South­ern Ex­po­sure

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - OCTOBER -

From an­cient his­tory to ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion, South Africa of­fers a wealth of sur­prises.

YOU HAVE TO go to Jo­han­nes­burg,” is not a phrase I’ve ever used be­fore, or heard any­one else use for that mat­ter. His­tor­i­cally trou­bled, no­to­ri­ously dan­ger­ous and ar­chi­tec­turally jar­ring, the largest city in South Africa tra­di­tion­ally fea­tures on travel itin­er­ar­ies as a stopover for jour­neys north to the coun­try’s na­tional parks or south to wine lands and beau­ti­ful Cape Town — and lit­tle else. But over the 20 years since I first vis­ited the coun­try on a month-long road trip, it has be­come one of the most for­ward-think­ing cities on the con­ti­nent, with pride in its art-filled streets and emerg­ing creative hubs. For the first time, I find my­self ex­tolling its virtues to every­one I meet.

‘Jozi’, as it’s af­fec­tion­ately known, sits atop a sec­tion of the world’s largest gold re­serve, a 300-kilo­me­tre curve that’s al­ready pro­duced more than 40,000 tonnes — half the gold ever mined on Earth. The city has not al­ways at­tracted a vir­tu­ous crowd, be­com­ing known for thrill-seek­ers, for­tune-hun­ters and swindlers, many of them im­mi­grants from sur­round­ing na­tions. Crime in the in­ner-city core meant prop­erty prices fell and lo­cals fled to the sub­urbs. How­ever in re­cent years, savvy de­vel­op­ers have been mov­ing back in, spark­ing the re­gen­er­a­tion of pre­vi­ously ne­glected neigh­bour­hoods such as Mabo­neng.

I’m vis­it­ing the district for the first time through Ad­ven­ture World Travel, a tour op­er­a­tor with a strong com­mu­nity fo­cus that ex­cels in craft­ing be­spoke, tai­lored jour­neys cater­ing to in­di­vid­ual time frames, bud­gets and in­ter­ests. Cul­ture and food were among my pre­req­ui­sites, and Mabo­neng, on the eastern in­dus­trial fringe of Jo­han­nes­burg, seemed a nat­u­ral fit.

I am guided through her­itage ware­houses that have been turned into im­pos­si­bly trendy cafes and art gal­leries, in­clud­ing the Mu­seum of African De­sign (MOAD) — the con­ti­nent’s first and only mu­seum of Pan-African de­sign — which has hosted shows by the likes of Kevin Krapf and Jo No­ero. At Arts on Main, a con­verted cen­tury-old in­dus­trial com­plex, there are book­stores, art stu­dios and bou­tiques, linked by steel stair­cases. High­lights in­clude a store called I Was Shot in Joburg, where you can buy can­vases, note­books and post­cards printed with pho­tographs taken by street chil­dren us­ing dis­pos­able cam­eras; and Bai­leys African His­tory Archive, stocked with 40 years of his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial from DRUM mag­a­zine. The court­yard cafe Can­teen, laced with olive and lemon trees, serves sea­sonal fare that might in­clude spring­bok carpac­cio or bil­tong with chips. On Sun­days you can head to the food stalls at Mar­ket on Main.

Up the street is AREA3, a mul­ti­pur­pose space spon­sored by Adi­das that cel­e­brates both emerg­ing artists and the brand’s story through ro­tat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions. But you don’t need to be in­side to ap­pre­ci­ate the neigh­bour­hood’s cre­ativ­ity. There are

dozens of pub­lic art­works through­out Mabo­neng, from mu­rals by artists wield­ing spray cans to in­stal­la­tions such as Kim Lieber­man’s Hu­man In­ter­sec­tion — a laneway full of cre­ations by art lu­mi­nar­ies such as Wil­liam Ken­tridge and David Krut.

Floors above street level, beanie-clad hip­sters gaze across the sky­line from Liv­ing Room, an open-air restau­rant-cum­gallery with ex­pan­sive green walls and a menu that bounces be­tween Mid­dle Eastern and Moroc­can. Down­stairs is Co­co­bel, set in an old Chevy truck and dish­ing up sweet treats such as waf­fles on a stick, ice-cream and adults-only san­gria slushies.

Many in the neigh­bour­hood check in to the bou­tique 12 Decades Jo­han­nes­burg Art Ho­tel. But it’s hard to look past the lush grounds of nearby Fair­lawns Bou­tique Ho­tel & Spa, where ex­pan­sive suites sit in her­itage vil­las that were once the grand res­i­dence of the Op­pen­heimer fam­ily (whose Bren­thurst gar­den­ing projects are well-known through­out South Africa). Ev­ery­where I turn there are cov­etable ob­jects, and they take you from out­back Africa (tribal masks) to Ming dy­nasty China (im­pres­sive vases). The su­perb restau­rant at the ho­tel over­looks a pool sur­rounded by man­i­cured gar­dens, and there’s a new Muse Cham­pagne Room by Per­rier-Jouët where flutes are filled while you sink into emer­ald-hued vel­vet so­fas by an open fire.

