In May 2018, we spent two weeks in South Africa. This was the first time we booked via a travel agency, because we did not have enough time to organize the trip ourselves. This is our experience:
Day 1 – Johannesburg
On our first day, we arrived in Johannesburg in the morning. We were picked up at the airport and drove directly to our hotel. After a short break, a tourist guide picked us up at the hotel for a half-day tour of Johannesburg, or Joburg as locals call the city.
We visited Newton, the city centre, soweto and the memorial of Hector Pieterson, a 12 years old boy who was shot to death by police forces during the student’s strike of 1976. This was definitely the most interesting place as it was our first contact with the country’s dark history of the apartheid. Unfortunately, we did not have time to deepen this knowledge by visiting the apartheid museum.
Even though, the city itself is not very photogenic, it was interesting to learn more about the country’s history.
Day 2 – Hannah Game Lodge
The next day our road trip begun. After getting our rental car, we headed to the area which we were most excited about: the national park area. And we were not disappointed.
We started our Safari marathon with a warm-up in Hannah Game Lodge. A small private reserve that hosts different kinds of antelopes, buffalos, zebras and giraffes. The entrance gate opens the doors of another world. The few kilometers we drove from the gate to the lodge were already quite an adventure. Our car was surrounded by antelopes crossing the street with some giraffes observing the spectacle while chewing leaves.
After a small break in our bungalow with a beautiful view, we wanted to see more and decided to book our first real safari in order to see the other animals of the park (zebras, buffalos and more antelopes).
Day 3 – Blyde River Canyon
The next day, we visited the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world. You might recognize the picture from our website header.
We followed the Panorama Route which offers a truly scenic view. We stopped at several places of interest such as the God’s window, Bourke’s Luck potholes, two waterfalls (Berlin fall and Lisbon fall) and Pilgrim’s Rest, a small museum town which shows a gold digging town of the 19th century.
We highly recommend this half-day visit and to be honest we could have stayed even longer but we had to continue to our next stop, the Shiduli Private Game Lodge where we had booked an afternoon safari.
Day 4 – Safari in Shiduli Private Game Lodge
We spent two nights in Shiduli Private Game Lodge which is situated in the 9000 hectares of the Karongwe Private Reserve. The concept is quite simple: a 3 hours safari in the morning from 6 am to 9 am and a 3 hours safari in the afternoon from 3pm to 6 pm. In between breakfast and lunch are served and you can relax in different common areas and at the pool.
The safaris are comfortable, we received blankets and even stopped for a small coffee/drinks break. Even though the first safari was somehow disappointing because we did not see many animals, in the end, were really lucky and managed to see all the big 5 as well as giraffes, kudus, Impalas and many more.
During the safaris we were accompanied by a ranger and a tracker. They explained us a lot about that fauna and flora of the park and we learned many things that we were able to use at our next stop, the Kruger National Park.
Day 5 – Self-drive in Kruger National Park
After a last safari in Karongwe from 6 to 9 am, it was time to leave this comfortable place in order to continue our road to the famous Kruger National Park. We entered the park via the Phabeni Gate. When we arrived in the park at around 3 pm, we were quite disappointed because we did not see any animal for quite a while. Only some Impalas were crossing the street. However, this rapidly changed once we were getting closer to the evening … and to the closing of the gates.
We did not have a detailed map of the park (make sure you have one) and did not move very fast. We actually had some trouble arriving at our Rest Camp on time before all the gates of the park, including the access to the camp, closed at 6pm. We did not calculate the several stops we had to make because elephants, monkeys and rhinos were crossing the streets. Even though, our smartphones safed us from sleeping with the lions, it is not the ideal tool because it often wanted to send us via forbidden streets.
We stayed two nights at the Berg-en-Dal Rest Camp, which is situated in the south of the park. Unfortunately, when we booked our trip it was already too late to get something else. We would actually recommend to stay one night in the center of the park and the second night just outside. Like this you can discover different parts of the park and avoid paying the high fees for one more overnight stay in the reserve.
Make sure you have enough water and food with you before entering the park. Supermarkets are rather small.
Day 6 – Another Day in Kruger National Park
We had an early wake-up again because chances to see animals are much higher at 6 am. And I must say that we were not disappointed. Only a few meters after the gate of our rest camp we could not believe our eyes: a huge leopard was slowly walking on the side of the road. So beautiful and so elegant.
During our one day drive through the park we were lucky enough to see the Big 5 and many other animals again. It was such a wonderful experience. The self-driving definately adds some more adventure to all of it.
Day 7 – Crossing the border to Swaziland
Today we were crossing the border to Swaziland (or most recently renamed Kingdom of Eswatini), a small Kingdom surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique.
Crossing the border was quite easy. Park your car in front of the control house, go to the counter and everything else is explained there. You need to pass two different counters, one for passport controls and another for payment. With the receipt of the payment you can then take your car to cross the border to Swaziland.
