The Hidden Secrets of South Africa

Nadia Eckhardt, October 2003

Always, when touting the merits of traveling in South Africa, I focus on its almost boundless variety -- of landscapes, wildlife, and culture -- often employing the term, "A world in one country."

Though this term may seem an exaggeration, it is entirely apt, something that came home to me recently. Last April I had the pleasure of doing some advance scouting and developing of a brand-new Zegrahm program in South Africa and Namibia. I traveled areas of South Africa, as well as neighboring countries, that even I had not previously explored.

I began my scouting in the Wild Coast, Eastern Cape. This area is well named, being sparsely inhabited, little traveled, and distinguished by rivers and estuaries, mangroves, waterfalls, beaches, and coves. Many years ago, the Wild Coast proved particularly hazardous to maritime traffic; numerous ships wrecked against its rocky shores.

My welcome was much more hospitable. When I was planning my trip, the South African Tourism Board was incredibly helpful and offered me the services of a local guide. Since I had almost no experience along the Wild Coast, I gladly accepted their offer. "Zucks," my Xhosa guide, and his entire family met me at the airport in East London. I knew right away that this warm welcome presaged an extraspecial Eastern Cape experience. With Zucks's knowledge I was able to create the best-possible itinerary showcasing this unique and unspoiled corner of the country. Zucks also taught me a great deal about Xhosa history and their way of life.

I enjoyed similar treatment while scouting the Drakensberg area, St. Lucia, and Hluhluwe and Umfolozi. This is a region I am quite familiar with, and I explained to my hosts that a guide was unnecessary. However, my driver, Thathuka (a very proud Zulu), showed me parts of Kwa-Zulu Natal that I didn't know existed, and I can't wait to share some of these experiences with you. One of the high points came in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve when we encountered a white rhino, an animal Thathuka had never seen up close. Also, the sight of hippos frolicking in the St. Lucia estuary had him wide-eyed -- further proof that South Africa constantly surprises even its longtime residents.

Two other countries are part of our travels. High in the Drakensbergs we enter Lesotho -- the "Kingdom in the Sky" -- a small nation, home to the Basotho people. Then, in a first for Zegrahm, we spend two days in Mozambique, enjoying its rich birdlife and one of the finest marine environments in southern Africa.

Our wildlife experience would not be complete without visits to Kruger National Park and the Kalahari Desert. We will have exclusive use of lodges in these locations and also in Mozambique, enabling our guides to custom-design our game drives and maximize our opportunities to see the Big Five and other famed African species.

From Cape Town's cosmopolitan ambiance to trackless wilderness, South Africa holds an inexhaustible diversity. You can sample a wide range of its natural and cultural attractions by coming with me as I reveal the Hidden Secrets of South Africa.

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