Wild Junket » South Africa http://www.wildjunket.com An adventure travel blog that brings you on a rollercoaster ride around the world Tue, 02 Sep 2014 12:02:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Responsible Riders: Biking through A Township in Cape Town http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/09/26/bike-through-cape-town/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/09/26/bike-through-cape-town/#comments Wed, 26 Sep 2012 12:17:41 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=12022 Streets of Masiphumeleleelcome to our home,” said Vivian, our guide for the day. Vivian grew up here in Masiphumelele, a township at the edge of Kommetjie and far from the glitz and glamour of Cape Town. Like the other 45,000 people living here, her parents and grandparents had come from the rural areas of Eastern Cape and other parts of the country in the 1980s, [...]

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“W elcome to our home,” said Vivian, our guide for the day. Vivian grew up here in Masiphumelele, a township at the edge of Kommetjie and far from the glitz and glamour of Cape Town. Like the other 45,000 people living here, her parents and grandparents had come from the rural areas of Eastern Cape and other parts of the country in the 1980s, to find work and a better standard of living.

Today, about 40% of the people living here are unemployed and most live in less than favorable living conditions. Levels of shelter and air circulation are inadequate and respiratory diseases are common; fire is a constant threat; the sewage disposal system is dysfunctional; and HIV is one of the major concerns here. The name Masiphumelele was given to this area, as it means “we will succeed!” in Xhosa.

Streets of Masiphumelele

On Two Wheels

Vivian belongs to the new generation of South Africans, ready to fight for their happiness and a better lifestyle. Beaming with energy, she welcomed us into their community as we saddled up onto our bikes to take a tour around town. I struggled to keep my balance on the old style Dutch bike (I’m not the best biker around) but I soon got used to the manual back-pedal brakes and found myself whizzing through the dusty back streets of Masiphumelele, waving to locals along the way.

“On bikes, you get closer to your surroundings. You have many more opportunities to interact with the community than you would have from an air-conditioned bus,” said Sally Peterson, the director of AWOL tours. It was Sally’s love for cycling that sparked the idea of a bicycle township tour. As a biking enthusiast, Sally was nominated as OutThere Magazine’s “Adventurer of the year” finalist in 2001 after cycling from London to Cape Town to raise funds for Survival International.

In 2002, she founded AWOL Tours and initiated this bicycle tourism program in conjunction with a non-profit organization, Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN). BEN facilitates the importation of second hand bicycles to South Africa where they have helped to set up and provide ongoing support to locally owned bicycle workshops, training and employing members of the community to renovate the bikes for the bike tours.

“On bikes, you get closer to your surroundings. You have many more opportunities to interact with the community than you would have from an air-conditioned bus,” said Sally Peterson, the director of AWOL tours.

Sally and her love for bikes

Experiencing Local Life

Back in Masiphumelele, we hopped off our bikes to have lunch at Kwa Nongolooza’s Place, a simple and cozy shack that looked like someone’s backyard. The smell of barbequed meat sipped through the corrugated roof as we sat down for our meal.

There were no utensils; we had to eat with our fingers, just like the locals. I dipped my fingers into the pale white pap (maize porridge commonly eaten all over Africa) and kneaded it into dough, before drenching it with rose red spicy chakalaka vegetable relish. I mixed them all up with some off-the-braai pork chops and sausage, and licked the  sauce off my fingers. By this point, we’d tried plenty of Capetonian foods from gourmet bobotie to Cape Malay cuisine, but this simple lunch turned out to be my favorite meal in Cape Town.

Barbequed meat

After we had filled up our stomachs, we jumped back on our bikes to paddle past more shacks, one cramped next to another, along the severely polluted water canals and dust-filled alleys. We poked our heads in, and saw that some huts had water and electricity supply – which was quite a relief. On the other side of the road, we saw some construction work and a few newly erected apartment buildings. Vivian told us that those were the new housing built by the government, to support the inhabitants of Masiphumelele. Aid was coming in to the township, albeit slowly.

It’s easy to see why AWOL tours is such a success. AWOL’s bike tours have a strong emphasis on humanitarian work and community-based efforts. Since establishment, more than 3,000 tourists have participated on this tour, spreading considerable financial benefit to the community.  Apart from the various donations from the visiting tourists, much needed income has been generated and put into circulation in local township.

We then made a stop at Masiphumelele Library, a center where people came to study, take classes in English and computers, and develop career goals. Funding for the library originally came from an American couple, John and Carol Thompson from New Hampshire who started MasiCorp (Masiphumelele Corporation and Trust), a non-profit

 educational organization. Today funding comes from a coalition of local organizations and volunteer teachers and tutors.

