the world’s biggest national parks, is a major attraction. Getting up close and personal with wildlife is very much a feature of the country. Even on the coast there are opportunities to watch whales doing acrobatics or to take a boat ride into waters patrolled by the infamous great white. Once experienced it is never forgotten.

Away from the savannah, travellers are sometimes surprised at how green and varied the countryside can be, with an abundance of wild flowers and exotic plants. The country generally has a pleasant and temperate climate, although the north-eastern regions can be humid.

Today South Africa welcomes visitors from all around the world, not least for the blue flag beaches and some of the best surfing to be found anywhere. Consequently the country now boasts world class hotels and award-winning accommodation with good access. Tours have also come a long way and are now very good at accommodating the needs of the less mobile.

The cuisine is international, with hearty meals perfectly complemented by the country’s deservedly celebrated local wines.

RESORT INFORMATION
Currency                                     South African Rand
Time Difference (from UK)            +2 hours
Flight Time (from UK)                             12 hours
Voltage                                      250V AC 50Hz (Pretoria); 220/230V AC 50Hz (elsewhere)
Shop Opening Times                    0830-1700 Mon-Fri, 0830-1230 Sat, 0900-1700 Sat (Shopping     centres), some open on Sun on flexi-time basis
Bank Opening Times                     0830-1530 Mon-Fri, 0800-1130 Sat
 

 

 

Cape Town

General Description:

With a wider metropolitan area covering 40 miles north to south and up to 15 miles across, Cape Town is known as the "Mother City", in recognition of the fact that it was the first real metropolis in the country (the word comes from the Greek "meter", meaning mother, and "polis", meaning city). Originally settled by the Dutch in the late 17th century, it boasts a mix of architecture reflecting its history: solidly built Cape Dutch mansions and homesteads (farmhouses), handsome Victorian and Edwardian civic buildings dating from the time of British rule and modern skyscrapers in the city centre. There are 4 main areas. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, at the revitalised west end of the old docklands, is a massive Covent Garden-style shopping and entertainment development with a marina and historic attractions; 24-hr security makes it a very pleasant and, above all, safe place to stroll for tourists and locals alike. The central commercial area of the city is good for upmarket shopping as well as playing host to a number of museums, churches, street markets and guided historic walks. The pleasant beach suburbs to the west resemble smart British seaside resorts. The inland suburbs, which stretch 10 to 15 miles east and south from the centre, also look amazingly British but are of little interest to the tourist, except for Newlands, with its international sporting events, and further south still the beautiful wine-growing countryside of the Constantia Valley. Cape Town is considered one of South Africa's safer cities, with CCTV coverage and security guards policing the streets on foot and horseback, but care is still required. Busy public areas should be safe, but avoid them after dark or when quiet at weekends; cash points should never be used at night – it's better to go into a bank during daytime. Visitors should ask at their hotel or at the tourist office for the latest position with regard to security.

Location:
On the extreme SW tip of South Africa. 875 miles SW of Johannesburg. 1,050 miles SW of Durban. 475 miles west of Port Elizabeth. The international airport is 12 miles east.

Shopping:
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront has a vast covered area of over 270 tourist shops, boutiques, eateries and a large covered craft market (open weekends and holidays only). St George's Mall and Adderley Street in the city centre for larger stores, while neighbouring Long Street has lots of bric-a-brac, antiques and book shops. Flea market in Greenmarket Square every day except Sunday. Flower market in Adderley Street.

Eating Out:
Plenty of choice, from local cuisine to European and Malay, and of universally good quality; many restaurants are in hotels. Prices are generally reasonable. Fish and shellfish are specialities.

For the less mobile traveller:
Access is generally good.  Pavements generally have drop kerbs and most of the hotels and shops are accessible. Advisable to book a tour as our qualified tour guides know the areas which are accessible as well as the restaurants, shops and toilets.

Garden Route

General Description:

The great mystery is why it is called the Garden Route. You won't see a garden and it is by no means all agricultural. It is however an extremely evocative name and no doubt a wonderful piece of marketing hype. To cover the whole length will take at least two days and that will allow only skimpy coverage of a selection of areas. Conversely you could spend a month there and not see everything.

KLEINMOND is a small coastal holiday and retirement settlement, 60 miles SE of Cape Town and 15 miles west of the major resort of Hermanus, with one hotel and a couple of guesthouses. The town has no attractions, but natural beauty amply compensates. The Slatey Palmiet mountains back the settlement which presides over 6 miles of unspoilt sandy beach, separated by sand dunes from a tidal estuary. A Jackass penguin colony lies 3 miles west, exceptional botanical gardens 7 miles west, and excellent wine estates 10 miles east. Whale sightings occur August to November.

GREYTON, a bucolic holiday and retirement village, lies 87 miles east of Cape Town, based around a core of handsome, whitewashed Georgian and Victorian buildings. It offers pleasant strolls down oak-shaded gravel roads to potter about in the handful of antique shops. The backdrop of the striking Riviersonderend Mountains make it an excellent base for hiking.

SWELLENDAM, though not strictly part of the route is a handy distance from Cape Town (130 miles) for a stopover or visit. A small agricultural town with some history being the third town founded in the whole country. It has pretty oak-lined streets and the Drostdy museum.

