THE expression, “South Africa takes tourism seriously” is something you are likely to hear often times within the circles of travel and tourism practitioners on the African continent. This expression is likely not to mean much to those who may not have experienced the numerous tourism attractions that this Southern African country has on offer.
However, thanks to South African Tourism, the country’s tourism marketing authority, a group of travel and tourism practitioners from Ghana and Nigeria would have the opportunity to spend one week in South Africa to have a taste of the much talked about tourism attractions in the country.
The beneficiaries of this all expenses-paid trip by South African Tourism (SAT) are staff of travel and tourism companies who have had gone through the South Africa Specialist online training and had been awarded certificates. They were chosen through polls from among several SA Specialist graduates during the SAT West Africa Roadshow in August.
The twenty-five member team from the two countries also included SAT stakeholders from the SA High Commission, South African Airways, travel and tourism association representatives, VFS Global, media from both countries and SAT officials.
The 2016 edition of the annual hosting by SAT for its West Africa specialists took place at several attractions in three major provinces namely, North West, Western Cape and Gauteng Provinces respectively from Monday 5th September to Sunday 11th September.
NORTH WEST PROVINCE EXPERIENCE
Playing with Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs, Elephants and Experiencing Culture at Lesedi
The team’s first experiences were at the Chameleon Village Lion’s Park near the Hartebeesport Dam. Members of the team viewed a white tiger, a lion and lioness as well has spending time to play with two lion cubs. They also took the opportunity to take photos with a tamed cheetah and other predatory animals in the park.
Another experience the team had after lunch was at the Monkey and Elephant Sanctuary nearby. The experience include feeding the largest elephant in the park called Amarula, feeling and taking photos with two other elephants and then walking them around by inserting hand into the opening of their trunks.
From lions and elephants watching the team drove across the Crocodile River over the Hartebeesport Dam to the Lesedi Cultural Village to experience South Africa’s indigenous culture. This is a special village created to showcase the cultures of some of the ethnic groups of the country namely Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho and Pedi.
The team learned about how they lived in the villages and communities back in the day, how they protected their communities from attacks, especially from the Zulus, how they related with their women, their regime of dowry payments, how they meet to make decisions, among others. Before dinner at the village, the team had a demonstration of how each of these tribes could be identified with their dance.
Lost in the Maze, Quad Biking, Checking Out Hotels and Jet Skiing
The North West Province on the border with Botswana is home to many tourist attractions, including the world famous Sun City Resort owned and operated by the Sun International Group. The team lodged at Kingdom Resort at Pilanesnerg which was just five kilometres from Sun City.
On Wednesday the Ghanaian and Nigerian SA Specialists spent the entire day at the resort to experience almost everything they have on offer. It was a sunny day at the sprawling resort which made the experience even more exciting.
Sun City is a world on its own with several attractions and four main hotels and apartments. The hotels are the three star The Cabanas, four star Sun City Hotel and The Cascades as the five star plus Palace of Lost City! Before everything would start, the team had breakfast at the plush Palm Terrace restaurant situated at The Cabanas.
The team crossed the hanging footbridge with the view to getting to the Maze Bar through the Maze of the Lost City. There were several attempts lasting almost an hour before all the members made it out of the maze to the bar. Some cheated, ours truly included, by using the shortcut to get out of the maze. The team tasted different drinks at the Maze Bar, including Ring of Fire, Bob Marley and the eight different flavours of beer.
Members of the team were taken on a tour of all the four hotels (including the elegant Palace of the Lost City) after which they experienced quad biking safari in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve (the third largest in the country) where they saw different wildlife including rhinos, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and mpalas while still riding the four-wheeled bikes.
The team had lunch at the Monkey Brew restaurant while having other activities in-between with the final major activity being jet skiing at the Water World. The team would then go back to the Kingdom Resort, freshen up and return to Sun City for an African themed dinner that the Calabash Restaurant of the four star Sun City Hotel.
That would close the chapter on Sun City and on the experiences in the North West Province. Next were the experiences to be hard in the Western Cape Province.
WESTERN CAPE PROVINCE EXPERIENCE
Night Life and Cape Town
The team made the two-hour plus journey from the Kingdom Resort in Pilanesberg to the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to continue the journey of touring South Africa in the Western Cape Province.
