A traveller's guide to the World Cup (especially for England WAGs)

Rustenburg doesn't often figure in the itineraries of visitors to South Africa. Will the football change all that? Raymond Whitaker went to find out

Coleen, Carly, Alex, Abigail and all you other wives and girlfriends of England football players: this is your official WAG's guide to Rustenburg. And don't say "Where?".

During the World Cup your menfolk will be based in Rustenburg, which is in South Africa's North West Province. Actually, they will be behind high fences in a sports complex quite a few miles out of town, but more of that later. We all remember what a good time you had in the boutiques and champagne bars of Baden Baden during the last World Cup in Germany, so I thought I would check out the potential of Rustenburg for a repeat performance.

I have to tell you, girls, it doesn't look good. Rustenburg means "place of rest", which gives you some idea. Round here they dig up shiny stuff like platinum and chrome, dear to the heart of any WAG, but when you cruise the grid of wide streets, with a four-way stop at every intersection, you can think there is no centre to the town at all.

I have set a simple challenge for my guide, Nelson ("Like Mandela," he keeps telling fellow black South Africans, who seem surprisingly unfamiliar with the name): show me the sights of Rustenburg. A look of near-panic appears in his eyes. "Would you like to see the radio station?" he asks. No, I wouldn't. I suggest we follow the signs to the CBD, or central business district, with Nelson hopefully pointing out the local tax office on the way, and finally we arrive at the town's historic centre.

A century-old Dutch Reformed Church, where the Afrikaners who used to rule the roost in South Africa practise their faith, faces the old municipal headquarters, built in the Cape Dutch style in 1933. In front is a statue of Paul Kruger, the Boer leader who defied the British and ended his days in exile in Switzerland. A couple of rugby pitches, where Afrikaners practise their secular religion, stand nearby. The only sign that things have changed in South Africa is that the streets are now named after Mr Mandela and his allies.

Not much here to detain a WAG, or anyone else for that matter. After a fruitless visit to the local tourist office, I give up, and ask Nelson to take me to the Waterfall Mall. To listen to any Rustenburger, it is the centre of the universe, with a cinema multiplex, more than 100 shops (including eight jewellers!) and restaurants catering to every taste, from steak to, er, pizza. You might as well be at an Arndale Centre back home, but for any England follower looking for a bit of post-match buzz away from the officially organised "fan park", this is as good as it gets.

The truth is that although this mining town basks in the status of a World Cup venue, the real action is elsewhere. The football stadium is 20 minutes out of town in Phokeng, headquarters of the immensely wealthy Bafokeng tribe, who collaborated with Lutheran missionaries to hang on to their land during the apartheid era, and now reap the benefits from what is underground: some of the world's richest deposits of platinum.

If Rustenburg is quiet, neat little Phokeng is positively sleepy – and just to make sure it stays that way, the shopping centre next to the stadium will be closed on match days. The England headquarters is in a "sports campus" a bit further on, surrounded by open bushveld, with the flames of a platinum smelter lighting up the landscape at night. The only hostelry for miles around is the Carnivore Butchery, Pub and Grill, not quite what Premiership millionaires are used to. But this isolation is just what is said to have attracted the England manager, Fabio Capello, who does not want his players' high-maintenance consorts anywhere nearby.

Instead, any WAG worthy of the name is likely to base herself at Sun City, half an hour away. Launched in a supposedly independent black "homeland" during apartheid days, it used to lure repressed white South Africans with forbidden pleasures such as gambling. Now it relies more on golf and glitz, the latter epitomised by the Palace of the Lost City, the last and biggest hotel to be built at the resort. Here it is as though the designers drew on Moghul palaces and the temples of Angkor Wat for inspiration, substituted African for Asian motifs and pumped the whole thing up to megalomaniac proportions. Insufferably vulgar or gloriously over the top? I know what I think, but I can also picture many an England camp-follower happily spending his or her entire sojourn in this fantasy version of Africa, with its inland surf beach and planted rainforest.

Which would be a pity, because real, unique aspects of Africa are all about. The Pilanesberg national park is compact enough to get around in a day but large enough to house, in their natural setting, all five of the animals that big-game hunters used to consider it necessary to shoot: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes. The Magaliesberg, one of the world's oldest mountain ranges, has deep water-carved kloofs, or canyons. At their feet, in an area now designated a world heritage site, some of the earliest ancestors of homo sapiens have been found, and are still coming to light – the discovery of a new hominid, Australopithecus sediba, was announced just a few weeks ago.

On the same day, I soared high above the treetops on what the locals misleadingly call a "canopy tour" and squeezed through a damp subterranean passage in the Sterkfontein caves, which have arguably contributed more to the understanding of our evolution than any other spot on earth. Arriving for what I imagined might be an elevated walk through a forest, I was strapped into a harness, clipped to a pulley and sent down a series of steel cables, 10 in all, spanning a precipitous kloof. There was little time to contemplate the stunning surroundings as I shot towards one rock face after another, wishing I had emptied my pockets first. Near the start, my expensive digital camera plummeted into the gorge, leaving me trying to remember the terms of my household insurance policy. But one of the two ferociously cool guides climbed down and found it stuck in a treetop, miraculously intact.

The ride was all the more exhilarating for having been so unexpected, but if you want to find out about the flora and fauna of the Magaliesberg, take a walking tour. I was off, though, to the Cradle of Humankind, as Sterkfontein and its surroundings are now known. At Maropeng, there is a prehistory "experience", complete with underground boat ride, but the exhibition at Sterkfontein is just as informative, without the need for light shows. Excavations here were originally made to obtain limestone, needed for the region's gold refineries: it was heartbreaking to learn how many fossils were inadvertently smashed or crushed before scientists learned what had lain here for millennia, waiting to be unearthed.

Neither the Magaliesberg nor Sterkfontein is suitable for anyone who wants to be seen only in spike heels. Nor could I imagine how the average WAG would react when George, my enthusiastic guide in the Pilanesberg national park, leaped from our vehicle to pick up a cannonball-sized piece of elephant dung, and broke it open to show how little of the greenery is actually digested by the beasts. We saw several elephants, along with two white rhino mothers and their young, giraffes, Burchell's zebras and innumerable others, though the lions eluded us. George pointed out a mixed herd of springbok and impala, a sight unique to the park: nowhere else in South Africa has the right blend of habitats. He was still at it after dark, picking out a black-backed jackal in the spotlights as we headed for the gate.

So, having seen the wildlife, the landscape and the prehistory of the area, what about the people? If Carly, Coleen or any of the other wives and girlfriends want to get out of their comfort zone, I'd suggest going to Mogwase, once a segregated black town near the Pilanesberg reserve, where fans of more modest means will be staying during the World Cup. There they will discover that the nightlife is a little more informal than the village pub back home – specifically, if they want a drink they will be told to go round to Lillian's house, where the eponymous landlady, as wide as she is tall, runs a nightly barbecue-cum-bar in her backyard.

Music blasts out, neighbours call in for takeaways, people leap up and dance when the spirit – or beer – takes them. You meet real people and everyone has a good time. Just call Lillian on her mobile (072 370 6062) and tell her you are coming. And you can wear what you like, even Manolos and Jimmy Choos.

HOW TO GET THERE

Raymond Whitaker travelled with South African Airways (0871 722 1111; flysaa.com), which offers return flights from £716. He stayed as a guest of the Rustenburg Orion Hotel (oriongroup.co.za), which offers B&B from £73.

FURTHER INFORMATION

South African Tourism (0870 155 0044; southafrica.net).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Sport
Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker during Hansen's final broadcast
Sport
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?