South Africa Archive


Getting under the skin of South Africa

South Africa, the rainbow nation, is a land of dichotomies and contrasts. While the natural beauty and diversity of the country is stunning and the […]

South Africa, the rainbow nation, is a land of dichotomies and contrasts. While the natural beauty and diversity of the country is stunning and the wildlife tantalizingly exotic; it is the people we have met here that leave the biggest impression. From fellow travellers to the locals, both black, white & everything in between, everyone is engaging and ready with a smile and a tale. We have spent many nights simply sitting around meeting people at the backpacker inns we have stayed at, rather than heading out to explore, simply because the people were so interesting. India was very different to this, we met a lot of fantastic people there, but the place somehow forces you to put up more barriers I think, if only to filter out the visual and sensory onslaught that India entails. Perhaps travellers there were all just seeking or searching for something different and off on their own trip. Africa has none of that, it is a place for the adventurous and the energy of the local people just seems naturally more socially infectious.

On the traveller side, we have met lots of students, doctors, nurses & other volunteers, mostly European (many Dutch) & some Americans with big hearts and aspirations, but few from Australia or Asia (perhaps that’s just seasonal?). There are many older travellers, retires and business people and regular interceptions of other longer term travellers like us, mid-stream though around their own world adventures of different types. There are too many travellers to mention of course, but its hard not to give a special plug to a fellow mad aussie Tristan – who is running 52 marathons in 52 countries in 52 weeks, yet still finding time to ‘run with the bulls’, attend rock festivals and have a regular night on the town. (Follow him at

And then there are the South Africans. South Africa is both rich and poor, it is Africa on a micro scale with all its different tribes and yet also global with its English, Dutch, Asian and Indian roots all bound together. In so many ways, the country is a crucible for the rest of the worlds’ struggles and its internal conflicts seem to represent all of our burdens as globalization and the ‘one world’ concept struggles to become reality. On the surface everyone is incredibly friendly, you get genuine engaging smiles & conversation from almost everyone you encounter. Perhaps this is part pre-world cup face, part cultural, but it is touching & welcoming nonetheless. The more time you spend here though, the more you start to scratch the surface and realize the country is bubbling away with strained racial tensions and still trying to come to terms with its past and its future. Racism is real here. In Australia, there are plenty of rednecks and racial overtones but most are bred through ignorance and lack of contact with other peoples. It is almost superficial, South Africa is different. Here there is a history and cause to the prejudices. Like its famed diamonds, it is uncut; each potential facet has its own character, history, issues and opinions. Yet with all its potential, it is still well short of the necessary polish and cuts required to really catch the light. Perhaps time is the polisher here, it is hard to be sure.

White South Africans seem to be a paranoid bunch, mostly justly chastened by their own experiences I am sure. We were constantly warned about crime and to expect the worst in people, despite all our experiences to the contrary. One white South African I met told me that “we fear them because of the potential for crime and violence we see disguised in every face. They fear us because of what we have & can do to them” with our wealth, power and knowledge of the system.

Another South African from Joburg told us, that since apartheid every Taxi (with a black driver) he gets in, drives at insane, dangerous speeds, as some form of subtle retaliation for sins past. Now, the next generation of white kids (his sons) have grown up experiencing this and they feel anger and resentment seeding new racial issues of their own. The cycle continues.

Another guy we met showed me an SMS from his daughter, the gist of which read “Hi Daddy, grandad got shot the other day, he is doing much, much better though”, a childhood positive spin on an otherwise everyday Mercedes hijacking in Joburg.

Other’s reminiscence about the times of Apartheid because things got done then, under the new regime everything is corrupt, African style – suggesting that the place is dysfunctional at every level of organization these days. The papers seem to suggest so as well, with scandals aplenty. President Zuma has loads of wives & 25+ kids, perhaps he just needs to feed them all somehow 😉

On the flip side our black Suweto tour guide, was showing us the township which we were expecting to be a ghetto, but looked like a pleasant neighbourhood in comparison to the barbed wire, guard dogs and heavily patrolled Joburg residences. He explained its simply by “Ubuntu”, as in, “we believe in community above all else”, something the white folks don’t have.

Our guide in Kruger had a lot to say on Apartheid and both his and his fathers struggles working under British and Afrikaans rule and the mines of Johannesburg, but that story we mostly knew already. Most revealing were his comments about the other tribes, particularly the Zulu (Zuma the PM is a Zulu), describing them as not very intelligent for a start. Suggestions and overtones we would hear many times, the black population themselves seem firmly divided by their own tribes and politics. The divide is far deeper than simple skin colour.

