Country Guide: South Africa

South Africa is not a small country, not only is it large in size but it also has a tremendous variety of things to do and see. The expected game viewing and safaris, the relaxing Indian coastline, beautiful forests, tasty food, a unique history of gemstones and apartheid all combine to make any trip to South Africa an unforgettable one.

elephantlove 250x167 Country Guide: South AfricaESSENTIALS

Budget:

You can think of South Africa like any other western destination in this regard. Plentiful ATMs provide you with cash which you’ll spend as if you were at home in Australia, Europe, or the USA. South Africa is not a budget destination but with a little work it can be visited relatively inexpensively.

Transportation:

If you are visiting only one or two places (such as Cape Town followed by a safari) then you’re probably fine flying between those destinations. If you want to spend several weeks taking in as much of the country as possible you’ll be best served by renting a car.  Independent travelers accustomed to using public transportation or the Baz Bus should be warned that neither represents good value and can be quite a bit more expensive than you’d expect. The only way the Baz Bus really makes sense is if you plan to spend a tremendous amount of time on the Garden route.

Planning:

Take a look at the below list of places and activities and take a peak at what suits you best. If you are going to be driving the country it is probably best to make a loop of some kind. If Cape Town and the Garden Route are your thing then maybe stretch your trip from Cape Town through Addo Elephant Park. If you prefer to see the different indigenous cultures you might enjoy a loop from Johannesburg to Swaziland, Lesotho, and the Wild Coast. Of course, you can do it all. If you have the time, go for it all, but be sure to seek out free copies of the “Coast to Coast” and the “Alternative Guide”, local accommodation guidebooks published for backpackers and independent travelers. Both can be a tremendous help when you find yourself in a small “dorp”. Although shorter than “Coast to Coast”, we preferred the accommodation and other listings in Alternative guide.

The Safari:

If you’re going to South Africa for a safari, you should probably consider doing it yourself, in your own rental car. Be sure to read our Safari Guide which has some valuable tips on making the most of your DIY safari. Whatever you do though, be sure to relax and enjoy it and not spend every waking moment driving for animals.

Highlights:

4625436338 1d78b43cd9 Country Guide: South AfricaCape Town: A wonderful city to pass a week. Hike up and over Table Mountain (about 8 hours round trip depending on your route) from the beautiful gardens of Kristenbasch. Take a multiday wine tour through Stellenbosch and top that off with a nice Cape Malay meal at the waterfront so long as you don’t forget to make a visit to the the Cape Point.

Johannesburg: There are a ton of people here and so there is a ton to do. In town we highly recommend the World of Beer as a relaxing afternoon. The Apartheid Museum is another can’t miss if you’re planning to do anything in South Africa beyond game viewing. Do be sure to take in some sports while in town (or in Durban or Cape Town) such as Cricket or Rugby!
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The Garden Route:  South Africans rave about the Garden Route as one of the must see’s of their country. The entire route, stretching along the Indian coast from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town IS stunning, but it is just that. If you’re interested in spending some time relaxing on the coast this is the place to do it, but don’t feel a need to push yourself to visit each and every place along the route…that’s not the point of the Garden Route. Some quick notes as you head east from Cape Town.:

If flying in, you’ll probably start at Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, or George, but you should plan to drive it yourself, do not visit the route as part of a tour.

If you’re into checking places off your life list then be sure to go to where the two oceans actually meet, Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa.

A can’t miss day will taking a ride on an ostrich and then the adventure tour at the Cangoo Caves, both easily reached from George

Activies abound, souch as paragliding and bunjee jumping as well as enjoying the crash of the waves and the hiking trails of the Tsitsikamma National Park.

If you want to tack some game viewing onto a tour of the Garden Route, then Addo Elephant National Park is probably your best bet.

Lesotho:  If you’re looking for a more traditional African experience, Lesotho is a must on your list. You’ll need a good roadmap. Drive into the Malealea Lodge, park your car, and just stay there. The lodge has camping and nicer rooms available. You will have a good experience.  Go for a hike and enjoy.

4388547688 c218a93d83 Country Guide: South AfricaSwaziland: The curios are cheaper, the rapids are bigger, and you can get closer to the animals if you choose. Best to just base yourself one place, the Milwane Nature Reserve is probably best as they have a range of accommodation and nearby attractions. You can do your main game viewing here as well but it will be a bit more expensive than doing it on your on in South Africa.

The Drakensburg Mountains: Plenty of hiking available here but only if you can drive in on your own, the campsites in the central district of the park, near the amphitheater, are quite nice. If you are sticking to the Baz Bus route than the Sani Lodge will be your best bet. Unless you’re going during a holiday season you shouldn’t need a reservation.

The Wild Coast: Difficult to get to but if you’re willing to spend the time here, probably worth it. Don’t go just for the sake of saying you’ve been there, go if you’re willing to spend a week soaking up the wilderness of it all.

Blyde River Canyon: A nice, peaceful, and scenic area just west of Kruger National Park. After a few days in the safari vehicle this is a nice place to come and go for a hike or a bike ride. Plenty of B&B’s in the neighborhood, just choose one and relax.

Foodie Friday: Chapati

Seems the Israelites fleeing Egypt weren’t the only ones eaten unleavened bread. Chapati, as its spelled here, is ubiquitous throughout East Africa, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of stews, salads and meals. A flat bread made of flour, the chapati looks like an enlarged Mexican tortilla, or a blinz, or roti, or a pita or…well you get the picture.

4931595159 def8fae4dc Foodie Friday: Chapati

Not traditionally an African dish, chapati was most likely brought to East Africa by Indian Ocean traders and like so many things absorbed into the local culture. It’s most often served as a side dish to help you scoop up the rice and stew (cutlery is not traditionally used here), chapati is rather bland itself. Just flour, water/oil and salt, it’s fried on a skillet and served fresh on street corners all over Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. We’ve seen it made into southeast asian flavored pizzas, rolled with seafood and served almost like a burrito, stuffed with salads and beans, as a snack with some sweet chai and well you get the picture.

