Our first time in Africa! We were all excited about seeing the wildlife for the very first time! The country is so big and has so much to offer, that it was hard to decide where we all want to go and what we all want to do, even though we had 3 weeks time. We rented a car in Johannesburg, visited Kruger NP, spent some days in Swaziland, continued the road trip to Durban and along the coast to Oudtshoorn and finally ended up in Cape Town, where we caught our flight back home. We saw the big 5, the penguins, amazing coastline, big cities with modern fancy buildings, but also walked the streets in the less developed townships, took a look at N. Mandela´s prison cell, we tasted delicious wines, danced with the Zulu, observed ostrich being hatched and said “hello” to the local kids for about a million times. Over all we had an awesome cultural experience!
When: August 2004
Visited: Johannesburg, Kruger NP, KwaZulu-Natal, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, Durban, Port Elisabeth, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn, Prince Albert, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Robben Island, Cape Peninsula
How: with a rented car
Stayed in: small hotels & lodges
DRIVING & TRANSPORTATION
The roads are in good shape most of the time, I would not recommend driving at night unless it´s really necessary. We used a map and got around quite good with that, bigger cities can be a challenge so do print out separate detailed maps for those, or consider a navigation system. In game parks you have to drive slower, take care of the limits, you really don´t want to hit an animal or risk a flat tyre 😉 When you spot an animal, turn the motor out and stay as silent as you can. If you rent a car make sure that it comes with everything you need to change a tyre, the chance you will have to do it at one point is big. Here and there the road will lead you through an enclosed area where you will have to open and close gates. In terms of public transport – there is a good railway system, you can also always jump into one of those vans that pick up people waiting by the roads.
This time, we had pre booked everything. If you wish to stay inside the game and national parks especially, you do have to book in advance, since there are not all that many capacities. In Jo´burg, Durban and Cape Town we stayed at bigger hotels, otherwise sometimes in lodges and mostly at privately run small family hotels. Those are a great way to get in touch with other travellers or hear stories from the owners who are mostly happy to join the guests after dinner time for a drink or two.
WHAT WE SAW AND DID
Touchdown in Jo´burg and first straight to the hotel. We had 1 day to make the best out of our visit after we picked up our car and drove towards the South African wilderness. The 3m high fences with extra barb wire on top, surrounding each and every house gave us a strange feeling first, but I guess for the people living there it´s nothing unusual. Despite all the negative we read about Johannesburg before we left, we experienced nothing negative ourselves. We visited the famous Apartheid Museum which gave us a great insight into the country´s history – would definitely recommend to do so in the first days of your visit. We also tried out a few local culinary specialities and beers and enjoyed watching the kids sing and dance on the streets of this African metropole. We also visited a huge modern shopping mall where we stocked up on everything we could need the following weeks on the road. One more night in the hotel and off we were!
The first impressions of African landscape – amazing! Hills, hills, and more hills. Here and there villages and many school kids in uniforms taking their daily walk back home.
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
One of the largest game reserves in Africa extends 360 kilometres from north to south and 65 kilometres from east to west. The area is on the border to Mozambique to the east and Zimbabwe to the north. There are 9 gates through which you can enter the park. On the south and north side of the two rivers represent a natural boundary and separate the park from the the countryside on the other side of the rivers. Several rivers also run through the park, the climate is subtropical, there are rainy and dry seasons.
You can spot all the Big Five game animals (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, rhino) in the park, which is home to the most species of large mammals than any other African game reserve, 147 that is. There are also over 500 bird species, over 100 species of reptiles (including 3000 crocodiles), 33 species of amphibians and 50 species of fish.
We stayed 5 days in the park and drive around with our rented car, as well as on an organised sunrise and sunset tour with a jeep. It´s not such a bad idea to join the organised tour, because on your own you are not allowed to exit your lodge area before the sunrise – which you can do with a guide. The guides are also more skilled than you in terms of finding animals.
Form Kruger NP we decided to continue our journey through one of the smallest African countries, Swaziland! We spend there a few days, before we re-entered SAR. If you wish to read more about our time in Swaziland, click on the button below.
read more about SWAZILAND
So, we were back in SAR, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal with its largest city, Durban. But before we reached Durban, we stopped at “Shakaland Zulu cultural village”, which is known to be of the best Zulu experiences in Africa. The whole village is a replication of a traditional homestead with 55 beehive huts and was used as a set for the movie Shaka Zulu. You can spend one or more nights there or just visit it for a couple of hours.
You can walk around the village and try out traditional beer, take part at traditional ceremonies and learn all about Zulu customs. The most interesting part at it all must be the dancing and even though it is like a typical show for the tourists (which I usually don´t like in particular) it is really a great performance which should not be missed once you are there!
This nature reserve is located 280 kilometres in the hilly landscape north from Durban and it is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa. One can also see the big 5 here and due to a good conservation plan the park is known for the largest population of white rhino in the world!
Back to a big city! Shops everywhere, markets everywhere, cars everywhere. And the beach! We had no intentions staying longer, because we were more interested in the countryside and smaller towns so we basically just spend an afternoon and an evening here. There is a big indian community in Durban, giving you the perfect chance to head to one of the indian restaurants if you need a break from the african specialities.
