• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 8:02am

South Africa

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 12:00am

Planning


If you fancy a quiet and inexpensive vacation, don't visit between mid-December and late January. This is the peak tourist season and resorts and national parks are usually heavily booked and prices can double. Also, bear in mind that school holidays start in April, July and September, and the beaches and national parks are more crowded at these times.


Travellers should avoid South Africa in the summer as it can be uncomfortably hot, especially in the low veldt, which is treeless and exposed. If you want to experience warm weather, go to higher altitudes areas, but keep in mind the mountains can be humid and rain is frequent. Spring is the best time for flower lovers when wildflowers flourish in the Northern Cape and Western Cape provinces. Winters are mild everywhere except in the highest country, where there are frosts and occasional snowfalls.


Getting around


There are several airlines operating internally in South Africa. To see more of the countryside while travelling, albeit at a slightly higher price than flying, try the Blue Train (tel: [27] 12 334 8459; www.bluetrain.co.za) between Cape Town on the southwest coast and Johannesburg/Pretoria in the northeast. Or try one of the Rovos Rail itineraries (tel: [27]12 315 8242; www.rovos.co.za).


Accommodation


Rather than stay in Cape Town itself, 20 minutes from the city centre via a good highway passing Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is Hout Bay. Excellent accommodation is to be had at Tarragona Lodge, a boutique hotel operated on a bed-and-breakfast basis, set on a quiet road in a pretty valley but in close proximity to shopping, restaurants and the beach. It has a great swimming pool, lovely gardens and gracious hosts. Highly recommended (tel: [27]21 790 5080; www.tarragona.co.za).


Fly to Port Elizabeth on the south coast and spend a couple of days on the beach front recovering from jet lag or the trip. Stay at Brookes Hill Suites, which only costs about HK$320 a day and offers great views from the balcony (tel: [27]41 586 0990).


Activities


Forget Johannesburg. Rent a car and make a daytrip to Addo, an easy hour's drive from Port Elizabeth where you're guaranteed to see elephants and other wildlife. Then drive the 'garden route' along the south coast to Cape Town. It's about 800 kilometres, so you should do it over two or three days if you have the time. Stay at Knysna or nearby Wilderness along the way - both are blissful (try Leisure Isle Lodge in Knysna, tel: [27]44 384 0462; www.leisureislelodge.co.za). If you like wine, stay at Stellenbosch near Cape Town in the Western Cape Winelands, otherwise drive on. In Cape Town, it's better to stay on the Hout Bay side of Table Mountain or Constantia, rather than the city centre. There are plenty of great guest houses from HK$300 per night.


Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress spent years in prison for their belief that apartheid was wrong. The Robben Island penal centre, where they were incarcerated, is just 11km north of Cape Town and a trip there will leave you in no doubt of the hardship suffered. Guides are often former inmates, adding further poignancy to the visit. Don't miss the last boat back to Cape Town (tel: [27] 21 411 1006; www.robben-island.org.za).


For a Cape Town excursion with a difference, take the scenic train (the railway line is one of South Africa's oldest) to Simon's Town (www.simonstown.com). Many of the buildings on Main Street are 150 years old and have been restored to their former glory. Visit the museum to learn of the town's colourful history and then head to secluded Boulders Beach, part of the Cape Peninsula National Park. Here, you'll find a colony of 3,000 jackass penguins which have set up home among the smooth rocks. Join them for a swim - this is the only place in the world where you can.


Dining


The Camel Rock Restaurant in Scarborough, on the Cape Peninsula, south of Cape Town, is a small, privately owned operation that offers the freshest seafood of the day. Depending on the season, crayfish, whitebait, oysters and kingklip is available. The food is outstanding and the wine list short but varied. It also serves an excellent cup of coffee (Main Road. Tel: [27]21 780 1122).


In Cape Town's legal and financial district, in a building which is a historical monument, is the Five Flies restaurant. It has tremendous atmosphere, attentive service and a menu with a modern touch. There's also a nice bar for pre-dinner drinks and an excellent wine list. Best for dinner (tel: [27]21 424 4442: www.fiveflies.co.za).


If the high cost of eating out in Hong Kong frustrates you, make a beeline for the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. First, search for bargains at the elegant Victoria Wharf shopping mall, the flea markets and art galleries. Afterwards, find a waterfront table at one of the many restaurants, order a bottle of excellent Cape wine and scan the menu. The prices will bring a smile to your face. So will the food (www.waterfront.co.za).


For seafood, try the Brass Bell in Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula (tel: [27]21 788 5455). Then for an alfresco breakfast, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town is a must.


In Cape Town, I recommend the restaurant Aubergine. The food is delicious, with an emphasis on local fresh produce, and the service is good. Also, the location is convenient and there's a car park nearby with a park keeper. There's a nice terrace for outdoor dinner. We loved it so much, we went there twice during our stay (39 Barnet Street, Gardens. Tel: [27]21 465 4909; www.aubergine.co.za).


General


Rent a car from www.yourcar.co.za. Daily hire starts at R75 (HK$59) and you can rent BMWs for only R260.


Watch out for the wine. In South Africa it's served in goldfish bowl-sized glasses, usually for less than HK$20 per glass.


Although the crime rate in South Africa is statistically high, the vast majority occurs in areas tourists simply would not visit, mainly the former 'townships'. With the exception of the centres of the major cities, which are best avoided at all times, the same good sense and caution that would be exercised anywhere else in the world will suffice.


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