It was simply one of the best tours we have ever been on. With its variety of landscapes, diversity of cultures and plentiful wildlife, South Africa is truly a world in one country. The tour started in beautiful Cape Town with an exhilarating cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain where we took in fabulous views of the city, beaches and ocean. An optional afternoon tour took us to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for 27 years. It is hard to describe what an emotional experience it was to stand next to his cell and hear about the daily routines from former prisoners. The view across the water back to Cape Town and Table Mountain is nothing short of magnificent.
Experiencing the rugged and windy Cape of Good Hope was a highlight for many in our group as it brought back the tales of early explorers. The views from the lighthouse were breathtaking as we hiked the numerous pathways in the area. Leaving the Cape, we ventured into the lush green valleys of wine country where we learned much about this important industry. After traveling through a spectacular mountain pass, we arrived at the semi-desert area of Little Karoo, famous for its ostrich farms. The next stop was at the seaside town of Knysna where we visited a local soup kitchen and a small school, both of which are supported financially by Craig Travel. For all of us, this was a wonderful opportunity to interact with the children and it quickly developed into a highlight of the trip. That evening we formed into smaller groups and were treated to wonderful dinners at the homes of prosperous families who regularly assist at the soup kitchen.
After a short flight to Durban we settled into our beachside hotel. The next day we toured the city before heading out to Lake St. Lucia where we enjoyed a leisurely cruise as we viewed dozens of hippos, crocodiles and several species of native birds. The following morning we experienced our first true game drive. It wasn’t more than a few minutes when we came across a small herd of white rhinos, and shortly after we encountered several Cape buffalo and a very pregnant giraffe. Later, we visited a Zulu village where we observed the re-creation of daily life, as it would have been around the early 1900’s. The group was treated to traditional dances in period costumes including the exciting war dance set to drums.
The following morning we entered the Kingdom of Swaziland. After a brief shopping stop at an upscale Craft and Candle Market we had lunch at a resort before driving to a local craft market. As we arrived, we noted that large clouds were building in the skies over the mountains. Half of the group elected to stay on the bus while the rest visited the numerous stalls filled with hand crafted articles. It wasn’t long before a teeming rain forced us to scramble for cover inside the tin-roofed stalls. As the skies darkened and the wind intensified, we were soon in the midst of a huge hail storm. The ice pellets grew larger by the minute until there were some as large as ping pong balls. They were pounding so loudly on the tin above us that we had to cover our ears. As we would soon learn, this rare storm caused a lot more damage than we could see. On our way up the mountain we drove on snow covered roads and upon reaching the hotel we discovered that all the power lines in the area were down. Fortunately the hotel had a generator which serviced the restaurant area and we were able to enjoy a warm dinner before retiring to our candle-lit rooms.
By the next morning the storm had passed and we had some wonderful views of the valley below. Our next destination was Kruger National Park, renowned for its plentiful wildlife. After settling into the luxury lodge, we walked the short boardwalk to the observation platform overlooking the Sabie River where we enjoyed a glass of wine as the sun set. The entire next day was spent in 4x4’s as we explored the natural wilderness of the park. Our expert guides could spot the slightest movement in the grasses and by the end of the day we had not only seen the Big 5, but also cheetah, giraffe, countless zebra, antelope and hyena as well as numerous colourful birds.
Heading inland, we made our way up through the mountains to the high plains enjoying spectacular views along the way. The following day we toured the capital city of Pretoria with its impressive architecture and tree lined streets, before driving on to Johannesburg. During our visit to the Apartheid Museum the following day we were led on an informative and emotional journey through the apartheid years, accentuated by our guide Beverly, who had lived through that era. Later we toured Soweto and viewed the homes of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Our morning flight took us to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. From there we drove into Botswana to our fabulous lodge in Chobe National Park. Walking along the extended boardwalk we could see families of giraffe, Cape buffalo, crocodiles and scores of birds. That evening, an incredible BBQ dinner was prepared and served on the lawn next to the river complete with live music and dancing. The following day included two fabulous game drives after which many group members took a dip in the refreshing pool. Those who rose early next morning for the game drive were treated to a fantastic up-close sighting of several female lions, together with their numerous cubs. Later that day, we made our way to Victoria Falls where we enjoyed a leisurely two hour walking tour that afforded some incredible views of the roaring water. On our last morning, some members took a short but spectacular helicopter ride over the falls.
When you put together the varied landscapes, rich cultures, abundant wildlife, knowledgeable local guides, fabulous accommodations, fine cuisine and congenial fellow travelers, this was truly a most wonderful experience.