Southern Africa’s impundulu, also known as the “lightning bird” as it’s thought to trigger storms, is a fascinating mythological creature which stems from the folklore of the Zulu people among others. If you're wondering what to do in Cape Town, following the trail of this amazing mythical creature is one way to uncover some of the cultural and natural richness of this beautiful corner of southern Africa, whether you're visiting Africa's largest bird park to take a peek at some of the impundulu's rumoured physical forms at World of Birds or learning more about Zulu culture and history at the South African Museum.
Impundulu are more than just storm-triggering birds. As well as causing thunder with the beating of their wings and creating lightning when they dive down to earth to lay their eggs, these are also said to be shape-shifting, blood-sucking, succubus-like creatures which may even act as the familiars of witches, sent to conduct their malign bidding.
Tales of impundulu vary widely, with some claiming these creatures take the form of hornbills. Others believe that the corporeal form of impundulu is that of the hamerkop (a hammer-headed wading bird), while the bateleur eagle and other birds of prey have also been connected to the creature.
But the impundulu doesn’t just take the form of a bird. Although contradictory and confusing stories abound, it is said that impundulu can take the form of beautiful human men and seduce unwary women. Some say the children of these women will be birds, others that the lovers of these unfortunate women will die.
Seducing human women isn't the only motivation of impundulu. These are said to be vampiric creatures with an insatiable thirst for human blood. Said to also have a weakness for milk, folklore suggests that troublesome impundulu can be stopped by leaving poisoned milk out for the birds to drink.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the mythical impundulu, you can come face-to-face with the birds they might be impersonating all over South Africa. Because impundulu are said to usually take bird or human form in real life, it's almost impossible to know whether you've sighted a hamerkop, a hornbill, a handsome man or a dreaded impundulu!
When impundulu appear in more dramatic and otherworldly form, they are said to look like huge black and white birds, the size of a human, or as vast flocks of glittering red birds with flashing feathers and wing-beats which cause thunder. Tales of the appearance of impundulu still abound throughout Zulu and other south African cultures, so keep your eyes peeled while exploring the region!
Cape Town is a great place to start your search for impundulu and to begin your South African adventure. Hotels in Cape Town are plentiful and suitable for travellers with all budgets and tastes. From luxury stays and charming boutique hotels, to hostels for budget travellers, you won't struggle to find a “perfect fit” place to stay in this bustling, beautiful and metropolitan city.
De Waterkant is a popular spot with many visitors, with cobbled streets and colourful buildings. This location is close to restaurants, bars, nightlife and the waterfront, within walking distance of the city centre. Gardens is another well-placed suburb, with plenty of eateries, bars, shops and pretty buildings, again within walking distance of city-centre attractions.
If you'd rather make the most of Cape Town's gorgeous coast, Camps Bay is a short drive from the city centre and set right on the beach – perfect for that beach holiday feel. If you do plan to stay a little further out in locations like Camps Bay or Sea Point, arranging car hire in Cape Town is strongly recommended to ensure you can see the best of the area and get from A to B safely and conveniently.
Reaching the land of the impundulu by air is simple, with many direct, cheap flights to Cape Town from across the globe landing at Cape Town International Airport, which is a mere 30-minute drive from the heart of the city in good traffic.
Taxis and shuttles are readily available at the airport and car hire can also be found easily. To ensure safety and to get the best price, many travellers planning to travel by taxi book their ride in advance. If you don’t, make sure you use an authorised taxi service such as Touch Down Taxis or a shuttle service like Way2Go. Airport officials will be able to point you in the right direction.