Every country in the world displays some diversity, but South Africa, stretching from the hippos in the Limpopo River to the penguins waddling on the Cape, takes some beating. It befits its position at the southern end of the world’s most epic continent, with more types of terrain than photographers can shake their zoom lens at.
There’s the deserted Kalahari, Namakwa’s springtime symphony of wildflowers, iconic Table Mountain and Cape Point, Kruger National Park’s wildlife-stalked savannah (scene of the famous lion-buffalo-crocodile battle watched more than 40 million times on YouTube) and, running through the east of the country and into Lesotho, the Drakensberg. KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park alone has five distinct ecosystems, attracting both zebras and dolphins.
If you’re interested in another kind of wildlife, hit the nightclubs on Cape Town’s jumping Long St or sample African homebrew in a township shebeen (unlicensed bar). When it’s time to reflect on it all, do it over seafood on the Garden Route, curry in Durban’s Indian Area, a sizzling Cape Malay dish, or a braai (barbecue) in the wilderness – accompanied by a bottle of pinotage produced by the oldest wine industry outside Europe.
Of course, it’s impossible for travellers to South Africa to remain oblivious to the fact that, despite the rise of ‘black diamonds’ (middle-class black folk), racial inequality persists here. Black and coloured townships face problems such as a horrific HIV/AIDS rate and xenophobic tensions caused by economic refugees from nearby countries.
Nonetheless, South Africans are some of the most upbeat, welcoming and humorous folk you’ll encounter anywhere, from farmers in the rural north who tell you to drive safely on those dirt roads, to Khayelitsha kids who wish you molo (‘good morning’ in Xhosa). Another point of unity in the diverse country is that, in malls and minibus taxis, bush pubs and shebeens, two popular topics of conversation are the 2010 FIFA World Cup and recent political upheavals. Most people believe that hosting football’s mightiest tournament will be as great a moment for South Africa as its Rugby World Cup triumphs in 1995 and 2007. And there’s still time for you to get over there and join the fun!