We are back from 4 weeks in South Africa and do we have a lot of stories to tell you!
Hardcore followers of this blog know about our love for the Asian continent where in the past years you have been able to follow our adventures in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and India, to name just a few.
But this year we changed things around. We aimed for a totally different experience and went for South Africa. Conclusion? We totally fell in love with the country!
Why did we fell in love with South Africa? It’s the combination of so many great things! Stunning landscapes around every corner and behind every hill. The cosmopolitan feeling we had in Cape Town, right after our rural laid-back experience in Klein Karoo area (Barrydale). The rough coastal area near Hermanus, tropical beaches of Durban, cute baby ostriches in Oudtshoorn, biking through the Soweto township, and so much more. This has been the trip of a lifetime.
Facts and figures about South Africa
Expect lots of stories about South Africa in the coming months. Some facts about our trip: we traveled for 24 days, drove almost 3,000 kilometers (about 1,800 miles), stayed in 12 hotels/guesthouses/lodges/tents, had 2 domestic flights and took 2,400 pictures. Intense? It sure was but we loved every minute of it!
This post is a summary of our trip: our South Africa itinerary. It’s a monster post (don’t tell me later I didn’t warn you). The post shows you the places we have visited and the accommodations we booked. It can easily be replicated so bookmark or share it with friends. Hope you get inspired to start designing your own South Africa trip!
Best hotels in South Africa
We actually booked only 2 hotels. All other accommodations were guest houses, lodges, luxury tents (glamping!) and apartments. The options are countless.
What kind of accommodation can you expect in this blog? We are no budget travelers so don’t expect cheap bargains here. Our family loves to be pampered with a bit of luxury to have that amazing, once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. Real luxury is too expensive for a family so let’s describe our choice of accommodation as ‘affordable luxury’. (Family) Room prices went from Euro 70 to 150/night.
Let’s go and start with the first part of our trip!
Day 1 – 2: Johannesburg
First stop Johannesburg. Many travelers skip Joburg, but you don’t have to! Our main goal was to join a bicycle tour in Soweto township (together with Soweto backpackers) and to visit the Apartheid Museum. A real-life and harsh introduction to South Africa, but not to be missed if you want to better understand the history of the country as well as today’s life struggles. Soweto backpackers are such cool people; you will love biking around with them!
We booked a family room (Pool Suite) in Lucky Bean Guesthouse, located in Melville area. I love guesthouses where the owners are really interested in you and your plans. Always willing to help to make the most out of your stay. That is what Lucky Bean is all about. Recommended!
Day 3 – 5: Hoedspruit
This was the longest distance (460 km) but we totally didn’t mind the 6-hour drive. The landscapes were superb and we realized this was only our first leg! So much more great stuff ahead of us….
Hoedspruit was our base for two game drives (one 6am morning drive with HESC, and an afternoon/evening drive in Tshukudu) in private game reserves right near the world-famous Kruger National Park. We highly recommend game drives in private parks rather than self-drive in Kruger only. Want to know more about this? Click here to read our post.
In Hoedspruit we had one of the best accommodations of our trip: BushGlam holiday home. A complete house with swimming pool, two bathrooms, bedrooms for everybody and a great interior design. Anita and Gerrie are two Dutch ladies running this luxury home. Highly recommended!
Day 6: Hazyview
The Panorama route was the main reason for driving from Hoedspruit to Hazyview. With phenomenal views like World’s End and Three Rondavels this route is not to be missed. Nature can be so jaw dropping beautiful!
Hazyview was just a short stopover for us. We were planning to travel to Swaziland the next day driving through the south part of Kruger Park. In Hazyview we booked the Gecko Lodge. This lodge offers very large, nicely decorated family rooms. Breakfast and dinner (if you want) are served near the fire place. Quite cozy although the lodge itself could use a bit of renovation.
Day 7 – 8: Swaziland (Ezulwini valley)
Swaziland is a completely different country compared to South Africa. More rural, laid-back and with a polygamous King who strictly controls his Kingdom. Highlight of our stay was a cultural village walking tour where we got our dose of daily Swazi life. You can already read two stories about our stay in Swaziland!
At the Mantenga lodge monkeys take over the place after breakfast, cleaning the terrace from all leftovers. Such a funny sight. The lodge has a good restaurant (try the special) and nice pool area but try to avoid the standard rooms if you can.
Day 9 – 11: St. Lucia
St. Lucia is famous for the hippos. Hippos that live in the wetlands around the village and tend to wander the streets at night (really, although we didn’t spot any of them due to windy conditions). The Hippo and Croc boat safari however offered us lots of great encounters!
We were enthusiastic about our game drives in and around Kruger, so we continued in nearby Hluhluwe Imfolozi National Park. The landscape is quite different from Kruger but you will enjoy the same exciting encounters with rhinos, giraffes and hopefully some lions!
Accommodation in St. Lucia was awesome: Monzi tent safaris. This is glamping (glamorous camping) where your tent is fully equipped with everything you need: bathroom, wonderful kingsize bed with bunk beds for the kids in the back. There is a swimming pool as well as a kitchen area where everybody can prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner by themselves (self-catering).
Mind you, there is one thing prohibited here: doing the dishes! Monzi’s personnel will prevent you from doing the dishes because, and I quote: “This is your holiday, you have to relax.” How cool is that! Recommended!
Day 12 – 13: Durban
From St. Lucia it’s a rather short drive to Durban. We decided to stay in Durban North where we discovered The Grange guesthouse. This is a house with a history, being one of the first BnBs in Durban. We loved the place! Beautiful interior design, great rooms, swimming pool and relaxed and friendly personnel. Recommended!