Children at Masiphumelele Library

Here, we met several young children, who quickly became our new friends. One of the girls held my hands as we toured the library, and didn’t bear to say goodbye when we hopped back on to our bikes. Even though they didn’t speak much English, they could understand me and tell me their names and where they lived. They were as curious about as as we were of them.

We continued our tour to the local creche (day nursery), where we were surrounded by over 100 infants, before visiting the home of a traditional healer. The healer, or sangoma, happened to be Vivian’s mother and an important person in the community. Many people in the township come to consult her for medical advice, but she’s a lot more than that. She also shares traditions, myths and stories passed down to her from the previous sangoma.

Sitting in her living room, we watched as she sang and danced. The music was hypnotic and we couldn’t help but sway to the beat of the drum. While we had no idea what she was singing about, we could feel the connection she had to the spiritual gods and that wasn’t something that one could fake.

Traditional healer

It’s easy to see why AWOL tours is such a success. AWOL’s bike tours have a strong emphasis on humanitarian work and community-based efforts. Since establishment, more than 3,000 tourists have participated on this tour, spreading considerable financial benefit to the community.

Apart from the various donations from the visiting tourists, much needed income has been generated and put into circulation in local township as part of tourism services and fees paid to business owners such as the BEN bicycle shop, the lunch shack at Kwa Nongolooza’s, the sangoma, and the local creche.

As we bid farewell to our new friends, we left with a smile, happy to have had a chance to gain new perspectives and at the same time, contributing just a little to this community.

A little girl in the creche

For more information, visit the AWOL Tours website. The bicycle township tour prices are as follows:

  • half day tour is from R600 per person excluding transport; 
  • half day including transport is R1000 per person and
  • full –day tour price of R1300 per person all inclusive

Have you visited a township? How do you feel about community-based tours?


Disclosure: Our trip was made possible by Cape Town Tourism and AWOL Tours, but all opinions expressed above are our own. For more photos from bike tour, click here.  

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Our Self-Drive Safari in South Africa http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/09/11/driving-adventure-in-south-africa/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/09/11/driving-adventure-in-south-africa/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 14:30:29 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=11774 overed in nothing more than gravel stones, the road ahead of us did not look like something our tiny Kia Picanto could handle. There were no signs and the road winded ahead as far as the eye could see. After six hours of driving along slick and smooth highways, I felt that we’d still yet [...]

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Covered in nothing more than gravel stones, the road ahead of us did not look like something our tiny Kia Picanto could handle. There were no signs and the road winded ahead as far as the eye could see. After six hours of driving along slick and smooth highways, I felt that we’d still yet to experience what it was really like to drive around Africa. This unexpected turn from the highway to unpaved road seemed to be the opportunity I had been waiting for.

Finding Our Way Through the Bush

The sun was disappearing into the distance and we were driving through the back country of South Africa, finding our way to Sabi Sands Private Reserve. Daylight was running out and we only had a hour or so to navigate the wild savanna and get to our lodge before night fell. There was no time to waste so I stepped on the pedal and headed for the gritty path.

Speeding through the rocky country road, we left a thick trail of dust behind us as we passed tiny villages, local schools, and rural huts. Friendly locals waved at us with the most genuine smiles on their faces and kids ran alongside our car, shouting and screaming. Halfway through our drive, we even picked up a hitchhiker. The lady, dressed in a security guard uniform,  happened to be traveling a few miles on our direction so we made some room on the back and she joined us for a while.

Our impromptu companion was working as a security guard in Thulamahashe, just a thirty-minute ride away from where we picked her up. She had missed her bus and was going to be late for work, so she was thankful that we gave her a lift so she wouldn’t be too late. As we drove past her village, she told us about life growing up there, with a look of contentment in her eyes. While we didn’t get to talk much, we always enjoy picking up hitchhikers and interacting with locals whenever we got the chance.

Self-Drive Wildlife Safari

After dropping off our hitchhiker, we continued driving for an hour or so before reaching Gowrie gate, the main entrance to Sabi Sands Game Reserve. Two park rangers greeted us at the entrance and after clearing the park fee, we were finally in the reserve, weaving through dry savannas and sandy plains.

