Written by Sandra S.
Gosh I couldn’t wait for this trip to happen!!! 2016 so far was one of these sucking-all-the-energy-out-of-you year. I really needed a break.
My husband was sending me nearly daily a screenshot of his counting app…60, 30, 10 and then it finally was the day to start our journey to South Africa. What a coincidence that it fell right on our 3rd wedding anniversary.
Going to a country like this you feel like going into the unknown. The word DANGER is so present. You did wonder how much would you even be able to enjoy? But there is also the beauty. The amazing country knowing for stunning nature and wildlife.
With this in mind, we decided the first time to book a tour with a group. Trust me, I am not a big fan but having only 2 weeks and going from Cape Town to Kruger National Park is a lot of driving. With a qualified tour-guide you just felt more safe.
Booking with Travel Department seemed like a great choice. They have groups of around 40 people. If you really want, all you do together is mostly the driving. You have been giving enough time to explore every destination and there is no obligation to stick with the group.
I feel like defending myself but lets be honest, South Africa is a country like Australia. You need time and while I had back then 2 years to explore the outback I didn’t have that time now. Just saying this upfront before everyone is reading about our first meet and greet with the group 🙂
The flight was around midday so enough time to get ready and enjoying cocktails at the airport. The thoughts of being stuck in a plane from Dublin to Dubai over 7 hrs and Dubai to Cape Town over 9 hrs puts the holiday mood still on hold.
Boarding Emirates was a little depressing. They let you walk by the business class until you reach your second class area. I kept thinking ONE DAY THAT WILL BE ME, ONE DAY!!!
Flying is always the same struggle. It is kind of being strapped into a hospital bed. You won’t get any sleep. Wait ages for food or zap through all the movies not finding anything. Let me tell you, they not making it easy for you. First of all the air-con blows non-stop and even the blanket makes it impossible to keep you warm for a snooze. The hours between the meals are way too long and the movie selection was just horrible. So for my next long distance flight I will have a tablet with my own movies, warm comfortable clothes and enough snacks.
At some stage I peaked over to my neighbors screen to see if I can copy her movie. While I started with THE CHOICE I decided to watch her pick MOTHER’S DAY after. I seen she made the same decision or it was just a coincidence that I seen my previous movie on her screen later. It also turned out that we would be travel companions for the next 2 weeks.
Around midnight we finally landed in Dubai. 30 degree blowing in our faces. It felt so weird such high temperature in the middle of the night. My eyes were burning. I didn’t sleep a second and was dying for a bed.
The airport is massive. You walk ages to your gate. My fear was to starve as the connection flight was over night and they wouldn’t serve food until morning. A burger was the first thing in my mind. With little time I rushed through the whole terminal straight to McDonald’s and ate like I haven’t eaten for a very long time. With this sorted and my tummy all happy, we boarded for another long flight until our destination. They switched off the light most of the time and the ceiling was like a sky full of stars. Unfortunately didn’t help me to find any sleep.
Around lunchtime I finally spotted Cape Town with the table mountain and lion’s head. Suddenly I felt awake and excited, ready for the journey:
We met our travel group and I was excepting the majority would be slightly older than us. Well they all were 🙂 but couldn’t have been a better group. This were people like us, who have seen the world and had stories to tell. They loved gossip and drinking even more than we did and made me laugh so much. Me, the little German with a bunch of Irish Oldies.
Day 1 – Table Mountain
Not much time to rest, our tour-guide Paul a 70 something English guy who grew up in South Africa and had the first stage of dementia brought us straight to the top of table mountain.
We also learned rule number one: ONLY BRING WITH YOU, WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOOSE. Well if you keep this in mind I think you fine. Of course you still hope not the get robbed but if you ever come into that situation, you give what you have and wish for the best.
A cable car with rotating 360 degree platform brings you to the top and from there you have lots of tracks all around it.
