My first trip to South Africa was sometime in 1994, shortly before the revered icon Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected Black President of the country. I had gone on a one-week FAM trip sponsored by the defunct Air Afrique airline for their selected top selling travel agents. I was chosen in my capacity as a travel journalist to accompany the group.
We spent two days touring Johannesburg and its suburbs and travelled by road for about two hours to Pilanesberg Games Reserve, near the famous Kruger National Park, where we slept overnight in tented camps, before we made our way to the scenic Sun City, where we spent days in revelry, soaking in the sun, enjoying the exotic scenery and attractions of the famous family holiday hotspots.
I have been fortunate to travel back and forth to South Africa since 1994 till date, travelling on FAM trips and VFR (visiting friends and families) with different categories of Nigerians – mainly travel journalists and travel agents.
During the course of my numerous travels to South Africa, I have repeatedly visited the ‘three must visit’ principal cities of Johannesburg (Jo’Burg), Durban and Cape Town (the Mother City). Each visit left me with a nostalgic feeling for a return trip.
Majority of the more than 60,000 Nigerians that annually travel to South Africa mostly visit these three principal cities. If you visit any or all the three cities, you will erroneously believe you have seen South Africa in all its touristic totality.
But there is much more to see in other villages, towns and cities in South Africa than what Jo’Burg, Durban or Cape Town has to showcase. If you had not ventured to see or experience other parts of the country, you have missed a lot and ‘you haven’t seen nothing yet’.
This much I discovered during my last and recent trip, in which I was part of a delegation of stakeholders and business partners hosted by the trio of South African Tourism, South Africa Airways and South Africa Consular-General in Lagos, Ambassador Mokgethi Monaisa.
The best and most comfortable way to travel to South Africa is the less than six-hour direct flight on South Africa Airways (SAA), their national flag carrier. We flew on SAA’s gigantic skybird Airbus A340-600, seating in business class and enjoying all the on-board fine cuisine, wine and pampering available to front cabin passengers.
Though we arrived and departed from OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, the major gateway to South Africa, the plan was for us not to enter or tour the city, and all we saw of the ‘City of Gold’ was from the airport, as we connected straight away to George, the heartland of the Garden Route, on South African Express (SAX) – a low cost carrier owned by South Africa Airways.
The purpose of the trip was ‘to forge relations among our partners but also to allow you to experience South African leisure offering’. So read the invitation letter to all delegates from Hloni Pitso, Regional Manager: West Africa, South African Tourism.
Apart from our three distinguished hosts, Ambassador Monaisa, accompanied by his adorable wife, SAA’s Country Manager Nigeria, Thobi Duma, and SAT Regional Manager, West Africa, I was in the company of A-list entertainers, media gurus, top corporate executives and travel professionals like Folusho Phillips, chairman, Nigeria Economic Summit Group/Chairman, Nigeria South Africa Chamber of Commerce; Richard Iweanogie, MTN GM, Consumer Marketing & Strategy Division; Rapper MI Abaga, Actor/TV host, Joseph Benjamin, and TV host/producer, Faith History Nsa.
Others include media impresario, Alex Okosi of MTV Base; Publisher of Inside Watch Africa, Oluseyi Adegoke-Adeyemo; golfer/businessman, Dr. Fred Igbinedion; travel agencies’ association (NANTA) president, Alhaji Aminu Agoha; Publicity Secretary Ngozi Ngoka of Zigona Travels, and Tour Operators’ Association (NATOP) President, Nkewereum Onung.
The six-day, five-night FAM trip took us to George, a major tourist centre on the famous Garden Route stretch staying at the picturesque Oubaai Golf and Spa Resort, where we undertook a crash lesson on playing golf, pampered with a platonic spa and massage treatment to soothe our travel-weary nerves, after which we went on a Garden Route boating adventure and wrapped up the day with a dinner on the Kynsna Lagoon.
We awoke the next morning to beautiful skies and warm weather, which was very perfect to drive to Kynsna to visit the Elephant Park for an amazing walk, touch, feel and cuddling of the animals, after which we undertook a scenic drive to nearby Plattenberg Bay for lunch, and the day was rounded up with a sunset dinner cruise around the lagoon with a close and penetrating view of the Kynsna Heads.
We departed from George on a 55-minutes flight to Cape Town on another low-cost carrier, South African Airlink (not owned by SAA), where we were joined upon arriving Table Bay Hotel, our abode for three days, by amiable Evelyn Mahlaba, SAT’s Regional Director, Africa, and Alex Okosi of MTV Base.
A trip to South Africa will be incomplete without visiting idyllic Cape Town, known as the ‘Mother City’. However, during our visit, some parts of the city were engulfed by a raging inferno, but this calamity did not ground tourist activities to a halt, though the fire wreaked some havoc in several parts of the city.
The fire short circuited our visit to some tourist attractions, but the group still managed to do a half-day city tour on an open bus, including a visit to the legendary Table Mountain.
The next day, after an early morning breakfast at the hotel, we were all ‘sent to prison’ on a boat ride to visit the historic Robben Island Prison, where we were shown the tiny cell where late Nelson Mandela languished for 27 years; the solitary cell of another revered freedom fighter, late Robert Sobukwe, and the quarry where all the incarcerated leaders of the anti-apartheid movement toiled hours on end.
On the ferry back from Robben Island we all relived the sad memories, but was brought back to reality with an adrenaline-pumping Harley Davidson motor cycle ride from the Victoria and Alfred (V & A) waterfront, meandering through some carefully selected routes not affected by the inferno.
The Harley Davidson motorcycle riders deposited their ‘passengers’ at the entrance of the vibrant and urbane One & Only Cape Town, into the waiting and hospitable arms of smiling Ashleigh Fleming, marketing executive, and Dale Parkington, resort manager, and Clive Bennett, managing director, who came in for hand-shakes with the guests during the sumptuous lunch hosted by the hotel.
The hotel, which is nestled and elegantly situated on the city’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, also hosted another cocktail reception the next day for our group and a delegation of 63 Nigerian cyclists, who came to compete in the Cape Argus Cycling contest.
The icing on the cake of the FAM trip was left to the last day for the main event – South Africa’s most glamorous and Cape Town’s most anticipated annual ‘Veuve Clicquot Master Polo Series’, a luxury lifestyle and polo affair drawing celebs, socialites and elites to the spectacular Val de Vie Estate in Paarl, in the vast stretch of what is known as the sprawling Cape Winelands.
The group woke up to an easy morning to allow grooming time, to be properly attired to join other crème-de-la-crème for a scenic helicopter ride to the event venue. It lived up to its billing of a “delightful afternoon filled with stylish décor, eye-catching haute couture fashion and action-packed polo, with several guests pairing flutes of well-chilled Veuve Clicquot Champagne with a wide array of gourmet canapés.”
All in all, it was indeed a remarkable and memorable trip to discover and explore more and more of South Africa.