For many South Africans the opportunity to travel means visiting another country, usually on another continent. And so those with the means to do so will have places like London, Bali, New York and Mauritius on their bucket list. While Cape Town and the Kruger National Park is a dream holiday for many from further north, it’s odd that the many other wonderful spots don’t make it onto local travellers’ must-see sights.
No matter where one comes from, the call of the wild is an attraction. There’s the thrill of seeing lions in their natural surroundings, the prospect of getting up close and personal with a huge elephant, and the opportunity to watch nimble springbok jumping through the grasses. “Being exposed to the wonders of the natural world is something that one remembers forever,” explains Judiet Barnes, GM of Kruger Shalati, a new initiative by the Thebe Tourism Group.
South Africa offers safari experiences suited to many different pockets – from exclusive stays in luxury private tented camps to day visitor trips into the various State-controlled national parks. These well-run wildlife sanctuaries offer top-notch amenities, and can certainly hold their own with tourist services available anywhere in the world.
Visit parks such as the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth; the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park situated across the Kalahari and crossing from South Africa into Botswana; the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Park in northern KwaZulu-Natal; and iSimangaliso Wetlands Park a little further north on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. The largest and most well-known, the Kruger National Park, draws thousands of people from across the globe, and it’s easily accessible from the country’s major cities.
A treat for those visiting the Kruger will be Kruger Shalati, the Train on the Bridge, a unique accommodation offering that is bound to become hugely popular when it launches at the end of 2019/beginning 2020.
Barnes explains that this initiative derives from the history associated with the bridge: “Not many people realise that this is where tourism to Kruger started – in the early 1920’s the only way to visit Kruger was by rail; the train would stop in this exact spot, the guests welcomed by Lt Stevenson-Hamilton (the park’s first warden) and storytelling with a prepared feast would amuse the guests before they would get back on the train where it would be stationed on the bridge for the night before departing the next day.” She outlines that Kruger Shalati will involve upmarket, luxurious accommodation on a stationary train on the well-known Selati Bridge adjacent to Skukuza Camp.
“From one’s room on the train, you’ll be able to look down to the Sabi River running underneath, a breathtaking view that may have you seeing The Big Five from a very different perspective, as they visit the river 30 or 40 metres below the train. This is likely to become a favourite experience for both international and local tourists.”
And even if you won’t be staying over, you’ll be able to enjoy the experience from the new Kruger Station food concept with storytelling and food theatre at the centre of it, another part of the Kruger-Shalati Project, expected to launch mid-2019.
For those with an interest in art and culture, there are endless things to see and experience in our country. “A South African holiday with a focus on art and craft is really special,” Barnes says, adding that, “It’s so different from the traditions of Western art found in the world’s great art galleries like the Prado and the Hermitage that an experience of this sort is actually far more memorable.”
Watch wood-carvers in various spots in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, or tour parts of Mpumalanga to view the amazing Ndebele art painted on the exteriors of the homes of the local people. Beautiful and functional, the baskets produced in KwaZulu-Natal, such as in Fugitive’s Drift and by the communities near Hluhluwe who weave for Itala Weavers, are well worth taking a look at.
South Africa is also a wonderful destination for adventure tourism. From mountain-climbing to hiking, white water rafting and shark-cage diving to bungee jumping, South Africa offers it all – so there’s no need to fly to distant shores for that adrenalin kick.
There are loads of choices for the year-end family holiday – indeed at any time of the year. So, don’t only consider an overseas visit to have the time of your life: you’ll find that a local tour ticks all the boxes, too.