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A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

A First Journey to Southern Africa: Cape, Falls, and Animal Safaris

Apr 28th, 2016, 08:47 AM
  #81  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 597
Yes, thank you for the really awesome report. Looking forward to the last installment. You are a great writer and your descriptions will be so valuable to future travelers!
Lolazahra is offline  
Apr 28th, 2016, 09:48 AM
  #82  
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Nina88, thank you. Johannesburg is no Cape Town but is worth a few days.

Lolazahra, you're welcome and thank you for the compliments.

Johannesburg

We arrived in Johannesburg, the commercial capital of South Africa, on Monday afternoon. From the airport we rode a train to Sandton and another to Rosebank; the train rides were efficient and took less than half an hour. Our hotel, 54 on Bath, a boutique, is adjacent to Rosebank Mall, which is next to the train station. We took our first evening in Johannesburg easy with dinner, shower, and bed.

We spent our first full day in Johannesburg taking a daylong tour of the Apartheid Museum and Soweto with Joe Motsogi of JMT Tours, as recommended by Darren Humphreys here. The Apartheid Miseum was absolutely amazing. The exhibits tell the story of apartheid and its legacy in extraordinary detail and through multiple lens, giving me the opportunity to much better understand and appreciate the recent turmoil that gripped the country and how the people here overcame it. I spent two hours at the museum and could have easily enjoyed a couple more hours here. However it was time to move, to Soweto, the satellite city southwest of Johannesburg that is home to about 3.5 million people, mostly blacks, of all stripes. Through Joe, I was able to gain fascinating insight into the neighborhood. He showed us Nelson Mandela's home and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. My only disappointment was that we were driven around the entire time; I'm more interested in walking around and getting a better feel for the area.

Our second full day, Wednesday, was Freedom Day, South Africa's equivalent of the American Fourth of July. Because of the holiday, some areas we visited were more quiet while others very busy. We spent the morning on a self-designed walking tour of downtown Johannesburg. We began our day in Newtown, with a visit to the Africa Museum, or so we thought. Because of a private event (unsure of its relation to Freedom Day), the museum was closed for the day. We walked around the area surrounding the museum before continuing south the Chancellor House, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo practiced law for a few years before their harassment by apartheid authorities intensified. From here made our way down the Main Street Mining District, passing by numerous corporate headquarters of mining companies and numerous monuments dedicated to miners and mining. We moved further into the central business district, to the main library and City Hall, admiring the architecture along the way, including several beautiful sandstone buildings. From City Hall, we headed south to Gandhi Square (India's Mahatma Gandhi spent over two decades in Johannesburg practicing law) and east to the Carlton Center. We went up top for a panoramic view of the large and sprawling city. From downtown we moved on to Rosebank, where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening. We picked up a few cheap souvenirs at the arts and crafts market and walked around the mall for a short while before dinner.

Our third and final day, really only a few hours in Johannesburg, was spent in Sandton, like Rosebank a wealthy neighborhood. We visited the mall in Sandton and did some last minute shopping before heading to the airport to embark on our journey home.

Restaurants

During our time in Johannesburg we enjoyed two fantastic dinners and a wonderful lunch. The restaurants we visited are:

- The Grillhouse - A historic steakhouse in Rosebank, the restaurant serves very, very good steaks. Accompanied with its signature sauce, it was divine.

- Doppio Zero - Also in Rosebank, the Italian restaurant was well worth our visit. The pizzas and pastas were delicious and their desserts are to match.

- Remo's Cafe Liberta - An Italian restaurant at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, we enjoyed a most relaxing and delicious lunch here. The pizzas and pastas, as well as their meat dishes, are well worth the visit.

While Johannesburg does not have the drop-dead-gorgeous geographic appeal of Cape Town, the city is interesting in its own way and worth a few days, especially when you likely have to pass through it. Even with three nights, I feel that I could have enjoyed more as I had other items on my list that will have to await a future visit.

A Few Closing Words

Africa! A land of conflicts. A mixing bowl of cultures. A place where the animals roam free. The "dark" continent, mysterious. The final frontier.

