A trip to South Africa
A trip to South Africa is not just a trip, it is an experience with an accumulation of feelings, unforgettable moments and an introduction to the warm people that this country has. So I was delighted to hear early this year that there was finally a direct flight via AirBelgium from Brussels to South Africa. Then again, a warm feeling came over a month ago when I was asked to travel with this first flight to South Africa for a week of safaris, fun trips and (very) much South African wine. Doubting was not necessary. I made my suitcase and I left for a unique journey that I am happy to share with you.
After an 11-hour direct flight and a short layover at the hotel in Johannesburg, the first activity was already scheduled. A visit to Soweto, which is one of the largest and perhaps most famous townships in South Africa. Thus, nearly 1.2 million people live here spread over 200km². Unlike my 2019 township visit, we did this visit by bicycle. This not only allows you to see more but also makes you feel more secure than when walking. Confronting and a reality check it will always be and all the more so because of the passion and emotion the guide exudes. The numerous harrowing stories put your feet on the ground and humble you. It also gives you a good look at South Africa past and present. The perfect start to a trip in South Africa, if you ask me.
Day two scheduled the trip from Johannesburg to Pretoria with several stops along the way. The first stop was one in “The Mining Town of Cullinan.” A diamond mine where the largest diamond in the world comes from. We visited this mine on a Friday and let that be the very day you can’t go down into the mine. Going underground in the mine seems like a really special experience. Unfortunately, the overhead part is not. A good tip: Don’t plan your visit on a Friday. Those who want to see the largest diamond in the world will have to go to London since it is incorporated into the British Crown Jewels.
The next stop was one at the Freedom Park that commemorates all South Africans who died fighting apartheid. For example, there is an impressive wall with 75,000 names of people who died standing up for their own rights. This park, where you can also take beautiful walks, also has a beautiful view of Pretoria. This city of symbolic name used to be called the white city. Those who want to learn more about South Africa’s history should definitely put a stopover on their itinerary.
The last stop of the day and perfect to combine with Freedom Park are the Union Buildings and the 9-meter-tall statue of Nelson Mandela. This was the historic site of the 1994 inauguration of Nelson Mandela, then South Africa’s first democratically elected president. In addition to its rich history, here you also have a beautiful panoramic view of the city. A nice ending to a fun but busy day.
Admittedly, day three was the day I was most looking forward to in this trip to South Africa. Indeed, on the schedule was the first game drive scheduled. On our way to our lodge in the Pilansberg Game Reserve, we first made a stop at Magaliesberg where we took a cable elevator to the summit. On top of this mountain you can do some nice hikes where you have a beautiful panoramic view of the entire area. Those who are not so into hiking can also have a drink or dinner here and dream away in one of the cozy beanbags.
Pilansberg Game Reserve
After visiting Magaliesberg and a small stop at a local market, we continued on toward our lodge called Bakabung Buch Lodge in the Pilansberg Game Reserve. In the afternoon we already made our first game drive. A fantastic experience where we did not have to wait long for the first of The Big 5. After just a few minutes we spotted an elephant and later followed by another rhino, some antelopes and a group of giraffes. Tired but fulfilled and looking forward to the next few days, we enjoyed a traditional braai after the game drive, where we were even treated to performances of traditional South African music. An ending I can recommend to everyone.
Even more Safari
A total of four game drives were scheduled but it is especially the third game drive on day two that will stay with me forever. Indeed, at one point we were surrounded by a herd of elephants including some young elephants. In addition to our collective admiration, there was some tension. For as beautiful and impressive as these animals are up close, you don’t want to make the wrong move that makes them feel threatened. It makes you realize how small we are and how beautiful nature can be!
Admittedly, the experience of your safari or game drive is greatly determined by your ranger. And the ranger we were given in the Pilansberg Reserve was the perfect man in the perfect place. Because in addition to the unique experience with the elephants, he also took us to a hunting lion and a hunting leopard. Both very unique experiences as these animals are not hunting all day and it is rather exceptional to be allowed to be a spectator of this.
Off to Cape Town
After two fantastic days and a morning game drive, our transfer (plane) to Cape Town was scheduled. A city I fell in love with on my visit in 2019. A city that in my opinion also has everything thanks to its beautiful nature, its gastronomy and especially its excellent wine. Moreover, the city has a range of activities to offer including Table Mountain, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, as the absolute highlight. So the first activity in Cape Town was a visit to this wonder of the world. The mountain’s distinctive flat top makes it ideal for hiking for any type of traveler. The view there is phenomenal! Those looking for an active challenge can climb this mountain on foot. However, we chose the comfortable alternative of the cable elevator.
After this beautiful piece of nature and a stop at the colorful houses of Bo-Kaap, we continued on to Waterfront. Which can pretty much be called the beating heart of this city. You’ll find a shopping center, a food market, an art market and lots of restaurants, among other things. For lunch we made a stop at The Silo, which can without a doubt be called the finest hotel in Cape Town. In 2019, we did not venture out to eat here. Pity! Because this hotel’s restaurant is affordable and delicious. Although La Parada and Het Anker, where they serve Belgian food, are also highly recommended. Moreover, from Waterfront you can also book a helicopter ride, which for me is one of the best memories I have of this city.
Cape Point Nature Park
The last full day in South Africa would not be the least with another well-rounded schedule along the Cape Town coastline. With stops at beautiful Camps Bay, where you’ll find Cape Town’s largest and longest stretch of beach, and Hout Bay. Although these were only small stopovers compared to the visit to Cape Point Nature Reserve. Indeed, this national park not only features Africa’s most southwestern point, it also boasts some stunning cliffs, viewpoints and even wild life. So we recommend everyone to take the hike from the top of the park down to where you can find the iconic sign of “Africa’s Most Southwestern Point.” Despite being a national park, and thus protected, you can visit the park with your own car. So booking a tour is not necessary. Be aware that on the way to this nature reserve you will have to face a lot of baboons. So keep windows and doors of your car closed.
On the drive back from Cape Point, we made another stop at Boulders Beach where you can admire South Africa’s penguins. In my opinion a little too touristy but one of those you ‘ve got to have seen on your first visit to South Africa. Moreover, the revenues are put to good use in protecting these animals. Those who want to see penguins with fewer tourists can also always drive part of the Garden Route and stop at one of the beaches you encounter along the way. Penguins also live here. Although, of course, there is always the chance that you might just miss them.
All good songs come to an end and, unfortunately, so does this South African adventure. But not before we paid another visit to Stellenbosch. As a true wine lover, this should be one of your bucket list destinations. Stellenbosch is known far beyond South Africa for its excellent wineries and the famous little train where you pass some vineyards while enjoying a nice glass of wine. Although Stellenbosch is more than just a wine-tasting region. It is also a real student town and a city where you can have a pleasant stroll among the charming stores and authentic houses. For example, we did a tour with a local guide who showed us all the beautiful spots. Highly recommended and a great ending to a fantastic trip in South Africa.
A trip in South Africa
South Africa never disappoints. I return home with a suitcase full of warm memories, unique experiences, fine encounters and a whole lot of love for this country. And I already know that this will not be my last trip to South Africa. AirBelgium’s direct flight now makes it even easier to travel there.
Those looking to make their own trip to South Africa can always consult our free guide or take a look at the Tourism South Africa website. In addition, keep a close eye on our blog because in the spring of 2023 we will have big news regarding South Africa.