With East Africa behind us, we were on to the next stage of our adventure; South Africa. Being a country I had always wanted to visit, I was extremely excited.
The flight from Botswana only took a couple hours and before we knew it we had landed in Johannesburg. We spent a couple nights at a back packers on the suburbs of the city with 3 other of the guys from the truck who were flying out of Johannesburg the following day. We spent the the first day and evening just relaxing and taking a walk around the local area before saying our goodbyes to Luke, Juliana and John.
We were only planning on spending a couple days in Johannesburg as we only had 4 weeks to get to Cape Town so we spent our time in the city exploring a couple of areas we really wanted to visit, the first being the famous Apartheid Museum. The Museum was fantastic and a serious eye opener the history of South Africa. Although South Africa still has some way to go in some respects in my eyes, it is incredible how far the country has come. Its amazing to think that Apartheid only ended 18 years ago. The stories and pictures written on the walls of the museum were a jaw dropping insight into the history and conditions of apartheid. The museum was also putting on a temporary exhibition to Nelson Mandela which was fantastic. Mandela’s story is one I am really interested in, I probably spent more time reading that exhibit than the main museum!
Following the museum we took around the famous township of Soweto. We took a guided tour from a local girl who was fantastic. Charmaine was from and still lived in Soweto so was a perfect guide to show us around safely. Soweto was an incredible place. The massive and probably most famous township in Africa was dense with people and full of life and colour, a complete opposite from the city of Johannesburg. We wandered around the streets of the township while our guide gave us the history of Soweto. Despite not having studied at a school herself, she had taught herself everything she knew about South Africa’s history just from her own pursuit and thirst for knowledge. She was able to answer any questions we had which was brilliant. We walked and cycled around some of the oldest parts of the township through the narrow streets and alleys and also to some of the newer more developed parts. We also visited the areas of the township which had become famous for both the wrong and right reasons.
We visited the scenes from the Soweto uprising, where in 1976 thousands of students marched from their schools to the Orlando Stadium in protest of the introduction of Afrikaans as the main language in schools. The peaceful protest turned into a riot as the students found their route blocked by police. As the route changed the protest ended up near Orlando High School, it was there that the first shot was made by a police officer which caused havoc and chaos of people running and turning on police. Over 176 people were killed in the uprising. The first of which was Hector Pieterson who became a symbol of the uprising. Following the Orlando High School we visited the famous Vilakazi Street, famous for being the only street in the world to be the home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners; the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
Towards the end of the day our last trip was to a local BBQ/bar in Soweto which was a great way to end the day. It was the kind of place you wouldn’t find without a guide, and definitely not the type place you’d go without a local! We walked into the large outside seating area and almost everyone stopped and turned to look which was a nice welcome! Despite the slight hint of hostility as we entered it wasn’t long before people were chatting to us and drinking with us which was great. I can’t for the life of me remember what the place was called but I’d you ever find yourself stumbling around Soweto on a sunny Sunday afternoon ask around to see if you can find it.
The following day we left Johannesburg heading south to the country stopping for a couple nights in Drakensburg. Not knowing much about the area before we arrived, we were welcomed by some of the most incredibly scenery I have ever seen. Drakensburg is simply beautiful. The dramatic mountains roll into the lush green sweeping hills and endless plains. The foot hills to the mountains are full of colorful flowers in between the miles of cornfields and sunflowers. The clear skies and sunlight ensured the area was always drenched in breath taking colour and as the sun got lower during the day, the colours were only more exaggerated in the evening light. Certainly a sight for sore eyes. We stayed at the Amphitheatre Backpackers which was fantastic. As the only building within miles of anywhere we were certainly remote. The backpackers was amazing, it had lots of land surrounding all the rooms, camping area, bar and pool and was the perfect place to relax after a days hiking.
