We were excited about our trip to South Africa, and honestly worried a bit too. Excited to visit Africa again ( last time it was Kenya as a family trip), thrilled about the prospect of viewing the African wildlife, excited about the trip to Table mountain and equally eager to meet the famous African tribes of Xhosa and the fearsome Zulus. In our itinerary we had thus included Aha Lesedi which should give us a chance to meet the 5 African tribes and watch them from near. This would also give us a window to learn about their lives, practices and beliefs. All those stories and movies regarding Africa did a speed flash before my eyes as we got ready to land at Johannesburg. about Our teen girl was eager to spend a A night with the African tribes and so were we. This was our first stop for our South African Tour and we were enthusiastic to get going. Thanks for being part of our Footprints forever and our family travel blog.
It was an Ethiopian Airlines which landed with us among its passengers at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg at around one in the afternoon. Early this morning, we had flown from Dubai and there was a short transit ( about 35 mins) at Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Addis Ababa looked beautiful from above as we made the touch down in time. A city with small undulating hills bordering its three sides, It looked so green from above. But we were relieved when we found that we didn’t need to leave the flight and search our way to the next gate for the ongoing flight to Johannesburg. The ground staff asked all connecting flight passengers to stay aside and then a bus took us and deposited all passengers next to their respective planes to board directly after a cursory check of our boarding passes. Here you can read about our South Africa Trip from the start where we spent our first night among the African Tribals at Aha Lesedi !!
A quick question here ? Who was OR Tambo ? 🙂 You will find the answer at the end.
Picking up our rental car from First Car counters was a breeze. The rental car counters was just a short walk from the Arrival lounge of the Johannesburg International Airport. I got a medium sized sedan which was good enough for my family of three. I expected to drive around 1400 kms on this first leg of our South Africa Tour spread over 6 nights , the first leg include a couple of days each stay around Johannesburg, Graskop and inside the Kruger National Park. You can read more about our South African travel : Why should you travel to South Africa
Aha Lesedi Cultural Village: Johannesburg, South Africa
Our first night was booked at Aha Lesedi, a cultural village about 70 kms from Johannesburg International Airport. After going through immigration, the first task was to pick up a local Vodacom phone sim card found inside the JoBerg OR Tambo terminal. I always heavily rely on a local sim with a data pack, for any road trip that we have taken. The data pack allows us to navigate using Google Maps which makes life easier. Another option can be the App HereMaps we Go, which uses GPS technology instead to direct you, but you would need to download region/country specific maps first.
As we drove on our way, towards the R21 which would take us towards Lanseria ( where the other airport of Johannesburg is situated), the initial challenge was to adjust to the new driving side. South Africa is a left hand drive, while about two thirds of the world including US is a right hand drive. As I repeatedly fidgeted on the wrong side for my indicators and screen-wiper ( it had started to drizzle lightly by then) I got a feel of the road and the car. Driving in the main highways and national freeways is easy, but I guessed city driving would be a challenge. It was about an hour later we landed at Aha Lesedi.
Aha Lesedi is a world heritage site. It captures African culture, members of the tribes of Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele live within its perimeter. Spread over a few hectares of bush land, the camp is divided into sections of village outposts, with rest cottages for guests built into each one of them. We were allotted a stay with the Xhosa tribe.
They people of the camp arrange a guided village walk which starts every day at around 11 in the morning and another at 4.30 in the afternoon. The walk is a way of introducing us to the different tribes, their history, culture, beliefs and rituals. The guide was an adept communicator, involving us with his knowledge and humour. Here we came to known of their polygamist lifestyles, the central position which the eldest wife holds in this poly-family. We came to know the importance of cattle in their marriage proposals and their social positions. We came to know the peculiarity of their huts and the arrangement of men and women with respect to the position of their huts and the way its doors open. We saw the colourful construction and the subtle differences of their villages. And we were given lessons into the ‘clicking language’ that they use which was great fun to imitate ( we didn’t come close though !!).
This tour lasted for an hour and a half, and by then dusk had settled in the camp and it was time for a cultural -dance program. In between we were offered to have a taste of dried and sauted caterpillars ( which my wife and I didn’t venture but which my teen daughter did and found that they tasted like salted peanuts !!)This was undertaken with members of the same tribes, singing and dancing, building on a rhythm with the sound of their drum and hunting calls, complete with colourful dresses and some African jungle warfare arms of yore. They completely had us immersed in their performance and rituals and it was an greatly satisfying experience.
