Travel is amazing. No doubt.
But when your key topic of conversation is travel in a country like South Africa, well that is quite something else.
Tapping into unique stories, different perspectives and discovering places of such incredible beauty changes you. It changes you in a way only travel can change you.
It filters deep down into your psyche, uprooting things about this country that would aim to bring it - and you - down, replacing instead with waves of gratitude for the simple inspiration available along the turns of your next hike, stroll along the beach or extended road trip.
The reality is some of us never seem to get beyond the creature comforts of our hood on most weekends – yet this can be your reward for exploring a few facets of this diverse country, you might never have considered before.
But where to begin, right?
Recently I was invited to join two other local travellers on a 'mission' to discover the top things to do and see in SA’s largest cities – those being Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
I had to devise an itinerary for my home town, Cape Town, for inclusion in the #AviosCitySwap.
My other partners in this delicious task were Joburg local, Lelo from Just Curious and Durbanite Praneetha whose twitter handle says it all - I Love Durban.
From one coastal gal to the next, putting together an itinerary for Praneetha meant the pressure was on – but ultimately - I wanted her to experience some of Cape Town’s best in a short weekend break on a reasonable budget.
There had to be some sort of Table Mountain adventure with either the traditional Cable Car or the new adrenalin-infused Zipline on offer, as well as a food and wine stint in the winelands. And then of course, there is a reason why anybody visiting Cape Town always makes their way to the most visited attraction in Africa – the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront - offering delectable eateries aplenty.
My 'Just Curious' itinerary from Lelo was top drawer, if a little out of my comfort zone.
Disappointingly though, the weather didn’t play along so nicely for an intended hot air Balloon ride over the Magallies. Wow, hey Joburg weather - I forgot how spectacularly intimidating your lightning storms could be. I ended up checking out the Neighbourgoods Market and the best piece of advice here is: Go hungry people!
But for me, an exciting part was driving in and around Jozi independently.
For the odd media trips we get to attend, I’m often collected and dropped off. I had an Avis rental, which means a different sense of adventure kicks in, just as when walking or taking public transport in an unfamiliar place forces you to keep your wits about you wherever you are in the world.
By now most travelers know to take the avalanche of negativity you hear about certain destinations with a pinch of tequila. Practicing sensible safety habits goes without saying but after getting lost when my Google maps bombed out on me due to the road closures of the 94.7 cycle race, I realized just how oversensitive we can be. Nonetheless, if you’re travelling in an unfamiliar city be aware how road closures due to big events can affect your plans.
I ended up driving through the centre of Hilbrow. Sure I had the sweaty palms that go along with being lost but I also had a chance to look around as the traffic caused by the race diversion edged through at a slow pace.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done, especially if you consider that certain conditions will automatically breed bad elements – but for the most part I saw moms like me, ferrying their kids along and people of all ages generally trying their best to etch out a meaningful life, whatever that might mean to each of us.
A then just a few kilometres further it all meted out into the middle-class, familiarity. You have to give a hat-tip to urban regeneration projects such as Maboneng, with the likes of Arts on Main Precinct. It’s similar to what’s happening in Woodstock and the Fringe district on the edge of Cape Town. A marked sense of displacement I felt, after being in the centre of Hilbrow a few short minutes ago, is testament to just how far we’ve got to go - but they're on an upswing and the energy here is catchy and inspiring.
Another out-of-my-comfort-zone experience was a visit to the Lion Park, about 45 mins from Melrose Arch where we were staying. While I love animals, I don’t like mixing my wild with domestication.
I do acknowledge that many of the animals at the Park wouldn’t otherwise be alive if it did not exist, however something inside of me just doesn’t connect with seeing a wild animal in a caged environment. Unlike me, most visitors were enthralled, especially families who allowed their kids to interact with the lion cubs and resident giraffe.
And on the flip side of what some might consider my narrow view of this sort of wildlife conservation, there was my Walk with A Cheetah.
Sabre's story of rescue started back when he was a cub. He was found along with his sister, after his mother had been shot dead by a farmer. The best way to describe my experience with the 7-year-old animal would be a strange mixture of curiosity, excitement and fear. Would I recommend it? I suppose I would, since a 'trophy' pic shot with a live cheetah is probably better than one with a dead cheetah.
And after a day of exploring I got to retreat to the five-star loveliness of the African Pride Melrose Arch. Glitzy and chic this hotel fits in perfectly with the atmosphere of the Melrose Arch Square where you’ll experience a decadent mix of modern pedestrian walks, lined with top-notch boutiques and eateries.
The thing I liked best about this hotel is the gorgeous selection of food they put out each morning - even so far as offering oysters and bottomless bubbly - and they give you enough time to enjoy it all with a breakfast that ends at 12pm on a Sunday.
We'll be posting highlights from Lebo and Praneetha Durban and Cape Town trips soon, but we’d also love to hear what your favourite things to do in each of these cities are.
Please share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.
Avios is the global currency for the British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus and Meridiana Club frequent flyer programmes in over 220 countries globally; as well as the currency for the Avios Travel Rewards Programme in South African and the UK.
The Avios Travel Rewards Programme turns everyday spending into flights and accommodation. Members can collect Avios on almost everything they buy – from the petrol pump at BP, groceries at Pick ‘n Pay by converting their smart shopper points; by booking accommodation through Protea Hotels nationwide or with Rocket Miles online; hiring a car through Avis, converting Standard Bank UCount points and Absa Rewards to Avios and by spending on credit cards, either through their Avios Credit Card or British Airways Executive Club Credit Card.
Avios also rewards members when they fly with British Airways, enabling them to collect Avios for every mile they fly – with at least 500 Avios collected per one-way flight.
Visit avios.com to the Explorer map of the world, which shows members the Avios and cash payment required for each destination.