Africa & the Middle East Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

View all Africa & the Middle East activity »
  1. 1 Patriots vs Falcons
  2. 2 Cape Town & wine country in July? Help...
  3. 3 Late August Cape Town/Safari/Vic Falls Advice Wanted
  4. 4 Safety issues driving the Garden Route in South Africa?
  5. 5 Safari in Kruger National Park
  6. 6 Trip Report Marrakech
  7. 7 Other than car rental how to get to Kruger from Johannesburg?
  8. 8 Moroccan Camel Safari
  9. 9 Accommodation in Cape Town
  10. 10 Abu Dhabi overnight stay
  11. 11 Trip Report Babies Galore: Kenya in April
  12. 12 Audley Travel
  13. 13 Can "European" plugs be used in South Africa?
  14. 14 what kind of plug adapters to use in south africa
  15. 15 Israel Trip - Very Early Planning Stage
  16. 16 A Little Trick for Converting Centigrade to Fahrenheit
  17. 17 nearby game lodge from Johannesburg
  18. 18 Lower Zambezi vs. Northern So. Luangwa
  19. 19 Trip Report Africa – after 10 years of waiting – an amazing and wondrous journey.
  20. 20 Safari in South Africa
  21. 21 City Day guides and Sahara adventure
  22. 22 November Safari Help: Botswana or Kruger?
  23. 23 Trip Report Family4Travels to Israel & Petra -matzos, mezze and Menachem!!
  24. 24 Sabi Sands Savanna Private Reserve vs Timbavati Motswari Game Lodge
  25. 25 Trip Report Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe and Zambia) - Travel Report
View next 25 » Back to the top

Trip Report Sixteen Days of South Africa Sunshine

Jump to last reply

I just got back today (this is a total cop-out for any incoherencies) from South Africa, traveling with 10 other people on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour of South Africa, Swaziland, and a wee touch of Lesotho. We were in South Africa from 11 July to 26 July, and every single day the sun was shining wherever we were--and it had been raining in those places just a day or two before for the most part.

I'll start by saying that I usually travel independently and often solo, but I don't drive and OAT offered an interesting itinerary at a relatively reasonable price, so I decided to chance it. I would have done some things differently, I'm sure, but altogether it was a fantastic trip. The group (which included a 17 year old and some, well, old enough to be his grandparents) was a pleasure to travel with and very interesting, another blessing similar to the sunshine. And our overall guide was quite interesting; we also had some local guides (and bus drivers who had meals with us) who added additional layers of understanding. There is, of course, a whole lot of complex history and current issues which I feel that I've only begun to begin to learn and dimly comprehend, but that's part of the excitement of traveling for me.

  • Report Abuse

    NOTES ON PACKING: South Africa needs a unique adaptor for your electrical charging, not just the "standard international" one. Thankfully I had two.
    Layers are the way to go in winter, and an insulated jacket is very helpful. There were times I could've used gloves, actually, but didn't have them. Warm sleeping gear is helpful, too, as the rooms aren't always centrally heated.
    Binoculars, for sure, even if you're not going to be in game camps for large parts of the time; there are birds and small animals to sight in a lot of places.

    I'll be using some of my emails home for the report--please excuse some things that I'm sure many of you already know...

    12th July
    Fifteen hours is a long time on a plane, but thankfully I'm here, and it's quite lovely weather: blue skies, high of about 70, and breezy. In fact, it was downright cold this morning.

    "Here", at the moment, is the Safari Club Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa. I arrived Saturday evening and got settled in my room, which is quite comfy despite the rather off-putting electrical wire around the high iron fence. Crime is a factor, shall we say, in J'burg, mostly due to the extremely high (like 80%) unemployment rate of neighboring countries like Zimbabwe, which also had such runaway inflation that a 3 trillion note wouldn't buy a loaf of bread--thus, immigration of both the legal and illegal kind. (Higher per capita in South Africa than in the US.) There's a purported 30% South African unemployment as well, but that's only because they sorta don't count the parallel economy which we saw today thriving quite healthily in Soweto: tires, vehicle repair, "bend down boutiques" (the clothes displayed on blankets on the ground) and such.

