Interview with a travel activist

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  Who are you? What do you do? What is your favourite animal?
I’ve been living in South Africa since I was nearly seven, having emigrated from England with my family, so I pretty much call South Africa home. As a 35-year old, I’ve been fortunate enough to do a fair bit of travelling both within South Africa and internationally, and the travel bug has certainly bitten.

In a previous life I worked as a geologist for a few of South Africa’s big mining houses, but now I’m fortunate enough to be an entrepreneur, living the dream. In my own company I’m a bespoke jewellery manufacturer and diamond supplier but I also own a travel business where our primary purpose is to put the fun back into people’s lives by helping them travel, have fun and make money. Each day I get to decide which industry to focus on for the day!

As a lover of wildlife, it’s tricky to pick just one favourite animal, but an elephant probably rates at the top of the pile. They’re such soulful, family-oriented animals that will take your breath away with their sheer size and strength. On the flip-side, they can be terrifying when you’re in the path of a bad-tempered, charging male!

What makes South Africa such a great travel destination?
South Africa is a land of contrasts – we have steaming hot summers and freezing cold winters, we have lush forestlands and barren semi-deserts, mountains and sea, poverty and wealth. All this is wrapped in a country whose beauty can take your breath away and whose friendliness will astound you. Many people have a “safari experience” on their travel bucket list, and the huge array of national and private game reserves makes South Africa a perfect safari destination. Combine this with the great summer (and autumn and spring) weather we have, and whether you’re looking to shark-cage dive, bungee jump, white-water raft or just relax on a beautifully desolate beach, you can do it all in South Africa.

Give us your best piece of advice for doing a safari "the right way".
The main thing to remember on a safari is that you are the guest – you are invading the animal’s world and, as such, you need to respect that at all times. An animal is never in your way; you are in the animal’s way. It is critical that you respect the rules and regulations of the game reserve; they are there not just for your safety and protection, but for the safety of the animals too. Speeding through a game reserve to get to the gate before it closes could result in you hitting an animal in the middle of the road. Never litter. It’s obvious, but it is terrifying how many people throw litter (especially cigarette butts) out of their car windows. A single cigarette butt can cause a massive veld (field) fire that obliterates part of a reserve and kills innocent game.

We put an emphasis on "responsible tourism". How can travellers to South Africa ensure they are as respectful to the local systems as possible?
I’m going to interpret “systems” in a number of ways here. Firstly, you need to always respect the environment you are in. If you are on a cultural tour, visiting local homes and dwellings, be respectful of the fact that somebody lives in that house and treat both the resident and the house as you would like your own house to be treated. Local residents are not there for your entertainment, so respectfully ask to take photographs of them and/or their habitats.

If you are shopping for gifts, buy local artwork or craftwork to support the local economy, particularly in the more rural areas. Again, don’t litter. Unfortunately many South African nationals don’t have the pride in their own country, so we have plenty of litter without needing contribution from visitors. Remember that South Africa is a hot dry country, and many a bush fire is started from the careless toss of a burning cigarette butt.

What is one animal that you've never seen in South Africa that you'd love to see?
A leopard. No doubt about it. I’ve lived in South Africa for 29 years, have visited numerous game reserves and have yet to spot a leopard in the wild. It’s killing me.

A lot is made of the wildlife in South Africa, but what about the culture.  How can travellers dive into the culture of South Africa.
South Africa is a cultural melting pot. From the Afrikaner heritage to the Cape Malay and Indian influences found here, there is plenty to keep the culturally inclined traveller entertained. Cape Town has a significant Muslim population, derived from Javanese slaves (modern-day Indonesia). And the Cape Malay population is renowned for their annual cultural festival, the Cape Town Minstrel Festival, held annually on the 2nd January. Thousands of proud Minstrels take to the street in elaborate and multi-coloured outfits, playing a range of musical instruments. Visit the Bo-Kaap region in Cape Town to experience Cape Malay cooking and to view the brightly coloured houses typical of this population group.

Durban is home to the largest Indian population outside of India and is the best place to head for an authentic curry and spice markets. Each year the Diwali festival (Indian Festival of Lights) fires up Durban and visitors can experience authentic Indian cuisine, traditional dancing and, of course, magnificent firework displays.

Soweto and Johannesburg are great cities for visitors to dive into the culture and stories of “Apartheid South Africa”. The Apartheid Museum will assault your auditory and visual senses with sounds and sights from our Apartheid Days. In Soweto, visit the Hector Pieterson Museum to discover how racial tensions reached a head in South Africa. And, for a fully balanced view of South Africa, head to Pretoria, home of the Voortrekker Monument, a bastion of “Afrikanerdom” and a tribute to the white South Africans who trekked across our countryside.

South Africa has a number of different national languages.  Can you teach our readers one saying in a local language other than English that will make people wonder if they are a local?
With 11 official languages, it’s difficult to pick only one! The general, all purpose greeting that will certainly have people confused as to where you come from is “Howzit”. Derived from “How’s it going?”, it’s a rhetorical question used purely as a “Hello” or “Howdy” would be used in other parts of the world. If you throw out the word “Sharp” or phrase “Sharp sharp” when chatting with the black population, you’ll definitely fit in. Use it when you think something is cool or you’re agreeing with somebody in a conversation. Finally, don’t forget “lekker”, which is a general all purpose phrase for anything that’s cool/delicious/awesome/tasty or just generally fabulous.

If our readers could only visit one place in South Africa where would it be?
This is a rhetorical question right? Oh, it’s a serious question that you want an answer to? In that case, Cape Town. No question. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, has a great nightlife, has a plethora of activities to keep you busy, serves up the most diverse cuisine from across the world and it has that mountain.

About the author: Clare Appleyard is a fun-loving corporate refugee living in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a travel activist and diamond entrepreneur, she is fortunate enough to have visited 5 of the 7 continents on her travels, and plans on growing that list. Clare owns both a diamond business and a travel business and frequently shares her love of travel on her blog EarthTravelUnlimited.

Got any questions about South Africa? Ask us in the comments section below. Or head to twitter and facebook to ask the rest of the Peregrine community.

If you're ready to experience it for yourself, take a look at all our trips to South Africa. There's bound to be something that jumps out!


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