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I went on a Contiki in my own back yard: discovering South Africa as a South African through the lens of tourism

Contiki travellers in Kruger National Park on safari

Living in a place so long can cloud your judgement and cause you to grow up blind to the treasures new-comers find in your home-country. Khumo and Yujir grew up in South Africa, and things that seemed so mundane to them, like endless coasts, game drives, and Braai, are sources of awe and admiration for travellers around the world.

Having travelled with Contiki before, Khumo and Yujir know the wonders of travel, but were unable to extend these wonders to their hometowns. To remedy this we took them on a Contiki through their backyard and showed them the awe and excitement of South Africa, opening them up to this new perspective. 

Having lived in South Africa, can you give us some fun facts about the country? 

When we sent Yujir and Khumo on a Contiki with the team, we hoped they would be able to learn something new – we wanted the experience to be as valuable to them as it is to travellers who have never visited South Africa before. They gave the crew some fun facts to start, though, and get everyone excited and curious about the country. Here are some of them:

cooking class at FoodJams in South Africa

Image source:Contiki

What were some things you didn’t know, or thought you knew and learned about on your trip?

“I thought I knew enough about the different communities living in South Africa,” says Yujir, and Khumo agrees. South Africa is filled with many different communities that make up an intricate tapestry of cultures; but many natives aren’t aware of all of them, or know much about them.

“I thought the Swati and Zulu cultures were the same,” says Khumo. “At least, that’s what I was told – but I got a chance to experience both cultures with Contiki, and that changed my perspective.”

During their trip, Yujir and Khumo got to spend time with Zulu and Swati communities and learn about their different and varied cultures and traditions. They spent the evening in Mbabane in a Swati village, interacting with the locals; and in St. Lucia they took part in local customs and activities with a Zulu tribe, notably learning a cultural dance all together. The group was also able to take a Township tour in Knysna, a township which is home to people from all over Africa.

“It was a welcomed moment of enlightenment to walk through villages and townships and experience these communities like never before,” says Yujir, grateful for his experience.

Discover the Knysna Township Tour in South Africa with local guide Ella

Discover the Knysna Township Tour in South Africa with local guide Ella

Charlie Fabre
by Charlie Fabre Jul 25, 2023

What were you surprised to find out or learn more about?

A lot of our travellers admit that South Africa is a surprising place. From the vastness of the landscapes to the ranges of culture; the underrated foodie scene, and of course all the unique animal sightings. It’s a country that many don’t necessarily consider when planning long holidays, but it’s one they never regret coming to when they do. There’s hidden gems all over the country for anyone from anywhere to find.

“I was surprised at the safety I felt,” says Yujir. “There were places I wouldn’t have gone to before based on biassed opinions and perceptions I had.”

Khumo, on her side, was amazed at South Africa’s natural beauty. “The stars in Kruger National Park,” are what she remembers most. During a camping trip in the middle of this safari area, the group was struck by the night sky. Far away from any cities and night pollution, the sky is dense with beautiful twinkling stars and creates a perfect atmosphere for a night of bonding with new friends.

group of travellers on boulders beach looking at african penguins

Image source:Contiki

Had you ever been on a safari or a game drive before? What did you think?

As with many people who live their lives in fantastic places, the typical tourist attractions go unnoticed. Neither Khumo or Yujir had been on a game drive before and the Contiki we brought them on was filled to the brim! So they got their fill of safaris in the end.

“I always wanted to go on a safari, especially to the beautiful Kruger National Park,” says Khumo. Many people think game drives are for older audiences, and some think it’s “just a drive through the bushes trying to find animals,” as Khumo puts it. But it’s far more than that. 

“I got a chance to see the sun rise beautifully, hear the birds sing, feel the cold breeze in the morning.” On the trip travellers are taken for a sunrise ride through the bush for a unique experience. “I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Khumo and Yujir agrees: “It was everything I hoped it would be and more – I got to see the Big 5 for the first time!”

Did you feel you learned just as much as the Contiki group?

“Yes,” says Khumo. “Especially about our history, I only knew the basics,” admits Khumo. 