As we were only there for a short time we decided to do a full days hike to one of the waterfalls in the mountains. It was a fantastic climb up to the summit of the mountain and brought us back to our Kili days again! As we got to the top we walked over the roof of the mountain to the worlds second highest waterfall (in terms of altitude) which was stunning. As it was only the low water season we could walk right up to the edge of the falls and see the water fly down the mountain side. I could see for miles from the top, almost being able to see our backpackers too. The sight of all the neighboring mountains and hills was incredible, a perfect place to spend the day. We couldn’t spend all day up there unfortunately so we were in our way back down before we knew it which involved some seriously nervy descents. There were 2 very long chain ladders which we had to climb down in order to get to the bottom. The rusty chains hung over the side of the mountain and moved ever so slightly in the wind. Not being one who’s incredibly fond of heights this was quite the experience! In true African style there was no safety ropes so over the edge we all went, of course it wasn’t half as hard as I was expecting but quite a thrill going over the edge none the less.
Following our time in Drakensburg we started to make our way further south in search of the coast, it would be our first time seeing the sea since Zanzibar, inwas itching to get in the water again! We were headed to Durban were we would spend a few days exploring the city. Despite it heading towards winter, Durban usually always stays warm and sunny all year around so it was the perfect place to spend a few days in the sun. Durban was a great city and with lots to do and see. I spend quite a bit of time wondering around the city without a map, just going to all the different areas. Durban has the biggest Indian settlement outside of India so there was a heavy Indian influence of the culture of the city. The Victoria Street markets were full of Indian flavors and life which was great fun to walk through. I also found one of my new favorite dishes, it’s a South African come Indian specialty called Bunny Chow. It comprised of a half loaf of bread, hollowed out in the middle with a curry inside and it is phenomenal! It may sound simple but simple is the way to go with this, definitely a dish I’ll be taking home with me!
Durban wasn’t a massive city so it was quite easy to get around. I was recommended to use the People Mover Bus, a big green bus which goes on three different routes around the city. I did take this bus once trying to go on a short trip, however I ended up on the thing for an hour and a half, worst bus ever. I instead chose to use what the locals use. I’ve see it quite a lot throughout Africa but hadn’t used it until then. Basically the city was infested by thousands of small mini buses which I believe are owned independently. They all go to different places in the city for the same small price of R5 which is about 41p. They are small, rammed with people, loud and will get you anywhere in just minutes! After spending a will trying to work out they operate I jumped on one and before I knew it was wizzing through the city and a hundred miles per hour with the loudest gangster rap music I’ve ever heard blasting out of the speakers. The bus would stop every so often, provoking one chap to jump of and yell at everyone on the street to try and get them on his bus. He would shout his head off at everyone and hit the side of the bus a thousand times to ensure everyone knew he was there! Their organised chaos method of operating was crazy but none the less perfect. I would choose the crazy mini buses over the Council run People Mover or cabs any day of the week, not just for the cheap thrill but because of their hilarious way of doing things, it was actually quite inspirational to see it all actually work without a glitch.
My other big reason for getting to Durban was to get in the water for a surf which was great. Despite being very apprehensive about the shark situation in the bay, knowing that a surfer had been killed in Cape Town that week, I manned up and got involved anyway, it would be rude not to! I rented a board of a old school surfer guy at the surf life saving club and paddled out at New Pier. It was so nice to surf just in boardies and not a wet suit like at home. I had a few hours out in the waves before coming in and getting involved with some Bunny Chow!
Our next stop in South Africa was just along the coast in Coffee Bay. The small bay was blessed with an amazing beach right outside the hostel. The part of the coast is called The Wild Coast, the areas are very remote with hardly any towns along the shoreline. Along the hills are thousands of huts and small buildings which are the homes to the local people and farmers. Their bright colours really added some character to the green hillside. We did a short walk down through some of the beaches to some incredible caves in the cliffs. The walk to the caves was beautiful and provided some pretty hairy situation when dodging and guessing the waves to get past some of the cliffs, well worth it however.
