aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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south africa: the low-down
a wrap up

South African fynbos

Fynbos

What We Did: 37 days in South Africa spent as follows: 3 days in Johannesburg, 8 days in Kruger National Park, 3 days in Sodwana Bay scuba diving, 3 days in Durban, 5 days in the Wild Coast, 1 day in Addo National Park, 3 days in Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, 3 days in Hermanus/Gansbaii, 7 days in Cape Town.

Would We Do It The Same Way:  Kind of.  We would have skipped diving in Sodwana Bay, cut down on the days in Cape Town, and added time to the Cape Peninsula.

Best food: Bunny chow, the quintessential Durban dish of spicy curry ladled into a bread bowl.

Worst food: All of the food served at the restaurants in Kruger.  Bland, overpriced, and uninteresting cuisine; we were better off eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Mongoose in South Africa

Mongoose

Our favorite part of South Africa: The unbelievable wildlife we saw all across South Africa, from the big game in Kruger and Addo, to the whales, sharks, and penguins all across the coast.

Our least favorite part of South Africa: The physical and virtual barriers in South Africa between people.  We did not expect the huge fences and security barriers in front of most houses and the lack of interaction between races and hope that these barriers will continue to fall.

Giraffes

Giraffes at Kruger (shot with the telephoto lens)

Indispensable item/gear: For photographers, at least a 300 mm lens but we used a 120-400 mm lens with optical stabilization, which allowed us to shoot wildlife throughout South Africa.  In particular, photographs of whales would have been impossible without that lens.  For non-photographers, we recommend a good set of binoculars with optical stabilization.

The best deal: Buccaneers Backpackers in Cintsa.  We paid 300 Rand ($ 42) for a clean bungalow overlooking the beach and paid a small amount per night for a huge and delicious dinner.  You can take surfing or kiteboarding lessons, join in visits to the local schools and charities, and participate in a wide variety of activities or, you can do as we did, and just relax.  Buccaneers has been praised as the best backpackers in South Africa and we can’t disagree.

View from La Petite Ferme

View from behind La Petite Ferme

The biggest rip off:  Lunch at La Petite Ferme in Franschhoek in the wine region near Cape Town.  It has been written up as one of the best restaurants in the world but, unlike our fantastic meal at La Colombe, the food was uninspired, few of the tables took advantage of the beautiful position and the meal was not worth the price.

Best new experience:  Shark diving.  Despite the frigid and murky waters, floating inches away from these amazing deadly animals was an awesome experience and one of the most amazing things we have done in the last two years.

Scuba diving Sodwana Bay

Sodwana Bay

Walking toward the boats to pull us into the coral reef (and you can see how turbulent they are from the second picture)

Worst new experience: South African scuba diving.  The cold, turbulent waters off the South African coast have wrecked hundreds of ships, meaning that there is phenomenal sealife and wreck diving under the waters.  Unfortunately, getting to the dive sites are so rocky that my stomach revolted and the waters are so buoyant that Patrick needed 6 extra pounds to weigh him down.  We barely swam because the drift pulled us along and it was an experience that we would not repeat unless we were much more comfortable diving.  We recommend diving in South Africa only for advanced divers.  (All this being said, we have heard that diving in the warmer months of January and February is much better than in September, which is when we dove.)

The must see attraction:  Kruger National Park.  The wildlife is simply superb and we loved being able to see the animals at our own pace in this self-drive park.

Most overhyped attraction: Night safaris at Kruger and Addo.  The night safaris are expensive at around $60 USD/person but we didn’t see much on any of the night drives.  On our first night drive in Kruger, we saw one leopard, a few elephants, and not much else.  The night drives tended to be long and cold, too, and while we think it’s worth doing once just for the experience, it might not be worth the cost otherwise.

Cape Town view

Views in the mountains near Durban

Favorite town/city: Cape Town.  The stunning city, surrounded by mountains and oceans, captivated us with its charm, gorgeous gardens, and fantastic restaurants.

Least favorite town/city:  Johannesburg.  Though we loved our time there because we spent it hanging out with family, we weren’t particularly impressed with it in comparison to many of the other towns and cities.  It’s pretty much a city --- nothing particularly attractive and lots of traffic.

