My 3 week trip in South Africa in April was pretty amazing. However, I had so much to write that I decided to split the post into 2 parts. Welcome to Part 2 of Adventure #5: Overlanding in South Africa. In case you’re interested, you can find the first part here.
Off we go…
Stormsriver / Tsitsikamma National Park
By the time we arrived in Stormsriver village, around Tsitsikamma National Park, it was absolutely pissing it down! I’m sorry but there was no way I was a) putting my tent up in that and b) sleeping in a tent that leaks overnight in the pouring rain. Thankfully, the campers had the chance to upgrade to a decent hostel dorm for just $6 a night (Tube ‘n Axe). A warm bed with a real duvet, a shower with hot water, just a few footsteps from a bar serving cocktails…it would have been rude not to really. Since the weather the following day was just as bad, a few of us opted for a hot chocolate followed by a short hike to the suspension bridge whilst others chose to do a number of different hikes. The scenery was still stunning and on a clear day, if you’re lucky you are able to see dolphins and whales. Sadly, we weren’t lucky but it was still worth visiting despite the weather.
Knysna / Plettenberg Bay
It was another relatively early start as one of the members of our tour was going to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungy at 216 metres. I wish I wasn’t so scared of heights otherwise I may have also given it a go…maybe one day!
Our next destination was Plettenberg Bay – apparently one of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa. Sadly for us – it was raining, again. I guess that’s what happens when you travel in low season though; the weather in South Africa in Autumn and Winter can be really unpredictable. That afternoon we visited Knysna and walked to a viewpoint with amazing views. The parts of Knysna town we visited however, were a bit of a dive! Thankfully we were staying in a hotel in Plettenberg Bay so we didn’t have to camp in the rain. Phew!
Our first stop in Oudtshoorn was to the famous Cango Caves, that are over 20 million years old. I’ve visited a few caves in different parts of the world but these were among the best – quite spectacular really. Next up was the ostrich farm where we were told we would have an opportunity to actually ride an ostrich. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try this for ethical reasons but since the ground was too wet, it wasn’t possible anyway. However, I did get a hug from an ostrich (pretty scary, I couldn’t move) and an ostrich massage (essentially 5 ostriches feeding from a bucket I held in front of me). For the final night of the tour, the others decided to have a braai (a South African BBQ) and eat ostrich meat – apparently it is tasty and extremely healthy but being vegetarian, I am perhaps not the best person to ask!
The drive from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch took almost all day. If you look on a map, the two places don’t look very far from each other so I suppose that just shows how huge South Africa is. We didn’t spend too much time in Stellenbosch and sadly the wine tasting we went for was quite disappointing. I was expecting to be shown around the vineyard and find out how the wine is produced but it simply was sitting at a table tasting wine! The wine was delicious though. In reality, the highlight of my time in Stellenbosch was visiting a cheetah refuge where I got to pet a real life cheetah. Amazingly, cheetahs purr just like cats do.
The other obvious highlight was the champagne breakfast at the hotel…what a way to end the tour!
Cape Town. I’d always asked the question – what’s the fuss all about? I didn’t get what was so special about the city, or Table Mountain. Now I know…Table Mountain is stunning and the sunsets are phenomenal. There is also so much to do and see in Cape Town and its environs. I could have easily spent a week there. Sadly I only had a few days so I had to cram in as much as possible. As my a friend at the hostel put it, I did the ‘Cape Town sightseeing marathon’! On the first day, I walked to the Green Market, just off Long Street (where everyone goes to party at night). It was certainly the cheapest place I found to buy souvenirs and I also got to practice my Swahili since half the market sellers were from either Tanzania or Kenya. Speaking the lingo also definitely helped secure a few bargains too!
