touring | south africa - peering into the souls of lions
'not just the king of the jungle but the people of the rainbow nation'
south africa; this was an unexpected journey that changed me in many ways. i had been planning to visit africa for years & 2019 felt like the right time. this vast country has so much to offer from landscapes to wildlife for me it has to be one of the greatest counties on earth. yes, it has its problems from water shortages to crime but if you look beyond the fear promoting propaganda you will find yourself immersed in nature that is unsurpassed by any other continent in the world.
this is how the locals call it. so my journey in joburg started in the most unexpected way. on my first full day in the city, i was nearly carjacked at gunpoint but our uber driver managed to get away with nothing stolen or a scratch on us, it was a scary few seconds as the gun was pointed right at my head.
now i wanted to start my post with this fact to get it out of the way as you have to be mindful in this country of crime but don't let it define your experience as this country gave me some of the most memorable moments of my life.
so now that's over with let's get on to joburg its self & what had to be one of the best hostels i have every stayed in curiocity hostel located in the coolest downtown area of maboneng.
on arrival to this hostel after meeting bheki the owner i felt immediately at home, this place has such a relaxed & friendly vibe. the staff are the best i came across in south africa & the facilities are great from the privates to the dorms its a comfortable place to stay. another great feature about the hostel is they do their own in house tours with my main man tsepo at the helm
(one of the best tour guide around) he will take you on a journey of joburg culture & history for me the soweto tour was one of the most magical. As we walked around the township meeting locals we ended up in a charity daycare centre that looked after young child from local families & housed orphans permanently giving them a loving environment to grow up. one of the coolest moments was when tseppo stepped into the classroom & all the kids shouted his name & came to hug him one of my other favourite moments was when we gave one of the kids a camera to play with for the first time, it was amazing to see his reaction to the pictures that he had just taken.
on this tour, you really get to question your humanity that are we all doing enough to help these children grow up in a world where they have the best opportunities to succeed in life. we also got to see the other side of soweto, the middle & upper-class area where you will find big homes & great community spirit. Nelson mandala once lived here & you can go by his old place to take in some of the history that this great man once lived. now we ended the tour with what has to be one of the most intense museums in the world. the apartheid museum; i won't go much into what happened during this dark period in south africa's history but i have to say that this is a must museum visit.
most of my time in joburg i stayed in the maboneng / fox street area this was where the hostel was based & the safest area in the city centre it a super hipster area with bar, shops, restaurants, cool cafes & galleries you can spend a whole week here like me & not get bored it has 24 hour security so no need to worry about crime. they have a great market on sunday with some interesting products. make sure to visit my favourite restaurant little addis cafe, its ethiopian food with a relaxed vibe.
now the most interesting experience i had was actually located in the city centre. I had the opportunity to partake in an interesting historical dinner at thunder walker. joburg places offer a super interesting insight into the lesser known history of joburg. this dinner is based in the basement of thunder walker in an old bank vault. truly it was one of the most interesting things that i did while in the city.
kruger national park
visiting south africa has always been a dream for me. since i was a kid i had heard stories of this magical country, especially the wildlife. arriving in joburg i decided that my first mission was to get myself to the kruger national park for a safari. i came across a company called kruger wildlife safaris they had some great itineraries for super reasonable prices. so this is where my adventure into the wild started.
i decided that a 3 day camping, well actually glamping tour was perfect to see everything that the park had to offer.
the start of the trip began with getting picked up at 7am from downtown johannesburg by one of the friendly drivers that took us to the transit lodge located near the airport. we had some refreshments in the beautiful surrounds of the guest lobby before setting off for the kruger.
the drive to kruger takes around 4-5 hours in a comfortable minivan with a rest stop on the way to the park meandering through some beautiful rolling hills & citrus plantations. our destination was pretoriuskop camp located in the south-west of the park, this is a great location as the drive is not so long from joburg & is in a malaria free area.
