South Africa, the southern-most country of the African continent is one of the few countries with multiple capital cities. It lies on the Southern Hemisphere and hence experiences winter when we, the northerners experience our summers. Johannesburg and Cape Town are the two biggest cities of South Africa, while Durban and Pretoria are also well known. Kruger National Park, about 425 kms from Johannesburg is one of the largest game viewing parks in the world. Cape of Good Hope is the most south westerly point of the African continent and is about 70 kms from Cape Town.
Not only does South Africa have great wildlife it has some breathtaking coastal beaches and waterfronts, and misty undulating mountains and some gushing rivers too. It makes for an ideal summer tour for us, living in the UAE. The country boasts of four Noble Prize winners for Peace and the Anti-Apartheid movement: Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and F. W. De Clerk.
Where to travel in South Africa !
We travelled to South Africa during the first half of August 2018 for a period of 12 days. Read about our Tour Plan here. The tour had two distinct legs, one around Johannesburg and the other around Cape town. We flew into Johannesburg, visited Orlando Towers and Nelson Mandela‘s house. We spent a couple of days inside Kruger National Park and then traveled through the Panorama Route. From Johannesburg we we flew into Cape Town and spent two nights there. Here in Cape Town we toured its many attractions, and then drove to the coastal town of Hermanus, and Simon’s Town. We booked two separate car rentals, one for each leg to convert this into a self-driven road trip.
Kruger National Park :
Kruger National Park is the largest game viewing park in South Africa and the most frequented. Bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe on its east and north-east, Kruger stretches across an area of 19000 square kms. It is home to a massive population of all the African Big Five animals which include the Lion, the Leopard, the Elephant, the African Bull and the Rhino. Offering one of the best experiences of game viewing and holidaying, Kruger also provides wonderful glimpses into nature with its running streams, bush velds, hillocks and ravines. Read our Kruger National Park Experience here.
Kruger experiences winter from May to September. The average temperature is between 8 to 22 degree Celsius. Whereas private game-parks are booked directly through their own web-sites, the government managed parks and its accommodations are booked through the South African National Parks website (sanparks.org). The SANPARKS website offers detailed information about the various parks under its umbrella and there are many. We stayed inside Kruger National Park with SANPARKS and enjoyed the park as a self-drive option.
Among all the camps under SANPARKS the Skukuza camp in the southern part of Kruger, along the banks of the Sabie river is the largest. It is also at the crossroads of Rhino Territory (around Berg-en-Dal camp) and the Lion-Leopard territory (around Lower Sabie camp). Thus, if you have a shorter time span to enjoy Kruger, this is the area to be in. The camps have several types of accommodation along with a restaurant, a utility store, a grocery and a gas station at most of them. We stayed a night each at the Berg-en-Dal and Skukuza camps. Every camp displays the latest Big 5 game viewings on a local map. We were lucky to spot all of them in our two nights stay along with scores of giraffes, zebras, kudus, warthogs, guinea fowls, monkeys, mongoose nests with babies, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, African owl, hyena and hundreds of gazelles and impalas.
The Panorama Route is a region of diverse natural beauty, spread across 100 odd kilometers. It is part of the Mpumalanga highlands. It offers some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and its popularity is high because of its proximity to Kruger National Park, making it a perfect addition to the safari packages. Graskop, once a gold mining town, was our base for the Panorama Route. It is a pleasant town and has a bit of everything including a Spar supermarket (the local market chain), a post office-cum-information centre, a chemist and a bank in the centre of the town. There are quite a few restaurants, shops, hotels, apartments and vacation rentals nearby. Read our Panorama Route Experience here !
At the Panorama route we visited :
The Pinnacle Rock: A free-standing skyscraper of a rock rising about 30 meters.
God’s window : One of the most favorite, God’s window is a series of viewpoints which opens onto the African valley and landscape like no other. On a clear day one can see Kruger Park as well as the bordering country of Mozambique.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes : Fascinating geological rock formation, this is located 35 kms from Graskop, at the confluence of the Breur and Blyde rivers. Since time immemorial, water has eroded and formed potholes and crevasses along the mountain beds leaving behind enchanting formations and strange shapes. Smaller waterfalls deck the area and visitors have a series of narrow pathways and bridges to walk around the captivating rock shores.
Blyde River Canyon LowVeld view : This viewpoint offers an incredible view of the Blyde river as it meanders and snakes its way down below.
Three Rondavels: These are three round mountain tops with a slightly pointed tip, its name originating from the traditional Next waAfrican roundish houses which they resemble.