At first the road didn’t look any different from our previous drive, but we soon realized there was a lot more to it than we expected. Just ten minutes after entering the reserve, we spotted some impalas grazing on the side, before driving by a giraffe who had his neck stretched out and eyes wide opened. Male kudus (one of the biggest antelopes around) sporting large curling horns were galloping within the bush that flanked the dirt road. We even had to stop a couple of times to let some zebras and buffaloes cross the road in front of us. Along the way, we even stopped to watch the sun set in its full glory.

By the time we arrived at our lodge, the sky was dull grey and  the temperature had dropped drastically. Our rented Kia Picanto was covered in a layer of sand and dust, battered from a whole day of rough driving on the rugged back roads. We were surprised that it was able to endure the rugged terrain, despite its small size and power. Our self-drive safari was an experience unlike no other, and we wouldn’t have been able to make it to this part of South Africa without our trusty steed.


Disclaimer: Our car rental was arranged and sponsored by Carrentals.co.uk but all opinions expressed above are our own.

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Driving to the Southern Tip of Africa http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/30/driving-along-the-coast-of-cape-peninsula-south-africa/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/30/driving-along-the-coast-of-cape-peninsula-south-africa/#comments Wed, 29 Aug 2012 18:14:46 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=11776 Boulders Beachhe road hugs the cliff, meandering along the edge of the Table Mountain range all the way to Cape of Good Hope, the southwesternmost tip of Africa. On one side, the steep slopes plunge dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean; and on the other, needle-sharp peaks soar into the sky. This scenic drive along the Cape Peninsula is one of my favorite routes in the world – [...]

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The road hugs the cliff, meandering along the edge of the Table Mountain range all the way to Cape of Good Hope, the southwesternmost tip of Africa. On one side, the steep slopes plunge dramatically into the Atlantic Ocean; and on the other, needle-sharp peaks soar into the sky. This scenic drive along the Cape Peninsula is one of my favorite routes in the world – with such wild and raw landscapes surrounding us. Cape Town – for all of its vibrant urban groove and sophisticated metropolis reputation – is the starting point of the route and makes for an excellent base to do a daytrip around the Cape Peninsula.

On our recent trip to Cape Town, we made it a point to experience the Cape Peninsula loop again, with the folks from Escape to the Cape. Starting out from Muizenberg, our first stop was Kalk Bay, a bohemian village littered with a flurry of antique shops, flea markets and indie boutiques. We then continued down to Simon’s Town, the third oldest town in South Africa, having been founded right after the settlements of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.

While it’s a charming fishermen’s village, the town is better known for the African Penguin colony that inhabit the nearby Boulders Beach. A wooden boardwalk weaves through the penguin’s habitat, allowing intimate encounters with the cute little animals. Over 3,000 penguins live in the area, many of them staying here permanently due to the cold water and other favorable living conditions. We watched some of them lounging around under the sun, others enjoying a dip in the clear waters. The penguins were clearly well protected in their natural habitat, free to roam around the area.

Boulders Beach
A penguin on Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach

The drive from Simon’s Town to the Cape Point Nature Reserve brought us through plains filled with brown and yellow shrubs and green thorny cacti. According to our guide Shaheed, there are more vegetation varieties here than that in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand combined. As we drove through the nature reserve, we spotted a rainbow across the horizon, creating once again an impressive backdrop.

Rainbow in the skies

Making a stopover at the Cape of Good Hope, we chanced upon several ostriches, looking startled as we all stood wide-eyed staring at the animal in awe. The Cape of Good Hope is the southwesternmost tip of Africa and naturally, draws in quite a crowd. We had to actually go in line with other tourists for our turn to snap a shot with the sign!

Cape of Good Hope

We continued our journey to the Cape Point lighthouse, set dramatically against the crashing ocean. Cliff trails wind around the vegetation and lead to the lighthouse, we took just twenty minutes to hike along the trail, before we were treated to expansive views of the ocean.

View from Cape Point Lighthouse

Alberto and I at the lighthouse

Our route back via the Atlantic Seaboard was all the more impressive, as we drove through the town of Scarborough and the gorgeous surfing beach of Noordhoek. From Misty Cliffs, we got an atmospheric view of the sea, with a light mist creating quite a romantic setting.

Noordhoek
Misty Cliffs

Our trip culminated at Chapman’s Peak Drive, where we drank in a view of the crescent-shaped bay and spotted sealions and sharks swimming beneath us.

Chapman's Peak

If you ever find yourself in Cape Town, be sure to head out to the peninsula for a day, you might find yourself hooked to it – just as I was.


Disclosure: Our trip was made possible by Cape Town Tourism, but all opinions are our own. 

For more photos from the Cape Peninsular, click here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter with the #LoveCapeTown hashtag.

