Jan 22nd
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Home Travel Guide Travel Guide Topics Jaunts around Europe South Africa -- Back to My Homeland

South Africa -- Back to My Homeland

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South Africa
A Journey Back to My Homeland

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself the Prodigal Daughter, but a seven-year absence from my homeland of South Africa certainly called for a big welcome home. That’s exactly what happened when my husband and I and our two sons spent two weeks in South Africa in February. This was only my third trip home since I left the country in 1987, and it was encouraging to see how much things have changed in the new South Africa.
    This was also our sons Morgan and Duncan’s first trip to their third homeland, so they had grand-parents and other relatives to meet and exploring to do.
    On February 13th we braved the military presence at Heathrow (following rumored threats of ground-to-air missile attacks on civilian flights), and boarded our plane for the 12-hour haul to Cape Town. Thanks to comics and books, Game Boys, and individual TV, both boys remained occupied and contented throughout the flight.
    My parents picked us up at Cape Town International Airport at 7am, and as we dodged the wild taxi drivers on our way into Cape Town I noticed, still, acres and acres of shacks that line the freeway into the city center. Made mostly of corrugated iron, giant pieces of cardboard, or old newspapers, the shacks are still a shock to visitors and an ever-present reminder of the policy of apartheid.

The Fairest Cape

    After a day of rest, we piled into the car and headed for one of Cape Town’s most famous southeasterly suburbs, the naval base of Simon’s Town. Here we visited the small markets that have cropped up all over South Africa in the last 10-15 years. Hundreds of these markets offer such items as wooden and stone carvings, statues, salad spoons, and chess sets along with hand-dyed fabrics; wire, metal and bead objects; and T-shirts. This is shopping at its cheapest if you’re using dollars or Sterling. The boys had great fun spending their pocket money on inexpensive, but not tacky, ethnic goodies.
    Near Simon’s Town is Boulders Beach, where a colony of African Penguins has settled in over the last 20 years. For R10 per person (less than $2, at the current ex-change rate of 8 Rand to the dollar), you can view the penguin colony from the boardwalk, or walk down to the small beach where you can climb the boulders and sit closer to the birds.
    A good day trip from Cape Town was to Cape Point (www.cape, the most southwesterly point in Africa, and near both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Actually, Cape Agulhas, a bit farther south, is where the two oceans merge. Cape Point is worth a visit for its romance, its beauty, and its baboons. The baboons are fun to watch, but they do steal and they can bite, so you have to be wary of them. We celebrated my husband Andrew’s birthday over lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant, which affords stunning views all around. It also offers a varied menu including some typical South African dishes. On the way home, we stopped at several ever-present roadside markets to buy carvings, pottery, and cool bush hats for the boys.
    We enjoyed a couple of good beach days at Fish Hoek, which offers a wide sandy beach with safe swimming for children, two restaurants (where we sipped G&Ts while watching the boys play on the sand), and a large car park (R6 per day). Like most beaches down the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, Fish Hoek is hot and sunny in the morning, but can become quite windy in the afternoon. The western side of the peninsula is less windy, but the Atlantic Ocean is almost too cold for swimming. If you want to swim at the beach, plan mornings at the beach and afternoons sightseeing.
    A couple of miles from Fish Hoek, we found a small paradise for the boys,  Mineral World and the Scratch Patch, where you can watch semi-precious stones being washed and tumbled. You also can buy semi-precious stones in a variety of different forms. The boys paid less than $2 for a small bag (they also come in smaller and larger sizes, at appropriate prices) and chose their favorites from a selection of tumbled lapis lazuli, tiger’s eye, and  garnets. There’s also an excellent gift shop that sells jewelry and carvings at reasonable prices.

The Garden Route

    After a week in Cape Town, we headed east along the famous Garden Route to Port Elizabeth to visit more of my family. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Wimpy Restaurant in Riversdale. The Wimpy chain of restaurants offer tasty, cheap, and efficient road trip meals all across South Africa. Our meal cost just R194 ($25) for six of us, and the service was excellent.
    We spent a night in each direc-tion at the Sea Breeze Holiday Cabanas (Tel. 044-889-0098) in tiny Victoria Bay, a surfing hot-spot just 5 miles from George.
We stayed in self-catering cabanas – each with four double bedrooms and two bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, TV, and all linens – for just R310 (less than $40) per night. The cabanas are 300 yards from the small beach, which has great tide pools.
    Traveling through the picturesque beach resorts of Wilderness, Knysna (a great place to buy art), and Plettenberg Bay, and past various spots where you can bungee jump (including the highest bungee jump in the world), we reached the Tsitsikamma National Park ( za). We headed for one of our favorite places, Storm’s River Mouth (R20 adults; R10 children). The river mouth has a small beach with warm water and large but gentle swells that make for one of the best swims on the South African coastline. After our swim, we gathered for lunch at one of the South African National Parks’ Jabulani Restaurants (R240 – or $30 – for six). South African restaurants have finally started introducing salads in addition to the many meat and fish dishes on their menus, and Jabulani’s Roquefort salad was excellent.

Port Elizabeth & The Addo Elephant National Park

    Our time in Port Elizabeth involved mainly emotional family reunions, but we had time to visit Schoenmakerskop Beach with rock pools teeming with sea life and the new Boardwalk with ethnic shops and ice cream parlors, as well as a small amusement park and indoor games arcade.
    We also took the boys to Addo Elephant Park ( for their first African wildlife experience. A 90-minute drive east of Port Elizabeth, Addo is a rapidly growing park that is home to not only more than 300 elephants but also black rhino, buffalo, zebra, warthog, kudu, eland, jackal, ostrich, mongoose, and Andrew’s favorite, the industrious dung beetle. Close to the entrance (R20 adult; R10 child), we headed straight for the Domkragdam watering hole, and had to stop on the road to allow a herd of elephants, including 6 babies, to cross. At the watering hole, we watched the elephants frolic, drink and swim. Domkragdam is one of only three areas in the park where visitors are allowed to get out of their cars, and with the temperature at 100 degrees F, we enjoyed the chance to cool off in the light breeze and enjoy a real African experience. Addo is still one of the cheapest parks to stay at and has comfortable accommodations overlooking a waterhole. My parents stayed there last year and were most impressed.

Back to Cape Town

    On our return to Cape Town, one of our last ventures before leaving South Africa was a visit to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. The boys loved the aquarium and I loved the African craft market. The V&A is a popular tourist spot, but has managed to avoid becoming tacky. It’s easy to spend the day here visiting a maritime museum, numerous up market shops, hotels and restaurants, and taking a variety of boat trips from the harbor.
    We also made the trip up Table Mountain to catch some of the most spectacular views of the whole Cape Peninsula. A family cable car ticket cost R245 (just over $30) and took us, in a revolving cable car, to the top of the mountain, in less than five minutes. It was cloudy but most of this cleared within an hour and we had beautiful views all around. Take your chances and go when the weather is good, or you might find yourself staggering around up there in dense clouds or high winds.
    We were reluctant to leave the glorious Cape and my welcoming family, although two nights of muggy sleeplessness made us
look forward to cold English nights and warm duvets, but we left with a healthy glow and a promise to return soon. In the meantime, there’s more than enough of Britain and Europe on our door-step to keep us on the adventure trail.
    Stay tuned...

-- Marjorie Thorne


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