Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

Garden Route (14-16 Jun)

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Our last weekend trip before leaving South Africa took us to the Garden Route – another “must be seen” that we did not want to miss before moving to the other side of the world. In the winter, it was probably not the very best time to visit, but it was quite pretty still. We flew into George and rented a car to drive along the coast. We stayed in a very nice little place in Knysna.

On the way to Knysna, we made a few stops: We stopped to take a walk through the (rainy) “Garden of Eden”, which features a walking path through the thick and dense Knysna Forest, and we also stopped on the (very windy) beat in Buffalo Bay.

On Saturday, we drove further along the pretty coast towards Plettenberg Bay, and then on to the Tenikwa wildlife reserve. Tenikwa is a sanctuary and rehabilitation center for injured or abandoned animals, and most of the center is dedicated to preserving and supporting wild cats. There are lots of them in enclosures – including Leopards, Servals, Caracals, etc. , and (not a cat but still amazing) a Honey Badger. The highlight, however, was the cheetah walk. Around sunrise, a small group of tourists gets to take two cheetahs out for a walk through the surrounding forest – there are of course guards and the cheetahs are on leashes, but it was still quite amazing to walk – and sometimes run – with the cheetahs. It all happened at the cheetahs’ pace, so whenever they felt like sitting down for a while, or sniffing the bushes, the whole group had to wait. It was quite an amazing an unique experience.

After Tenikwa, we had dinner in Plettenberg bay (some nice sea food) and then drove back to Knysna. The next day, we had to take a flight back to Joburg already. However, since we still had some time and we had seen lol of the costal road already, we took some back roads and mountain passes on the way back to George, which was an entirely different side of the Garden Route, with steep climbs, rocks, and fields.

Some pictures follow.

Pilanesberg (22 Mar)

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Since we had a long weekend, we decided on Saturday 22 March to go to Pilanesberg National Park for a day on safari. We had not been before, and Pilanesberg is the closest spot where you can do self-drive safaris from Johannesburg. We just went in one of our cars, which turned out not to be such a good decision. Due to the very rainy few weeks that we had had on the highveld, not only were some of the roads closed, and others in extremely bad condition, but also was all the vegetation so high and dense that we hardly saw any animals. We spotted a few rhinos from afar, and some hippos play-fighting in a pond, but that was about it. But what was worse is that we actually got the car stuck on a very muddy road – in the middle of the park. Thankfully a park ranger came by and helped with pushing the car back out (and we turned around to get back on the surfaced road afterwards) – but that was a little bit of a sticky situation there, having to leave the car in the middle of the park, with lions potentially somewhere close by… So we won’t do that again!

Summer Holiday Pt. 3: Cape Town (30 Dec – 2 Jan)

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

After coming back from Zanzibar, we spent one night in Johannesburg to rest, re-pack, and wash all our dirty clothes from Kilimanjaro. Then, we flew down to Cape Town to spend New Year’s Eve there, since a bunch of friends from INSEAD were also going to be around, flying in from Europe and the US. We had booked the accommodation only on very short notice, and were lucky to still get a spare room at the same B&B that we stayed at on our first visit to Cape Town, Upperbloem in the Bo-Kap.

On the night of our arrival, we went out to Franschoek for dinner – our friends had been on a wine tour all day so we met them there out in the wine lands. It was awesome to see all of them again and catch up with what was happening – most of them we hadn’t seen since graduation over a year ago.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, we didn’t do very much – the only thing that was on our list was to visit the cheese shop in Cape Town that we had read about in numerous articles. We both really like the South African artisanal cheeses, and in any article on the internet about South African cheeses, this cheese shop was mentioned. Getting there, however, we were quite disappointed – the selection wasn’t huge and the person behind the counter was the most unmotivated salesperson I have ever encountered. She wouldn’t tell us anything more about the cheeses than we could read on the labels ourselves. After this experience, I am so glad that our cheese shop here in Johannesburg, Cheese Gourmet in Linden, seems to be so much better!

In the evening, we went with all our INSEAD friends to Madame Zingara, which basically is a circus / variety theater show over dinner. It was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed spending New Year’s with our classmates like this – unlike last year, where we slept through New Year’s in Yangon because we had an early flight the next day.

The next day, after having slept off our hangover, we headed out to Kirstenbosch Gardens, which is said to be one of the most beautiful botanic gardens in the world. We walked through the park there, which contains around 9000 of the 22000 plant species found in South Africa, and is really very well set up. After having had lunch there as well, we headed out to Llandudno beach were a few of our friends were spending the day sunbathing. In the evening, the rest of the group showed up as well, and we had a very nice sunset picnic on the beach – a very nice finish to our visit in Cape Town, since the next morning we had to leave again for Johannesburg, where we had a few more days to spare before having to go back to work.

