Africa, a continent that conjures up images of wild animals, expansive and diverse terrain and a place where one ticks off a few things on their bucket list. Unlike our recent trips overseas, this trip to South Africa wasn’t quite as glamorous but was definitely special to share it with not only my readers, but with my boyfriend. When you’re seeing amazing creatures in their natural habitat and visiting places where modern history was made, it was definitely nice to share it with someone you care about (besides all of you awesome people who follow us on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter). So here’s our trip in a nutshell:
Where we stayed: Southern Sun Hyde Park
How long we were here: Less than 24 Hours
We spent less than 24 hours in the bustling capitol city of Johannesburg, which is unfortunate since there was so much we could have seen (especially in the likes of Soweto). We saw more of the airport than we did of the city, though our guide from Ahaa Tours drove us around in the little time we had and we got to see busy suburbs, their Chinatown and some crazy traffic. After making our way to the hotel, we did venture out from our hotel for dinner, making it to the nearby shopping centre for dinner at an Italian restaurant before heading back to our hotel. After a long flight (16 hours direct from Sydney) we couldn’t wait to lie flat in our hotel room.
Kruger National Park
Where we stayed: Shishangeni Private Safari Lodge
How long we were here: 3 Days
Where else does one go to see African animals in their natural habitat than at Kruger National Park? This was the part of the trip we were most looking forward to, an African safari, better known as game drives. The park covers almost 20,000 square km’s and it is home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino). It was important for us to visit a national park where the animals were allowed to just be themselves, living their lives with minor human interaction. I dislike animal parks and tourist attractions where petting allowed or chains and whips used to keep animals in line for photos. There is nothing more beautiful than animals that are running free and letting the circle of life work it’s magic.
And magical it was, on our daily game drives we saw a baby Rhino with its mother, a baby zebra hiding in tall grass while it’s herd grazed nearby and countless elephants, giraffe’s, impala, monkeys, all kinds of birds and even a crocodile. Unfortunately we missed out on seeing any cats, but that can be our excuse to head back to Africa in the near future. Our guide knew the park like the back of his hand and had eyesight like a hawk, spotting animals and instantly knowing the breeds. Hours in a back of a safari truck passed by as the sun rose or set around us. It was truly magical and we shared the experience with a father and son pair travelling around Africa together as part of a bonding trip. I love meeting new people, so it was a nice experience.
We stayed in at Camp Shawu (in the Shishangeni property) which was quite an experience in itself, our chalet featured a king sized bed with the kind of decadent mosquito netting you see in classic movies set in Africa during colonial times. There was an outdoor shower and deck that overlooked the Mpanamana Dam where hippopotamus’s swam and made funny grunting noises at all hours of the day and night. While a few Western creature comforts wasn’t available to us (like wifi and a television), we managed to pass the time just sitting on our deck and watching elephants and herds of Impala strolled up to the opposing river bank for a drink and rhino’s grazing on the grass. It was an idyllic escape from the daily grind where our phones would buzz with calls, emails or text messages all day.
Where we stayed: Southern Sun Waterfront, Cape Town
How long we were here: 3 Days
Known as one of the prettiest cities in the world, I was really keen to land in Cape Town and see this city for myself. And it didn’t disappoint. Resembling Sydney a little with its waterside precents and gorgeous views, both towards and away from the water, it is a modern city with beautiful Dutch architecture dotting its streets.
On our first night there we took a shuttle bus from our hotel (for the bargain price of AUD$2 each way, per person) to the popular Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area (pictured above)which is home to shops (home to the likes of Zara, Topshop and a few local chain stores) as well as plenty of restaurants, supermarkets and a beautiful marina. It was a beautiful way to ease into the relaxed vibe in Cape Town and we picked out a restaurant based on the hotel’s concierge recommendations and reviews we found through our Bing travel app. It never hurts to get a second (or third) opinion sometimes.
The next day we were taken around Cape Town CBD’s Kloof Street and Long Street to check out the pan-African stores, intriguing architecture and explore the shops. My boyfriend took a bit of time in an African music store and played on an electric guitar made out of a petrol can – he swears it sounded just like a normal electric guitar, we will have to take his word for it as he had headphones on ;). We did a quick car tour of the Company Gardens (apparently home to adorable squirrels), the flower sellers at Greenmarket Square (where stallholders rotate where there stall is so everyone has a chance to make extra money in the more prominent areas) and various sights and sounds of Cape Town city.
After lunch we took a bit of downtime and enjoyed a massage at the hotel spa which was just what we needed after several days of flying and riding in safari trucks on dirt roads (not that we’re complaining).
Later that afternoon we caught the ferry over to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other revolutionaries were held capture during the apartheid era. Having just watched the movie about Mandela, it was unnerving to be seeing the prison and hear stories of how the prisoners were treated. What was particularly heartbreaking to be given a tour of the prision and Mandela’s cell by a former prisoner who spoke about what it was like to be on the inside and how prisoners in other cell blocks communicated with each other.
That night we went to Piano Bar for dinner and according to the online reviews on the Bing Travel App, it was a great place for good food and chilled live music. Of course thanks to the great exchange rate, cocktails were also a steal.
On our last day in Cape Town we were supposed to go up to the top of Table Mountain, check out Signal Hill and the historical Bo-Kapp followed by dinner in one of the gorgeous beach side suburbs. Unfortunately the flu my boyfriend caught before we left Sydney took hold and we didn’t make it – though we do plan to return to Africa again to see the rest of Cape Town and the diverse continent. We have a few more things to tick off on our bucket list after all!
Our tips for travelling to South Africa
- Do you research on everything from what travel vaccines you need to which areas to stay in in each city
- Dress code is pretty similar to most countries, though on game drives (aka safari’s) we read that we should stick to neutral colours, long pants and bring a jacket. Good advice since we didn’t want to catch the eye of a wild animal.
- Have a camera on you at all times, the cities are full of interesting architecture and sights. We didn’t want to take our DLSR around the world with us to cut down on our carry-on baggage, instead choosing to take our Nokia Lumia 1020 with its 41 mega pixel camera. We think it did the trick, don’t you?
- Take some time to go off the “beaten track” and explore the areas you are in, don’t dash from one must-visit location to another. You never know what you might discover around the corner. That said, do we wary of your belongings.
- Wear comfortable shoes. I wore my Superga‘s more than I did any other shoe. It’s hard to tow that line of fashion and comfort, but when you’re walking a lot… sometimes heels just don’t work. I think I wore heels twice in Cape Town, only because I wanted to look nice when we went out for dinner.
Who we flew: Qantas (booked via South African Airways – though the two are no longer code share partners) who gave us great service and an extra seat or two in economy. We were guests of Tourism South Africa.
All our photos (except the last one) were taken with our Nokia Lumia 1020. Our Microsoft Surface Pro and Nokia Lumia was provided to us as part of the Microsoft Connections Program.