Authors: Fiona McIntosh; Tim Richman
Publisher: Two Dogs
Cape Town, 2006
Paperback, 13x20 cm, 128 pages
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…
„An honest, practical and wholly inspirational guide to avoiding the beaten track… It offers a wealth of holiday ideas – even if you’re a mere armchair traveller.“
Out There Travel
„A book for the traveller who’s done it all. Make sure there’s one in your travel pack on your next trip.“
The Star Tonight (James Mitchell)
„Even if you’re booked for boring old Plett this Christmas, buy this little book and dream ahead.“
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.
THE LOWDOWN ON SODWANA BAY
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.
Sodwana Bay diving is simply outstanding.
SOUNDS GREAT: WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
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
Don’t climb Kilimanjaro… Climb the Ruwenzori
Don’t take the Cable Car… Hike up Table Mountain
Don’t bungee Bloukrans… Swing Batoka
Don’t raft the Zambezi… Riverboard the Nile
Don’t dive with great whites… Dive with tiger sharks
Don’t hike the Otter Trail... Hike the Wild Coast
Don’t watch the Boks in Europe… Watch the Boks at the Hong Kong Sevens
Don’t stay in a Drakensberg resort… Stay in a Drakensberg cave
Don’t go to Plett in December… Go to Plett in June
Don’t paddle the Orange River… Paddle the Cunene
Don’t run the Marathon Des Sables... Run the Kalahari Extreme
Don’t track gorillas in Uganda… Track baboons in the Cape
Don’t surf ski at the beach… Sea kayak around Inhaca Island
Don’t do a tandem skydive… Do an accelerated free-fall course
Don’t see the stars at Monte Casino… See the stars in Sutherland
Don’t holiday in Mauritius… Holiday in Rodrigues
Don’t drink wine in Stellenbosch… Drink wine in the Robertson Valley
Don’t stay at home for Christmas… Head to the Antarctic
Don’t scale a climbing wall… Scale a frozen waterfall in the Drakensberg
Don’t see the flowers in Namaqualand… See the flowers in Groot Winterhoek
Don’t swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo... Swim with them in Guinjata Bay
Don’t cycle a big road race… Cycle the Cape Epic
Don’t see rock art in the Cedarberg… See rock art at the top of Brandberg
Don’t take an East-Coast cruise… Take the mail ship to St Helena
Don’t go to Hermanus for the weekend… Go to Stanford
Don’t see the Serengeti migration… See the Liuwa Plains migration
Don’t canyon Suicide Gorge… Canyon Réunion
Don’t propose in Franschhoek… Propose at Ngorongoro Crater
Don’t sit in your car in Kruger… Cycle the Tour De Kruger
Don’t go to Zanzibar… Go to Mafia Island
Don’t gamble in Sun City… Gamble in Las Vegas
Don’t tan on Clifton 4th beach... Tan on Clifton 2nd
Don’t go on a Land Rover safari… Go on a walking safari
Don’t see the Big Five… See the Little Five
Don’t see Victoria Falls… See Iguaçú Falls
Don’t hike the Drakensberg… Hike the Simiens
Don’t ride the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe… Race the Apple Express
Don’t watch an F1 Grand Prix in Europe… Watch an A1 Grand Prix in South Africa
Don’t watch game in Sabi Sands… Watch game in Madikwe
Don’t hike the Magaliesberg… Take a Magaliesberg canopy tour
Don’t get romantic in the Seychelles… Get romantic in Tietiesbaai
Don’t dive Sodwana Bay… Dive the Sardine Run
Don’t run the Comrades… Run the Skyrun
Don’t run the Two Oceans Half Marathon… Run the Knysna Half
Don’t go to the Durban July… Go to the Dubai World Cup
Don’t climb Uluru… Climb Sibebe
Don’t take a 4x4 across Namibia… Go by horse
Don’t learn to ski in Austria… Learn to ski in Tiffindell
Don’t rap jump off Rosebank Mall… Abseil in Kamikaze Kanyon
Don’t fly-fish in Dullstroom… Fly-fish in Bassas da India