In Durban we met Indians (there are something like 1.3 million in Durban), seemingly the most positive of the lot, while in Capetown we met ‘coloureds’ (of Malaysian / Indonesian slave backgrounds). All were quick to offer different views, opinions and issues again, to the same endless debate. Everyone is very forward with their conversations about race and race issues, it seems to be the one saving grace – open discussion, however negative has to be some kind of step.

While we have been here the leader of the ANC youth (a subset of Mandella’s old party, the ANC), has publicly been singing a song containing the inflammatory lyrics “kill the boer”, he has violently thrown a BBC journalist out of a news conference and just visited Mugabe in Zimbabwe praising some of his policies against white farm reclamations and attitudes towards foreign company ownership. In the same week, the leader of the AWB (the Afrikaans version of white supremists I gather) gets murdered by 2 black farmhands and both parties are rallying against each other with retaliation statements, while the rest of nation waits on tenderhooks, suspecting a race war to break out.

All this in the lead up to what should South Africa’s coming out party. If anything was going to unite this place, the World Cup should. It’s a black mans sport, the national obsession and a global showcase of South Africa to the world, one suspects it is their best chance at trying to forge some national unity.


South African Travelogue

After India, arriving in South Africa was almost like coming home too oz. Overtly friendly people, western comfort foods aplenty (meat pies & ginger beer […]

After India, arriving in South Africa was almost like coming home too oz. Overtly friendly people, western comfort foods aplenty (meat pies & ginger beer foremost among them), rugby and cricket on TV and fantastic natural settings, all under the familiar gaze of the southern night skies and the Southern Cross. Arriving in Johannesburg from Mumbai, we hung out for a few days and decompressed – Megumi recovering from a bout of Indian belly (her first would you believe, struck down on the last day) and just generally soaked up being in a western country for the first time in 6 months.

Joburg was not the murder capital we were expecting and after India, we found everyone friendly, relaxed & full of smiles, albeit quite expensive, (having to get around in taxi’s because its ‘too dangerous to walk’ takes its toll). After nothing more than shopping, sleeping and eating for a few days, we embarked on our African adventure. First stop, the Apartheid museum (the first museum on our trip so far believe it or not), before doing a tour of the famous Suweto township, home to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela among many others and central in the Apartheid battles and uprisings. Expecting an extreme ghetto, coming from the slums of Mumbai, it was surprisingly an incredibly civilized city (a black population of more than 3 million), home to a fantastic new World Cup stadium there were lots of nice houses balancing the tin shacks, a modern transport infrastructure and remarkably in contrast to Joburg, free of barbed wire and security guards. One gets the sense that this was the frontline in the ‘new South Africa’ World Cup cover story (or cover up depending on your level of cynicism)

On Safari in Kruger

From Joburg, we caught the Baz Bus (a convenient minibus service for backpackers that allows you to hop on and hop off at backpacker destinations of your choice across the country), for our first safari adventure in Kruger National Park. Staying at the Funky Monkeybackpacker in Nelspruit, we signed up for a relatively cheap, good value safari adventure. That taken care of, I sank tequila with some locals, endured a late night dip in the pool after losing at cards and suddenly felt like I had settled into travel South African style.

The Kruger safari was a 3 day, 2 night adventure, sleeping in canvas tents within the national park and touring the grounds in the custom built safari jeeps that seem to permeate this part of the world (plus a spotlighting tour at night). For company we had a local guide in his mid forties, having been tracking / guiding for nearly 30 years, 2 Swedes, a German girl and a peculiar Hungarian / Israeli chap who quickly earned the moniker Mr Bean. Kruger is a fantastic park and you are hard pressed not to see plenty of wildlife – we chalked up a dozen lions, hundreds of elephants, impala, rhino’s, hyaena’s, giraffe’s, hippo’s, crocs, eagles and zebra’s amongst everything else. (Actually everything but the leopard & cheetah on Megumi’s hitlist anyway) As with all safari’s in Africa it was not cheap, but stunning and a fantastic way to integrate into the African experience.

Lions at play

Post safari, we decided to ditch the limited confines of the BazBus route and hire a car so that we could forge our own paths over the mountains into Swaziland and Zululand beyond. A 7 hour winding adventure over dodgy, forestry dirt tracks into a sketchy Swaziland border crossing and remote logging villages, all in a tiny Tata sedan ,almost made us re-evaluate the wisdom of this choice, but eventually we found our way through the mountains into Swazilands civilized tourist belt and set ourselves up at Sondeza backpackers, in the middle of Milwane Wildlife Sanctary for more natural immersion. This backpacker has it all – warthogs mowed the lawn, ostriches woke us up tapping the windows at dawn, hippo’s and crocs roamed the pond and the surrounding fields had all manner of impala, antelope and zebra roaming about happily free of carnivores. Breakfast and dinner was cooked on a braa (Afrikaans for BBQ), beef and warthog for me & maize (pap) for Megumi (newly vegetarian and struggling in Africa!) Happy to soak up our new environs, our Swaziland experience was limited to this relaxed point of view; interactions with locals on the sanctuary and the surrounding crafts/ tribalware shops, but we get the feeling we didn’t miss too much.

