“Any journey that begins with a safari through the African bush,” says Fran Wood, “and ends with a visit to one of the world’s Seven Wonders — with built-in time for painting along the way — is bound to offer some choice experiences between those unique bookends.” Discover them here and be inspired to take your first step toward a painting trip of a lifetime.
By Fran Wood
Any journey that begins with a safari through the African bush and ends with a visit to one of the world’s Seven Wonders — with built-in time for painting along the way — is bound to offer some choice experiences between those unique bookends.
For a dozen adventurous artists (and three-non-painting spouses), the Plein Air magazine–sponsored African Painting Safari was just such a journey.
Our transportation was provided by South African Airways — the only direct flight to Johannesburg from JFK, and an excellent airline. Edible food, pleasant crew, clean. True, the trip takes 15 hours, but a layover in Europe would have added five or more hours to that.
We rendezvoused with our tour guide Angela Morgan in Johannesburg, and boarded a flight to Hoedspruit’s tiny airport, where we were ushered to a bus for a tour of the mountains before being taken to our destination. Kapama Lodge was elegant and delightful. It felt like, well, like Africa. We barely had time to deposit our luggage before convening for our first safari. Spread over two bush vehicles, with seating in graduated rows (the better for taking photographs), we headed into an enormous wildlife reserve covering some 32,000 acres.
Our guides were very knowledgeable — about the animals, their habits, the land, the drought, and local history. There were two guides per vehicle — one at the wheel, the other riding shotgun (literally, though he told us that in a dozen years he had never had to fire it) on a seat mounted over the left front wheel. The latter is the spotter and signals to the driver when he sees, say, a herd of impala, a group of giraffes, warthogs, zebras, a lion. This would be the first of three safaris in two days, and for first-timers (which is to say all but one of us) it would qualify as one of life’s most memorable experiences.
Two days later, we were off to Cape Town for the continuation of our nearly-two-week Publisher’s Invitational tour. Cape Town is a huge, sophisticated city that could be a thriving metropolis almost anywhere in the world.
But our experiences were unique, from visits to Twelve Apostles, an elegant mountain hotel with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean; a tour of South Africa’s wine country (complete with a tasting at one of the nation’s notable vineyards); a cable car ascension to the top of iconic Table Mountain; a day of painting in the spectacular Kirstenbosch Gardens; and a trip to the rocky Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet in a confluence of wild surf that must be seen to be believed. Even the indigenous penguins don’t venture anywhere near these crashing waves. The penguins have their own much calmer beachfront, which we also visited.
A couple days of rain didn’t deter the stalwart painters, who found sheltered spots or interior locations to set up their easels.
The base for our week in Cape Town was the Radisson Red Hotel in the city’s colourful, bustling port area, which offers easy walking access to shopping, dining, and several museums.
One of the most memorable excursions was an enlightening tour of the township outside Cape Town. Accompanied by a local guide, it began with a visit to Sikis, an entrepreneurial coffee shop in a “formal housing” community that operates out of a family garage. (The proprietor opens for business when his mother leaves for work, and closes when she returns and needs the space for her car.) It also included a stop at Velokhaya, a youth development organization that provides kids with bikes and challenging opportunities designed to help them succeed in life.
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After a walk through a large enclave of “informal housing,” we were taken to Bo-Kaap, the city’s hilly, cheerful, artistic-looking community, where almost every house is painted a different color. Our destination was “Cooking With Love,” the private home of a couple who teach Cape Malay cooking (a meld of Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines). We enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by painting in the neighborhood.
Dinner at a different restaurant each evening afforded periodic opportunities to try such traditional African dishes as impala stew, ostrich, curried springbok, and warthog kabobs — along with ample menu selections more familiar to American palates, and lots of chocolate desserts.
A Luxurious Afternoon
Upon our return to Johannesburg airport, half the group boarded a plane for JFK while the other half flew to Victoria Falls. Our hotel there, The Kingdom at Victoria Falls, was large and comfortable, with a spacious open-air restaurant featuring enormous buffet-style breakfasts and dinners. A cheerful thatched-roof bar by the pool was also an attraction, as was the vintage Victoria Hotel just a short walk away, where we spent one luxurious late afternoon on the verandah enjoying high tea and admiring the stunning view.
The highlight of our time in Victoria Falls, of course, was the town’s spectacular namesake, approached via a long path through a rainforest. Dumi, our guide, steered us to 11 different prospects of the beautiful, thunderous falls, and everyone’s camera got a thorough workout.
Another memorable excursion was a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, where we enjoyed drinks and hot hors d’oeuvres (prepared by an on-board chef) while observing wildlife from a different point of view. The most notable spotting was a family of elephants that approached the water for their last drink of the day. The species’ adults, teenagers, and children drank and sprayed one another, a couple of them rolling in the mud, which became instant video fodder!
The day ended with a spectacular African sunset (hopefully easier to paint than to describe), and the rise of a full moon.
The promotion for this trip, a year earlier, had promised an experience of a lifetime. It lived up to all of that, and then some.
For more images from the 2018 African Safari Publisher’s Invitational, please visit the PleinAir Magazine Facebook page.
Join PleinAir magazine publisher Eric Rhoads and a group of fellow plein air artists on the next Publisher’s Invitational! Locations include the Adirondack Mountains (June 8–15, 2019) and more to be announced!
Bonus images from the African Safari:
(five? Or add more in the copy)