Amazing 12 days in South Africa
The Uber drivers were plentiful, but not always well marked. The friendly fellow working in the median near the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg helped us find a black car. The driver quoted us a fair price to our desired location and we all hopped in. He took us safely to our location and advised us that we would be safe if we stayed on the main block in Maboneng Precinct. We paid him and thanked him, and imagined how shocked our husbands would be over our lack of inhibitions!
When the four of us from our book club decided to travel to Africa to go on safari, we wanted to make the most of the trip. We googled, pinned blogs and borrowed library books about Africa. After several dinner meetings, and communications with a travel agent, our itinerary was settled.
Two nights in Johannesburg. Six nights on safari and 3 nights in Capetown.
We flew from New York to Johannesburg on British Airlines with a 2 hour layover in London. The long flight in coach was bearable with friends, and movies and wine and my butt pillow. Really, the butt pillow was key on this trip. We tried to sleep a little on the 11 hour flight from London to Johannesburg. We had a busy day ahead of us.
We arrived in the morning and were met by our driver that had been arranged in advance by our travel agent. Some people avoid visiting Jo’burg due to poverty and crime. We avoided those areas and did not go out late at night and were just fine. Should you visit Johannesburg? YES!
Our driver took us to The Winston Hotel in Melrose Estate, Johannesburg. A small boutique style hotel with a pool, bar and restaurant. The service was friendly and although the rooms weren’t ready, we enjoyed lunch by the pool upon arrival and soon checked into the spacious rooms.
Our hotel called for a taxi to take us to the Apartheid museum We felt being in South Africa we should get some background information on the history of the country. Apartheid was designed to segregate people of different races: white, black, colored (mix of black and white) and Asian. Upon entering the museum, you must enter through a randomly generated admission ticket: white or non-white. It gives you a sense of the era.
After our visit we were stumped with how to get to the next place. One of us had the Uber app but cell service was not so good, the sun was setting and we needed help. The friendly valet hailed us a ride to Maboneng Precinct where we enjoyed strolling the street looking at hand made crafts. We dined in a crowded restaurant featuring live music and African cuisine called Pata Pata. After dinner, the restaurant manager called an Uber for us and went out to the street to talk to our driver to be sure we made it back to our hotel safely. We felt safe and full of adventure after our first day in Africa.
Our car was waiting in the hotel parking lot at 4:30 the next morning. The hotel packed us food for the ride as we started our one hour journey to Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safari. Three balloons were impressively inflated and we climbed into a basket holding 12 adults. We took amazing photos and were awed by the quiet being thousands of feet about the ground. Upon landing we toasted with a champagne breakfast.
Our private car was waiting after the flight and drove us to the nearby Cradle of Humankind. We took a guided tour of the Sterkfontein Caves where the discovery of a 2.3 million year old human fossil (Mrs. Ples) was found in 1947. The museum detailed archaeological developments throughout history. After we had our fill of history, our driver took us back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing poolside and enjoying dinner at the on site restaurant.
Day 3 the Uber driver picked us up early and we headed to the airport for a flight to Durban King Shaka International airport. The one hour flight is relatively inexpensive with over 150 flights from Jo’burg per day. Our flight was uneventful and we were met by a van from the Zulu Nyala Heritage Safari Lodge where we planned to spend the next 6 nights.
We arrived after the 3:00 safari had already left so we were unable to take a safari drive on the first day. The property was pleasantly designed with 2 outdoor pools, a large restaurant, spacious rooms with updated bathrooms, a lobby with WiFi, a shop and even a Zulu Cultural Village with daily tribal reenactments.
Day 4 in Africa we started with a 6:00 am drive to the nearby fenced in Zulu Nyala Game Reserve. The reserve is small at seven square miles. It has 4 of the big 5 – Leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo – no lions but we did see a very relaxed cheetah. Our guide planned to be with the 4 of us and 6 other guests for each drive during the week. He let us know about different excursions available and we made arrangements to take advantage of those as well.
