Football crazy

Sat, Dec 12, 2009, 00:00

As an excited South Africa prepares for the World Cup, HOLLY HUNT  rounds up what the key host cities offer if you fancy combining the soccer with a holiday

IT WOULD BE a colossal understatement to say South Africans are looking forward to the World Cup. Every corner of the country is explosively overexcited – as far as most people are concerned, nothing else is happening next year.

Even though we won’t be following the boys in green down south, that doesn’t take away from the fact that a visit to the 2010 World Cup will be the experience of a lifetime.

Predictions are that the tournament will boost South Africa’s coffers by €1 billion and create at least 150,000 jobs. Airports are being built, tram systems designed, anticrime campaigns put in place and ambitious stadiums built. In a country where 30 per cent of people are out of work, none of this is to be taken lightly.

Will South Africa be ready? It’s debatable. But one thing is certain: even if it is Brazil you are cheering for, and not Ireland, the fun and excitement will make it worth the journey.

Joburg and Soweto

Johannesburg will host the opening ceremony and the final, as well as many of the key matches. So anyone planning to travel to the Dark Continent will not be able to avoid a stay in the City of Gold. You’re probably thinking barbed-wire fences, crime and poverty. But did you know that the city has so many trees and parks – more than six million of the former and 2,328 of the latter – that from the air it looks like a man-made rainforest? Or that the bird life in the city is more prolific than in most of Africa’s game parks? Oh, and you can gorge yourself in fantastic restaurants for the price of a starter in Dublin.

You need to be streetwise – don’t wander along with your wallet hanging out of your back pocket – but once you get that right Joburg is a fascinating city.

Newtown is the centre of Johannesburg’s creative scene. With museums, galleries, clubs, bars, restaurants, craft markets, theatres and even a muti – or tribal magic – market. Rosebank Market is home to delicious gourmet food and masses of African curios.

Another must-see is the Apartheid Museum (00-27-11- 3094700, apartheidmuseum.org), which segregates visitors by colour and shunts you along caged corridors hung with apartheid’s obligatory ID documents. If you were in the wrong place at the wrong time your colour could change. In 1985, at the stroke of a government pen, at least 1,000 people’s racial grouping changed in what was known as the chameleon dance. The most emotionally evocative exhibit I’ve ever visited.

The main World Cup stadium is in Soweto, the political hotbed of the apartheid era and the soccer centre of South Africa. More than 40 per cent of Johannesburg’s population live in the township, making it a city of its own – and they all seem to be obsessed with soccer. It was in this haphazard collection of homes, created to house black workers, that the anti-apartheid movement was born. Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Desmond Tutu all come from the township – as do the highest number of professional soccer teams in the country.

Soccer City Stadium will seat almost 95,000 fans for the first and final matches of the tournament, as well as many in between. If you can secure a ticket you’ll be guaranteed an electric atmosphere.

A stop at a local shebeen and a taste of some local beer are integral to the experience. You can even visit a local church to sing gospel and prep your lungs for the big game.

Where to stayLebo’s Soweto Backpackers (10823A Pooe Street, Orlando West, Soweto, 00-27-11-9363444, soweto backpackers.com) is the place to stay for a taste of the energy of urban Africa. The Grace in Rosebank (54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank, 00-27-11-2807200, africansunhotels.com) is an elegant hotel close to Ellis Park and next door to Rosebank African craft market. Melville Manor (80 Second Avenue, Melville, 00-27-11-7268765, melvillemanor.co.za) is one of many guest houses in trendy Melville, near Ellis Park.

Where else to goCycle through Soweto with Township Cycle Tours (00-27-11-9363444, sowetobicycletours.com). Sip a lakeside cocktail at Moyo’s restaurant (00-27-11-6460058, moyo.co.za). Visit the museum to Hector Pieterson (00-27-11- 3151534, soweto.co.za/html/ p_hector.htm), who was shot dead by police during student uprisings in 1976. The museum offers an easily digestible angle on the apartheid era.

Durban

Mild weather, long sandy beaches and water that averages 15 degrees all year make Durban a perfect setting to balance World Cup mania with holiday relaxation. This laid-back coastal city will host one of the semi-finals, as well as six other matches of the tournament.

Durban is a cultural melting pot of African, eastern and western influences. Home to the proud Zulu nation, it was settled in the early 1800s by the British and Boers from Western Cape. From the 1860s indentured labourers were brought from India to work on the sugar plantations. They stayed, resulting in a city with the highest density of Indians outside India. With them came their spices, and so was born Durban’s unique cuisine.

The new Moses Mabhida Stadium is the pride of Durban. An arch stretches more than 100m over the pitch, its two legs on the southern side of the stadium joining to form a single footing on the northern side, to symbolise the unity through sport of a once-divided nation. And it’s only a stone’s throw from the beach.

