Blue Dial Watch

22. února 2013 v 1:36
National International Travel Insights

Along the Golden Mile in Durban, South Africa

As Hillary Clinton wraps up her seven nation trip to Africa, I remember the first time I visited Africa. It was over thirty years ago and I was on assignment in Kenya as a photojournalist for a local television station covering the economy and how the new democracy would impact the country. Part of the trip was spent in the city of Nairobi and part in the new world of eco tourism safaris. The era of game shooting had just transformed from rifles to cameras and the government was eager to spread the word that this was the new era of tourism.

Jump ahead a few gray hairs later, and once again I on assignment in Africa time in South Africa. Apartheid ended in 1990 and with that a new beginning for all its citizens. The country now mines for tourism not gold. This trip would bring me to Durban, Capetown, and a private game reserve called Shamwari. In 2006, South Africa had over eight million visitors. The major cities have transformed into popular destinations with luxury high rise hotels along the beach fronts and wild animal reserves popping up all across the country.

Durban is the second largest city in South Africa with a population of about four million. It has a stretch of beach front they call the Mile popular with locals, surfers, and every person staying in one of the dozens of modern, luxury hotels. There is a major convention center in the heart of the city with culture, history, night life, and food experiences that will rival that of any major city in the world. During my stay in Durban, I attended Indaba, the third largest tour operators convention in the world. There were over 13,000 attendees doing and greets with the 1800 exhibitors, all panning for the tourist dollar. There was a 14.6% increase in tourism in South Africa in 2006, nearly triple the world average, and 2007 is on a record pace. No wonder with over 100 national parks and 500 private game reserves to visit.

Accomodations range from tents under the stars or luxury high end accomodations booked by stars like Brad Pitt and John Travolta. I was pretty impressed with a place puzzingly named the Hills Hotel. Remodeled in 2005, it perched above a rocky cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean with views of passing dolphins, and during the right season (July through December), whale watching. It the kind of spot you expect to see Hollywood types lounging at their private cabanas on sunny terraces hanging on the edge of the cliff. Just a short cab ride away is the largest shopping center in the southern hemisphere Gateway Shoppertainment World (honest, I didn make that name up). This shopping mall is so big it has two skateboard parks, a wave making machine, dozens of restaurants, and hundred of stores from the high end to the hand made, from tribal items to Rolex watches. You got to visit just to brag to your friends that you seen the jackpot of shopping malls.

To really feel and experience South Africa though, you have to go on a safari. Just an hours place ride south of Durban is the small city of Port Elizabeth, which for now is a sleepy little town with a major port facility, but give it five years and you wish you invested in some local real estate. A couple of high rise hotels are going up along with new homes and condos and the port is under renovation. a 44,000 acre private game reserve that boasta over 500 species of animals and 300 species of birds. There are six different types of small, private accomodations on the reserve ranging from luxury tents to ultra modern buildings. I stayed at the Eagle Cray Lodge, the newest and most modern of the six, with my own private soaking pool, and so provate that I wondered at times if there was anyone else staying there. It so far out in the bush, that when it time to head back to the lodge for meals, the management insists you call for the guard to accompany you carries a huge, loaded rifle just in case a wild animal decides to have you for dinner.

A typical day starts with a dawn drive in a four wheel Land Rover Defender which will carry six passengers and one loaded rifle on the dash board. Our guide was Ranger Ryan and he assured me that the rifle was real as he loaded a three inch bullet into the chamber. When he saw the amazed look on my face he tried to reassure me by saying, train every week. With ponchos and warm blankets at the ready, we headed off into the reserve searching for the big five (elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes, and rhinos) and anything else that moved through the bush. We got pretty lucky when some gazelle and giraffes stopped by, a huge tortoise crossing the road, and a large sleepy lion barely lifted his head to check us out. You in the truck, the rifle is near, so for the most part you feel pretty safe.

That is until you come across your first elephant. A huge male was eating some leaves off a branch when he spotted us, and he just kept eating until the noise of my camera and my need to get a better shot ( I was jumping up and down in the last row of seats) disturbed his meal. As he circleed the truck, most of us glued to our seats, I still snapping away trying for the perfect photo-op. I been a professional photographer my whole life and along the way I developed a false sense of security when I hold a camera to my face. It separates you from your subject, giving you the feeling that you safe as long as the lens is between you and your subject. Believe me this hasn always worked out as I thought. When the big guy finally got around to my end of the truck, and there only eight feet of air between me and two white tusks, one long trunk, two large eyes, and one huge mouth, he backed up a few feet and charged at me, stopping about two feet short of the truck. Ranger Ryan later said this was a false charge just to let us know who was charge No argument there. Exhuasted after my encounter, I had a massage back a the Lodge followed by a soak in my private pool with a glass of local South African shiraz nearby.

As long as you flown this far, don miss the city of Cape Town with it revitalized waterfront. There is enough live entertainment here to bring out the rasta in anyone. To really feel the beat of South Africa, head to Long Street and any number of restaurants and bars in this hip area. Then drive along the rugged cliffs through small fishing villages, a few wineries, and the southern most points of the region while crossing from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Once back in Cape Town, take a ferry ride to Robben Island, the former rolex watches prison where Nelson Mandela and the members of the African National Congress cheap rolex were detained. Now a museum, Robben Island will help you better understand the struggles of apartheid.

Set on a hillside overlooking Walker Bay with views of Cape Hangklip, Cape Point and Cape Aghullas, it a nature lover paradise. This five star resort has two separate lodging facilities both small and private and once you let yourself relax into this hillside wonder, you won want to leave. Aside from the obvious exploration of the acres of plant life, you can take an off road champagne tour of the beach, go cage diving with white sharks, ride a horse through the reserve, hike the trails, or just relax on the beach or by the pool. It totally kid friendly and the food is fresh, local, and out of this world.

Matter of fact being in South Africa is sort of like being in another world. After all when was the last time you were stalked by an elephant, had dinner at Mama went to a mall called Shoppertainment, and stood over the point where two oceans meet while standing in a cage with great white sharks surrounding you.

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