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South Africa shows off its dynamic side : From sharks to lions, satisfy your itch for wildlife with a trip

May 23,2018
Wildlife is a highlight of traveling around South Africa. At Amakhala Game Reserve, top, visitors can drive around during the day to look for animals and see how they live. Safaris with rare animals are usually popular, buffalo, on bottom left, and rhinoceros, on bottom right, are two of the “Big 5” animals alongside lions, leopards and elephants. African penguins, pictured bottom center, can be found on an island close to Port Elizabeth. [LEE SUN-MIN]
Rock climbers on Table Mountain in Cape Town, one of the city
DURBAN, PORT ELIZABETH, CAPE TOWN, South Africa - It’s easy to forget about Seoul’s murky skies filled with fine dust while in South Africa. The country is blue when you look up and green with leaves when you look around.

Whatever picturesque scenes you may have imagined about Africa really exists. South Africa is filled with a wild variety of wildlife and adventures that leaves an unforgettable impression.

Extreme challenges

For thrillseekers, swimming side-by-side with sharks will be an extreme treat. About a one-hour drive away from Durban, which is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean, is the perfect spot to swim with Oceanic Blacktip sharks. These waters are known for their timid sharks. The notorious Great White shark favors much colder climes.

Many businesses offer the chance to swim underwater with sharks while protected in a cage. Dive centers close to Durban offer visitors the chance to see sharks in open water.

Guides place a container filled with bait to distract sharks so that visitors can swim around and peacefully watch them.

But be careful: the sharks just don’t swim around you. They won’t charge right at you, but as you swim, you will likely feel a shark’s fin touching your arms and its body swiping past your back. Prices differ depending on which dive center you choose, but they range from 1,200 to 1,500 rand ($95 to $119). Renting diving and snorkeling gear and buying a video of you swimming with sharks costs extra.

Underwater thrills aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, however. At Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was used for the World Cup, one can find the world’s tallest swing. Big Rush is 88 meters (288 feet) high, and isn’t so different from bungee jumping; but after taking a leap, you will come back up to where you started.

After walking up about 350 steps outside the stadium while enjoying the view of Durban, you will get to a platform. From there, you can jump toward the wide-open soccer field and seats surrounding it. Although the seats and field won’t be filled with players and fans, for a few seconds during your swing, your imagination may go wild with cheering.

Nature abounds

No visitors should skip a safari when in South Africa. The state-run Kruger National Park has many animals in a large area that takes days to explore.

Smaller-sized private game reserves are also a popular place to visit for shorter day trips. It’s easy to book a lodge to stay close to the reservation. Here, visitors can see animals come to drink at pools right in front of the lodges.

It is said that there are about 1,000 public and private game reserves in South Africa, and there are still more being built. Rangers at Amakhala Game Reserve said that many farmers who own land turn their estate into a game reserve. It takes years for land to become a reserve, as ecologists must check if the land will be safe as a home for wild animals.

When you look for a game reserve to visit, look for ones that have the so-called Big 5 - lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinoceros.

Lucky visitors will get to see lions mating from afar. Other fascinating sites are the bones of animals eaten by lions, rhinos lounging together and warthogs jumping and running across the landscape.

What you see during a safari really depends on what animals the game reserve has on its land, so research in advance to make sure you can see all the animals you would like to. While a guided tour is usually required at private reserves, visitors can take their own cars to public ones.

While safaris have plenty to offer, more animals can be seen off dry land as well. June is a big season for whale and dolphin watching in South Africa, and penguins and seals are also always entertaining.

Boat tours offer great views of South Africa’s ocean wildlife. Watching dolphins jump and penguins dive into the ocean with a drink in hand is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.

Back to town

South Africa’s big cities have their own beautiful views. Table Mountain is a flat-top mountain that people can walk around while taking in views of Cape Town. Visitors can take a cable car, which provides great photo opportunities.

Hiking is also an option, and visitors can also try out rock climbing on the mountain. A drive down to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, provides a mix of rocky mountains with blue water, a perfect backdrop for photos.

While enjoying Cape Town, visitors should carry hand sanitizer or wet wipes. The city has been struggling with water shortages, and faucets at restrooms are mostly closed. Locals advise that travelers should not walk around streets alone for their own safety as muggings are common.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]