for me, the whole process was totally seamless from the transportations to the arrival at the camp this company has been taking people to the kruger for many years and you could see that in the setup.
over the 3 days we seen everything from elephants, rhino, lions to chameleons its was a truly magical journey into the wild heart of this country.
you can read more about my kruger adventure here.
the baz bus
my time in kruger & joburg was over. it was now time to move on making my way through the country to my final destination cape town. but the issue is that there is not much public transportation options in south africa some buses & trains link cities but not to all the places where travellers like me would like to visit so truly the best & only option you have as a solo traveller is to take the baz bus. this is a door to door service that takes you to all the main traveller destinations & drops you off at the door of your hostel or hotel its truly one of the safest, most convenient was to get around this vast country.
there are a few different ticket options from timed tickets 7, 14, 21 days to destination tickets with no time limit e.g. joburg to cape town, all tickets enable you to hop on & off at whatever destinations you along the way..
the bus is super comfortable with more than enough room to spread out & get some sleep on the days where you're taking a long journey. usb power & wifi are available on all busses but be mindful that it works over the wireless network. now once i reached cape town after a journey of more than 2 weeks from joburg i decided the best way to see all that this area had to offer including the penguins of boulders beach & cape point. i had to take the cape peninsula tour with bazbus. It was a great day out, i met a lot of interesting people including our guide who was super funny & informative i would highly recommend it. get your ticket here.
7 hours drive away passing through some epic scenery as you make your way to the coast you find yourself in the city of durban. this is the home to the largest population of indians outside of india this happened in the past when the british brought people here to work during the time of their rule here.
durban may not have the greatest reputation in south africa as a city but it has some gems to offer travellers. from the vast stretches of coastline with amazing beaches, great for surfing to the inner city indian food scene. Its a clash of cultures here but people live in harmony with each other. the only place to stay in my opinion is curiocity hostel located downtown it's a great base to start your adventures here.
from the huge dorm rooms to what i have to say is one of the most beautiful private rooms that i have ever seen in a hostel you are sure to find interesting people to meet here. i decided to take the city tour offered by the hostels in house tour team. from roof gardens to indian spice markets it was a great way to see the city through the eyes of a local. make sure you head down to the beach to catch some waves & eat at my favourite chicken shop afro's.
carrying on bus hopping along the coast i found my self close to coffee bay in a beautiful eco lodge called swell. situated atop of a hill less than a few hundred meters from the beach this place was something special.
this family run eco-lodge is comprised of a few rondavel homes with thatched roofs that are indicative to the local area. on arrival your greeted by the family & taken to your accommodation that has all the amenities you need to have a peaceful stay in one of the most beautiful parts of the wild coast. this is a truly peaceful place, a place where you can relax and unwind maybe even catch on of the best sunrises of your life. there are plenty of things to do here from taking a walk along the coast to watersports or taking one of the tours that are offered. one of my favourite thing to do was to have a barbecue in the evening while the sun was setting taking in the pristine sea views that this lodge has to offer.
this is truly a wild place & getting here on the roads can be a little time consuming but its well worth the journey as once you arrive you can put your cars keys away for the duration of your stay and enjoy the surrounding.
gorah elephant camp (addo park)
there are moments & experiences in life that truly take your breath away every second you are in the moment & for me this was my whole stay at the excellent gorah elephant camp....
its hard to explain in writing one of the most amazing experiences in your life but i will try my best. gorah is an exclusive wildlife lodge set in a private area of addo park. it offers a truly unique safari 5* experience that is unsurpassed by any other i have had in the past. from the moment of i arrived at the lodge i was greeting by the management & explained the days ahead at the time i did not truly grasp what i had in store for me.
i was staying a luxury tent but no ordinary tent this was more like an apartment than a tent with all the full amenities you would expect from a 5* hotel including what i have to say is the best mini bar i have had in a hotel all complementary of-course. the vista views i had from my bed when i woke up in the morning was truly breathtaking.
