“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”
You would be right to think this quote belonged to an unflinching traveller. This man’s journey, however, was different to your average luggage-laden escapade. Both epic in proportion and politically transforming, his inspiring life became the subject of a blockbuster film, released earlier this year. You have probably guessed already – the words are those of South Africa’s first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela. Certainly, the optimism and determination of this one man, who brought democracy to a country savaged by Apartheid, has opened up a much brighter future to its people. And the people’s response was immense. Recently, we bore witness to the nation’s flamboyant celebrations, as the nation said goodbye to their former leader – a man who changed the mindset of a country.
Today, it is difficult for visitors to leave South Africa without feeling just a little bit changed themselves. Granted, the country is visually splendid. But it is also fascinating on an emotional level. So if you subscribe to the view that travel is as much about personal change as the places you visit, then you will find yourself utterly absorbed. You will certainly come back with more than an SD card full of photographs. What’s more, there are more celebrations on the cards. In April 2014 the Rainbow nation celebrates its 20th anniversary of democracy. So, if you have been considering a visit, now could be the perfect time. With that in mind, we decided to share a few of Exodus’ favourite spots.
Cape Town and surrounds
Whether milling about the creative stalls of Neighbourhoods Market or a trek up Table Mountain, one thing is for sure – Cape Town has something for you. It was here, from the City Hall, where Mandela addressed a large, rapturous crowd after his release from prison in 1990. The prison on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 years in captivity, is only a short hop from the mainland. As an inhospitable monument to the country’s tumultuous past, Mandela’s daily struggle becomes evident as you are shown around by some of the prison’s old in-mates. The island’s significance to global history is considered so profound that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a less sobering South African adventure, the coastline and the wine regions around Cape Town are an inevitable draw. The Cape Peninsula, with its flawless seascapes, is pure cyclist ecstasy. Head over for the world’s largest individual time cycling event – The Cape Argus. (We’re not allowed to call it a race!) Here, you’ll put your tread to the test as you wind around Chapman’s Peak, past concealed bays and cute seaside towns. Exhilarating!
Of course, you could take a more moderate two wheeled approach and discover the wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, only a short ride away. Don’t forget so save the thirst you have worked up for sly glass of Shiraz though.
Cape Town is also a popular start, or end point, for those who take the road trip of all road trips: The Garden Route. It meanders along pristine, craggy coastline, past alluring lagoons and lakes, as well as forests that seem like they’ve been lifted from a Tolkien novel. Go whale watching in Hermanus, seek out elephants in Addo National Park, or camp at the mouth of the Storm’s Rover National Park. And you thought Kent was nice.
KwaZulu-Natal and Kruger
For those of you that have seen Mandela’s biopic, you will have awed at the opening scene; a young Mandela roams free amidst soft rolling hills, with a backdrop of verdant escarpments. The filming location: Drakensberg, in KwaZulu-Natal. Trek the Drakensberg Mountains, the Kingdom of Swaziland, the lesser-visited forests of Mpumalanga, and through lowlands that offer the looming perspective of the area’s signature ragged ridges. The state of KwaZulu-Natal is also where Mandela walked his last steps as a free man, before his conviction saw him imprisoned for over a quarter of a century. On top of this, it is home to famous battlefields like Rourke’s Drift, to satisfy the historians amongst you.
Further north is the Kruger National Park, the respected grandfather of the country’s game reserves. Bristling with bewildering wildlife, you are sure to enjoy some unforgettable encounters. In fact, the park boasts around 150 species of mammal. Barely surprising though, when you consider it is similar in size to Wales. So there we have it. A fleeting peek at a country steeped in both touching modern history and irresistible landscapes. And this year South Africa not only celebrates the life of its former president, but also what he stood for: democracy. And a full twenty years of it! The South African government have promised the country can expect a show. The good news – you’re all invited. This article was written for Exodus by guest blogger