+ RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
With golden beaches, jagged mountains and national parks overflowing with wildlife, South Africa is the Africa you’ve always imagined. While memories of a troubled past remain, the republic is well on the way to regaining its throne as the holiday capital of Africa, visited by nearly 10 million people every year.
Topping a long list of attractions is the republic’s spectacular wildlife and natural scenery. National parks and nature reserves preserve an incredible variety of landscapes – rolling plains, towering mountains, arid deserts, coastal fynbos (shrubland) and pure blue oceans – home to an incredible variety of wildlife, from lions and elephants to great white sharks and playful penguins.
South Africa's cities are no less varied. In the far south, lorded over by iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s most accessible gateway, with gorgeous beaches, vibrant, multicultural neighbourhoods, famous vineyards, a lively nightlife and fine dining to rival any European capital. You’ll find a similarly cosmopolitan vibe in Johannesburg, the energetic capital, and in beachside Durban, where the hot sunshine is matched by the scorching curries cooked up by the South Asian community.
In between you can lose yourself for days on safari. The undisputed top spot for wildlife spotters is world-famous Kruger National Park, where the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos – are joined by hundreds of other African species.
If the landscape sounds diverse, wait until you meet the people. South Africa boasts 11 official languages and more than a dozen tribes, living alongside communities from Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent – little wonder this is known as the Rainbow Nation. This diversity is tangible everywhere, from the architecture and language to the nation’s spectacular cuisine.
Nevertheless, huge inequality remains, still sharply marked out along racial lines. To understand modern South Africa, everyone should visit Johannesburg’s moving Apartheid Museum, and Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. Or you could join a township tour in Soweto, which, like the rest of your trip, you’ll never forget.
- Big Five safaris in South Africa are a must-do for anyone fascinated by wildlife. Big Five refers to buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino and the term comes from the animals considered most dangerous to hunt. Now the thrill comes from photographing them in their natural habitat.
If you're looking for a Big Five safari experience in South Africa you can go to almost any province in South Africa, but the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces remains an iconic tourism drawcard.
The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) abound in the park, and you see them by self-drive, guided drives or guided walks through the bushveld.
But remember, you are not in the middle of a National Geographic documentary. You may well see all Big Five, you may well not, although your chances are high. Drive slowly, stop at waterholes, listen for the warning calls of birds, watch when other vehicles stop, and always keep your eyes open.
Prepare to be awed. To see a leopard dozing in the bough of a tree, spotting a black rhino half-hidden in thick shrubs, finding a pride of lions in the shade after a kill, or watching a large herd of elephants or Cape buffalo move soundlessly across the road - these are all priceless moments.
Always remember that you're dealing with wild animals, and that you're in their territory. There are rules of engagement relating to Big Five safaris in South Africa. Read your guidebook carefully and heed the words of your ranger at all times.
Accommodation for Big Five safaris in Mpumalanga are either within the Kruger National Park or on the neighbouring private reserves such as Sabi Sand (which has the highest density of leopards in the world), Timbavati and Klaserie. Some lodges pride themselves on showing the Big Five to guests in record time, and you'll even walk away with a certificate.
Once you've done Big Five activities in Mpumalanga, it's time to ‘sweat the small stuff' and learn about wondrous creatures like the dung beetle...
- South Africa's Blue Flag beaches are on par with the best beaches in the world. These beaches, located along the extensive 3 200-km-long coastline, are operated according to strict ethics that honour the environment as well as the visitors who make use of the facilities.
Blue Flag beaches in South Africa are a very real feather in our tourism cap. To date, there are 41 beaches that have been awarded Blue Flag status, and several others are in the pilot phase.
To achieve Blue Flag status, 33 main criteria covering four aspects of coastal management have to be met. These four aspects are water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services.
Conceived in France in 1985, the Blue Flag programme is a recognised international accreditation initiative that acknowledges excellence in maintaining the highest standards of environmental management, safety, services and amenities.
South Africa was the first country, outside of Europe, to introduce the Blue Flag programme, in November 2001. Locally, the initiative has grown from just three beaches in the first year to 41 beaches in 2013/14.
Aside from the 41 beaches, five marinas, two whale-watching boats, one commercial boat and one private boat have also been awarded Blue Flag status.
Blue Flag beaches are awarded seasonally, and can be withdrawn at short notice should qualifying criteria not be fulfilled.
In South Africa, the programme is run by WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) in participation with municipal authorities. The Blue Flag website is extremely informative and offers information on each beach's location, number of lifeguards, parking, average water temperature, special birds or animals that can be seen, and facilities.
The Blue Flag Programme has been running internationally for 27 years and has been implemented in South Africa through WESSA since 2001. The programme is designed to raise environmental awareness and increase sound environmental practices among tourists, local populations and beach management.
- Great white shark conservation was pioneered in South Africa, the first country to declare this toothy predator a protected species. Perceptions have altered over the past two decades. Most adventure tourists don’t consider their trip complete until they have seen a shark, usually at Gansbaai in the Western Cape.
Of the 100-odd shark species swimming in South African waters, there is one that captures the imagination like no other – the great white shark. Their size alone has entered the realm of myth. Because they were feared, they were often killed, but that tide started to turn in 1991. That was when South Africa became the first country in the world to introduce great white shark conservation. Great white sharks were proclaimed a protected species. Other countries followed, including Namibia, Australia, the United States and Malta.
It was also in the early 1990s that the shark tourism industry started. Soon former shark fishermen saw to their astonishment that people were willing to travel vast distances for a reasonable chance of seeing this marine predator. The great white shark is officially worth much more alive than dead.
As a plus, South Africa is the only country in the world where it is relatively easy to see great white sharks. A boat ride taking less than 20 minutes will take you to ‘Shark Alley’ near Gansbaai, where operators are so confident they can show you these animals that they will usually offer a free trip in the unlikely event that you don’t see a great white. Not many people mention it these days, but the book and movie Jaws in 1975 had a profound effect on great white shark conservation. At first, it led to the persecution of these magnificent creatures across the world. They were seen as monstrous man-eaters. But as marketers will tell you, any publicity is good publicity. The fear led to an abiding fascination and a profitable shark tourism industry that has safeguarded the species in South Africa. As one shark dive operator noted: 'Jaws scared people out of the water and into the boats. People want to see them, but still be safe.'
Great white sharks remain vulnerable outside South African waters where shark hunters and fishermen still target them.
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