The view was just spectacular and I forgot the fact that I haven’t had any sleep since the last 24 hrs. There is also the option to climb up or even skip it and go on top of lion’s head instead which is a better secret spot, so I heard.
Despite all the impressions the sleepiness hit me again and I was looking forward checking into the hotel Radisson Blu Le Vendome
We managed a little walk later and ended up in a local bar for a few drinks before we finished the day.
Day 2 – Vineyards
Our first night was disturbed by the hotel alarm. Not sure why but my first reaction was IGNORE, JUST A TEST. While others thought it might be terrorism. I had too many alarms in my life and never take them serious anymore. Which is probably not a good thing. I stayed in my bed but got a little worried when I heard people outside talking. Thank god there was an announcement shortly after FALSE ALARM. I knew it 🙂 turned out the kitchen staff triggered the alarm when they opened the oven doors.
Off we went to some wine tasting. Starting with the famous Nederburg which was around one hour drive from Cape Town. I enjoyed just sitting down and watching the scenery, which was so different. There was the busy city. The heavy traffic on the highway starts already from 5:30 am and I thought M50 Dublin is a nightmare.
A bit outside you see all the settlements. People living in these tiny container houses. While the formal one have water and even electricity. The informal once have none of it and they not officially approved. There are so many and the picture is just so unreal. The brutal truth with the amazing table mountain in the background. A bit further inland the scenery changes and you look at endless vineyards.
We were drinking some lovely wine before lunch and they promised us, the once we have tasted would be the once we would get in Ireland. Their vintage THE BEAUTIFUL LADY was just my taste.
We continued after to a smaller one named Boschendaal which gave you the landscape you know from movies. The big white table in the green, surrounded by these white houses. This tasting wasn’t for me and only the color of the wine was impressing but the lunch buffet after was delicious. Some time for us to catch up with our old folks and realizing that they love travelling just as much. If only I would have the time they have. Can’t wait for my retirement 🙂
It was time for some Cape Town sightseeing and we went to the Waterfront. It is the tourist district on the harbor with a huge shopping center and lots of restaurants. Very difficult to get a spot, most of the famous restaurants are booked out but we managed to get a table in Karibu. I tasted some Kudu, Springbok and Ostrich steak. There was one, I didn’t like but I couldn’t tell which one it was. Little flags pointing out the meat would have been helpful.
Day 3 – Cape of Good Hope
This day was all about the coastal way to reach the most south-western point of Africa. We stopped at Hout Bay which seemed like a normal harbor with just a lot of souvenir stands placed there for tourism only. Ah and don’t forget that guy who makes money from overfeeding a sea-lion. That poor thing is so fat.
I also heard the first time about this Irish guy Niall Mellon the owner of the township trust charity who builds houses and schools in Africa. Paul our guide was saying, there have been some problems in the past. The country requested to use their own people as volunteers which delayed the project. Personally I think he is doing something great, no doubt but after a few days in this country you wonder, if all these charities are the solution?
I had the feeling the more we take off them the less they try to get done by themselves. You can see the problems from many different angles. I was reading an article the other day stating: “South Africa is a first-world country with a lot of third-world problems because of the townships and apartheid” the government just has to make changes. Seeing the immense difference between rich and poor. One part living behind huge walls and electric fences, while the others sitting in a little cage made out of rubbish. It is just a crazy world.
Next stop was Cape of Good Hope. Back in the days it was announced as the southern point where Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet. Turned out that it was actually 150km further, so they corrected the mistake and named it the south-western point. In Cape Point we finally managed to do some walking, lots of steps rewarded by a nice view.
This was the last night in the city and we thought of changing money again. Well turned out you need a passport in every exchange bureau. After asking why, the lady at the counter replied I DON’T KNOW. I loved their honesty.
Day 4 – Robben Island / Hermanus
We started the day with a ferry ride to Robben Island and what a ride that was. Like on a roller coaster. The ocean was a little wild and I only survived outside on the railing. It was even a bit enjoyable. You had to hold on tight going up and down with the waves.
