South Africa is dangerous?
First stop: Johannesburg aka Joburg
When people kept telling me how dangerous South Africa is, it didn’t weigh easy on my mind. Especially during a heated discussion with the bartender at Ronnie’s Sex Shop on Route 62 who told me his opinion about South Africa: “Everyone here in South Africa knows at least one person who was killed or kidnapped by someone.” This sentence sticks in my head to this day.
Well, here I’ll be sharing my personal experiences from my months in South Africa with you. My first stop was Johannesburg. My Airbnb was in the CBD.
So I learned my lesson like in South America (especially back then in Brazil). In most African countries you simply don’t live and stay in the CBD (I had to experience that later in Nairobi again). The CBD has a bad reputation – most of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes live in the city suburbs.
Due to some of the worst travel experiences in the past, I didn’t mind exploring the city on foot in the CBD and Johannesburg in general. Daily distances in South Africa are usually at least 20km of walking. Curfew time during Covid was 8 p.m. I’m not a party person anyway and don’t like to spend time outside after sunset on my travels in South Africa.
Most people avoid Johannesburg, but I think you must visit it at least once in South Africa. You can spend a few days there to better understand the political issues and history of the country. My highlights were the Apartheid Museum and the luscious green plants in the various cafes. Somehow totally bohemian.
Another part of the city that you should consider visiting is SoWeTo.
Soweto (short for South Western Townships) is a city of cultural interaction. The townships grew out of shantytowns and slums and were developed by Black people under the apartheid system. It is famous because it is the home of former President Nelson Mandela and the Hector Petersen Memorial site. The Memorial and Museum honor the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid. Both sites are just a few blocks from where Hector Peterson was shot on June 16, 1976.
Blyde River Canyon
If you love nature as much as I do and want great memories of a South Africa road trip, you can rent a car in Johannesburg and drive to Blyde River Canyon. The Canyon is 26km long and one of the largest on our planet, but it is smaller than the Fish River Canyon in Namibia (which I never got to visit if you read my last post). I usually don’t like to do comparisons but the Blyde River somehow reminds me of the Blue Mountains National Park in Sydney, Australia.
The canyon is part of the Panorama Route and I stayed in the town called Graskop. You can hike for a few days in the canyon and visit the beautiful God’s Window – the scenery literally looks like something from the window of God.
I bet Tolkien got some inspiration for Lord of the Rings from Drakensberg. I spent nearly a week just hiking in Drakensberg’s different national parks. Drakensberg is the highest mountain range and a spectacular place in Southern Africa, with peaks that rise to 3,482 meters. The mountains themselves span approximately 1,000 kilometers from southwest to northeast.
I spent those days hiking in the Royal Natal National Park and had an unbelievably great time in the Drakensberg. I got to know very different South Africans from all walks of life in the hostel I stayed at.
Souvenir from the Drakensberg
The following story is based on a true story and narrates why I will likely have a scar on my right shin for rest of my life.
Here is a guideline on what NOT to do in the mountains:
- Look for a summit called Cathedral Peak which is about 3004m high. The hike is 19km long, ascends 1600 meters and usually takes 9-10 hours. Not very technical, but you need rock climbing experience to get to the peak.
- Start the day and hike without having eaten anything, and bring less than half of a litre water with you. Hiking is like meditation to me and I hardly eat or drink even if I’m hiking for half the day.
- Within the first half hour, cross a river with medium current, fall into the river. Since my hiking boots are not waterproof, I used my flip flops for the rest of the hike.
- The weather is bad due to gray and foggy mist. And the trail is does not seem marked in any way, so you have to use your GPS system to navigate.
- Almost at the top, the weather is rainy and misty. It’s already 2 pm and around 6 pm the sun goes down. On the last ascent you have to climb rocks and while descending you fall down the rocks from a height of 3 meters. No bones broke fortunately, just a lot of leg injuries. Hands shaking with adrenaline, you know you have to go down and hike back the last 9 kilometers before something worse happens.
- On the way back you get lost, falling and sliding into some bushes on a steep slope that scars your body even more.