CAPE TOWN CALL­ING

While ‘Jozi’ em­braces her new­found pop­u­lar­ity, Cape Town has been in the news for all the wrong rea­sons in re­cent months, grap­pling with a three-year drought that has all but drained Thee­wa­ter­skloof Dam, the city’s big­gest reser­voir. But Day Zero — the mo­ment Cape Town will run out of wa­ter — has been pushed back to 2019. And hope­fully fur­ther, if weather re­ports the day we touch down are any­thing to go by.

It’s pour­ing when we ar­rive, and this barely stops for the next three days. Luck­ily The Twelve Apos­tles ho­tel is my base, and I want ev­ery ex­cuse not to leave. Perched on a cliff over­look­ing Camps Bay, back­dropped by the dra­matic Twelve Apos­tles Moun­tain Range, the low-slung 1929 build­ing is all Cape Dutch in ar­chi­tec­ture and mod-African in room de­sign. In The Leop­ard Bar you can par­take in gin flights or make your own botan­i­cal-packed bot­tle to take home, while in the spa there are grot­toes for soak­ing as well as treat­ments us­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing heated stones, plant ex­tracts and shells.

Given the drought, there are buck­ets placed un­der taps to catch grey wa­ter that is then reused on gar­dens — in fact, the ho­tel has es­tab­lished a ded­i­cated ‘Green Team’ to fore­cast and im­ple­ment such ini­tia­tives. The staff in­volved are re­spon­si­ble for ed­u­cat­ing fel­low em­ploy­ees and guests on con­ser­va­tion mat­ters, whether it’s tak­ing a two-minute shower with a timer or not flush­ing the toi­let af­ter ev­ery use. The pro­gram has en­sured that the wa­ter con­sump­tion was re­duced by more than 42 per cent be­tween 2016 and 2017.

The at­ten­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal de­tail comes as no sur­prise, given that the prop­erty is part of Red Car­na­tion Ho­tels. Like Ad­ven­ture World, the luxe ac­com­mo­da­tion port­fo­lio is owned by par­ent com­pany The Travel Cor­po­ra­tion. The en­tire brand is ded­i­cated to con­serv­ing the des­ti­na­tions it cov­ers, work­ing with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in more than 35 sus­tain­able tourism projects world­wide through The Tread­Right Foun­da­tion.

Back out­side, the wild weather is con­tin­u­ing its on­slaught as we scale Lion’s Head, a dizzy­ing peak wedged be­tween Ta­ble Moun­tain and Sig­nal Hill. We scam­per up slip­pery slabs of lime­stone to a fyn­bos-shrouded boul­der, where we use leop­ard-like moves to haul our­selves up sheer cliff faces and through nar­row crevices. It’s not for the faint of heart: there are mo­ments when mine al­most stops, es­pe­cially when clouds en­cir­cle the 670-me­tre cap and cre­ate an in­stant white-out.

Back at ground level and with much surer foot­ing, we wan­der around the stun­ning coast­line. Each bend in the road re­veals scenery more breath­tak­ing than the last, where Cape Dutch-style homes perch in sleepy coves amid fish­ing huts, over­look­ing beau­ti­ful beaches where seals and pen­guins play.

GO­ING BUSH

While many trav­ellers choose to jour­ney from Cape Town to the neigh­bour­ing wine re­gions of Stel­len­bosch and Fran­schhoek, we in­stead head fur­ther north to a gor­geous, un­peo­pled patch of coun­try­side among the spec­tac­u­lar Ceder­berg Moun­tains.

Noth­ing quite pre­pares you for the drama of Bush­mans Kloof, a pri­vate na­ture re­serve — and an­other Red Car­na­tion ho­tel — sur­rounded on most sides by sheer sand­stone cliffs that of­ten seem just like an artist’s smudge of rusty reds and dusty pur­ples. Rooms with art from a pri­vate col­lec­tion sit steps from nat­u­ral ponds and swimmable pools, all draped by a chan­de­lier-like cas­cade of fly­catcher bird nests, hang­ing from the firm branches of en­dan­gered Clan­william cedar trees.

