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LIONS, AND LEOPARDS, AND RHINOS, DAVE’S ADVENTURES ACROSS SOUTHERN AFRICA

By: Dave Gordon



Three rambunctious lion cubs were only too happy to have a new friend to play with.

I didn’t know what I was in for. Each cub was the size of a four-year-old child, and just as energetic. They crawled all over me, nipped at my arms, grabbed on to my clothes with their claws, and turned me into a jungle gym. It was harmless fun, and perfectly safe (just keep them away from my neck, I was told).

Five minutes later, muddy and a bit sore, I came out of the lion cubs’ enclosure to realize that this romp with my furry friends was aonce in a lifetime experience. The photos and videos of me wrestling with these oversized kittens – and more importantly the memories – are part of what made my trip to South Africa so wonderful.

Lion and Safari Park, where I had this amazing adventure, is an outdoor emporium of free-roaming beasts, where guests can take a guided drive (in an open, but protected truck) to see up-close zebras, leopards, wildebeests, giraffes, wild dogs, cheetahs, and lions. From the vantage point of your protected truck you could be three feet from a grazing giraffe, or see a leopard bolt across the plains at top speed.

Reasons to Choose a South African Vacation

If you have not considered South Africa for your next vacation, you should know that there are many compelling reasons to visit. From New York flights can be as low as $600, and though it may take as long as 20 hours to fly there, including a stopover, the trip is definitely worth it.

The weather in South Africa is great all the time. With consistent 65-degree to 85-degree temperatures, it is neither too hot nor too cool all year round. Of course, Miami boasts good weather in the winter, too, but the mix of culture, wildlife, sights, and adventures are unique in South Africa, a mid-tier first-world country.

Of course, you can Do-It-Yourself and bob from tour site to tour site on your own. Rideshares such as Uber are widely available to take you where you want to go. But I would recommend hiring a guide, who will take you where you desire, for as long you would like, at your convenience. Additionally, a guide will ensure that you do not accidentally wander into unsafe areas.

In Johannesburg, the Jewish population is about 50,000, and there are at least nine kosher food stores.

Ultimate Safari Adventure

Just two and a half hours out of Johannesburg is one of the many famous safari areas, Pilanesberg Game Reserve. The famous Big Five reside here: rhinos, elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, and leopards. With enough time and patience, you can enjoy seeing a myriad of other African creatures, like hyenas, zebras, monkeys, and the odd impala. The tiny monkeys, in fact, like to hop around the parking lot, too! A safari is a life changing experience!

To get a feel for the indigenous population, pay a visit to the Lesedi Cultural Village, where visitors have the chance to meet and learn about people of various ethnicities: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Ndebele, and Basotho. The village features real tribespeople, not actors, who will show you their homesteads and huts, while discussing their culture, folklore, rituals, and history. Find out why they wear their local dress, and feel free to engage them in conversation about their tribal life. For instance, this is where I also found out the going rate for a Xhosa bride: nine cows!

Craft Markets

Various crafts markets can keep you shopping for hours. You can peruse handmade items, pick up last-minute curios, and get a feel for South Africa’s art world. There’s also plenty for the luxury craft hunter, including tribal-made purses, scarves, dresses, and jewelry.

In the Maboneng Precinct in Johannesburg, row upon row of street merchants, as well as boutique shops, offer locally-made wares. This is where I bought my wife a head scarf, and a handmade bead necklace (for $12). Sit on an outdoor bench and have fresh-made Ethiopian coffee.

The warehouse-filled Rosebank Flea Market and Rosebank Crafts Market provide a one stop shop for all your souvenir needs. So, whether you want tchotchkes, clothing, or local organic honey, this is the place.

At roadside shops in Hartbeespoordam, I bought a leather belt made from kudu hide (a species of antelope), and tasted several marula fruits, plucked fresh from the tree (for $20 altogether). It’s a cousin in taste to a sour plum, with a thick skin.

Another amazing adventure is visiting a diamond mine, a unique experience to South Africa. The underground tours of the Cullinan Diamond Mine give an insider’s view of how diamonds are pulled from the rock, polished, and crafted. It is a world famous mine, which has produced many of the planet’s highest quality gems, including the largest diamond ever found, the Cullian Diamond, weighing in at a phenomenal 3,106 carats. Two of the British Crown Jewels come from the mine, the 530-carat Great Star of Africa andthe 317-carat Lesser Star of Africa.

Accommodations and Food

In centrally-located Johannesburg, top-tier accommodations can be found at Genesis Suites, which has won a number of awards from TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

The amazing thing is that it is not merely a hotel, it is more like an apartment. Available are one to three-bedroom apartments, so it’s great for families, too.

It’s a real treat to have a fully-equipped kitchen, seating area, furnished living room area, as well as four-star rooms. It definitely has that spacious “home feel” to it. Their staff and support team are attentive and cheerful.

To unwind, take in Genesis’ fitness centre or pool, or stroll around the hotel plaza, which has two supermarkets (Woolworth’s, and Pick n Pay), a kosher bagel restaurant (Bagel Zone), Seattle coffee shop, and about a dozen other shops. Pick n Pay has a wide variety of kosher offerings, including shelf upon shelf of meats, a take-out counter with prepared foods, a salad bar, and many other items that will never leave the kosher traveler hungry.

Do try Pick n Pay kosher biltong, a delicacy comprised of dried seasoned meat strips. It’s like beef jerky, only tougher, less sweet, and less processed. Single serving bags sell typically for $5.00.

In addition to kosher food availability
within arm’s reach, several synagogues are in the area, within walking distance.

American consumers might also enjoy the fact that our currency is stronger (the rate is 14.5 Rand to $1.00) and most grocery food items are about thirty percent cheaper than what you would find at our local stores.

Cape Town

Considered the “Jewel of SouthAfrica,” Cape Town is comparable to Seattle in many ways: it is a mountainous coastal city with a rich and vibrant architectural landscape. There is ample beach to stroll along, and near the waterfront is the Sea Point neighborhood, brimming with hotels, as well as several betei knesset within walking distance.

The Jewish population of Cape Town is said to be about 20,000, and there is no shortage of kosher food. There are Jewish museums in both Johannesburg, and Cape Town.

Typically, flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town range from $100 to $150, and leave virtually every half hour. The flight is
1.5 hours, and if you are adventurous, the drive is 16 hours.

Table Mountain is one of the must-see attractions, with a stunning view from the top. Take the cable car to the peak, and couple it with Boulder’s Penguin’s and Cape Point for a day’s excursion. (Yes, penguins are on the beach for all to see!)

The following day, book a tour of Robben Island and a local township tour, and pair that with a canal cruise to see the waterfront in all its glory.

Aquila Private Game Reserve is a nearby attraction, where there are opportunities to enjoy a full day safari on horseback. See the “Big Five” and much more, up close, while peering over the jaw dropping views of the wilderness.

All tolled, South Africa offers a great 10-day vacation, not including flight times.

South Africa ought to be on the list for a “to get to” vacation, one like you’ve never experienced.

The safaris, the history, the sights, the people, and the adventures, are all good reasons to visit.