We wanted to do something different this year. A culture and experience that we're not used to. What about a safari in Africa?
I was told that South Africa is a great place to start exploring Africa if you've never been there before.
For starters, its nature is diverse: there is something for everyone with more than 2 500 km coast line bordering 2 different oceans, the Kalahari desert in the north-west and tropical forests in the south-east, the Drakensbergen mountain range, Cape Town's Table Mountain, the Blyde River Canyon, and countless wildlife parks with all sorts of different topology.
And it's affordable & convenient. It's one of Africa's largest economies and there is infrastructure to get around the country. Tourist attractions will require an entry fee, but they're well-maintained - and there's toilets everywhere. Cities are developed and modern (especially Cape Town has this Western feel.) That said, this economy doesn't favor everyone: unemployment is very high and there is a lot of poverty in South Africa. Especially in the more rural areas and the townships, both of which can be intimidating.
Lastly: most of the people you'll meet will understand and speak English. Just don't expect to understand them when they talk to each other: with 11 national languages, chances are they'll use a mix of some of those.
South Africa has had a wild history, with a lot of struggles in the last few centuries. In the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch started to settle around the Cape of Good Hope. In late 1700s, the British started to take control and a century later, a few wars broke out between the British and the Zulu Kingdom, and the British and the Boers (the Dutch settlers.) In 1961, South Africa became an independent republic, but the apartheid (racial segregation) had already started a few years before. Nelson Mandela (a former political prisoner during the apartheid) eventually became the first democratically elected president in 1994, a year after the apartheid had ended.
- Elephant: check!
- Rhino: check!
- Lion: check!
- Buffalo: check!
We may come one short of having seen the big 5, but at this point I'm not convinced that a leopard even exists. As far as I'm concerned, a leopard's not too different from a unicorn.
While I would've loved to have seen a leopard, we didn't come here to check off boxes.
I'm happy to have seen the
big 4 and many other equally amazing animals like crocodiles & hippos, monkeys, zebras and wildebeest, and a whole variety of antelopes, to name but a few.
Unfortunately, we didn't have anywhere near the time or budget to explore all of South-Africa: there are so many more places I would've wanted to visit but didn't get around to. The Cape Winelands, the Garden Route, the Drakensberg mountains, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Cradle of Mankind and Soweto, are just a few of the places that I'd would've loved to visit as well. Because this was our very first trip in Africa & I don't know the continent, I felt more comfortable with the help of a travel agent. After some back and forth, this is the itinerary we eventually came up with.
We landed in Johannesburg, where we rented a Toyota Corolla and took off to Hazyview, a nice little city near the Panorama Route, about 4 hours away. 4 hours is more than enough after having been awake for 24+ hours (half of which in the air.) 4 hours is plenty, when you're not used to driving on the left side of the road and having your steering wheel on the other side of the car. Especially when the sun sets fast and it's dark for the last hour.
But we got used to driving on the other side of road quickly (I only drove in the wrong direction once) and we spent the next day driving around the absurdly scenic Panorama Route.
Next stop: Kruger Park, where we wouldn't have to touch our car for a few days. We spent 2 nights in a camp in the Klaserie Private Game Reserve, where we'd enjoy 2 game drives a day with a guide & tracker. We'd never done this before, and I was kind of worried that we'd get bored soon, but those game drives were an unforgettable experience. And we got to share stories with the other guests around the campfire. We were sad to have to leave this place so soon, but alas.
Swaziland was the next
destination in that we spent the following night there, but we were only just passing through.
Our real next destination was St. Lucia in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (known for its rich biodiversity and different ecosystems) on the eastern end of South Africa.
We went on a night drive through the park and a cruise on the estuary, then spent the rest of the time driving around the park by ourselves.
Our adventure on the east side of South Africa was about to end in Durban, but not before taking a small detour to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, another
big 5 park where the White Rhino was saved from extinction.
Durban, on the other hand, did not convince us. We'd been informed to stay near the beach rather than venturing into the city: it wouldn't be safe, and there wouldn't be much to do there anyway - not for tourists at least. But we didn't even really like the Golden Mile beachfront: the beach was mostly empty & so was the promenade. And there was not much else to do (at least not when we were there - I sure hope there's more going on in African summer.)
Cape Town is on the other side of the country, so we took a short domestic flight from Durban (if you have the time: fly to Port Elizabeth instead, then drive the Garden Route to Cape Town.) This is a wonderful city and there is just so much to do here - I really wished we could've spent some more time here, even if weather wasn't that great. I guess I'll have to come back here at some point!
All in all, we drove for about 2 500 km (1 500 mi), most of which on the east.
I loved the country and I loved the landscapes, the diverse terrain and wonderful vistas.
But I can not the same about the roads.
While the main roads are in perfect shape, you better watch out for cracks and potholes on the other roads.
If they're tarred at all!
And let me tell you, Google Maps can take you on some strange