South Africa’s kitsch casino
Every 90 seconds, hydraulic mechanisms send a 1.8m-high wave across the ambitious Roaring Lagoon, the waterpark’s 6,500sqm wave pool. Equally thrilling are the five rides, including the Temple of Courage, on which swimmers drop 17m in a 70m-long chute. The Lazy River is a mellow tube ride circling a kidney-shaped island which is home to an ethnic-style village containing a clothes store, sweet shop, fast-food outlet, and children’s pool and playground. The waterpark also includes the Royal Bath pool, built over a natural spring, with a cocktail bar on the deck. Surrounding the shimmering pools is a botanical garden, where walking trails lead between a swaying bridge and gardens of local plants, such as baobabs and jacarandas, and tropical varieties.
Overlooking Valley of the Waves, and completing the fantastical view from the Monkey Spring Plaza, are the domed towers of the otherworldly Palace of the Lost City. This five-star hotel, its grand atriums and halls decorated with frescoes, mosaics and painted ceilings, is regularly rated as one of the world’s most luxurious accommodation options, and is one of the The Leading Hotels of the World. With features including butler service and marble bathrooms in its 338 rooms and suites, gardens dotted with fountains and pools and half a dozen bars and restaurants, it continues the Lost City’s theme, with the regal ambience of a mighty ruler’s kingly abode. The hotel is not open to non-guests but tours can be arranged in the Welcome Centre.
Sun City has some 1,200 rooms across its four hotels, the second-most luxurious of which is the five-star Cascades Hotel. This hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired grounds feature a lake with waterfalls, an artificial beach with a cocktail bar and a garden inhabited by exotic birds. Its rooms and suites include luxuries such as the Garden Suite’s private garden and pool. With hanging foliage and cascading water in its jungle-themed reception, the four-star Sun City Hotel is geared towards a young, hedonistic crowd, and is the home of the complex’s other casino, the Sun City Hotel Casino On its gaming floor visitors can play American roulette, blackjack, punto banco (baccarat), stud poker and slot machines, and the Sun City School of Gaming gives free lessons in the rules, techniques and etiquette of casino table game. The three-star Cabanas Hotel is the most informal and family-friendly option, with facilities including a playground, aviary and farmyard. The adjoining Kamp Kwena, a children’s babysitting and entertainment centre, organises activities for two- to 12-year-old children during the high season, and the playful hotel even has a resident blue crane -- the national bird of South Africa -- named Figaro.
You do not need to visit Sun City’s casinos or stay in its hotels to take part in its range of activities. At the Welcome Centre, you can arrange adventures including jet skiing, parasailing, horse riding, zip lining, paintballing at the Outdoor Adventure Centre, or feeding crocs in the Kwena Gardens Crocodile Sanctuary. Sun City has two golf courses laid out by the South African champion Gary Player, including the 100-hectare Lost City Golf Course. This course’s thirteenth hole, which features a green in the shape of the African continent, lives up to its unlucky number; the pond bordering the green is home to several large Nile crocodiles.
The hills you can see from numerous points in Sun City, undulating away to the north, are located in the adjacent 550sqkm Pilanesberg National Park, one of South Africa’s most accessible wildlife parks. Occupying an extinct volcano crater, it was declared a national park in 1984 following the release of 6,000 native animals including lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, elephants and several types of antelope from klipspringers to kudus. It remains South Africa’s largest wildlife resettlement project to date.