We had no problem entering South Africa and it soon became apparent that we need not have waited 6 days in Zimbabwe to meet the yellow fever requirement. We passed through airport security, collected our cases and asked the information desk to call our hostel for our free pick up, as per the hostel’s instructions. He sped us to Brown Sugar Hostel, a converted former drugs mafia mansion on top of a large hill. The two women in charge greeted us and showed us to our room at the back and up many steps. The room was small and the shared bathroom was outside in a small building. The room felt exposed and cold, and the heater wasn’t very strong. We walked down the hill to Chinatown to try and get some fruit, snacks and soya milk. We ended up buying a box full of ten persimmon for 30 rand as nowhere would sell them to us individually.We put our name down for dinner (65 rand) and it was spaghetti bolognese, I had the Quorn version, which was very nice. We slept pretty soundly and made use of the extra blankets they gave us.
Next day we made the most of the free breakfast before meeting our driver for a full day tour of Johannesburg. It started with us being driven to the CBD to go up the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa. We could see the city, with its grid of roads, but it seemed smaller than we expected as it was surrounded by man-made hills from the old gold mines. The centre seemed quite a rough area, and we were warned not to go there after dark. Next stop was Soweto, a contraction of SOuthWEstern TOwnships. It has 3million people, the same as Jo’burg. To our surprise they had some rich areas there, but it was in a poor area we stopped for our slum tour. We met a local guide who took us down a street with no power or water and we met an old lady in her simple home who showed us around and let us take some photos. We then made a donation to the lovely friendly lady. We had some lollypops so we gave them to the guide who handed them out. He showed us a small orphanage/nursery and asked us to donate to his charity, which we did. Back in the car we drove past the colourfully painted water towers, now used for bungee jumps. We then alighted at the Hector Pieterson museum. It was a modern place commemorating the 1976 Soweto uprising.
After that we drove past Desmond Tutu’s house, to Nelson Mandela’s house (the only street with two Nobel peace prize winners on it). Mandela’s house was very small and still had bullet holes in the walls and relatives buried in the garden. Our guide told us about the great man and his three wives, the first two lived in the house with him. What a great life opportunity it was! Being there were Mandela lived and made so much history was a real pleasure. Final stop was the Apartheid museum, after driving past the Soccer City stadium. The first thing we did was to eat lunch in the cafe. The museum itself was a vast modern, concrete structure explaining the history of Johannesburg and the battle for self rule. We spent a few hours there before heading back to the vehicle.
We then and asked our driver to drop us at the Westgate shopping centre to buy items for the next day’s Kruger Park safari. The mall was enormous but we were able to find an international sweet shop where we bought Ostrich and beef biltong, Dr Pepper, bright red Crunchy Peaches, honeycomb and we sampled Kudu biltong. The biltongs are very popular there, it was worth trying them!
Next day we packed our cases and left the big ones in the hostel’s storage room. We were then collected by a loud, fun loving man in a people carrier and inside we met a lovely French family, Ricard, Rose and there three teenage sons. Shortly after we collected a Brazilian lad called Ramon who sat in the front after being separated from his friends in the sister truck. At a toilet stop n a service station was where we saw our first three White Rhinos (dehorned to protect against poachers) and an Emu. We then changed driver and drove on to Tremisana Game Lodge in the Balule Game Reserve, a private game reserve in the Kruger National Park. The hotel looked great.
For the evening safari we ended up with a German family and a Spanish man, Inigo, with his parents, who were all lovely. On the drive we were lucky enough to be able to park in the middle of a huge herd of Buffalo. Our American guide, Adam, who looked like Adam Sandler, turned off the headlights and told us to keep quiet and the animals came very close. It was a rare experience. We then heard on the radio that the other vehicles had found a Leopard. We immediately headed to see it. The leopard was just sitting there, ignoring us, and we were able to get close and get a great view of its lovely coat. After that we raced along the bumpy track to the Boma (barbeque area) under a large tree. After a simple meal there was a bit more animal spotting on the way back to Tremisana hotel.
There were teas, coffees and biscuits but soon we boarded our vehicle for our pre-breakfast walking safari. Both our guides had loaded rifles in case the animals came too close. They led the way and asked the rest of us to follow behind single file, without talking. They explained how to identify the animal from the dung, we saw a few types of antelope and some hippos along the river. They also pointed out the different trees and there uses, such as the toothbrush tree and the sandpaper tree. The climax was a game of giraffe poo spitting. We looked on agog as our two guides put the poo in their mouths and spat it. They assured us that it was safe and we all had a go.
We then walked back to the hotel for breakfast before our day safari. The drive was good but in no way compared to the night before. Our guide, Adam, pointed out a Killdeer bird that nests on the ground. He explained that when predators approached looking for the eggs they would pretend to have a broken wing as a distraction. We returned to collect our cases before we took the main road to Marc’s Treehouse Lodge just outside Kruger National Park. There we were pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful and exotic the treehouse room was. Our room was built on stilts and made entirely out of wood, with a thatched roof. Once inside we could here a mini-waterfall gurlging awayjust outside. We unpacked and met the others, including the French family, for dinner. Afterwards we sat around the large fire and the African women sang a few songs about Mandela, and danced for us which was nice.
The next morning a 22-year old guide called Wes took us out again for another game drive. We saw plenty of Antelopes, giraffes and Elephants but what we were really interested in seeing was a White Rhino. We saw a giraffe drinking another’s pee, to see if she was in heat, which was a bit gross but funny at the same time. Finally, on the way back to camp we got to see a large White Rhino, which was great, and Mark caught a glimpse of a mongoose too, but it soon vanished. Wes also stopped so we could see a toilet paper tree, which had surprisingly small but soft leaves.
Next early morning walk was a little different as the guide had no gun, just a large stick. We saw a rare type of Antelope, a few gazelles and same giraffes! A very different experience from seeing the animals while in the car.
Before long we were driven back to Johannesburg by Wes. On the way to our lunch stop we called into a place called Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon on Earth, and largest one covered in vegetation. The views were stunning, and you could see right down to the river below.
Wes then swapped with our Johannesburg driver and we were whisked back to Brown Sugar. Once there we retrieved our other luggage and made the most of our room inside the main building, and the gorgeously hot shared shower.
Johannesburg is a very special place.