An ex inmate gave us a tour and story of the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. You were listening to someone who is doing this nearly daily and telling about the torture he faced for 5 years. Maybe it was his therapy. You will also hear about other ex inmates and ex prison guards living on the island now together. It is hard to understand.
We found out later Table Mountain and Robben Island were closed for the next days cause of too much wind. Can you imagine coming all this way and missing out on this?
We made our way to Hermanus a great holiday town directly on the ocean. I spent most of the time behind my binoculars looking out for whales. There is a guy called the whale crier who blows the horn once he spots a whale. They even wrote a book about him The Whale Caller
We didn’t hear him once and I also had no luck on my own. This was a bit disappointing but still we had a good time. Eating delicious seafood in Bientang Cave restaurant and finished the night with our group around the chimney in Windsor Hotel
Day 5 – Montagu
I realized that I never had the urge to be on my phone and barely managed to look a it at night. There was no need to know whats going on back home we were all South Africa 🙂
We were watching news and seen the student protesting, getting out of control in some parts.
Finally a late morning and regarding to our schedule the only one. Mostly we hit the road before 8 am. There was so much driving and it was great to just snooze a little whenever you wanted to.
We stopped at a town named Swellendam which was surrounded by these nice green mountains and temperature went eventually up to 25 degree. I was expecting mainly hot days on this holiday but so far I was just running out of warm clothing.
Some more driving away from the coast all the way to Montagu which reminded me of some villages in Australia. After walking around and facing some dodgy looking people we decided to rest in our Country Hotel which had a nice garden with pool.
Day 6 – Knysna
While checking out I ran into a group of Germans and it turned out a few of them were even from my hometown. I was surprised they didn’t have the same route as us, only half way and then back to Cape Town. Guess we were just lucky with our tour.
This day we drove back to the seaside to a town called Knysna, a very nice holiday place. During the long ride one of our group members gave us a little geography lesson. Very handy to have a teacher on board and our tour guide enjoyed the break before he gave us some more inside of the country.
We drove along the ROUTE 62. Oh yes not just America has one. We stopped at a bar called Ronnie’s Sex Shop and the funny story behind that name is, that nobody really stopped here and the crazy idea to add the word sex turned into a success. The bar is full of bra’s and the wall full of memories from people who have been at this place. Sometimes you don’t need much to keep a business booming.
We drove further to a place called Calitzdorp. It was a rough town, full of poor and drunken people.
We were quickly surrounded by kids begging for money. The owner of a cafe advised us not to give them anything and donate instead to KIDS STOP which is an organisation helping poor children’s.
Well I am unable to find anything about it online but totally agree with not giving kids any money. I learned that years ago in Cuba, parents tend to take them out of school as the begging brings them more income than their parents salary.
Still a little in shock we got quickly distracted by our next stop in Oudtshoorn visiting an ostrich farm. Experience something different like standing on their non-breakable eggs or how about a ride?
As the skinniest and bravest person of the group I was the only one riding an ostrich. They tell you before they can speed up to 70 km/h and you have a lot of respect hoping they know what they doing.
Its a weird feeling at first because you not sure where to hold on to. My first guess was the long neck. I clinched my fingers around it and got the panic look from the staff advising me to let go. Instead you hold on to the wings. While I still figured out whats the best way to sit on it, the big bird was off running with me on the back. I managed the first corner before I fell down and ripping out one feather from this poor thing.
Enjoying my applause and relieved I was well I found out one more round had to be done. Time for the German to show all the Irish some great performance. I stayed all the way on it leaving the arena proudly.
After all this I really deserved a nice meal. What better to eat on this farm than an ostrich steak. Sounds really cruel from feeding to riding ending up in eating them. Horrible person I am but I have to admit it was one of the best steaks I ever had. It tasted a little like liver and was just so tender.
