Monday, January 17, 2011

South Africa

I've done quite a bit of travelling over the last few years, a mixture of short weekend breaks and long haul adventures. Last Summer I was invited to a trip taking place this January that combined both; a weekend break to South Africa. The itinerary was 1 day travelling down, 2 days in Cape Town, 2 days in Joburg and 1 day to fly home, quite easily my most bonkers trip to date.

Here's the report.

Ratanga Junction
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The first of the main parks was Ratanga Junction, a short drive of around 20 minutes from the centre of Cape Town. The park is home to 3 rollercoasters and a bunch of other rides. The park has a Q shaped layout with the park entrance being the tail and the main path circling the park.

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Waiting in the queue line was a snake handler. I know someone who wouldn't be comfortable here!

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At the main intersection of the path is the theatre area surrounded by a number of restaurants. There was a fairly average talent show on later in the day, but the best entertainment for me came from the park DJ who was playing some great dance tracks around the park.

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The parks promotion was to run a stupid distance over a month. The majority of running was being done by gymnuts from the local gym down the road. The offer was there for park visitors to join in. Whilst I appreciate the keeping fit idea, this really wasn't my thing :)

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We had tried to head to Cobra first figuring the queue line would be longest there. As it happened the path took us to the rollerskater ride first. Bushwhacker was not a bad ride but it's just a generic rollercoaster ride. A little tip: when you get to the music arena head left for Bushwhacker and right for Cobra.

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Perhaps the best name for a Dodgems ride, ever!

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The second coaster we did was the big one, Cobra. This is a Vekoma SLC, a model of ride that has a reputation for being very rough and sore on the ears although I like them, the majority just don't know how to ride them properly :) This one has less cramped and more comfortable head rests and was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. So we'd found one of the best SLCs in the world, just a shame it is so far to get to.

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One of the things that was apparently obvious in the park is that beer was encouraged, with bars dotted around. I did like that the area in the Cobra exit, where most parks would install a shop had a bar instead.


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The log flume looked very good but the people coming off it were a bit too soaked for my liking. The ride does feature a tracked hill just in case people want to count this as another coaster. I didn't.

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The park did like their signs. This one tickled us most.

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and this one was amusing too. It's in the entrance to Cobra where the queue line passes through a snake and reptile house. I know of one person who'll have a problem riding this.

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Kids enjoying the rapids which we called Crocodile George (hi George!). It looked like it got you wet without the need to throw yourself under a waterfall.

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There aren't many parks that can boast having a real aircraft for theming. This is above the rapids and also serves as a conference room for parties etc. Certainly different.

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One of the most picturesque parks...probably

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The river boat ride. Very pretty!

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Not surprisingly some of the rides are themed around native animals.

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The final coaster is Diamond Devil Run, a Vekoma mine train ride with two lift hills and a decent track length. This ride was a pretty good too but not quite as good as Cobra IMO.

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Another great sign.

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If you want to illegally trade in a boat you have the opportunity to peddle one here.

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There aren't many parks that feature a paintball gun attraction. Welcome to Ratanga!

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Beautifully themed pirate ship. One of the better ones I'd ever seen!

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On the way out I spotted this amazing advert. As if you hadn't drunk enough beer in the park you were then given the option of going to a local bar and exchanging our wrist band for a free pint....So that's where headed off next.

Grand West Casino

A short journey from the free beer bar is the Grand West Casino which is home to a small amusement park called Magic Castle and a single roller coaster. To get to it we did the following.

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From the coffee shop walk across the street to a car park full of minibuses. This is public transport for the locals, which seemed to consist of poorer people who can't afford a car.
Board the first available bus for Goodwood. If it looks like a squeeze getting in get into the one behind.
At the first stop jump out and lose your wallet. Think to yourself that one of the people in the van must have stolen it but don't accuse them out loud. Find the wallet in your backpocket and blame your fat arse out loud.

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Walk a block south towards the railway station which you should cross over. The casino is on the other side.

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An awesome advert. Who in hell wants a poster of Rooney?

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Some photos from inside Magic Castle

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We didn't want to face GrandWest Security. They sounded very mean...

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The coaster was a ride once and never ride again experience. The only issue was that the park had a policy of keeping the train running until the queue was long enough to fill the next train or the operator got bored. I think after about 8 laps we eventually got to leave, embarrassment levels pushed to the max.

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Outside the amusement park is a large sized go-kart track.

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The casino itself looked a little tacky but still way better than those I experienced in Niagra Falls last year. Nice to see that Cirque are visiting with a touring show; a pity it was later in the year.

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The casino is however very kids friendly and worthwhile place to visit. In one room we found a full sized ice rink, which you had to pay to enter regardless of whether you were skating or not. This explains why the photo is taken from afar through the miserable looking security guard dude who looked uncannily liked the guy who stopped me taking photos of Byker Grove when I visited that.

Table Mountain
The second day in Cape Town was spent during touristy stuff and that began with a trip to Table Mountain. The over friendly taxi driver who was clearly looking to be an all day guide ("my brother has a winery"...) took us to the cable car and from there we rode to the top.