    South Africa has such a unique history, and is indeed unique in many ways. For one thing, the tap water is drinkable (which is only true of 26 countries, none of the rest of which, I'm betting, would be in Africa.) For another, of course, there is the gold mines, the diamonds, and the history: the Dutch, Germans, French Hugenots, and so forth who came with their Southeast Asian slaves, and the various native groups who ended up under the forces of colonialism and gradual apartheid. It's another of those dichotomies which is not so easily understood or resolved, but there has been a great forward movement in the lives of the majority of South Africans since the end of apartheid in 1994. There are still shanty towns, but the government is building better housing, and the economy is doing fairly well. (Impacted by the worldwide economic issues, of course, but not as badly as some others.)

    Today we toured Johannesburg a bit, including viewing Nelson Mandela's current home, and then focused on Soweto. It was in the Soweto township that the biggest movement against apartheid began, and it's also the site of the beginning of the end. In the 50's the ANC (African National Congress) had a huge meeting of people from all over South Africa in Soweto (unbeknownst to the government, who definitely weren't into large meetings of mixed people) and came up with a system of government that would end apartheid (and sorta share the wealth, too; that was a rather favored notion of the time.) The events of 1976 in Soweto, though, were even more influential because of the attention by the international community. Steve Biko had been an activist and started to make himself heard worldwide, but this uprising was actually from high school students. (Heaven knows, that's a lot of energy to be uprising.) The issue was that the government wanted the technical subjects in school to be taught in Afrikaans (the world's newest language, and a composite of Dutch, Malay, French, and various other sources.) Afrikaans, of course, was considered the language of the oppressor; the courses, as it happens, were mostly taught in English, as the students were a mix of Zulu, Bantu, !Xhosa (that ! stands for a clicking sound, by the way) and others. Anyway, a 13 year old boy, Hector Pieterson, was killed as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the picture of another student carrying him through the streets made world news. The riots in Soweto continued, and, as I mentioned, this really marked the beginning of the end of apartheid.

    (Oops, sorry for being so teacherish here, but, well, there's a lot to understand, only the tip of which I've explored. It promises to be quite fascinating, though. Our guide for the overall trip is of Afrikaans/Scots descent, and our local guide today was Meshach, who is, I believe, Bantu. So we're getting an interesting mix of perspectives.)

    Lunch today was at a former "shebeen", run by Bea. The food was good, rice/beans, fish, beef, and such, and the little kids wandering about were great: very friendly and welcoming. A shebeen was an illegal drinking spot, where the migrant miners used to come to, well, drink until they passed out, so the ladies running the shebeens had to be quite hardy, as they'd need to be able to control 30 or so drunk men and toss them out if needs be. Beatrice looked quite able to be what was called a "shabeen queen"! The drink was ginger beer, but not to worry, it's beer as in root beer--that is, non-alcoholic. Quite spicy, though!

    Tomorrow we're off to Kruger National Park, in search of lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Er, that is, lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, giraffees, and the occasional wildebeest and such. (Wildebeest, my dears, is an Afrikaans word, by the way.)

    NOTES ON LODGING: The Safari Club is near the airport in Jo'burg, which is good after getting in after that long plane ride. It's nice, and has great breakfast croissants (everywhere served full breakfast) but there isn't a thing to do around the hotel. This worked fine for us, but for an extended stay you'd need to be driving a bit to get to more popular places.

  • Report Abuse

    Sixteen days of sunshine in June-July is a blessing indeed.

    I'll second every one of your packing hints.

    You are off to a great start. The email route is a clever way to go for a report.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks for the kind words!

    MORE PACKING TIPS: Laundry service is relatively cheap and quick, so don't overpack. There will be times when the area for luggage isn't too big.

    The next email wasn't until after the game drives in both Kruger and Mkhaya, so I'll fill in a little first:

    Hulala Lake Lodge is outside of Kruger; it's on a lake (fairly obviously) and has some resident zebras. The separate rooms are quite large and comfy; the addition of a hotwater bottle wearing a lamb suit was much appreciated.

