We Sent Our Travel Expert to South Africa; Here Are Her 4 Favorite Moments

Oct 25, 2015
Bucket lists are like Christmas lists for adults. We catalog our wildest imaginations, some goals attainable and some that require a far reach. Visiting South Africa has always been a sight set too high, or so I convinced myself. Thanks to a Travelzoo deal, at a young age, I was able to check off not only one, but four items off my list of dreams and go to Africa.

Item No. 1: Exploring Cape Town

Cape Town topped the list of The New York Times world best cities this year -- and for good reason. Mandela’s spirit still permeates the entire city, especially the people. Never have I met such hospitable locals who carry a deep-seated sense of pride for their country. Their inner beauty mirrors the physical splendor of the landscape’s architecture. I experienced a slice of euphoria when staring at the silhouette of Table Mountain during sunset and driving along the coastal, surfer-laden beaches. The waterfront marina, ideally located a block from my hotel, claimed home to some of the city’s best restaurants where I dined on traditional Dutch cuisine and catches of the day. My personal favorite: kingklip (offered on any menu) and prawns drenched in garlic and chili oil at Den Anker. I spent my post-sightseeing afternoons strolling through local markets, sneaking photo-ops of sunbathing sea lions, and drinking authentic Indian tea while watching sailboats cruise in and out of the harbor.

Item No. 2: Aerial views of Cape of Good Hope

The day we visited the Cape of Good Hope was one to always be remembered from beginning to end. We first set off for Seal Island on an incredibly gloomy morning. Now, I was familiar with this place after watching one too many Shark Weeks on television. Being the shark lover that I am, you can imagine my excitement. That quickly dissipated when the trip out to the island became the perfect storm. When it was too late to turn back, the waves swelled, the rain poured, and the boat felt like it was about to tip over in water notorious for great whites. We did, in fact, survive, and the sight of thousands of seals washed away any earlier fears.

Driving through the national park of Good Hope was like a safari in it of itself. We saw ostriches, baboons and gazelles grazing in the fields. Arriving at the base of the landmark, you witness this massive rock formation surrounded by grasslands and cerulean water that formed into a wall of white as waves thrash against the rock. The real sight to see; however, is from a bird’s eye view. We rode a gondola up to the top of the lighthouse and relished in panoramic views of the concave beaches that formed South Africa’s southernmost tip. That was the moment it dawned on me ... I really am in South Africa.

Item No. 3: Diving with Great Whites

Visiting South Africa and not coming face to face with man’s most feared predator was just not an option for me. I was tipped off that many diving trips are cancelled due to even the slightest sign of inclement weather, so it is recommended to book a back-up trip. Well, I was overly cautious and booked three. The first two days were cancelled, and the last planned trip was not looking promising, either. Just as my hopes were dwindling, I received the confirmation call that we were to set off for Gansbaai in the afternoon.

Gansbaai is a small fishing village known for its dense population of white sharks. We were forewarned that sometimes we might go an hour or two without seeing a single fin. Well, it was during that introduction when the first grey silhouette appeared in the water.

I was the last group to go in the cage, and from the sounds of the screams, I knew it was the peak of the day’s shark activity. Entering the cage, I felt pure excitement that masked any fear. Once in the water and I witnessed those black, lifeless eyes, I felt immediately at ease. The sharks were surprisingly calm and aloof. They glided past us gracefully without even so much as a curiosity bump. That quickly changed when the fisherman above lured them in with bait, and the sharks immediately went into attack mode. It was a mesmerizing experience and one that will make me feel a little more at ease next time I enter the water.

Item No. 4: Spotting lions on an African safari

Our two days at Entabeni Game Reserve were spent on game drives hunting the Big Five; however, we all knew there was only one that we wanted to see ... the lion.

It was the final game drive of the trip, and we were adamant to hunt down the pack. Feeling like detectives chasing hot trails, we set off for the grasslands where we had a suspicion they were hiding. The radio ranger had reported a killing that morning, and we noticed drag tracks of what appeared to be a large antelope. We then knew we were hot on their heels.

Three vehicles were circling the premises, but it was our vehicle that spotted a fox following a scent trail from their feast. Sure enough, we followed the animal, which led us to a pack of seven massive beasts and a devoured carcass. Just like the great white sharks, they were unobtrusive, exquisite and the subject of yet another unforgettable life moment.

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