I've heard that you're very lucky if you make it to the top of the mountain and have a clear view to the city. Usually clouds get in the way.



So how fortunate was I to get photos like this? Yes there was some cloud blocking the view to the beaches to the west but the city was perfect! This was a great side trip and is very easy to do from the city. If you have motion sickness be warned that the gondola that takes you up the mountain revolves, which not everyone is happy experiencing.

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Just more pictures taken from the top.

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A brave lad attempts the abseil down the mountain.

Cape Town
From the mountain we grabbed a quick lunch and then caught the city's red tour bus. One of those red double deckers that can be found in most large cities and that gives a whistle stop tour of the city, perfect for our intensive trip. We rode the bus for the majority of the route. Martin got out near when we got close to the hotel. I remained on to complete the lap.

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Inside the main city park.

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Interesting architecture which looked a bit like we were in New Orleans.

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The city castle, which is actually a fort, but they call it a castle and as most of them are bigger than me who am I to argue?

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Interesting mural where the sculptor snuck the faces of his friends into the design. I learnt this from the bus tour.

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Inside District 6 where the Government, in a moment of clear lunacy, demolished a load of homes leaving 60,000 people homeless. Only the religious buildings were left unscathed. Seeing the impact of the evil side to human nature reminded me of my visit to Auschwitz last year and like that I couldn't get my head around why it had happened.

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The train station in the centre of Cape Town

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At one time this silo was the 2nd largest building in Africa, the first being the pyramids trivia fans!

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In the V&A area a cartoonish sculpture celebrating the 4 African peeps who've won the Nobel Peace Prize.

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The harbour with Table Mountain in the background.

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There used to be a small rollercoaster here, which is still in the Google Earth Satellite imagery but when we got there we a little disappointed to find an observation wheel on the plot of land where the coaster used to be. Actually subsequent research highlighted that the coaster was removed to make way for an attempt at making the largest saucepan, which then made way for the wheel.

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We ate here and had a delicious feast of seafish and catches of the day. All very reasonably priced too, which given the state of the pound and how weak it is internationally is a rare thing.

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A strange art installation made from Coca Cola crates that was clearly hanging over from Christmas. At first look I thought it was Santa flipping a double-bird.

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The city's football stadium, which housed some of the main games in the recent World Cup.

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Passing along the coast it became apparent that the majority of the coastline was rocks and not sand, which is why the beaches are probably surrounded with the richer communities.

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These trees are leaning like this because apparently the sea winds bounce off the buildings and blow the trees back towards the sea. I learnt this from the tour bus.

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Those that couldn't make the beaches could pay to enter a lido in the rocky beach area.

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The mist rolling in obscuring the beaches.

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The peaks at the back of table mountain are called the 12 Disciples but there are 17 of them.

We didn't explore JoBurg, we just didn't feel like it. It had a feel of being a hub city where people only come to the city to go somewhere else. We did have plans to visit a small funfair in Pretoria but a call on the day revealed there were no roller coasters this year so we were less inclined to go and visit it.

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The largest newspaper advert?

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We were staying in the Intercontinental, which is within walking distance of the airport. It's a nice hotel but it cost a packet. Fortunately the room was paid for with air mile points, even more fortunate they weren't mine (but I did offer to pay my share)

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I found this quite amusing in the airport, but given hunting is popular here in South Africa (animals I hope) it's not surprising.

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We also discovered that Wimpy is more popular than McDonalds. They've all but disappeared from the UK (I only know of one in Croydon), perhaps they all emigrated here!

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This pun gets the Ellis seal of approval! It was the best one of the trip.

Gold Reef City

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Gold Reef City is the large theme park about 40 minutes drive outside of Joburg. When we got there there was a sizeable crowd and a slight rain shower. When purchasing our ticket we were shown a sign that read no refunds would be given due to poor weather and we had to agree to that before the ticket was handed over. A bit stern but an omen of what was to come...
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The park has some very nice theming mostly themed around the old mining period where the industry was in its prime. It reminded me of Silver Dollar City, similar themed period but other parts of the park were nicely themed also.

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The only rides that were down today were the Top Spin and the Log flume, which boded really well as it meant we had all six coasters to ride.

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In the childrens section of the park is the latest addition to the coaster list. Called Shongololo (which means millipede). Now this ride has a clear rule that adults can't ride without kids. So how were we to get on this one? We gaijin thumped them and just jumped in next to 2 kids that had boarded in front of us. It was a "tick, next" coaster. The only thing impeding me from doing that was that I got my legs stuck in the seat and it took a little while to free myself.

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Jonzi's Express was a really nice ride too. This park was impressing me more and more. The layout was very similar to the larger travelling Schwarzkopf rides (Olympia Looping, Magnum Force) but without the loops, lots of swooping turns, all very smooth indeed. Interestingly the ride isn't made by Schwarzkopf but is a clone. We think the ride may have travelled under the name Japan Coaster before finding a home here. Don't ask me how I know, it's rather too geeky to admit :)

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Golden Loop is the park's shuttle loop and is arguably the best coaster in the park. It's certainly one of the better Shuttle Loop rides that I've ever been on. Super smooth and lots of fun to ride. It was the only coaster that I rode more than once.

