Blyde River Canyon
We landed in Johannesburg and tool the rental car we booked then we drove straight to Blyde River Canyon mountains located northeast of Johannesburg. We did not really want to stay in Jobourg and preferred to maximize our outdoor time! We settled down for 2 days in the city of Graskop, ideal to discover the surroundings!
Here we did hiking and we went to many view points! The Blyde River Canyon is the 3 largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the USA and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Below some pictures of these beautiful landscapes.
Graskop is also the good base for to get closer to Kruger National Park which will be our next stop!
5 days at Kruger National Park
It is I think the most famous park in South Africa and for good reasons! The Kruger Park stretches over 19 500 sq km and is more than 260 km from North to South and 60km from West to East. This was the 1st National Park of South Africa created in 1926. It's really easy to get around Kruger thanks to a network of important tar roads and relatively well maintained tracks. We did not have a large 4 * 4 but a very small Kia Picanto and it was not a problem at all! There are of course tracks accessible to XNUMXWD vehicles only but even with a classic car there is plenty to explore!
Entrance fees to the park for international visitors are 23 € per day per person. Knowing that we will visit several national parks in South Africa but also in Swaziland we have opted for the Wild Card which includes the entrance fees of many parks and which in the end is less expensive than paying each entry individually.
On the accomodation side, being in the middle of the Easter weekend, the availability of sleeping in the SAN Camps within Kruger is really limited as we booked a bit late. We only spent one night in the park at Olifant Camp. It was nice but expensive for the quality of the accommodation. There are very good and cheap accommodations just outside the park near the main gates.
So what have we seen? Aaaaanimals !!!! The first animal we saw after entering the park was a giraffe! We were super excited!
Throughout the 5 days we could observe many elephants, giraffes of course, but also wildebeest, impala, zebra. We saw 2 hyenas, crocodiles, hippos and monkeys! We also had the chance to see 2 lions in the tall grass having a good nap surrounded by 15 cars! It's a bit of a problem with the rare animals! They attract a crowd of people which stay a long time to observe them so often when there is a crowd we couldn't see what's happenning! The last day, surprise! Before leaving the park we could see a rhinoceros with his cub XNUMXm from where we were. Rhinos are more than rare and their number is kept secret because of poaching.
Stop in Swaziland!
The Kingdom of Swaziland (Eswatini) is a small landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique and has 1.5 million inhabitants. We have made it a step because it was much faster to go through this country than to get around it to our next South African stop! In addition one of our previous host strongly recommended us to visit the Nature Reserve of Milwane!
So we entered Swaziland with our racing car, still the Kia Picanto! The roads are really not good as there are huge potholes everywhere! But ... the landscapes are beautiful! High green mountains, tropical forests! We stop for a short walk and discover the waterfalls of Phophonyane in the north of the country. a Nice stop! It was not too hot up there in the montains so the hike was very pleasant.
Then we continue our journey and stop 20 nights in the south of the capital : Mbabane just XNUMXminutes drive from the Nature reserve of Milwane.
We also took the opportunity during this 14 days to visit a traditional village that allows us to understand a little better the local culture. You must know that the president of Swaziland has 35 wifes and XNUMX children, so there is a gap with our Westerners habits.
The reserve of Milwane as for it is really very nice as you can visit it on foot, no more game drive !! Here no lions or elephants but zebras, antelopes and lots of birds! You can go mountain biking, horseback riding or just hiking and that's what we did! It's good to get out of the car after 5 days at Kruger Park!
We also visited a glassblowing factory ! Sadly we couldn't bring back some of their art in our backpacks!
After these few days in Swaziland it's time to go back in South Africa and visit the Drakensberg!
The Drakensberg is the ideal place for hiking. It is a huge mountain range with high plateau and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We begin our visit with the central part of Monk's Cowl Park in Champagne Valley.
On our way we had spotted an excellent Steak-House restaurant, which is good because it is here that we will spend the birthday evening of Thomas!
Our first hike will be 12kms: Blind man's corner took us on steep paths, small paths with tall grass along it. We also crossed lot of water streams where you can fill your bottle of water! Splendid!
