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South Africa

South Africa is a huge and diverse country –  in people, culture, language, and nature. I travelled around South Africa as part of a 4 week trip with my boyfriend Paul to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe in June 2016.

We started our trip in Johannesberg and travelled South to Durban through Drakensburg. We then headed onwards to Port Elizabeth to start our slower paced journey along the ‘Garden Route’, ending in Cape Town. From there we flew to Zimbabwe and travelled back overland to Johannesburg.




Our trip started in the huge city of Johannesburg. Before our trip, it’s fair to say we were a little apprehensive, having spent several hours scouring online blogs for tips on what to do and finding ourselves down a rabbit hole of terrifying news articles and crime statistics. We really weren’t sure what to expect. We picked up our car from the airport, carefully put everything in the boot, handbags and phones out of sight, learnt how to lock the car from the inside, and headed on our way.


We had booked a few nights in ‘The Birches Backpacker Lodge’ in Rosebank neighbourhood. The area was clean, quiet and full of beautiful green trees towering high. It looked like any other affluent city suburb, until you notice the lack of parked cars, huge steel gates surrounding each house each with numerous warning signs that plastered the outside walls ‘Warning – CCTV 24/7”, ‘Beware of the dog’, ‘Warning – Electrified Fence’. Even the hostel we were staying in involved getting through two huge electric fences and parking the car in an enormous alarmed garage. After settling in to the hostel, we headed out for something to eat before spending the next day sightseeing.​


South African flags flying high

Things to do:


We didn’t have too long and were still a bit unsure about where was safe to walk around, and so opted for a hop on & off bus tour, which was fantastic. We bought the ‘two day bus and Soweto combo’ which meant we time one day the red city bus loop, and a day heading out to Soweto for a tour.


  1. Apartheid Museum


An absolute must-see, is the Apartheid Museum which depicts the rise and fall of the oppressive Apartheid regime. The exhibitions are chilling at times, but are incredibly educational and insightful into history and ongoing inequalities still existing today.


Apartheid Museum

2.   Constitution Hill


Home of the current Constitutional Court and built within the old prison fort that held many activist including both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.


3.   Soweto


Soweto is another must-see, this is the ‘South West Township’ and is an area which was initially created as a place of forced living for non-white people before and during the Apartheid era. The area was crucial for the resistance to the apartheid and is the site of Soweto Uprising of 1976 where mass protests were held against the new policies enforcing education in Afrikaans, the language predominantly spoken by the minority white South African population. The protests led to police open firing on thousands of students and led to the death of 23 people including Hector Pieterson, a 13year old boy.

Nowadays Soweto is home to a number of museums and significant sights including Mandela House Museum, Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum and the Orlando Towers. To understand the history and significance of the area we went on a tour of the area, and there are lots of different companies offering bicycle and minibus tours.



Soweto Towers


Hector Pieterson Memorial

4.   Wander through suburbs


We spent time in the afternoons and evenings wandering around some of the cities neighbourhoods. We drove to each neighbourhood and parked in a secure car park before walking around.


Braamfontein – This area is fairly central and home to a really cool underground market ‘Neighbourhoods Market’ – which had lots of interesting stalls, food trucks, music and beer.


Melville – An area in the Southwest and full of interesting shops and restaurants – we ate at ‘Lucky Bean’, which was delicious!


Greenville – close to Melville is another suburb full of great restaurants and bars.


There are lots of other things to do in this enormous city, including Lilliesleaf Farm Museum and the Origins Centre, but unfortunately, we were running out of time, and onwards we headed to our next stop.



The Drakensberg area is a vast area full of beautiful countryside and towering peaks. It was the perfect place to stop on our way to Durban. The drive down here and then onwards to the coast was stunning. We stayed overnight in Northern Berg and stayed in Amphitheatre Backpackers. I had initially hoped we could go to neighbouring landlocked Lesotho from here, but unfortunately it turned out to be quite a trek from this area (as in it would take several days to arrive!).


Road trip


The Beautiful Countryside



Our next stop was the coastal city of Durban. Even in winter, the weather was sunny and warmer than Scottish summer, so naturally we spent some time at the beach.

The glitzy waterfront area is particularly nice at sunset and there are lots of restaurants around.

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Durban Beach

We spent the next day wandering the city centre – looking around City Hall and the Natural Science Museum.

There are lots of nice restaurants and bars, and the city on the whole felt a lot safer than Johannesburg, but one thing you have to try here is ‘Bunny Chow’ – a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with delicious curry. 


From Durban we flew to our next stop, Port Elizabeth, ready to being our journey along the Garden Route.


Port Elizabeth


After arriving into the city we headed straight out to a game reserve to spot some animals. We headed to Kragga Kamma Game Park, which was suggested by friends we were staying with here.

We opted for the ‘self-drive’ which was great. We spent a few hours driving around, stopping at various points to look for animals. We spotted our fair share; cheetahs, giraffes, nyalas, bonteboks and buffalos. If we weren’t heading onwards to our safari in Botswana, we would have definitely headed to Addo Elephant National Park, but it was a bit of a drive away and we had more safari days coming up so we headed back to the city for some South African steak cooked on a braai. Perfection.

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Kragga Kamma


Kragga Kamma

Storms River


Our next stop along the Garden Route was Storms River Village, in Tsitsikamma National Park. The village is pretty small but is the perfect stop-over and has a few good restaurants to choose from – we ate in ‘Marilyn’s 60’s diner’ which was fun, and then headed along to the Tsitsikamma Microbrewery.


Cars on display in the diner

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park is a great place to go hiking, or there are short walks to explore too. We opted to follow the ‘Storms River Mouth Bridge Trail’ which is an easy-to-follow route lining the spectacular coastline. We walked over breath-taking beaches, scaled the edges of lush jungle, and along suspension bridges where the waves crashed beneath us, keeping an eye out for dassies at all times.