November Holiday Pt. 1: Kruger Park (2 – 6 November)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

In November, we had three weeks of holiday and quite an extensive itinerary – Kruger Park with my brother, wedding of some INSEAD classmates in Austin, some days in San Francisco, and then a week on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Our first part of the vacation took us to Kruger Park – since we hadn’t been and my brother was visiting, it was the perfect opportunity. We rented a Land Rover a Defender with a tent on its roof – finally, I had been waiting to drive one of these ever since we got to South Africa, there is just nothing that embodies the Safari spirit like this sturdy vehicle (even though it gave us quite a bit of trouble on the way – a broken windshield wiper, an erratically working A/C, and once it wouldn’t start but instead gave out a loud alarm for five minutes every time we tried to turn the key – after we had finally managed to call the rental agency from the only hill in the camp where there was phone reception, we managed to fix the problem by tightening one of the power connections on the battery).

On the way to the park, we stopped for one night at the Blyde River Canyon, which is a very scenic stretch of land where the highveld gives way to the lowveld – dramatic gorges, steep slopes, and lots of waterfalls. Especially given the long drive from Johannesburg, this stop on the way was quite worth it.

The next day, we made our way into the park. The three days and nights we spent there consisted mainly of driving around during the day on the lookout for animals, and staying in a different camp (Satara, Balule, and Skukuza) each night. One morning we also did a guided sunrise game drive, for which we got up at 3:30 to leave at 4:00 before the first light – quite the experience!

On the animal side of things, we saw lots – unfortunately didn’t manage to complete the big five though as the leopards remained elusive. We saw plenty of all the others though – so many elephants that in the end we didn’t even stop anymore for them, lots of lions, including one that was eating a fresh zebra (the lion unfortunately was quite hidden behind a bush so we didn’t manage to take a good picture), both black and white rhinos, lots of buffaloes, including two that were taking a mud bath right next to the road, and then of course giraffes, kudu, lots and lots of impala, hyenas, yawning hippos, …

All in all, a wonderful trip – some pictures below.

Safari in Limpopo (4 – 6 October)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

In the beginning of October, I was invited to join J in her office’s retreat – which took place at a Safari Resort in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The venue and event were pretty great, but most memorable were the two safaris that we attended – on Saturday morning we joined a bush walk, and on Sunday morning we did a guided car safari.

For the bush walk, we were taken by a ranger with a car out into the wildlife reserve and then started walking. Especially in comparison to our self-drive safari in Namibia, it was great to have the guide’s explanation of all the animal tracks as well as all the smaller animals and plants. We also got to see our first Rhinos on this walk – a mother and a baby who were eating in some bushes. We got pretty close – as close as you would dare on foot – but they were still quite hidden in the bushes.

The game drive on Sunday was even better. It started out relatively uneventful since we were driving around for a long time without seeing any big game. After a while, however, we came across a big group of around six Rhinos that were grazing on an open field somewhere. Here we had a very good view of Rhinos for the first time – they are really incredible and fascinating animals. It is a shame that they are under such danger through poaching. After a while we moved on and managed to track down three lionesses that were hanging out in a foresty patch. The ranger explained that they had only recently been introduced to the park and still hadn’t seen very much of it or of the other animals. We watched them for a while until they started to get moving. The ranger tried to follow them, as good as the roads and tracks allowed – obviously the lions weren’t exactly following them. Over time, we realized that the lionesses were moving closer and closer to where we had earlier seen the Rhinos, and sure enough, eventually the lions got to where the rhinos were grazing and decided to check them out (they are just big cats after all and just as curious). Now the lions probably can’t do much harm to the thick-skinned, heavy rhinos, but the rhinos must have gotten a little confused by those lions circling around them – especially after one of the lions decided to charge a herd of warthogs that were sitting on the other side of the rhinos (the warthogs escaped unharmed, seems the lioness wasn’t hungry and was just playing). Anyway, the rhinos got pretty agitated through all this, and one of the biggest rhinos started attacking another one – first it lifted the other one half up in the air with its horn, then it started chasing the other one around – you wouldn’t think that those massive animals can run so fast! Even our ranger thought that this was a most unusual sight! We continued watching this for some more time until the lions finally had enough and moved on, but we had definitely captured some exciting photos.

I will post the pictures later – they are definitely worth looking at!