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Face to Face with Great White Sharks http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/07/cage-shark-diving/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/07/cage-shark-diving/#comments Tue, 07 Aug 2012 15:43:00 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=11538 It was barely daylight when we set off from our apartment in Camps Bay to Gansbaai, a fishing village some two hours away from Cape Town, famous for its dense population of great white sharks. Although sleepy from the early rise, we were fueled by excitement. The moment we had been waiting for the last couple of [...]

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It was barely daylight when we set off from our apartment in Camps Bay to Gansbaai, a fishing village some two hours away from Cape Town, famous for its dense population of great white sharks. Although sleepy from the early rise, we were fueled by excitement. The moment we had been waiting for the last couple of weeks was about to come.

Into the Blue

After a short briefing at Marine Dynamics, we learned that sharks are really not as lethal as you would imagine. While they may kill between 5 to 15 people a year, we human beings slaughter over 100 million of them over the same period of time.

As soon as we left the port, we were greeted by two whales – a mother and its child. A sign of the phenomenal wildlife that were to come. We sailed over choppy waters and made our way to the famous Shark Alley, a narrow water channel between Dyer Island and Geyser Rocks.

Once the boat stopped the action began. Everyone was rushing to get into their wetsuits, both because of the excitement and the chilly wind around us. The sharks did not take long to make an appearance and by the time we put on our suits there were already a few of them circling our boat. Nellie and I got in on the first batch, a decision we later regretted since the sharks seemed to ease up a little and get more active afterwards.

An Underwater Rush

Once inside the cage, I felt a bolt of adrenaline rush shooting right through me. The water was freezing cold and the tidal waves were overwhelming. I could hear the shouts of the crew directing where the sharks were coming from each time the animal swam near us. I struggled to get myself under the water at first, but once under the water I was hooked to the sight of the shark. The look in the sharks’ eyes was haunting. I could literally feel their vigilant eyes scouting their surroundings for the next bite, and I couldn’t help but think that their next bite could easily be myself if not for the iron bars that separate us.

The highlight of the day came when the last group of divers submerged into the icy waters. Towards the end of the dive, one of the biggest sharks around the boat (they were 14 of them swimming around us at one point) breached out of the water in an attempt to catch the bait that the crew were hurdling around. The inertia of its leap made it crush sideways against the cage with such force that I could feel the bang from the top floor of the vessel where I was standing. The abrupt and unexpected interaction with the animal made all the divers scream with excitement while the rest of us could do nothing but stare in awe.

On our way back to shore, the clarity of the water allowed us to admire a couple of whales swimming beneath our boat, accompanying us for just a brief moment, as if to bid farewell and to put a perfect end to an experience that we will never forget.

 

 

Note: To make sure we do not interfere or disturb the sharks’ natural habitat, Marine Dynamics assures that on its shark cage diving trips, sharks are not harassed, abused or fed. Boatmen use chumming method (fish oil) to catch the sharks’ attention but they do not disturb the animals’ natural behavior.

 


Disclaimer: This shark cage diving experience was made possible by Cape Town Tourism and Marine Dynamics, but all opinions expressed above are my own. 

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Our Home for the Week: Apostle’s Edge, Cape Town http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/01/updates-from-cape-town/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/08/01/updates-from-cape-town/#comments Tue, 31 Jul 2012 23:00:18 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=10391 This week we are reporting live from Cape Town, South Africa. For the past few days, we’ve been exploring Cape Town and its suburbs during the day, watching sunset on our outdoor terrace in the evening and getting some work done by the fireplace by night. We will be writing about our Cape Town adventures shortly, [...]

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This week we are reporting live from Cape Town, South Africa. For the past few days, we’ve been exploring Cape Town and its suburbs during the day, watching sunset on our outdoor terrace in the evening and getting some work done by the fireplace by night. We will be writing about our Cape Town adventures shortly, but before that, allow us to give you a tour of our office for the week.

Living the Capetonian Lifestyle

Our villa, Apostle’s Edge, is perched high above Camp’s Bay, an affluent suburb of Cape Town that is famed for its sandy beaches and cafe culture. With the Twelve Apostles stretching out at our backyard, it almost feels that we’re in the backcountry and yet the city is just a ten-minute drive away.

Every morning, we awake to a view of the dark indigo Atlantic Ocean ahead and the looming Table Mountain behind, with patches of wild greenery right at our doorstep. While having breakfast, we’ll soak up some sun and see whales breach in the far distance. By night, we’re surrounded by glittering lights from the bay and enveloped by a gentle sea breeze and the sounds of the crashing waves.