What can I say? I began my trip filled with interest and fascination for a continent that I unfortunately knew so little about. We don't learn much out Africa in history books except for ancient Egypt. We have glimpsed Africa on television through the lens of wildlife documentaries. Our knowledge about African culture is nonexistent. It is a destination that called us repeatedly but has been out of reach to us, financially speaking, until recently.

I must admit that I end my very first trip to Africa not very far from where I started. Sure, I have a better understanding of Africa's landscape, its incredibly warm peoples, the diversity of cultures, the amazing animals, etc., after this trip. But I leave a land three times the size of the United States with more questions than I had when we first arrived. With Africa is calling us (back) more than ever before. To be fair, how could one not get excited after having spent time with the animals - up close and personal. Christabir was right. We're hooked.

All in all, this trip to Africa has been an incredible experience for me and my travel companions. The trip has had few setbacks and maximum rewards. The experiences we've gained have made our lives richer, more rewarding. The trip exceeded far beyond our wildest imaginations. We could not have asked for anything more.

As I conclude my report I wish to thank you Fodorites for your help as I was planning this trip (you know who you are and answering my plethora of questions. I want to thank those of you who've followed along; I hope my report brings joy to some and inspiration and useful information to others. Most of all, I would like to take liberty to thank Dave Patterson for his kindness, support, and professionalism in making the trip what it became for me and my family; the quality of our trip may not have been the same without his help. We've been fortunate on this trip to acquire memories that will remain with us our entire lives, in a way that no other trip has.

Many thanks to you for your time and attention. If you have questions that you think may be helpful to you at some point, please do not hesitate to ask. Thank you again. Until next time...
tripplanner001 is online now  
Apr 28th, 2016, 10:21 AM
  #83  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 27,866
Sad to see this end!

We took the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour [with the add on of Soweto]. We were deeply moved by the Apartheid Museum. We were able to walk a bit in Soweto and see both Nelson Madela's house and Desmond Tutu's house. Imagine having 2 Nobel Peace Prize winner living on the same street! We have never used a HOHO bus before and likely won't again but it served it purpose as we had only 2 full days in Jo'burg.

We were glad we started our time in Africa in Jo'burg; it really helped set the stage for the rest of our travels.

The only thing we would have done differently was to start in Botswana and end in Sabi Sands. But as it was only 6 months out from when I booked to arrival, it just didn't work that way.

Your summary is eloquent and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.
DebitNM is offline  
Apr 28th, 2016, 11:04 AM
  #84  
 
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Excellent! I too wish you would have been able to go inside Mandela House and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum. The museum is small but moving. Lunch at one of the restaurants across from Mandela house would have added to the appeal and allowed you to taste a typical Black South African meal. It kind of reminds me of American soul food or the food that many eat in the Southern states of the U.S. Anyway, my first visit to Joberg on my way to Sabi Sand and Capetown had me on a similar tour. But once I realized I was not getting out, I insisted and thus began my love affair with Soweto. I agree Joberg is soooo different from Capetown and I LOVE Capetown. I was last there for New Year's Eve and I just died and went to heaven, but Joberg just seems to allow me to understand and appreciate the country better than any other place. When you next go back, I will send you a list because I seem to add to it every year. Your report has made me so excited for my next trip in July. I must say I think you really put together the perfect first time trip to the continent. It's addicting and you just scratched the surface. My favorite saying is "I need Africa more than Africa needs me." Safe travels home and wonderful dreams of the next trip!
Lolazahra is offline  
Apr 28th, 2016, 10:33 PM
  #85  
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DebitNM, you're welcome.