The next day, the legs are a bit numb but we went back to the trails head and this time it will be a smaller hike of 9kms to go to Nandi's falls. It's more or less the same landscapes so it's just spectacular! Arriving at the waterfall and after a bit of climbing after the trail end we find ourselves behind the waterfall! It was a magic moment!
We drove south of the Drakensberg for a stop of 2 days in Underberg. We found there a beautiful cottage in the middle of the plains with breathtaking views of the mountains! We will also do a nice hike in the Drakensberg Gardens section of the National Park! 7kms only but with several river crossings, tall grass, and baboons! A great experience!
The rest of our journey takes us to Addo Elephants Park.
Addo Elephants Park
We had near 9h drive to Addo from Underberg! It was long but feasible by taking shifts! So I had to do more than to be co-pilot this time! and I still love driving so much! No revelations on this side!
We booked a room at a hotel near the entrance to Addo Park. Nice room in a small Rondavel (traditional habitat).
Addo's park is much smaller than Kruger's but also has some great game drives. The 1er day we did the northern part only. No need here again for 4 * 4 even though there are fewer sections of paved roads than in Kruger.
The park has about 600 elephants! We have obviously seen our friends elephants, zebras, kudu, ostriches, buffaloes, but also Pumba the warthog! We have seen many of them from every angle! Front, profile, back! A revelation on this funny animal which is just a pic !
The 2th day we visited the southern part of the park. For our greatest joy we met 2lions near a water hole! A male and a female to be precise! We could see them moving quietly, crossing the road. Rare to see actives lions!
This 2th day was rich in emotions! On our way we meet a family of elephants. 2 adult and 2 small individuals. One of the female adults started to show signs of nervousness towards the cars that were around and was heading towards our tiny little Kia Picanto scratching the floor with her legs and staring at us! We shitted in our pants and drove backward as the elephant moved forward to keep our distance ! No incident and the Picanto was in one piece!
It's time to leave Addo and drive along the coast to our next destination: Knysna.
We followed the Garden Route and make a stop at Storm River mouth to stretch our legs and take a breath of fresh air! There is a beautiful suspension bridge over the raging ocean and it's really beautiful! Then we reach Knysna which is a seaside resort well appreciated by South Africans and to tell the truth we did not do much! We had a great apartment in a beautiful property and so we felt like home during those 4 days! Our next stop is the Cape Town are and particulary it's Wine Region!
We chose to visit in Franschhoek rather than Stellenbosch ! Mostly because we are french. It's a nice little village surrounded by high mountains, vineyards, restaurants, delicatessens! And oh surprise the Reblochon cheese reappeared !!!! We had no oven but we still bought it in an advance planning of visit in our apartment homestay in Cape Town!
The main attraction of Franschhoek is of course the vineyards and the many wine tastings rooms! To make this marathon we opted in for the wine tram! It is a route by bus and rail tram that stops in several areas defined according to the chosen line. The bus passes every half hour so once the tasting is over you take the bus and go to the next winery! Needless to say that it was a long day with nearly 6 wineries visited and at least thirty wines tasted!
After a hangover, it's time to go to the big city of Cape Town for 6days! A world record for us who always move faster! But we had to plan the rest of our trip in southern Africa...
We rented a beautiful fully equipped apartment right in the center of the CBD and few steps way from Table Mountain National Park!
For our 1st day we chose to go to the mythical Cape of Good Hope! It is approximately 2hours from Cape Town. The roads to get there is really scenic : Chapmans Peak Drive! It slalom literally in the mountains and offers truly splendid views of the ocean! Yes, it's a toll road but it's worth it! On the way after that we stoped at Boulder Beach and its incredible colony of Penguins. It is a protected area dedicated to the reproduction of these small animals! You see them very closely and above all we smell them ( really really bad smell ) ! When we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope there was lot of people but not much on the path to climb it! The view is amazing from the top!
Back to our apartment it's Tartiflette time, with the cheese we bought in Franschoek!
The next day we climbed the rock "Lion's Head" just in front of Table Mountain! The first part of the hike is steep but the path is easy so it's quite comfortable. The second part is more climbing than hiking! Big rocks, ropes, staples and ladders for some part of it, better not to be slowly! But again when you reach the top, what a reward!