Here’s an easy to make chapati recipe from Kenya Recipes, let us know how it turns out!

Ingredients:

2 cups of Flour

1 teaspoon salt

Water

Serves 4

Sift the flour and the salt into a mixing bowl. Add some water to make a fairly stiff dough, moistening your hands frequently to ease off the bowl. Shape dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it stand for at least ½ hour. Divide dough into 4 or 5 balls and roll each out into a flat, round disk. Heat a large creased griddle or frying pan over medium until it is hot. Cook each chapati until golden; when you see tiny bubbles it’s time to turn them over. It should take about a minute for each chapati. Press them down with a wide pancake turner or a clean towel to cook evenly. Serve hot.

Why it is good to be King…

Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and trust me it’s good to be King. A beautiful mountainous country, the Swazi people are incredibly friendly and good hearted. A small nation (smaller than Kruger National Park), Swaziland is famous for its cultural heritage…or perhaps specifically for the Umhlanga (Reed) Dance. It would be great to travel around the world from festival to festival, and I think there’s even a guidebook dedicated to festivals around the world, but alas traveling long term we don’t have the money to pick up and go every time a place has a special occasion. The Umhlanga Dance however I think might be different, at least for our male readers. As I said before, its good to be king.

Traditionally Swaziland is a polygamous society, and although the country has modernized in many ways, polygamy is not uncommon in Swaziland today. So who benefits the most from this tradition? Well, the King of course. He currently has 14 wives. Yes, 14. Every August the king has the opportunity to choose another wife at the Umhlanga Dance, where virgins dance bare breasted in front of the Ndovukazi (Queen Mother) and of course, the King.  Hundreds perhaps thousands of young ladies. Although he doesn’t have to choose a wife every year, a virgin chosen cannot refuse the honor. Tradition dictates that the chosen women must bare the King a child before they are officially married, proving that they are fertile. So like I said, it’s good to be King.

Every shop, stall and restaurant in Swazi it has a portrait of the King in traditional Swazi dress. Sort of like having a portrait of the President up in government offices, although the King wears brightly colored textiles and arm bands. I’d love to see an official Presidential portrait in that garb. Although Swaziland is still an absolute monarchy, the rumbles of democracy increase every year. A few years ago the King purchased a brand new airplane to go along with this three limousines. It’s good to be King, but its not good to flaunt it when your countrymen are starving from drought. With actions like this, it probably won’t be long before the mounting internal pressure forces the king to abdicate some of his power. Although, I doubt he’ll give up the Umhlanga Dance.

When Animals Attack…

After our elephant experience in Kruger safety around animals has been on my mind, so when I saw an article in a nature magazine entitled “animal safety” I flipped to the article. The advice was basically this: hippo, rhino, elephant, lion- stay away and if you can’t stay away get away quickly and quietly before it notices you. Well that’s helpful. With no specific advice to follow, I crawled in our tent each night planning what I would do if say a hippo disturbed us in the night. Swaziland flag 300 When Animals Attack…Hippos it seems kill the most number of people every year in Africa, so when I heard the hippos calling to each other at night in Mlilwane Nature Reserve in Swaziland I was a little anxious. The campground was surrounded by a fence, but when your mind wanders, well it can really get going and the first night I dreampt we were trampled by hippos in the night. Awaking in a cold sweat I was thankful to see only monkeys in the morning light. Until my thoughts turned to other recent warnings about monkeys taking off with stuff… like our sandals which lay not more than 6 inches from me outside the tent. Quietly I pulled them into the tent and fell asleep.

Five days hiking in Malolotja Nature Reserve, climbing execution rock in Mlilwane, and surviving four nights camping in the Swazi bush without an animal attack, that’s our time in Swaziland in a nutshell. Packing up our car at dusk I rummaged through the trunk looking for passports when I heard a rustling noise beside me. Searching quickly for the source, I was confronted by a male ostrich not more than 10 feet away. Having seen him by the swimming pool earlier that day, I figured I could shoo him away without a problem. Waving my arms and screaming shoo shoo, I looked like a lunatic, and the ostrich treated me as one. Looking at me with his head cocked to the side, the ostrich wasn’t even bashful about stepping closer. With visions of being cut open head to toe by an ostrich nail (have you seen the size of their feet) and warnings of their nasty temperament ringing in my head, I dropped everything and ran into the car, locking the doors. With the hatchback still open I continued my shooing from inside the car, a bit braver this time. Without so much as a glance in my direction, the ostrich began pecking at things I had left scattered on the ground. Unable to see him, only hearing him peck at our wordly possessions in the back, I resolved to get him away before he destroyed something. Truly, my thoughts ran to the clif bars, which I knew were left on the ground. Not knowing what else to do I honked the horn, which made absolutely no positive impact on the ostrich. Instead he began to rustle things in the back. So I turned on the vehicle and reved the engine. Again, he poked his head from the trunk and looked at me, practically daring me to continue my nonsensical actions. Finally I leaned out of the passengers seat of the car, waved my hands and screamed as loud as I could at the monsterous beast. From the lodge area a game warden, finally noticing my situation came running waving his arms and shooing the ostrich out the fence. Safe at last I climbed out of the car, thanked the warden profusely who was laughing with (or more likely at) me and headed back into the lodge.

Barely looking up from his book Danny asked me where I had been… needless to say that night as I crawled into the tent I wasn’t so worried about the hippo attack… I was dreaming of the ostrich sausage we grilled in Kruger…hmmm….karmic payback.