By Rabbi Yoni Isaacson
“This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”—from the journal of Sir Francis Drake, on seeing the Cape for the first time, 1580
South Africa is objectively one of the most stunningly beautiful countries on Earth, and nowhere is this beauty more apparent than at the south-western gateway to Africa, the bustling city of Cape Town.
Situated on the spectacular Cape Peninsula, surrounded by mountains and oceans, it is hard to imagine any major city in the world with such natural beauty, and there are few places where one isn’t tempted to make the blessing instituted for seeing the wonders of creation, “Oseh maasei bereishit!”
The stately Table Mountain rises high above the city, often decorated by its iconic “tablecloth,” and the endless views from the summit leave no doubt as to why it has been listed as one of the seven new natural wonders of the world.
Further south along the peninsula, the bustle of the city gives way to pristine hills and beaches, coming to a climax at the spectacular Cape Town, the meeting place of two ocean currents. Although the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet officially further south-east at Cape Agulhas, for practical purposes, it is here at Cape Point that the warmer Equatorial waters of the Indian Ocean meet the icy Antarctic waters of the South Atlantic, and beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula boast swimmable, warm waters whilst the beaches on the other side are mainly for sunbathing and surfers in wet-suits!
The peninsula is also home to one of the northern-most colonies of penguins in the world, and no visit to the region is complete without admiring these gorgeous wild birds from the boardwalks of Boulders Beach.
Whilst the best of the scenery is certainly in the south, it is South-Africa’s northern provinces that boast its other most popular tourist attraction—the great game-parks of the Greater Kruger National Park Region.
There are few places in the world that boast an area the size of Israel in which animals roam wild in nature the way they always have, yet are blessed with a first-world tourist infrastructure that allows for easy access by vehicle allowing people to enjoy this spectacle without intruding.
For the safari enthusiast, the Kruger National Park itself is an absolute treasure, allowing one to cover huge distances on any one day searching for prides of lion, herds of elephant and buffalo, solitary leopard or rhino, and the African iconic species of giraffe, zebra, and so much more.
For those with a higher budget, greater taste for luxury, and wishing to experience even closer encounters with the wildlife, the region boasts a range of private game-reserves, many of which share open borders with the Kruger Park, which are traversed freely by wildlife, though not by humans.
Guests at these reserves sleep in high-end luxury lodges, some of which compete in luxury and price with the top hotels in the world, and venture out in the early mornings and late afternoon by jeep for off-road adventures in search of the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo), and other species.
Not limited by park regulations and the need to stick to the roads and the strict opening hours of the park, these lodges allow guests to track animals deep in the bush and get close up to them even when far from the road, so long as they are in the authorized traversing zone of the lodge.
For the safari guru these lodges also have a downside. Unlike in the Kruger Park where one has access to the entire huge park, traversing is limited and it is not uncommon for a lion to walk into a neighboring property while being tracked and leave the lodge’s guests frustrated and lion-less!
All things being equal though, in any three days, one usually gets more frequent and better quality sightings in a private reserve than in the National Park, and though both are incredible natural experiences, those with the budget are highly encouraged to include the private reserve option in their itinerary.
Though not within the borders of South Africa itself, there are few spectacles in the world greater than the mighty Victoria Falls, where the mighty Zambezi River drops about 300 feet into a narrow gorge forming the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and no visit to Southern Africa is complete without a visit to this wonder of nature, ranked as one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
It is said that in peak flood season, two minutes of water flowing down the falls is enough for the daily needs of Johannesburg, Southern Africa’s largest city of 10 million people, though of course distance and politics preclude such solution to the semi-arid regions regular droughts. Even nearby Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, has withered in many a brutal drought despite this massive asset less than 300 miles away.
Less than 50 miles across the border from the falls in neighboring Botswana, lies one of the greatest wildlife havens on Earth—the Chobe River and the National Park that bares the same name.
Home to the greatest concentration of elephant on Earth, massive herds of these gentle giants, the world’s largest land mammal, migrate annually to the river in the dry months, and as one of the few places on Earth that offers boat-based safaris, the Chobe River allows one to observe these animals playing and even swimming in the river in front of one’s eyes, very often at the same time as seeing large herds of hippo, buffalo, a crocodile sunbathing on the banks, a fish-eagle high up in the trees, and even the odd lion coming down to drink.
There is much else to see and do in Southern Africa, and one can easily fill a few weeks exploring the above and other incredible highlights, such as the magnificent Garden Route, the rolling hills and beaches of Zululand, the wild-coast, the famed Okavango delta, the tropical islands of Mozambique, the desert dunes of Namibia, and the cultural and Jewish heritage of the Johannesburg region, one of the world’s largest gold producers.
However, for a first visit to the region, those limited to 10–14 days should certainly make sure to include at least Cape Town, a safari, Victoria Falls, and Chobe. We have grouped these together in our famous “Best of Southern Africa” itinerary, which can be done in gourmet kosher comfort on various levels of budget and luxury.
Look forward to sharing this incredible region with you. n
Rabbi Yoni Isaacson is a well-known beloved educator and businessman. A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, he is a graduate of Kerem B’Yavne Yeshiva, Yeshiva Gedola of Johannesburg, and University of South Africa. He lives with his wife Julie, a Los Angeles native, and their three children, Elisheva, Noam, and Aharon Yoseif, in Ramat Shilo/Beit Shemesh. Rabbi Isaacson runs one of the leading luxury kosher companies in the world, and is one of the pioneers in the kosher safari business, in which he has 18 years of experience. He gives a weekly shiur at KBY and runs an online Gemara programme for high school boys in South Africa, where he founded the advanced Gemara Programme (Mesivta) at Yeshiva College in his days as a full time educator. Rabbi Isaacson has been heavily involved in Israel advocacy, and is also a musician, composer, and political commentator. Contact Yoni at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit gourmetkoshersafaris.com.