Thursday, December 20, 2012

South Africa: Cape Town to Kruger

It's been hard to readjust to Mozambique after spending nearly three weeks of travel South Africa.  From the moment we arrived in Cape Town, we were surrounded by luxury- hot showers, clean linen, restaurants, grocery stores, and our own personal vehicle (a Hyundai with a manual transmission and a stick shift on the left).  South Africa, it seems, is a world apart from its southern African neighbors. 

Our trip lasted 19 days and spanned the length of the country, from east to west.  From the beaches and mountains of breezy Cape Town, to the vast, scrubby wilderness of Kruger National Park, we drove more than 2,500 miles, took more than 1,500 photos, and sampled only a handful of destinations in this diverse and sprawling country.  What follows is a sampling of our sample- a glimpse into bountiful, beautiful, charming South Africa.

Our traveling companions:  Fellow PCV volunteer Jamie Randol and her boyfriend, Drew
Flying South African Airways (free beer and wine included)
Flying over South Africa
New currency:  2 South African Rand (worth about one US quarter)

Cape Town, Western Cape
First stop:  Cape Town
Cape Town

Founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Trading Company, Cape Town was first used as a base to provide supplies for Dutch ships traveling to Eastern Africa, India, and the Far East.  Nowadays, it is the second most populous city in South Africa and the leading tourist destination in the country.  The city is famous for its good climate, natural setting, well-developed infrastructure.  The bulk of the city (known as the City Bowl) sits beneath the massive backdrop of Table Mountain, which is protected by Table Mountain National Park.  To the south lies Cape Point, the headland of the dramatic Cape peninsula.  Both areas lie within the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is home to more than 9,000 species of vascular plants and is regarded as a biodiversity hotspot.

Fun Fact

There are more indigenous plant species on Table Mountain than in the whole of the British Isles.


Climbing Table Mountain (and returning via cable car)

Exploring the shops, restaurants, and views of the Victorian & Alfred Waterfront

Hiking along the Cape Peninsula to visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope

Visiting more than 7,000 species of plants at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Watching the sunset from the top of Signal Hill

Greeting a colony of African penguins at Simon's Town

Eating!  There are more than 400 restaurants in the greater Cape Town area.

Next Time

Visit Lion's Head Mountain:  Located next door to Table Mountain, the summit of Lion's Head can be reached by the use of several chains and ladders.  This hike is especially popular during the full moon.

Our base, "The Backpack," framed by Table Mountain
The bustling harbor at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (with a dark and foggy Table Mountain in the background)
Playing with the fish at the Two Oceans Aquarium
One of three kelp forest exhibits in the world- at Two Oceans Aquarium
Parking at the base of Table Mountain- preparing to hike
Beautiful summer blooms on the slopes of Table Mountain (with Lion's Head in the distance)
Jamie and Drew look out across Cape Town (the City Bowl)
Dan on Table Mountain
Flowers on Table Mountain
Upwards through Platteklip Gorge
Dan at the top of Table Mountain (overlooking the Atlantic Ocean)
Jame and Drew at the top of Table Mountain
Return via Cable Car
Jamie and Drew at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (at the foot of Table Mountain)
Sunset at Signal Hill (shared with a few other parties, as well)
Fish on the Rocks:  Fish and chips on the way to Cape Point
African penguins at Simon's Town
Dramatic views from the Cape Peninsula
Cape Point Starfish
While we inspect the tide pools near Cape Point, a baboon inspects our car.
At one point, he even tried the door handle!
Dan at Cape Point
Clumps of flowers at the Point
Flowers at the Point

Hermanus, Western Cape
Second stop:  Hermanus

Originally called Hermanuspietersfontein, Hermanus is a quiet coastal town located just 70 miles to the east of Cape Town.  The town is known for its spectacular whale watching, 8 mile cliff walk, and access to great white shark cage diving.  Though the weather will occasionally preclude shark dive excursions, a number of nearby wineries offer tours and tastings, providing a nice alternative.

