It’s home to major golf tournaments, world title fights, major rock concerts and four massive hotels. Sun City is South Africa’s Las Vegas, but with more wildlife and better service.
The Palace of the Lost City, the centrepoint of the complex, is regarded as one of the finest hotels in all Africa. It is where the golfers, rock stars and big-name fighters stay, along with the high rollers and international tourists lured by the ridiculously low prices in South Africa.
These days, 20 years after the end of apartheid, everyone wants to play Sun City with its vibrant multiracial venues, two world-class golf courses and enough entertainment options to keep an insomniac busy for a fortnight.
While Sun City used to be best known for its casino, nowadays it pitches itself as an African-themed luxury resort with something for every member of the family. The Palace hotel is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World group and boasts several top-notch eateries, two of them introduced over the past 12 months.
The Plume is a small and chic restaurant serving French-influenced cuisine with an African edge; think dishes like Cape crayfish, crisp pancetta and bisque; Springbok carpaccio, smoky biltong-spiced sirloin with cabernet-pickled onions or maybe a Rooibos tea crème brulee.
Then there is the Grill Room; a steakhouse offering a bewildering range of cuts, sides and sauces, along with a salt and pepper menu featuring no fewer than 10 different salts and a range of peppers. The truly hungry can tackle the 750-gram “Tomahawk” steak.
The Palace Pool Deck serves gourmet burgers, pizzas and sandwiches next to the Olympic-sized pool, which is one of several in the grounds. These grounds also encompass the Cascades, Cabanas and Sun City Casino hotels, along with mini shopping malls, gaming rooms and cinema/restaurant complexes.
A note for food lovers: the buffet breakfasts at the Crystal Court restaurant within the Palace are quite probably the best I have ever enjoyed. In addition to this there is entertainment from a tuxedo-clad pianist at a grand piano once played by Liberace.
There are over 260 items to choose from so it pays to make breakfast your main meal of the day before heading out for a round or a game drive. You could perhaps return afterwards for a sumptuous high tea.
Right on the fringe of the Pilanesberg National Park, one of the largest in the country, the fantastical Palace is ridiculously over the top in terms of design – but somehow it works, drawing in South Africans of every hue. And the prices for food and wine, and most activities, are around a third of what you would expect to pay at a resort of a similar standard in Australia.
At The Palace you’ll discover larger-than-life elephant carvings, ornate bell towers, elaborate frescoes and luxury suites transformed into private mini casinos for high rollers.
Despite its remoteness The Palace hotel would fit very comfortably into a Las Vegas milleu. Transfers are available from Johannesburg and OR Tambo Airport for those who would prefer not to drive.
No expense has been spared. The painting on the ceiling of the hotel entrance chamber was created in the same way as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel in Rome and took nearly 5,000 hours to complete.
The six elephants tusks, arching in pairs over the Tusk Lounge and Bar, are 5.6 metres high, weigh two tons, and were made in four pieces out of Indonesian square wood, which is heavier than ivory.
In a "homeland" unrecognised by any other country than apartheid South Africa, Sun City controversially hosted gambling and topless revues in its youth.
With the demise of apartheid and Bophuthatswana’s inclusion in the “new” South Africa, it has now become a major international drawcard.
Guests who have stayed in the eye-popping Palace include Kylie Minogue, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Neil Armstrong, Robert de Niro and Nelson Mandela.
Everything is ridiculously opulent, from the external towers to the lavish lobby. There are 335 rooms and suites rooms, each with an African theme, 24-hour in-room dining and extravagant bathrooms.
Activities on offer year round include balloon safaris over the national park (if the weather permits), game drives or swimming at an artificial beach with its own wave machine.
Other leisure options include one of Africa’s largest mazes; where you can be rewarded on completion with a tasting tray of 10 craft beers, quad bike adventures through the bush, Segway tours, zip-lining, archery, clay pigeon shooting, parasailing, jet skiing, a cultural village where you can learn about the various African tribes and their customs, and even a replica of a township shebeen (makeshift bar). There is a water theme park, beautiful botanic gardens and a crocodile farm.
A kid’s camp offers qualified childcare for when parents want some time alone, or a chance to explore the wildlife drives.
The Pilanesberg National Park is the fourth largest in the country; a melting pot of different terrains in the crater of an extinct volcano. It is home to virtually every mammal of southern Africa and is also home to healthy populations of lion, leopard, black and white rhino, elephant and buffalo – Africa’s Big Five. A wide variety of rare and common species are to be found, including the nocturnal brown hyena, the fleet-footed cheetah, the majestic sable, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo and crocodile.
On one late afternoon game drive we saw a very rare leopard close up, both black and white rhinos, hippos in and out of the water and no fewer than 19 elephants, including some very young ones.
Another day, three young lions nonchalantly crossed the track just in front of our Land Rover, bringing us so much excitement.
Afterwards, it was back to the Palace for daiquiris at the Tusk Bar prior to a browsing through a wine list that includes all the South African benchmarks like Meerlust Rubicon and Hamilton-Russell Chardonnay.
The Palace of the Lost City is part of Sun International’s Sunlux Collection, which links world-class hotels in Africa’s Golden Triangle, including Cape Town and Victoria Falls, on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border.
The hotels featured are The Table Bay on the waterfront in Cape Town with rooms offering spectacular views of the harbour and Table Mountain, excellent restaurants and top-notch service; the Royal Livingstone, an elegant colonial style hotel with views of the Zambesi River and personal butlers; and The Maslow Hotel, a high-tech hotel in the upmarket Sandton district of Johannesburg close to shopping and all the city’s attractions.
South African Airways (SAA) has linked with code share partner Virgin Australia to offer return fares from major Australian airports to Johannesburg starting from $1413 return, including taxes, for advance purchases. Return business class fares including taxes start from $4633.
SAA operates to 40 destinations worldwide with daily direct flights from Perth to Johannesburg with connections from all major Australian cities. In its domestic market SAA has an extensive schedule operating 556 flights in total per week between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth.
For more information and reservations call 1300 435 972
# A different version of this story originally appeared in Ciao Magazine