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IN SOUTH AFRICA
Shopping in South Africa has never been cheaper
or offered better value for money to visitors. After the dramatic
devaluation of the South African Rand against most of the world's
major currencies at the end of last year, a Dollar, Pound, Euro,
Yen or Ringitt now goes even further.
Africans themselves are great shoppers, so there are large, world-class,
air-conditioned shopping malls in all the country's major cities
- and even in some of its smaller towns. Their design and architecture
are as modern as anywhere in the world, and they offer not only
a first-class shopping experience, but also excellent places to
eat and be entertained.
There is hardly a leading international brand in
clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, CDs, videos or DVD's that can't
be found in South Africa and quality bookshops stock all the latest
local and international titles at very reasonable prices. South
Africa's own department and chain stores have excellent house brands
offering quality and value for money on a whole range of items.
But most visitors want to buy something genuinely
'African' to take home. What is African? Well, anything made in
Africa and there is no shortage of choice! One great buy is jewellery
made from the gold and precious stones that are mined deep below
the ground. Skilled jewellers create uniquely African designs incorporating
wildlife, masks and traditional beadwork combined with precious
and semi-precious stones. These are very special mementoes of an
exciting visit to the land of gold and diamonds, and become talking
points back home.
Almost every visitor will want to buy some smart
but practical, genuine 'bush gear' and sturdy bush jackets - with
so many handy pockets to put things in - are great for hunting,
shooting and fishing - or just travelling. Photography enthusiasts
find them invaluable to store their numerous gadgets. Tough khaki
tailored shirts and shorts, as well as the sturdy leather velskoene
(leather bush shoes) of the African bush, will last long after the
holiday and are always fashionable for that authentic 'Out of Africa'
Strict conservation measures are taken throughout
the country to protect and conserve its wildlife, but in today's
practical world natural resources are used to fund further research
and help with the upkeep of both national and private parks where
wild creatures can roam free. South Africa produces top quality
leather goods. Handbags, wallets and belts, shoes and coats are
crafted from the finest leathers. Butter-soft ostrich and impala
skins are highly popular, as are the more macho elephant and buffalo
hide items. The silky pelt of the young desert karakul sheep is
also made into superb, warm and hardwearing coats and jackets.
Beautiful rugs and wall hangings are woven from
the many different wools produced locally, dyed with natural colours
into traditional designs. South African produces some 80% of the
world's mohair and it's hard to resist the brilliant jewelled colours
of soft, cosy mohair made into blankets, sweaters or fun hats and
gloves to keep ears and fingers warm in colder climates.
Around the country, art galleries have paintings
by local artists for sale, depicting all aspects of life, their
landscape capturing the brilliant light and colours of the continent.
Stunning sculptures, carved from the many colourful rocks and minerals
of Southern Africa, are to be found in abundance, the best of these,
created by internationally renowned artists, fast proving worthwhile
investments and the heirlooms of tomorrow.
For exciting and affordable gifts and souvenirs for friends and
family, it's fun to shop at the many local craft centres and fleamarkets.
African beadwork is justly famous and, now featured
on some of the world's most renowned fashion catwalks, include not
only traditional necklaces and bracelets, but also more contemporary
designs that can be worn to accessorise the most sophisticated fashion.
Look for cheerful little dolls, bead-covered mugs and bottles, spoons
with beaded handles, and the fascinating Zulu 'love letters' - small
brooches with meaningful beaded patterns. A newfound demand for
original, brilliantly coloured Christmas decorations is providing
sustainable jobs for hundreds of rural women throughout the country.
In the craft markets there is the chance to personally
meet crafters making products as varied as fine soaps and candles
perfumed with the plants of Africa, and paper made from elephant
dung (the sought-after paper is has a wonderful rough, 'knubbly'
texture). Watch, too - and wonder - as skilled fingers take long
strands of ordinary metal wire and create insects, birds and animals,
as well as decorative items for the home and table.
Marvel at the speed with which practised hands can
weave simple, but oh-so-elegant, baskets from handfuls of grass,
or create elaborate patterns from tiny glass beads.
African woodcarvings feature many of the continent's animals and
birds. Favourites include large, shiny brown hippos - ideal for
doorstops with a difference - carved from a single piece of kiaat
(African teak) and highly hand-polished; and masks - all very inexpensive.
Check out the tall, very tall, wooden giraffes,
sold by the side of the road in many parts of the country. An international
outbound flight without at least one or two of these animals gracing
its aisles is most definitely a rarity!
It's easy to pay for and ship purchases throughout
the South African retail sector. Stores accept all major internationally-based
credit, charge and debit cards, and every shopping centre has facilities
to change travellers' cheques or cash. Automatic Teller Machines
(ATMs) accept overseas credit cards for cash withdrawals, but only
if prior arrangements have been made. Purchases from the informal
sector are usually paid for in cash, unless the item is more expensive,
and many sellers are eager to bargain.
Receipts should be kept for all items bought, as
VAT - the South African Sales tax levied at 14% on most things -
can be reclaimed at the airport when passengers exit the country.
Items must be available for possible inspection so it is wise to
allow extra time at check-in.
The best known surfing spots are around Cape Town,
Durban, Jeffreys Bay and East London, but there are loads of great,
virtually unsurfed waves. The many backpackers hostels around the
country are geared up for board rental, escorted surfaris and surfing
lessons, and there are dedicated surf schools in Durban and Cape
We have awesome windsurfing and kitesurfing spots.
Langebaan, near Cape Town, is internationally recognised to be one
of the top boardsailing venues in the world - and there are others.
A more accessible way to experience the sea is in a specially designed
sea kayak. There are escorted trips around Cape Town, Hermanus,
Knysna, Plett and Durban. For a bit more of a challenge, try surfskiing
- it's becoming a rather trendy pastime and can be very competitive.
Surfskis are really fun boats to paddle - fast, responsive and with
the approximate stability of a razor blade balanced on its edge.
There is a whole series of races throughout the year all along the
The South African coastline is one of the most challenging
in the world to sail, with few harbours, stormy conditions and,
often, very rough seas. So it's not a good bareboat option. However,
it's a great place to learn to sail - there are sailing schools
in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban - and we feature on all
the major round-the-world races. There are loads of local races,
too, and the Cape to Rio is one of the most accessible ocean crossing
races in the world, attracting a large cruising contingent.
If you need any convincing about the seriousness
of our coast, you need look no further than the many historical
and recent shipwrecks. Of course, these were all tragedies but still
good news for local divers. We have more to offer than these poignant
sites, though. Our underwater environment is absolutely beautiful
and varied and we have lots of wonderful diving sites.
We have an enormously long coastline ranging from
about 35°S to 27°S, which isn't quite within the usual range
of tropical diving. However, the Mozambique Current which flows
down our East Coast brings warm, tropical water with it, and at
Sodwana Bay we have the most southerly coral reefs in the world.
Of course, they have the full complement of pretty colourful fish
and some great nudibranchs, including the outrageous Spanish dancer
Whale sharks, turtles, dolphins and ragged tooth
sharks (Carcharias taurus) are often seen in specific places. And
then, as you head down the coast, the underwater faunal and floral
assemblage changes gradually until, once you've reached Cape Town,
you're diving in chilly but beautiful kelp forests. These, too,
are unique. There are three major types, or genera, of kelp and
it is only off a short portion of the Western Cape coast that they
all grow together.
If you've always shunned cold water diving, consider
it. Sure, you do have to dress up in a great thick wetsuit with
constraining hoodie and gloves but it's worth it. Diving in kelp
is like walking in a forest. You float beneath the canopy and admire
the surprisingly colourful reef life. Off Cape Town, divers regularly
see anemones in colours ranging from electric blue or deep red to
pale pink, nudibranchs of almost every colour you can imagine and
a whole range of small creatures in and around the bright orange
and sulphur yellow sponges.
There are dive schools in almost every centre, with
a surprising number in the landlocked Johannesburg area. Perhaps
it's not so surprising. Most people do their training up there and
then head down to Sodwana Bay for their qualifying dives. There
is even an inland dive resort near Johannesburg where students can
do their first dive or two in a disused quarry. Badgat is another,
much deeper disused quarry in Mpumalanga where rebreather, mixed
gas and deep diving courses are run.
When you come here to dive our wonderful reefs,
do take careful note of your no-fly limits. A flight from sea level
to Johannesburg can take only an hour, and you gain 2 000m (7 000ft)
in altitude - that's without even considering the flight. This really
does represent a major risk, so adjust your itinerary to include
a day of sightseeing, shopping or beach lounging between diving
and flying or even driving to Johannesburg.