Caged fencing around temple

Hare Krishna temple

Hare Krishna temple

Caged fencing around Hare Krishna temple and interior

Biggest surprise: How safe we felt there.  The most common question asked about South Africa is: is it safe?  We worried a lot about safety but, for the most part, felt very safe.  In fact, I left my purse at a restaurant and the waiter ran outside to give it back to me.  The only time we felt uncomfortable was in a certain area in Durban where there were some very drugged up teenagers who were screaming down the street but we walked one block over and felt fine.  Obviously, we recommend locking up gear in hostels, locking car doors, and not leaving valuables in cars, but those are the same precautions we take everywhere, even in the United States.  

Biggest disappointment: Our experience at Naledi, a private bush camp.  Naledi, itself, was lovely and we were treated very well by the staff.  However, our wildlife sightings were poor to nonexistent.  On two of the game drives, we barely even saw any impala or giraffe (and they're everywhere).  I know that it's the luck of the draw with wildlife but, for the cost of the private bus camp, we didn't see much wildlife though we were treated very well with excellent food and company.

Springbok

Nyala

Language lesson:  Apartheid = system of racial segregation, abolished in 1996; bok = generally means an herbivore grazing animal, with many varieties throughout the country, including springbok, steenbok, and others; townships = government-designated areas for low-income housing, often associated with high rates of violence, but now being gentrified in some cities (particularly Cape Town); Afrikaans = derivation of Dutch language, spoken by South African descendants of original Dutch/English settlers

The big test, would we go back:  Yes.  We loved the people, culture, sights, and wildlife in South Africa.  We would probably wait a little while before going back because there are so many other countries we want to see in Africa.

Flowers in Cape Town

And now we’re off to:  Well . . . . our South Africa trip ended last September and, immediately after, we set off on our 3 week Africa-in-Focus overland expedition through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia.  We spent 9 months back in the United States touring through the Southeastern parts of the country, with hops over to Jamaica and Vancouver.  Two weeks ago, we took the Queen Mary 2 to England and we are now in the Cotswolds region.  And, happily, I should actually be caught up on blogging in the next few weeks so I’ll be writing about our European adventure as we live it . . . assuming all goes as plans . . . . 

*** Stay tuned: assuming I can find decent Internet access, I'll be posting our wrap up video of South Africa shortly.

08/17/2011 14:44
Really helpful to read your overview. Thank you! We're working on piecing together the beginnings our our S. Africa itinerary, considering volunteering at a farm or two, and deciding which types of splurges are best made now vs. saved for a possible later. You mentioned the self-drive in Kruger National Park; what other transportation did you use around the countryside?
twoOregonians's recent blog post: Inspirations Keep Us in the Game
08/18/2011 11:59
We rented a car as we found that to be the best (and easiest way) to get around. I know that others have used public transportation in South Africa --- two couples I know who used public transportation are the folks at Hedgehogs Without Borders and Two Wanderers. Obviously, renting a car is a bit more expensive but the price for car rental wasn't astronomical in South Africa. We really appreciated the convenience of being able to go wherever we wanted in the country --- especially in less traveled areas like the Wild Coast where buses were fairly impossible to find.
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/17/2011 17:36
As one with a severe fear of great whites, thank you for NOT posting a photo!

Also, this is great timing as we'll be back in South Africa for a week next month and have yet to decide what to do.
Camels & Chocolate's recent blog post: Lucky 13: Moving Across Country, Part II
08/18/2011 12:07
Ahhh, but I know you've overcome your fear before! I can't wait to read about what you both plan for your South Africa trip in the coming trip. I am sure it is going to be wonderful!
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/17/2011 22:32
Wow! These photos are amazing. Shark diving sounds awesome! I've read about the barriers before, both physical and socially, and that just sounds so strange to me. I hope that continues to fall with time, too.