This wilder­ness re­treat and Na­tional Her­itage site — once a rooi­bos and potato farm — isn’t as pop­u­lated with an­i­mals as other parts of the coun­try, but we do spot the oc­ca­sional bon­te­bok, eland and black wilde­beest, and see faint leop­ard paw prints on the ground. Apart from the seclu­sion, the real rea­son to come here is for the an­cient rock art, which was hid­den on cliff faces and dates back more than 10,000 years. Some say it’s the oldest of its kind on Earth.

The San Bush­men painted ele­phants and hun­ters us­ing hues made from nat­u­ral colours in­clud­ing eggshells, char­coal, ochre and bird drop­pings, ap­plied with fin­gers or brushes made from por­cu­pine quills. It comes to­gether to form the world’s largest open-air gallery, home to 130 rock art sites on the prop­erty, plus at least 2500 more in the sur­round­ing Ceder­berg Moun­tains. The ho­tel’s on-site gallery of­fers an in­sight­ful glimpse into the peo­ple and pho­tog­ra­phers who have charted this coun­try­side.

AN­I­MAL IN­STINCTS

It’s our last night in Africa and we’ve just heard over our jeep’s walkie-talkie that there’s a pride of nine young lions nearby. Our ranger, IP, loops around them as they slink through the sa­van­nah, their golden, rib-hug­ging fur giv­ing away the fact they haven’t had a kill for a num­ber of days. “I think two weeks,” says Heavy­ness, an­other ranger, who took his name from the fact he was a chubby child. “They will be need­ing a feed soon.”

On the other side of our jeep we spot a ma­ture male buf­falo, graz­ing his way around a patch of euphor­bia trees. The lions cir­cle sound­lessly, and then pounce. But they are weak from mal­nu­tri­tion and, de­spite be­ing out­num­bered, the bull eas­ily kicks them off and gal­lops away to the safety of his herd. “I’ve re­ally never seen any­thing like that,” says IP in whis­pered awe.

Sabi Sands Game Re­serve spans 65,000 hectares along the bor­der of the Kruger Na­tional Park, and no two days here on sa­fari are ever the same. Owned by a con­glom­er­ate of fam­i­lies, the park is a poster child for wilder­ness con­ser­va­tion, hav­ing en­listed some of the con­ti­nent’s best-trained anti-poach­ing ex­perts to en­sure it’s now home to the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of big game in South Africa. Over our three days here we spot plump leop­ards and skinny lions, as well as ele­phants, gi­raffes, rhi­nos and hip­pos. We tick off the ‘Big Five’ within 24 hours, leav­ing time to ap­pre­ci­ate smaller sight­ings: horn­bills, rain­bowhued lilac breasted rollers and baby warthogs, kick­ing up dirt.

Heavy­ness and IP are em­ployed by the re­serve’s Sabi Sabi re­sort, an eco-friendly re­treat that oc­cu­pies four sites across the sa­van­nah. Earth Lodge is ar­guably the most dra­matic base, its suites sculpted into the land­scape and dec­o­rated with high- de­sign fur­ni­ture made from sal­vaged drift­wood. But our base is the most scenic: Bush Lodge comes with spa­cious suites and open-air pavil­ions over­look­ing a wa­ter­hole where game gather to cool down in the af­ter­noon heat. Kudus are so com­fort­able here you may see them walk straight across the lodge’s grounds.

Most morn­ings we pack into sa­fari jeeps with hot-wa­ter bot­tles and steam­ing mugs of Amarula-laced cof­fee, but we also walk through the bush with IP lead­ing the pack. He loads his ri­fle, telling us he’s never used it be­fore, and runs through sa­fari trekking rules, which in­clude keep­ing con­ver­sa­tion to a min­i­mum, walk­ing sin­gle file and not go­ing near any­thing that re­sem­bles a nest. Our hour-long stroll is un­event­ful, save for a gal­lop­ing pride of ze­bras and a lone wilde­beest skull. But IP says: “I’ve seen the ‘Big Five’ while on foot. All I could do is stay very still and pray.” He laughs, but I’m not sure he’s jok­ing.

“When you come to a place like this, where there’s such an em­pha­sis on pre­serv­ing the wildlife, you have un­der­stand­ably high ex­pec­ta­tions,” he says. “Even af­ter all my years here, ev­ery day I’m com­pletely speech­less by what I see. This is the ul­ti­mate in an­i­mal preser­va­tion. The con­ti­nent needs to take no­tice.”

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUS­TRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO SOUTH AFRICA WITH ITS CODESHARE PART­NERS SOUTH AFRICAN AIR­WAYS AND SIN­GA­PORE AIR­LINES/SILKAIR. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW. VIR­GIN­AUS­TRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

FROM LEFT Ob­serve a va­ri­ety of wildlife, such as this ma­jes­tic leop­ard, at Sabi Sands Game Re­serve; Sabi Sabi’s lux­ury Bush Lodge.

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