Berlin Falls: A tumble of about 250 ft into a shallow pool, the Berlin Falls creates an ever lingering impression with its reddish mountain walls and the bluish green oval pool below.
Lisbon Falls: Another of the most scenic waterfalls in this region, this is about 10 kms from Berlin Falls.
Cape Town :
Cape Town offers great scenic beauty with nature walks, hikes and mountain trails, luxury cruises for the rich, idyllic beach holidays for the weary, wine valley tours for the connoisseur, buzzing nightlife for the night-owls as well city attractions and family destinations.
What to see in Cape Town ?
Table Mountain : It forms the backdrop for most of the city of Cape Town. The mountain got its name for its flat top structure, caused by erosion of layers of sandstone over millions of years. The whole city is visible from the top of Table Mountain, as well as Lion’s Head, the Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay and Robben Island. You can ride a cable car to reach the table top or hike for an hour and half over mountain trails.
Robben Island : Approached only by ferry, Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela had spent most of his 25 years of jail time. Now it’s a tourist’s attraction approached by a cruise and a bus ride at the island. The tour takes about 4 hours and runs thrice a day. Details are here: http://www.robben-island.org.za .
Signal Hill and Lion’s Head : Giving one of the best views of the city as well as Table Mountain, Robben Island, Camps Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the Twelve Apostles, the Signal Hill drive is a must. The drive is about 7 minutes uphill from the base. It leads you up the Signal Hill mountain side while it takes a slow turn around to arrive at the flat parking area at the top. There are rest rooms and seating options here. You can enjoy unhindered views all around.
Twelve Apostles: As a continuation of the Table Mountain and Cape Peninsula, a series of hillock-peaks stand side by side on the eastern edge of Table Mountain and is known as the Twelve Apostles. It is viewed best from Camps Bay.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront : This is one of the most touristy places of Cape Town. It consists of a beautiful jetty with its sail boats, row boats , motor boats and long trawlers, . The setting is idyllic and charming with a food market, a few stores, an art gallery. The waterfront boasts of the Cape Town wheel and next to it is a flamboyant shopping mall. Tourists hang out at the shacks near the jetty or the more trendy and upmarket restaurants lined alongside the market. There are about six different parking options nearby, all payable by the hour.
Two Ocean’s Aquarium: Just a short walk away from the V & A waterfront lies the Two Ocean’s Aquarium. From the lovable clown fishes, to the poisonous snakes and the dangerous predators of the seas, this is an attraction not to be missed. It showcases 3000 odd varieties of sea and marine life. Behind the aquarium, is a favourite resting place for seals. Buy tickets here : https://www.aquarium.co.za/
The Bo Kapp : Close to Signal Hill, about 2 kms away from the V & A waterfront, the Bo Kapp is Capetown’s Malay quarter famous for its colourful lane of houses and cobble-stoned streets.
Southern and Coastal South Africa
From Cape Town we proceeded to the southern coastal region of South Africa, along the Indian Ocean which meets the Atlantic at Cape Of Good Hope near the Cape Point observatory tower. The southern coastal region offers one of the most scenic drives that we had in our life: It stretches from Betty’s Bay to Gordon’s Bay along the Pringles Bay route.
Whale Watching and Penguin’s Colony
Hermanus, 120 kms away from Cape Town along the eastern coast, is a small seaside retreat. The town’s main market and restaurants are built around the old Jetty area. The most popular tourist activity here at Hermanus is Whale Watching. Whale watching in Hermanus happens between June and December. The sandy ocean bottom and shallow coastal bays are ideal for the whales to mate and give birth to their offspring before they migrate to the polar zones during summer. We booked our whale watching expedition through Hermanus Whale Cruises , at Walker Bay around the new harbour. They expedition is for two. We sailed for about five kilometres into the Indian ocean before we caught a glimpse of the giant sea mammal. We saw two of them, each about 40 feet in length, tailing and playing with each other as they swam around our cruise boat.
Simon’s Town : We decided to stay here to visit the Cape Point and watch the penguins at Boulder’s Beach. Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope are 5 kms apart and a part of Table Mountain National park. The Cape of Good Hope is where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean and is the most South westerly point of the African continent.
We returned to Cape Town International Airport from Simon’s Town , but here we etched a detour. There is a another great coastal drive through Chapman’s Creek, and we included that in our final day of return. Again a fantastic experience, along the sea coast driving along the curly mountainous roads looking over the azure blue Atlantic ocean gave a fitting end to an already exhilarating and magical trip to South Africa.