February 10, 2020 6 mins
I went to South Africa for a week to celebrate my parents’ 25th Wedding Anniversary. My flight from San Francisco was delayed because of a technical issue and I had to reschedule my connection to Johannesburg. According to our itinerary, I was supposed to land at 7 in the morning and drive down to Kruger National Park. The Orpen Gate apparently closes at 5 and my rescheduled flight reaching at 12 PM was not going to cut it. After I landed at Johannesburg, I took another domestic flight to Hoedspruit and then headed over to Kruger National Park.
We were booked on a night safari. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the big cats but I really enjoyed the ride through the Night sky. Also, the safari had small spotlights on both sides, which definitely felt like something that shouldn’t be legal.
The next day we just drove around the park and saw the usual suspects - Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Deer, Hyenas, Honey Badgers and some spectacular views of the forest.
The following day we went to Lions Park near Johannesburg. It is essentially a reverse zoo where you sit inside a car and drive inside enclosures. Then you also get to play with the cubs.
Next stop was Cape Town. Its a short 2 hour flight from Johannesburg. The very first place we went to in Cape Town was the Table Mountain. It is highly weather dependent and one of the must visit places in South Africa. The Gondola ride up the mountain is quite an experience in itself - it rotates around its axis giving you a complete 360° view. From the top of the mountain you can essentially see the entire city.
Another interesting place in Cape Town is the Lion’s Head Mountain, named so because apparently it looks like a Lion’s head. Honestly, I don’t see it. Nevertheless, it looks beautiful.
The next morning I ran across the Beach Road and it is absolutely stunning.
Shortly after breakfast we left for Boulders Beach commonly famous for inhabiting Penguins. I had never actually seen a penguin in the ‘wild’ before so this was quite an experience for me.
Next stop was Cape Point — also my favorite of all the places I’ve seen in South Africa. Cape Point is the south western tip of the African Continent. Our guide claimed that Cape Point was the place where the two oceans - the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean met. On further research, I found that the guide was misinformed and the official geographic divide is defined by Cape Agulhas which is about a 100 miles South East of the Cape Point. Nevertheless, it is simply breathtaking.
The lighthouse atop the Cape Point was originally erected in 1860 and its white flashing light could be seen by ships 67 kms out to sea. Since it was often covered by cloud and mist, it was eventually destroyed by the Portuguese liner ‘Lusitania’ in 1911. This ‘new’ lighthouse was subsequently erected on a higher ground.
Near Cape Point, another spot to visit is the Cape of Good Hope. I do not have strong sources to cite on this but apparently the first ever explorer to see the Cape, Bartolomeu Dias, named it Cabo das Tormentas or ‘Cape of Storms’ but later changed it to Cabo da Boa Esperança or ‘Cape of Good Hope’ at King John II’s suggestion since it optimistically opened up a sea route to the East.
The next day after another 5K run, we went to a spot called ‘Maiden’s Cove’ which has a great view of the Twelve Apostles. The day we went, it was outrageously windy (outrageous even for the locals). I was quite literally being pushed back. It was all fun and games till the sand from the beach started hitting my face. The view made the entire thing worth it.
Another recommended spot was ‘Seal Island’. We took a boat out there and it was probably the worst hour of the entire trip. I was extremely sea sick and couldn’t be bothered to look at the Seals.
The day after, we visited a few wineries in Constantia Valley and Stellenbosch. It is hard to pick a favorite but I really liked Steenberg Farm because of how knowledgeable the servers were. One of the best wines I tasted there is ‘The Black Swan’. The story behind the name is actually quite interesting. The Steenberg Farms were established in 1682 by Catherina Ustings Ras, a German immigrant to the Dutch Cape Colony. It was originally named Swaaneweide or ‘Feeding place of the swans’, probably because of her hometown of Lubeck, Germany. Her first five husbands died mysteriously and this wine was dedicated to her — ‘The Black Witch’ but negative names don’t play too well from a marketing standpoint so they changed it to ‘The Black Swan’. I really loved the taste even though my palette isn’t mature enough to pick up notes of lime, gooseberry, blackcurrant and the coat of cold mountain-side breeze on the grapes.
On the last day in Cape Town, we visited a neighborhood called ‘Bo - Kaap’ which is known for its brightly colored homes and cobbled stone streets.
We couldn’t get tickets to visit Robben Island which, according to over tour guide, is another highly recommend spot to visit because of its historical importance. Apart from the places above, we also saw the Grand Parade, Nelson Mandela’s statue at the City Hall, the V & A Waterfront, Two Oceans Aquarium (which I felt was a waste of time) and some grocery stores to pick up some South African snacks. NikNaks Chilli Cheese is absolutely delicious.
We then flew back to Johannesburg. I only had half a day before I needed to be at the airport to fly back to San Francisco, so we went to a place called ‘Chameleon Village’ to buy some souvenirs. Calling the sales’ practices within this flea market ‘aggressive’ would be an understatement. Based on an account of ten stores within a span of 2 hours: they essentially pull you in their store and assure you that you don’t need to buy anything and invite you to just ‘come in and look’. Next, they would try to ‘gift’ you something for visiting their country. I politely declined but they essentially forced me to take it. Then they want you to ‘support’ them in return. It got to a point where I had to tell them that I’m willing to just give them the money and not get anything in return because I didn’t have enough space in my luggage to take anything back. Of course I didn’t want to disrespect them by just handing them money so I just end up paying for the ‘gift’ that I never wanted.
Another tactic is basically when you actually buy something from one store, the salesman would hand it over to someone else to wrap it up. They take you to their store to ‘come in and look’ while they wrap it up and the whole cycle continues. I find it hard to say ‘No’ to things and the entire enterprise feels exploitative to people like me. I appreciate that it is hard to make a living by selling souvenirs but the ‘gift’ approach makes the entire experience feel deceiving and exhausting.
Apart from the very last experience, South Africa was amazing and the people were extremely friendly and chilled out. Definitely one of the best places for a family vacation!
Written by Yash Agrawal in San Francisco.