Since the post-Brexit referendum slump in the pound, many overseas destinations have come with a significant wallet shock. This is not the case with South Africa, where the rand has had a dismal few years and kept prices on the ground remarkably low. ‘Halve the London price’ is a decent rule of thumb, and that’s for some oft he best wines and (admittedly meat-heavy) dining in the world.
Wildlife is the obvious reason for going, with the Big Five game parks remarkably accessible even without staying in still-pricey safari lodges. Tours aren’t necessary (although they might be a better bet if you want to spot the more elusive big cats). The parks am designed for people to saunter through in a hire car.
The Kruger in the north-east is the big boy when it comes to South African safaris, but them are also options for those not fancying dosing up on anti-malarial medication. Pilanesberg National Park is an easily manageable all-rounder outside the Sun City resort. Addo Elephant National Park makes fora good tag-on at the end of a Garden Route road trip — no prizes for guessing which bulky member of the Big Five predominates there.
The lumbering pachyderms aren’t the only wildlife highlights that can be strung together on the drive. It’s possible to go swimming with seals at Plettenberg Bay, observe meerkats rise from their burrows in Oudtshoorn, and coo at penguins on the beach in Cape Town.
Cape Town is a special ingredient that makes South Africa’s recipe so enticing It’s both beach destination and design-hungry world city, natural wonder and cultural treasure trove. There’s been a much-needed increase in airlift, with British Airways and Thomas Cook launching seasonal flights from Gatwick.
The other great South African city, Johannesburg, has a very different energy. Less glam, more grit, but the downtown renewal projects have had a startlingly positive effect. It’s the place to tap into modern South Africa. The likes of the Apartheid Museum tell the horrors of the 20th century, but modern Soweto is a grand post-Mandela tale of poverty to prosperity, where the black middle-classes have stayed in their townships rather than fleeing to established wealthy neighbourhoods.
There’s a palpable sense of coming-of-age in South Africa right now — and talking to people becomes just as eye-opening as watching the wildlife.