Dinner was served around 7.30 in the evening, quite a well spread out buffet including both vegetarian soups and salads as well as non vegetarian dishes such as crocodile and ostrich meat,chicken,pork, beef , lamb and other grilled items with deserts. Dinner and breakfast charges were included in the overall price, though any drinks and liquors were charged separately . Night came and we walked down the jungle pathways with our villager guide, getting a feel of rural Africa. The rest houses were comfortable enough, with an attached bath and shower, a room heater and bottles of water thrown in. Aha Lesedi is an absolutely must experience for people travelling to this country for the first time.
Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast, we strolled around and bought a few souvenirs from the local shops near the reception inside the Aha Lesedi premises. Today we had a long drive ahead of us, to the Kruger National Park. We had a couple of days booking inside the park, namely at Berg en Dal and Skukuza Rest Camps and it was about a 450 Kms of drive to Kruger. But before we did so, the plan was to do a short detour through Pretoria, about 25 kms from Aha Lesedi.
Through Pretoria , abut 70 kms from Johannesburg
South Africa is a three capital city with ,one for each branch of goverment. Pretoria is the administrative capital while Cape Town the legislative and Bloemfontein the judicial. Among other things, Pretoria is famous for the Voortrekker Monument and for us the Nelson Mandela statue near the Union Buildings was the star attraction. We didn’t want to spend more than an hour or so at these places and planned to just visit them quickly before starting for our long, long drive to Kruger National Park.
We reached Pretoria around 10.30 and stopped at the Voortrekker Monument. The entry fees were around USD 3 a head and there was ample safe parking inside the park. Built on top of a hill, this imposing structure is visible from all corners of the city of Pretoria. An imposing structure up about a flight of 50 stairs, it is built as a reminder of the Boers who undertook a great trek to escape British Rule. It offers spectacular views of the city of Pretoria and should also be in a must see list of the city. The tourist office inside has a small cafeteria, toilets and a shop to buy curios and mementos.
The Union Buildings was about an 8 minute drive from Voortrekker and we parked the car on the side of the road next to it with security guards manning to prevent thefts and robberies. Down a flight of stairs is the huge statue of Nelson Mandela with his arms wide open. This bronze 9 meter statue of Nelson Mandela had been built in 2013, within 10 days of his death and is an ode to the Father of the Nation, affectionately called Madiba. The whole of Pretoria is visible from this place and provides a very encompassing background.
Towards Kruger National Park: South Africa
We finished our quick stopover of Pretoria by 11.30 am and now it was time for the long drive to Kruger National Park. Google Maps calculated a distance of 400 kms in about 5 hours. Add to it time for lunch and a couple of small breaks, toll stops, road maintenance issues and the expected drive looked more like six and a half hours. The Melalane gate for the Kruger National Park, through which we needed to pass, would close at 6 in the evening !!
Its time to be going !! We planned to stop at Milly’s Restaurant near Machadodrop, which is about 200 kms from Pretoria and is about halfway to the Melalane Gate of Kruger National Park. Here you will find a store selling you juices, sandwiches, potato chips, water and some basic necessities. You can fill up your tank, both by cash or credit card and there is also a well frequented restaurant and take- away outlet to satiate your thirst and hunger. The backside of the restaurant opens into a small lake and you can have a refreshing moment sitting next to it.
The National Highway N4 to Kruger is very well built and driving is a smooth experience. This highway route has tolls, but our rental car had a prepaid sticker on its windscreen which opened the toll barricade automatically !! The highway allows a maximum speed of 120 kmph and though we didn’t see any radars, there were quite a few traffic police control vans parked at different locations en-route.
Lets gear up for the long drive. 🙂
Here’s the answer to the initial question : Who was O R Tambo , on whom the Johannesburg international airport is named.
O R Tambo, was the acting President of African National Congress from 1967 to 1991. He was a comrade of Nelson Mandela, having studied in the same university and partnered in all civil and political protests during the 50’s and 60’s. In between they had also started an African Law Firm named ‘Mandela and Tambo’ to support the causes of Black African people. Tambo shifted base to UK and led the party in exile. With the release of Mandela, he handed over the reigns of the party to him in 1991 .