MOSSEL BAY, another 120 miles on, is a sizeable seaside town with residential and light industrial areas as well as a beach resort and the 5th longest harbour in South Africa. Famous for its "Post Office Tree", shell museum and whale watching.
Most itineraries here take a loop off the Garden Route to OUDTSHOORN via the rather alpine Robinson Pass, some 50 miles. Oudtshoorn is a handsome Victorian town which grew rich by selling ostrich feathers last century. Now the ostriches are reared for meat and visitors can see a show farm, ride a bird and eat a very large omelette. Nearby are Cango limestone cave, a crocodile ranch and "Cheetahland".

GEORGE is a fairly uninspiring but strategically placed town. From here one of the last remaining steam trains in South Africa, the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, runs via Wilderness to Knysna and back.
The scenery down to George via the Outeniqua Pass (22 miles) is stunning and positively Andean in grandeur. Fortunately the road is now widened and straightened.

WILDERNESS is a tiny seaside resort at the mouth of the Touw River with a large lagoon. Kingfishers and other water birds abound and it has extensive beaches.

SEDGEFIELD is a coastal ribbon development along the N2 highway, midway between Wilderness and Knysna. It sits in an area of lakes, which flow out to sea through the attractive Sedgefield lagoon. The town itself is functional and devoid of interest, but its long, unspoilt sandy beaches are magnificent. Large, vegetated dunes hide ostentatious holiday homes behind.

KNYSNA is a stylish holiday resort and oyster centre situated on a huge lagoon and surrounded by indigenous forest. Reputedly founded by George Rex, the son of George III.

PLETTENBERG BAY 60 miles from George, is an upmarket seaside resort with 3 splendid beaches and a lot of expensive real estate. Plettenberg Bay to Port Elizabeth is a 150 mile stretch with a toll road passing through the Tsitsikamma National Park.

STORMS RIVER is a tiny forestry village 1 mile south of the N2 with a couple of hotels and guest houses. Not to be confused with the ultimate Garden Route destination, Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, 11 miles to its south. Useful for access to the National Park, famed for its dramatic rocky coastline and steeply raking forested cliffs.

PORT ELIZABETH is a large working port, industrial and commercial centre. Yet like most places at first which seem unappealing, it has its attractive parks, beaches and old Victorian parts and should not be shunned especially if you have a few hours to kill before a flight.

Location:
The stretch of land that forms the south coast of South Africa. There is some dispute as to where it starts and finishes: from Mossel Bay to Tsitsikamma; from Heidelberg to the Storms River or almost any other combination you care to think of. However, for all practical purposes it runs the length of the N2 National Road from the gateway airports of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth at either end 475 miles.
Between the Indian Ocean and the inland mountain ranges of Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma. The route covers areas of spectacular scenery including mountains, rolling farmland, indigenous forest, lakes, rivers, lagoons, rocky shore and beach.

Shopping:
Probably not the time or place to seek out department stores or designer boutiques. You would not find them anyway in most of the small towns en route. Plenty of souvenir shops and stalls in and out of hotels.

Eating Out:
Probably not too applicable as most hotels are geared to providing dinner for their guests as an essential and enjoyable part of their overnight service.

For the less mobile traveller:
Access varies along the Garden Route – some areas are flat with promenades adjacent to the beach, which are accessible and other places may need some level of negotiation.  Advisable to book a tour as our qualified tour guides know the areas which are accessible as well as the restaurants, shops and toilets.

Johannesburg

General Description:

Measuring roughly 27 by 21 miles, Jo'burg (as it's commonly called) is sub-Saharan Africa's largest city. It is only here at all because gold was discovered in huge quantities in 1886. However, nothing remains of the original gold-rush town, except a Disney-style re-creation, and there's precious little left of the Victorian city which was built on the great wealth, either. Today, Johannesburg is the hub of South Africa's massive mining and manufacturing industries, its centre a mass of skyscraper office buildings surrounded by the most run-down inner-city sprawl imaginable. Since the demolition of apartheid and the infamous pass laws, poor blacks have flooded into the city and crime is high. Johannesburg has one of the world's highest murder rates and the city streets are effectively a no-go area for strangers and tourists. Cash points should be used with care and never at night; it is best to go into a bank during daytime. Even local businesses are relocating to the affluent north suburbs such as Sandton and Rosebank, 8 and 4 miles away respectively, where small cities are sprouting with full security, of course.

Location:
Towards the NE of the country, 280 miles inland from the Indian Ocean. 875 miles NE of Cape Town; 370 miles NW of Durban. 19 miles west of the international airport.

Shopping:
Mainly in modern, glitzy and expensive malls insulated from the weather and patrolled by armed security personnel.

Eating Out:
Shopping malls at Sandton and Rosebank have numerous restaurants and are relatively safe. Other than these, it is probably best to eat in and avoid the risk of travelling, especially after dark.

For the less mobile traveller:
Access maybe limited in most areas. Usually around hotels access is better. Advisable to book a tour as our qualified tour guides know the areas which are accessible as well as the restaurants, shops and toilets.

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