    We were picked up before sunrise by a Toyota pickup safari vehicle with a canvas top and sides; six to a vehicle worked out great for photos. The Kruger bush had lost much of its foliage, so it was easier to spot the many varieties of antelope and the impalas, as well as numberless birds. A giraffe was the first animal we saw, and later, stopping for a bird sighting, a herd of Cape buffalo materialized, layers upon layers of them moving alongside and eventually crossing the road. Later in the day we stopped for a braai (barbecue) in one of the little settlements of rondevals; the day had gotten quite warm by that point. As it was school holidays for South Africa, the parking lot there was quite crowded, and the crowds came up later on as a traffic jam at a leopard sighting. Someone had spotted the leopard dragging an impala carcass to a tree, and the three or four vehicles who sighted this wouldn't move from their viewing spot, causing an absolutely huge traffic backup in both directions. Finally the rangers chased the leopard off, and traffic started to move.
    Elephants and white rhinos finished up the day.

    The next day at Kruger was quite cold and we didn't spot much wildlife until we went into the "hide" next to a big water hole and viewed the hippos and alligator there. It's a great way to spend some quiet time. Eventually on that day we did see more animals, but no lions; although they were heard, they couldn't be found. But we did see the lavender breasted tufted roller that a few of us had fallen in love with from pictures!

    Following another night at Hulala Lake Lodge, we went into Swaziland for a visit to a school/orphanage where the king's aunt led the children in cultural dances and demos; from there, it was on to Mkhaya, a private reserve that specializes in rhinos. The accommodations there, in the preserve this time, are stone and thatch rondevals with openings between the thatch and stone; you eat dinner (elegantly presented) outdoors, and there's a campfire to gather round at the end of the day. The rondevals are beautifully built and quite comfortable, but of course it was a bit chilly until one got under the duvet.

    Game drives here were in the evening, the next morning, and then a walking safari before lunch, with an afternoon drive into the sunset and that big sky of stars (Look! It's the Southern Cross!) and another drive the final morning. There are nyala roaming in the camp and giraffes, rhinos, and elephants in abundance in the reserve; the staff is excellent.
    Mkhaya tended to be everyone's favorite on this trip, I think.

    So, on to the EMAIL IMPRESSIONS:

    Well, wow. Okay, that's not really very literate for someone of my supposed logophile tendencies, so, um, okay...
    Really wow.

    I'm just back from five days of game viewing, first in Kruger National Park in South Africa, then Mkhaya Lodge in Swaziland. The Kruger lodge was at a lake outside of the park entrance; we went early in the (extremely cold!) morning, and were met by a giraffe on the way in. Seated in modified Toyota pick-up trucks (elevated seats and canvas roofs) we bounced all over but had a wonderful time seeing zebras, antelopes of many varieties, birds, giraffes, rhinos, and elephants! There's nothing, really nothing, like seeing these animals in the wild (okay, Disney's Animal Kingdom game safari times about 1,000, maybe.) You never know what's going to be hiding; we stopped to look at a bird and suddenly there was an entire herd of cape buffalo (the big ones who part their horns in the middle) milling about. Cape buffalo (along with rhino, elephant, lion, and leopard) are part of the actual "Big Five", as they're the ones who will kill you first if they feel threatened. Hippos will kill you--and are responsible for the most deaths, just due to river usage--but only if you are IN THE WAY! (Don't walk where a hippo wants to be.) We saw hippos from an "animal hide" (wooden hidden area) the next day at their water hole. We didn't, in fact, see any lions, so I guess that means I'll have to return. :)

    Swaziland was next on the list: it's the only complete monarchy left in Africa, and the king lives with his advisor/mother in the main palace, whilst each of his 13 wives has her own palace and new BMW every year. Meanwhile, there's 40% unemployment and 251 of 485 kids at the school we visited are orphans. (highest HIV mortality of any country) However, the lady chief at the school and the adorable kids seemed happy to show us traditional Swazi culture and even amongst the teachers and the staff at the lodge there appeared no signs of incipient revolution. It's just what everyone is used to, I suppose.

