Everything you need to know about the shebang in South Africa
Our guide to England's group destinations starts off a little Rusty…
England’s World Cup begins here with a game against the USA on June 12. Most fans will drive, taxi or get coaches in from Johannesburg, which takes under two hours, or fly into Pilanesburg or Rustenburg airports. Make sure you plan ahead for getting there and back: there are no realistic public transport options, and South Africa’s overstretched system could see you stranded otherwise.
The city of Rustenburg itself isn’t necessarily the sort of place you’d normally visit: it’s an administrative capital and a platinum mining base – think Doncaster with sunshine. Driving round initially, there doesn’t seem to be much to see apart from numerous car showrooms – and England fans may feel that they’ve been robbed of an interesting place to stay on the first leg of their visit.
They’d be wrong. While ‘Rusty’ is little more than a pleasant town (albeit a safe one with ample accommodation, high employment, a low crime rate and some decent nightlife) it’s a perfect base for two of Africa’s most spectacular attractions.
Nature lovers will go wild for the reserves and safari parks of Magaliesberg, where they can spot the ‘Big Five’ animals and take part in numerous outdoor pursuits: mountain-biking, climbing, rambling, hot-air ballooning, horse-riding, fishing, bird-watching, botany and much, much more.
For fans seeking for a more visceral thrill, it’s just half an hour to South Africa’s answer to Vegas and ‘Kingdom of Pleasure’. Sun City is a 1500-hectare playground: casinos, hotels, bars and leisure facilities chucked together in a stunningly beautiful jungle setting. At the majestic Palace of the Lost City you can surf a roaring lagoon at the Valley of Waves, sunbathe on an incredible man-made beach, try the water slides and whizz around on a hired quad bike or Segway (all for a tenner’s entrance fee).
Sporting types can get wet at the ‘Waterworld Lake’ (speedboating, water skiing etc) or have a round at the two lavish championship golf courses. After losing your rands at the Sun City Hotel’s Harlequins Casino, fans can enjoy some live entertainment, and the resort is also putting up some truly gigantic TV screens for the World Cup’s matches. You can even feed and ride elephants.
The bars and restaurants of the Cabanas, Cascades and Palace are world-class too: no wonder when previous guests include the likes of Michael Jackson and Elton John, who have both played spectacular gigs here.
Back in Rustenburg, the fans’ park will be set up at Fields College, just a short distance from the city centre. With a capacity of 20,000, it’ll show all the World Cup games and is open for the business of partying from 10am to 11pm. "We're stocking a lot of beer for the English," a tourist office official tells us. "And we’re looking forward to drinking them with you."
If you don’t fancy joining the locals for a lager straight away, though, Rusty also offers some interesting Boer War history at the Rustenburg Museum, and the Waterfall Shopping Mall is a good place to while away half a day picking up some bargains.
The StadiumEngland’s opening game is to be held at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace Stadium. The smart 42,389 capacity open-air bowl has been built in the heart of the Royal Bafokeng nation, and is owned and funded (at the cost of 120 million rand) by the local tribe, who operate many of the platinum mines.
As it's 13 kilometres outside the city, most fans will arrive by coach, taxi and park-and-ride along the ‘Avenue of Legends’ – a road with lots of posters of Maradona, Zidane and David Beckham, in other words. Plan your journey well ahead and arrive early.
Inside, the ground is similar to many of the venues fans will remember from Germany 2006: spacious, with lots of legroom and wide-open concourses and stairwells, meaning there’s no crowding or claustrophobic crushes. It feels properly African too, though: you can see the Magaliesburg mountains and savannah from the stands.
Despite having an athletics track around it, every seat is close to the action, although it’s hard to say how much of the noise generated by the England fans will be lost into the African air. Don’t worry about a brolly, either, Mr. McClaren (if you’re coming, that is). The weather here is pleasant all year round, so pack sun cream for this leg of the trip. Winter is known as the ‘secret season’ in this part of South Africa.
AccommodationWith 14,000 hotel rooms, Rustenburg offers an option to suit every budget. You could rest your head in a nearby safari park in Pilanesberg, or even rent a room from a local Bafokeng tribesman. Find out more at www.rustenburgaccommodation.co.za and www.magliesmeander.co.za
FFT's hosts were Sun International, Southern Africa’s leading hotel group.
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