As a tourist destination, South Africa has suffered a public relations disaster during most of our lifetimes. However, if one can look past the negativity then the intrepid traveller can find delight around every corner and there some very good reasons to visit South Africa, particularly for Australians.
It’s practically next door, especially for West Aussies making it very achievable to use frequent flyer points for all of part of the journey. I used Qantas frequent flyer points to get the family to Johannesburg (via Sydney as South African Airways no longer code share with Qantas and there’s no direct Qantas flight to Africa). We made our way overland to Cape Town where we flew back home to Perth via Dubai with an amazing stopover experience for no extra charge with Emirates. I booked direct on Emirate’s website and paid in Dirham with a credit card that does not charge conversion fees for AUD$640 per person. The timings of the flights weren’t fantastic but if you look up different options on Google’s flight matrix you can see where the cheapest flights are for dates and times. Even on special you will not find a fare from Perth for under $1000.
It’s very cheap in South Africa and most Aussies love to save a dollar where the conversion rate with the Rand will get you more bang for your buck. We ate out for at least one main meal a day and for our family of four, including two very hungry teen boy caterpillars, the bill was always around AUD$40 including drinks but no dessert. Sometimes we even had to get a doggy bag. We don’t drink beer but if you do then it’s practically free. My liqueur of choice, Amarula, is very cheap. We hired a Toyota Avanza for 17 days for $1130. Petrol and Diesel prices are on a par with Australia. Visas for up to 90 days are free fro Australians.
With 1% of our population now being from South Africa, an expat will be more than happy to pass on advice about what to see and do when visiting South Africa or even give you a relative’s address for a homestay as South African’s are the most hospitable people I have ever met. In case you don’t know any South Africans, then please read on.
Contrary to popular belief, visiting South Africa it is not as unsafe as people think. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked “wasn’t it dangerous there?”, I’d be able to fund another one way trip back. However, I’m not going to gloss over South Africa’s problems. Appallingly too many farmers are targeted and become victims of horrendous crimes but I don’t want this to deter you from having the time of your life as a tourist. After still heeding some basic safety principles as a tourist, as mentioned in my blog on personal safety, you’ll be fine. The only time I ever actually felt unsafe was from the wildlife but that is a whole other story.
Tick the Big Five off your bucket list when visiting South Africa. There are numerous wildlife parks but none other than Kruger National Park should be number one on your hit list as not only is it one of the largest and popular game reserves in Africa, but there is a big chance of seeing the Big Five after only a four hour easy drive from Johannesburg. The cost of organised safaris and lodges can be out of reach for most people, especially families. Unless you are rich or have just won lotto, self-driving is the way to go inside the game parks. Accommodation is cheaper outside the park but there is nothing like waking up to a lion tearing up a baby giraffe just outside your window, much more interesting than having a kookaburra laughing outside . As a result, staying inside the park can be more expensive, but on a par with what you’d pay for Australian holiday accommodation in general. You can book and pay online through SAN Park’s website but get in early. Bookings open a year ahead.
It’s a great a history lesson. Whether you’re into the Boer War, Cape Dutch architecture or getting to the grubby heart of Apartheid, you’re in the right place when visiting South Africa. Visiting battlegrounds or a trip into the Townships as well as visiting Apartheid Museums are essential for history buffs or showing your children valuable lessons from the tragic past.
Aussies love their BBQs but South Africans love them even more. Outside every accommodation you come across there is a Braai (BBQ) so you can cook up your own steak, boerewors, zebra or ostrich. I do not have a picture of a big sizzling impala steak as I don’t eat red meat so that is why the Braai is empty. You have to admit this is definitely more exciting than a snag on a sanger. Buy some firewood at the local servo or the accommodation itself and you’re set for the evening’s meal.
On the subject of food and drink, as a tourist the food options can be very Western (burgers, pizzas, steak etc.) so if you don’t like to be too experimental, this will be perfect for you. However, some places will also offer more traditional dishes such as Bobotie, Pap en Sous, Milk Tart and Malva Pudding. You will need to look a bit harder if you want to try your palate on game meats in restaurants. Water is safe to drink.
South Africans are mostly, a mob of friendly bastards. Once you get talking to them and they find out you’re Australian, they just want to chat and chat and it can be difficult to get away and continue with your trip. Invariably, they all have a relative or friend living over here and chances are there will be 6 degrees of separation between you and them. The friendliness just doesn’t extend to friendly banter. If you keep talking, the next thing you know, you are practically a celebrity or they are giving you their address to call on them next time you are passing through. I thought one guy we met at a servo just outside Kruger National Park was going to follow us in and camp next to us! We also got a bit lost looking for our Airbnb accommodation on a long rambling gravel road so we popped into another person’s place to ask for directions as we were unable to contact the accommodation via phone after leaving messages. The husband and wife invited us into their home for drinks while the husband attempted to make some investigative calls about the Airbnb guy as he thought he might know him. Meanwhile, I’m explaining to the wife that I hoped we weren’t scammed and the only reason I chose this place is because it had a washing machine and dryer and we really needed to do our washing. She offered for us to chuck a load in there and then! By the way, it all worked out in the end and we didn’t need to take her up on her offer.
Aussies love a good road trip, often with vast distances involved, so you will feel right at home here, especially when South Africans also drive on the left. Travelling through eucalypt plantations, windmills on farms or vast arid areas with the occasional stray cow will sometimes have you wondering if you ever left home. The baboons however, will have you stopping every five minutes to take pictures of them when you first get there and will make you late for your next destination until one tries to get in your window and steal all your snacks. All of a sudden that troop in the middle of the road picking out fleas from each other isn’t so cute anymore.
Still too nervous to go it alone, then book with a tour group, G Adventures specialises in family travel.
If I still haven’t convinced you, then read my recommendations below to get more inspiration!
101 Kruger Tales: Extraordinary stories from ordinary visitors to the Kruger National Park: this book will have you booking your ticket to South Africa in an instant or scare you off forever.
Reading most books by my favourite author, Tony Park will have you itching to get to South Africa. In fact, whenever he speaks in public about his books he says most people are more interested in his experiences travelling in Africa than they are in his books! My favourite is Dark Heart