World Championship Season:
As a competitive triathlete who loves to travel, the World Triathlon Corporation’s decision to rotate the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships around the world presents the perfect opportunity to merge my sporting passion and my wanderlust. I recently qualified and accepted a slot to the 2018 Championship race in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and I’m looking to add a finish there to World Championship 70.3 finishes in Zell-Am See, Austria and Mooloolaba, Australia.
I was fortunate enough to venture to South Africa for the IRONMAN race last year, and my explorations before and after the race helped me fall in love with many aspects of the country – enough for a return visit! Here are a few of my travel tips and recommendations to help you plan your race-cation to South Africa this year.
As a fortysomething, I can’t visit South Africa without reflecting on its recent history. When I was a child, South Africa was a pariah on the world’s sporting stage, as its policy of apartheid prompted the rest of the world to exclude it from global competitions.
There’s no better way to understand the history of the country than by reading the autobiography of famed freedom fighter and former president, Nelson Mandela, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. The book details Mandela’s early life all the way through to being elected president, including his 27 years of imprisonment.
For a lighter take on living in South Africa under apartheid, check out the autobiography of South African comedian, Trevor Noah, ‘Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.’
Race Location: A birdseye view of the beautiful race location in Port Elizabeth.
Road trip the Garden Route
If you ‘Google’ best road trips in the world, the Garden Route in South Africa (below) frequently appears in Top 10 lists. The route begins in Plettenburg Bay, just west of Port Elizabeth, and combines the winding coastline and rugged mountains for 300km as you head westwards to Mossel Bay. There are plenty of small towns to visit and attractions to entice you out of the car along the way, offering everything from beach life to wildlife viewing and even serious hiking trails if your legs are feeling recovered enough from the race. A personal highlight was Tsitsikamma National Park. With its hiking and mountain biking trails, treetop canopy tours and bungee jumping, it caters to nature lovers and adrenaline lovers alike. At the end of the route, Mossel Bay is known for its watersports and safe swimming beaches, though it seems a bit of an oxymoron to me as cage diving with great white sharks is also on offer!
Great racing, great dining: Sampling the local food and drink is a must do when seeing new cities and countries.
Go for the race, and stay for the food and wine
Admittedly, the lure of travel for me is as much about seeing a new country as it is about sampling the local food and drinks. After tasting refreshing Gruner Veltliners in Austria and spicy Shiraz in Australia, I’m already planning where to go for some delicious Chenin Blanc post-race in Port Elizabeth! If you’re a foodie and love wine then find some time post-race, to visit South Africa’s Western Cape wine regions of Stellenbosch and Frankshoek. The Postcard Café, located just outside the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve near Stellenbosch, is the perfect spot for a picturesque brunch or lunch. Nestled in the Stark Condé vineyards, there are also plenty of wine options on offer to accompany your meal. For a post-race celebration meal, an evening at the Delaire-Graff Winery just outside of Stellenbosch is splurge-worthy. Though with the South African Rand still relatively weak relative to most currencies, it may seem relatively affordable for the food quality and experience. You can enjoy exquisitely prepared dishes with local ingredients while enjoying expansive views of the Banhoek Valley from the restaurant’s deck. Naturally, each dish can be paired with one of Delaire Graff’s award-winning wines.
The Local wildlife: Kruger National Park is a great place to see ‘The Big Five,’
from the safety of the safari vehicle and guide.
The Big Five
You can’t read about safari in South Africa without learning about the Big Five game animals – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo. The term was coined back in the day by big-game hunters and refers to the five animals that are most difficult to hunt on foot. Thankfully these days, the animals are typically seen from your safari vehicle and your chances of seeing the animals are high if you visit a park or lodge that provides you with guides and trackers. Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest park and is home to the Big Five. It’s not the most accessible location from Port Elizabeth – transfer to Johannesburg and additional flights from there – but I loved every minute of my time there.
The park’s accommodation ranges from budget rest camps to luxurious, fully inclusive private lodges so there are options for all pocketbooks.
A little closer to Port Elizabeth is the Addo Elephant Park, which was established in 1931 to save elephants that were on the brink of extinction in the region. It’s now a sanctuary for elephants, buffalo, black rhino, and lions, which can be seen on the self-drive or guided tours of the park, along with lots more indigenous flora and fauna. If you’re feeling recovered post-race and a little adventurous, guided walks in the park will allow you to experience nature up close.
Braai is not your Aussie Barbie!
Braai means “grill” in Afrikaans, one of South African’s 11 official languages, and according to many locals, it is the one word that every South African can instantly recognise. Much like an Aussie Barbie, braai is a social occasion as much as it is a cuisine, and you will see people grilling in backyards, on patios and even on the beach during the weekends. Indeed, your race day experience is likely to include the aroma of meat grilling on the sidewalk of downtown Port Elizabeth as you run by. South African fans and locals will set up their wood-burning braais on the sidewalk and grill up steak, sausages and a variety of South African game while cheering along athletes. In fact, if you are a meat-eater, then don’t miss the opportunity to taste the range of meats on offer in South Africa. Kudu – a type of antelope – was my personal favourite but braai offerings frequently include springbok, ostrich as well as the more typical cuts of beef.