South Africa; a country of contrasts

Going on a safari was a big dream for me. Spending a ridiculous amount of money to see some animals sounded crazy, so I wanted to combine a safari with a nice city-trip, a cultural experience and preferably interesting nature. So I went to South Africa in October 2007…

Turkish Airlines had a nice offer as a relatively new airline and I booked a ticket to Johannesburg with a return from Cape Town, which was ideal for the trip I had planned. I arrived in Joburg, as locals seem to call this huge city, and was picked up by the safari ranger who took me immediately to Kruger Park. I was the only guest, regardless of the fact that I had booked a four-day group safari. During the five hour ride from Joburg to the entrance of the park, it soon became clear the ranger was not too keen on his black countrymen. In fact, the man turned out to be a serious racist. Adding the fact that he was not kind either and weighted around 200 kilo’s, the man was scary. There I was, on my own together with ‘my ranger’…

I arrived in Kruger Park in the middle of the day. It was around 35 to 40 degrees Celcius. Sounds of the animals were impressive and driving around was fun. You’re constantly looking around trying to spot something. Once you start to think it won’t happen, suddenly an animal pops up. Buffalo’s, elephants and impala’s are abundant in Kruger. After a while you only want to see the big cats, or at least I did.

During my stay in the park I slept in the typical ‘rondavels’ which is the South African equivalent of a cabin. Each cabin had its own barbecue or ‘braai’ as people in South Africa call it. I stayed at Pretoriuskop most nights and from there we took off for some long gamedrives. My guide was able to create a terrible atmosphere in the jeep so I had to focus on the animals to enjoy my day. We spotted a black mamba, a hyena, some lions and in the end one cheetah. While the others were pretty close to the car, the cheetah had to be spotted with binoculars. I can recommend a safari to Kruger Park to anyone, just make sure not to book with in order to avoid the scary guides…

After the safari I got dropped off at the African Lodge which is situated in Sandton, one of the ‘better’ suburbs of Johannesburg. I was a bit frightened of the city because of all the stories I had heard. Of course you mostly hear the terrible stories as they have great results on birthday parties etc. but stories regarding Joburg were about kidnappings and shootings a bit too often. That’s why I chose to stay in a comfortable lodge outside the center of town. From there I went to De Wildt Cheetah Centre to see my favourite animal. The Center was informative and I say some wild cats, some cheetah and even some wild dogs. Regardless of the misleading names, all of them were helt in captivity of course.

As a big fan of trains I wanted to use this mode of transportation to get to Cape Town. I had booked a spot on the Premier Classe, a luxury train who had promotional fares. The trainstation in Joburg was maybe the scariest part of the whole trip. Even though I felt like 1000 people were watching me, I made my way to the lounge and jumped on the train. I had a comfortable 24-hour journey with some great food on board.

The next days I explored Cape Town. I was struck by the diversity and immense beauty of the city. Colourful houses, Table mountain, coastal areas, a botanical garden, it just kept on going. It was fun to see the Dutch names on the signs everywhere. Guides informed me about the history of the city and country in general. As a Dutchman it’s something not to be to proud of…

Kirstenbosch, the botanical gardens, are really worth a visit. I’m not a specific fan of flowers but I really enjoyed walking around for a couple of hours. From there the road back to the center of town is spectacular. Downtown, Table mountain and the V&A Waterfront are the main attractions. Both really great although they can get busy. Visiting Table mountain is great in combination with a visit to Cape of Good Hope the day before or the next day. From the top of Table mountain you have a good idea of the geography as you can see the whole route towards the Cape of Good Hope…

Besides some great sights Cape Town also offers a superb and varied cuisine. Because of its multicultural roots, the restaurants offer food from most corners of the planet. From big steaks at Nelson’s Eye to local food at Mama Africa to Indian cuisine at Bukhara. Last-mentioned was recommended by some English people I had met. If you’re looking for some fine Indian food, don’t look any further!

East of Cape Town, in the not surprisingly called Eastern Cape, one can find the famous Garden Route. South Africa is divided in two parts in terms of climate. The area from Cape Town to the West is mainly rainy from May to September and dry in the other months whereas the surroundings of Joburg show the opposite. As we all know a garden needs water and because the stretch of land East of Cape Town is the only area that receives rainfull all year round, it’s called the Garden Route. It’s green, beautiful and diverse. You can find wildlife, caves, desert landscapes, wild rivers and much more all within a couple of hours drive.

I went on a five-days backpacker tour. The first day was spent at the Garden Route Game Lodge. It’s a small private game park and therefore not too exciting in terms of wildlife. They won’t put all the animals together because they’re afraid their capital is eaten by the predators. That’s not the best business case… The lodge however is great. Nice cabins and great food make the stay very pleasant.

Day two to five were spent in Oudtshoorn, Wilderness, Knysna, Tsitsikamma and Hermanus. Oudtshoorn is famous for its caves, the Cango Caves, and the Cango Wildlife Range. In the caves one can see beautiful formations with its stalagmites and stalcactites. The Range is known for close encounters with some special animals. Encounters with snakes, crocodiles and cheetahs are all possible. For me a close encounter with a cheetah would be a dream come true. When I was there, they had four newly borns which made it extra special. The encounter with the adult was simply amazing. Feeling the skin and hearing the sounds it produces made big impact.

In Wilderness I had a nice canoe adventure. Even though the weather was terrible, the surroundings were still able to impress me. On the way back to Cape Town we stopped in Hermanus. I had seen some art in Knysna which was made by an artist living in Hermanus. Together with another person on the tour, I treated the man on a visit. He had many paintings in his house, all for sale. I left with two paintings as a reminder of the trip. From Hermanus we also went for a shark cage dive. Scared as hell under water, I was not too keen on this adventure. I had to see the Great White shark though and so I went onto the ocean. After spreading my lunch into the Atlantic Ocean, I got under water. Of course I panicked the first three attempts. Trying to control my breath, I went for a fourth time and luckily a fiv-meter giant passed my cage. Woohoo, excited I jumped out of the cage. Mission accomplished!


Click here to see more pictures of my trip to South Africa!

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