Unathi Nkayi is one of the country’s biggest local celebrities, but on our game vehicle at Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, she is just like the rest of us.
Dressed in an outfit with hues of autumn shades and a sunhat, the 40-year-old is eager to learn about the wild and the province’s rich culture, and our game ranger, Artist Gqwetha of Mthembu Lodge, is ready to get the history lesson started.
Nkayi is best known for being a judge in the South African version of Idols and has a string of albums under her name, her recent being Unathi: Brave, True and Strong.
The songstress started her travels at an early age- having her passport stamped at just six months old.
Coming back to KwaZulu-Natal brings back good memories for the local star.
“KwaZulu-Natal is one of my favourite places. The people are humble, deeply rooted in culture and are very welcoming. It is also one of the country’s most integrated provinces and has the best weather,” she says.
Nkayi equally loves travelling to Africa. The continent is where she ticked off many bucket list items.
From visiting the Pyramids of Giza, walking through Vic Falls, dancing with the Messai people on the beach and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, she has experienced Africa in many different ways.
“The continent is home to rich architecture, textiles, coffee, beer, beaches, music or culture. It is colourful, friendly, sexy and warm in most parts,” she says.
As the green coloured vehicle transverses the windy road, Nkayi spots an impala, which she photographs. She instantly shares the image with over half a million of her fans. Travel has afforded her many great life lessons.
The mother of two says travelling offered her a newfound appreciation on the warmth of South Africans.
Nyaki recollects a trip to Los Angeles, which she describes as “ her worst travel experience.”
“The people are so fake. Everybody looks the same because they heavily believe in plastic surgery. They are just different shades of flesh with the same features. No one looks you in the eye, and everyone just wants to know what you do for a living so they can see what they can get from you. The 5-star hotel we stayed at had a floor for recovering plastic surgery patients. SAD,” Nyaki says.
She is obsessed with is Amsterdam. The TV personality studied in the city and watched Beyonce live during her Formation Tour.
“Amsterdam is ultra sexy and has some of the friendly people. It is home to beautiful canals, architecture, boat houses and restaurants. I also love the clothing stores.
“Lagos in Nigeria, London Town and Ghana are also some of the places that have seduced me.”
Food also plays an integral part in her travels.
She remembers tucking into a plate of Jollof rice in Ghana.
“ I ate Jollof every day during my stay, and I don’t do carbs a lot. The popular dish originates from Senegal. I am a big fan of the meal,” she says.
She has quite a few travel trips lined up.
This month she will go on tour in Swaziland, and will celebrate her birthday at Biyela Lodge at Umfolozi Bog Five Reserve with her girlfriends in November.
Next year she will travel to Trinidad for the Carnival in February, and Vegas for another friend's birthday in July.
She also plans to play with the gorillas in the DRC and go on a hot air balloon over the Namib Desert.
Quick questions with Unathi
Who is your ideal travel companion: One of my best friends, Colene Arendse.
Best hotel? Port Ghalib at the Red Sea in Egypt. We were there a week before Beyoncé stayed at the hotel for her Egypt leg of one of her tours. It’s sentimental more than anything, but a glorious resort nonetheless.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what three items will you take? Sunscreen, water and a sense of humour.