South Africa: Safari, mountains, beaches and more
We spent three weeks of our summer holidays enjoying (and shivering) in South Africa's winter. It was a fast paced, fun filled, action packed time and most definitely a country I'll be returning to!
Three Days in Johannesburg
We arrived fairly early in the morning after taking an overnight flight direct from Cairo with EgyptAir. Unfortunately, we were unable to check in to our swanky apartment until 2pm so we set off exploring. We had booked to stay in the suburb of Sandton due to not knowing anything about Johannesburg and having read online that it was a pleasant place to stay for a few days. We booked through Booking.com and stayed at Sandton Executive Suites.
If you're not familiar with South Africa, I suggest you read up on load shedding. Until our first four-hour powercut, we had no idea what load shedding was but we soon became accustomed to the situation!
As we were tired from our overnight flight, we strolled the twenty minutes to Sandton City where we had some lunch and saw a movie. I cannot believe how cheap tickets (and popcorn)are in South Africa. R60 for an adult ticket - about the equivalent of £3!
City Tour and Soweto Township
We had arranged for a shuttle to collect us from the airport and take us to our hotel. Our driver, Japhta, worked for Flexishuttle and he was an absolute joy. He became our 'personal driver' for the duration of our time in Johannesburg. He took us on a city tour to all of the main spots including Soweto Township, the Hector Pieterson Museum entry R30, Nelson Mandela House entry R60 and the Apartheid Museum entry R75. Not only that, he gave great dinner recommendations and was on hand to collect us at a moment's notice. He even took me to a specialist camera shop as I had forgotten to pack the memory card from my GoPro. We paid R1500 between three of us for a full day city tour.
The restaurant we ate at was Momo and offered delicious Africa-wide speciality dishes.
The Lion Park
Day three was filled with spending the day at the Lion Park in Gauteng. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the place. It's clear that the animals are looked after but they are still in captivity. Nonetheless, very positive work is being carried out with rehabilitating rejected cubs. The park offers a shuttle service which will collect and return you from your Johannesburg based hotel. We paid R900 for three people. The equivalent of about £45. A bargain considering we were stuck in traffic and the return journey took almost two hours. The driver even took us to the Top of Africa at the Carlton building in Downtown Johannesburg, instead of our hotel. The entry to this attraction was only R15 which was a real surprise when compared with the likes of the Empire State Building prices. Until we arrived at the top and realised perhaps, the reason for this. Basically, we found a derelict floor with large dirty windows to look out at the city from, as well as an abandoned gift shop and restaurant. I'm not sure if it's under rennnovations or if tourists simply do not visit anymore. Nonetheless, it's certainly in need of a little tlc, considering it's the tallest building in Africa!
Kruger National Park
Before I left for South Africa, I was convinced that the highlight of my trip would be the four days we spent in and around Kruger National Park. As wonderful as it was, South Africa has so much more to offer than just going on safari. Nonetheless, we had a truly fantastic time spotting animals, learning about how the biggest of beasts right down to the tiniest of insects all work together as part of - in the words of Elton John - the great Circle of Life.
The drive was long from Johannesburg but well worth it! We stopped at a lovely restaurant in Dullstroom where the portions are big enough for three people! If you have enough time, you can also wander around the shops and chat with the locals.
The first night, we stayed in chalets at a camp called Tremisana. Having arrived late due to traffic, we went straight for a night drive and were fortunate to spot giraffes - who incidentally sleep with their necks up straight - elephants, zebras and lots of impalas. This was followed by a traditional South African brai and quite possibly some of the best chicken I've ever eaten!
The next day began early as we met our guide at 05.45 for our bush walk. An armed ranger had to accompany us in case we were approached by any beasties. Fortunately, the weapons are used once in a blue moon. We were able to see hippos bathing in the river, a variety of birdlife and to investigate different types of poop and footprints. Our guide, Andrew, was knowledgeable and attentive and the experience to see the bush up close was really incredible.
Later that afternoon, we transferred accommodation and stayed in a treehouse. A lovely idea when we booked it in the warmth of Egypt. Not so lovely when it was the middle of winter and literally (as you would expect), a treehouse! A fantastic experience if a little nippy. Kruger did not disappoint, we saw lions eating a buffalo, rhinos, elephants, baboons, zebras, hippos, giraffes and impalas. The search was as exhilerating as the find as cars drove past each other giving tips on what lay ahead and what had been spotted in various parts of the park.
