First published in Explore South Africa magazine.
For more than 38 years Sun City, that magical and once forbidden world created in one of just two alkaline craters on the globe, has been the go-to place for South Africans wanting escape from the humdrum of everyday life. Now, following a R1 billion upgrade to the complex and rebranding of the Sun City Hotel to Soho, the newly buffed jewel in Sun International’s crown continues to shine brightly.
With a renewed focus on sweating its world-class conference and corporate-events asset, Sun City is further building what it is best at – creating wow experiences that, as Raul de Lima, Sun City General Manager, says: “Creating lasting memories for our guests is a core part of Sun International’s DNA and this is especially true of Sun City.”
He is quite right about the impact that a visit to Sun City has. As a 16-year old I visited with my family to stay at the Cabanas, a seminal hotel experience even though the gambling and naughty movies and shows remained then out of reach. Later, soon after The Palace at the Lost City and Valley of Waves was completed, I visited again, in early 1993, and that jaw-dropping spectacle of a fantasy made real is every bit as spellbinding today as it was then.
The Palace of the Lost City hasn’t lost any of its ability to impress – the scale and splendour of this hotel not only dwarfs even the largest of people but also its magnificent folly really allows one to relax, kick-back and enjoy the fantasy life it evokes.
Set amid 25 hectares of mature gardens, over 1, 2 million trees from vertiginously tall palms to low flowering shrubs. There are over 3200 species in the gardens of The Lost City. At the time, planting costs were R1 million a hectare and to see the growth of this investment is one of the highlights of visiting Sun City.
There are two championship golf courses, a man-made lake that is 750m long with a capacity of 1 300 000 cubic meters and a depth of 16m is home to Waterworld and a plethora of water-based activities. Adrenaline Extreme is a newer addition to Sun City and a must-visit. Even as a first timer with little known appetite for extreme adventures of any sort, I have unearthed a hidden speed-freak – me. The challenging quad bike excursion gave me the most thrills when hurtling full throttle down the straight. Tight cornering around circles and through muddy Acacia-thorn verged pathways, was a real thrill. After watching others, I am now sorry that we didn’t also complete the see-saw challenge. I’m not sorry, however, that I didn’t sign up for the Accelerator, also known as the human catapult, experience. My companion loved every minute of it but I don’t have the required courage, despite the proposed rewards. Although it was over in about three minutes, his euphoria at being shot through the air in Superman pose remained on his face for the remains of the day.
Other recommended activities include the ground-based hovercraft – the challenge is to successfully twist and turn your floating craft around the course which is harder than you’d imagine.
Soho, the rebranded and refreshed Sun City Hotel, is still home to the complex’s first casino but is now positioned as an “always-on” area to capture the late-nigh crowd with gaming, clubs, revue bars and a fabulous, newly launched restaurant concept: Legend’s, paying tribute to the musical stars that performed at the Superbowl (Sun Arena) and the various Miss World pageants. The space is an industrial warehouse look and the walls are adorned with memorabilia from the various shows. Think Hard Rock Cafe. Food was sensational: out of the box thinking on a prawn cocktail is a fresh idea and the steak, like all the Chalmer beef that is aged on the premises, was top-notch. A great night out with live music and a lively bar scene includes a whisky wall where punters can store their own bottle of special hooch.
Sun Central is the revamped entertainment centre, near the hotel and the Cascades, with multi-purpose eventing spaces and an updated look that brings it in line with upscale malls with food courts and various concessions. We specially liked Content, a coffee/book shop vibe.
Another new restaurant concept is Bocado which replaces Santorini. It maintains the Mediterranean vibes with its soft blues interior and vases of bright marigolds on the tables. It is competitively priced and we had a delicious good-value meal there. You’ll find it in the gardens of the Cascades and you need to meander through forests and over bridges to get there which is a pleasure of its own.
Another new food offering, this time in the Valley of Waves, is The Brew Monkey which capitalises on the craft beer trend. It is casual and equally well priced but the food – grazing style – is top drawer and packed with flavour. The Charcuterie board, Dipping boards and fabulous spicy pork ribs are highly recommended. In the same area but just underneath is Food Factory, for food and salads on the run.
The Palace has also seen a few changes: The Grill Room has been upgraded with an outdoor patio area and the always outstanding breakfast offering is even more so. Even if you aren’t a residential guest at The Palace do not miss out on breakfast there.
Whatever your niche, there is something for you at Sun City and once you’ve had your fill of resort activities your neighbour is the big game Pilansberg National Park. What’s not to love?