My Ultimate African Bucket List


My Ultimate African Bucket List

We’re often asked, if time or money weren’t an issue, what would you do? Jabulile Ngwenya pens a letter to friend, telling him the gifts she would give herself from the world’s biggest treasure box – Africa.

Image  By: Darling Lama Productions

Dear Tim,

Thank you for the birthday gift you’ve kindly bestowed upon me. I’ve wondered for months now what I should do with the money and it only seems right that I should travel. It seems frivolous considering life’s many pressures and demands, but I should tell you my reasoning.

I was probably seven or eight years old when my dad woke me from a deep slumber to hurriedly take a bath. It was three o’clock in the morning and dad would be driving us from Bulawayo to Johannesburg – a journey of 10 hours depending on the queues at the Beitbridge border. As I peered through the curtains, the shadow of the old ever-faithful gum tree, which stood protectively over my bedroom window and to which I’d whispered many childhood secrets, was the only dark spot on the Earth. It looked like a gnarled old man in search of something; the rest of the Earth was lovely brown soil so clear from the shine of the full moon and the millions of stars dotting the African royal navy sky. You remember that, don’t you?

As soon as we were all in the car and dad had driven out of town, and the reception of the radio station turned poor, forcing dad to put in one of his jazz cassettes, songs for which I have no names but which I can sing or hum even today, I’d cover myself with a blanket and be gently lulled to sleep. My favourite memory is waking up to the music and looking out of the window of the Mazda 323, noting nothing but bush, trees, grasslands, cows and goats and a magnificent sunrise as the sky lit up with delightful pinks, hazy oranges, streaks of purple against a warm blue background.

I tell myself it’s those trips that ignited my love for travel, or maybe it’s my parents’ love for the road and our beautiful continent that we never had an ordinary holiday. We couldn’t afford to fly anywhere but, as you know, mom and dad would never hesitate to drive across the border to Botswana, Zimbabwe or Lesotho, exploring cities, towns and ancient sites. Sadly those trips have stopped, but in honour of my parents and you, I’d dedicate the following journeys to them:

Victoria Falls

I still see mom smiling happily as she was showered by the spray in the rainforest of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Known locally as Mosi oa Tunya, meaning ‘the Smoke that Thunders’, these falls are situated on the Zambezi River and mark the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Having already been to the Zimbabwean side, I’d love to hear, once again, the thunder of the falling waters and see the beautiful vegetation where the spray from the water falls repeatedly. The sight is said to be just as magical on the other side.

Virunga Mountains

These mountains, located in the northern province of Rwanda and on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, comprise six volcanoes. Lush and verdant, with the mist casting mystical warmth over them, the mountains are home to the famous mountain gorillas. They were also the home to Dian Fossey and her Karisoke Research Centre, where she worked to protect these incredible creatures. Her work has not gone unnoticed and much effort is made to protect the gorillas, including the offer of guided gorilla treks. As I’m an admirer, this will be followed by a hike on the Dian Fossey Tomb Trail, which leads to her tomb, where she’s buried close to Digit, one of the gorillas with whom she established a close relationship.


Who wouldn’t want to be privy to one of the greatest sights on Earth? The Serengeti not only offers beautiful views of savannah landscapes and beautiful sunsets from north Tanzania to the southwestern parts of Kenya, but it also plays host to the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world. Over a million wildebeest and zebra trek 3 000km from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara, crossing crocodile-infested rivers and protecting their calves from predators who stay close to their heels. While also great to view other wildlife, such as elephants, lion, leopard, buffalo, wild dogs, cheetah, I’ve heard the grunts of over one million wildebeest is mind-blowing.

Mnemba Island

Africa has beautiful beaches, some of which hold Blue Flag status, but Mnemba Island, just off the northeastern tip of Zanzibar, has been said to have probably the best beach in Africa. A private tropical island, which accommodates only 20 people at a time, it offers the ultimate in comfort and luxury, where I can enjoy my own stretch of beachfront ensconced in my banda, delight in the sumptuous seafood and, if I’m not drowning in the serenity of it all, take up snorkelling, kayaking, windsurfing, diving or deep-sea fishing. The sunshine all year round is addictive.


