A Road Trip in South Africa
Cape Town - Jo'burg - Kruger - Drakensberg - Durban
November 2004

Notes by Lorenzo Casaccia, 2004
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Day 1

Landed in Cape Town on a Sunday morning flying over huge townships. Got in a typical conference hotel in downtown & went out for a walk.
The first impression of Cape Town is disconcerting. Somehow, the conference has been placed in a huge hotel in downtown, which turns out to be an unpleasant place to walk around. Got out of the hotel at 3pm on Sunday afternoon (most businesses are closed) & got stopped three times in one minute (people asking for money, selling sex, selling pot). Big avenues with hardly anybody on the sidewalk, and the few that linger over there are not exactly encouraging faces. Feels really unsafe.
After a while you get to a touristy shopping mall-like area called Waterfront where things get better. Once again, I move from place to place on foot, which is probably not the best if you are on your own.
If you follow the shoreline, the top part starts when the coast bend and from an internal gulf you face now the Atlantic. Looks like a completely different city here, a La Jolla / South Beach / Santa Monica kind-of-thing. Stunning views of the ocean, of the Cape & of the Table Mountain in the background.
Going back I walk inland, following Signal Hill, which means that you are way above sea level. Gorgeous views.

Day 2

Hiked up Table Mountain. We actually meant to get the cable car up to the top but the service gets discontinued at any time because of the wind.
Hike up is ~2 hours. Steep start, very hot. Then the trail goes round one side of the mountain & climbs up a gorge. The upper part of the gorge is often surrounded by clouds, so hiking can be tough because of the chill and of the strong wind. Once on top, you have to keep going on the right hand side. Even if the trailhead is foggy because of the mist, the side that looks over the ocean generally enjoys much better visibility. From the trailhead to the upper cable car station is 10-15 more minutes. View is great, totally worth the hike.

Day 3

Giuliano drives us South to Cape Point. The road to Chapman's Bay has been reopened recently and the scenery is stunning. Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope are the two promontories. Diaz Beach is the stretch of land in between. Very windy, touristy & somewhat charming. Can see a lot of wildlife (baboons, ostriches, whales if you are lucky).
Stopped to see African penguins on the way back.Stopped further north at the Kirstenbosch Garden, an out-of-time British affair, where to hang out lazily & have your 5 o'clock tea.
Sunset at Signal Hill. We walk down on foot, 20-30 minutes to downtown rushing in the dusk.

Day 4

Said some goodbyes & got some sunscreen in exchange.
Flew to Jo'burg & went to the youth hostel at the airport, a cozy place managed by friendly UK-born Rob. Met Matt, our companion in the overland tour. Matt, from L.A., is at the end of his 5-month round-the-world tour.
In the evening, picked up David Goodman's "Fault Lines" from Rob's library & read the scary and enticing chapter on the legendary H.F. Verwoerd, who goes on the record as apartheid's main ideologue.

Day 5

We hit the road today at 6.30 am. Our guides are Trevor & Gary. Trevor is an experienced fellow who speaks with short and to-the-point sentences and drives & walks barefoot. Gary is a guide-in-training, taking notes from what Trevor does.
Lots of driving today. We stop for a break in Lyndenburg, a quite village where to walk around quietly. We cross the Klein Drakensberg at Robber's Pass (2000m). Lunch in Pilgrim's Rest, a village of the gold rush era turned tourist trap.
Two rivers, the Blyde and the Treur, mark this area. Stopped at Bourke's Luck Potholes, a steep and narrow canyon, which has carved bizarre rock formations.
Last stop at Blyde River Canyon, a majestic opening of the earth which rivals the Grand Canyon. A highlight of the canyon are the Three Rondavels, colossal "columns" shaped by wind. Unfortunately no time to hike the Canyon. Camped in the northern area of Blyde.

Day 6

Drove south and stopped at pretty Berlin Falls. Stopped also at God's Window, a spot where in clear days you are supposed to see up to the ocean in Mozambique (350 kms). Unfortunately, God's Window is in the so-called "mist belt" most of the time, so in these cases you can't really see anything at all.
Got to Kruger Park before lunchtime. Busy area, lots of people around. Gone out in the truck looking for game.