We’ve stayed in many types of accommodations – from basic backpackers’ hostels to high-end hotels and boutique resorts. While this villa isn’t what we usually opt for as budget travelers, it’s definitely one of the coolest properties we’ve stayed in, and somewhere we would choose to stay if we had a higher budget.

 

Chilling at Sunset

Our room, located on the top floor has a balcony overlooking the ocean, and it’s our favorite spot to enjoy the beautiful sunset each day. The modern design and state-of-the-art facilities make lounging around after a whole day of activities an experience on its own.

The second floor boasts the larger living area, with a fully equipped kitchen and a spacious living-room with two separated sections. My favorite detail is the gas powered fireplace, perfect for warming up the place on cold winter nights.

On our first night here, Cape Town Tourism warmly welcomed us with a traditional Braai dinner where we sampled South African barbecue in the company of fellow travel bloggers and other travel industry professionals. The meeting was held at the apartment’s backyard, which made us feel like we were hosting a party at home.

While this will only be our home for a week, we’re making the most out of it and living it like Capetonians for just a while.

 


This stay was made possible by Cape Town Tourism and Nox Rentals but all opinions are our own. Read more about our travels in Cape Town here.

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Photoblog: Views from the Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/07/30/photoblog-views-from-the-top-of-table-mountain-cape-town/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/07/30/photoblog-views-from-the-top-of-table-mountain-cape-town/#comments Mon, 30 Jul 2012 10:45:51 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=10394 Table Bay in the distance and LionBefore us, the city of Cape Town sprawls beneath our feet, with the spearmint blue waters of the crescent-shaped Table Bay shimmering in the distance. The walls of the plateau we’re standing on plunges vertically downwards, towards the sweeping ocean. Robben Island and the harbor are so far out, they look like little dots of lego from this height. Strong winds whip my face on [...]

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Before us, the city of Cape Town sprawls beneath our feet, with the spearmint blue waters of the crescent-shaped Table Bay shimmering in the distance. The walls of the plateau we’re standing on plunges vertically downwards, towards the sweeping ocean. Robben Island and the harbor are so far out, they look like little dots of lego from this height. Strong winds whip my face on this chilly winter morning, but thankfully, the ‘table-cloth’ of clouds is nowhere in sight and the sun is out in its full glory, blanketing the whole city in a warm shade of orange.

We’ve just arrived in Cape Town, one of my favorite cities in the world. Table Mountain is the most important landmark of the city, standing right in the heart of it, surrounded by patches of forests and beaches. From the top of Table Mountain, we’re drinking in a 360-degree panorama of the City Bowl and bay area. This is after all 1,086 meters above sea level, high enough to see the Twelve Apostles running for miles towards Cape Point, and the bay disappearing into the horizon. On the 3km-long plateau, we even spot an outrageously cute dassie (a myrax that resembles a guinea pig) scuttering across grey rocks. I laugh when I learn that the dassie’s closest living relatives are modern day elephants.

From our base in beautiful Camps Bay, we’ll be exploring a whole lot of Cape Town and its surroundings, including  watching penguins at Boulders Beach, savoring grilled seafood at Hout Bay and driving all the way to Cape Point. For now, I’ll let my pictures do the talking – hope you’ll enjoy seeing Table Mountain through our photos.

Table Bay in the distance and Lion's Hill to the right

A view of Lion’s Head on the right and Table Bay beneath.

View of Twelve Apostles stretching towards Cape Point

The Twelve Apostles running for miles towards Cape Point.

Viewing point from top of Table Mountain

The viewing point at the top of Table Mountain.

A closeup photo of Camp's Bay

A close up photo of Camp’s Bay where we’re based.

Walking on the plateau top

Hiking on the plateau top

Dassies on Table Mountain

A cute dassie staring right into my lens.

The hiking trail up Table Mountain

A hiking trail that leads all the way up to the top of Table Mountain.

Dassies on the edge of the plateau

A rock cliff juts out from the plateau, with dassies seeking refuge on it.

Disclosure: Our trip is sponsored by Cape Town Tourism, but all opinions are our own. Remember to follow us on Twitter with the #LoveCapeTown hashtag.

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We’re Off to Cape Town, South Africa! http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/07/23/travel-plans-tell-us-what-to-see-and-do-in-cape-town/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/07/23/travel-plans-tell-us-what-to-see-and-do-in-cape-town/#comments Mon, 23 Jul 2012 09:00:24 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=9477 In a week’s time, we will be heading to South Africa for a week or so of traveling with Cape Town Tourism. It’s barely been a year since I was last there, but I’d been so smitten by the city that I can’t wait to experience it again – and this time, in winter. My [...]

