Happy new year travellers. My new year was awesome! I was born in Nigeria but never really experienced it much. Going back there for new year showed me the fun that can be had there, so was certainly eye opening. Would love to hear your thoughts on if you’d like a travel blog on Lagos? To me, it’s home rather than a holiday, but if our readers want to hear more, can certainly do one!
Anyway, now we’re back in miserable cold England, I’m happy to reminisce on Johannesburg, our second part blog for south Africa. For those of you who read our blog on Cape Town, Johannesburg is very different. Here, you find a lot more culture (whereas Cape Town was more touristy and more western). For Remi and I being mixed race (and Remi mostly, liking to probe and ask questions), the legacy of apartheid was still very much apparent in Johannesburg. It was definitely a great location to visit however, and taught us a lot we didn’t know.
So, the main place to be/stay is Mandela Square. You’ll find your 5* hotels there, the huge shopping mall, and bars/restaurants/clubs. But don’t worry if you stay a little outside this area, most hotels, such as ours, provided free regular transfers to Mandela Square. South Africans are foodies and we certainly ate. Be advised, tips are expected in Johannesburg, as we found out on our first night eating in a Chinese restaurant. Whilst in the square, you have to get the classic picture with the giant Mandela statue.
There are lots of tours you can do in Johannesburg, but as we were there for a wedding (which, I should add, is one of the best venue locations we’ve ever attended. Seriously, anyone wanting a destination wedding should check out where the now “Mr & Mrs Olumide” married – Summer Place – it was simply breath-taking), we had to be selective on what we wanted to do. Here was our list:
· Day trip to Kruger National Park – we found out that Kruger national park was a government establishment and cars were not allowed to venture off tracks. This meant our sighting was limited. Of the 5 big animals we were hoping to see, we only saw 2 (Rhino and Elephant). Apparently there was a private Game Reserve right next to Kruger which is better for seeing more of the animals. Despite this, we had a great time. Kruger isn’t close to Johannesburg so either go and spend a few days there, or if you’re troopers like Hubby & I, expect to have a 5 hour journey there (starting from around 3/4am in the morning), approximately 3 hours around the park, then 5 hour journey back. Thankfully it was a private tour so we slept comfortably in the car throughout the whole trip (not whilst in Kruger off course)! I’ve never done a safari before so this was once in a lifetime experience. We saw elephants up close, just walking towards our car. Rhino’s. Zebra’s. The proximity of how close we were to them was the most amazing feeling. We also saw various birds and chameleons, of which, the driver brought a chameleon into our car to tell us more about it, which was quite cool (you’ll see this in one of the images). This tour definitely fuelled a love for safaris within me so hope to do more of these on future travels (such as Sri Lanka, where we will be visiting this April).
We had a white south African driver on this tour and we heard one version of his experience in south Africa.
For those who don’t want to do the safari, you can simply visit Lions Park in Johannesburg which I’m told is just as great an experience
· Day tour of Johannesburg, including Soweto. This is a great way to see the best sites. We saw Mandela’s house / street and boy was it exciting. The community spirit was very much apparent, with various groups in dance and being sincerely happy. It was a great culture shock. On the same street was Desmond Tutu’s house which we also got to see. We visited the different classes/levels of homes. And then visited their shanty towns. Now, no shanty town is better than others, but what we praised South Africa for was free light and free water. For those on our tour, most happened to come from an African background, so we had different experiences of shanty lives without the luxury of water, light or even satellite TV (which even most of the Johannesburg shanty huts had). On this tour, a guy takes you back to where he lived, and do expect to put your hand in your pocket for tips.
On this same trip, we visited the square where Hector Peterson’s memorial was. It really brought to life how far entrenched apartheid went, when school children are also willing to stand up for their rights.
We had a black south African driver on this tour and heard his version of experiences. For hubby & I listening and comparing was quite something.
· Visit the Apartheid Museum – seeing the experience of what life was like. One side for whites and the other for non-whites. I joked to hubby, as mixed race kids, what would we have chosen, or be classed as? The museum is a lot of information to soak in but definitely worth the visit. I love Mandela and was so good to read, watch and hear more about his life and the struggles
· Take the hop-on hop-off. If you haven’t clocked by now, I love this bus! It really is the best way to see the “must-do’s” in a town, especially if you’re not spending long there. We visited sites such as constitution hill, and again, we had accounts from white and black south Africans during our bus tour speaker information. This divide kept seeping through which was actually very sad for us personally. The bus also took us past gold mountains (remnants of) where diggings over many years had taken place for Gold – hence the nickname, “city of gold”. When seeing this, we fully understood why the western world didn’t want to leave such a beautiful country.
· Party party! Given the nature of our visit, with friends and family, we did visit the bars and clubs. It was fun – that’s all we’ll say on that!
If none of those tours tickle your fancy, then simply google “top 10 things to do in” whatever location you’re travelling to, and based on reviews, you’ll get the most popular places to visit. If given the time, I would have also loved to do Johannesburg & Holocaust Museum, Gold Reef City, and Cradle of Human Kind.
I’m sure even from this blog you can see the difference between Johannesburg & Cape Town, although only a few hours apart in distance (if you haven’t read the cape town blog, you must do). I know there are concerns with safety and in Johannesburg we did feel like we had to be more streetwise, but as long as you’re smart, stick to known places, you should be fine. We even used the Uber (as there were 2, or more of us), which was a great and cheap way of getting around (especially for those party nights!). And off course, don’t open your car doors to anyone (even our transfer guy who was a local, locked his doors when taking us to/ from the airport).
See you next month travellers 🙂
For the (fun!) video, click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrXERdwi2aY