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A South African Odyssey

Legends and ghouls

An early morning departure takes us to Swartzberg Pass to enjoy a cycling tour of the area, only to be stopped by a troupe of powerful black Baboons who have commandeered the road.

We continue through ravines with rocks piled ominously on top of each other. We stop to clamber up a rocky escarpment until we reach a sequence of rock pools containing crystal-clear water and the occasional croaking frog. A waterfall spills dramatically into a larger pool, and an elderly local tells us the legend of a water snake enticing maidens and then dragging them to the bottom to turn them into mermaids and his wives.

We continued on our way to the historic township of Prince Albert. During a cooking class at African Relish we prepare freshly made pasta and sauce, stuffed lamb and a white chocolate and cranberry semi-freddo. Despite my lack of kitchen skills, I rustle up (with extraordinary guidance from gorgeous head chef Vani) a three-course meal.

In high spirits we are escorted to a Karoo-style cottage, dating back to 1856, on the outskirts of Prince Albert. Then the passionate historian and storyteller Ailsa Tudhope walks us through a dusk ghost and history tour of the town. We’re riveted by the spine-tingling tales of local legends. Spooked but exhausted, we head back to our accommodation, imagining all the spirits of Prince Albert following us home.

Shark tales

As the new day starts we are overcome with excitement (tinged with fear) as we head shark diving in Gansbaai (and not just any shark, but great whites!) with Marine Dynamics.

With nothing but a 10mm wetsuit and 350kg cage to protect us, we’re ready. Mum and I join six other divers in the freezing water, while great whites circle our ‘safety cage’. Guides on the boat throw in stinky fish heads attached on thick ropes to attract the sharks. Soon enough a sharks nose is edging into the cage, teeth bared, just centimetres away. We’re all screaming with a mixture of exhilaration, thrill, and terror.

The dive boat takes us back to land via an island strewn with more than 60,000 seals and the largest nesting colony of African penguins (shark take away). As the sun sets we take a detour to spot whales and dolphins, amazed at seeing the marine big five in one day – great whites, whales, cape fur seals, African seals and dolphins.

Unforgettable SA

It’s our last day and we arrive in Capetown to find it buzzing. We brave the not-so-welcoming weather on the roof of an open-bus tour around the city, but as the rain increases we head inside to take cover. We pass streets that hold decades of good and bad history and head into a city bursting with quirky stores and vintage boutiques. I love the individuality and originality of it. Sadly, it’s time for our flight home and as I think back over the unforgettable and unique experiences South Africa offers, I realise I’ve fallen completely in love with the exhilarating charms of the country.

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Plantation Island MREC May24

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