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I wonder what food they sell here?

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The powered mine train wasn't bad either with a lengthy track that includes an outdoor run through the foliage and a hidden cave section. Word to the wise, don't sit on the left if you've got a wrestler in the train with you. Most of the turns are banked to the left and if they don't hold their weight up you're getting crushed.

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The park is home to Tower of Terror, a drop ride that is nicely themed around a coal mine elevator shaft. Clearly inspired by Oblivion at Alton Towers the ride drops vertically into a shaft before remerging above ground. Unlike the Alton ride this one twists slightly on the way down in preparation for the impending turn.

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The lift that takes the ride up is an elevator. This is the smoothest part of the ride because the car isn't travelling along any bumpy track at this time.

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Taking photos of the drop turned out to be quite tricky. The crappy skys made the exposure terrible, but these were the best pics of a bad bunch. The drop is alright, the bottom of the drop isn't. Two bangs as the car levels out and my head had taken the brunt of the impact.

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Glad to have made it all the way around back into the station I decided that one go was enough. I'd got my front-row ride and a memory to take away albeit a concussed one.

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A more accurate name for the ride can be got by taking one step to the left.

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Inspired by Theme Park Tycoon? Fences, bin, bench, bench, bench, another bench...

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The big wheel offers some decent photo opportunities of Anaconda, Golden Loop and Jonzi's Express. It's too close to Tower of Terror however.

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Liking the sign in the rapid station.


Anaconda  was the last ride of the day and was a little too much touch-and-go for our liking. The problem was that the park has a very strict, almost Japan like, approach to the weather. If it is raining, drizzly, just rained, or looks like it might rain then the ride doesn't open. At several times in the day we would be allowed in to queue only to have the ride close on us and us sent away. But like a common cold we kept coming back in the hope that it would open up.

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For a window of no more than twenty minutes the ride did eventually open and we were allowed on to ride. As we boarded the front row (fate more than planning) the rain started to come once more but fortunately we were allowed our go and the train did leave the station.

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Not as tidy as the Japanese

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The ride itself was really good. I'm not sure if that was due to a longer and therefore heavier train but the ride seemed more powerful than most inverted. The helix element particularly forceful, even in the front. A shame that we couldn't get a ride in the back.

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I didn't think much of the animal show although the peeping tom at the back made me laugh.

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Across from the main road behind the Tower of Error is another casino complex.

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Can't say much of the entertainment in it though.

Gold Reef City is a beautiful park with some very above average and unique rides. Sure Tower of Terror is a bit of a headbanger but its the only ride like it, and unique rides are worth experiencing even if it is just once. The only niggle was their policy towards the rain, choosing not to run a ride in weather that we in the UK are more akin too. But park rules are there to be abided and whilst we couldn't see the logic in leaving rides closed because it stopped raining 15 minutes ago, we remained patient and did end up getting all the rides we wanted but if you're easily wound up by seeing parks do this you may want to bear this in mind if you ever intend visiting.

From the casino we were able to order a taxi to take us to the next location.

Emperors Casino
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The final stop for us was to Emperors Casino, about 20 minutes from the hotel. It was home to an indoor Vekoma Junior Coaster. Note the past tense. Chatting to the staff we discovered that the indoor amusement park was removed 2 years ago to make way for an indoor multiplex. Ah well!

The casino itself looked quite nice, but the patrons were a little unruly. We got in the face of a queue jumping and obnoxious chinese man who was being rude to the staff and us because he wasn't being served quickly enough. This came to a head and an attempt to push him away led to accusations of having punched him and he went running to security. We had a quick chat with them and agreed that the best course of action was that we left the casino, and as we were on our way out we didn't have an issue with that.

Have you ever tried leaving a casino? We passed crazy chinese man 20 minutes later trying to find the exit.


So whilst the trip was a bit mental for the distance we were covering it actually turned out very worthwhile with us getting all the rides that were running. More importantly it became a revelation that travelling south over the Christmas holidays was an absolutely excellent idea and we're already planning trips for the same time of year in the next few years. I highly recommend doing this if people get down with the weather back home. Whilst I'm not a fan of the sun it certainly lifted my mood being out in it. Both of the big parks are must dos if you're planning on visiting South Africa with very good rides in both parks and unique rides in Gold Reef City.

Postscript: The one that got away!

Just prior to the trip I discovered a travelling showman who has a Schwarzkopf Silver Arrow coaster in his ride list. It was rumoured to be in Port Elizabeth whilst we were visiting and we had hoped to squeeze this into our already tight itinerary. As it happened we received contact from the owner the day before I flew out telling us that it only appears in August at a fair in another city so we dropped our last minute plans and now have a good reason to go back to South Africa to track this rare ride.

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