Stunning landscapes and warm and friendly people make South Africa a popular destination for travelers. Go during Nebraska’s winter, and you'll be in the heart of summer for a South African adventure of a lifetime.
Mine took me to the southern-most tip of Africa for tours of Cape Town, Hoedspruit, and Kapama Game Reserve. The weather was beautiful for all 10 days of a customized journey that lived up to its billing as a "transformational experience.''
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Located on the slope of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is considered one of the great botanical gardens of the world. Walking paths wind through the gardens, allowing visitors to experience a wide variety of plant life in the Cape Flora Kingdom. I enjoyed lunch at the café while other guests picnicked on the grounds. In either case, you're surrounded by lush beauty.
On my first day in Cape Town, my guide and I cycled from the V&A Waterfront to the Oranjezicht City Farm Market on Granger Bay. The Saturday market features fruits, vegetables, sandwiches, specialty coffees, desserts and seafood. I enjoyed fantastic samosas and oysters while looking out over the water.
This flat-topped mountain overlooks Cape Town. It is accessible by cable car or foot and offers stunning views of Cape Town. I rode the cable car, which took about 5 minutes to reach the summit. The top of the mountain was fairly foggy, but at times the fog broke just long enough for a sneak peek of the city below. The fog can roll in quickly in Cape Town, so if it’s clear, head for the summit.
For me, traveling is also about connecting with the community and learning about the issues of a particular region. While in Cape Town, I worked with Uthando, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for community development projects in South Africa. Uthando prides itself in offering respectful and culturally sensitive philanthropic tours and experiences. With its assistance, I visited four nonprofits in the township of Khayelitsha. More than 2 million people live in this township, most in shacks, with high unemployment. The sites I visited were focused on agriculture, education, job skills and technology. It was a wonderful morning of conversation with individuals who know the issues first-hand.
Betty’s Bay Penguin Colony
Nearly 10,000 African Penguins call the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay home. The boardwalk that runs throughout the reserve provides a wonderful viewing platform to see the penguins as they go about their day.
Shark Cage Diving in Gansbaai
Two hours by car east from Cape Town, Gansbaai is known for Great White Shark diving. After growing up on the East Coast, I've always been fascinated with the ocean and marine wildlife. So this was an experience I couldn't pass up. Although we did not see a Great White, we did see five Copper sharks, which were majestic and breathtaking.
The towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl make up The Winelands region, which is an easy drive from Cape Town. Here, you can meander and enjoy a tasting or two. One of my most significant stops in the area was Drakenstein Correctional Centre, formerly Victor Verster Prison, where Nelson Mandela was held before his release after 27 years as a political prisoner. A large statue of Mandela with fist raised stands outside the gates.
Kapama Private Game Reserve
Game drives are held twice each day, from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. After the morning game drive, guests can enjoy spa treatments and delicious meals at the lodge. Safari sunsets are a feature of the afternoon game drive, followed by dinner with guests sharing your vehicle. My safari companions were from Australia, England and Oman. (I was the first Nebraskan they had met!). Our guide and tracker were both incredibly knowledgeable, and in the five drives I participated in, we were fortunate to see the Big Five of Africa – lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant – plus an array of other wildlife. It had been a dream of mine to see these creatures up close in their native habitat.
Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
The center is on the reserve property, so I visited one afternoon to learn more about the conservation and sustainability of rare and vulnerable animals, particularly cheetahs. Being at the center provided the chance to view the animals up close and learn more about the steps being taken to support their long-term survival.
Camp Jabulani Elephant Experience
Also on the reserve, Camp Jabulani started in 1997 after an elephant named Jabulani was rescued from a dam. He was nursed back to health and after several failed release attempts, found a home with another rescued herd. The herd, which now totals almost a dozen, lives on the reserve and is cared for by keepers. I had the chance to meet four of the elephants, learn more about their family and feed them – an unforgettable morning.
Lenli hasn't checked her baggage in years. Everything she does bring has to work together. For her trip to South Africa, she picked up a great travel backpack from Nomatic (https://www.nomatic.com/pages/nomatic-travel-bag) that fit all of her clothes and necessities. She paired that with her trusty North Face backpack from college, which held her camera, books and other essentials for the plane. Since it was summer, she was able to stick with a number of V-neck shirts, several pairs of shorts, a pair of jeans, a swimsuit for shark diving, a rain jacket, a couple of nicer outfits for dinner on safari, flats, and a pair of ankle boots that were great for the dusty reserve.
"Having everything easily accessible and able to carry provided me with the ease of moving through customs and around the airport because I did not have to deal with checked baggage and did not have to worry about showing up to my destination and find out that my bag did not make it. It also makes me really consider what is needed for a trip, which saves me from over-packing,'' she says.
About the author
Lenli Corbett lives in Omaha and is executive director of Champions of Aging, an organization that advocates for older workers and the experience, judgment and knowledge they bring to the workplace and community.