South Africa has the world’s first fair trade tourism scheme, with a growing range of places involved. The following ten experiences offer much of the best South Africa has to offer – from wildlife-watching to townships to wine tasting – plus you’ll know that the local communities benefited from your visit. For details of all the participants in the scheme see Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa’s website.
Whizz though the forest at Storms River
If you’ve ever watched monkeys swinging through the trees and wondered how it feels, try the Storms River canopy tour in the Tsitsikamma Forest. Twenty metres up in the treetops, you slide in a breathless rush on steel cables between wooden platforms, learning from your guide about forest ecology at each stop. Over a thousand local children (including AIDS orphans) get a free ride each year – but it’s hard even for grown-ups not to feel like a kid as you zip through the trees, then wait for another go.
For prices and bookings see http://www.stormsriver.com.
Stay in Soweto
At Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers you can go one further than visiting a township for a few hours, as this is a chance to stay in the most famous one of all. Being there at night also means you can visit the bars and music clubs when they really get going.
Walk with rhinos at Leshiba
Because there are no lions or elephants on the plateau that surrounds Leshiba lodge, you’re encouraged to go out on unguided walks. The leopards are too shy to bother you and the rhinos don’t see or hear well – and so long as you’re upwind, won’t smell you either. If one approaches, stay still and let it pass; if that doesn’t work, make lots of noise; if all else fails, get up a tree.
Leshiba’s luxury lodge is a synthesis of traditional Venda mud-brick building techniques and modern design. It runs community programmes revitalizing traditional skills to ensure the Venda people don’t lose touch with their heritage. This is also the philosophy behind the unguided walks – it’s about experiencing the bush as the Venda’s ancestors always have.
Leshiba is an hour’s drive west of Louis Trichardt on the N1, five hours’ north of Johannesburg. Further info on rates and activities at http://www.leshiba.co.za.
Kayak with whales in Plettenberg Bay
In the waters around Plettenberg Bay, the whales come so close to the shore on their annual migration that you can paddle out to see them. The best whale-watching operator in the area is Ocean Blue – and thanks to its conservation work you can approach to within 50m of the whales (the usual limit is 300m). Lolling gently in the waves, you’ll hear them clear their blowholes, and feel rocked by the thwack of their tails against the water.
November is the best month to see humpback and southern right whales. For details of tours and courses see http://www.oceanadventures.co.za.
Ride a bike in a township
AWOL (Adventure Without Limits) offers bike tours round Masiphumelele township, visiting the crèche, crafts shops and healer before finishing with lunch in one of the women’s homes. You’ll feel part of the vibrant life on the streets, probably with a group of children in tow. With the money from these tours, members of the township run a bicycle workshop, repairing, selling and renting old bikes to the community. Far from making you feel out of place, a ride with AWOL helps bring two worlds a little closer.
AWOL will pick you up from anywhere in Cape Town. Visit http://www.awol.travel.
Taste fine cape wines at Spier
The environs of Cape Town are filled with wineries, but Spier is unique for its luxury hotel, spa and connection with Stellenbosch University, which pioneers sustainable development. You can also play golf, go horse-riding or get up close to cheetahs at the on-site cheetah rehabilitation project.
Drink with locals in a township
On a tour of the townships of Nelson Mandela Bay with Calabash, it’s a great idea to visit some of your guide’s favourite watering holes (shebeens). Here you can drink with the locals and shake your stuff to the marimba bands who often play outside the bars. See http://www.calabashtours.co.za for more info.
Fair game at Umlani
Deep in the Timbavati Nature Reserve, Umlani Bushcamp uses no electricity, which lends it a feel of old-world safari adventure. Activities on offer include microlight flights, balloon safaris, white-water rafting and excursions to local villages.
A night on Long Street, Cape Town
Don’t fancy a hostel in Cape Town, but can’t really stretch to a boutique hotel? Then the self-catering apartments run by Daddy Longlegs may be perfect. Located on Long Street, the most buzzing road in the centre, the apartments have much of the style of the latter at a price not too far off the former.
See hippos near Cape Town
It’s still possible to see big game if you are staying in Cape Town. At nearby Rondevlei Nature Reserve, you can take a boat trip out to see the Cape’s only resident hippo population, training your binoculars on the plentiful birdlife on the way.