After spending a few days in Coffee Bay we moved a little further down the coast to Chinsta. A stunning beach side settlement with sand which runs for miles, the beach was enormous. We stayed at Buccaneers Backpackers which was right on the beach again, it was fantastic with some superb views over the beach. We took a few walks down the beach and had a very relaxed few days. There were a lot of giant jellyfishes which had been washed up on the beach during a recent storm, a good enough reason to take a rain check on a swim at that point. During our time there we also met a local African drummer called Richard. Over the whole Africa trip we had seen some pretty awesome drumming, however Richard was a different gear altogether. He had made a career from his talent which had taken him all around the world to perform in big shows, including the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He did a little demo in the bar on our first night and I was absolutely blow away, he was incredible. The sound, beat and speed of the drumming was amazing and you couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the music. He even took everyone in the bar up to play along side him too which was lots of fun.
The big town of Port Elizabeth was to be our next stop. PE was a first big city since Durban and we timed it just perfectly. Situated right on the coast the port had a beautiful beach running the whole way along side it with many piers and board walks to stroll along. It kind of had a New England feel to the place. Our luck with timing proved to be once again pulling through as we arrived in time to see the Specsavers South African Iron Man event which was incredible. The whole city was talking about it with all the stands, marquees and course being set up for the event. In the days leading up to it, you could see many of the athletes warming up and getting in a last bit of preparation before the race on Sunday. The Iron Man event is one of the most physically challenging events on earth, its a triathlon for the super human. We were lucky enough to meet of the athletes on the pier just two days prior to the race. It was great talk to him about all his training and preparation and what I feels like to be an Iron Man. While we were talking to him we saw a Hammerhead shark swimming just beneath us below the pier right where the open water swim takes place, must have been quite nerve racking to see that! No long after seeing the hammerhead we took another look out to the swim course where some of the competitors were swimming and a massive pod of dolphins swam straight through the middle of them. The dolphins seemed to swim the course back and forth for ages after, must have been a sign of good luck! The race day it’s self was fantastic, the atmosphere was perfect and thousands of people came out to watch and cheer on the athletes. The race was incredibly inspirational, something I would love to do one day. Perhaps I should try just a marathon on its own first! I think the winner completed the race in 8 or 9 hours, exercising at full capacity for that long quite frankly baffles me, these guys are serious athletes!
Following a few days in PE our next stop was the one I was forward to almost more than any other, Jeffreys Bay. For anyone that doesn’t surf, Jeffrey’s Bay might not even appear on your radar! The Bay is one of the most famous and world ten owned surf sites in the world. The whole town is build upon one wave, it has put the small town on the map more than anything else. Once described as the most perfect wave in the world, Supertubes is an icon. The large right-hander breaks just off the beach and has been home to the ASP World Tour Billabong Pro for years. I’d seen this place so many times on TV and watched the event online so many times, it was great to see it in real life. Despite it not being absolutely clean during my time there it was still big and great fun to surf. I stayed stayed at Island Vibe Backpackers which had front seat on the beach. A bit further up from Supers there were still some great surf spots just outside my door. The hostel was great, full of people who had come from around the world to surf here, it had a fanatic atmosphere. I could have spent many more days even weeks at the Bay, somewhere I will one day return for sure!
The Craggs further down the coast was to be our next stop, really out in the sticks up in the hills above the coast, The Craggs was a beautiful place to spend a few days. We spent our few days at the magical Wild Spirt backpackers thanks to our two great hosts Steve an Alex. Wild Spirt was an amazing little place, hidden away from views in the woods the place was almost totally self sufficient. Everything here was made eco friendly and organically, right down to the swimming pool.The main bar/cafe area was build around a tree, with branches and leaves coming through. They even had some uninvited guests come occasionally via the tree in the form of large baboons, some hilarious stories Steve told us from that. The lodge was situated at the top of the a hill with stunning views of the rain forest below and the ocean in the background. We did a long walk one day, across the hills leading to an amazing view of the ocean, then town the hills and into an incredible rain forest. It was beautiful, full of life and the colours and size of some of the trees and vines seemed to go on forever. It felt as if we were the only ones in the whole forest. Eventually the forest came out onto the white sands and we walked all the way along the long beach, before heading back up the hills to Wild Spirt. It was a great place to stay, Alex and Steve were fantastic, thanks so much for everything. The fire dancing night was amazing, maybe I’ll give it a try one day!