Each day we had a morning and late afternoon safari drive. Our guide would communicate with the other trucks who were also in the reserve and bring us to the areas where animals had been sighted. We saw giraffes walking beside our truck at sunrise, hippos swimming in a waterhole, a cheetah sunning herself on the road, elephants drinking from the river, cape buffalo and a variety of deer. South Africa – 42 amazing travel highlights
We planned a visit to a nearby residence to have a close encounter with 2 beautiful, tame older elephants. They had been orphaned and hand reared and now wandered free at this private reserve. They seemed to enjoy visiting with us as we fed them and posed for photos during our visit.
Another afternoon we took advantage of a different game park that had lions. We were in for a thrill when our tour guide brought the truck not 10 feet away from 2 lionesses and 2 cubs lounging in the sun. We watched for over an hour as the cubs nursed, napped, played and then mom pounced but missed a clueless warthog who wandered too close to the family. Lion Safari in South Africa
Not being ones to lounge around on this trip, we decided to head to the Indian Ocean with our guide one day. Feet in the ocean is always a fun goal on any trip! Our excursion this day also included a boat ride on the St. Lucia River to see hippos, birds and crocodiles. We had lunch in a little beach town that warned people of hippo crossings – the most dangerous animals in Africa that cause more deaths than any other animal.
Our time on safari ended too soon but we had one more exciting part of our journey to go: Capetown.
The people at Zulu Nyala Heritage Safari Lodge arranged for our transportation back to Durban for our two hour flight to Capetown. Upon arrival taxis were available, however our travel agent had once again booked a car service for us to our hotel. We had researched hotels and decided that The Portswood Hotel near the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront would best suit our needs.
We settled into our hotel rooms then quickly took an Uber to Table Mountain. The cable car is accessible from the bottom in town and brings a group of about 60 up to the top. The views were amazing and we stayed to watch the sunsetting. One of the best sunsets ever.
We called for another Uber back to our hotel, freshened up and walked over to the lively waterfront area. Lots of shops, restaurants and tourists walked happily beside the ferris wheel, street musicians and boats along the harbor. We had arranged with a native South African who had visited the States to give us a private tour during our time in Capetown. We met him during breakfast, which of course was included with the hotel room as had been every morning of our trip so far.
We packed a bag and piled into his car for our wine tasting tour day which started at a local farm. Then onto the Stellenbosch vineyards and some sight seeing at Boland Mountain Complex Park. Dinner that night was at the hotel and we turned in early.
Day 11 we met at breakfast and drove down the coast of Capetown. We went as far south as we could get at the Cape Point National Park. In the park our car slowed as a wild ostrich crossed our path. After a bit of hiking we continued onto Boulders Beach where we walked along a board walk and amongst happy little penguins on the beach. After a lovely lunch at Fish Hoek in Kalk Bay where we saw seals and sea lions on the dock we headed to Muizenberg to see the surfers and the colorful beach cabanas.
Our day trip was amazing as always and we felt the urge to shop and bring home souvenirs that evening. Plenty of shops had stuff to buy right there at the waterfront (although we could have gotten the same thing if we waited until we got to the airport)
The last day, we had a late afternoon flight. Our tour guide picked us up after breakfast and took us through the colorful streets in town called Bo-Kaap. After taking a few fun photos, we drove up Signal Hill to see Table Mountain from another angle as well as Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Before heading to the airport we stopped at the beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden where we ate lunch and saw the most interesting flowers and birds.
Each day of our visit we were more in awe of what we experienced. From the people we met, to the animals we saw to the places we visited it was indeed the trip of a life time. Some of the trip was done with our own research. Some was supported with the help of our wonderful travel agent, Rosemary Martinek. Some was provided by the safari we went on. Some with a little help from a friend.
If it is on your bucket list, do it. You will not be disappointed!