Fun Fact

Hermanus is home to the world's only "Whale Crier"- a harbor employee and town feature since 1992- who marches the length of the cliff walk with a kelp horn and a sandwich board filled with recent sightings and other pertinent whale information.


Whale sightings!  Southern rights whales play along the coast from June until December

Half-price cocktails and free use of binoculars at Coco's (plus second-floor balcony views of the water)

Sushi and ocean views at the incredibly well-rated Lemon Butta Restaurant

Walking the cliff path (8 miles from Old Harbor to Grotto Beach)

Booking a wine tour with Hermanus Backpackers

Next Time

Great White Shark Cage Diving!

Hermanus Backpackers:  One of the best backpackers in South Africa. 
A storm rolls in along the South African coast
A drizzly morning in Hermanus, South Africa
View of Hermanus from the cliff walk footpath
Wine Tasting in the nearby Hemel-En-Aarde (Heaven on Earth) Valley

On the Garden Route, Western Cape
En route to Tsitsikamma National Park:  Monkeyland and Birds of Eden
Baby season at Monkeyland:  Brown Capuchins, Ringtail Lemurs, and Chacma Baboons
Suspension bridge at Monkeyland (the longest in Africa!)
Some of the friendly birds at Birds of Eden
Blue crane, lake, and pagoda in the largest single free-flight aviary in the world

Tsitsikamma National Park, Eastern Cape
Third Stop:  Tsitsikamma National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park and Storm's River Mouth

Just a few kilometers wide, Tsitsikamma National Park stretches for more than 80km along the southern coastline of South Africa.  It is home to steep cliffs, winding paths, and dangerous, crashing surf.  It is also home to the five-day Otter Trail (on which reservations should be made several months in advance).  Located at the far eastern end of the park, Storm's River Mouth is a rest camp that offers several hikes and camping along the sea.

Fun Fact

Just west of Tsitsikamma National Park is Bloukrans Bridge, location of the world's highest bungee jump (709 feet)


Watching the sunrise, sunset, and crashing waves from our camp on the shoreline

Crossing the Suspension Bridge, a three-part hanging bridge that spans the rough water at the mouth of the Storms River

Next Time

Set time aside for the 5 day, 4 night Otter Trail-- South Africa's most popular hike.  Winding, wild, and unspoiled, this hike only allows 12 people at a time on any given section of the trail.

Camping along the shoreline in Tsitsikamma National Park
Camping in Tsitsikamma
Two of three hanging bridges above the river mouth
Lovely bridges at Tsitsikamma
Lovely flowers at Tsitsikamma

Drakensberg Mountains - Royal Natal - Lesotho
Fourth Stop- The Drakensberg Mountains
The Mountains

Rising to more than 11,000 feet in altitude, the Drakensberg Mountains are the highest mountains in southern Africa.  Three large parks-- Southern Drakensburg, Central Drakensburg, and Royal Natal National Park-- encompass the mountain range along the border between South Africa and Lesotho.

Royal Natal National Park

Royal Natal National Park exists as a series of gorges, hills, and rivers in the basin below the northern peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains.  The most striking feature of this park is the backdrop-- the Amphitheatre cliff face rises 4,000 feet above the valley floor and towers more than three miles wide.  


Pronounced (Leh-su-tu), this country is a landlocked enclave located entirely within the country of South Africa.   The entire country is situated at altitude, and the country's lowest point (1,400 meters) is the highest in the world.  Most of the population of Lesotho identify themselves as Basotho and speak the main language of Sesotho.  The country regularly receives snowfall in the wintertime, with some of the higher elevations receiving snowfall throughout the year.  

Fun Facts

The Drakensberg Mountains protect more than 35,000 San (Bushmen) works of art.

Royal Natal National Park is home to Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world.