We made a brief stopover in Knysna for a night and had a short wonder around the town before heading to our final stop in South Africa, Cape Town. We had heard so much about Cape Town so we gave it a few more days than we had spent in other towns and it did not disappoint. We were planning on meeting some of the guys we did the tour through East Africa with as the truck ended in Cape Town. As soon as we arrived in the city, we headed straight out and hunted them all down eventually finding them all in a bar on Long Street. It was brilliant to see them all again so we partied the night away a tad! The following day we got to know the city a bit more and strolled around as much of it as we could. Exploring the centre, the V&A waterfront and the amazing Table Mountain, which had brilliant views over the city. The next few days we tried to cram in as much as we could. One of the first things being a wine tour through some of South Africa’s famous winelands including the beautiful Stellenbosch. We went to 5 different vineyards trying a huge variety of different reds, whites, desert wines and champagnes. Not afraid to admit, I was the other side of sober by about 11am. It was a fantastic tour, we even had a little cheese tasting mixed in to spice things up. The guide said one of the white wines was like “two lesbian fairies making love on my tongue”, I thought that was hilarious!
The best thing we did in Cape Town however and perhaps the best thing I did in Africa we left till almost last. It took a little while for me to be convinced but I am so glad I was. Great White Shark Diving has changed by life! We left the city while it was still dark and headed to a small town south. We went out with a great shark team, who took us to a point about 20 minutes boat trip away called Shark Alley. When we got there they lowered the cage into the water and started to attempt to lure in the sharks with a dummy seal and chum. After about 20 minutes of waiting our first shark appeared. It was only a small one about 2 metres but the excitement began. Not long after a few bigger ones appear and we were told to jump in. There was one shark they told us about that was called Slash Fin, it was the biggest one in the area and measured about 4.5 metres! Its said that sharks can detect nervous passengers, be it fish or humans through their fast beating hearts in the water. Its these nervous passengers that sharks apparently tend to go for first, I didn’t think I was that nervous, what happened next proved otherwise! I was one of the last i the cage and there were about 5 sharks including Slash Fin swimming around. As soon as I got in i jumped underwater for my first look and there right in front of me was an enormous great white, it looked the size of a bus. They all swam past the cage at various points and you could see their eyes watching you as they floated by. After about 4 or 5 minutes of being in Slash Fin decided he liked me, headed straight towards me and started biting down repeatedly on the cage in front of me. No word of a lie, its huge nose and teeth were inside the cage no more than a foot away from my face. I have never been so scared and excited in all my life! It was incredible! I was almost frozen to the spot, I couldn’t have screamed if I wanted to! After it left, we all rose above the water, shouting and laughing, it was incredible! We were in the water for about 30-40 minutes, just watching all the sharks as they came by, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had since being away.
Our last day in Cape Town, we spent doing a tour of the peninsular. We went down to the Camps Bay and Simon’s Town to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. I love penguins so I couldn’t wait to see all that! They were amazing! Following that we went down to Cape Point and the most south westerly point of Africa the Cape Of Good Hope. Being at the bottom of Africa was a great way to end our time in South Africa, we had come so far from Nairobi, I cant believe it was almost over.
Before we knew it our time in Africa was at end. Nearly two and a half months had gone so fast, we have seen and done so much in such a short space of time. Africa was a million times better than I could have ever imagined. I will remember everywhere we have been on this trip, everywhere had something special about it, whether it be the different culture, the wildlife, the scenery and of course the amazingly friendly people, all of it makes Africa what it is.
Its hard to really sum up this place in just a few words, all I know is; I will be back.
‘While we’re living, don’t let the dreams we have as children fade away’