/ 17 June 2004

Silliness and sizzle

Back in the bad days of apartheid when gambling was a no-no and boobs were terribly naughty, Sun City was something of a brash old tart, pimping herself as a den of decadence in the dusty Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. South Africans would flood the borders for weekends of white mischief, submerging themselves in a surreal universe of all-night gambling, “dolly birds”, booze and non-stop entertainment.

The complex was a hedonistic paradise for sin-starved South Africans where parents could push their luck on the slots while the kids played Pac-Man and consumed Coca-Cola. “We will rock you” was a pledge that was fulfilled by streams of international musicians who balked at the idea of playing in South Africa during sanctions but didn’t bat an eye about performing for its middle-class white citizens in the homeland.

Twenty years on and the old matriarch is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. The fall of the homelands and the legalisation of gambling robbed Sun City of its individuality, forcing it to reassess its target market and branch into new territories.

The result is a schizophrenic adult Disney World with the rolling green Gary Player golf course and larger-than-life opulence of the Lost City living cheek by jowl with holiday club apartments and a cultural village.

Despite the constant flux of upgrades and refurbishment, parts of the complex are a little frayed, most notably the entertainment centre where grannies with purple rinses clutch fake leather handbags and grind their jaws in rhythm to the ka-ching of the slot machines. The artificial rock and flashing neon interior hasn’t changed much since the Eighties, but there are reportedly plans in the pipeline to give the centre a facelift and bring it up to scratch with other refurbishments.

In an attempt to draw a winter crowd Sun City has some competitive packages on offer at its “budget” Cabanas, middle-of-the-range Sun City Hotel, more upmarket Cascades and over-the-top Palace.

The complex is clearly pitching for the local, family market with these deals and is fiercely promoting itself as “a wonderland where the sunshine never quits and the adventure and entertainment obliterates the cold bite of winter”. The climate in the North West is temperate, making it feasible to enjoy outdoor activities in the chilly season and there isn’t a shortage of activities if you aren’t shy of parting ways with your money.

Although fairly pedestrian in terms of its activities the adventure complex can be quite fun with, among others, archery, clay pigeon shooting, game drives and quad biking on offer.

The shooting is nerve jangling and quite difficult and while the bikes are good for an introduction, if you already know how to ride one the experience is likely to resemble a geriatrics’ golf-cart outing.

You don’t get to travel faster than 15km an hour and although you are riding through the Pilanesberg game park you are likely to miss spotting any animal, fool enough to stick around, for fear of bumping into the bike in front of you.

If it is a real rush you are after, it is probably better to bypass the adventure centre and head straight for Sun City’s newest adrenaline activity, the world’s longest foofie slide. The slide is a rush of note and is reason enough to visit the Pilanesberg in itself.

The slide is 280m high and 2km long and is located on top of a koppie about five minutes’ shuttle ride from Sun City. Participants are strapped into a harness that is suspended below a free running trolley, tilted face first along the length of the thing and released. The adrenaline starts pumping from the moment they string you up and the first three to five seconds are terrifying before you settle in to enjoy the ride. You can apparently reach speeds of up to 140kpm and the entire slide takes about four minutes.

Another fun activity is the para-sailing at Waterworld, which is a combination of parachuting and water sport. The venue also offers jetskis self-drive boats, skiing and a “wake snake”, which is a great yellow banana of a thing guaranteed to keep the kids battered, dunked and thoroughly happy.

None of these come cheap and even if you opt for the thriftiest of packages you are still likely to part ways with a fair wodge of cash. But then Sun City has never marketed itself as a sensible spend. It has always has been a place for silliness combined with sizzle.

Lisa Johnston was hosted by Sun International

The lowdown:

Sun City’s winter offers range from R349 a person a night, sharing at the Cabanas, to R899 a person a night, sharing at the Palace of the Lost City. Breakfast is included. For information call Tel: (011) 780 7800.

Prices for Gametrackers outdoor adventures range from R215 for an hour of archery to R430 for an hour nature trail on a quad bike, and R900 a person for an elephant-back safari and R2 400 for an hour’s hot air balloon safari. For more information call Tel: (014) 594 0270 or e-mail: [email protected].

One parasail, jetski and a ride at Waterworld will set you back R350 and there are two free boat cruises a day. Tel: (014) 552 1553.

The foofie slide costs R240 a person. Tel: (014) 557 1544.