Cape Winelands (August)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

It’s been a while since I last posted! That’s mainly because I’ve been busy, but also due to the fact that we haven’t done a lot of traveling since June until now. However, there were some small things before our current bigger trip so I’ll just try to catch up.

During the winter, J was working in Cape Town for a while and I used the opportunity to fly down twice to explore the Winelands around Cape Town somewhat. Both times we were lucky with the weather – the Cape winter rains stopped for the weekend so we were able to enjoy the outdoors. The region is very Afrikaner-dominated and with its vineyards and little towns really feels more like Europe than like Africa. Obviously, most of South Africa isn’t “real” Africa, but the Cape even less so than for example Joburg.

Given that we were mostly driving around by car, we didn’t do that much wine tasting. Instead, we tried to find as many good cheese as we could, which was also great and right down our alley. South Africa actually has a lot of very good artisanal or semi-artisanal cheeses, you just have to know where to look. A lot of the cheeses come from the Cape so we were right at the source.

In addition, we drove down the whale coast to Hermanus, which is a very pretty scenic drive along the ocean in any case, but made even better by the fact that you can see Southern Right Whales splashing around in the water there in the winter months – the whales come there to have their babies in the protected coastal waters, and swim out to the open waters in summer to feed.

On one of the weekends, we also had a small INSEAD meetup in Cape Town since a classmate normally based in the Middle East was stopping by – which was a very fun (and late) night out 🙂

Other than that, we didn’t do much – enjoyed the amazing scenery and the fantastic and still very affordable food 🙂 All in all, those two weekends were definitely worth it!

Durban (16-20 May)

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Last weekend, we went to Durban – we both took Monday off and already flew down on Thursday evening, so we had plenty of time.

Friday, we still both had to work, but we found a very nice Café (Freedom Café) where we could plug in our laptops, have some nice juice and lunch and work – definitely beats sitting in the office! The weather on Friday was not very nice (it even rained a bit), but we didn’t mind since we had to work anyway. In the evening, we went to a Japanese restaurant called Daruma and had some delicious, freshly grilled seafood.

On Saturday, the weather was great – just in time! With the sun out, it was really warm and did not at all feel like winter is coming (which I think never really happens in Durban). After we had checked out the beach just in front of our hotel, we took our rental car north to see some of the other beaches. It is really a very nice area, and in the summer is surely packed with people. There are lots and lots of huge hotels, but thankfully on a random weekend outside high season like this one, there are not too many people. From the coast we then went inland a bit to visit kwaDukuma (Stanger), which is were Zulu king Shaka is buried. There is also a small visitor’s center that shows an informative movie about his life and achievements – he was quite the warrior, unifying quite a big territory under his power. However, he did not realize what threat the European colonization forces meant. Back in Durban in the evening, we went to a nice Indian restaurant called Vintage India. Durban has supposedly the largest accumulation of Indian people outside India due to the masses of indentured labor that the British brought over. The food was very delicious (and one of the things I miss about INSEAD in Singapore is the Indian food in the cafeteria or the food court next door, which was always good!)

On Sunday, we then went to look at Durban itself a bit. We strolled through the quite big Botanic Gardens, and then went to Wilson’s Wharf to have a drink and look across the bay towards the port, which is South Africa’s major container port (and also the port where our own container arrived a couple of weeks back). From the waterfront, we went into the city center to look at some of the colonial buildings (even though there are only very few, the center of Durban is definitely less pretty than that of Cape Town). The City Hall is quite impressive, and houses a small museum of Natural History (including T-Rex model) and an Art Gallery, both of which are free, and were nice and quick visits. After the town, we went to get Bunny Chow. Bunny Chow has nothing to do with bunnies and is a local fast food specialty – basically hollowed-out bread, filled with curry. Quite an interesting concept, but a bit hard to eat without spilling curry everywhere. In the evening, we went to get some more seafood, Thai/Japanese style at The Green Mango.

On Monday, we had to leave already in the afternoon, but we still had time for a long stroll along the beach, including watching a number of surfers enjoying the waves of the Indian Ocean, and also an extended visit to another nice restaurant called Market, which is very beautifully set in a courtyard, with tables and trees surrounding a fountain.

All in all, it was a very nice, relaxing weekend that really felt like a summer holiday.

First Time in Cape Town

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Before we moved to South Africa, everyone kept raving about Cape Town – so of course we didn’t wait for too long before we went there ourselves to check it out. Our first trip happened only over a weekend (19-21 April), so we didn’t have time yet to check out too much of the surroundings, but we got a pretty good idea of the city, Table Mountain, and the cape itself.