The white sands that stretch along the eastern side of the city, known as the golden mile, are dotted with hotels, bars and curry houses. Home to dozens of bleached-blond surfers, these beaches and their perfect waves are suitable for beginners as well as more experienced wave enthusiasts.

If you prefer a little distance between yourself and the predators of the sea, you can visit uShaka Marine World (00-27- 31-3288000, ushakamarine world.co.za), the largest marine theme park in Africa and one of the five largest aquariums in the world.

Where to stayTala Game Reserve (Cascades, Pietermaritzburg, 00-27-31-7818000, tala.co.za) offers the big-five experience near Durban. Villa le View (Bluff, Durban, 00-27-31- 4677299, villaleview.co.za) is a four-star guest house. Tekweni Backpackers (Morningside, Durban, 00-27-31-3031433, tekweni backpackers.co.za) is a hostel with a great reputation for fun and good service.

Where else to goEat a bunny chow – hollowed-out bread filled with curry; no rabbits involved – at Goundens (Eaton Road, 00-27-31- 2055363). Learn to surf with Dolphin Dreams (00-27-84- 4711907, dolphindreams.co.za).

Port Elizabeth

Elegant but crumbling Dutch homes leaning against ugly modern buildings in front of a sparkling blue sea is how I remember Port Elizabeth. My other strong memory of PE is passing the Go Go Girls strip club; a week later its neon sign had been replaced to read Go Go God, and a crowd outside was singing in honour of its virtuous victory. Religious battles aside, PE is a relaxed Eastern Cape city.

The shiny Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, which has a stunning location beside the water, will host the third-place play-off and a quarter-final, plus six other matches.

Addo Elephant National Park (00-27-12-4289111, addo elephant.com), 70km north of PE, is home to all of the big-five safari animals, including more than 300 elephants. Opened to protect a dwindling and harassed elephant population, it is a conservation triumph. You can explore it in your own vehicle or join a tour to learn a little of the intricacies of this ecosystem. You can also stay in one of its exceptional lodges.

Where to stayGorah Elephant Camp (Addo Elephant National Park, 00-27-44- 5011111, hunterhotels.com/ gorahelephantcamp) is the place to go for a decadent safari experience. Leeuwenbosch Country House (Amakhala Game Reserve, 00-27-46- 6362750, amakhala.co.za) features colonial opulence in a relaxed family atmosphere next door to Addo. Paxton Hotel (Humerail, 00-27-41-5859655, paxton.co.za) offers beachfront accommodation in the city.

Where else to goPort Elizabeth Opera House (00-27- 41-5862256, peoperahouse.co.za) is the southern hemisphere’s oldest theatre. Or ride on the Apple Express steam train (00-27-41-3684649, apple-express.co.za).

Cape Town

Nestled under the majestic Table Mountain, and overlooking a turquoise sea, Cape Town will be the most scenic of the World Cup locations.

You can hike up the mountain, then abseil down (00-27- 21-4244760, abseilafrica.co.za), from 1,000m above sea level, surrounded by mind-blowing views – or, if you’re feeling less energetic, take the cable car there and back.

Table Mountain is one of the city’s big five must-dos, along with Cape Point, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Robben Island (00-27-21-4095100, robben-island.org.za) and the Victoria Alfred Waterfront. You can also visit the more tranquil waterfronts of Hout Bay or Simon’s Town (where you can hop in a kayak to paddle with penguins: 00-27-82- 5018930, kayakcapetown.co.za) or explore the beaches of Sandy Bay (if you don’t mind a spot of nudity) and Noordhoek.

Quarter- and semi-finals will take place at Cape Town’s 70,000-seat Green Point Stadium.

The one downfall of Cape Town in June – the middle of the southern-hemisphere winter – is the weather: it is likely to be cold, wet and windy. (The other host cities all have milder climates.) But what a wonderful excuse to spend more time sampling the Cape’s fabulous wines. This is also the season when whales come to calve in the Cape’s storm-lashed waters. So bring waterproofs and binoculars.

Where to stayOlive Branch Guest House (Green Point, 00-27-21-4349198, olivebranch.co.za) is close to the stadium. Lagoon Beach Hotel (Milnerton, 00-27-21-5282000, lagoon beachhotel.co.za) has direct access to the sand. Southern Sun Waterfront (00-27-21- 4094000, southernsun.com) is large and may still have rooms during the tournament.


For information about buying tickets, see fifa.com/worldcup/ organisation/ticketing

British Airways (ba.com), South African Airways (flysaa.com), Air France (airfrance.com) and KLM (klm.com) fly from Ireland to Cape Town or Johannesburg.