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South Africa: Land of wonders

I didn’t go to South Africa looking for inspiration, but inspiration is what I found.

Like many travelers, my mind was fixed firmly on safari when I joined a group of loyalty program directors on a familiarization tour of South Africa in September as a guest of Classic Escapes. I expected to explore the African bush, snapping photos of elephants, lions, giraffes and rhinoceroses, and perhaps learn a little about Nelson Mandela along the way.

Of course, I did find Mandela history, as well as hundreds of animals, during the tour. But I found much more as well: South Africa is a land of a million stories, each as beautiful and inspiring as the next.

Our eight days in the country took us from the urban setting of Johannesburg to the beautiful seaside Cape Town. Along the way, we paid visits to the Cape of Good Hope, the wine lands and our safari destination, Kruger National Park.


Infinity in Cape Town

I could tell there was something different about Cape Town from the moment we got off the plane. After more than a day of air travel, the cool sea breezes and warm glow of the setting sun made me feel alive again.

Cape Town is a thriving, diverse city on the slopes of the Table Mountain Range, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of South Africa. The mountains give the city its character and its scenic beauty.

While we were driving in from the airport, our guide introduced us to Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles, all mountainous formations that rise above the city center as the defining landmarks of the city. Later in the tour, we returned to take the five-minute gondola ride to the summit of Table Mountain, more than 3,500 feet above the ocean’s surface. Dozens of hiking and walking trails wind their way around that large mountain plateau, and we enjoyed the 360-degree view from that vantage point.

As we stood at the top of the mountain looking out on the ocean on a cloudless day, I found it difficult to know exactly where the water ended and the sky began.

Cape Town gave me a new perspective on infinity.


Beauty on the Cape

In geographical terms, a cape is a mountain ridge that ends in an ocean, and the Cape of Good Hope may be the most famous and the most scenic on earth. We spent our first full day in South Africa exploring the Cape and the beautiful national parklands around it.

We made our way out from Cape Town and drove around the peninsula, stopping along the way at Boulders Beach to see the native flock of African “jackass” penguins. Those warm-climate penguins take their name from the braying sound they make, and they nest in the boulders along the coast of South Africa.

The ultimate destination was Cape Point, the southwesternmost point on the African continent. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.

A pair of lighthouses, including the most powerful nautical light in the world, sit atop Cape Point, and visitors can climb to the highest one on foot or by taking the funicular railroad. We chose to walk the path to the top, stopping frequently to admire the view of the rugged coastline and hear the sound of waves crashing against the rocky shore.

The Cape is part of Table Mountain National Park, which preserves thousands of acres of natural habitat around the area. As we drove through the park, we encountered a series of native animals, including baboons and ostriches that sauntered lazily across the roadway in full view of our vehicle.

That day was among the most compelling I have ever spent on tour. The Cape gave me a new perspective on beauty.