Back on the bus to our next destination Knysna in a luxury accommodation called Premier Hotel
We got a chalet for ourselves which was just stunning. Thankfully we stayed two nights. A bit tired from all the exploring we had some relaxing time on the fireplace. We cooked or had some tapas. Only once we went into town for some delicious sushi in The Dry Dock Food Co. which looked so pretty in rainbow color that I ordered more than I could eat.
Day 7 – Knysna
This day was a trip to the Featherbed Nature Reserve. A short boat ride from the mainland. We did a hike to a viewing point and a cave before we enjoyed a nice buffet at the restaurant.
Afrikaans are funny people. They always smile which is natural and not fake because they want to make business. They working attitude is so relaxed you barely see them stressed out. We talked to local bus and taxi drivers, to receptionist and it was just a pleasure to listen to their stories and I just loved their accent.
Day 8 – Port Elizabeth
We left Knysna on a rainy morning and had a 3 hrs drive ahead to our next destination The Paxton Hotel in Port Elizabeth.
Our stop was at the Tsitsikamma National Park for another hike along some great scenery and the highest Bungee Jumping bridge of the world.
The Bloukrans River Bridge and even all eyes were on me again, I had had to decline. It was someone else’s turn as I really couldn’t face that adrenaline. A lady in our group in her 50’s volunteered and experienced the kick of her lifetime.
Another bridge we passed later on had a less pleasant history. Van Stadens called “bridge of death” counts 82 suicide victims since the opening in November 1971.
Early evening we arrived in Port Elizabeth. Too tired to make our way into town all we seen was the hotel, a supermarket, a restaurant and the airport. Since the city was just known for their industry business I don’t think much was missed out.
They had a great service, very friendly staff and since they know of our arrival they even played Irish music. The food was good quality and the cocktail menu just special.
Day 9 – Johannesburg
Last part of our journey. The once we were all looking forward to it the most. Safari in Kruger National Park. But a long travel was ahead of us. Flying to Johannesburg followed by many hours of driving to the final destination.
Off to the airport early in the morning we landed in a very hot Johannesburg with temperature nearly up to 30 degrees. Everyone was finally able to wear their summer clothes after we all run out of warm once. Who thought of Africa being so cold. So time it was for showing off these white sexy legs 🙂
We went straight to the FNB Stadium before visiting Soweto. Had lunch there in a restaurant called Chez Alina with homemade local food and live music. It was still a weird feeling to sit in such poor area and eating like kings. We collected tip for the singer and seen her later buying sweet’s for the kids.
Before we left Soweto we paid a visit to Mandela’s House which was converted into a museum.
Johannesburg felt different from the rest we have been so far. You won’t see many white people and for once I felt like a foreigner. Locals were looking at us because we were different. Strange feeling.
A day full of impressions and it wouldn’t end. We got the opportunity to see an informal settlement in Kliptown. I was glad we were in company of a tour-guide as I don’t think a trip by yourself would be safe.
The area was full of rubbish and you tried not to step into the smelly little rivers which obviously came from everyone’s toilet.
Unemployment rate was 85% and teachers were confirming that many parents are even too lazy to help out. It made me wonder if everything needed to be that bad? Despite they are so poor but if everyone would care a little more at least the place wouldn’t be a dumb.
Irish people were poor back in the days and my granny had nothing either when escaping Poland after the war as a refugee but I still believe they made sure to stay hygienic. But what do I know?
It was still sad to see kids playing here and running around barefoot but the more we were impressed by the Kliptown Youth Program a clean organised area for them in the middle of the settlement. The program has 16 employee and looks after 100 children’s.
With thoughtful faces we boarded our air-con bus driving of to our luxury Park Inn Hotel Sandton and appreciate a little more what we had.
Day 10 – White River
For some reason I woke up around 5 am with the biggest eye balls ever. Seemed like a side effect from the malaria tablets we started taking. Thank god some cold water and eye drops helped me not to look like an alien all day.
