Few leave Africa untouched and although it’s a long way to travel, South Africa should definitely be on your bucket list. With blue, water filled coastal summer vacations, dry, orange, brown and tan hued earths in spring and autumn, the weather all year round is hospitable. As it’s a large country I’ll split this blog into different regions. The beauty of Africa and South Africa is its wildness, unkept natural beauty, left in its authentic state. It is like another planet.
THIS BEAUTIFUL MALE WAS ALL ALONE IN THIS MASSIVE FIELD AT TWILIGHT
Depending on what you’d like to do depends on where you’ll fly into. If it’s wildlife, game and the big Five, then flying to Johannesburg is your best bet, as Kruger National Park is then close by to be reached by car, or a short extra flight. Viewing game is best done out of season, so June to October as the grass is low and better for spotting wild life in their natural habitat. Kruger is pricey in high season, however, there are other smaller parks to go to. For example HluHluwe (pronounced Shooshoowe) Umflozi in Kwazulu Natal, an eastern province on the warm Indian ocean side. The closest airport is Kwazulu Durban and the drive to the park is about two and a half hours. Get there before dark as it’s not easy to find! By the way, the Zulu people and language are from this region.
A bungalow is how you’ll be lodging and you’ll need to watch out for the odd snake, but moreover, naughty monkeys who will take anything they desire from your kitchen! Or take over your breakfast in the lodge restaurant outside if you leave it unattended. At HluHluwe Umfulozi hotel you’ll enjoy scenic views over the hills, wild birds and sometimes a deer or two and its babies, grazing the grass on your bungalow lawn. It’s in the middle of no-where so don’t expect good wifi reception unless at the hotel reception area. Bungalows are simple and self catering so take your pick. You can take hotel arranged safari cars or drives the different routes yourself. 3-5 days for driving through HluHluwe game and natural scenery with some relaxation time at the pool should be adequate, and a good introduction to SA’s wildlife of the big 5 in game.
When you’re ready to travel back to the “real” world, and civilisation you’ll be travelling through rural Africa. There is plenty of open space and you’ll have a chance to see local housing, quiet sleep petrol stations and encounter herds of cattle crossing the road. You’ll see locals walking along with their goats and the roads are generally good. Make sure you have enough petrol as you don’t really want to stop in any unknown places thought.
Heading towards Durban for a short stay in Umhlanga Sands, you’ll have beautiful coastal drives alongside the Indian ocean. The weather here is hot and humid and it has a large Indian population because of the sugar plantations a few hundred years ago. For that specific reason, Indian curries are the best specialty to try. Take a walk along the boulevard and admire the splendid rocked beach, rock pools, fishermen, surfers, picnick families and piers. The beach front is totally non-commercial so no snack bars or much, but the sand and sea are clean, fresh and scenic.
Umhlanga sands has European like pubs and restaurants. If you stay a few days, there are many Bed & Breakfasts, or use Air BnB. Umhlanga is small and easy to walk around and you can visit the tour office to plan a snake park tour, caves, Zulu dancing or local rondavel villages. Remember though that distances are always quite great. From Durban the journey west will see you leaving Kwazulu Natal and take you towards the Eastern Province which is where Nelson Mandela, (Madiba) was born and is buried. Although private, it is nice to know that it is in the African hills about 5 hours north east from the next big city, Port Elizabeth (PE) so you’ll be driving somewhere past it in the vast space. Madiba was from the Xhosa tribe, they are smaller and lighter than Zulus and have a musical click in their native tongue Xhosa. Here are some tribal shoe delights of this tribe. Photographed in a PE supermarket. As there is a lot of driving entailed in SA, you might want to hop on one of the many flights to PE which is just an hour. From there you should take a car to drive to Cape Town so as to view the scenic and famous garden route.
Port Elizabeth, also on the Indian ocean has beautiful beaches, Go to Summer Strand or Humewood and if you can, visit a tea garden at the weekend, out near Sardinia Bay, where you can horse ride. Early morning is also recommended. Or Visit Van Staden’s river mouth where you have massive sand dunes to surf or boogie board down. Tip: The walk up is not easy. 🙂 PE itself is a quiet sleepy city with a few pretty streets and old churches, but the beachfront is lovely, also at night, with good restaurants and nightclubs. Be careful where ever you go and if you can go with locals, that’s better as it’s not a good idea to get lost. When you park, there will always be a car minder to prevent theft and it’s customary to always give a few rand upon return. It’s best to actually stay in one of the beach front hotels or again use Air B&B. Remember everywhere in SA there is high security, with security gates, alarms, armed response in suburbs and you should be vigilant. Crime is high because of poverty and past mass urbanization with insufficient employment and housing. You should steer clear of any ghettos for your own safety. This link explains the history and current economics in SA well. Sad of course, because tourism brings money but the growth of the middle class is a slow process and 90% of the land in SA was in white hands at the turn of apartheid. Little has changed in that percentage since then, so it’s a classic situation of the top 1% owning everything. There is a link at the end of the blog for reference and further insight.
Locals in Eastern Province who work on farmlands
PORT ELIZABETH PIER ON THE INDIAN OCEAN
Needless to say, South Africans although friendly, are tough people, who can be insular due to lack of international contact. They are hospitable though and you should join them at home if possible for a traditional braai because a trip to SA without a lot of fires is just a tourist cruise. Expect guns, kept for protection at homes, hunters who keep Kudu populations done in season and pet snakes. Do try some local biltong, play with the many ghekkos, and enjoy the flora and fauna which is abundant.
Next tips will be on the Garden route, passing through Knysna, and other coastal towns hitting the international destination and well known Cape Town. Tune in!
NKOSI SIKHELE AFRIKA….