Sun City expanded last year with the creation of The Lost City and its Palace hotel, a fancier complex with an artificial beach, mechanical waves, water slides and a bridge that shakes periodically with the "eruption" of make-believe volcanoes spewing colorful, hypo-allergenic dust.
Sun City and Lost City each also feature championship, Gary Player-designed golf courses. Although Durban Country Club to the south regularly makes Golf Digest magazine's list of the world's best courses, I find the Sun City courses the prettiest and most difficult tests of golf in a country covered with courses. (One of the holes at Lost City has a water hazard with live crocodiles.)
The creators of Sun City and The Lost City are hoping this resort will become a magnet for world travelers. In December, they will host the Miss World beauty pageant for a second year. And the Sun City stage is drawing increasing numbers of American and European entertainers.
But due to the uncertainty of the country's democratic transition, the resort still draws a mostly South African clientele. And, while I have found Sun City to be luxurious and entertaining, it doesn't offer more than a nonessential diversion for Americans on their first visit to Africa.
Kruger Park, on the other hand, is required seeing. The country's largest game reserve, on the border with Mozambique and a four-hour drive east of Johannesburg, is richly endowed with elephant, lion, buffalo, hippo, cheetah and other wildlife.
The vast park (at about 26,875 square miles, the size of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire combined) has a good road network, which is its appeal and its failing. Getting around is easy, but driving off the roads, even to get a closer look or a decent photograph, is forbidden. And the bush can sometimes be quite thick, providing many hiding places for wildlife.
But there is a good alternative. Just outside of Kruger, sharing the park's wildlife but not its rules, are a few private game reserves that offer safari experiences similar to Kenya's. The most luxurious is Mala Mala, where visitors dine on \o7 haute \f7 cuisine and South African champagne after guided, four-wheel-drive forays into the bush, where seeing wild game up close is a virtual certainty.
Kruger Park is next to Natal Province, which includes Durban, a large, lively and steamy port city on the Indian Ocean. The city itself has some beachfront hotels, but the beaches are small and crowded. I prefer the modest hotels on the quieter, gray-sand beaches that stretch north and south of the city. The warm waters of Natal are favored by South African vacationers, who swim on beaches protected by fairly reliable shark nets.
In the lush Natal interior, among sugar cane fields and low mountains, the provincial capital of Pietermaritzburg is picturesque. Although the city itself is safe, it is surrounded by townships where internecine battles between Zulus over political power have raged for a decade. For the history buff, Natal's interior also is covered with old battlefields and military graveyards, reminders of Zulu King Shaka's battles with the British.
The most beautiful region in South Africa by far is the Cape Province. International air carriers, recognizing the importance of this region, have begun adding nonstop flights from European capitals to Cape Town.
Cape Town is the friendliest of South Africa's cities, and it has long been known as the most racially relaxed place in the country.
The buildings of Parliament, some of which date from the arrival of European settlers here 400 years ago, make a fascinating stop. Tours are offered only by appointment, but they're easy to arrange with a phone call to the public relations office of Parliament and well worth the effort.
The new place to see and be seen in Cape Town is The Waterfront, an attractive collection of up-market shops, restaurants and rocking late-night music clubs on the recently refurbished docks. Boat tours are available there, too, and among the itineraries is Robben Island, where black nationalist Mandela was imprisoned for most of his 27 years behind bars.
The Cape Point, at the tip of the Cape of Good Hope, is a 90-minute drive south along a scenic peninsula, offering breathtaking views of the cold, blue waters of the Atlantic. I never tire of standing atop the sheer rock face of the Cape Point, straining to spot ships rounding Africa on their way to India and the Far East.
The Cape coastline, favored by surfers, is dotted with beach communities and uncrowded beaches of pure white sand. We find the water on the western side of the Cape, washed by currents from Antarctica, too cold for swimming. But the water on the eastern side, just a few miles across the peninsula, is always a few degrees warmer. And among the more pleasant beaches there is St. James, where swimmers still change into their "bathing costumes" in colorful, Victorian-style changing cubicles.