Kissed by the sun in Africa - I'll never be the same again!

They say that once you’ve been kissed by the sun in Africa you’re never the same again.  Or something like that.  Well, it’s true.  I’ve been kissed and will never be the same again.

Where do I begin to describe this continent?  Incredible doesn’t seem enough.  Awesome is too trite.  Magnificent comes close.  This is the land where, from your aircraft seat, you can photograph cloud waterfalls cascading over mountainsides in the same way the water does below.

Magical is probably the best single word to summarise the people, the sky, the wildlife, the landscape, the music, the culture, the colour that is Africa.

I’ve just spent two wonderful weeks travelling with Scott McGregor, CEO at Railway Adventures, completing the inspection for their August 2018 South Africa tour, the company’s first on the continent.  What a treat the exclusive group of 20 travellers has in store for them. 

Now, while he loved everything else, I know if Scott was writing this blog he’d be raving about the efficiency of Johannesburg’s Gautrain, our two luxury nights from Johannesburg to Capetown on Rovos Rail’s ‘Pride of Africa’, the dinky little wine tram tootling around the magnificent wine country around Le Franschhoek, or our 5-course fine-dining experience on ‘The Royal Livingstone Express’ overlooking Victoria Falls.

For me, while I loved the train stuff too, it was the ‘sense’ of South Africa that swept me away, from the moment we arrived.  Emerging from a terrible history filled with desperate unrest and struggle, South Africa is now very much a country exuding hope and inspiration, embracing its place in the wider world.  Experiencing the wonder that is modern Soweto, including a visit to Nelson Mandela’s house in the street where Bishop Tutu also lived, was humbling to say the least.  South Africa is the only country that can claim two Nobel Peace Prize winners from the same city, let alone the same street!

A visit to the wonderfully curated and emotionally powerful Apartheid Museum in Joburg (the local parlay for Johannesburg) and an excursion to infamous Robben Island off Capetown, the place of incarceration for ‘political prisoners’ (the most famous being Nelson Mandela), gave us a sense of what life must have been like for millions of people for so many years.  I say ‘a sense’ because there is no way we can even come close to imagining it.  The people in this country have something in their hearts that is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been – forgiveness.  On a grand scale. And it is humbling and inspiring in equal measure.

After a couple of days in stunning Capetown, including a drive down the coast for lunch at the magnificent Harbour House Restaurant, we ventured into wine country, where we tested the wonderful Le Franschoek Hotel and Spa and the hop on-hop off wine tram, which tootles around some of South Africa’s best wineries. 

Then we zipped up to Livingstone in Zambia and the world-famous Victoria Falls.  Based at the David Livingstone Safari Lodge and Spa, located smack bang on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River, we explored the Falls from both sides, enjoyed a spectacular sunset cruise up the mighty Zambezi River (drinks and food included) and paid homage to Mr Livingstone at the well-curated and very interesting David Livingstone Museum.  The visit was capped off by a 5-course formal dinner on The Livingstone Express, mentioned above.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we headed off to the Kapama Private Game Reserve where our stay (as will yours) included morning and afternoon game drives in very high quality, purpose-built safari vehicles, designed to optimise the traveller’s opportunity to see and photograph the prolific and spectacular wildlife without fighting each other for space!

Within two hours of being out in the park, we were surrounded by Impala, captivated by herds of Zebra and their running mates, the Blue Wildebeest, enthralled by a herd of elephants (complete with babies) coming down to a waterhole to drink and bathe, and entranced by elegant giraffes loping around having their high-breakfast.  Our evening drive gave us all this again plus the incredible privilege of being waterside while a family of lions came to drink and play and then getting up close and personal with a pair of White Rhinos!  To cap off our adventure, as we headed back to camp with a spotlight, we were two of the few people in the last few years to see an Aardvark, one of the most elusive creatures on the planet!  And this was all in 24 hours!

It is quite rare to be able to say with complete confidence that this tour may be one of the best Railway Adventures ever!