- You come back to the hostel in the evening and you will never forget this insane 19 km hike in your life. You cannot fall asleep because your body is still in shock. You’ll remember this adventure forever, and even if you don’t have grandchildren, you write it down for others to read one day. I know I was stupid, but I learned a lot from this hike. Next time I hope my wisdom keeps me away from my stupidity (or not…)
Hitchhiking to Durban
A very nice person took me from Drakensberg to Durban. Everyone advised me to never hitchhike in South Africa because it’s too dangerous. I would not do it again, sometimes it’s better to listen to warnings from others (later I’ll tell you another story from Botswana).
In Durban I was drained by the hot and humid weather. I just went for a walk on the beach and got my first bunny chow in South Africa, which my friend Arun from Namibia told me I have to try once in Durban. Bunny Chow is a South African fast food dish; a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with very spicy curry (I chose vegetable curry).
The following is a typical Hong story
Somehow I was not enjoying Durban a lot and wanted to start driving the scenic Garden Route of South Africa. Therefore, I wanted to take a flight from Durban to Port Elizabeth to start driving the scenic Garden Route, heading to Cape Town. While I was talking cheerfully with my mom on the phone, sitting at boarding gate number 13 (the flight to Durban the boarding gate was 16, just 3 gates away), I missed my flight to Durban.
Somehow I confused the flight time with the boarding time. The airline even sent me a message on my phone to board but I thought it was too early. So just sitting a few meters away from my original flight boarding gate I still managed it to miss my flight.
I ran to the boarding gate and saw the notification that the airplane had left. In my head I thought they were joking. Desperately I moved to the airline counter and told them what just happened. And they laughed at me and I laughed with them. I explained to the crew members I really wanted to leave Durban. Then I asked without hesitance where the next flights were going to, to which airline staff responded “Joburg or Cape Town”.
I hesitated for barely a second and decided to leave Durban for Cape Town.
I go with the flow
My entire plan ended up in a mess. But if it hadn’t happened this way, I would have never stayed at “Never At Home” hostel in Cape Town and met my amazing hiker friend, Dylan. It was his last night in the hostel and we decided to go together with some of his friends for a hike to Table Mountain the following day. That’s how I made another great friend during my trip in Africa. Dylan is originally from Australia, but got stuck in South Africa for more than a year due to Covid and Australia’s strict pandemic measures.
The universe is quite strange sometimes, but in a great way because I take most of the opportunities thrown at me. I’ve learned that life is always happening while you plan it.
Three weeks in Cape Town
I admit I was tempted to settle down in Cape Town after finishing traveling 100 countries. As many of my friends know, in the end I did not – I ended up settling down in Kenya instead. Nevertheless, Cape Town is a beautiful and mesmerizing city with lots of vegan food options!
My days were quite the same: I worked a little bit online, and then I went to Table Mountain to hike (almost every day – not a surprise to people who know me). I met Dylan and some other friends every other day for a hike, lunch or dinner or climbing Lion’s Head. I did a great free walking tour.
One thing which saddened me is that when eating at my favorite vegan places, you would mostly see white people being served by Black people. Am I going crazy? There is this tension lingering in the air about different races and the social political gaps in between. Nowadays the ANC is not popular anymore and the South African government is corrupt and unstable, like many other African governments. But this is all very political and I want to focus in this post more about my experiences of traveling in South Africa. Basically my weeks in Cape Town went by very fast.
Bike Day to Chapman’s Peak
As some of you might know, I LOVE biking (I have too many hobbies and it is quite difficult to master and focus on just one). I really miss my racing bike that I left in Taiwan.
Anyway, one of my favorite days while staying in Cape Town was my bike ride with Dylan to Chapman’s Peak.
It is such a beautifully scenic bike ride from Cape Town to Simon’s Town! At Simon’s Town you can see the African Penguin at Boulders Beach – their breeding season is from February to August. We biked a total of 80km in one day, with a total elevation of more than 3000 metres. That is the definition of fun to me, speaking for myself though – Dylan was quite drained at the end of the bike trip haha.
But YES, Chapman’s Peak and the whole bike ride is definitely one of my top ten bike rides around the globe! I had so much fun, I wish I could describe my excitement and feelings better. But if you love biking then give this ride a try if you ever come to Cape Town!