so let's get on to the activities at gorah. each day you take two game drives with your dedicated ranger in one of their open safari vehicles, they try not to take too many people at one time to give a more intimate experience. on the drives i took i seen most of the animals the park had offer from elephants up close to what had to be my favourite animal encounter of all time, seeing the parks alpha lion up close less than 10m away it was a surreal experience for me as he looked me straight in the eyes with zebra wandering in the background i felt as though i was dreaming a moment that i will never forget.
from addo i made my way along the garden route to the serengeti of the sea..
grootbos nature reserve
a few hours drive away from cape town to the east close to the famous town of gansbaai where you can swim with the famous great white sharks grootbos 5* private nature reserve is nestled in the hills above overlooking this vast landscape of fynbos, beaches & mountains it's truly a sight to behold. its actually part of national geographic's unique lodges of the world.
this is not just a place to stay its a place to immerse your self in the flora of the region. this reserve is home to the cape floral kingdom that boasts more biodiversity than the amazon jungle by area. I stayed here for three incredible days taking in all this place has to offer. from horse riding to forest walks this is a place where you immerse yourself with nature. i stayed in the exquisite forest lodge in my own mini apartment with what i can only describe as the best bathtub views in the world.
grootbos is not only a place to stay its a place that is passionate about sustaining the natural heritage of the area & cultivating locals communities through the foundation to better integrate into the community & offer better life opportunities to the people of this region.
their is far too much to talk about here so i have decided to dedicate a separate blog post to my wonderful time spent here.
well what can i say about this amazing city... this honestly has to be one of the most amazing cities on the planet.. i didn't just visit here, i lived here. well for a short period anyway. arriving in the mother city i was thinking a week stay at a maximum but from the first moment we arrived from the garden route with my friends carlos, ion & kuba in our rented car as the sun was setting i knew this was a special place, it was a feeling i had the moment i arrived.
truly i cannot explain to you everything that i did during my stay in detail but for sure i can give you a sense of what its like to live & enjoy the beauty of cape town.
firstly i had to find somewhere to stay. i chose a few different places to stay from hostels to hotels & airbnb's in all different parts of the city, this gave me a greater understanding of where the best places in the city are to stay depending on what you're looking for.
arriving at cape town with a few friends & a car we decided to stay in green point close to the main stadium at never@home hostel. this is a great place to be if you want the convenience of living outside the downtown core but close enough that it only costs a few dollars to get in the city. never@home is what i refer to as a mega hostel with lots of beds but still has a great atmosphere to meet people especially at the pool area. the rooms & bed are super high quality i had some great nights sleep here.
moving out of the suburbs & into the downtown core since we no longer had the car. by far the best hostel has to be 91 loop boutique hostel. the most interesting thing about this place has to be the unique sleeping pods that they have its has like having your own room in a dorm as its totally closed off & private to the other travellers. the location was perfect for the weekend as it was situated next to the main bar street of the city, they also have there own onsite bar, restaurant & travel desk.
my final stop before leaving cape town was mojo hostel situated in sea point. this place was like i was staying in miami, seaport is about 10 mins by car from the downtown core but you could be in a totally different city. the stunning art deco style architecture is everywhere to be seen from the mojo market to the apartments that line the seafront road. if you have a love of the outdoors then this is the place to stay from the rooftop gardens to the public seafront swimming pool & free outdoor gym i definitely lived the healthiest lifestyle here in years. the hostel its self is super different as the dorm rooms are set out like an apartment with full kitchen & bathroom in each room also a balcony with sea views in the premium 7 bed dorms.
this hostel is actually located above the mojo food market that has over 20 different stalls, a few bars & live music every day. its the place to be seen in cape town & a great way to meet locals.
as a city, this has some of the most diverse attractions of any place that i have ever been.
