It’s taken a year and a half to reach the halfway mark of twenty-five African countries and even though I’ve travelled fairly slowly through most of them and seen endless incredible sights and had countless amazing experiences I sometimes feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this huge and amazing continent.
After three weeks in South Africa I feel the same way. I’ve covered over 2000km by road and the more I stare at the map, read the guide books and talk to other travellers, the more I realise you could easily spend six months here.
I’m writing this in Stellenbosch, the South African wine region not all that far from Cape Town and tomorrow we head north and cross into Namibia.
My time in South Africa started in Johannesburg on a cold wet winters day where the temperature at noon was about twelve degrees Celsius.
Johannesburg is the big bad city of South Africa that many travelers think they should avoid but it’s central to several areas of the country I wanted to visit, so I based myself there for two weeks. It’s a big city with perhaps the best system of freeways, overpasses and link roads I’ve ever encountered, which made getting around for a first timer like me, very easy.
Prior to my visit I’d been talking to Ken Logan, who is one of South Africa’s best wildlife and bird photographers and he offered to show me around his part of the county for a few days.
Jo’burg is at about 1500m and a tad chilly in winter, so I was keen to get down to sea-level and some nicer weather.
The World famous Kruger National Park was my next stop where we spent three days at Skukuza Camp, in the southern portion of the park.
Kruger is a huge, well maintained park which contains numerous accommodation options from insanely expensive safari lodges to well priced bungalows and camping. There are several very nice restaurants and all the main roads are tarred, from which you can see just about all of Southern Africa’s game animals.
Although the park is full of tourists in game vehicles, most of the locals just drive around in their SUV’s and pull up at a waterhole and have sandwiches in their cars for lunch while watching Lions, Elephant, Gnu, Crocs and Impala do their thing.
What did the Gnu say to the Kudu?
If you Gnu what I Gnu, then you Kudu what I Kudu !!
I was really impressed with Kruger, it’s a park that really needs two weeks to see it all and can be done easily and cheaply from Jo’burg.
From Kruger we dove into Natal Province. The ANC government has been changing many of the Afrikaan names to local names in recent years and Natal is now called, Kwazulu Natal or KZN by the locals. KZN includes the traditional Zulu land.
I spent three days in iSimangaliso Wetland Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches for 200km south from the Mozambique border and has a small population of White Rhino and a big population of Giraffe, as well as South Africa’s largest Croc and Hippo populations.
I stayed in the beach side town St Lucia, which is the only town in South Africa completely surrounded by a World Heritage Site and was freakishly similar to my home town. From St Lucia we drove to Imfolozi Nature Reserve, which is South Africa’s oldest game reserve and then continued to Mtunzini and the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. Traveling through these areas I was disappointed to find that every river mouth, every forest and every beach has been turned into some kind of reserve with an entrance gate, a fee and countless forms to fill out. Its bureaucracy gone mad. I guess it keeps the country’s unemployment statistics down but its bloody frustrating.
One afternoon we decided to drive down to the beach for lunch. Just as we started to have lunch a Hippo wandered up from the beach and started walking around the carpark. Only in Africa!
While near Durban I was reading my Coast to Coast Guide Book which described the Drakensberg Mountains as, “gob-smacking, lip-licking, eye-bulging countryside with shades and palettes that’ll thrill even the colour blind!” So we decided to head north to The Berg, spending two nights at the tranquil KarMichael Farm at Himeville.
The Drakensberg Mountains in Northern South Africa run for over a hundred kilometres and are a popular tourist attraction particularly for locals. We drove to the top of the infamous Sani Pass with the final ten kilometers of hairpin bends and sheer drops reminding me of roads in the Himalayas.
After a couple of days in the Drakensberg area we returned to Jo’burg where I had dinner with Ken and his wife before spending two days exploring the city. After that I wandered down to the local Thrifty Car Rental shop and hired an SUV. The only advice the guy at the counter gave me was, when you hear someone yell out to you, “Hi Jack”, floor it and make a fast getaway! Apparently South Africa has a car-jacking problem with 16,700 car-jacking incidents in 2017, which is not to be confused with the 53,300 cars stolen that year! Who Knew!
With my ears primed and my right foot ready for a bit of action I headed through town and up into the mountains to the picturesque town of Wakkerstroom which is surrounded by high altitude grasslands and large wetlands. I hired Lucky the local birding guide for two days and saw all but one of the local species as well as nice views of Meerkats and Otters both of which are locally common, not to mention exceedingly cool.
On my final day in Johannesburg I needed a haircut so I jumped in a taxi and went out to Soweto and found a Barber shop. My haircut attracted quite a crowd, kids, housewives and passers by all enjoyed the spectacle. After that I visited Nelson Mandela’s house and then the confronting Apartheid Museum. Soweto is a creature born from apartheid, the name given to Southwest Townships built in the 60’s & 70’s by the white South African government outside Johannesburg. Thirty thousand houses were built for, “thoroughly urbanised and economically advanced natives.” On the 16 June 1976 the Soweto Uprising began when 10,000 students began their protests with 23 killed on the first day. After that Soweto became the stage for violent state repression and things went downhill from there.
Today Soweto doesn’t look any different to any other South African suburb and significantly better than most large towns I’ve seen throughout Africa.
Not long after leaving Jozie I arrived in Cape Town, which is often called the most beautiful city in the World.
We checked into our accommodation on a clear sunny winters day with a halo of cloud around the summit of Table Mountain.
By the time we walked to the beach the sky was looking ominous and a blanket of grey clouds were descending on the mountain.
The next day we caught an Uber to the cable car station and after watching the cars ascend into the clouds, we decided that lunch at the Waterfront was a better option.
The Cape Town waterfront has a great atmosphere and the food is outstanding, although I must admit I could easily become addicted to Chocolate, Beetroot and Ginger Sorbets. Whoever thought of that combination is a genius.
From the city we drove out to Stony Point to the African Penguin colony and then spent some time at Camps Bay and Clifton Bay Beaches.
After three weeks it was time to rendezvous with the expedition truck and begin the four month trip north to Cairo, Egypt.
The day after tomorrow, I’ll be in Namibia and I’ll have pics of the truck in my next post. We plan to spend fourteen days in Namibia before crossing into Botswana at Gobabis and then driving across the Kalahari Desert, arriving at Victoria Falls about a week later.
My next post (Namibia) will be in about two weeks.
Bye for now.