On the second day, I woke up early and headed straight to the beautiful Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to catch the boat to Robben Island. It was quite a walk – around 4km – but I always think the best way to explore a city is on foot (even if you get lost)! The boat to Robben Island was packed – it was definitely worth booking our tickets in advance. The sky was absolutely divine – not a cloud in sight. The boat ride to Robben Island was around 30-40 minutes, quite pleasant on a nice day. Upon arrival on Robben Island, you take a bus as part of the tour and are shown different parts of the island, it was really informative and interesting. We then visited the prisons themselves (including Nelson Mandela’s cell of course) and we were shown round by an ex-prisoner who knew Mandela. It was quite incredible to be able to hear about Robben Island prison first hand. I learnt a lot too – including the fact that visitors were typically only able to come every 6 months, and for just half an hour.
When we got back to the mainland, after a quick bite to eat on the waterfront, I headed straight to the Citysightseeing bus – at 150 Rand (£8.50) a ticket, it’s quite good value since some of the places it takes you to are reachable by taxi only (ie. Table Mountain). It’s a great way to see and learn about the city, particularly if you are travelling solo and don’t have a lot of time to bum around the hostel as you might like to at the end of an overland tour. Going up in the cable car to Table Mountain was pretty scary since you don’t realise how high up you go – the floor of the cable car also rotates! Since it was a clear day, the views from the top were out of this world – mountains, the city of Cape Town itself and the sea. Breathtaking. I spent a little time at the top before racing down (the queues to get back down were extremely long) and I was to take the last bus to catch the sun set over Camps Bay and Clifton Beach. I would heartily recommend doing this – the views (as you can see from the photos below) are well worth it. I went out clubbing that night with another girl from the tour, Marieke, who had just arrived in Cape Town. The club we went to was called the Assembly, near District Six. Hip hop / dance music and a very mixed crowd. It was great to go out and dance!
The next day I headed to Boulders Beach – where the penguins live! Since all the tours I’d heard about were a little pricey, I decided to take the train to Simonstown (which cost peanuts – about £1) then walk 3-4km walk from the train station to Boulders. I actually could have stayed there all day, watching the penguins waddle about and go swimming. Unfortunately it’s no longer possible to swim with the penguins and pet them, but you can still get pretty close if you fight your way to the front of the boardwalk (as I had to, since it was a bank holiday). On the way back, I met Marieke who had been surfing in Muizenberg – another popular surf spot.
On my last day in Cape Town, I had hoped to visit the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point but sadly the weather was once again, awful. More rain! Instead, Marieke and I took this opportunity to do some more shopping at Green Market, eat lunch at an amazing food bazaar, visit the District Six museum (well worth it) and eat cupcakes from Charly’s Bakery. That evening, I attended a session led by scholars from my former department at the University of Manchester, at a hotel somewhere in town. It almost felt like I was back living in Manchester…quite surreal.
I decided to spend one day in Jo’berg before flying back to Nairobi. No, it’s not Cape Town, and yes, there are security issues. However, I felt it was worth the visit – if only to spend some time at the Apartheid Museum. The museum itself was perhaps one of the best museums I’ve been to; extremely informative and visually stimulating. Brought to life with film, text, images and audio, learning about South Africa’s history of segregation and the struggle towards democracy is pretty harrowing. I kind of wish I had visited this museum at the beginning of the trip as it really helps you understand the inequalities still present today.
I used the City Sightseeing bus again to explore the city a little bit, if you’re only in Jo’berg one day, I’d really recommend taking this bus as it’s a really easy, safe and informative way to see the city and visit the tourist attractions. In terms of security, I could feel the tension in the air. I also was asked repeatedly by a number of security guards if I was sure about taking a minibus taxi when I wanted to visit Eastgate shopping mall. I think they thought I was mad! I attempted to explain to them that I live in Nairobi and that I had taken a minibus taxi that same morning but they were still flabbergasted that a mzungu wanted to use the same transport as the common man…. I found the stage (bus stop) in the end though.
So that’s my South African adventure in a nutshell…I think there’s still lots to see there – such as Kruger – so I’ll definitely be back there again one day!