Hippo's fighting / kissing, St Lucia

From there we headed down to Sodwana Bay, back into South Africa and the Elephant Coast for a brief flirt with some of South Africa’s best diving. Unable to compete with a ferocious rip and Megumi seasick from the aggressive beach surf take-offs, we cut our losses and keep heading downwards to the St Lucia estuary via the Hluhluwe Reserve. Hluhluwe is Rhino central and the park effectively brought the black rhino back from extinction. Doing a self drive safari through the national park, we managed to see more than 20 Rhino’s. One mean bastard charged our car from the bushes at dusk and the elusive black rhino (almost impossible to see apparently) happened to walk right up to the restaurant window as we ate lunch! St Lucia was all about hippo’s and crocs, the beautiful estuary, a UNESCO heritage area has some amazing birdlife, fishing and pretty dangerous waters, we took a boat cruise up the estuary to see the sites, but getting somewhat sick of wildlife spotting by now, kept the visit short.

For the final leg of the car trip, we jumped across Zululand to the Drakensburg mountains, where we spent the night in a beautiful backpacker, the Inkosana Lodge, waking up in the awesome shadow of the Dragon Mountains peaks and then exploring ancient bushman cave paintings (approx. 3000 years old) before hiking up into one of the surrounding valleys at Giant’s castle, before heading onto Durban. The Drakensburg mountain range borders the country of Lesotho and is a remarkable extension of sharp peaks and beautiful grass covered valleys. We could have easily spent a week there, hiking trails and exploring the numerous cave paintings, but we had only given ourselves 3 weeks in South Africa and already craved some real, African experiences as opposed to the entirely familiar western experience we were encountering, we decided to move on as quickly as we could.

Bushmen paintings - shamanic transformation

From Durban we rejoined the BazBus backpacker trail and spent 3 days on the Wild Coast in Coffee Bay, staying at Bomvu Backpackers. Coffee Bay is remote, accessed by a 2 hour incredibly potholed road from the nearest highway and for that reason amongst the most untouched areas remaining in South Africa. The beach, community and remote hill sides Xhosa townships of round, pale blue ‘rondavel’ huts, all create a fascinating backdrop. And Bomvu itself is an institution in the community here, with live drumming sessions at nights around the fire and jazz / drumming / trance festivals held in their own private valley. While we were there, a jazz / drumming festival was being held, largely targeted towards the local community with many local bands, singers and performers. Not really my style of music, but a lot of fun, mostly because it provided the opportunity for a real, local interaction experience, watching the locals dance, party and move is hypnotic in itself and something quite hard to find in a country of segregation and pre-packaged tourist tribal experiences.

From there, we reluctantly made our way down to Port Elizabeth and then Knysna, a pretty settlement on a beautiful lake, before rounding out with the better part of a week in the beautiful city of Capetown. Here, apart from just relaxing from the backpacker crawl of the previous few weeks and exploring the city, we managed to meet all manner of interesting fellow travellers – departing, arriving and planning their own exotic adventures. We did manage to score a clear day and climb Table Mountain to soak up the stunning Capetown views and do some resupplying for the trip ahead, but decided to skip the wine tours, beaches, Cape of Good Hope tour and other sights. In part, we were a little chastened by the high cost of tourist travel in South Africa, but largely were left craving ‘real African experiences’. We had gotten used to living in more edgy places now I think, more used to the real and fascinating reality that travel through the third world seduces you with. The natural beauty of South Africa was stunning and we met some fantastic people, but the rest was a bit too comfortable and westernized to satisfy us for long. Perhaps we will appreciate that more a little bit later of course, but for the moment 3 and 1/2 weeks was enough. We were keen to move on. Next stop the stunning deserts landscapes of Namibia.


Table Mountain – Capetown, South Africa

The stunning view from Table Mountain overlooking Capetown and Cape of Good Hope. The last known whereabouts of Pchan...RIP!

The stunning view from Table Mountain overlooking Capetown and Cape of Good Hope. The last known whereabouts of Pchan…RIP!


Drakensburg (Dragon Mountains) – Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Just a small glimpse of the mystical towering cliffs of Giants Castle, in central Drakensberg...

Just a small glimpse of the mystical towering cliffs of Giants Castle, in central Drakensberg bordering Lesotho. We could have spent weeks exploring its many nooks and spectacular crannies