A trip to South Africa has been on my radar for a long time. I must admit, not being a wildlife buff I was a bit wary to make the long trip but the first 24 hours took away all the misconceptions I had for this wonderful country.
My journey began with Cape Town. This city is unique, it sits on the water, has a waterfront, beautiful beaches, and mountains. Along with these, it has its own urban landmarks and attractions.
My favourite was a visit to the Table Top mountain, which incidentally is also the most popular attractions in the country. And, why not, the journey begins with a ride in a rotating cable car which is claimed to be one of two in the world. Once on the top, the spectacular view will literally take your breath away, football stadiums, flowering plants, and the mighty Atlantic ocean.
Those short on time can opt for a helicopter ride. Other notable attractions include a ferry trip to Robben island museum an infamous island prison that was home to Nelson Mandela and other notable political activists and a visit to Boulders bay beach.
I decided to spend an evening at the Waterfront, this is the place where you can absorb modern-day Cape Town, it is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, artisan shops, a huge mall and a Ferris wheel. Take a walk or grab a cold beer and just try to absorb the sights and sounds of the Waterfront.
A short walk from the Waterfront was my home in the city the luxurious One and Only Cape Town. The urban resort is home to two of the city’s top restaurants Nobu and Reuben’s. Guests can also indulge in a world-class spa which is on its own island. The 131 rooms and suites are stylish with a contemporary feel and offer the best of modern amenities with stunning views of the Table Mountain.
Good food and good wine, you just cannot get enough of both in Cape Town. Be it devouring the Peri Peri seasoned burgers at the beach facing restaurant at Camps Bay or sampling avocado tartare at Nobu’s, I loved them all. Being a vegetarian I was a bit skeptical of options but the city proved me wrong and I could not be happier.
From Cape Town, we began our 600 km drive to Springbok a small town in Northern Cape. A journey that will take us through Namaqualand where millions of flowers burst into bloom and carpet the land for hundreds of kilometers in fluorescent orange, pink, purple, yellow and white.
It was a sight that no words or picture can describe, it was a natural festival of colours one that reminded me of Holi back home, except that this was the almighty plays with colours. After clicking a couple of dozen Instagram worthy snaps we arrived at Springbok to spend the night.
The next morning was going to be a special one. I was about to put a tick on something that’s been on the top of my bucket list for a long time. Seeing an African sunrise and not from anywhere but from the perfect vantage point – hot air balloon.
Hence, duly, I set my alarm for 5:30 am on a Monday morning and promptly, jumped out of bed as soon as my phone beeped. I tried hard to conceal my excitement all the way from my base point at Springbok to the location of the balloon, which was some 30 minutes away.
Being early, we had to wait for the balloon to be filled up. The calm morning and the chirping of birds were soon taken over by the sounds of propane burners. I watched in awe as the deflated fabric expanded vertically and filled up into a gigantic sky vessel. My excitement doubled and I couldn’t wait to climb into the basket to witness the long-awaited scenic sunrise.
What I saw that morning, floating over the arid landscapes of the Kalahari was probably the best panorama I have seen thus far. The fresh air filled up my lungs as we waltzed through the sky, at an altitude of 2,000 feet. At this point our captain, Andrew turned off the burners. As we floated in the air I couldn’t help but feel like Aladdin with Princess Jasmine on a magic carpet.
Geographically, we were cruising over the Orange River Valley at Augrabies, past expansive vineyards. It is considered a “new world wine region” and wine-making in South Africa dates back to 1655 when the country first planted grapes. The reach of the wine’s popularity was apparent by the acres of vineyards in this valley.
As the winds picked, we drifted towards Namibia where the terrain started transforming from green to brown. Here I had to catch my breath a bit – not because of the altitude, but for a sight, I had not witnessed before.
A herd of cattle, in their hundreds, were running towards the balloon and had stirred a huge cloud of dust. Maybe they just wanted to catch a glimpse of an 80 feet long shiny blob in the air. But we and the cattle were both out of luck, soon the winds picked up speed and the cloud of dust disappeared into the horizon.
A little over 30 minutes later, Andrew pointed us to our landing site. Using a set of ropes that let the air escape from the balloon he navigated the massive balloon into the landing spot.
We began descent shortly and soon touched the ground. The winds were strong due to which the landing wasn’t too smooth but it was fun! As we dropped the anchor and touched the ground, he poured us some chilled bubbly, in tribute to a great flight and to the wonderful flavours of South Africa.
It was 8.30 am on a Monday morning – and here I was, away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, in the heart of Kalahari and drinking champagne. I could not have asked more.
A quick breakfast later and I was back in the van for a 3-hour drive to the town of Upington. From there I took a short flight to Johannesburg and was soon waiting to board the plane back to home while reminiscing the five days of exploring a small part of one of the most interesting countries in the world.