Monday, April 6, 2015

Johannesburg and Kruger National Park, South Africa 22 Feb - 2 Mar 2015

South Africa - A new continent on my checked list, thanks to my company I had this opportunity to travel to South Africa for work. Being the first time in South Africa, of course I will make full use of this opportunity to sightsee on top of work :-) thanks to my boss he allowed me to take extra days off after the work trip.

Johannesburg is the biggest city in South Africa and famously dangerous! That's what I've gathered, I started to be concerned when everyone said the same thing and telling me stories. To add on to that, I've watched too many American movies where the bad guys are so often the black people, that really didn't help much. I was excited to visit this new country yet feeling nervous.

For the first Sunday when I arrived, I went straight to my hotel that is out of town. A luxury Casino Hotel. Puffff...the room is as big as my flat in Singapore, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, balcony and a toilet that share the same space as the bedroom, no no I'm not complaining. :-) On the way to the hotel, I noticed a lot of fenced up area housing community, I was told that all houses are secured with high wall and electric cables for safety reason. Even the Hotel is in a secured area with guards at the entrance. OK, looks like I'm going to spend a lot of time in the jail opps I meant Hotel :-(

Arts On Main
Arts On Main
Luckily I have 2 German colleagues with me, they decided to go down town. They were there one day earlier and already explored the town on foot near Rosebank area. They said it was ok. So I followed them to town. From our hotel at Roodepoort to town it was 45mins by car, on a Sunday that is not much traffic. We went to the Sunday Arts On Main at Fox street. It was quiet and deserted till we reach Fox St. Suddenly it became lively and crowded with people. This place is a huge warehouse, inside there are local food stalls, art exhibition, handicraft stalls, restaurants and bars. A good mixed of black and white African, it has a very nice ambiance. A few blocks around it there were more bars and restaurants but when we ventured slightly further, it became quiet and deserted with group of blacks hanging around on the road site. Immediately I was on alert and told my colleagues to turn back. We then took a taxi to Nelson Mandela Mall at Sandton, seems to be the only other safe place in town to visit. There is a huge Nelson Mandela statue in the square and a big shopping mall. There was really not much to do. No park we could visit, no other market we could go. That was it! My 2 colleagues decided to head back to the hotel and I took the chance to go for a Milonga near Sandton, it was about 1 km from Nelson Mandela Mall, I decided to walk there before it gets dark. I made it! I was on full alert and walking really fast. :-) This city really freaks me out! It wasn't like Mexico City or Guatemala City or Cali where there are lots of people and police roaming the street, this one is deserted!

Tango at The Grill House
The Milonga night was a pleasant surprise, I met very friendly South African people and very good TANGO dancers. I was overwhelmed by their warmness.

Taxi in Joburg doesn't go on meter and it doesn't come cheap, we were always quoted with a very high price and depend on our bargaining skill to get it lower.  One way trip to town from the hotel will cost around $30 and there is no other public transport to take. We can ask the Hotel to book for us a cab to send us and pick us up, but there is so much corruption in this country, even the hotel staff asked for commission from the taxi driver, so the taxi driver has to markup the price.

Monday night, I joined Patrick for Kizomba in Sandton. Patrick whom I met at The Studio in Singapore insisted that I should go because it is the best kizomba night in town. I was thankful that he offered to send me back to the hotel so I could cover only one way taxi charge to town. I had a fabulous time with all the good kizomba dancers! Could not have ask for more.
Rohde & Schwarz South Africa

The next 2 days were buried with work and dinner with colleagues. I was looking forward to my holiday! I have booked a 4D3N Camping Safari to Kruger National Park with an agency online. This agency put me with Outlook Lodge & Safaris. They picked me up from the hotel. I left on Thursday morning 6:30am. As we had to pick up other customer in town, we have to head into the traffic, there is no escape. It took us 3 hours to finally pick up the other 2 gals and arrived at the agency Lodge but this is not the final destination yet, we gathered everyone in one van, all 5 of us took off to Kruger National Park. It was another 5 hours drive but without the heavy traffic. As soon as we leave the city, the scenery changed to become greener and open up to endless farms and plantations. Every now and then we saw a few huge funnels at far with smoke blowing up from the top. Those are the coal-fired power plant. Around 77% of South Africa's energy needs are directly derived from coal. There are still shortage of power and every now and then there is a scheduled power shut down in each area.
Kruger National Park

Interior of the Tent
Camp Site
We finally arrived at Skukuza Camp at 3pm, it is the biggest camp in Kruger National Park. This camp has several type of accommodation ranging from tents to luxury cottages, shop, ATM, POST Office, internet cafe, restaurant, library, fuel station and more. We were checked in to our fixed tent, each tent has 1 or 2 beds, light and a fan cabinet. Towel and soap are provided. it was pretty cozy and comfortable. There are about 8 tents under the trees, next to our tents is a dining tent and a kitchen. 100m away is the common toilet and swimming pool. We are surrounded by the other campers and the more luxury cottages. The Outlook Lodge & Safaris has their own private 4x4 vehicle, chef, crew and guide. Skukuza Camp gate is open from 6am to 7pm(changes according to season), vehicles are not allow to roam outside any camp after the closing time.

