Walk through prehistoric human dwellings, laze in a luxurious mountain resort and hang out with lion cubs as you explore South Africa’s biggest city and its captivating countryside
WORDS: KRUTTIKA NADIG
The spotted owl in front of me can’t see a thing. Not his trainer’s hand waving under his nose. Nor the English pointer dogs panting below. Nor the gathering of enthralled spectators. But when a speck starts falling in the sky far above, the owl’s tufted ears twitch tensely. Owls and eagles are not friends. And, though the owl in front of us cannot see, he can sense the eagle’s presence through his extraordinary stereophonic ears. In a blur of speed, the speck tears down into our midst and transforms into a ferocious Wahlberg’s eagle, swooping and snatching the chicken strip tossed up by her trainer at a precise moment.
I’m watching a routine act at the Falcon Ridge centre, where injured birds of prey are nursed and given hunting practice through the ancient, exciting art of falconry. Around me is the lusciously green Drakensberg Range, which forms the eastern side of South Africa’s Great Escarpment. Deep gorges cut through these mountainous forests, laced with hidden streams and hiking trails that beckon to nature lovers. The outdoors are where most of South Africa’s charm lies. Both the mountains and the veldts (grasslands) of this country are largely unspoilt by humans, who owe their evolutionary roots to this very land. We’ve all heard that everything in the universe is interconnected, and I get the live demo of that here. The Cradle of Humankind, a group of caves containing some of the oldest hominin fossils ever found, lies to my north near Johannesburg, where Gandhi and Mandela were prisoners before they were heroes.
So many dots to connect; how does one do it? I’m going to opt for the easy, linear route. I’m going to pedal backwards on a timeline of human and natural history. From Joburg’s Constitution Hill, the birthplace of Satyagraha, into Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg, whose rich wilderness has nourished animal and human species for millions of years. I know that’s pretty ambitious for a week-long trip, so I scratch shopping sprees and long lunches off the itinerary and promise to reward myself at the duty- free later. Hit me with everything you’ve got, SA.