    The lodge was incredible: you really stay in "the bush", the wooded/plant area where the animals live. (There were warthogs outside my door this morning, and beautiful nyala (sp) which are deer-like animals in the camp.) The stone and thatched roof rondevals (round walls) where you stay are open for a couple of feet between the roof and the stone, for better viewing purposes. (And thank heaven for hot water bottles--bit cold at night!) We saw rhinos and a whole family of elephants along with the zebras and giraffes and warthogs (warthog was also on the menu that night, but I couldn't do it; hello, Puumba!) But what was even cooler was a walking safari, where our group of six got within, oh, twenty feet of three rhinos. (They weren't terribly pleased that we chose to stop, I don't think, as there was a bit of foot stamping, but then I guess they realized it was just the usual tourists photographing madly and they started to pose. Or am I anthropomorphizing?

    The sunsets over the bush are unbelievably gorgeous; we've been blessed with incredibly beautiful sunny weather. And at night, the stars are so near and so many that you can almost hear them sing.

    We're now at Sani Pass Hotel, at the foot of the mountain that we'll ascend to Lesotho tomorrow; it's been early wakeup each morning, and tomorrow is no exception, so TTFN!

    In a blissful haze and with more pictures (and movies) than any 42 people need,

  • Report Abuse

    And from there I'll make mention of the Sani Pass Hotel: it's pretty much the only hotel in town (but there are b&b's and backpackers) but it's, well, not really a great place to stay. There is supposed to be a major renovation happening, though. The staff was lovely and friendly, but the rooms were not clean and there seemed to be a lot that needed repair. The grounds are beautiful, though, and a walk to the two waterfalls was lovely in the golden afternoon after the return from Sani Pass.

    (And a one day rather touristic experience in Lesotho is definitely not enough to count, but I did find the ride up Sani Pass--and the views--to be spellbinding!)

    The Sani Pass is the only way from Kawala/Zulu state to the kingdom of Lesotho up in the mountains, and the road is 26 curves of rutted rock. You have to go up in a 4x4, as, well, you'd get right stuck otherwise. The vistas are awe-inspiring, as is what's euphemistically referred to as African massage from the ride. But not only was the view of the river valley a gorgeous sight, we also went into the land of Lesotho, where sheepherding is pretty much the way of life and people live in round huts plastered with mud and cow dung. (Yes, it smells, but mostly actually of smoke as there are no windows and a cooking fire in the center.) On the way back, we saw what was believed to be a serval cat, which is a wildcat that is less likely to be seen, supposedly, than a lion. (We're out of lion country now.) Hiking to some waterfalls (most rivers in Africa are non-navigable because of the cataracts {steep waterfalls}) rounded out the day nicely, and felt pretty good after riding on that road.

    We drove from Sani Pass Lodge back to Durban, and flew out from there to Port Elizabeth, where we walked around a bit before driving some more to Storms River in Tsitsikamma National Park.
    Tsitsikamma Lodge was my favorite of all the places we stayed; the rooms are fine, but it's the guest lounge that took my heart. Big fireplace, comfy furniture, outrageous lampshades, gorgeous inlaid desk...I wanted to move in. Tsitsikamma Park area is beautiful and the town of Storms River where the lodge is located (which is removed, actually, from the Storms River suspension bridge) is tiny but kinda cool: the Cadillac "dealership", for example, where gorgeous old classic Caddies are displayed in a bright pink building.

    We went on to Tsitsikamma National Park, a region of indigenous trees--which is quite rare here. Many trees were imported, such as the black wattle and the eucalyptus from Australia, and they tend to drink enormous quantities of the scarce water and grow very, very fast. (In fact, the black wattle is an invasive pest.) So the indigenous forests are important, plus,of course, the indigenous birds and animals tend to live there. It was a thrill seeing calla lilies growing in nature! Tsitsikamma is along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and there's a long suspension bridge with beautiful views of the ocean before you (and under your feet.) There's also the world's highest bungee jump, which I didn't get to do, and a canopy zip line, which I did. It's pretty cool zooming along from one tall tree to another, fifty or sixty feet up on a cable. And I didn't even smash into any trees.