Dassies are incredibly cute mammals that roam the area, and you can find them snuggled together on rocks and logs along the route.

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Suspension Bridges, Tsitsikamma

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Storms River

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Storms River to Knysna Drive

The next day we headed on our way passing through Jeffrey’s Bay (which is the place to go surfing apparently), Bloukrans Bungee and Monkeyland. We watched a few brave bungee-ers screaming as they jumped off the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. Paul had done this 3 years earlier when he was in South Africa before but was satisfied enough not to jump again. Our next stop was Monkeyland, which was definitely more my thing than bungeeing. Here you can do a walking tour through the covered forest and look at all the different types of monkeys (most of which will dart in front of you and give you a fright as you walk). The monkeys here are ones who have been rescued and rehabilitated in the centre after being found in poor conditions in zoos and private homes.  



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Paul's new pal

After spending an hour taking photos of monkeys, we headed on to Plettenberg Bay for a walk about before stopping in Knysna for a night.



Knysna was a great place for a stopover – with a beautiful lagoon, plenty of bars and restaurants and some of the best oysters you can get.



The next day we continued the last part of the garden route, passing through George and Mossel Bay before finishing in Stellenbosch.





Stellenbosch is an easy day trip from Cape Town and is the perfect place to base yourself while exploring the winelands. We stayed with friends here, but there are lots of tours to the area from Cape Town, including the hop-on-hop-off bus tour which has its own wine route!

Stellenbosch itself is nice, with lots of good restaurants and bars.

There are hundreds of vineyards to choose from – we went to two in the Blaauwklippen Valley; The Bergkelder Wine Centre and Waterford Estate, at the latter we had a wine and chocolate tasting, which was delicious, and unbelievable value – it cost less than £5 for our tasting! The vineyards themselves are stunning, and definitely worth strolling through.



Cape Town

Cape Town was our final stop on our South African roadtrip, and it was definitely a cool place to finish off. Paul had been particularly excited to come here as he’d spent 5 weeks here a few years before and couldn’t wait to return. With lots of restaurants, bars, beaches and hikes including picturesque Table Mountain, there is a lot to do here!


1. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head


The unmissable attraction is Table Mountain, which dominates the city’s skyline. You can hike the mountain or take the cablecar up to the top. Lion’s head is nearby and is a slightly shorter hike, but the views from both are spectacular.


Table Mountain from below


Views for days


2. Cape of Good Hope


This area is beautiful and perfect to explore with stunning views of postcard-perfect beaches and wildlife galore – including the Penguin colony at Boulders! We parked up in the car park but realised we had left it quite late and the park was closing in 30 minutes. We didn’t really want to pay full price entrance for 30 minutes, but also really wanted to see some penguins… While we were standing outside the car debating whether to go in or not, three penguins waddled past and stopped on a rock for a rest. We didn’t pay to go in..


Beautiful Beaches




3. Long Street


The beating heart of Cape Town, and where you’ll find a plethora of restaurants and clubs. We actually went to the Nando’s here for dinner one night – judge me if you want, but it is a South African company and we wanted to see if they had the same menu as Scotland (it did have some different options, but mostly the same, in case you were wondering).


Cape Town Beaches


4. V&A Waterfront


This area is a modernised waterfront full of bars, restaurants and shops. It’s car-free, and always bustling. Being on the waters edge, there are lots of options for sailing day trips.


5. Bo-Kaap


The brightly coloured houses of Bo-Kaap is a must-see, and one of the most instagrammable streets in Cape Town.


6. Robben Island

This was the one place we wanted to go to, but unfortunately it just didn’t work with our timings.


V&A Waterfront

That was the end of our South African adventure, and we flew onwards to Zimbabwe to see some incredible waterfalls and lots of elephants.

Top Tips for South Africa:

  1. Safety – You do definitely need to be a bit cautious in South Africa, but there's no need to panic. There are plenty of areas that are safe, and as long as you are sensible, you will likely be fine.

  2. Hire a car or take the bazbus. We opted to hire a car as it gave us more flexibility and we could use it to drive around the cities. If you want to meet others, either take the bazbus or book into bazbus-linked accommodation.

  3. If you’re hiring a car, it’s best to hire a mid-range car which you can lock from the inside. It’s definitely best to choose a car that isn’t too flashy or expensive, as this makes you much more of a target for criminals. You want to blend in.

  4. Make sure you lock the doors once you are in, and keep windows shut. Don’t have any bags or valuables visible.

  5. When stopped at traffic lights, people will come up and try to sell you things, or wash your windows – just put your hand up with a simple ‘no’ if you don’t want this and they will leave you alone.

  6. We drove between suburbs, but once arrived at the suburb felt safe to walk around. As with the car, don’t look too flashy, don’t carry designer handbags or cameras round your waist.

  7. Most car parks were staffed by an attendant who you are supposed to tip, and in turn they will watch your car. It’s best to pay the attendant in this situation.

  8. Try ALL the wine, and all the tastings. Make sure to try pinotage wine.

  9. If you are going on a safari, make sure to take binoculars, a hat and neutral coloured clothing.

  10. At petrol stations, an attendant will fill up your tank and then charge you. Sometimes another attendant will come over and check your oil, tyres etc. This is normal. Make sure you tip them.

  11. Following on from this, a lot of people will come and help you with various things (carrying luggage to the airport terminal), and then accept a tip. You can say no if you don’t want this, but we just allowed it and gave tips; many people do not earn a particularly good wage here and tips allow them to supplement their income. Tipping in restaurants is common practice – 10-15%.

  12. Remember they drive on the left (like the UK).

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