It arrived in Cape Town in the afternoon to a warm reception by the leadership of the host hotel, Tsogo Sun’s Cape Sun hotel. After late lunch at the Protea Hotel the team freshened up and took to the streets of Cape Town under the leadership of the assigned tour guide Jerry Matthews.
A walk on Long Street in central Cape Town led the team to the Capello Bar and Restaurant for meals and drinks and some dancing to live band music. Another nightlife would be spent the following day at the Cubana Bar to experience another aspect of night life in Cape Town.
Robben Island Experience
Robben Island has become synonymous with the imprisonment of political activists such as Robert Sobukwe, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale and many more who had the gall to oppose the Apartheid regime.
However, it takes visiting Robben Island to know that it is not just a place used to imprison and torture political prisoners, but also a place with over four hundred years of history and a place declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Robben Island has been used for many things over the years. The Dutch who named it after seal in their language at one point used it as a leper colony. The graveyard for lepers is still there today and so are the churches, schools and post office that have served the island lying some seven kilometres from Cape Town.
The team, along with many other tourists, made the 30 minutes or so journey from the Cape Town waterfront by boat to the Island. Our team had the privilege of visiting the prison (which have been turned into a museum) and the cells that housed Nelson Mandela and his comrades as well as convicts as the first part of the tour. It was a maximum security prison until it was closed down in the late 1990s. The guide who took us round on the first leg was a former prisoner.
The second part of the tour was in a bus with a very knowledgeable tour guide who took us all the great places on the island that encapsulates its history. We saw the churches, school, the house where Sobukwe was imprisoned, the limestone quarry site where Mandela and his colleagues cracked stones, the house where guard dogs were kept and many more.
After almost two hours of touring the famous island, the team took the boat back to the mainland of Cape Town to continue the experience.
Table Mountain, Cape Town Bus Tour and Aquarium
The iconic mountain that overlooks the city of Cape Town is over 1,084 metres (Ghana’s highest mountain, Afadjato is 885 metres) above sea level and it is one of the most visited places by tourists on the African continent. Several million people have gone up this mountain via a spherical contraption known as the cable car.
They team had lunch at the top before proceeding to explore the flora and fauna of Table Mountain as well as taking a look at the breathtaking scenery from below. There were photo opportunities for the team members as they took in everything the new seventh wonder of nature has to offer its visitors.
When the team descended with the cable car to the landing stage of the mountain, was time to take the open roof red bus to tour the beautiful city of Cape Town. The trip from the mountain area through the beach with beautiful whitewashed buildings, across the stadium ended at the world famous Victoria and Albert Waterfront.
The Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront was the next destination of experience by the team from Ghana and Nigeria. The Aquarium has an amazing collection of different kinds of marine life including fishes, giant crabs, variety of sharks, plants and many more. It was a breathtaking experience at such a humongous aquarium where you sometimes feel you are under the sea.
The Aquarium experience brought to a close the site visits in Cape Town. A dinner held in the honour of the team by Southern Sun Waterfront Cape Town would precede a night out at the Cubana by some of the members of the team. Other members said they were too knackered to go out again leading to the strong ones among the team representing as worthy ambassadors.
GAUTENG PROVINCE EXPERIENCES
Helicopter Ride Across Johannesburg, Night Boat Cruise and Sandton Mall
When the team arrived in the OR Tambo Airport in the afternoon of Saturday, it was right on time to go for a ride in a chopper over the sprawling metropolis of the commercial capital of South African. The twenty-five member delegation was divided into five each to take turns in the helicopter.
The trips took the different teams to the different suburbs of Johannesburg, including Kempton Park, Sandton, Alexandria, Soweto, Soccer City and down town. It was an amazing experience that gave those who already knew the city a different view of it.
After the helicopter ride, the team drove for another two hours to the Hartebeesport Dam area for a night boat cruise. The night ended with dinner at the African restaurant in Sandton called Homebase. It was Nigerian meal and the gusto from the team in attacking the meals showed how much they’ve missed home.
The retired to the five star Sandton Hilton Hotel for night. After breakfast on Sunday and followed by shopping at the close by Sandton Mall, the Ghana team took the Gautrain to the airport enroute to Accra. The Nigerian team followed later to end of South African Tourism’s hosting of its 2016 SA Specialist Graduates.
Members of the team were tankful to SAT for the experience and gave assurance that they will share their story to ensure that many people in their respective countries would travel to South Africa to also experience what they did.