I’ve only ever been to the self-proclaimed ‘Africa’s Playground’ once since moving to South Africa and to be honest my overall feeling was one of disappointed. Let me explain. I remember watching Miss World at some point during my childhood, seeing camera shots of the grounds, hotels and aerial views of the resort. It looked amazing on film….and I’m not referring to the contestants. The hype around this South African holiday mecca was enormous. The Tarzan movie was even shot at the Palace of the Lost City, where it was rumoured Michael Jackson had a private suite; or was he a majority shareholder?
Sun City, operated by the Sun International Hotel Group, had a lot to live up to in my expectations. When I was offered a weekend at the resort, I naturally jumped at the chance. I was lucky enough to stay in one of the Vacationers Club self-catering villas, which were very nice, however a little pricey for a weekend. Once unpacked, myself and friend headed down to the central entertainment area, the resort’s hub…followed by the baboons. Wildlife is great, although when stalked by entire troops of monkeys with larger than average fangs, bright red buttocks and a hunger for anything and everything which you might have on your person, it’s not might idea of an enjoyable encounter with Mother Nature.
For those of you who have ever been to Las Vegas, Sin City’s set-up is mind blowing. Famous hotels and casinos, lights, more lights, dancing fountains, trendy bars and clubs, and rollercoasters which run through and on top of hotels….the list goes on. Everything is done on a grand scale. Maybe this led to my underwhelming first impression of Sun City’s take on a gambler’s paradise? “Viva Sun City!”….it just doesn’t sound as good. The casinos looked weary and the decor was pushing the boundaries of tack. When last were tinsel and fairy lights used to decorate any supposedly modern interior outside of Christmas; and who wants to win a second-hand Nissan 1400 bakkie?
Onto the Valley of the Waves (grab a cocktail on the way if you can, or perhaps bet on a camel race in the games arcade), in an effort to dilute my downbeat first impressions of Africa’s Playground. The ‘good on film’ decor was again evident, from fake looking stone carvings all over the shop, to the plastic elephant statues lining the special effect earthquake bridge, the ‘Bridge of Time’. Maybe this was in when the resort first opened in 1979? The disappointment levels were sky-rocketing. I could see now why Michael Jackson loved the place…it is very akin to his Neverland Valley Ranch.
The Valley of the Waves water park set-up was admittedly pretty cool. Surrounded by jungle plants there were waterslides, a wave machine pool and a strip of beach where you could bask in the Northern Province sunshine. That’s if you are able to find somewhere to firstly wedge yourself in (think walrus crowded beach on the National Geographic channel). The place was so busy that you could hardly move and there were more Wors Huggers (Speedos) on show that you’d find at any German beach party (maybe I just picked a bad weekend?)
It’s not all doom and gloom though and they say one should experience something for themselves. The resort’s setting is spectacular and almost rivals that of the daytime drive into Vegas. The property also backs onto the Pilansburg National Park, which I’ve visited on several occasions and is a major plus point. If you like golf, the Gary Player/Nedbank golf challenge course is also rather nice (said as non-golfer). If you taste includes grand hotels, the Palace of the Lost City in its own special way can be pretty appealing….a little different to your average hotel. Put it this way, Tarzan would approve.