Outlook Lodge & Safari Vehicle
For our first game drive, we join the SANParks game ranger for the Sunset Game Drive, the Kruger Park safari vehicle is much bigger, it is able to take up to 30 people. We mixed with other guest from the lodges and cottages. We drove out of the Skukuza Camp full of excitement and enthusiasm. The Sunset Game Drive allow us to see nocturnal animals that are more active at night and the Park’s rangers are allowed to return after the normal gate closing times. We were all excited with our first Impala, Zebra, Rhino, Hyena, Giraffe, Elephant, Buffalo and many more. When the daylight is gone, we use torch provided by SANParks to look out for nocturnal animals, we were asked not to shine on the animals eyes but just around them. It was a fruitful night. Dinner was ready when we got back, 3 course meal served with wine. :-) Here is a chance to meet with the group and socialize. Unfortunately we were all exhausted from the long day and went to sleep early. 

Morning Game Drive
The next 2 days' programs were 2 morning game drives starting at 7am and 2 afternoon game drives starting at 4pm. On the last day only 1 morning game drive. Every game drive will last for 3 hours or more. Breakfast is served at 6am daily. In between the 2 drives we come back for lunch and an afternoon break. We had time to go to the shop, library, museum, chill by the river or soak in the pool. There is free wifi at the restaurant by the river and the take away cafe actually serve a big varieties of food. The shop sells anything from fresh food to souvenirs. Basically anything we need to live in the park.

What was spotted
The 4x4 vehicle from Outlook Safari can fit 9 person at the back and one more at the co-driver seat. The back seats are much better because they are elevated with good vantage point. Our driver is our guide, he knows where to go and all about the wildlife. We were told not to harass the animals, not to put our hands out of the vehicle, not to get out of the vehicle, not to make noise, not to feed animals, not to litter and other, all towards preserving the national park.

We all came here to spot the Big 5, they are the Elephant, Rhino, Leopard, Lion and Buffalo. 3 checked and 2 more to go, the cats are the most difficult to spot especially with the current season, the trees are green and bushes are high. Fortunately we have pretty good luck and good ranger who knows where to find them. On the 2nd day afternoon, after our ranger received info of Lion spotted at an area, we went looking for it. While looking for the Lion and Leopard high and low. A Cheetah suddenly run out from the bush moved on the road as our vehicle follow him, turned and paused before disappearing into the bush. I held my breath for that entire moment, too excited to breath. That was the best moment! Cheetah is rare to see as only around 120 left in the entire park. We were damn lucky! And not long after, we spotted a group of 5 lioness resting on the dried river bed. That completes the day.

When Lion is spotted
Hideout for birders
On the 3rd day, we spotted more elephants, giraffes and lioness but no luck with the Lion and Leopard. There were also many birds spotted on trees and in the bushes but there are just not as impressive as the big animals lying on the road side. We went to a lake where we could step out of the vehicle and go to a hideout, here it was a great place for bird watching. I was really happy to have first heard the hippopotamus groaning from really far away and then found them soaking in a lake. They are among the largest living land mammals being only smaller than elephants and some rhinoceroses. 

Lisbon Waterfall
On the last day, I chose to go for the Panorama Route. This is an optional excursion normally only possible on the day after arrival and before departure, but because we had a good number of people wanted to go and mostly taking the drive back to Johannesburg so they allow it. Another point to note is that the weather affects the view of the route. If it is rainy or cloudy, high chance you will not see anything. When we left the park, the sky was clearing, we drove out of Kruger National Park, it was a long 2 hours drive up the mountain, when we got there we had no view at all due to the bad weather condition. We could not see anything from the Canyon and God’s Window. The only place we saw was the Lisbon Waterfalls. We headed back after breakfast and arrived at Johannesburg around 6pm. 

That ends my trip to South Africa, I flew back the next morning. I have enjoyed so much the Kruger National Park, lucky to have a group of cool people for the 4 days. The food in South Africa was good and the people are nice. I didn't enjoy being "imprisoned" in Johannesburg due to the safety. The city is not welcoming, not on my list to revisit if you asked my advice.

Southern Sun Silverstar – luxury hotel paid by company
Atholl Guest House ( - R725 per night incl breakfast (WIFI broken)

SG-JO-SG - SQ paid by company
Taxi to/from town to/from hotel Southern Sun - R400 per way

4D3N Kruger camping safari ( - R6600
 Professional drivers/guides (FGASA registered – Field Guides Association of Southern Africa)
• Meals as specified per itinerary
• All day Game Drives in the Kruger National Park in an open game drive vehicle
• SAN PARKS sunset drive (All Kruger Park Safari guests over 6 years of age)
• All entry fees and daily conservation levies
• Accommodation as per chosen option
• Bottled mineral water during the day in the Kruger National Park

• Wine with dinner in the Kruger National Park




African Elephant

Lilac-breasted Roller

White Rhino


Vervet Monkey

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.