Saturday, April 21, 2012

South Africa - Top 10 Destinations

South Africa - Top Destinations

In 2010 I traveled all over South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland with my brother. The main focus of the trip was to see the World Cup, but having traveled all that way, and spending all that money, we decided to spend nearly 2 months really getting a feel for life in Africa.

I expected I would enjoy it, but it is indescribable how much I loved it. I really can’t wait to go back. Seeing animals in the wild that I would otherwise only see in a zoo was amazing. Lions, monkeys, great white sharks, elephants, hippos, giraffes, and thousands of impala, zebra, kudu, rhinos, and wildebeests just to name a few.

Below are some of the highlights, including the World Cup games. We saw 6 in total, and some of which were the best games of the tournament, Germany vs. England in the quarterfinals. Uruguay vs. Ghana - the game with the missed penalty kick at the end, and Uruguay eventually winning in a shootout. England vs. the USA. Brazil vs. the Ivory Coast. Slovenia vs. the Netherlands and Denmark vs. Netherlands. All the games were amazing, the stadiums were awesome, and the atmosphere was great. Of course the vuvuzela’s weren’t so great, but it was much worse on tv then it was at the actual stadium.
I think the best things we saw and did were as follows:

1. Overnight camping in Hluwe-Hluwe National Park - it was a multi-day camping trip that involved seeing hundreds of animal within yards - no fence. The first night our camp was surrounded by at minimum 2 elephants. The guides made us sit in silence for an hour while they stood guard with their rifles just in case. The same night we heard hyenas very near by and a leopard visited our camp in the night while we slept, although we could hear him. That was just the first day. Awesome, and I’d love to do it again but for much longer.

2. Great White Shark dive in Gansbaii. Much like the camping trip this was awesome. The water was freezing, like very freezing. But to see a great white shark come crashing into the cage while you are in it is so cool. I can’t explain the feeling. I guess it’s like riding a roller coaster. Butterflies in your stomach, while you are freezing. But you pay so much and only get so much time that you are willing to suffer through it. If I lived in Gansbaii I would do a shark dive everyday. I don’t think I would ever get tired of seeing these magnificent animals. If you ever watch shark week when they are in South Africa that is Gansbaii, Seal Island to be exact. And I have even seen episodes where our captain was on Shark Week. Pretty neat.

3. Kruger National Park - it’s pretty self explanatory that if you visit South Africa that you must go to Kruger. It has one of the largest concentrations of animals in the world. There are many day hikes, night hikes, jeep rides, etc. that you can do. We did the morning hike, since that was supposed to be one of the best times to see the animals. We saw a rhino relatively close, may 75-100 yards away, which was pretty cool. Again the guide on this trip had to bring out the rifle just in case. We saw some other animals and just the realization that an animal could pounce on you or another member of the group at anytime was pretty cool. We also did a night drive. This was really cool, we saw a couple of lions and many other animals, but it was much harder to see anything unless it was near the road. I would still recommend it though since you can’t drive around in the park after dark in your own car.

4. Capetown - it’s a really cool city and much different than the rest of South Africa. It’s very westernized, and seemed very safe. Table Mountain is awesome. You can take a cable car up it if you want, but that costs money and isn’t as cool. Instead, I recommend hiking up. Yes, it’s a tough hike, very tough really. It’s basically straight up, but if you take your time it’s possible. You could hike down it and ride up if you want, we walked up and down. Again, money.

5. Robben Island - this is where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were sent during Apartheid. We had the best guide on this trip. I don’t remember his name, but he was the guide that official dignitaries from other countries had when they visit the island. He was so smart and funny. If you are lucky enough to have him, you’ll know. All of the guides are former prisoners of the island, so what they tell you is how it was.

6. Wine Tour - there are lots of places to do a wine tour in the Capetown area. We chose Stellenbosch, since it’s the top place to go. I don’t drink, and can’t stand wine, but I wanted to say I did it. Most of the wine I dumped in the bucket and it all tasted the same to me. Regardless, from wine aficionados, this was the good stuff. It’s more than wine though, you visit a few towns, get some good historical information, so it’s worth the trip.

7. Blyde River Canyon - If you go to Kruger this place is only a few hours away to the west. It’s most attractive to people that like hiking and the outdoors. This is the area where some of the earliest human ancestors originated. As a history teacher that was interesting to me. And I should add, if you have seen the show “Ape to Man” on the history channel, much of it was filmed right here. I realized that while watching the show in class after having gone to this location. I had to jump up and freeze it and explain that to my students. I was pretty excited about it, but I don’t think they had a clue what was going on.

8. Jeffrey’s Bay - if you like surfing and want to go to the beach, this is the place to go. It is considered one of the top 10 surfing places in the world. After seeing the waves here it’s not hard to see why. Having never surfed and not knowing how, I figured this would be a great place to try. Needless to say it didn’t go so well. The waves battered me around and I’m sure I almost drowned about 5 times. After that I decided surfing isn’t for me. At least not in that location.

9. Sani Pass - it’s on the southeastern border of Lesotho. If you go it’s some great hiking, very peaceful, and very remote. You can do a guided tour across the border that involves a nice hike. The ride to Lesotho is very steep, very, very bumpy, and I don’t know how we didn’t drive over a cliff. Luckily the driver knew what he was doing.

10. ISimangaliso National Park - if you want to see hippos, this is the place for you. There are other animals in this area as well, but I liked it a lot. At one point there were probably 15 hippos around and under our boat. Once it began to rock our captain informed us that that was caused by the hippos. He made sure we didn’t get that close again. If you go to Hluwe-Hluwe you might as well go here as well since it’s relatively close.

Some of the other highlights would be the Karoo, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, and the Drakensburg. All are good for hiking, so again, if that’s not your thing then maybe skip those places.

I also recommend going to Swaziland and Lesotho. The climate, culture, and scenery are much different.

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