In April, I went to South Africa for 3 weeks. It was a last-minute affair (as per) and I realised I had only taken 1 day leave this year and that there were 3 bank holidays between mid-April and early May. Perfect excuse for a holiday! Since I still haven’t forgotten my student ways, I went onto Skyscanner and started comparing flights. Unlike Europe, flights are really expensive in Africa since the market just isn’t there. Often, there is only one airline flying to a destination and since airlines know that the ‘rich’ are the only ones who can afford to fly, prices are sky high (if you pardon the pun)! For example, you can easily find return flights to almost any city in Western Europe for well under £100, normally under £50 (depending on when you fly). Here, it’s a different story. For example, even though both Kampala, Uganda and Dar-El-Salaam, Tanzania are around an hour away by plane from Nairobi, you’d be lucky to find a return flight for under £150. Anyway, so Johannesburg was one of the cheaper Skyscanner options…
South Africa has never been a ‘top’ travel destination of mine but the more I read about it, and the more photos I saw – my mind was set. Yes, travelling solo does have its share of disadvantages (e.g. you may get lonely) but it also has a lot of advantages (e.g. you can do whatever you want, when you want). I toyed between a DIY backpacking trip or a budget overlanding tour. The overlanding option won when I found a really reasonable 13-day tour via African Budget Safaris, with a South African travel operator called Nomad. For just over £600, I would travel from Durban to Cape Town via Lesotho. Accommodation (ie. tents), most meals, transport and a wide range of activities (e.g. entry to national parks) was included. It seemed too good to be true! N.B. For the record, thankfully it wasn’t! I also decided to tag on 1 day in Durban, 3 days in Cape Town (it would be rude not to) and 1 day in Johannesburg. Somehow, I managed to wangle 3 weeks off work – goodness knows how and if I’ll be able to do that again. Oh and the masses of tasks in my mailbox upon my return to the office….well, put it this way, I’d certainly think twice before booking such a long holiday.
Anyhow…let us begin my South African adventure. Since providing a day-by-day account could be a little tedious, I’ll write a little bit on each of the destinations I travelled to and a little on the tour itself for those interested in overlanding in Africa.
Nairobi – Johannesburg – Durban
I arrived in Johannesburg around 10/11pm and headed straight to the hostel in Kensington (a suburb of Jo’berg). My pick up wasn’t there when I got to the airport so that was a little scary since I had heard a lot about insecurity in Jo’berg. Thankfully, I arrived without any issues and headed straight to bed. I had to wake up at 6am to travel to Durban the next day, via the Intercape coach. Having arrived in the dark, in the taxi to Park Station in the morning, I was able really ‘see’ Jo’berg and it’s surrounds. It was very different to the Africa I knew – with a stunning skyline and almost perfect roads. It reminded me of Amsterdam, or maybe even New York but then as we approached the CBD, there was a darker side to the city. Everyone had told me about the stark inequality but seeing the level of development you’d expect of a first world country then dozens of people living on the street, it was clear that development had left a lot of people behind. It was quite chilling. At Park Station, I boarded the bus to Durban, looking forward to seeing the country. I’m not going to lie but it was a very long (and boring) 8.5 hour journey, it reminded me of driving around in Canada, where you travel for miles and miles and there is almost nothing to see. Luckily I managed to sleep quite a bit.
After arriving at the bus terminal in Durban, I checked into my hostel in Durban, which was just a 5-minute walk from the beach (Happy Hippo Lodge). Since I had no adaptor (nightmare!) and I was starving, I went straight to the UShaka Marine World shopping mall and grabbed dinner from a South African takeaway.
Within minutes of sitting down to eat at the hostel, I was joined by two other travellers. Advantage 1 of travelling alone, you meet people extremely easily. Before I knew it, I was out at a restaurant with 7 other people- drinking delicious South African wine, at just £4 a bottle! We then went out in Florida Road which I didn’t rate too highly but apparently it’s the place to go out in Durban.
Since I only had one full day in Durban, I decided to make the most of it. Firstly, I visited the Moses Mabhida Stadium and I went up to the viewing platform via the Skycar which provided absolutely stunning views of the city.
I also went downtown to buy adaptors (I didn’t have any luck the night before) and get some lunch. When I found a Nandos, with a veggie burger, chips and a drink for £2.50, I was in heaven! Trust me, I think you only appreciate the wide range of food available in the UK when you live overseas. Finally, I sunbathed on the beach and then went and sipped a mocktail in a restaurant/bar on the pier as I saw the sun set behind Durban’s skyline….bliss. That evening was full of games, including spoons and sardines – definitely one of the best evenings of the trip.
So the tour began and our first stop, after we stocked up on food and drinks at a huge mall outside of Durban, was in the Drakensberg Mountains where we would hike.
On the first day, we just relaxed at the camp after putting up our tents by playing mini golf and trampolining (yes I really am 25 years old).
The next day we drove into the UNESCO heritage site where we visited traditional cave paintings before beginning our hike. The landscape was just superb. As soon as we started hiking- I realised I had a blister….far from the ideal start. It was quite a lengthy walk, approximately 8km each way, and there were lots of rocks to clamber over and the terrain varied immensely. Nevertheless, the views were worth it and the geological scenery was stunning. Obviously we rewarded ourselves with ice cold cider and beer, and some of us even went for a dip in the Jacuzzi at the campsite -absolutely perfect! Well it would have been if it hadn’t started tipping it down and we hadn’t have had to run back to our tents on the other side of the campsite….we did steal a Coca Cola umbrella from the poolside though which kept us marginally dry.