Garden Route in South Africa
First stop: George
I stopped at George just to meet a friend I made in the hostel I lived in in Cape Town. George is little town and close to Knysna.
Second stop: Knysna
Tell me a tale about a hippie place called Knysna, where the sea is crystal blue and the sandstone cliffs that dramatically separate its tranquil lagoon from the pounding surfing spots of the Indian Ocean. A place to go for holidays for many South Africans.
Third stop: Wilderness
Wilderness is about hiking the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail and many other trails around this beautiful corner of South Africa. Famous it is for the “Map of Africa Viewpoint”, the Wilderness Beach and National Park.
Plettenberg Bay was my favorite place on the Garden Route. There are so many options for activities, from visiting Monkeyland (conservation work) to the must-see Tsitsikamma National Park nearby.
My personal highlight in Plettenberg Bay is the Robberg Hiking Trail. The trail is a circular trail and one of the most scenic trails I hiked in South Africa. Also it is one of the most popular and well-known hiking trails in the area. Everyone who ever plans to go to Plettenberg Bay, please don’t miss this scenic 9km well-marked trail going through sand and cliff stones at the peninsula. I ended the end of my hike swimming in the Indian Ocean with a purple tangerine sunset. Nothing better than connecting to the miracles of Mother Nature!
Another highlight was the Canyoning Adventure I did with AfriCanyon River Adventures. The guides are so much fun and super motivated to take you on an unforgettable adventure. Abseiling in and around waterfalls with lots of cliff jumps and swimming through natural rock pools gave me a feeling of being in the Jungle Book and exploring the Jungle with Baloo.
Last Stop: Route 62 and Cango Caves
On the way back to Cape Town I decided to take the famous Route 62 on the Garden Route. It is associated with the legendary US byway Route 66. On this scenic route one passes through little farming towns such as Ladismith or wine producing towns like Montagu. This route is not only scenic but full of character. Stop by at Ronnie’s Sex Shop and have a deep conversation with the bartender. That’s the person with the quote I mentioned at the beginning of this post which stuck in my mind until now.
If you love caves just as much as I do, stop at Cango Caves if you can. The caves are located at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn. I stayed in Oudtshoorn for a night – a touristy place to sample ostrich meat and visit some ostrich farms. At some of the farms they offer tourists to ride on the back of ostriches. I know I don’t have the right to tell anyone what they should do, but while for some of you it might sound like fun, it is actually painful for these animals and dangerous, too.
Back to Cango Caves: It is the most popular tourist cave in Africa and attracts many visitors from overseas. The extensive system of tunnels stretches over 4 km. But you can only visit a quarter of the length with a supervisor guide in a group.
Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jumping
The highest Bungee Jump in the world is Bloukrans Bridge Bungy at 216 meters (709 ft) above the Bloukrans River. It is situated on South Africa’s Garden Route in the Tsitsikamma area.
You might think I am crazy; I didn’t think I was until I looked down just 3 seconds before I jumped. I never bungee jumped in my life.
Therefore, I just wanted to jump from this world-famous Bloukrans Bridge. Overexcitement filled me until they tied me up and I looked down from the bridge. Oops, it was much higher than it looks. Too late, Hong.
Nevertheless, I jumped and I felt like a bird in the sky for a few seconds. For the time falling, it didn’t feel like my heart was racing. It felt more like being in Nirvana, if I had to describe it; like being in the moment 100%. Even after a long meditation, I wouldn’t reach the kind of head space like I did on that bungee jump. Writing about the jump now, my heart still races. I will put the video below so you can watch it and might scratch the feelings of the height I faced.
Would I do it again? Actually yes, I wonder myself if I would feel as blank as I did on the first jump.
Au Revoir South Africa!
So what do you think about my travels in South Africa?
Personally, I’d say I had a great time. If you don’t consider Namibia as an entry point for your Africa travels, I recommend South Africa as an easy starting point – on my road trips through the country I often thought I was in Europe.
Botswana and Okavango Delta – Here I come to you!
Next I want to bring you on a beautiful safari with me in Botswana.
The most beautiful one I’ve had in my life so far. I want to take all of you with me on my safari experience in the peerless Okavango Delta!