I’ve always looked upon those who’ve already done shark-cage diving with deep envy. It certainly appeals to my sense of adventure, and if an 80-year-old grandmother from across the seas can do it, then I’m certainly up to the challenge. Gaansbaai, located only two hours from Cape Town, is known as the Great White Shark capital of the world, but after the thrill of coming face to face with the predators of the oceans, this lovely land helps you settle your nerves with whale-watching, seal-spotting or enjoying the delights of the penguin colony. I look forward to some hiking and the trails offer spectacular views of fynbos and various plant species.


Ever since history class in high school, Egypt’s ancient sites have captured my imagination. Abu Simbel is the home of two temples that are dazzling in their beauty, having been carved out of a sandstone cliff near the River Nile during the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. The Pyramids of Giza, though well known, still attract thousands of visitors and it’s here that the Sphinx still stands. However, it is to the Valley of the Kings that I most look forward. Located on the west bank of the River Nile, this is the place where tombs for kings and other nobles were constructed and where the tomb of that youthful Pharoah, Tutankhamen, was discovered in 1922.

Mount Kilimanjaro

I’ve heard you only need to be moderately fit to ascend the highest mountain in Africa, so cutting down on a few cigarettes shouldn’t be too hard. It’ll be worth it, of course, when I make it to Uhuru Peak and take in the large glaciers that form a white heaven, as well as indulge my delight in the wildlife to be found in the Kilimanjaro National Park. How close to heaven can you get?


I was captured by the movie Casablanca, seeing the souks heaving with people slipping through narrow walkways bargaining for homemade goods, shoes, clothes, food, homeware and, of course, being offered mint tea. My desire to see this city, a former French colonial post, was sealed when Humphrey Bogart said, ‘Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.’ But did you know that Imlil, a Berber settlement atop the Atlas Mountains also talks of romance because every September in the village market square is the Festival of Betrothal? Men wear their finest white turbans and garments, while women wear their finest jewellery in the hopes of winning the heart of the man they desire. Of course, Marrakesh is where everyone says I must go, and I will go as because, as you know, there are markets, gardens, palaces and mosques and the lovely Fesel Bali is home to the oldest university in the world.

Franschhoek, South Africa

We both know that travel is as much about the road as it is about art and food, and all roads that lead to the quaint town of Franschhoek, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, lead to gastronomic heaven. Whether in the peak of summer or looking upon snow-tipped mountains, Franschhoek’s restaurants still deliver the finest cuisine in the country. Together with the impressive wine culture, natural beauty and fascinating history dotted in the building architecture, Franschhoek is known as the food and wine capital of South Africa. I’ll reserve an extra place for you at every table I sit at.

St Louis, Senegal

I can’t imagine a better beauty than being around people who love music and dance than the Senegalese. I love their drums, their voices and their joy. St Louis has a strong urban culture that makes this city welcoming and vibrant, from the Fanals, which are nighttime processions at Christmas time with giant paper lanterns, to the world-renowned Saint-Louis Jazz Festival. If I were there all year round, I’d be at the Festival Metissons, another music festival organized by the local communities, and the annual regatta – a race between teams of fishermen. After being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, this place has grown beautifully and so has the crowd of people dancing all night long.

Thank you, because it’s now a reality.

Your friend,




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Bewitched by the magic of France, Melissa Jane Cook is an intrepid explorer. A lover of traversing the globe, she eagerly absorbs different cultures and laps up the magnificent oceanic experiences. Wooed by words and writers alike, her penchant for facials, chocolate, owls and bugs, is surpassed only by her fascination with the stage aglow in lights or bookshelves that heave with stories, where characters invite her along on their marvellous journeys.