Day 7

Whole day driving around in safaris. The park belongs to the animals: you cannot step out of the vehicle unless you are in a fenced camp/rest area. Kruger Park is huge: there's a whole village (Shukuza) within its borders, with homes, a school, etc.
Very easy to see buffalos, zebras, guraffes, elephants. Need a bit more luck to see hippos, rhinos and leos close-by. Very, very unlikely to see cheetas and leopards.
The day is overcast, then is clears up & it is really hot. Very strong light, which creates a thousand shades of green on the trees. Got to go on a hill for the sunset, warm, slow and mellow.

Day 8

Left Kruger Park. At the southern gate, a car is picking Matt up. He is on his way to Jo'burg, then Cape Town, then the U.S.A.
Quickly got at the South Africa - Swaziland border. The South Africa side has computerized checks, etc. The Swazis, 200 m away, have no computer and do everything by hand.
Got to the Mlalawini Reserve to camp. Swaziland is called "the mountain kingdom" as most of its terrain is rugged. The campground is by a lake and a couple of rivers, surrounded by colorful hills. Animals go around freely. Zebras, warthogs, impalas grazing among our tents.
Went hiking in the afternoon. Lots of hiking trails. Can go for a 4-5 hour hike around the lake and to Nyonyane Peak. Description here.

Day 9

Left Swaziland driving through colorful villages & re-entered South Africa in KwaZulu-Natal. Hilly area, getting less and less populated towards the Drakensberg, the big mountain chain of South Africa. Getting close to the Drakensberg in the afternoon.
Idylliac campground, with the menacing skyline of the mountains in the mist in the background. Went hiking a bit in the surroundings. Rain in the evening.

Day 10

Went hiking in the Tugela Gorge in Northern Drakensberg. Trail leaves 15 minutes of driving distance from the campground.
First kms follow the canyon shaped by the Tugela on one side of the mountain. Nice views of the Drankensberg peaks and of the valley. After 1 hr you get to the river, which you then follow for ~30-40 minutes (the river has to be crossed on foot a couple of times). A couple of small ladders help in a few points. You are at the end of the gorge when you can't really proceed further and when you see a bigger ladder climbing a rock on your right.
At that point you have two options to continue.Either you follow a new trail starts on your left and go for the crest of the mountains: this is not a day hike. Or you climb the ladder (simpler than it looks) and you follow a 20-minute trail that leads to the Tugela waterfalls. This trail has another tough portion where you have to climb another wall helping with roots and some nails that have been placed in the rock (again, easier than it sounds).
In summary, this is a ~ 2h 15min hike. To go back to the car park, you have to trace back your steps.
Late afternoon chilling at camp. More rain in the evening. Rain season is coming,

Day 11

Drove to Durban. Bye Trevor & Gary (that was great, hope 2 c u soon).
Durban has a downtown that, like Cape Town, is not the place you want to hang around. The action is at the boardwalk. Lots of surfers (Durban is a prime surfing spot). Sky's gloomy. The Golden Mile of beaches does not look as good as it should. More rain comes and we go to the aquarium.
Durban has the largest Indian community in the world outside of India. For dinner, we go in a great & spicy Durban-Indian restaurant.

Day 12

Quick morning visit at The Bat Center, an complex for performing arts in Durban. Very cool.
Then we fly to Jo'burg. Stopover at Rob's hostel to pick up some luggage & then fly home.



Pictures of Cape Town & Peninsula

Pictures from the "Jo'burg to Durban Overland"

Mlalawini Swaziland Hiking


Cape Town
I recommend The Codfather, where you choose your cut(s) of the fresh catches of the day from an exhibition.
Also tried Den Anken, good touristy food at the Waterfront, and Strega, good fusion kind-of cuisine (French + Thai + Japanese)

Khana-Kha is the place to go for Durban-Indian food.

Lodging & Camping

Stayed in a very nice hostel in Jo'burg, the Shoestring close to the airport. Convenient location & they pick you up at the airport. Recommended.

All campgrounds I tried were more than ok (perfect restrooms & showers, most even with swimming pools).

Water is drinkable everywhere although it does not taste that great.


It really looks like guidebooks are not overstating it. Even locals don't go to Jo'burg center at all. That is a no-go that seems to rival Bagdad (thx Enrico for the quote) as the most dangerous city in the world.

Need to stay alert & better to travel in groups in the downtowns.

Outside of the big cities, impression was much better.


Countless organized fashions exists to travel around. I used African Routes.


Thanks to the friends I travelled along with at different times during the trip


© Lorenzo Casaccia