By Juhi Bansal
SA is an amalgamation of many things- amazing wildlife, history &culture, gorgeous beaches, nature and views , food and so much more. Having seen my share of Europe and US (they were always my go to destinations), SA was a breath of fresh air. I was expecting too less from the country- it being a third world nation like us and having suffered so much at the hands of Apartheid- I was in for a big surprise. The infrastructure, the people, the facilities- everything is first world and can give Europe a run for its money any day. What’s more- 98% of the people speak English which is much much more than most countries in Europe.
Disclosure: we plan all our travel ourselves. The involvement of a travel agent is limited to getting the visa paperwork ready (only because I find it too cumbersome and time consuming), every activity and stay arrangement is planned and booked by me after hours of diligent research.
SA is the perfect place to do a self-drive, self-catering trip. Everything is so conveniently available and the infrastructure so good!
This is what the first part of our SA itinerary looked like:
Johannesburg- 2 nights
Day 1 & Day 2
We decided to stay in the first night and enjoy our airbnb. Our hosts had 2 pet dogs and Iy just completely went berserk playing with them.
Johannesburg is so full of history- the struggle by the blacks in their own country, the gruesome past and the absolute horror that was Apartheid. You may want to visit places like the Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill which houses the women’s jail (and their horror stories) and the Supreme Court (we even witnessed a case in progress!), Carlton Centre (if you want to shop or go to the top of the continent – which isn’t too high), Nelson Mandela Museum and Soweto Township (it’s their version of slums but looked like a kingdom compared to Dharavi). We did manage to interact with a few people from the very poor section of the area but even they seemed to speak English and live a decent life (compared to Indian slum dwellers). The SA government supports non-earning poor families. Not sure how or if we can replicate the same in India.
Johannesburg is huge but Uber works really well. As for the safety bit- we found it as safe or dangerous as any big city. There are certain areas you should avoid but apart from that regular rules apply:
Don’t look vulnerable, nervous.
Don’t make an unabashed display of wealth.
Smile at everyone.
Jo’burg has some amazing eateries. We tasted local delicacies like Bobotie (at the café in the Apartheid Museum) and Bunny Chow (made for us by our hosts at the Airbnb).
Things to keep in mind:
Phone & Internet: we took a Vodacom connection the moment we landed. It was very conveniently available at the O R Tambo International Airport. You can choose from the plans. A 5GB data plan along with about 25 mins of domestic talk time (we didn’t need more than this) cost us ZAR 800 or 4500 INR. We needed internet largely for on the GPS. The speed was 4G throughout the country even on highways and didn’t disappoint at all.
Currency: One ZAR is equal to about 5.4 INR. They use plastic money everywhere. We needed cash only for tips.
Food & Liquor: SA is one country that is almost at par with India when it comes to food prices and much much better in terms of liquor costing. A meal for 2 (and a half) which included 2 courses and 2 glasses of wine at a decent place would cost us about ZAR 400 (Rs. 2200). Not bad right? A bottle of wine (good one btw) would start at just ZAR 75! And I don’t mean the supermarket variety- a full bodied, aged, locally made wine! So, well, needless to stay we were having quite a bit of it with every meal :). (K was driving most of the time so guess who got to order seconds for herself!) 😉
Tipping Norm: 10%. Most restaurants mention it on their menus. They normally do not levy service charges.
Nelspruit/Hazy View/ Kruger National Park- 3 nights
Day 3: We picked up our rental car from Avis and drove down to Hazy View. It is about 400kms and extremely scenic. We took the N4 largely and it took us about 4 hours to reach Hazyview. There are speed limits and cameras all through the highways. Having said that, the roads are very broad and the infrastructure immaculate- you can easily average 100 kmph which is quite a thrill for Indian drivers :D. Oh and yes their toll booths accept cards!
For this leg we chose a Ford Ecosport because we needed an SUV for the safari. It is very easy to drive in SA, infact, it is one of the best countries for a self-drive trip. However, if you would rather not drive, you can even fly into Nelspruit from Jo’burg.
We booked a self catering chalet in Hazy View. Hazy View is a nice little town close to Kruger Park (15 mins drive) and Nelspruit (45 mins drive). You can choose to stay inside the park as well but we wanted to venture out quite a bit so Hazy View it was!
Things you can do in and around Hazyview on Day 1:
Blyde River Canyon. It is the third largest canyon in the world. We gave it a skip since we’ve already been to the Grand Canyon.
Elephant Whispers. This is an interaction with elephants where you get to feed them and touch them.
Panorama Tour. The entire drive has extremely panoramic views but there are certain places you would like to stop and just gaze at.
Day 4: We spent the entire day at the Kruger National Park doing a day long safari. You can do a self drive safari too. We chose to do a guided safari the first day and do a self drive the next day since the park is huge and we did not want to risk losing our way or missing out on seeing the Big 5. The guides are very well versed with the roads etc and since they keep interacting with other guides on their walkie-talkie they know where to take you. We managed to see quite a bit on the safari:
Lions, Buffalo, Giraffes, African Elephants, Antelopes, Zebras, Wild Hogs, Baboons, Hippos etc. The only Big 5 we didn’t manage to see were Rhinos. We’ve been on several safaris in India but this experience was really one of the most exciting. Iy loved it too!
Check out the amazing lion sighting we witnessed at Kruger. He was inches away from our vehicle!
There are several nice places to eat inside the park. We had lunch at the café in the Skukuza Camp.
Day 5: We had kept Day 5 for another safari but we decided against it since we’d already seen quite a bit on the previous day. We drove to Chimp Eden at the Jane Goodall Institute (about an hour’s drive from HazyView) to see some Chimps in actions. How absolutely intelligent are these creatures! We were so impressed.
We spent the rest of the day goofing around in Nelspruit. Each day ended with the Jacuzzi, some South African Wine and K’s gourmet cooking.
Day 6: After a breakfast amidst the clouds, we left for our drive back to Johannesburg from where we would take our flight to Port Elizabeth.
You can easily mistake these roads and views for Europe!
PS: all pics from our camera phone. Please write to me directly should you have any specific questions.
Stay Gorgeous xx