Overlanding with Nomad
I didn’t really know what to expect from my overland tour with Nomad since I had never really gone on an organised tour before and I have always been a believer in DIY travel, rather than package holidays. On this occasion, I think it was the best option for me. Travelling in Africa can be really expensive and I actually think doing this trip as a solo traveller saved money, and a lot of hassle and stress. I also got to see a lot of South Africa (and Lesotho) in a ridiculously short space of time – if I had opted for the Baz Bus or even DIY travel via public transport, due to the timings, it just wouldn’t have been possible to see everything in 2 weeks. I would really recommend going on a Nomad tour as you’ll meet great people, you’ll visit amazing places and it’s a real stress-free travel option.
Okay, so I decided to camp. Part of me regretted this decision for a number of reasons:
1. It was freezing cold and my sleeping bag is a joke
2. The majority of people on my truck went for the accommodation option, so whilst I was freezing my pants off wearing all my clothes or getting up in the night to go to the toilet (in the dark), they were under a warm cosy duvet.
3. Camping meant having to put up my tent and put it down…normally in the dark. Thank god for my headtorch!
However, there were pros of camping.
1. It was significantly cheaper
2. You were always close to the truck which meant easy access to your bag and locker
3. It was more of an adventure.
Yes okay, waking up at 5am to put my tent down and crawling about on the muddy grass was certainly not a highlight of my trip but overall, I think camping was worth the hassle. It was also possible to upgrade for a small fee (depending on where you were) and on the rare occasion everyone stayed in a hotel – it felt like absolute luxury!
As well as a driver and guide, we also had our own cook. Gugu would have breakfast ready before we left the campsite/accommodation, it was typically toast with jam or eggy bread. One day we had pancakes though! Amazing. For lunch we’d typically have burgers in buns, hot dogs or sandwiches, with salad. Sometimes with fruit for dessert. We also had packed lunches when we would be out for the day. Then for dinner, it could be anything from pap and stew, to rice and curry…. It was always freshly prepared. To be honest, I ate better on the tour than I do in Nairobi! It was quite amazing the way in which the side of the truck housed all our food supplies and a stove, a table and chairs. Occasionally we would just stop on the side of the road and cook lunch. Quite the experience!
I love travelling solo but the one thing I hate is arriving in a new place, with every single valuable on you (or your back) and worrying about getting robbed. I can’t even imagine what an ordeal that would be, or how one would cope! It doesn’t bear thinking about. In terms of security, the truck was also locked at night and everyone had their own locker (big enough to store a large 65L backpack) which you can secure with a padlock. This just meant that I never had to travel with all my valuables on me. The truck was reasonably comfortable with an overhead shelf and a plug point for campers to charge their electronics. This again was a great benefit of camping with Nomad, rather than camping alone – I never had to worry about my camera or phone running out of charge as I could always charge them overnight.
Fancy doing an overland adventure yourself? Check out Nomad’s website.
Oh and I did mention that I might also make a video to accompany my blog…..amazingly, I actually sat down the other night and made this:
It’s a little short and I wish I had filmed more videos in South Africa but hey ho… Anyway, if you like the video, and would want to see more in the future – please give the video a thumbs up on Youtube or let me know! I am really enjoying recording short clips whilst I am travelling at the moment and this could potentially be something I try to include with every ‘Adventure’ blog post. Let me know what you think.
Sadly I’m still not feeling well, and I have spent almost 3 full days at the hospital this week doing tests. It’s another ‘I miss the NHS’ moment I’m afraid…I am also really disappointed that Ghana are out of the World Cup…*sobs* But it’s all good as I’ve just finished baking some choc-chip and macadamia nut cookies and I’ll be back in the UK in 10 days time on leave. I know it’s very sad but I can’t wait to stock up on all my favourite goodies: CHEESE, vegetarian sausages, real Cadburys chocolate, gluten-free pasta, etc, etc. Catch me in Tesco looking like an excited child very soon…
Anyway, I’m flying out to Uganda tomorrow for a few days with work and I didn’t start packing yet so I better wrap this up now.
See you next time x