Once on the other side, you arrive in a different world where time stood still. Small unpaved streets, huts and a beautiful landscape mark our first impressions of the country.
The first day, we visited the Phophonyane waterfall. We had some trouble finding the entrance which is actually at the Eco Lodge. Don’t be surprised when the small routes get very bad and quite difficult to drive. We payed the entrance fee for the park at the reception of the lodge and they explained us where to go. We enjoyed this little one-hour walk.
Day 8 – Walking with Zebras
The next day, we went to the private reserve of Mlilwane, the oldest reserve of the country.
After paying the entrance fee at the reception outside the park, we followed the sign “Lodge” until we arrived at the reception where we had a reservation for a private 2 hours walking tour and I must say that it was a wonderful experience to walk in the middle of antilopes and zebras. We also saw beautiful birds, warthogs and huge crocodiles.
After this morning experience, it was time to leave Swaziland and cross the border to South Africa again. This time on the other side of the country.
Day 9 – Hluhluwe National Park – Hippo watching in Santa Lucia
After spending the night at the Zulu Nyala Heritage Safari Lodge, a huge and crowded hotel complex, which we did not like much, we had a beautiful and last safari experience in Hluhluwe National Park, known for its beautiful landscape and its Rhinos.
We were lucky again as we saw two lions and several Rhinos. The highlight of this Safari was a baby Rhino with its mother and I am particular proud of the fact that I was the one who spotted it. After one week of intense safaris, we were really becoming much better in spotting animals ourselves. It was also time to move on and discover new horizons. Next stop: Santa Lucia and the Hippos.
When we arrived in the afternoon, we directly went to one of the jetties in order to take a boat for a small tour on the river. The aim of this tour was to observe the hundreds of hippos and crocodiles. Even though, it was not the most exciting experience of our trip, we still enjoyed the view.
Be careful in St. Lucia by night, as hippos leave the water to find food and they sometimes get lost in the city center. They can be quite dangerous when you get too close. I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad thing but we did not see any Hippos walking in the streets.
Day 10 – St. Lucia National Park Experience
We had a whole day in St. Lucia ahead of us and, thus, decided to cross the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to arrive at a huge beach on the other side. On the way, we stopped at several places with panoramic views, small walks and pic nic areas.
Bring enough gas, drinks and food as you won’t find any of this in the park.
Day 11 – Cape Town
Today, we went to the Durban Airport in order to take a flight to Cape Town, the second part of our South Africa Travel. When arriving in Cape, we felt like arriving in another country…
On our first evening, we went to the waterfront area, with many shops, a huge shopping mall and last but not least the Watershed, a market hall where over 150 tenants sell ceramics, textiles, furniture, fashion, jewellery and many other creative products.
Day 12 – The Cape of Good Hope
The famous Cape of Good Hope is around 70 km away from Cape Town. In order to get there we took the Panorama Road of Chapman’s Peak which offers a beautiful view on the famous Noordhoek Beach.
But before we took this road, we decided to stop at Hout Bay, a jetty where boats leave every half an hour for the so-called Seal Island. A small island of just a few square meters covered by dozens of seals.
We then followed the Panorama Road until we arrived at the famous Boulders Beach where we observed hundreds of penguins wandering around this protected beach area. We could have spent hours watching these cute little birds.
We then continued until the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most south-eastern point of the African continent. In order to have the best view, we climbed up to the lighthouse. There are also some small walks around the lihthouse, which we enjoyed most. We have a separate blog post on this great day trip which you can see here.
Day 13 – Winelands
We started our excursion to the Winelands of Cape Town in the morning. After only 30 minutes driving we arrived in Stellenbosch, one of the country’s wine-growing areas. We first visited the Stellenbosch Village Museum with four houses. Each of these beautiful homes represents a different period in the architectural development of the village. After visiting the museum, we had our first South African wine tasting at Neethlingshof Estate.
We spent the night in a beautiful country house called “Basse Provence Country House”. The french names are explained easily: A hand full of french Hugenots were welcomed by South Africa after being chased from their country by Louis XIV. They received land in exchange for growing wine in the area. This is the origin of the famous South African wine.
Day 14 – Cape Town and Table Mountain
After all these excursions in the surroundings of Cape Town, we finally had some time to visit the city itself. We went to the city center by car, parked in a public car park and walked through this city centre full of contrast and far from what we had seen at the luxurious waterfront.
In the afternoon, we climbed the famous Table Mountain (by cable car of course… even though some (few) brave people walked their way up the hill). Table Mountain has its name from its flat summit which makes it look like a table. The summit is offering breathtaking 360° view.
Day 15 – Market and Flight back home
Initially, we had planned to visit Robben Island in the morning of our last day. Unfortunately, the weather was not good enough and all boats were cancelled for several days. Instead, we went to one of Cape Town’s inspiring art and food markets.
As we had booked our tickets before organising the tour, we had to fly back to Johannesburg before taking our flight back to Brussels. However, we would recommend to arrive in Johannesburg and leave directly from Cape Town at the end of your trip.