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In a week’s time, we will be heading to South Africa for a week or so of traveling with Cape Town Tourism. It’s barely been a year since I was last there, but I’d been so smitten by the city that I can’t wait to experience it again – and this time, in winter.

My last trip was packed with adventures: from shark cage diving to paragliding off Lion’s Head. Alberto will be joining me this time – and on top of these adventurous activities, we will also go on a cycling tour of Kayalitschhike up Platteklip Gorge and a wine tour of Steenberg. Our schedule is flexible (read below), so we’re free to decide what we want to do in between. The trip then culminates with us speaking at the Getaway Travel Blog Conference (here are more details, be sure to join us if you’re in Cape Town).

Share Your Tips with Us

The best thing about this trip is that we’ll be deciding our final itinerary based on your tips! Basically YOU are going to help us decide what to do and where to go. If you are a local from Cape Town or know the city inside out, drop us a line on the comment section below, tweet us @WildJunket, or write to us on Facebook, and let us know you think we should not miss during our visit!

On 29th July, we are going to have a welcome braai (South African barbecue) at Apostle’s Edge and we will hold a Twitter chat with anyone interested in offering suggestions about what to see and do around the area. The Twitter chat will take place on Sunday 29th July between 7pm to 8pm South African time with the hashtag #LoveCapeTown so don’t miss it!

The trip sounds like a well-rounded trip that takes in all aspects of Cape Town – and best of all, we’ll be in the company of some of my favorite people from the travel blogging world: Keith from Velvet Escape, Melvin of Traveldudes fame, and Matt from Landlopers. So if you’re going to be in Cape Town, we’ll see you then. If not, be sure to tweet us your tips or interact with us here!


Our trip is sponsored by Cape Town Tourism, but all opinions are our own. Remember to follow us on Twitter with the #LoveCapeTown hashtag.

 


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Finding Peace Amidst the Chaos of Johannesburg http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/04/06/finding-peace-amidst-the-chaos-of-johannesburg/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/04/06/finding-peace-amidst-the-chaos-of-johannesburg/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 08:05:31 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=8578 Exterior of Thatchfoord LodgeLoud, explosive and complicated, the metropolis of Johannesburg is undoubtedly the beating heart of South Africa. Straddling between extremes, Jo’burg (as locals like to call it) is packed with modern skyscrapers and massive malls, as well as dodgy neighborhoods and gritty townships. The South African capital has a reputation as a crime-ridden city pockmarked with remnants of the country’s troubled past. But [...]

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Loud, explosive and complicated, the metropolis of Johannesburg is undoubtedly the beating heart of South Africa. Straddling between extremes, Jo’burg (as locals like to call it) is packed with modern skyscrapers and massive malls, as well as dodgy neighborhoods and gritty townships. The South African capital has a reputation as a crime-ridden city pockmarked with remnants of the country’s troubled past. But amidst this urban chaos, I was surprised to find the city splashed with greenery and dotted with leafy gardens.

A Retreat in Sandton

Hidden within these rare patches of greenery is the Thatchfoord Lodge, an excellent spot to escape from the hectic city.  The furnishings, design and thatched roof create a country house feeling that blends in perfectly with the garden setting. The elegant lodge is situated in Morningside Manor, one of Sandton’s secure and tranquil suburbs, overlooking the willowed banks of the Sand River with an abundance of bird life. With the calming sound of the river flowing by and the smell of tropical foliage, it’s easy to forget that I was still in the heart of the city.

Exterior of Thatchfoord Lodge

I had arrived in Johannesburg after a month of overlanding through Namibia, Botswana and Zambia – exhausted, in need of sleep and rather sick of camping. There couldn’t have been a better place to kick back than at Thatchfoord.  Enjoybedandbreakfast.com had arranged the stay for me – and even before my arrival, they had ensured that all of my needs were taken care of. All the B&Bs on this online marketplace have been handpicked and reviewed by the team – and especially since this B&B had been specially picked out for me, I was eager to experience it for myself.

Upon arrival, the friendly hosts, Joyce and Pearl, welcomed me warmly with open arms – it felt almost like being back at home. They answered all my queries on Johannesburg and even helped me out with banking issues. On the evening I arrived, I’d opted to stay in and skip dinner, and having noticed that, Pearl even brought some sandwiches and salad up to my room – such personalized services are definitely hard to come by. Over the next few days, I caught up on the much needed rest (and work) in the comfort of the Willows suite while soaking up the peaceful undercurrents of Sandton.

