SOUTH AFRICA... TOP 5 GUIDE FOR THE INDEPENDENT TRAVELLER!
How much do you know about South Africa? I recently took a trip to the motherland and let me tell you - I was surprised and in awe!
One of my dearest friends in the world is based in Johannesburg so of course a trip like this was a long time coming. I have planned many trips to South Africa for clients, however this one was certainly different as we would not be staying in hotels in the city centre, nor were we travelling on an organised tour. On this trip, I would well and truly live the South African lifestyle, drive on South African roads and guide our own self-drive Safari! And it was awesome!
If group tours are not your thing and you've been priced out of the private tour market - then designing an independent (mostly self guided) experience of South Africa will be your saving grace. Any GOOD agent will know the best areas to stay in the larger cities and will know how to get you from one place to the other, but what you do with your time will make ALL the difference. Not everyone has a friend in South Africa they can learn from, so here is my rough guide on experiences that are easy to incorporate in to your independent holiday to South Africa! We'll focus on the must-have experiences that you simply cannot leave without.
THE EPI-CENTRE - JOHANNESBURG
Most airlines that fly into South Africa will transit in its capital of Johannesburg. I urge travellers to spend at least a few days exploring the vibrant centre & surrounds. In fact you can spend weeks and barely scratch the surface of this sprawling and rapidly growing city. It's easy to see the scars of time throughout this metropolis, though whats more encouraging is the rate at which it is developing, modernising and becoming a more inviting place for holiday makers. Areas like Maboneng in the city have become a centre of creativity, growth and urban culture. It is said that the Maboneng is one of the most successful urban-renewal projects in the world, filled with a mix of restaurants, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, retailers and studio spaces. There are some really cool walking tours that you can do, such as Dlala Nje who do a great walking tour of both Ponte City & Hillbrow areas - highly recommend!
DID YOU KNOW... Johannesburg is home to 10 million trees - the largest manmade forrest in the world. The streets really come alive in Spring when Jacarandas colour the neighbourhoods in sea of vibrant purple.
A COURSE IN HISTORY
It's impossible to travel to this country and not be moved by its turbulent past, with the widely known apartheid (which means "separateness") in the recent past at that; from 1948 to 1994. There are many native ethnic groups and at least 10 ethnic languages that you will likely be introduced to on your travels with many cultural centres and museums scattered throughout this diverse country - which are super easy to book from most major cities or on location. It's incredibly interesting history dates as far back as 3.5 million years ago - believed that this is where the first humans (hominies) originated. How cool is that!? The Cradle of Humankind (a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 50kms outside of Johannesburg) is home to the largest number of hominid fossils in the world. If you're at all interested in world history, you must include this in your itinerary. With the eclectic mix of history and cultural diversity, South Africa HAS to be in your sights.
THE MOTHER CITY - CAPE TOWN
How else can I describe Cape Town but to say that it is abundant in life-changing scenery, powerful ocean sunsets that draw out your emotions and a dynamic blend of culture and history. Five days here did not seem like nearly enough to experience all that this city has to offer. I'm a little bashful to say that after 15 years of selling hop-on-hop-off tours to thousands of travellers over the years, I had never done a hop-on-hop-off tour of any city until Cape Town... AND I LOVED IT!! Not every city is best explored by bus, but I can't stress enough how cost-effective this method of getting to all the hot spots really is for independent travellers. Cape Town is a really spread out city and every corner should be explored, from the magnificent Table Mountain to the bustling Waterfront, the colourful and historic Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens & Constantia Wine Region, to the impressive sunsets from Haute Bay & Camps Bay... you will need at least a 3 day pass to see them all and experience the best of what Cape Town has to offer. From as little as ZAR 200 (AUD 20) per day, you will save tonnes on Ubers getting from one place to the other. You're welcome!
If paying someone to lock you in a cage and submerge you in to freezing waters with the oceans most deadliest predators is on your bucket list then I have some great news for you... Just south of Cape Town, in a place called Gansbaai is thought to be the worlds Great White Shark capital and there are plenty of tour operators just waiting to deliver an experience that will quite literally make you wet your pants! Of course if coming face to face with 300 sharp teeth is not the key to your adrenaline hit, perhaps you could try one of many other adventure activities on offer in South Africa...
BUNGEE JUMPING - On the beautiful Garden Route of South Africa's Western Cape, arched over picturesque valleys, stands the site of worlds highest commercial bridge and the ideal location for your next near death experience. The Bloukrans Bridge is not only beautiful, but it offers up an adrenaline pumping 216 meter jump. WOW!!!
WHITE WATER RAFTING - The Western Cape is also a great spot for varied grades of White Water Rafting experiences. Day trips or extended tours are plenty but choosing the right guides is everything. I recommend Gravity Adventures.
ABSEILING - Another activity that requires a rope and lots of guts! One of the best places to get your abseiling on is at Table Mountain. This is a truly unique way to get the best view in the whole city of Cape Town.
SKY DIVING - Speaking of views... I may have spoke too soon! What could be better than a birds-eye aspect of one of the worlds most beautiful coast lines?! I recommend the pros at Skydive Capetown for your unforgettable experience from 9000 feet high. Simply amazing!
Adventure travellers to SA can also experience zip-lining, rock-climbing, caving, trekking, parasailing, paragliding, surfing, safaris and motorbiking to name but a few. Might I also add that simply driving on South African roads is also quite the heart pumping, adrenaline inducing experience so if none of the above tickle your fancy, you could also just hire a car for the day.
I saved the best for last... as this was simply the most incredible discovery experience of my life! From one true animal lover to others.... you MUST experience the awesome beasts of Africa! When you talk about South Africa Safari Parks, the first one that comes to mind for many is Kruger National Park. Whilst indeed it is one of the largest parks in South Africa, there are many others that are within easy reach and home to the Big 5 (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos) such as Addo Elephant Park, Pillanesberg NP, Madikwe NP, Mapungubwe NP, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi NP and Nambiti Private Game Reserve (to name a good few).
Some of these parks are in malaria areas which we took in to account when planning our weekend getaway. One that is not a malaraia area is Pilanesberg National Park only 2.5 hours drive from Johannesburg. Whilst game drives are an excellent way to see the animals, Pilanesburg National Park allow travellers to self-drive. Entrance is ZAR 65 per person (aprox AUD $6.50) plus ZAR 20 per vehicle (aprox AUD $2.00). There are a select number of nice resorts and hotels spotted around the NP and Game Lodges located within it. I recommend at least 3 days to see as many wildlife as you can fit in. They recommend at least 3-5 in Kruger due to its sheer vastness. Here are just a few shots of our encounters on our self-drive experience (the Leopards did not make the camera roll as it was just too captivating to take our eyes away). There is something... indescribable about the feeling of being mere feet away from the world's largest species.