you're on the coast here so you have all the benefits that has to offer from beach days to going out on kayaks to boat trips. but you also have epic mountains here from the famous table mountain to lions head & devils peak if you are a fan of hiking like me (well sometimes) its perfect as the weather most days is perfect. my favourite hike had to be the table mountain intense hike we took the most difficult route that including climbing vertically up rocks but after a few hours and a sweat-soaked shirt we made it atop one of one of the most iconic mountains in the world. i could actually view the curvature of the earth from here (see photo in the right) you can take the cable car but the satisfaction of hiking up yourself is awesome. we decided to take the rear hiking trail of the mountain that eventually got us to kirstenbosch botanical gardens, one of the most beautiful in the whole country.
looking for something easier? then hike to the top of lions head for sunset it takes around an hour & the views of the sun setting are awe-inspiring.
in and around cape town there are a lot of interesting places to visit & if you have read my blog post previously then you will know that i love a good tour.
now my first tour had to be to the wine regions surrounding cape town. i have been studying wine for the last few years & this was the perfect way to explore some interesting wineries of franschhoek & stellenbosch. wine flies is one of the top rated wine tour companies out of cape town and i had the pleasure of joining them on one of their famous wine tours.
setting off from cape town in the morning we arrived to the lesser known wine region of franschoek where we started with a wine & cheese tasting at a boutique winery. we then took in another two wineries before settling down for lunch in a beautiful vineyard & then making our way to the final winery where kobus our super cool & informative guide has a surprise for in the way of a wine chocolate pairing. yes, you read correctly.... they actually commissioned a famous chocolatier in cape town to produce five different chocolates to pair with each of the wines we had and what a surprise they enhanced the flavour.
i am always interested in eclectic tours & when i came across what kiff kombi had to offer in the way of the urban safari i jumped at the chance to experience cape town in a different light. being named in the 10 ten tours of cape town within a few years i knew i was in for a good time. this company is more for the younger generation looking for something different & that was exactly what we got. starting off the tour in the city with with the beautifully coloured homes of bo-kaap we then moved on to a super cool street art area that most tourists would not know existed. after lunch, in a brewery, we headed over the mountains to a beautiful winery with some of the best views this region has to offer.
for sure we did a few more things in between but to cap off the tour wilson took us to what had to be one of the most spectacular sunset sports in the world & the best thing was this place was mainly only known to locals so we only had 2 other people there watching what had to be one of the most beautiful sunsets that i have ever seen, truly african sunsets are something special. with a beer in hand provided by wilson of course, we sat on the rocks to watch natures show.
surfing in muizenburg
a 30 minute drive away from cape town you will find yourself in the surfing bay of muizenburg. this is one of the best place to learn to surf in south africa. amateurs & pro's alike visit the cold but consistent wave breaks here with the wonderful cape town weather. i stayed here for a week to really get to grips with surfing as one day is just not enough. the surfshack surfing school has everything you need to get you set up from just board rentals to full courses it's the best place to learn as the guys here are super cool.
to sum up...
unfortunately this is where it ends. actually, it was difficult saying goodbye to south africa i can honestly say that i has some life-changing moments in this vast country. its may be marred with violence in certain areas but the people, landscape & animals make up for this 100x more.
I fell in love south africa specifically cape town. i will actually be spending the next european winter working as a digital nomad here to escape the cold & live the good life of the cape summer.
⦿ they use rand,. budget ($40-50) a day.
⦿ if your a european citizen and you travel often see my blog post on the curve card its the best travel card around i have saved hundreds of euro's using it. download the app and enter my promo code to get a free card & €/£5. click here to see the post.
⦿ need an international bank account or transfer money at the lowest rates? i use transferwise. i make all my transfers with then and have even opened a remote eur, usa, gbp accounts for free. click here to get your first transfer for free.
country travel tips
atm: only capitec bank offers free withdrawals. make sure not to select the on screen conversion.
sim card: vodacom is the best data provider. 3GB is ($20) for 30 days.
transport: uber app in cities & baz bus to car rental for long distance.
taxi: uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here