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Sensational South Africa

A cancelled flight and nearly 24 hours of travel are quickly forgotten when it’s late at night,

but you’re slowly enjoying a perfectly executed espresso martini, moule et frites and coconut cheesecake in a hip restaurant. Such was the happy welcome experienced by JAX FAX upon arriving in Johannesburg at the Voco Hotel in the Rosebank area. And Johannesburg was the first stop on a journey across South Africa that ranged from urban environments in Johannesburg and Durban to the countryside, with a stunning waterfall, vineyards, and finally, safari lands in the Eastern Cape on a private game reserve. 


Crafts, Clothing & Art, Music & Performance of Vibrant Culture

As impressive as the hotels, restaurants and natural resources of South Africa are, it is the tradition of the country’s people that offers the richest and most eye-opening experiences. 


At the Phansi Museum in Durban, visitors experience the clothing and objects that tell the story of a compelling, indigenous culture. For example, you’ll find a display with the capes traditionally worn by some tribal women to signify life events like marriage and pregnancy. Crafts on display included musical instruments like drums and a coffin shaped like a large fish. Brightly colored cloth tapestries hung from the wall as the tour guide spoke of her own experience being born and spending her earliest years in a traditional tribal culture. 


The powerful, indigenous culture of the country can be seen in the present day when local people perform traditional music with dancing. JAX FAX’s travel group was lucky enough to experience this kind of performance upon arriving at King Shaka International Airport in Durban. Using marimbas and drums, a troupe of men, dressed in traditional garments, acrobatically performed for at least a half-hour without pausing, an unforgettable arrival in the city. 


The Fight for Justice And Civil Rights

The joyfulness of the people and culture in present-day South Africa can make it easy to forget the long fight for justice and civil rights for the majority of people. At the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Apartheid Museum in Howick, located a little over an hour from Durban, visitors are given the chance to learn the story of Nelson Mandela, including that of his capture on a road near the museum, in detail.   Newspaper clippings and photographs, along with artifacts from the times, like the kind of handcuffs that would have been used when Mandela was arrested in 1962, along with quotes from Mandela himself, create a sensory experience. You feel the history, rather than just reading or hearing about it. 


The sensory experience continues outside the museum where a one-of-a-kind sculpture of Mandela was constructed. From a distance it looks like nothing but upright wooden planks, however, as you move closer to it, on the “Long Walk to Freedom” walkway, an image of Mandela emerges. 


The fight for justice and civil rights can also be learned from first-hand narratives at the District Six Museum in Cape Town, where JAX FAX journeyed from Durban. The museum provides a historical record of this neighborhood, which was racially, culturally and religiously integrated during Apartheid. The residents were forcibly removed and had their homes demolished by government decree. The area is still in the process of being rebuilt and re-populated.  


At the Zeitz Mocaa contemporary art museum in Cape Town, South African-born artists offer an emotionally powerful perspective of current events and the nation’s history. One exhibit on display depicted the silhouettes of white and Black people intertwined and simultaneously apart. Titled “GILT,” the artist Mary Evans tells the story of Black histories in the country. 


Natural Resources Are Never Far Off

Nearly wherever you go in South Africa you are not far from stunning natural resources. In the same city as the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Apartheid Museum is located, for example, you will find Howick Falls, offering spectacular views. 


In Cape Town, JAX FAX’s experience began with an aerial tour of the city in a helicopter. The gorgeous coastline is framed by the Table Mountain range and Table Mountain itself. The strong winds, which are common in Cape Town, were an experience in themselves, jostling the helicopter and shortening the ride. 


Less than hour’s drive from Cape Town is the beautiful wine country of Stellenbosch. JAX FAX traveled there in large offroad Jeeps provided by Jeep Tours Cape Town. A multitude of vineyards are framed by scenic mountains. JAX FAX visited three wineries there, Warwick Estate, Muratie and L’Avenir, where the beauty of the properties were as much of a draw as the wine. 


Cape Town also provides easy access to the Cape Peninsula and the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern-most point on the African continent. The scenic drive there offers gorgeous panoramic views from high vantage points, including cliffs. Those who love impressive views, and don’t shy away from a challenging hike, can climb up to The Historic Lighthouse at Cape Point.  


