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Authors: Fiona McIntosh; Tim Richman
A dose of inspiration for South Africans looking for holidays away that are exactly that: holidays – not familiar treks along well-beaten paths teeming with hordes of tourists and their annoying kids…
Anyone who has ever climbed Kilimanjaro will know the feeling: yes, it’s an accomplishment getting to the top, but so is coping with 300 hikers at every camp site. Whether it’s a mountain, a town, a wine estate, a beach or a hiking trail, there are the tourist traps and there are the little-known gems. An enjoyable, easy read that will inspire and entertain.
Fiona McIntosh is a freelance photojournalist and the editor of ‘Out There Adventure’ and ‘Out There Travel’ magazines. She has travelled on every continent, climbing the highest peaks, diving the depths, running the rivers and occasionally chilling out with a good bottle of local wine.
Tim Richman is the publishing manager of Two Dogs. He likes reading and travelling – hence this book. Both authors have climbed Kilimanjaro…
Out There Travel
The Star Tonight (James Mitchell)
If you’ve ever climbed Kilimanjaro and had your photograph taken in front of its famous sign post (‘Congratulations! You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania, 5895m…’), you’ll know the pride and sense of achievement of making it to the top of Africa’s highest peak. It’s an awesome feeling, and if you did the trip with a good bunch of friends, it will be a holiday to tell your grandkids about. Climbing Kili is amazing – no-one can deny that.
But it’s equally difficult to deny the African tourism cliché that it has become. Witness the mayhem of guides and porters gearing up at Machame Gate before your journey begins, or stand at the base of Baranco Wall and watch the queue of trekkers and porters snaking to the top – a high-altitude human traffic jam – then you’ll know all about the commercial side of the mountain.
It’s not that making it to the top isn’t a fantastic achievement; it’s just that there are a lot of other people doing it at the same time – and they tend to step on your toes. As South African and southern African tourism has grown dramatically in the last decade, it’s been with a sense of the inevitable that we’ve seen some of our favourite holiday destinations and activities suffer similar fates to Kili (Hermanus, we loved you once!). The positive, though, is that in our quest for new experiences in untamed lands, alternative holiday ideas are continually appearing.
If you’re looking for a unique mountain trekking experience through unspoilt wilds, why not try an expedition to the Ruwenzori in Uganda rather? If you’re a little fed up with the packaged tours to Mauritius, how about heading to Rodrigues instead? The crowds in Plett getting you down over Christmas? Go out of season. Stellenbosch wine tours ripping you off? Try the Robertson Wine Valley.
Many of the holiday clichés we’ve picked out here can still provide fantastic, memorable experiences. In fact, even now we’d recommend several of them over their alternatives – and it’s a tough call on quite a few more. Perhaps they’ve just become too expensive (Sabi Sands), or impossible to reserve (Otter Trail), or they’re a little too far away (Uluru) when all you’re looking for is a weekend break. More likely, though, you’ve been there and done that like so many others, and now you want a new adventure to experience and tell your friends about.
Everyone’s been to Vic Falls, but what about Iguaçú Falls? Everyone’s driven through Kruger, but who’s cycled through Kruger? So look at the Don’t in Don’t Climb Kili as more of a suggestion than an imperative – an After or an As Well As. Then see what tickles your fancy over the following pages and head off into uncharted and unchartered territories, where the animals are really wild – not just a bunch of sheep. Happy holidays.
On a good day, the diving in Sordies is as good as it gets almost anywhere. One of the richest dive areas in the world in terms of density and diversity of marine life, Sodwana’s reefs are a veritable treasure trove. The corals are plentiful and dramatic: vast plate corals, delicate fans, colourful soft corals and a multitude of sponges catch your eye even on the heavily dived reefs. Tropical fish flit everywhere, often congregating in huge colourful shoals, and there are big resident potato bass and moray eels that obligingly delight even the veteran diver.
If you’re after the big stuff, you’ll be in your element. Whale sharks cruise by, dolphins play behind the surf line, raggies take up residence for months at a time, turtles pose obligingly for the camera and you’ll often spot reef sharks or manta rays. Even coelacanths have been photographed at just over 50m. And even when the vis is terrible and the swell is pumping, there are always the little critters on the reef to entertain; the tiny nudibranches, cleaner shrimps and miniscule life that we normally swim over.
Not surprisingly, South Africa’s premier dive centre gets crowded – on the beach and on the reef. And unfortunately the dive operators occupy the best spots at both, so it’s not great if you’re hoping for a family beach holiday or an uncrowded dive. Another potential disadvantage is the hectic launch through the surf. And if you’re looking for sharks, you’re better off heading further south.
WHERE TO, THEN? Head for the Wild Coast between May and July for a truly spectacular vision of nature. The annual migration of millions of sardines from the cold waters off Cape Point in the Western Cape up the east coast of South Africa to the warmer waters of KwaZulu-Natal is a largely unexplained phenomenon known as the Sardine Run. Whatever impels them, the little fish lead a carnival of predators along the way in enormous shoals, sometimes observed by satellite, that stretch to 15km long, 3.5km wide and 40m deep.
The Sardine Run is now recognised as one of the world’s most spectacular migrations – a maritime version of the thundering wildebeest of East Africa. Whether you are a scuba diver, wildlife enthusiast or adrenaline junkie, the ‘greatest shoal on earth’ is something to see.
It’s got all the ingredients of a perfect adventure: the excitement of the chase; the adrenaline rush of diving in the deep blue or with shoals of sardines and dolphins; the incredible aerial assault of thousands of diving sea birds; the chance to see the full gamut of predators in action from the boat; and, of course, the onshore sardine fever – a time of frenetic activity and partying as silvery swathes of fish are driven into the shallows by their predators and wash up on the beaches for locals to cart off by the bucket load.
For dive operators, the annual phenomenon is a chance for unbelievable sightings or, if the sardines don’t play ball, incredible disappointment. The icing on the cake is a baitball, a pocket of sardines that has been rounded up by dolphins into a clustered group near the surface and into which all manner of predators launch themselves to chow: as the clever dolphins earn their dinner, thousands of gannets, cormorants and other sea birds dive-bomb from the air, while hammerheads, bull sharks, bronze whalers, coppers, great whites and countless game fish join the frenzy from below.
This is the Holy Grail for Sardine Run addicts – the stuff of National Geographic documentaries and prizewinning photographs. And if the thought of leaping into the water to experience the frenzy feeding of sharks on a baitball fills you with slight trepidation, don’t worry – it terrifies me every time I go!
Alternatives: The chokka spawning: It’s not quite as dynamic as the Sardine Run, but SA’s newly marketed marine feeding frenzy is drawing the crowds. Head down to PE or Cape St Francis in November and watch the sharks, rays and other predators arrive to gobble up newly laid squid eggs. Shame.
MORE INFO: www.sardinerun.com