Field notes – a survival guide to vacationing in South Africa
Words: Talya Galasko | Illustrations: Amber Rose Pretorius
There’s something incredibly particular about summer vacations between South African cities. It takes no more than a snack pack of fish-shaped pretzels and a two-hour Kulula flight for the common South African character to forget all things domestic about their trip, and transform a two-week visit to Cape Town into something akin to a Bilzerian-style vacation in Ibiza.
The blanket similarity for all these vacations, from Joburg through to Cape Town and Durban, lies in the South African’s inability to understand that their holiday destination hosts a local population for the remaining 50 weeks of the year. Once December comes around, these three cities lay down, well they don’t really lay down anything, but they do come together, and given certain differences in opinion, we’ve prepared a list of handy tips to help things run a little smoother.
Known best for its warm waters and predictable weather – Cape Town is the most popular destination of the three come Christmas and New Years. A common-sense choice for a common-sense people, if you will. Don’t let her fool you, however: December’s great host of daymares and evening shenanigans will catch you off-guard when you least expect it, so take note.
1. Life’s a Beach
Most inlanders like to arrive at the coast with the complete kit, from umbrella to beach chairs and cooler box. While preparation is key, don’t forget that you’re only “establishing base” for a couple of hours. Also try be sensitive to the fact that your comprehensive beach kit can come across as territorial to the Capetonians. Nobody wants to put their napkin down next to a home-sewn, family-sized towel.
2. Life’s more than one beach
Try to switch up your beach routine. Cape Town has something for everyone outside of Clifton 4th, so take a day out to visit Boulders or Bakoven. And when you do – take a dip in the ocean (ankle-height is perfectly acceptable). Despite what they would have you believe, most Capetonians don’t swim the Atlantic either. Chances are, if you ask them to join you for a dip they almost always would have “swum already” that day. And hiked up Table Mountain too.
3. Take a walk – you’ll probably survive
Cape Town boasts an intricate network of thin, bendy and unfriendly roads. Legal speed limits range from 50 in residential areas through to 80 on the highway. That being said, Capetonians average a standard and steady speed of 40. There is no slow lane.
By mid-December, town and the Atlantic Seaboard will be filled to capacity with busses, bicyclists and 5pm traffic all day, every day – so make your way on foot or catch the MyCiti bus. This will also help you avoid any and all possible encounters with parallel parking bays. There’s nothing worse than angrily overtaking a CA driver, only to have him catch up to you on your fifth 3-point-turn in.
4. Skip the mall – shop the story
If you must go to the V&A for the movies or TASHAS!, park at Breakwater since you’re likelier to find a space – and for only R10. On the plus side, you won’t have to parallel park. On the down side, you will not find parking.
For all your Christmas gifting needs, there’s always online shopping (wink wink nudge nudge).
From Christmas through to New Year’s, there is approximately one party per person per capita in Cape Town. We know it’s tough but you don’t have to make it to them all. If you’re prone to negligent behaviour or ninja-bombing out of the jol, daymares that take place out of town can be tricky. Just don’t forget that you’re on vacation, and waiting it out to the graveyard shift is part of the fun and part of finding that summer romance that began at Beerhouse.
6. Don’t piss on the wall outside the club
This isn’t legal anywhere. Not in Prague or Ibiza. Not on Main Road, Sea Point.
7. Buy your tickets early
Suddenly Sunday arrives and that Shimmy group goes wild with all types from the girl “LOOKING FOR 2 TICKETS PLEASE” through to the spendthrift that will “pay anything – inbox [him].” Plan ahead and book early – you will always be able to sell your tickets off to someone in need. No matter what – do not scalp. That means do not sell your tickets for a profit. Seriously, if you want to make some dough off of the hard work of others you better come to that party ready to drop the most fire mixtape of 2015.
Durban – your home away from home, plus the humidity – is actually not just another name for Umhlanga and Ballito. Although it’s more popular during July, Durban sees a fair share of tourists during December too. They can be spotted in Durban-print T-shirts hanging around Gateway, Umhlanga Sands (known better just as ‘The Sands’) and uShaka Marine World if they’re feeling adventurous. We spoke to our favourite Durban correspondent, Cayleigh Bright, to get the ins-and-outs of this coastal life during December.
1. You can’t even, except you can
By the third day of your trip to Durban, it’s safe to say that you will have become accustomed to that uncomfortable feeling of being constantly smothered to death by the air. That’s not to say your hair will. Abandon the GHD – it can’t help you now.
2. Don’t wear heels in the daytime
3. Go to Boxing Day cricket
Spend five glorious days bathing yourself in beer, singing songs and swearing at your opponents all from the comfort of Kingsmead stadium. Given that you’ll be mixing sweltering heat and humidity with ungodly amounts of liquor, you’ll need to employ the stamina of a marathon runner (except unrelated to running and directly related to enjoying alcohol the way nature intended; infused into a watermelon which has also had its shell crafted into a hat). Take all necessary measures to prevent sunstroke, dehydration or a deadly hangover. As they say, pace yourself.
4. Don’t be scared of being a cliché.
Durban is basically designed for holidaymakers which puts you, as a holidaymaker, in a great position. Like Durbanites visiting Cape Town and checking in at the Table Mountain cable car as if they were the first to conquer it, visitors to Durban should be allowed to show off their trip without shame. Instagram of your cocktail with the lighthouse at The Oyster Box in the background? Why not? Fun straw hat with the word ‘Durban’ woven into it? Now’s your chance!
5. Noticed how there’s not a lot to do here? Ya, that’s not an accident. Durban people are really good at doing nothing. Learn from them.
6. Everything is cheaper than in other cities. Don’t question it. Just eat. Drink. Be Merry.
The vacationer you’re most likely to find in Joburg in December is either a Joburger or an international on their way to the Kruger Park. It’s not likely for those stationed at the coast to venture inland (unless forced to visit inlaws in Benoni, in which case you've got bigger problems to worry about). And since most inlanders venture to the coast, the remaining Joburgers (and a medley of passer-bys) find themselves in the quiet of the most peaceful city during December.
1. Pool in
Forget the freezing water and the anxiety of feeling obliged to make your way up Lion’s Head every day. What Joburg lacks in coastline it makes up for with the privacy of one’s own backyard and swimming pool. Spend your days outside in the sun and don’t forget the SPF. By the end of the summer you’ll have a tan that shines darker than your family friends from Mauritius and you’ll also have a conglomeration of pool tricks to show your mates in January.
2. Soak up the quiet
Let’s face it, most people you know will be away so now’s your time to sweep Sandton City in flops and a cossie and get the upsize family combo at the movies. Make it out to a Northcliff tower for a sunset with your mini Cadac gas stove and some marshmallows. Don’t forget the grass is flammable.
Head out to Oaklands (the hotshot petrol station where Joburgers “hang out” during the year). Register how weird it is and don’t let that feeling leave you.
4. Treat your town like the vacation spot it always wanted to be
Now’s your time to take the perfect aerial shot of your coffee at Father or gamble your holiday money away at Montecasino in a white suit and sunnies. Perform these things shamelessly, and on your own if need be. You never know who you might meet twelve beers into your SAB tour.
Or don't take our advice... You can be safe in the knowledge that most silly season problems are solved by raising your hands and saying #KeDezembaBoss.