South Africa: Spirit of the wild

South Africa: Spirit of the wild
Zulu dancers, full of athleticism and humour, convey the vibrance of their culture in Phezulu village in the Valley of A Thousand Hills, outside Durban in South Africa.

In the shade of an immense oak, I sip wine, then nibble on chocolate. It's a doubly indulgent afternoon as cellar manager Kathy Van Niekerk pairs ruby-red shiraz and dark, spiced chocolate for me, a wine novice and chocolate lover.

"A match made in heaven," she sings out in her South African accent. Somehow, the wine tastes richer when matched with the Ghanaian chocolate tinged with dusky cardamom, clove and nutmeg - a new bespoke bar inspired by Cape Malays, former slaves and dissidents from Java.

I try other pairings at the Boschendal Wine Estate (www.boschendalwines.com; 60 rand or S$7.20 for four pairings), savouring a chocolate with a nostalgic lemon-cream-biscuit flavour that my hostess couples with a "curvaceous Chardonnay".

Boschendal, a vineyard established in 1685, is dotted with white-gabled Cape Dutch homesteads. Set in a valley with a Mediterranean climate, wine estates, from traditional to trendy, form a caressing half-moon around Cape Town.

Like much of Cape Town, and some swathes of South Africa, the winery feels cosmopolitan and European, yet there is a pervasive African wildness in the air.

This wildness is palpable when I gaze at the wind-whipped Table Mountain range that looms over the Cape Town region. The Indian and Atlantic oceans collide here, creating an extreme diversity of flora and fauna.

My South African journey, which wends through Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and the MalaMala private game reserve, is defined by mega-diverse landscapes, experiences and narratives.

I rarely do "grand tours" and like to treat travel as a quest, seeking just a couple of fascinating places or themes each time. But South Africa turns out to be a land of so many textures, and so stimulating to explore that despite three domestic flights in seven days and few hours of sleep, I am refreshed, not fatigued.

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