This was all booked through STA Travel UK and cost GBP495 per person. Of course, it's all able to be booked separately if preferable.
Cape Town: Things to do
There is a wealth of sights to see, attractions to visit and activities to take part in whilst in Cape Town. We stayed for just short of two weeks and could easily have doubled our stay without running out of places to go and attractions to visit.
We began by taking a trip to Table Mountain. This cost around R100 in a taxi from Sea Point. Bartering was possible as the original price started out much higher. Once at the ticket station, you can choose to take a single or return trip in the cable car or hike up and down. The return cable car is R225. A further activity includes abseiling down Table Mountain with Abseil Africa. For R800, you can have an absolutely incredible experience which I really can't say enough positive things about. Don't let fear put you off, it's too good an opportunity to miss! On a clear day you get wonderful views of the city and the team are very calming and professional.
You can visit the Shop at the Top for souvenirs or enjoy food, drinks and ice-cream at the restaurant.
On your way to the Cable Car departure point, they take your photo. This is put together in a little fancy brochure available for purchase at R190 when you leave for the day. Ask for the pics without the brochure and this will only cost you R100. A bargain!
The Cape Peninsula
If you do nothing else whilst in Cape Town, take a drive along the Cape Peninsula. There are plenty of tour buses offering different itineraries to The Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and beyond. Some even incoporate a trip to Boulders Beach where there is a penguin colony. The tour companies which we considered ranged from R650 each for a bus trip and R1000 per person for a private tour. We opted to find our own taxi driver and hire him for the day. This cost R2100 for three of us. We had to pay our own entry to Table Mountain National Park to access The Cape of Good Hope and this cost R110 per person. We continued our journey towards Cape Point which is wrongly mistaken as where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet each other. Nonetheless, the views are spectacular and you can take The Flying Dutchman Funicular to the top of the cliff for R55 return. If you're feeling energetic, there's also the option of walking up too.
We had a rather spontaneous and incidental encounter with seals in Hout Bay as we passed through. We happened to stop in the harbour where a man was feeding wild seals. He invited us to join him and it was amazing to get so close to the stunning creatures. There is also a lovely seafood restaurant and very reasonably priced pearl shop to visit whilst in the area.
HintHunt is a brilliant way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon. With different branches popping up all over the world, you can play all kinds of different challenges - each one different and unique in their own way. The idea? Get locked in a room for sixty minutes. The aim? Find and piece together the clues in order to escape. The fun factor? Very high! Suitable for two or more people of all ages. Intrigued? Sadly, I can't say any more as I don't want to give too much away. Rooms cost R585 for three people.
This is one of our favourite past times, whether it's meandering around a mall and enjoying the freedom of people watching or milling around a local market - Cape Town has something for everyone. At the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, (commonly mistaken as Victoria and Albert) a large mall offers well known international branded shops, as well as traditional African outlets. Nearby is the Water Shed which is an indoor market with lots of permanent stalls open seven days a week. Visit Rose at the Africa Salon Braiding stand and have your hair wrapped in a funky style - prices starting from R50. Drop by Bokke and Blomme for some quirky artwork and decorations. They even ship overseas! On top of all that, don't miss the Food Market which is a must visit due to the tasty treats on offer from all over the world. Hungarian flatbread alongside freshly made soup and Belgian waffles. Yum!
Cape Town Comedy Club
Whenever I'm in a new city, I do like to do as much as possible. I try to experience both the tourist attractions and sample a taste of local life. This curiosity to experience life as a local led us to the Cape Town Comedy Club down at the V&A Waterfront. Unfortuntaely, we left during the interval as many of the jokes were way over our heads. However, it was a good opportunity to meet people from the area. There are shows starting from 8.30pm every night for R120. On Sundays, there is a half price special where entry is R60. They also offer food and drinks from 6pm as well as Happy Hour from 6-7pm.
Robben Island is a place bustling with history from a poignant time in South Africa's history. Booking is essential for the ferry and included in the ticket price is a guided bus and walking tour once you arrive on the island. The boat trip takes about forty-five minutes each way and you spend about two hours on the island. There is an opportunity to buy gifts and snacks whilst there. When purchasing your ticket, you can choose which ferry you would like to travel on. They leave at 9am, 11am and 1pm. The website advises arriving up to an hour before the ferry departs. I recommend this as our boat actually left forty minutes early!