Lolazahra, agree with your sentiments on Africa 100%. We did go inside the Nelson Mandela home and enjoyed it. We did not go into the Pieterson Museum as our guide said it would not be worth it on the heels of our visit to the Apartheid Museum.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Apr 29th, 2016, 07:50 AM
  #86  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 155
You are a real raconteur... the images were so vivid in my imagination that I can easily pretend that I was travelling and/or experiencing your trip. Thank you so much for tagging us along with you, trip. Your TR will surely be amongst the most referred to. Unfortunately, when I contacted Dave couple of weeks ago, he was not available as he was busy with his move back to the US. Don't know if he'll be available as an TA again.
nina88 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2016, 10:42 AM
  #87  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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How many seater was the vehicle that they used at Sabi Sands (Kirkman’s Kamp) and Chobe (Chobe Under Canvas)? Prefer a 2/row but if'ts 3/row, did it make that much difference as far as taking pics, comfort and viewing are concerned? Thanks again tripplanner001.
nina88 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2016, 02:40 PM
  #88  
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Nina88, thank you. Regarding Dave Patterson, he spends about have a year in the U.S. and the other half in South Africa. Apart from the week or so that he is moving in one direction or another, he's very responsive. Perhaps try him again in a few days. I still owe you the list of TAs I've contacted; I don't have ready access to it at the moment but will get it to you on Monday at the latest.

For both Kirkman's Camp and Chobe Under Canvas, we used three row vehicles, with two at each seat, so everyone gets a window seat. I usually find that photography is the best from the front row, but the back row is not bad either. With our safari companions, we usually just rotated so everyone has a chance to sit in the front and so forth. For me, the middle row was the worst, not for the viewing (viewing is just as good anywhere in the vehicle), but for photography as I carry a cheap digital camera. Some of our safari buddies carried serious cameras and for them it made no difference.
tripplanner001 is online now  
Apr 30th, 2016, 07:50 AM
  #89  
 
Join Date: Oct 2010
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Dave P. mentioned that they are moving to the US year-round. Re Chobe UC, since you are staying inside the park, were you restricted to just the western side? I read in a quite a few forums of such rstriction... and for those day trippers and staying outside of the park, they are restricted to the east side which is actually better because it has more superior viewing. Back to the same concern I have sleeping in a tent and am sure it will sound ignorant, hahaha... how safe is it? Read about some instances where a lion dragged a boy out and was killed, someone encountering a snake when getting out of the tent, finding spiders, millepedess on the bed, etc. There must be some kind of a theory or principle that makes it relatively safe to sleep inside the tent with animals roaming around... what's the possibility of them barging into your tent? Take your time with the list of TA, trip... you must be exhausted, welcome back!
nina88 is offline  
Apr 30th, 2016, 07:02 PM
  #90  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
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Thanks TP, I've just caught up on your report. Africa has been on my list for some time. Your evocative and informative report has moved it up a few notches.

Brilliant !
sartoric is offline  
Apr 30th, 2016, 08:02 PM
  #91  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Great trip report. Yeah, that "once-in-a-lifetime" trip thing just never seems to apply. We are getting ready to go back for a third trip in two weeks. I'm not sure there will be a fourth, but we do still need to see Namibia....and we also haven't spent anytime in East Africa. See...there are just too many opportunities that are hard to leave on the table!
uhoh_busted is offline  
May 1st, 2016, 12:19 AM
  #92  
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Nina88, I don't know about restrictions at Chobe for Under Canvas guests but, yes, we were mostly driving In the western side of the park. We did go to the eastern side when we went on the boat cruise, and did part of the game drive there. As for wildlife, we saw plenty where we were. I don't know if there is a difference between the two parts; at least we did not notice it. We saw few day trip vehicles in the western portion though. As for the tents, the manager said that they've never experienced any issues with the animals and that they do not bother the tents even though they do pass by. We did not notice any bugs in our tent other than some moths where we dined at the main tent.

Sartoric, you're welcome. Happy to provide some food for thought. If South Africa is on your list, may I suggest you go sooner rather than later as the currency exchange rates are historically favorable to us as Western visitors?

Uhoh, you're welcome. Where in Africa are you visiting this time?
tripplanner001 is online now  
May 1st, 2016, 02:10 PM
  #93  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
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uhoh -- you must go to Namibia. Stark and astonishing. And safari in Kenya and Tanzania is a must do as well. Seems you have many more trips to Africa upcoming!