Suite in Thatchfoord

Country Living in the City

My spacious suite features large ceiling-to-floor windows and a private balcony that open up to views of the swimming pool and river. Spotting a thatch roof, the loft room has a ceiling that reaches up to at least 4m high, making it feel even more spacious than it already is. The country style design – in the form of tasteful floral textiles, pastel-colored cushions and linen blue sofa – fits immaculately with the natural wooden bed frame and tables. The modern bathroom is also decked out with a gigantic water-jet bathtub that also overlooks the garden. All of the other eight rooms are en-suite double bedrooms that overlook the pool, patio and shady garden, most with private entrances.

The dining area is located right by the swimming pool – with long tables indoor as well as small wooden tables and chairs under the sun for some alfresco dining. Sipping up fresh orange juice, tucking into rich, savory poached eggs, bacon, toast with jam, and local delights such as fried liver – breakfast every morning was a delight. Fellow guests – a big family from Tanzania – would spend their mornings swimming in the pool before heading to Sandton City for some shopping. I spent my days visiting museums and walking around the Sandton district, and in the afternoons, I would work on my laptop (with the free WiFi internet) while sipping tea. Evenings were spent eating on my verandah, enjoying the peace that this little slice of haven offered.

Thatchfoord Lodge gave me a peek into a different side of Johannesburg – one that’s peaceful, calm and very alluring. I’m sure I’ll be back in Johannesburg soon enough, and the next time, I know where I’ll be staying.

Verandah
Room rates at Thatchfoord Lodge starts from costs £79.74 a night and rooms range from double bedrooms to family suites. 


Disclaimer: My stay was made possible by enjoybedandbreakfast.com and Thatchfoord Lodge, but all opinions are my own.

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Overlanding Africa: Tips and Reviews http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/04/05/overlanding-africa-tips-and-review/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2012/04/05/overlanding-africa-tips-and-review/#comments Wed, 04 Apr 2012 19:37:45 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=8561 Camping in NamibiaAt the end of 2011, I spent a month traveling overland through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia with G Adventures. This was definitely one of the best trips of my life: experiencing the backcountry of Southern Africa, camping out in the wild, meeting lifelong friends – all of which I would have missed if I’d traveled independently. While amazing [...]

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At the end of 2011, I spent a month traveling overland through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia with G Adventures. This was definitely one of the best trips of my life: experiencing the backcountry of Southern Africa, camping out in the wild, meeting lifelong friends – all of which I would have missed if I’d traveled independently. While amazing sights were aplenty (like Sossusvlei in Namibia and Okavango Delta in Botswana), it was the overlanding journey that made the trip stand out from other experiences I’ve had. For those who plan to travel overland in Africa, here’s a detailed review of my experience that will hopefully give you a better idea of overlanding in Africa.

Camping in Namibia

Why Overland through Africa?

In Africa, overland expeditions are quite a popular way of traveling from one country to the next as they are often cheaper and more time-efficient than independent travel (which can be quite costly with pricy game drives, airfares and national park entrance fees). Many adventure tour operators organize overland expeditions that often bring you across a few African countries in one trip, with the journey lasting from three to five weeks.

What is an overland expedition?

Overland expeditions usually involve traveling in bulky multi-purpose trucks that pack in cooking facilities, storage space, camping tents and seating capacity for 10 to 30 passengers. While the degree of comfort usually varies according to the price of the tour, don’t expect to be indulging in 5-star luxury as most of these overland expeditions involve camping and participation from travelers.

Why should I take an overland expedition through Africa? 

Independent travel through Africa can be costly and time-consuming. Due to the lack of tourism infrastructure, it’s often difficult to get from one point to another especially since public transport is often unreliable. Although I have traveled independently in East Africa previously and didn’t encounter too much difficulty, I opted to travel on an overland expedition this time to save both time and money. While traveling independently usually gives deeper insights than an overland expedition, I was really glad to have gone on this overland journey as I managed to see the highlights of the region within a rather short timeframe. Besides, an overland expedition often involves more than just traveling – it requires a lot of team effort and general social skills, as you’re traveling with a big group of people for weeks on end. I arrived in South Africa with nothing in mind except to travel, but I left with a group of lifelong friends and a string of beautiful memories.