Best of all, for animal lovers, is Boulders Beach, where a colony of African Penguins lives. 


 The Shimansky Diamond Experience and Tour in Cape Town gives visitors a chance to polish a diamond themselves. A visit to the factory also offers a chance to shop in the company store. The staff are generous in allowing visitors to try on the merchandise.


Conservation-Minded Safari

No visit to South Africa would be complete without the extraordinary experience of seeing magnificent animals in their natural habitat. JAX FAX stayed for two nights at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in Paterson on the Eastern Cape of the country. In just a few game drives, both male and female lions were spotted, along with elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, hippopotamuses, buffalo, zebra, antelopes of multiple breeds and warthogs. And in the trees along the safari roads were little clownish vervet monkeys.


Arriving at the reserve as the sun was setting, a twilight drive revealed a mother and son rhinoceros pair, elephants feeding off bushes with long thorns, and buffalos. The following morning, the guides reported hearing the roar of lions as the sun rose. Shortly after setting out, there was a report of two male lions on the reserve, one estimated to be around nine years old and the other six years old. The younger lion, whom the guides referred to as “the nomad” had wandered onto territory claimed by the older lion, who could be seen running to confront the trespasser. He paused at one point to sit, smacking his lips opened and closed and yawning hugely to reveal impressively long, and undoubtedly sharp, canine teeth.


Later that day, a group of three lionesses were seen gamboling in the grass like housecats. The guide explained that this play aggression was how the lionesses socialized and bonded. 


In the afternoon of that second day, the mother and son rhinoceroses reappeared, the mother’s very long horn jutting into the roadway. The safari vehicle was obliged to wait patiently while mother and son ambled down the road. 


Elephants were abundant, peacefully scooping greens up with their trunks. Antelopes, such as springboks and hartebeest, were also fixtures alongside the safari roads, “pronking,” or jauntily bouncing up and down. 


Off-roading safari vehicles are nimble enough that when giraffes were spotted across what looked like a sizeable distance, the tour group was there within just a few minutes. A long giraffe neck popped up over a treetop while the animal’s companions paused nearby, revealing their golden, distinct markings practically glowing in the sun. 


The animals at Shamwari are more than beautiful features of the landscape. The reserve takes conservation, and the obligation to protect these animals, seriously. The includes employing an in-house ecologist who tracks the wellbeing of the animals and their habitat. “These lodges are not just a fancy place with a fancy bed where you can see animals,” Shamwari CEO Joe Cloete. “We play an important role in conservation.”


To that end, the reserve is proud of its Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, where animals in need of care are brought from across the Eastern Cape. 


Shamwari, like tourism in general in South Africa, connects visitors to both the greatest of comfort and luxury and the greatest of natural experiences. 


Getting There and Where to Stay 

United Airlines offers direct service from Newark Liberty International Airport to Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Delta Air Lines offers direct service to Tambo International Airport from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In-country, JAX FAX traveled flew on Safair.


In Johannesburg, JAX FAX stayed at Voco Hotel, an IHG Hotel, in Rosebank. It is modern and boutique-like in style with a great, hip restaurant, Proud Mary, on the first floor. 


In Durban, JAX FAX stayed at the Southern Sun Maharani. It is modest and comfortable with a fantastic breakfast buffet. For a luxury accommodations experience in Durban, The Oyster Box is a great choice, which also includes impressive dining experiences. Be sure to order a curry dish, as the hotel’s curry is among its claims to fame.


In Cape Town, JAX FAX stayed at The Capital 15 on Orange, a beautiful luxury-oriented hotel. 


In safari lands, in Paterson, on the Eastern Cape, JAX FAX stayed at Shamwari Private Game Reserve. The reserve offers a choice of seven lodges, each with a distinct character and experience. The safari guides couldn’t be friendlier or more hospitable—like the rest of the staff. 


JAX FAX visited in May, during South Africa’s autumn. It was mild in Johannesburg and summery in Durban. However, in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Paterson, on the Eastern Cape, it felt windy and cold, though the air temperature was in the high fifties or low sixties, Fahrenheit. 


Converters for the electrical outlets are needed that are specific to South Africa and just a few other countries. For more information and travel tips, visit www.southafrica.net

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