From Durban North it’s a short drive to either Umhlanga Rocks (luxury beach resort town) or Durban City. In Durban we visited the long-stretched beach as well as the Moses Mabhida soccer stadium (built for the 2010 World Cup). You can actually climb the stadium for great views over the city!
From Durban we took a domestic flight (early morning) into Port Elizabeth. Bidvest car rental gave us a nice upgrade so we continued our trip with a nice Ford Kuga.
Day 14: Port Elizabeth / Addo Elephant NP
The Elephant Footprint Lodge is situated at the south entrance of the Addo park, perfect location when you only have a short time to spend (like us). The lodge has beautiful rooms with an outside shower (yes even in winter and the experience of showering outside is wonderful). For dinner the chef prepared a tasty collection of game meat: zebra, ostrich, kudu, and gemsbok. Recommended!
After check-in we wanted to leave for the Addo park immediately to watch the elephants. But the lodge manager drew our attention on another great thing to do: cruising the Sunday River and sliding down sand dunes! Of course we couldn’t say no to that! Read all about this in a separate post, it’s awesome!
The Addo NP was impressive. We saw multiple herds of elephants, right next to our car. We were impressed by these majestic animals. In Kruger Park we hadn’t been able to get that close to elephants, wonderful!
Day 15 – 16: Knysna
Listening to our favorite radio station KFM, we drove further towards Knysna following the famous Garden Route. Make sure to stop at Storms River Mouth, where a nice hiking trail brings you to the suspension bridge crossing the Storms River. It’s rough and rocky, nice change of landscape. Check our Garden Route experiences.
In Knysna we booked ourselves a luxury self-catering apartment in the Rex hotel. The hotel is situated close to the harbor where you have lots of restaurants and shops. Great breakfast.
Knysna’s township is a rather small one with about 25,000 residents. We booked ourselves a township tour where we were guided by Ella, who was enthusiastic and proud about the positive developments in the township. She even invited us into her home.
Day 17 – 18: Oudshoorn
From Knysna we drove inland to the ostrich capital of the world: Oudtshoorn. We enjoyed a tour in one of the ostrich farms where we hold huge eggs in the hatchery and baby ostriches that had just came out of their eggs. Our kids loved the baby ones…so cute! Click here for the full story!
In Oudtshoorn we went glamping again! At Africamps Klein Karoo we rented this amazing luxury tent: bathroom, kitchen and beds with heated matrasses (yes you need that in winter!). There are only six tents so you enjoy peace and quiet. Outside you have your own braai area and if you’re lucky some wild animals will pass by (although from a distance of course). Africamps can help you book the ostrich tour. Highly recommended!
Day 19: Barrydale
From Oudtshoorn to Barrydale you are driving the scenic Route 62, the inland equivalent of the Garden Route. Personally I felt Route 62 to be as equally beautiful as the Garden Route, so try to combine both. Make sure to stop at Calitzdorp for a coffee and some sightseeing.
We found the drive from Oudtshoorn directly into Hermanus too long so we decided to stop for one night in laid-back Barrydale. Nothing much to do really, although you should not forget to pay the vintage diner Diesel & Cream a visit.…best milkshakes we ever had!
The historic Karoo Art hotel is a good place to stay for the night. Artistic and quirky, totally different from the regular hotels you probably know. Lot of history here and with their own bar and restaurant you have all you need.
Day 20: Hermanus
From Barrydale we continued on Route 62 via Montagu and Bonnievale with Hermanus being our destination for the day. The rapeseed fields on parts of this route were stunning. Again we had to pinch ourselves: these South African landscapes were all real and right in front of us.
Hermanus is the place to be for whale watching. Sometimes you can watch whales from the shore but we booked a boat trip early morning. Would we see whales for the first time of our lives? We were not disappointed. I think we counted around 12 whales (even a mother with her baby), some penguins and sea lions.
In Hermanus we treated ourselves to some real luxury at Pelagus Guesthouse: the penthouse apartment with the most amazing beds, two bathrooms and a big living room with balcony. Pelagus offers an outside whirlpool and swimming pool. From the joint living rooms (with big leather sofas) you enjoy the sea view while zipping from some complimentary port wine… Recommended!
Day 21 – 24: Cape Town
From Hermanus it’s just a short drive to Cape Town. The coastal road out of Hermanus is a scenic one, just as beautiful as Chapman’s Peak drive (one of the must-see places while in Cape Town) honestly speaking. Stop in Betty’s Bay to see a big penguin colony!
When you drive into Cape Town it immediately feels cosmopolitan: the curvy road towards the harbor with Table Mountain in the background. Just amazing. There are so many things to do in Cape Town, enough to stay for a week or so. For sure you need to board the cableway to the top of Table Mountain. Don’t forget to drive south towards the Cape Peninsula and stop at Muizenberg, St. George’s Town and of course Cape Point.
In Cape Town itself you of course don’t want to miss the BoKaap neighborhood. Before doing so head to the quirky Truth Coffee café, a steampunk world of copper pipes and old metal.
Antrim villa was our home for 4 days while in Cape Town. We did not stay at the actual guesthouse, but rented a 4-person apartment nearby. The apartment offered self-catering possibilities but I am sure the guesthouse itself is perfect as well.
Introduction to South Africa
This post has just been a first introduction to our South African adventures. We never felt unsafe which might be comforting to everybody who’s considering to travel to South Africa. And if you are still in doubt about safety, please read this.
The country is impressive. It had a rough history and it will continue to struggle, but the overall beauty of nature and friendliness of the people made us decide to return soon.
More about our South Africa trip soon on this blog! If you have any questions just drop me an email or leave a comment below.
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Text and photography by: Emiel van den Boomen