I sat down with a cup of tea on the window bench to enjoy some quiet time until I spotted the already busy city. That came as a surprise seeing so many people walking, traffic jam and overloaded mini-buses. Everyone off to their jobs. Could you imagine instead of driving one hour to work, walking for 2-3 hrs? I remember America where you barely see any pedestrian and South Africa being the total opposite.
Kruger National Park was 11 hours drive away which screamed for a long boring day in the bus. Luckily we had a few stops and seen some amazing landmarks.
First one was The Blyde River Canyon which is South African’s grand canyon. We were a bit unlucky with the weather but it still was great to see.
Next stop was Bourke’s Luck Potholes some impressive formation of rocks which occur where the Treur River joins the Blyde River. Is nature not just so beautiful?
The weather got worse, rain, fog and not more than 14 degree. I think we really had the wrong idea of Africa. Not just about the weather also the wildlife. Until now we only seen a few cows, ostriches and two dolphins but we hoped that would change.
Late in the afternoon we reached the Premier Hotel The Winkler in White River near the Kruger National Park. You could see the disappointment in everyone’s face. Since this was our last destination and far up from any civilization we were hoping for a stunning hotel. It was standard with old looking rooms and a very bad internet connection.
Day 11 – Kruger National Park
Just bear in mind the park is 350 km by 65 km and even with countless wildlife lower your expectation. What you know from documentaries is a few month work. It can happen that you drive around for 30 mins not seeing anything. You really need a lot of patience.
Our day started at 5:30 am and we entered the Numbi Gate for an 8 hr day. Which seems very long but it isn’t. Time flies by so quickly. The weather was still cold and rainy. Prepared with blankets and rain poncho we sat down in one of the safari jeeps which takes up to 9 people including the driver. They really experienced and know every corner of the park. Staying connected with all the other cars over a walkie talkie making sure you won’t miss out on anything. Once someone is spotting an animal everyone else gets informed about it. Well of course not for Zebra, Elephant, Buffalo, Kudo or Giraffe as you will see them several times.
Well on the end of the day I seen 4 out of the big 5. Which is a Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant and Lion. Only the Leopard was missing.
Lions are also hard to spot. Seen them hiding behind rocks or far away having their pleasure with each other after eating a Buffalo.
I strongly recommend to bring binoculars and not these little cheap once. We got one on a flea market with auto focus which was just brilliant. So try to invest a bit more trust me it will pay off. Also for your camera bring a big lens. With my 200 mm it sometimes seemed not good enough as most of the animals are far away.
Day 12 – Kruger National Park
On the second day you much more relaxed. Mostly I even put away my camera since I took tons of pictures on the day before. We seen a hippo lying in a lake why a crocodile sitting on the shore with an open mouth. Spotted some scary looking hyena with their babies, a few giraffes crossing the road and zebras looking at us from the side of the road.
Still on the hunt to tick of our big five we got a final call that a Leopard was spotted at a another gate. Our ranger driving like a lunatic and we joined a bunch of people standing on a road looking all in the same direction. I was a little surprised that we were all allowed to leave our cars. Well special occasions require special exceptions. Who cares if we get eaten by Lions at least we seen the Leopard, right?
I am sure we were safe and with so many people the chances for each individual was much lower 🙂
The picture was just hilarious cause out of 100 maybe 20% have seen the Leopard. I was one of the lucky once trying desperate to explain to the others where to look AT 9 O’CLOCK UNDER THE TREE BEHIND THAT DARK GREEN BUSH…can you see it?
What an adventure and even I expected more I still loved every moment. You get so addicted and sitting there until you get rewarded when spotting an animal is just a great feeling. Maybe I wouldn’t do Kruger again but a smaller national park.
Day 13/14 – Goodbye
That was it our trip in South Africa. It wasn’t a relaxing holiday but a journey full of unforgettable impressions.
We drove back to Johannesburg, boarding the plane to Dubai and from there back to Dublin.
It was time to say goodbye to an amazing country, to our tour-guide and our group. Even we all live in the same country we probably won’t see each other again but who knows maybe one or another paths crossing again in the future…