There is a growing campaign within Lesotho that seeks to see the Kingdom of Lesotho reabsorbed by the Republic of South Africa. 


Enjoying three-course meals at the Amphitheater Backpackers.  Specialties include mint pea soup, Greek moussaka, and malva pudding

Taking a day trip into Lesotho (operated through Amphitheatre Backpackers)

Hiking the Tugela Gorge Trail in Royal Natal National Park

Next Time

Visit more of the Bushman paintings in the Central Drakensbergs

Hike along the top of the Amphitheatre wall

Beautiful rooms at The Knoll Backpackers (Pietermaritzburg, on the way to the Drakensberg Mountains)
The Drakensberg Mountains (along Tugela Gorge in Royal Natal National Park)
Amphitheatre Backpackers:  Jacuzzi tub, private room, and pool table
(Not pictured:  climbing cave)
Hut in Lesotho
Cows and massive vistas-- Lesotho
High wind at 8,000 feet-- Lesotho
San (Bushmen) paintings.  Hard to decipher, but it is possible to make out the eland on the right,
small dancing figures on the far right, and thin, towering humanoids on the far left.
Our Lesotho tour bus
Houses and beautiful scenery-- Lesotho
Lesotho kids
Hiking in Royal Natal National Park (Tugela Gorge)
Hiking in Royal Natal National Park (Tugela Gorge)
Fresh flowers in the rain (Royal Natal National Park)
Fresh flowers in the rain (Royal Natal National Park)

Kruger National Park
Final Stop:  Kruger National Park

At over 7,500 square miles, Kruger National Park ranks amongst the largest National Parks in the world.  With 147 species of large mammals (more than any other African game reserve), Kruger is one of the premier Safari destinations in all of Africa.

Important Facts

Kruger's elephant population is getting so large (more than 12,000 individuals and growing at a rate of 7% per year) that the elephants are quickly outgrowing their ecosystem.  Debate over culling is still raging strong, but most experts seem to agree that a mass culling will be necessary to maintain the health of the park.   Culling was standard practice from 1967-1994.

Kruger has over 48 metric tons of ivory in storage.  Profits from ivory sales are used to help combat poaching activity in the park.

Rhino poaching is on the rise.  A poaching crisis in South Africa has seen 633 white rhinos killed in the year 2012.  The number of rhino killed has skyrocketed in recent years, jumping from 333 in 2010, to 448 in 2011, to the current count of 633.


Taking an early morning drive with a ranger (3:15AM start!).  Nobody else had booked this drive, so we had the vehicle all to ourselves!

Viewing wildlife from the rest camp viewing decks.

Spotting baby animals (baby elephants, baby monkeys, baby zebra, and baby rhinos).

Next Time

Find a leopard

Safari Tent in Lower Sabie Rest Camp
Jamie and Drew (and our driver) on a Sunrise Drive
Our driver demonstrates a fat green "mopani worm."  "It's delicious," he says.  "Trust me."
Safari car
Restaurant and Observation Deck at Lower Sabie Rest Camp.  Elephants, wildebeests, zebras,
hippos, and crocodiles are all common visitors to the area.  
Our rental car, packed to the brim
Elephants crossing the roadway
Buffalo stare down the car as we drive slowly through the herd
Early morning hippo tracks!
A troop of baboons wander slowly down the road
Zebra, warthogs, and baboons

Return to Johannesburg - Bus to Maputo
End of Adventure!

After several long and bouncy bus rides, we finally made it back to our house in Zobue.  We are cheerfully (or at least stoically) readjusting to bugs, bucket baths, and the smiling, sticky faces of the under-10 crowd.  It's good to be home!  We'll be here for a few days before striking out again for the holidays.

Stay tuned for our next adventure-- Island Christmas!


  1. Fantastic photos! What a great travel experience. Been to SA many times and am continually amazed at the diversity of geography and the delightful people. Thanks for taking the time to blog it all!