I've heard such great things about Cape Town!
Faith's recent blog post: Achievement Unlocked: Chopsticks
08/18/2011 12:10
Faith, I think the barriers will continue to fall with time and the continued work of the government. I think you will love Cape Town! It's a wonderful city!
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/18/2011 08:36
I love love love these posts, they are always SO helpful! It would be incredible to spend a month in SA.
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures's recent blog post: My Secret Adventure (Part 6)
08/18/2011 12:11
Awww, thank you Andi! You are so sweet, as always! We loved our month in SA and I think it's an incredible place for anyone to visit no matter how long you have there.
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/18/2011 09:48
Thanks for this. I always like to hear what people like, and especially what they did not like about a destination and why. Not sure I could so that shark diving though!
Kristina @wired2theworld's recent blog post: Tokyo’s Ramen Jiro, A Delicious Happy Accident
08/18/2011 12:13
Kristina, I think you could! It's not as scary as it sounds but VERY much colder than we expected.
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/18/2011 20:24
When I read your posts, I do not know what do I enjoy more -- the post or the photographs in them.... awesome photographs once again .. in fact , each time I read a new post -- I quickly first go through the photographs and then read the matter leisurely enjoying them and the photographs together
Shilpi Banerjee's recent blog post: Paneer Baby Corn Balchao
08/20/2011 06:05
Awww, thank you Shilpi - that's such a lovely compliment. Thank you, thank you!
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/19/2011 08:24
I think the shark diving would peek my interest the most and possibly just trying the night safari just to experience it. My wife it more the restaurants and food person don't think she would go for being in the water knowing with sharks.
08/20/2011 06:04
The sharks mostly avoid humans on regular dives, but you can't really avoid them at all when you're on a shark dive! And the food in South Africa is great so I'm sure your wife would love that part.
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/19/2011 09:32
This is such a helpful post! It's getting bookmarked for when we head to South Africa - of course we have no plans to at the moment, but you can never be too prepared. :) Hope you're enjoying your current travels!
08/20/2011 06:02
Thanks so much Christy! We are enjoying England though we haven't made it to London yet. And, I have too many of these "someday I want to go there" posts bookmarked, too.
Akila's recent blog post: south africa: the low-down
08/21/2011 11:03
Thanks so much for the post! It's going to be our next big trip and your info is so helpful...Especially looking forward to the shark diving! We'll make sure to go in those months when the seas are not so rough. Awesome guide.
08/23/2011 08:45
Thanks so much Mica! I think you'll love SA and definitely waiting until the waters warm up a bit will help a lot in making your trip more enjoyable!
Akila's recent blog post: moving on
08/23/2011 10:00
What a great post with lots of insights. I loved it.
08/27/2011 08:41
Thanks so much Leigh!
Akila's recent blog post: elizabeth on 37th
08/25/2011 12:07
I loved this warp-up post. What a great idea. I'd love to go to South Africa someday.
08/27/2011 09:45
Thanks Sarah! South Africa is amazing.
Akila's recent blog post: elizabeth on 37th
08/29/2011 14:40
good post akila south africa is a beautiful place to visit
08/30/2011 10:11
Thanks Henry! We really loved South Africa!
Akila's recent blog post: elizabeth on 37th
08/30/2011 14:29
yea i went about 3 years ago i think im about due to visit again
09/05/2011 09:32
It's a fantastic place - we so want to go back to Africa!
Akila's recent blog post: biltmore festival of flowers
10/21/2011 07:29
The beautiful pictures are just an example of the attractive allurements of South Africa. You will find almost everything, delicious food, eye-catching scenic beauty and the amazing wild life.
10/26/2011 08:19
I hope you had as wonderful an experience in Zambia and Botswana as we did--I can't wait to go back! Didn't get to South Africa, though, so I've settled for reading about it (see my "reading around the world" series). Thanks for a great post.
NLM's recent blog post: Read Around the World
11/03/2011 08:52
Thanks for the compliment. I highly recommend South Africa next time you are in the area. One thing that separates it from Zambia and Botswana is the excellent international cuisine.
Patrick's recent blog post: rainbow cotswolds
01/05/2012 20:38
Brooke
Loved all of your information on South Africa! My boyfriend and I are flying into Johannesburg next week, staying there for two full days and then heading to Naledi for five days (based off of your recommendation!). Was wondering if you have any recommendations on restaurants and/or things to do in and around Johannesburg. We're definitely doing the Apartheid Museum and a Soweto Tour, but are pretty much open besides that. Thanks!!
01/11/2012 19:11
Brooke, Thank you! You're going to have such an amazing time. South Africa is absolutely unforgettable and will touch your soul. And, I know that the folks at Naledi will treat you very very well.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good recommendations for restaurants in Jo'burg because we were staying with family while there so we didn't eat out at all. On other things to do, we went one day to the Oriental Plaza which is an interesting market area and our family recommended the Gold Reef City (a theme park with gold mining motif) but we didn't have the time to see it. If you're into archaeology and the origins of humanity, the Origins Centre is supposed to be really good.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on South Africa in general and Naledi specifically when you return so if you have a moment, please stop by and leave a comment. Thanks!

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