Into (the Inexpensive) Africa
|STEP INTO THE WILD: Trekkers braving the Imfolozi game paths on a wilderness walk (Nathan Borchelt)|
Given that you sacrifice a day flying from the States into either Johannesburg or Cape Town, most two-week vacations become a meager ten days. Facing that allotment, you typically must make the choice: Hang in the Mediterranean climes of Cape Town and its intoxicating environs, or aim for the more rugged and less westernized parts of South Africa like the Wild Coast or the bushveld of Swaziland and KwaZulu-Natal. But if you plan well in advance, you can have both worlds-South African Airlines, British Airlines, and other African carriers made daily flights in and out of most gateway cities, and outfitters like Durban-based Gibela Safaris (031.209.7005, www.gibelasafaris.co.za/) or Cape Town's Adventure Village (021.424.1580) are essential allies in seeing the best of the country with the minimal amount of wasted time. And yes, they're also known to enjoy a bottle of Windhoek (Namibia's famous brew)Â…after all, you don't want to make the mistake of rushing through your vacation.
Before assembling your plan of all-out attack, ask yourself: Do I want to experience the less-Westernized, more authentic Africa (in other words, the rougher bit) at the beginning of my trip or at the end? Our itinerary introduces you to the wild, more rigorous version in the first section of the trip, so that you can decompress and relax at the end-well, relax as much as an adventure haven like Cape Town will allow. Naturally this structure could easily be reversed based on desire, tour availability, or price differences.
Day 1: Fly into Jo'burg and catch a flight to Durban (advanced purchase tends to be cheaperÂ—check out offers on such airlines as South African Airlines, British Airways, Comair, and Sun Air). Durban, a vibrant mÃ©lange of Muslim, Zulu, and other African cultures, is the third largest city in South Africa and the gateway to the province of KwaZulu-Natal (aka, the Zulu Kingdom).
Days 2-5: Head into the heart of Zululand, to Africa's oldest game reserve. Established in 1895, Imfolozi National Park (www.game-reserve.com/south-africa_hluhluwe-umfolozi.html), became famous for its white rhino conservation, but the full breadth of African animals reside in this massive national park, including the famed Big Five. The summers here are near-insufferably hot, but come fall (spring to us northerners) the temperatures drop and hiking proves less laborious. Not only is Imfolozi the continent's oldest park, it's also one of the most unique. Unlike most game reserves, which require you stay in safari vehicles, Imfolozi hosts a series of three- to five-day Wilderness Walks, where the vehicles are left behind and you take to the actual animal tracks with two park guides. There are three types of hikes-one year-round, and two held only from March through November-each suited to your skill level. It is rigorous, and you will be in the bush for roughly a third of your ten days...but it's worth it.
The luxe-leaning can still enjoy Imfolozi. Simply head for the upper-end rest camps like Hilltop Camp (the oldest in the province), which has a restaurant, bar, and gift shop.
Day 6: Return to Durban and fly to Cape Town. South Africa's oldest city is an outdoor urbanite's dream: the city is beautiful and modern, flanked on all sides by natural wonders. For maximum flexibility, we recommend you rent a car once in Cape Town, which will allow a degree of flexibility to mix and match the following days' activities based on daily desire, weather, and time constraints.
Day 7: Spend your first day exploring Cape Town-climb or ride the cable car up to Table Mountain and if heights don't scare you, abseil mid-way down. Try sea kayaking in Hout Bay, or mountain biking the Tokai Plantation. Then again, after your days in the bush, a beach-side restaurant may be just what the intrepid traveler desires.
Day 8: Day-trip out to the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. It's not the true southernmost point of Africa, but the scenery is endlessly more striking than the real spot. Day hikes abound, and vast schools of braying Jackass penguins clutter the beaches. Mid-drive you can also check out several ostrich farms, or take a side-route to Long Beach for some horseback riding.
Day 9: It's the last day-you've every right to pamper yourself. Hook up with Cape Town-based Ocean & Vine (email@example.com; www.wine.co.za) and let local Wayne Donaldson take you on a daylong tour of the Western Cape wine region, which houses as many as 300 estates. He'll drive, you drink and eat and drink and eat and try to forget that your flight departs the next day.
Day 10: Sad but true...it's time to head home.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication