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Flocking fish and fine-dining: the rise of South Africa

South African sardine run a new wonder

Seeing billions of sardines flocking together in an unexplained and unique natural phenomenon is just one of the reasons why South Africa stands head and shoulders above the competition as the ultimate animal-lovers’ paradise.

The annual sardine run takes place each summer from June to July and as well as the tiny fish, eagle-eyed travellers will be able to spot underwater predators such as sharks and birds of prey looking to pick off a few tasty morsels from the swarming pack.

Lebohang Mokhesi from the Rainbow Nation’s national tourist board recently spoke in glowing terms of the appeal of this natural spectacle, which can be seen each summer in the south coast region of KwaZulu-Natal.

“The sardine run causes a frenzy of excitement amongst everyone and everything that comes into contact with it,” she said.

“It really is an out-of-this-world sight – one of the greatest marine spectacles on earth.”

To mark this momentous annual event, the region will be hosting The Sardine Festival from June 4th to August 28th this year.

World Cup boost

South Africa is already thoroughly well-known to safari fans for its land-based animal spotting opportunities, with its National Parks well populated by the hallowed Big Five – namely the lion, the leopard, the rhino, the elephant and the Cape buffalo.

However, there are many other reasons besides the wildlife that people are finding to discover this former colonial country.

Last summer’s football World Cup played a massive role in elevating South Africa to its current status as a globally-renowned destination, as around 1.4 million tourists travelled into the country for the tournament, many of whom were first timers.

Total visitor numbers were up by 15.1 per cent for 2010, minister of tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced in March, and this skyward trend looks set to continue with South Africa also picking up two recent accolades for the quality of its restaurants and spas.

In this year’s prestigious San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Le Quartier Francais in the Western Cape region scooped the award for Best Restaurant in Africa and the Middle East.

Using local ingredients, such as Kalahari salt and local wines in their recipes, the restaurant takes guests on a “gourmet safari”, according to the judges.

Spa and safari secrets

The accolades don’t stop there either, with Karloof Spa in the Pietermaritzburg region recently being named as the Best Safari Spa in Africa at the Good Safari Guide’s annual awards ceremony.

In this five-star estate, more than 3,000 hectares of land are open for animal lovers to explore, including five waterfalls, which provide valuable drinking holes for numerous different animals, birds and reptiles.

Rare species spotted here include white rhino and blue wildebeest, as well as safari must-sees such as zebra and giraffe, making for a truly memorable trip.

With Air France and Emirates recently adding more South African flights to their networks, it’s never been this easy to discover the Rainbow Nation, so really the only thing to make adventurous travellers think twice is the price of a long-haul ticket.