We flew down on Friday night after work, so we got to our guest house in Bo-Kaap quite late and couldn’t really see anything of the town yet. On Saturday, we slept in, had breakfast on the lovely terrace of our guest house overlooking the city, and then went to check out a bit of the city close to our guest house, including the Bo-Kaap area with small colorful houses and cobblestone streets, Long Street, and Greenmarket Square.

In the afternoon, we then brought out our newly purchased hiking boots and hiked up Table Mountain. There are a number of ways that you can go up the mountain, including the lazy option of the cable car, and the most popular hiking route, Platteklip Gorge, which is described as steep, not very scenic, and crowded. Since we didn’t feel like taking the most crowded route up, we did a bit of research and opted for a slightly longer option, the Diagonal Route. It started not very steep, but after a while we had to scramble (i.e. use our hands to climb up some rocky bits) quite a bit. Moreover, it was not quite clear all the time whether we were still on what was meant to be the path – there was not really any signage. The vistas were quite amazing though, as we climbed higher and higher. We were also quite lucky with the weather – while we had left Joburg in the pouring rain, there was nary a cloud in Cape Town, not even the so called “table cloth” which hangs on Table Mountain a lot of the time and makes climbing up there less worth a while. Once we had reached the top (the “flat” part) of the mountain, it was much easier again to find the right way since it is much more of an actual path. We were also much much faster up there since we didn’t have to climb anymore (the few steep parts actually had ladders and ropes). To go down, we then took the cable car, which rotates around its axis so you can see in all directions – and it took only about five minutes to go down the same altitude that it had taken us more than three hours to climb up.

Quite exhausted, but also happy about our achievement, we went home to shower and relax and then went out to the V&A Waterfront to have some seafood for dinner – after all, one of the major drawbacks of Joburg is that it is not near any body of water.

On Sunday, we went down to the actual cape – which is quite some distance outside of the city itself. First, we visited the penguin colony at Boulders – they are such funny little creatures, awkwardly waddling around on the beach but super swift and agile when they are in the water.

Then, we went down to Cape Point, looking out on the two oceans (even though I learned since that the defined boundary between the Atlantic and Indian ocean is in fact a bit further east). Unfortunately, we had very limited time since our flight back was in the afternoon already, and we still planned to get lunch in Simon’s Town, so we had to rush. Said lunch then still had to be skipped due to a construction site induced traffic jam that took us half an hour, so we just had time for a quick sandwich on the way.

All in all though, it was a very nice weekend. Some pictures follow.

Easter Trip to the Drakensberg

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Over the long Easter weekend, we did our first proper trip out of Joburg (other than the short one to Pretoria) and went to the Drakensberg and Clarens, which are roughly five hours south(-east) of Joburg. The Drakensberg is a huge mountain rage that stretches for around 1000 km, but its most famous part is between the South African province of kwaZulu-Natal and the kingdom of Lesotho.

For three nights, we stayed in a very nice bed and breakfast in Champagne Valley, which is in the so-called Central Berg area. From there, we drove up to Monk’s Cowl and to Royal Natal in the Northern Berg, and did hikes in both areas. The scenery of the Drakensberg is really stunning, with an extremely high mountain ridge that basically constitutes the border between South Africa and Lesotho. Words can not quite describe the sights we took in there, so you have to look at the pictures for yourself. Our B&B was great too, we had a little terrace with mountain view and our own Braai that we cooked our dinners on.

For the last night, we drove via the Golden Gate Highlands National Park to Clarens, which is a nice little town in the eastern part of the South African province Free State. The park, where we did a couple of scenic drives, is another spectacular mountain sight (also in the pictures below). The town of Clarens itself has lots of pretty little restaurants, art galleries, etc., and was a very nice last stop for the trip.

All in all, we had a very good time and saw some beautiful nature – mostly mountains, but also wildlife such as baboons, a black wildebeest, and lots of birds.

Some pictures follow.


Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Over the weekend, our shipment from Germany finally arrived, containing some clothes and personal belongings, but most importantly, all the furniture! So we had a quite busy weekend, assembling everything (we now have a quite impressive collection of IKEA Allen keys) and also decorating the apartment a bit. Unfortunately, some of the boxes got damp in transit, so some clothes are probably ruined… But that weighs only little in comparison to the great feeling of finally having a fully equipped apartment that feels like home (and not having to eat standing up anymore)!

In addition, I also finally have my bass back – plus the new bass that I bought before we moved, and that I did not yet really get the chance to play. So of course I also had to spend some time trying it out over the weekend as well.

I will update this post with some picture once I have taken them.

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