Having been led by a Trip Manager for a week, the entire group was able to delve deep into South African history, culture, way of life, etc. Although Yujir and Khumo have been living in South Africa and know their country well, it was the crew’s hope that taking a trip in their ‘backyard’ would open up more doors of knowledge.

“I did feel like I already knew a little about most things that the rest of the Contiki group learned about, but more on a surface level.” Yujir says. “It was wonderful learning more about the things I knew little of,” he continues, agreeing that travelling within his own country was a benefit to him.

kayaking in South Africa

Image source:Contiki

What was the highlight of your trip?

From the beautiful natural sights, to glimpses of wild animals from afar, from kayaking in the blue sea with penguins, to enjoying delicious foods in good company – there’s a lot to choose from when it comes to highlights in South Africa. 

“My favourite part of the trip was sitting around the campfire during the night safari. We looked up at the infinite stars and listened to lions roaring in the near distance,” says Yujir who was fond of the natural connection and his newfound appreciation for it. “I learned about constellations, which I’d always been interested in, but never had the opportunity to look into.”

For Khumo it was taking a deep dive into new cultures which made the trip worth it: “the Eswatini culture experience was a highlight for me; it was my first time in Eswatini and my perspective was changed. The way the Swati dance and speak and engage with each other – it was amazing to experience and see.”

“Beyond good company and good food, you don’t need much else to be content.”

While travelling with a Contiki group full of non-South Africans, who had never been to South Africa before; did that impact your vision of home at all? In what way? 

“Travelling with a group of non-South Africans absolutely impacted my vision of home,” says Yujir. Sometimes to appreciate your hometown it takes looking at it through the lens of an outsider. 

“I realised how much I take for granted. I’ve always loved home, but exploring it with ‘outsiders’ made me appreciate just how much beauty there is in our country,” he continues. Khumo agrees, saying that she “realised there is so much we [South Africans] can offer to the rest of the world and there’s a lot we take for granted.”

“Having an outside perspective also made me appreciate that temperatures below 20 degrees maybe shouldn’t be regarded as cold,” says Yujir, laughing.

Knysna Township in South Africa

Image source:Contiki

What’s the benefit of changing your perspective?

We like to think travel matters because it allows travellers to grow and appreciate new and interesting cultures and ways of life, as well as taking a step back from their own way of life. For Khumo, changing her perspective is about “being conscious about life, and appreciating it more.”

80% of Contiki trips host a MAKE TRAVEL MATTER​​® Experience for these exact reasons, and our crew got to enjoy quite a few of these eye-opening activities on their trip to South Africa. From meeting the local Zulu and Swati cultures, to discovering the beauties of safari on sustainable game drives – perspectives were changed.

“There’s a newfound respect and admiration that I have for people living their lives in villages and townships that are literally on my doorstep, whose outlooks on life are completely different to my own,” says Yujir. “Neither way of life is wrong,” he says, “just different, and that’s okay.” 

Khumo and Yujir both agree on the benefits of travelling and meeting new people. While on Contiki they will have learned about the other travellers’ cultures and way of lives as well, sharing with a more intimate group who they got to bond with over a week. 

“Gaining a new perspective just allows for more admiration of people and culture.”

With your new outlook, what makes you proud to be South African, what makes you proud of your country?

For Khumo it’s this: “The cultural diversity, the people, and the love we have for one another. South Africa is a fun country – we have problems and don’t have all the resources in the world, but we manage to make life worth living.” 

More so than the country’s natural beauty which anyone would be proud of, Khumo is proud of the sense of community. “We are a strong nation, and I’m proud of this country for that.”

Yujir echoes this sentiment as well: “We’ve come a long way as people. Like Khumo said, South Africa has its fair share of problems that are being broadcasted globally. But we always come together and rise above the adversity. We enjoy community, we enjoy having a good time, and we usually go out of our way to extend this kindness, warmth, and community to our neighbours and visitors.”

It’s the strong sense of people sticking together and helping each other out that make Khumo, Yujir, and many other South Africans proud to be where they’re from.

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