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Jonathan Rossouw's South Africa
Perhaps I'm slightly biased, growing up as I did in the wild parts of South Africa, but it seems to me that no country lays greater claim to this oft-quoted title of ‘the World in One Country.’ Without even taking into consideration the fascinating, multifaceted complexity of its human history, from Australopithecus to Zuma, South Africa is unique.
To understand this uniqueness, you need to start with its geographical location, a lop-sided triangle of land straddling the Tropic of Capricorn at the southern tip of the "Mother Continent.” The central part of the supercontinent of Gondwana, Africa maintained its position when the Indian Subcontinent, South America and Madagascar took off for new destinations. Creaking along its edges, it pushed up the ancient seabed into ranges of wildly contorted geology, today famous as the Drakensberg, or “Dragon’s Mountains,” and the scenic Cape Fold Ranges of South Africa. At the foot of this escarpment, in the east, lie the endless thorn country of Zululand and the fertile upland grasslands of Natal, merging gently southwards through the cool forests of the eastern Cape to the wondrous Cape Floral Kingdom. Here, evolution reaches its apogee with a botanical diversity unprecedented in the history of life on our planet: the fabulous fynbos, or fine bush, of the Cape Floral Kingdom, home to over 12,000 plant species in an area smaller than Connecticut, with some surveyed plots of one square mile hosting more diversity than the whole of Britain!
To these terrestrial riches, add a marine component. Fan the east coast with a tropical, southward-flowing oceanic stream (the Agulhas Current), supporting the world’s southernmost coral reefs and providing the humid air that keeps the hinterland lush and green year-round. Add a frigid, plankton-rich stream from Antarctica (the Benguela Current) up the west coast, creating a Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters that foster all that botanical diversity… and some of the world's finest wines!
This is the geographical tableau against which our South Africa ship voyage unfolds. Beginning in the northeast, we follow the Agulhas Current southwards from Durban, along the dramatic and little-visited Wild Coast. Arriving in the Eastern Cape, we’re treated to a wealth of wildlife in the form of visits to the world-famous Addo Elephant Park, where we’ll experience primordial pachyderms in their most southerly refuge, and the Gondwana Game Reserve, with its populations of the “Big Five,” along with such lesser known, but no less interesting mammals, as Cape Mountain Zebra and Cape Grysbok. We’ll also marvel at the moss-encrusted forests of the famous Garden Route, and enjoy our first taste of the immense botanical diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Continuing our pilgrimage, we round Africa’s southernmost point at Cape Agulhas, before passing the infamous Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town. Here, mountains, beaches, flora, vineyards, and a rich tapestry of human history collide in a magical juxtaposition that has rightly earned South Africa’s Mother City the title of “One of the World’s Most Beautiful Cities.” (Forbes 2010.)
The cool oceans along the Cape’s west coast are home to rookeries of charismatic Cape Fur Seals, often alongside equally raucous colonies of Jackass Penguins, Africa’s only representative of the penguin tribe. For those with a particular interest in things marine, we’ll venture out to a Cape Fur Seal rookery in search of one of the world’s most notorious marine predators, the Great White Shark. We’ll also watch for the scarce and localized Heaviside’s Dolphin, a handsome endemic entirely restricted to the cold Benguela Current.
On land, our explorations will offer ample opportunities for appreciating some of the botanical wonders for which the region is famous, along with a rich assemblage of endemic birds, such as the dapper Cape Rockjumper, jewel-like Orange-breasted Sunbird, and extravagant Cape Sugarbird.
Interested in the history of this fascinating country? Read David Conrad's thoughts, here.
To learn more about our incredible South Africa & Namibia by Sea expedition, visit our trip page.