My Fantasy South Africa Tour
I love touring South Africa. It’s rare among cricketing destinations in its range of attractions: it’s English speaking, so goodbye awkward lost-in-translation moments; the scenery is stunning, and in many places unchanged for centuries; the food and wine are both delicious (Asia’s out for wine, and the antipodes simply don’t do good steak); the time difference is negligible, so no jet lag and, even better, no-one complaining loudly about how jet lagged they are; nightlife is varied; everything is inexpensive; opportunities for adventure abound; they drive on the left. Really, the only disappointment is the beefy-armed, thick-necked, check-shirt-wearing, aggressive, shouty locals. But they do fear the Rooinek’s quick wit, so they tend to stay out of the way.
I can’t be on this tour, though, because it simply doesn’t work out with school holidays (yes, yes, I know teachers get a lot of TIME away from school, but we get no choice in when we take that time, so back off!) If I could come on the tour though, oh how many things there are that I would love to do.
I’d fly out on the 18th and watch the warm-up match in Pietermaritzburg, before driving up into Lesotho for Christmas. Extra passport stamp and all that. Pony trekking in the mountains on Christmas Eve would be pretty amazing.
Coming back to Durban in time for the start of the test, I’d stay once again at the infamous Banana Backpackers. Salubrious it ain’t, but it’s the one place you can reach within ten minutes’ walk of the ground for a cold, inexpensive beer. I’m sure at least one Addis buddy would be out in Umhlanga Rocks so we could braai there one night, or toddle over to The Oyster Box for a bit of a casual cricketer-safari. I’d spend most evenings in the Florida Road area, where the food is good and the area’s safe, so thumbs up.
After the test match – and it would be great if it could be finished in 4 days – I’d jump back in the hire car and visit Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park in my ongoing quest to spot a big cat in the wild (5 safaris in 3 countries and counting). It’s much smaller than the staggeringly huge Kruger National Park, and much easier to navigate. Cape Town is an iconic place to see in the New Year, but I’ve done it once and those lions won’t spot themselves, so I would only fly in to the beautiful Cape Town late on New Year’s Day.
The break after the Newlands Test is where the real time for activities comes in. Walk up Table Mountain on the 7th before starting out in another hire car to drive the Garden Route. By the 10th, there are still 4 days to fill. I’d do more driving through the Free State and into Mpumalanga, where I’d be looking to see more incredible high and low veld scenery. In 2009 I was staggered by the beauty of the God’s Window area, and the Mac-Mac pools (so named after the proliferation of Scottish miners in the area) and this time I’d add the 68 metre Big Swing gorge jump and a day of river rafting (a whole day for less than 500 Rand! Bliss!); I might even take this chance for the big-budget breakfast hot air balloon ride over the Sabie River Valley.
Feeling refreshed and thrilled, Johannesburg would, I’m sure, risk feeling a little anticlimactic. With that in mind, it would have to be all about the food and nightlife here. Then with three full days between the second and third tests, I’d be nagging Tom to let us drive into Botswana. It’s close, and it’s another passport stamp. I’d love to see Gabarone and Johannesburg isn’t somewhere I’m that keen to hang out. There would just need to be something to look forward to before the quieter university-town vibe of Centurion. Naturally, we’d descend on Tim’s place for a week back in the company of fellow fans, and I’d be desperate to enjoy the braais in the ground as a break to grass-bank sunbathing in one of international cricket’s prettier, more chilled venues.
As it is, if I forked out over £800 for school-holiday-friendly flights (flying on Christmas day; it’s over £1000 to fly on the weekend prior) I would see whatever cricket the Durban test has to offer, but that would be it. No time to break out animal-watching; no Cape wineries or veld scenery; no additional passports stamps; no meandering journeys across the country. Those of you who are going, have an amazing time. I’ll be here hoping for kinder scheduling for India and Bangladesh next winter, but without quite the same relish (Mrs Ball’s is the one to go for, by the way) that I had for South Africa.