There are plenty of companies selling helicopter rides over Cape Town. Many of the vendors are located at tourist hotspots throughout the city. We bought from the helicopter company directly and were able to be somewhat flexible with the price. We chose the 'Atlantico Route' which gave us twenty minutes flying time in a three-seater helicopter. It was a spectacular way to see Cape Town and each passenger had a window seat so we snapped some amazing pictures. The pilot was even flexible with the route and took us around the back of Table Mountain so we could see the vineyards. If you're considering a tour, book direct with the company for the best rates.
If you're short on time whilst visiting Cape Town, a good way to see all of the city in one go is to use a City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus. There are several different routes to choose from and they go all over the city. You can even buy a two day pass. Prices start from R170 for 24 hours.
Further Afield: Hermanus
If nature is your thing then you must arrange a daytrip to Hermanus. It is about 150km east of Cape Town and you should allow ninety minutes travel time. Boats leave at 10am, 12pm and 2pm daily - weather dependent. The whales are most likely to be spotted from June to November. We took a boat trip with Southern Right Charters and the two hour trip cost R700. They guarantee sightings and communicate throughout the trip with other boats to gather information about best spots. We were fortunate enough to see whales breaching. They put on a fantastic show for us! We even had the amazing opportunity to see dolphins swimming around fairly close to our boat.
As Hermanus is far away from Cape Town, it's difficult to visit cheaply without arranging a shuttle which can be done through the whale watching company. We hired a driver from our hotel for R2200 for the day but it may be more budget friendly to hire your own car for the day.
The Old Biscuit Mill
If you're wanting to venture further afield, visit Woodstock on a Saturday from 10am - 2pm to experience the quirky market at The Old Biscuit Mill. Offering everything from handmade chocolates and craft beer to funky gifts and unique clothing. There are lots of stalls and outlets selling home decor - I particularly enjoyed looking at the motivational boards! Felt this one was pretty apt. The Old Biscuit Mill is definitely where the locals hang out and we particularly enjoyed taking our tourist hats off for the day. HintHunt is also here so time it right and you can do both in one day.
Boulders Beach is a wonderful spot out near Simon's Town. It has a huge colony of African penguins. You can get fairly close to the birds without disturbing them too much. It's a beautiful beach setting which makes for some great photograph opportunities. I left my camera hanging around and a curious critter came along and pecked it. Video coming soon! Take care with fingers and toes as they may well want a nibble! Entry was R60 per person.
The colourful huts of Muizenberg are located about twenty or so minutes outside Cape Town's CBD. It's a lovely drive to get there as with much of South Africa - the scenery is stunning. To complete your walk along the colourful beachfront, visit the quaint cafes, restaurants and shops in the town.
Seasonal Event: Winter Wonderland @ Gordon's Bay
Having arrived in Cape Town at midday on Saturday, we opted to have a very lazy afternoon due to our early mornings and late nights on safari. We stayed at Romney Park Hotel and it couldn't have been more perfect. Probably the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in and definitely not somewhere that sees a lot of backpackers, juding by the looks on the receptionists' faces when we arrived!
After carrying out some research of different events which were being held in the area, we found a Winter Wonderland Carnival taking place about an hour away from Sea Point, where we were staying. We got in touch with Kara, a girl we had met on safari and decided that we should visit the carnival and hang out with the locals. It didn't disappoint! There was everything from a raffle (winning prize was 24 cans of Coke, I didn't win) to homemade jams, live music and even a fun fair and ghost house. Basically, it was the perfect day out!
Entry to the carnival was R10 (a bargain in anyone's book!) and once we had our wristbands on we set about to sample the beer, chocolate covered strawberries, homemade chutney and waffles on sticks (a personal favourite of mine!)
We bought a few homemade crafts and even some chutney then headed to the fun fair. The bumper cars had a mind of their own and this made the whole carnival have a more quirky and quaint feel to it. Then we went on a strange spinning ride which flipped us up in the air and left us screaming but close to vomitting! Another highlight.
After visiting a few more craft shops and picking up some knick-knacks there was one thing left to do - the Ghost House. Despite being run by a selection of local volunteers dressed up as ghoolies - most of whom we walked past en route to the house as they were on a break - this was a truly terffiying experience. We screamed at the top of our lungs. The Gordon's Bay Ghost House certainly gives Jeckyll and Hyde Club in Times Square a run for its money! If you are in the area during Winter Wonderland, it's a must visit, check here for upcoming dates of the event.
Gordon's Bay is also a fantastic spot for a beautiful sunset viewing too!