Urban chic and majestic wildlife compete for attention on a South African trip

After being airborne for more than 12 hours, the stunningly picturesque Table Mountain that you sight on touchdown at Cape Town is enough to drive away your fatigue. Arguably one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, Cape Town is blessed not only with the Table Mountain but also the Atlantic coast and its beaches, famous for surfing and sun-bathing.

Minutes after we started to drive towards Table Bay Hotel, where we were to stay, a line of immaculate row houses unfolded before our eyes. Soon, however, on the other side of the road, rows and rows of tin shacks appeared, the houses of the impoverished. Though the number of vehicles increased as we headed towards Cape Town, home to more than three million people, it was mercifully not bogged down by traffic chaos like most cities this size in India are.

Once in Cape Town, we headed to Table Mountain and the nearby Lion’s Head Mountain down a picturesque route. The roads were sparsely populated after dusk, but the streetside cafes and pubs were a bustle of activity.

A speciality of Cape Town helicopter tourism. Tourists are flown more than 3,000 feet above the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, over Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and the famous Newlands cricket stadium.

An hour’s drive from Cape Town is the Cape of Good Hope, the historically and geographically important location that provided the sea route from Europe to India. At Cape Point, we took a trolley up to the historic lighthouse here, 250 m above sea level, which used to flash 2,000 candlepower light, which could be seen up to 67 km away by ships.

The next morning we headed to Sun City, about 200 km from Johannesburg, a two-hour drive on the highway that bypasses Durban. Set amid the imposing mountains of Pilanesberg, Sun City is a luxurious resort complex with four hotels — The Palace of the Lost City, The Cascades, Sun City Hotel and The Cabanas — complete with sporting and recreational facilities, leaving vacationers and fun-seekers spoilt for choice. At the Palace of the Lost City — Sun City’s flagship hotel — African drummers gave us a grand welcome.

The décor seeks to capture the essence of Africa and its wilderness.The hotel adjoins Pilanesberg National Park, home to the Big Five — lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinocerous.

A drive through the National Park, spread across 55,000 hectares of rolling plains, offers visitors a glimpse of African wildlife. Elephants frolicking in the lakes, locking tusks, trumpeting, and even staging a mock attack was a fascinating sight that sent a chill down the spine. Giraffes scampering across the jungle track or rhinos watching from a distance were common sights.

We did not spot the African lion while in the Park, but we did see a pride while flying over the forests on a helicopter from Sun City to Johannesburg, a fitting end to our trip.

(The author was in Cape Town and Sun City at the invitation of Sun International, a leisure group that runs hotels, resorts and casinos)