Editor’s note: The following was submitted by Stephen Puddle, a native New Zealander who moved to Sackville in 2005. Having travelled extensively, he now works as a travel counsellor.
Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege of supporting a daycare and orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa. Maria Gaba is the amazing lady who runs this life-giving work and is “mum” to over 30 children, from toddlers to grown men and women. As founder and director of the daycare facility, she oversees the care, pre-school education and daily meal for over 120 children from babies up to six years old. The stories that many of them come with into Maria’s care are sometimes tragic. They carry emotional, mental, psychological and physical scars that no child should ever have to bear. However, in Maria’s home and at the Mpumelelo Daycare Centre they find an environment of love, nurturing and provision that many have never known. And you can sometimes visibly see young lives change before your eyes. I’ve seen it with a couple of the younger children who Maria has adopted. One in particular is today a bright, friendly young girl who you would never think came from the horrific background of abuse that she once suffered in.
Getting to know Maria and the children and also the wonderful men and women who help her, has meant that South Africa has become dear to my heart. While I don’t class myself strictly as a tourist when I visit, I none-the-less do take advantage of the many sights and sounds that this land has to offer.
Johannesburg as a city offers the visitor a variety of experiences and one thing many will find interesting is the history of South Africa that abounds in museums, especially providing an understanding of the years of apartheid that trapped the land and its people for many years. There is the intriguing Nelson Mandela Square, excellent restaurants, the wonderful Rosebank Market with its many indigenous art works on sale and also animal parks. The parks are a must if you aren’t able to get out and take part in an actual safari. Though, really, you must try to take one as there are a number of parks all within easy driving distance from Jo’burg where you can see the wonder of elephants, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, monkeys, hippos, lions, rhinos, wildebeest and springboks in their natural habitats. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an elephant up close eating from a tall tree, and the stunning gentle gait of a pair of giraffes as they pass you by.
During my last visit I had the joy of spending a few days in Cape Town and while there discovered a vibrant, busy city full of beauty and colour. From the lively and modern Victoria & Albert Waterfront, with its many shops, wharfs and ferries, restaurants and entertainers, to the stunning natural spectacle of Tabletop Mountain which you ascend while travelling in a rotating cable car. There are the fascinating stalls and vendors at the famous Greenmarket Square and for sea and surf lovers there are an abundance of beautiful beaches surrounding the city. A particularly enjoyable afternoon can also be had at the beautiful Botanical Gardens located in the downtown area. Full of flower beds, expanses of lawn and huge trees, ponds and squirrels and birds, the gardens also houses the South African National Gallery. (Just one of nearly 100 galleries in the city) It was here that I was enthralled by a stunning sculpture which depicts an African woman in a vibrant blue dress riding a larger than life black stallion. Reared up on its hind legs it is a picture of power, strength and terrible beauty – a tribute to the enduring spirit of the African people.
Outside of the actual city you can experience further spectacles of nature with the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Spreading over 528 hectares it is a haven to many species of indigenous flora and also has a fragrance garden. During the summer months (when our Canadian winter is chilling us all) you can also enjoy music concerts on its manicured lawns.
Finally Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without a mention of its vineyards. We know how famous South African wines are but just outside Cape Town you’ll find the centuries old Groot Constantia Wine Farm. The oldest in the region and home to a plethora of fine wines, vintage cellars, exhibits and even an alfresco bath! Well worth a tasting or two (not in the bath though!)
South Africa is a place that is still healing from its past and learning how to live in its present, with white and black standing together. But it is also a place where beauty abounds, and sometimes in places that you don’t expect. Fares can be surprisingly low to get there, too. Sometimes as low at $1,500 from Moncton and with those frustrating taxes included! (That’s around $200 more than it often costs to fly to London or Europe!) So take the trip of a lifetime, stop making excuses and do something different for your next vacation!