PORT ELISABETH & “THE GARDEN ROUTE”
Not far from Port Elisabeth town, on the famous Garden Route, there is a marvellous Tsitsikamma NP – a protected area and a coastal reserve. Close by there is also one of the highest bungee jumping places in the world, at 216 metres – the Bloukrans Bridge. But instead of this one, we rather visited the (scary) suspension bridge and walked around the area on the coastal part of the park.
About 200 kilometres more south there is a smaller town with a big sandy bay which is perfect for longer walks and relaxation.
This smaller town on the Garden Route enjoys a very relaxed atmosphere and a mild climate attracts people from all over the country and also from other parts of the world, who decide to spend the rest of their lives just here. Most of them come after retirement and enjoy the good food, fresh air, walking trails and cruise around the bay with their sailing boats. There is also a famous yearly Oyster festival, Mardi Gras, a lifestyle gastronomical festival and a special Rastafarian Earth festival.
Once you are there you cannot miss hiking up the sandstone cliffs to get one of the best views in the whole country – a trip to Knysna Heads, the two dramatic cliffs which guard the entrance to the lagoon and the bays around the city.
We just drove by but because the views were so spectacular along this part of the coastline, we just had to stop many times. We were lucky to see the train pass exactly at the moment we were at the famous bridge. Our destination at the end of the day was Oudtshoorn and we had to say goodbye to the ocean for a few days!
A smaller town in the countryside also known as the “ostrich capital of the world”, because it hosts the world´s largest ostrich population. There are many breeding farms and it´s impossible not seeing ostrich basically on every local home courtyard. Where we stayed, the owners also had a smaller farm, open for all their guests to take a look at.
Since we had enough time we decided to drive over the high Grootswartberg mountains to the little town of Prince Albert. Not much going on there but that was exactly why we loved it! We even found a very cute little cafe / shop, selling home made products.
A flat-topped mountain which clearly dominates the views around Cape Town is probably the biggest tourist attraction and it is a great starting point while exploring the town for the first time. You can use a cable car to come up (or hike) and walk around the Table Mountain NP once you are up. The plateau is about 3 kilometres wide. The highest point of the mountain is at 1,086 metres.
They say there is always a cloud over the top and if you catch a day where there is none – you are considered very lucky! Well, we had much luck on that day 😉 Great views on the city!
The rock dassie – definitely one of the funniest animals I came across on my travels. It´s unbelievable but this little creature is the closest living relative of an ELEPHANT! Despite the size difference, this close evolutionary relationship is deduced from similarities in the structure of the feet and teeth. You will see them running around the Table Mountain´s plateau and hiding between the rocks.
Bo-Kaap – this old multicultural neighbourhood with an important historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town in situated on the slopes of Signal Hill. It is mostly known for its colourful little houses and the Bo-Kaap Museum.
Kirstenbosch botanical gardens at the foot of Table Mountain are the most famous gardens in the whole country. They were opened in 1913 with the main purpose of conservation of indigenous plants, today they are one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. They have an amazing collection of proteas!
Only about 50 kilometres from Cape Town, there is the second oldest European settlement in the province, just after Cape Town. Its surrounding valleys and hills are famous for wine industry and wine routes. The region has a mild Mediterranean climate which causes perfect conditions for grapes to grow. We could not resist all these facts, so we drove out there for the day and tasted wines a couple of wineries.
Just a few kilometres of the coast of Cape Town, there is a smaller island sticking out of the rough sea. On the island there stands a prison in which amongst others Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 long years, before the fall of apartheid. The island is a South African Heritage Site and is also listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is a photo with a view on Cape Town from the island.
The island is opened to the public and you can book a boat tour from Cape Town, which will include transportation and a guided tour around the island. Some of the former prisoners now work as guides and I must say it is a great (but also kind of a creepy) experience hearing stories from someone who has actually used all of those dirty toilets we´ve seen daily. It´s something what you simply have to do once you are there and it will for sure make you think. Besides Mandela, two other former inmates have also become presidents of South Africa, K. Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, who is currently head of the state.
The 52 kilometres long peninsula includes Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town in the north and Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope in the south. The Cape is known to be very dangerous for sailors because of the mixing of warm and cold currents of Indian and Atlantic ocean.
The lighthouse at Cape of Good Hope – the stairs all all worth it once you are up!
Cape of the Good Hope and its cliffs with sandy coves offers some spectacular views!
Boulders beach, protected by the huge granite boulders is spectacular enough on its own, but there is a special something there, which makes it even more interesting. The African penguins! Although the beach is not in a remote place but actually really close to the populated areas, it is still a very important sanctuary for these little animals. Visitors can observe them from the wooden paths which are constructed over the beach. The penguin colony has grown to about a 3000 birds in recent years
Our first African adventure was coming to an end – we had a great time and found South African Republic to be a great country to travel around, especially if you have never been to Africa before. It is easy to travel with a rented car, it´s still modern enough not to make you feel you are in the middle of nowhere all the time, but on the other side you get to see sooo many wild animals. The wildlife, the music, the culture, the people, the sunsets, the history and big modern cities will leave you speechless at times. And if you go in the warm season you can also swim. What could you even possibly ask for more?
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