After a very cold and wet night (of course, my tent had a hole in its roof), we hit the road and began our long drive to Lesotho. Driving through Golden Gate National Park was quite amazing.
Getting across the border into Lesotho was quite painless; however as soon as we left the capital city, we encountered 2 different police check points within 15 minutes of each other where we had to present our passports. I thought Lesotho would no different than South Africa since it is a landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa. I was so wrong! It was a lot poorer and the roads were of a lesser quality – it certainly wasn’t as developed. People were holding umbrellas to shelter themselves from the sun as they went about their daily business whilst farmers wore thick blankets (it’s a very mountainous country and the weather can change at anytime) and wellington boots.
It is very rural and quite green, most of the houses are made of brick and are quite basic and there seemed to be very little in the way of services. We stayed in Malalea village, which was up in the mountains – since winter was just around the corner; it was pretty cold (around 0 degrees Celsius at night). As I’ve mentioned before, I can no longer cope with cold temperatures so I decided to upgrade and stay in a little lodge…I didn’t fancy catching pneumonia!
Sadly we only spent one full day in Lesotho. In the morning we had the opportunity to walk around the village and meet some of the local people. Tourism and agriculture are the country’s only sources of income. Some of the other members of the group had bought the children colouring books and clay to play with – it was nice seeing their faces light up but I did feel a little bit uneasy about being shown around the village on a tour…what I must say though is that the landscape was absolutely superb, it didn’t even look real. It was so unspoilt and perfect.
After the walk, I then went “pony trekking” with a few of the other people on the tour – it was a little different to how I had imagined, it was more like horse riding down a cliff rather than a quiet ride on a pony on a dirt track! At the beginning, I really struggled to control my horse, which wasn’t that surprising considering I had never ridden a horse before. We were to travel to the waterfall which involved going down a cliff, crossing a river, then climbing a mountain. Going downhill was terrifying, particularly as my horse was quite energetic. I actually thought I was going to fall off at one point! It really was a chance of a lifetime though – the views were phenomenal. After 2 and a half hours of trekking, we arrived at the waterfall where we ate lunch. The trek back to camp was a lot faster mainly as the horses were behaving. Needless to say, I was exhausted after the 4 hour trek so it was time for a beer! We also had the chance to see some Basotho singers and a band perform.
Our next stop was Cintsa, East London. We stayed at a place called Areena Riverside Resort, which was packed since it was the Easter weekend. There were so many different activities to get involved in. South Africa is an amazing destination for family holidays – everywhere you go there are countless things to do. Here we had the option of quad biking, canoeing, kayaking, Segway, etc. A number of us from the tour decided to canoe down to the mouth of the River Kwelera, to the beach.
It was by no means an easy task since it was a 5km round trip…just under an hour paddling in a 2-man canoe each way. I also learnt that I suck at paddling! Oops. The other issue is that the water was really quite shallow and rocky in parts so you kept on getting stuck. I was quite glad to learn that sharks are often found in those waters after our canoeing adventure. The beach was lovely though, and almost empty- sadly the water was freezing, more like the sea in England compared with the warm Indian ocean waters you find on the Kenyan coast. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and eating ice cream, which was lovely after the intense days of travelling we’d had in previous days.
Addo Elephant National Park
Another very early start and we were off to Addo Elephant National Park. Sadly we weren’t that lucky with the wildlife- apparently the park is normally full of elephants! We did see some though, as well as buffalos, monkeys, zebra, a tortoise, kudu (the largest antelope in Africa), vultures, jackals, etc.
It was disappointing that we didn’t see any big cats but it’s simply just the luck of the draw with safaris. The problem (well probably a good thing for the wildlife) is that you have to stick on the track, you can’t just drive anywhere you want like you can in some of the parks in Kenya. This obviously means that you can get really close to the animals. It also didn’t help that our guide didn’t know the park inside out – not always practical but park guides are often radioing their colleagues so as soon as animals are spotted, your driver knows about it and will drive as fast as they can (within reason) to get you there. This is typical in the Masaai Mara in Kenya. Overall I enjoyed the park but an afternoon drive simply wasn’t long enough, it was great seeing the sun set over the park though.
Even though it wasn’t on the itinerary, we were lucky enough to make a brief stop en route to Tsitsikamma National Park in Jefferys Bay – the most popular surf destination in Africa (apparently anyway). Sadly the weather wasn’t great but that didn’t stop me bodyboarding. I would have loved to surf but I’ll have to save that one for another day!
Right, so I think I may have gone a little overboard with this blog….I’ve written over 4,500 words on my trip South Africa. Oops! I hope you haven’t gotten bored. Part 2 will be coming in the next week, perhaps with a video to accompany it. Just to update you on my current situation, I was diagnosed with an intestinal parasite last week so needless to say I feel crappy, work has gone a little crazy (which hopefully excuses the lack of blog posts) and the security situation is deteriorating here in Kenya. My heart goes out to everyone that has been affected by recent attacks. On the bright side though, I’m loving the World Cup, I just wish I didn’t have to watch it indoors. C’mon Blackstars! #LetsGoalGhana
As always, I like to leave you with a song. This song is called ‘Happiness’ and it’s by Mafikizolo (a South African group) featuring Nigerian artist May D. Enjoy!
See you next time,