The rest of our stay will be mainly dedicated to the organization of our trip in Namibia and Botswana. We did not book the campsites and in some places the availability was already limited especially there are very few offers on Booking.com or Expedia, those countries are not well connected to the web! So you have to book directly with sometimes governement institutions ( for national parks ) and you have manage the payments in Namibian dollars or Botswanian Pula. In short it was intense and finally 3 full days were necessary! We still spend some afternoon and evening in nice neighborhoods like Bo-Kaap or Waterfront to really enjoy Cape Town fully.
Finally came the day! We are ready to retrieve our 4 * 4 Camper and hit the road on arid and rough tracks! The adventure! We had planned a stop not far from Citrusdal in the middle of orange plantations before going to Augrabies National Park at 7h from road! And fortunately ! On the road to get to our campsite we heared a loud noise but we did not notice anything broken! It is only after several kilometers other drivers waved at us to show that the roof of our camper is raised abnormally! Actually one of the lock to keep it closed was broken and so we will have to call the rental company for a repair! This is only the 1st problem of a long series with our clanker
and it deserves a specific blog post! With 1 day off schedule, we finally arrived at Augrabies National Park.
Augrabies National Park
We will spend only one night but we could admire the beautiful and very powerful waterfalls. We had a campsite inside the park, which allowed us to visit the falls at night when the park is closed to visitors who do not spend the night. We had for companions during this evening monkeys who roam around the camp hoping to steal some food. There was a lot of hiking to do in the park but as we stayed only one night, we didn't do any hiking .
Our last stop in South Africa will be the Kgalagadi transfrontier park in the Kalahari Desert.
The Kgalagadi transfrontier park
This park has the distinction of having one side in South Africa, and another one in Botswana. It is thus possible to enter by the gate located in South Africa and to leave by the one in Botswana, after completing the immigration formalities within the park itself. For us, our entries and exits will be only on the South African side. We had a great campsite at 5 minutes from the park gate, with our private bath and toilet! The luxury!
The park is located in the Kalahari Desert. To reach the park we drove 250km including a long straight of 100km limited to 250km / h! We barely saw 3 cars and as many homes! The desert!
The roads within the park are far from what we had in Addo or Kruger and a 4WD vehicle is highly recommended! Sand, bumpy tracks, red sand dunes, deserted and dry plains, it was really different from what we have seen so far. We found our favorite animals like giraffes and zebras. We also had the chance to see a young leopard taking a nap in a tree without having 4 cars around and also 15 lions mating! Happiness ! Best of all, we were the first to spot 2 lionesses lying in the dunes! Great moments!
The scenery is really beautiful in this park, and although we saw less animals than Kruger for example, it was very nice to have fewer people during our game drives! The sand tracks made this experience also unique!
Our South African journey already ends and after 1 months on the road it is time to continue our adventure in Namibia.
Review of South Africa
- National parks, even the most remote as the Khalahari, are still more easily accessible than the parks of Botswana. Kruger number 1.
- The Drakensberg, an amazing place for hiking.
- Food and wine! The braï, the local barbecue is everywhere!
- The recent history of the country (apartheid) and the resulting legacy make integration and communication with locals (non-white) more difficult for us. It changes a lot from what we experienced in Asia.
- The organization, it is difficult to go backpacking and to change plans on site (except in some areas). Africa in general requires ia minimum of planning, little public transport, security problem in some neighborhoods of big cities, great distances ...
- A lot of wine, the districts around Cape Town, produce a lot of wine: Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl, to name just three. There is of course beer, we could taste the Castle in particular. Our taste buds preferring wine, we were able to discover new variety that we had not tasted before as Pinotage, the grape variety king in South Africa.
We initially planned to spend 25 days in South Africa and we ended up staying 35 days there! Our daily budget was 110 EUR per day for 2 people, this one is largely attainable if you are not too concerned about the comfort of the accommodation. The food is cheap, even in restaurants (10-12 EUR for a super diner for example). If we include all our expenses we have a total of 4400 EUR for 35 days, ie 127 EUR per day. What happened then? For our two car rentals / 4 × 4, and having worked for 10 years in the car rental, we preferred to take the all inclusive insurance at the counter to guarantee us zero worries, an addition of 380 EUR on the expenses from South Africa. Without this addition, we are at 170 EUR budget on the total expenses, which can easily be explained by many bottles of wine and amazing food ....