The Lost City of KitschOnce upon a time, the fairytale land of Sun City used to look tremendously kitsch. All shiny gold bath taps and extravagant bulbous rooftops.
Then they built a fake Tuscan village at Fourways, and kitsch was accelerated to such new heights that Sun City lost its status as the king of bling.
After my first visit to the Lost City as a newcomer to South Africa I was horrified. “It’s so un-African. You could be in Disneyland,” I wailed to a Sandton Kugelite. “That’s the whole point, Doll,” she said, shortly before she emigrated to America.
Now Sun City fits in perfectly with the cross-cultural, borrow-from-everywhere architecture and attitude that permeates South Africa. I still hate the permanent gloom of the casino floors, kept semi-dark to fool gamblers into forgetting that it’s only 10am and they should be doing something more productive.
And have you ever noticed that the people mechanically shoving money into slot machines never actually look as if they’re enjoying it? So steer clear of the casinos and discover what else Sun City has to offer. Quite a lot, actually. In fact I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ve developed a soft spot for the place, even if it is looking a bit faded around the edges.
Like an over-the-top beauty queen who’s glamour is fading, if you look closely behind the make-up you see the wrinkles and sagginess of age. Best to go with someone you love, then you’ll have much better things to do than examine the décor.
My favourite spot is right out at the back beyond The Palace, where meandering paths lead to a hidden corner of mystical baobab trees. It’s no good asking the staff for directions, because most of them don’t seem to realise the boababs are there at all. You just turn left down a path a few metres before the grand entrance to The Palace, and ramble aimlessly over little streams until they call to you.
As you stand in utter insignificance dwarfed by their mighty branches, the throbbing slot machines and gaudy flashing lights are a different world away. Then you can stroll back and mooch around the aviary, wondering how birds get to be so vividly red. Or coo at the small collection of farmyard animals and try to outstare one of the placid but perpetually menacing birds of prey.
If you want bigger animals the Pilanesberg reserve is literally just around the corner, and compact enough to almost guarantee seeing several of the big five before supper.
Discovering that one of the pools at The Cascades is heated gave me another warm, fuzzy glow about Sun City. It got even better when I discovered the fabulous tequila cocktail that warmed me from the inside while the water warmed me from the outside.
Watching a cheeky monkey steal the sunspecs from the sunbed of an unsuspecting tourist was another delight. Sometime you can watch the monkeys scaling the walls of the hotels with the determined precision of commandoes conducting a military raid on the enemy.
On a recent visit a German tourist walked into the bar and announced that he’d just been robbed by a monkey. I tried not to smirk, but I couldn’t help thinking: “Way to go, chimp!”
If you’re with your family head down to the lake and hire a canoe or a jet ski or just get on the boat that looks like a floating box and spend half an hour listening to a knowledgeable guide relating the history of the place. The motionless lake won’t throw any daredevil waves and currents at you, but it’s a gentle diversion for an afternoon.
Sun City is more famous for the whole Valley of the Waves experience, with man-made waves to liven up your swimming, and kids shrieking with glee as they tumble down giant water slides.
What else? Oh yes, you can always do the golfing thing, get yourself pampered at the spa, and catch a family movie at the cinema.
I haven’t tried the shebeen or the nightclub yet, and I’ve never seen anyone attempt the parasailing, but it’s available if you’ve got R500 to spare. So take the kids, take the golf clubs and the mountain bikes, the wildlife-spotting binoculars and the gym kit. Take a book for the quiet moments and a wallet for the expensive ones.
It’s a fake world entirely, of course, but sometimes faking it is fun.