We both love to travel and are especially fond of associating our five-year wedding anniversary intervals with vacations to memorable destinations. On our 20th we voyaged the Caribbean on a cruise ship and five years later for our 25th we were in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Sydney, Australia. Immediately after returning from Sydney we knew we would have to find a destination just as spectacular. South Africa was an easy choice and for five years we dreamed and planned and finally booked with Kristin at Audley Travel. In the end the trip far exceeded even our wildest of expectations!
Our first morning in Johannesburg, after awaking to a marvelously beautiful day, our guide took us on a tour of many of the highlights of Johannesburg. We visited the “Constitutional Court of South Africa,” and as if to intentionally open up a special welcome just for us, we happened to witness South Africa’s ten most known tribes march and parade past us in celebration of the Zindala Zombili African Music and Dance Festival. The festival celebrates African culture and heritage. The experience was truly an unplanned and soul stirring immersion into a special part of traditional South African tribal culture. Our anniversary vacation could not have had a better start!
One of our goals on this trip was to see some of the special and historic sites associated with the city and South Africa’s history. Our tour took us to the law office of Nelson Mandela before his imprisonment and to his last residence after he had served as South Africa’s president. We then visited the Township of Soweto where we ate traditional food at a restaurant right next to Arch Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s home and near another of Nelson Mandela’s former homes and now museum.
Although Soweto is still riddled with shanty homes, as are many of the other townships throughout South Africa, I was unaware and moved to see that there were also very well maintained and beautiful homes in the Soweto. Our guide explained that despite economic differences amongst residents, community was most important. Learning this gave us an additional depth of appreciation for the South African people. The Apartheid Museum was our final stop and is truly a site not to miss. Through the honest telling of their story the museum ultimately presents a tapestry of people willing with pride as South Africans, to look forward into a future where there is an unlimited potential. Our stay and tour of Johannesburg and Soweto provided the perfect start to our vacation.
The next stop of this grand vacation was the Waterberry Lodge in Zambia, where we would stay during our visit to Victoria Falls. Audley really selected an awesome location for us, with a stand alone and somewhat secluded bungalow right on the Zambezi river where from our bed we could relax and enjoy the river view through large windows. Behind our quarters was a lake where the resident crocodile would go to and from each day after traversing the river and thus passing our bungalow.
During our stay in Zambia we were able to experience life up close with some of the locals during a personal village walk we took with our guide, Webby. Nothing could match the jovial nature of the children that ran out into the street to meet and have their pictures taken with us. We will likewise forever cherish the memories of the preschool children singing welcome songs as we visited some of the local schools.
The jewel and highlight of our trip to Zambia was most definitely visiting Victoria Falls and Livingstone Island which sits literally at the Fall’s edge. Kandenga, who acted as our guide during our entire stay in Zambia, made sure that we were well prepared and directed us to the best spot for viewing and enjoying the falls. Awe inspiring and majestic are just a couple of words to describe the experience. For anyone going to South Africa, this excursion is a must do “bucket list” item. Crossing over from Zambia to tour Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side is also well worth the time. Troops of baboons welcomed and watched our movements throughout our visit to Zimbabwe! Again we found ourselves being adventurous when out on Livingstone Island, the two of us took the guide up on an opportunity to literally sit at the very edge of Victoria Falls as the waters of the Zambezi rushed by. Could our vacation possibly get any better?
South Africa would not have been complete without a safari. Upon first setting foot at the Sabi Sand River Lodge, we knew we were going to be in for an almost indescribable adventure. The staff gave us a warm welcome and briefed us on what to expect during our stay and then took us to our quarters, which can only be described as breathtaking. Before even going on our first safari we realized that the two and a half days we had scheduled were not going to be enough, and we were right!
On safari we were fortunate to have Eddie, the senior tracker, and Kenneth, an experienced driver, as our guides during the stay. They cared for us as if we were family, again making this an experience we will cherish for the remainder of our lives. One of the bragging rights of safari is be able to say that you have seen the “big five.” With the expert guidance of Eddie and Kenneth we were able on the first day to see the lion, elephant, buffalo, white rhino, and leopard. The leopard even made it a point to get acquainted, walking under Eddie’s legs as he sat out front in the vehicles tracker seat! Having no separation between nature and ourselves in this capacity was surreal. Nothing compares to having a giraffe follow us as we walked on foot or watching groups of hippopotamus bathe in a lake as well as lion cubs come to attention at the passing of a herd of impala. Even a zebra and warthogs made an appearances. For us, a trip to the zoo will never be the same.
Not be overlooked is that the resort food was on par with any of the best restaurants anywhere in the world. Another joy is that we were taken to visit the school that the Lion Sands built and maintained. It was quite moving to know that Audley had chosen a place for us to stay, which had such an impressive social consciousness in giving back in this way. Now it was off for us to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary day on the last leg of our South Africa adventure in Cape Town.
The first night in Cape Town found us eating a nine course meal at the “Test Kitchen,” which was labeled the number 28 restaurant in the world! Great atmosphere with a service staff that was in possession of an obviously superior knowledge of the foods and wines that were being offered up. One bit of advice: Eat very little beforehand because the food is plentiful. In the next few days, led by our guide Henry, we would go onward to visit the beautiful Stellenbosch Winelands sampling some of South Africa’s best and well-known wines. The drive and small towns we visited on the tour had a special aura about them that was very welcoming. A bonus to the trip was our stop at Victor Verster Prison, from where President Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. It was humbling to stand and take pictures at the prison’s exit next to the statute erected in his honor.
Our anniversary day finally arrived and we were able to both celebrate in style and make it one we will forever remember. We enjoyed a full day Cape Point and Peninsula tour, again brilliantly guided by Henry. Forever will be remembered is that on our thirtieth anniversary we visited the Cape of Good Hope which is the most southern and western location of the African continent. While on tour we also hiked to the lighthouse located at Cape Point, visited an ostrich farm and marveled at the penguin colony living on Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town. After returning to Cape Town we officially celebrated or thirtieth anniversary with dinner at Pigalle where we enjoyed a seafood dinner and front row seats to the live jazz performance. Kristin ensured that every detail was taken care of thus guaranteeing we would indeed forever fondly remember this special wedding anniversary celebration.
Our last full day in Cape Town and South Africa had arrived with us choosing to end it in no better location than to take the boat trip out to and tour of Robben Island. It was a real opportunity to pay respect to Nelson Mandela and those who sacrificed everything including for some their lives, in order to create a South Africa that the world over, would come to respect, appreciate and visit. As soon as we set foot on Robben Island, came the immediate recognition that we were indeed standing on hallowed grounds. It was very moving and even more life changing to have or tour led by one of the former Robben Island inmates. Gazing into the prison cell Nelson Mandela occupied during the 18 years he was imprisoned on the island, gave pause for the realization that the world was truly blessed and forever changed to have had Mandela as one of its citizens. As we continued to tour Robben Island, as if to acknowledge our presence a whale breached just off shore from where we were. I am sure all of the political prisoners who had occupied cells must have been smiling upon us. We returned to the beautiful Cape Town Harbor for a final evening and reflection on a South African thirtieth wedding anniversary celebration that did not disappoint and in all aspects far exceeded every one of our expectations!
In large part, life is about making memories that we are able to take into eternity. Thanks to Kristin and Audley, our South African Adventure has provided us just that. We will return!
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