South Africa Always Steals the Limelight

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A 2- or 3-day stay in Joburg will give visitors an ample glimpse of modern Africa before moving on to the fabled “African experience”— the wild terrain dotted with exotic and colorful townships and the landscape that’s the iconic mind picture most Americans have of South Africa.

mpumalanga Perhaps nowhere is this so manifest as in Mpumalanga Province, about 200 miles northeast of Johannesburg, a marvelous area epitomizingsome of the best South Africa has to offer.

Because of Mpumalanga’s vast natural attractions, an increasing number of tour companies are adding itineraries there.

“South Africa is an amazing destination,” adds Armstrong, “because, even though the entire country is less than twice the size of Texas, it has incredible diversity. Wildlife safaris are certainly the most obvious draw for travelers. But South Africa also has a dramatic coastline, beautiful wine country and an incredibly rich culture.”

Tauck World Discovery’s most popular tour is South Africa: An Elegant Adventure, a 12-day excursion (from $6,090 pp dbl plus air) that stops in Cape Town, after visiting wild game reserves, and culminates at Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls.

Jean Fawcett, manager of public relations at Abercrombie & Kent, agrees that South Africa remains one of the most popular destinations and that the company is always exploring options to make its tours “… an experience to get a singular perspective of this most alluring destination.”

According to Fawcett, Abercrombie & Kent’s Signature South Africa tour (12 days from $7,995 pp sans air) “is an independent journey that reveals the country in all its majesty. Everything has been planned, from strolls through Cape Town’s tranquil gardens, to thrilling game safari drives.”

After driving along the chiseled and brawny coastline of Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, there are guided trips through the famous South African Winelands before moving on to see bush life and wild game in a plush reserve bordering Kruger National Park.

Those coming to see South Africa unplugged would be remiss to skip Mpumalanga, perhaps its most exotic and colorful province.

Vula Tours, a local company with strong ties to American travel agents during its 15 years in operation, caters exclusively to those planning independent tours.

Based in Nelspruit (or Mbombela), Mpumalanga’s capital, about 220 miles northeast of Johannesburg, Vula (the name means “to open” in Zulu) will coordinate with travel agents to transport clients from Joburg or from Nespruit’s White River International Airport through Mpumalanga’s marvelous countryside.

According to Vula’s Leon Smith, prices vary, depending on a client’s wishes. Its busiest season for Americans, he adds, runs from September to April, the height of winter in the northern latitudes, and he credits Vula’s success to its reliance on a wide selection of quaint, private lodges for accommodations, plus its intricate knowledge of the best places to view wild game—the main reason most foreigners venture into Mpumalanga.

There’s a great sense of serenity in the Mpumalanga highveld where great rolling grassy hills seem to stretch to the end of the world. One of the area’s treasures is Walkersons Hotel and Spa, a remote, secluded and peaceful retreat that bills itself as “a hotel of exceptional character.” It’s that and much more.

The main structure looks like it was transplanted from the Bavarian Alps, reflecting the Germanic roots of early South African settlers.

Walkersons features 14 lakefront suites. There is a manor suite with two bedrooms, plus a honeymoon suite for couples seeking blissful solitude. Rates for a lakeside cottage run from about $190 per night dbl, to about $390 for a honeymoon suite. All have private patios, stone fireplaces and amenities that reflect its upscale ambiance.

The property also features three self-catering cottages for fishermen who come to this remote South African hideaway to cast lines in peaceful surroundings.

Walkersons also has a sparkling pool, a 2,000-bottle wine cellar, an imposing lounge and one of the best dining rooms in the province. Waiters in its stone walled restaurant are incongruously clad in kilts, and dining under the glow of candlelight while a wood-burning fireplace roars in a corner is an unforgettable experience.

The exquisite menu changes daily, usually consisting of a table d’hote, 5-course dinner featuring local dishes that outshine those served in larger resorts. There are birdwatching excursions, horseback riding, hiking and great fly-fishing along a river accented by waterfalls. Although Walkersons adheres to a catch and release policy, anglers may opt to have the chef prepare their catch for dinner. The gym and spa are also superlative.