    MORE LODGING/INFO: After Tsitsikamma came the almost-ghost town of Majiesfontain with its Victorian/Edwardian Lord Milner hotel and its 10 minute tour in a big red double-decker bus. To get here, we drove through the Karoo under gorgeous skies and through vivid land, stopping at an ostrich farm along the way as well as the beautiful little town of Prince Albert, where flowers carpeted and cavorted and just generally made things special.
    We stayed just one night at the Lord Milner, leaving on the morning train (which actually arrived almost on time, at 7:10, for about the first time in history.) I enjoyed the train ride, but the private seating makes it unlikely to socialize much. But I have a fondness for trains, and it was a nice change from the bus.

    After an ostrich farm visit yesterday (including an ostrich race and ostrich steak for lunch) we got into the small town of Majiesfontein with the very atmospheric Lord Milner hotel, the slightly dotty tour guide (ten minute town tour) and even more dotty owner of the whole village, who came around to speak during dinner. What was in its heyday a town of 10,000 now has 250 people, so it's a bit of a ghost town. (Supposedly literally, but I didn't see any.) We caught the local train from there this morning and arrived in Capetown, with sunshine actually all the way! We've been so blessed with the weather, as the sunshine has been where we were and rain in most of the rest of the country.

  • Report Abuse


    As a foreigner who has chosen to live in South Africa, it's fascinating to hear your perspective, which is very insightful and very well written.

    Two questions ...
    1) do you think that other international travellers need to be nervous about coming to SA (crime, driving etc.) and
    2) do you think that guesthouses are fine for most people who don't require absolute luxury? I'm just interested because so many international visitors spend massive amounts of money getting here / being here but I don't think they get anything more out of it.

    Rob. Satpack Travel.

  • Report Abuse

    Well, Rob, I live in North Philadelphia, so I'm probably a lot less likely to be nervous than other people. However, I was a bit more comfortable traveling in a bit of a tourist "cocoon" in comparison to my usual trips. I think that there's just fundamentally no way you can have the economic situations that exist and what had existed in South Africa and not have some of those crimes, plus there's the crystal meth/alcohol factors. (Again, living in North Philly, these are things that are familiar aspects to me. If you're not familiar with North Philadelphia, let's just say that things can get mighty interesting around here on a Saturday night.) I don't think that anyone should have unusual fear, either in the driving or touring, but should have usual city smarts and caution.

    The places that I stayed were, I'd guess, mostly mid-range (not ultra-luxe) and were fine; I'm actually a fan of guesthouses and would have liked a chance to be in some of the backpacker places, but the tour was inclusive and pretty fast paced, so no time for exploring other lodging options. Again, so much depends on your point of view...I like a luxury hotel now and then, but it's definitely not a necessity for enjoying a country.

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you!

    By the way, getting to Majiesfontein had involved a lot of driving through the Karoo (a semi-arid area) and a stop at the lovely little town of Prince Albert after going through the Swartberg Pass. Prince Albert had the first of the flower "carpets" that we saw (although the western Cape has even more of these; would have loved to be there, too, but there's only so much time...)

    We got off our train in Capetown six hours after starting, and walked around the historic area. There are some remnants of Capetown being the "Tavern of the Seas", and a very mixed ethnic flavour with lots of Indian and Southeast Asian eating places. The District 6 museum (commemorating a region that was emptied under apartheid because the government couldn't deal with the extremely diverse mix coexisting quite happily there, and plowed under) is fascinating, and our guide there, a former D6 resident, had quite a story to tell. They are trying to rebuild, but of course there are all kinds of complications with people being unable to prove where they had lived and the fact that there's a university built over a part of it. We ended the day at the Waterfront, a fun, happy, and very commercial area but still a working harbor...and we saw whales!

    The cable car up to Table Mountain was closed for maintenance the next day, but the mountain itself was completely clear of cloud cover. We went up to the parking area for a view over the city, with everything sparkling in the sun. From there we visited Boulder Beach to see the African (a/k/a jackass, for their braying sound) penguins; there are quite a number of them along the two walkways.

    But the main site for the day was the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point lighthouse; it's another of those dreams of the history/geography geek kind of places (although it's not the southernmost point, nor where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet; still, it's, well, it's the CAPE of GOOD HOPE! Portuguese explorers, anyone?) There's a funicular up to the lighthouse, and there was quite the international crowd up there posing for pix. Down again at the Cape of Good Hope, there's a spectacularly pounding surf and a sign with the longitude and latitude. And wild ostriches. Good stuff. Plus, on the way back, we sighted a red hartebeest, all perfect and prim in its field.