I've done South Africa (over 20 times), Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Botswana, Liberia, and Senegal. I now have my eyes set on Ethiopia and gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

My girls and I have also spent a lot of time in Asia and Europe. I recently told them, we can not plan another trip to Africa, Asia or Europe, until we visit some where in Latin America, where we have never been. But Africa just calls....

Where are you going this trip?
Lolazahra is offline  
May 1st, 2016, 05:07 PM
  #94  
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Lolazahra, like you, there are so many places that we want to visit as well. For a next trip to Africa, I'm thinking Kenya / Tanzania, Namibia, or Madagascar. As for Latin America, aim for Peru and / or Brazil. We visited both in 2014 and loved it.
tripplanner001 is online now  
May 2nd, 2016, 04:02 PM
  #95  
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Nina88, here is the TA list:

Craig Beal, Travel Beyond
Tanya Kotze, Africa Direct
Liesl Matthews, Southern Destinations
Dave Patterson, The Africa Safari
Lyon Tours and Safaris

I know there are two more we contacted but I cannot seem to find their names in my notes.
tripplanner001 is online now  
May 5th, 2016, 02:53 PM
  #96  
 
Join Date: May 2016
Posts: 2
Hi tripplanner001

We're about to depart for SA and Zim next week. I was curious, when you toured the Zambia side of Victoria Falls did you do the entire thing on foot? From Zim to Zam and back again?

I think we want to do something similar but, I can't find detailed information about the park on the Zambia side. Is it a far walk after the bridge to the Zambia park? Do we need Zambia currency for the entry fee or will US Dollars be accepted? (I've read they don't officially accept foreign $ in Zam but I've heard varying reports on the enforcement of this).

And is it easy from the park on the Zambia side to find the trail down to Boiling Pot? You mention a train but I can only information on a train in regards to rafting tours which we won't be doing but would be interested in seeing the fall from below.

Any information would be helpful.

Thanks!
L
likakana82 is offline  
May 5th, 2016, 04:40 PM
  #97  
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Likakana82, yes, we walked from Zimbabwe to Zambia and back, all on foot. From Zimbabwe, if you continue past the entrance to its side of the park on the same road, you will reach the border. From the border, you get your passport and visa stamped out, leave Zimbabwe, cross the Victoria Falls Bridge, obtain your entry stamp on the Zambian side, and walk to the entrance of the park. The total journey on foot took us about 30-40 minutes, with not much of a line at immigration on either side. The Zambian park does take U.S. dollars, and I recall a few other currencies including South African rand. Once inside the park, there is plenty of signage of where to go for the various trails including the Boiling Pot. Keep in mind that if you intend to cross into Zambia and back into Zimbabwe that you would need a double-entry visa for Zimbabwe if you would require a visa at all. On the Zambia side, you could get a day visa, which costs US$20.

I am not sure of your reference to a train. We did not take any there.
tripplanner001 is online now  
May 5th, 2016, 04:52 PM
  #98  
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I should also clarify that you cannot view the falls from the Boiling Pot viewpoint except for some spray from the falls. However, we appreciated the geological perspective; in other words, if you could go behind the falls and underneath it, the cliffs and boulders you see would be what you find. Not to mention it's an easy hike but we still got some exercise.
tripplanner001 is online now  
May 5th, 2016, 09:00 PM
  #99  
 
Join Date: May 2016
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Thanks triplanner. I must've misread the word trail as train...I thought it was strange and thus my question. A trail makes more sense.

We planned on the double entry visa for Zim and all the other info helps a lot.

L
likakana82 is offline  
Jun 7th, 2016, 12:13 PM
  #100  
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 4
Hi tripplanner001,

Thank you for the TA list. It is very helpful. May I ask how did you come accross Lyon Tours and Safaris? Thinking about contact them for our upcoming trip in SA but can't find a review for them on tripadvisor. The only reference that I can find is in your post. Thank you!
t4kemeaway is offline  

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