New Zealand citizens no longer need a visa to visit South Africa for up to 90 days, a move that's been welcomed by travellers and tourism industry operators.
For many, 2020 will be the year to finally move a South African adventure off the wish list and on to the to-do list.
With world-class wildlife safaris, a sophisticated food-and-wine scene, glamorous accommodation and a favourable exchange rate, it's a destination well worth the journey.
Most visitors will start their South African adventure in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. In Jo'burg, a grittier city than Cape Town, take a guided tour of the sprawling township of Soweto to gain insights into the history of apartheid.
A visit to the Nelson Mandela National Museum, where Mandela lived for 16 years, must not be missed.
Home to one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature — at more than 1000m high, the summit of Table Mountain is reached by cable car or a steep 2-hour hike — Cape Town is an outdoorsy, coastal city. Don't be fooled into thinking it's all hikes and beaches, though. Capetonians are spoiled for choice when it comes to great galleries, food and wine; in fact, some of South Africa's best wineries are less than an hour's drive from the city centre.
The Victoria & Alfred waterfront development is where most of the top hotels are located, and it's well set-up for visitors with a sprawling shopping centre, handicrafts market, aquarium and great places to eat. To pick up gorgeous one-of-a-kind souvenirs and handmade goods, head straight for The Watershed Market. Here you'll find colourful woven baskets, woodblock prints, carved bowls and gifts for the home cook.
For deluxe digs, splurge on a stay at One&Only Cape Town. You'll be greeted by staff who graciously place their right hand over their heart whenever you pass by, a symbol of their heartfelt hospitality. If there's a better cure for jetlag than the African deep tissue massage at the resort's swish spa, we haven't found it yet.
Home to the only Nobu restaurant in Africa, the food at One&Only is also fabulous. We're talking the freshest sushi and nigiri, Japanese tacos and... seared springbok. Wait, what? The delicate, gamey meat, served medium-rare, is delicious. It's one of the house specialties. At Nobu, it's possible to book a private sushi-making class, where the secrets of chef Nobu Matsuhisa's fresh and delicate cuisine are revealed (hint: yuzu should be on your shopping list).
After a few days of rest and relaxation in Cape Town, most visitors will want to head off on the classic African wildlife safari. Nothing prepares you for the spectacle of coming within a few metres of mating leopards, lions fresh from a kill and protective rhinoceros mums, grazing with their bubs. And that's just before breakfast.
Morning and afternoon safaris — usually three hours at a time — in open-top jeeps with rangers and trackers are included in most lodge stays. Six hours a day driving around the game reserves may seem a lot but it flies by, filled with thrilling sightings of lions, elephants, giraffes, hyenas, cougars and buffalo. Any nervousness about getting so close to some of the wildest creatures in the world is quickly alleviated, and not just by the customary sundowner gin-and-tonics served in the bush. The rangers at reputable game reserves like the ones at Kapama and Sabi Sabi treat the safety of guests with the highest regard. They will patiently explain how and why the animals don't view the jeeps as a threat, or as potential prey. Follow their advice and you'll return in time for a hearty breakfast or decadent multi-course dinner.
The food in South Africa's best lodges is consistently top-notch, a credit to the chefs who no doubt have to overcome some challenging logistics to put delicious filet mignon, seared salmon and gluten-free bread on the table.
To do an African safari really well, it's important to choose the right lodgings. For many people, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip worth saving years for. In that case, you can't go wrong with the jaw-droppingly beautiful Kapama Karula Lodge. All-white interiors, a creative chef, a secluded location and truly warm hospitality tick all the boxes. Don't be surprised if an inquisitive monkey drops by your private outdoor plunge pool.
The recently unveiled Earth Lodge suites and spa at Sabi Sabi private game reserve are some of the most impressive in Africa. Designed to blend seamlessly with the natural environment, they've been dubbed the "Tomorrow" lodges of Sabi, representing the eco-awareness practices and aesthetics we've come to expect of leading accommodation providers.
The Amani Spa at Earth Lodge offers the very best of African wellness, with excellent massages using locally sourced products. After one of their healing treatments, you'll be well on your way to falling in love with incredible South Africa.