    The final full day was one on which OAT offered two "optionals"; Robben Island was originally offered, but due to its various weather (and labor) complications, is no longer--that was a disappointment to me, especially as tickets were booked when I tried to go myself. However, the museum at the Robbens Island ferry slip is interesting and I guess I'll just have to return!

    The two options were a township tour and the Stellenbosch wineries. I'm always a bit ambivalent about things like township/slum/favela/whatever tours, as (see post above) I kinda live in one myself and don't know that we'd really appreciate being part of someone's cultural experience. But then again, education is important and culture can be shared. Since this one (Camissa Tours) is led by a former township resident, I feel that it's conducted with sensitivity and friendliness. The shacks, the shipping container stores, and especially the three-families-to-a-room hostels are all evidence of the huge disparities that still exist, and the needs that the government is trying to fulfill by building new homes by the literal million. But of course these homes can't be built immediately, and in the meantime the community sense makes many wish to stay where they are. (You can't build where the people are living while they're living there, of course.)

    There are many levels of poverty to comparative wealth within the township, and entrepreneurs from the lady frying liver in fat on the street to sell to her neighbors to the B&B where the owner's 13 year old son served us tea with impeccable politeness. There are problems, of course, of many kinds: with alcohol, with unemployment, with health (and the promised "cures" of things such as HIV by traditional healers), but there is also a very strong sense of community and resilience evidenced by those shipping container shops and
    neighborhood games. I'm glad I went--although I'm still a little conflicted about it all.

    In the afternoon I skipped the Stellenbosch for an afternoon of shopping: at the Waterfront, the Red Shed section of the mall has craftspeople from various collectives who sell marvelous handcrafted items. There was a lot of activity on the glorious Saturday afternoon, with dancers and musicians and lots and lots of people. I used the bus to and from and got into an interesting conversation with a Lithuanian resident of Capetown.

    Our final day was a noon departure from the very nice Bantry Bay Suites apartments, so in the morning a few of us took the beach walk down to the market by the new stadium and bargained with the various sellers for beaded work and stone sculptures and such. Nice mellow ending for the visit.

  • Report Abuse

    Fun report, thanks. Someday I'll make it to Swaziland, would be easy, not that far from Kruger. You were with OAT, but, do you think it would be reasonable to do as self-drive? (We have driven around the Kruger area and in Kruger).

    Lots of nice and good variety of photos. Have you perhaps tried to make an trip album by putting them on a DVD so they play/show on a TV using typical DVD player? Many DVD players will play/show jpg images as a slide show. A DVD is a good way to show them (send them a DVD) to far away friends and family. I know they can see them on their PC by going to travel.webshots but seeing them on a nice big TV is also great.

    Anyway, thanks again for a fun to read and complete report.

    regards - tom

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, Tom!
    I don't know about self-drive for Mkhaya; I think you'd have to drive to the lodge reception area and be taken in from there. (They use Land Rovers and do indeed need them!) I didn't see provision for using your own vehicle there.

    I do the DVD's (one of the reasons I have a Mac!) but for this one, I've got digital video to intersperse, so I'll be doing a lot of editing (or otherwise, well, it would be about four hours long.) I use them for my classes with a dvd projector-works well, and usually I do a soundtrack--should be fun with African music.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks so much for your fantastic report Amy. We will be taking the same OAT tour in December. Why don't you post it on the OAT website also? There is just one review of this tour on the website, and it doesn't compare to the well-written report that you've taken the time to share.

  • Report Abuse

    Webshots has changed completely and no longer hosts the pictures, so they are now here:

    Sorry to bring such an old post up, but I just sent someone to this report and realized the pix were outdated! I'll try to get some captions on the pictures eventually, but they're fairly self-evident, I think.

  • Report Abuse

    I'm glad you topped it! I would have been looking all over otherwise. Really enjoyed the read and got some new ideas from it.

    PS - The 26 countries with drinkable water has me staring at world maps.

20 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.