Advantages of Overlanding:

  • The itinerary is planned out for you – there are also optional activities that you can opt to join or not
  • Major sights of a country or region are included in the itinerary, so you’re sure to see the highlights of the area
  • You can travel through the backcountry of Africa, which most people would miss when flying from one point to the next
  • Optional activities include walks with bushmen and township tours – which also allow you to interact with locals
  • It’s cheaper and takes less time than traveling independently
  • You get to meet fun and interesting travelers in the group

Disadvantages of Overlanding:

  • Following a fixed itinerary can be quite restricting
  • Time spent on truck can be very long – the longest day of driving for us was 10 hours (with short stops in between)
  • Camping might be fun, but putting up and taking down a tent on a daily basis can be tiring (although there are a few nights of sleeping in hotels/hostels)
  • Participation is mandatory: we were divided into groups of four, and each assigned with daily chores of cooking, washing dishes, cleaning the truck and packing
  • Immersion in local culture and language is minimal as you are always with your group and cooking your own meals instead of trying local cuisine
  • If you’re not a sociable person, group expeditions might not be suitable for you – as you’re faced with a big group of people for a long period of time, with most nights spent chatting over a campfire.

Sitting at camp

Choosing an Overland Expedition Company

There are plenty of overland expeditions to choose from, ranging from duration to itineraries. Adventure tour operators that are reputed for organizing such overland expeditions include G Adventures, Intrepid, Gecko Adventures and On the Go Tours. Before you decide on which company to choose to travel with, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which countries do you want to visit?
  • How long do you want to travel?
  • How much is your budget?
  • What is your main focus – wildlife, trekking or culture?

For Africa alone, there are hundreds of different itineraries. Even for the same itinerary, there may be different durations. If you can afford the time, I would recommend taking the slower option as you would appreciate having the opportunity to slowly experience the destination when you’re there. But you wouldn’t want to be overlanding for more than two months as you would probably hate camping and trucks by the end of it. Prices of tours can vary according to comfort level (size of truck, type of tents, and cooking facilities – be sure to check all these before cooking).

Cost: I traveled on the 21-day Dunes, Deltas and Falls tour (DCF), followed by the 9-day Victoria Falls to Johannesburg Overland trip (DLLJ). Total cost of the trip was $2,199 + $859 = $3,059. If I had traveled independently, it would have cost at least double of this price and taken me a lot more time to travel through these four countries. The prices of Africa overland expeditions usually range from $1,500 to $4,500 depending on duration and itinerary.

Truck facilities: The G Adventures truck was relatively comfortable – the truck was brand new, fully equipped with gas stoves for cooking, lockers at the bottom of each seat and a small safe in the truck for passports. But within each seat, there wasn’t a lot of space for backpacks and personal items. Seats were not reclining chairs but I still managed to get some sleep during the long rides – there was nothing much to do besides napping or chatting with my travel mates as the drives were often bumpy. There were also electric plugs and outlets on the truck that can be used during the drive and at the campsites when plugged to generators.

Camping facilities: Our tents were brand new (I might have been lucky), spacious and easy to put up and take down. They were two-men tents that fitted two mattresses and our backpacks (my tentmate’s luggage was huge) – we could even fully stand up within the tents. You don’t really need to be an expert in camping – a few of my group mates had never camped before and had no problems learning how to do it. Almost all of the campsites we stayed at were clean and equipped with large restrooms and showers, and some even had a bar and swimming pool. We only bush camped for two days in the Okavango Delta where there were no facilities at all.

Packing for an Africa Overland Expedition

I’ve written an essential packing list for Africa before, but to summarize, important items include:

    • a sleeping bag for both warm and cold weather (around –3 to 7 degrees Celsius)
    • a head torch is essential for the night
    • a pair of hiking boots
    • binoculars for game drives
    • mosquito repellant
    • rain jacket

 

If I’ve missed out anything, please let me know under the comments field below or feel free to ask if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help!


 

My trip was made possible by G Adventures as a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in Southern Africa here.

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A Tribute to Africa: Beyond Dunes, Deltas and Falls http://www.wildjunket.com/2011/12/24/a-tribute-to-africa-beyond-dunes-deltas-and-falls/ http://www.wildjunket.com/2011/12/24/a-tribute-to-africa-beyond-dunes-deltas-and-falls/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2011 19:48:04 +0000 http://www.wildjunket.com/?p=7679 I’ve just returned from a month of travel in Southern Africa and I’m still struggling to find the right words to describe my experience.  It’s been an amazing journey of dramatic proportions – one that has given me rare experiences, shown me the beautiful sights of Africa and blessed me with lifelong friendships. On my [...]

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I’ve just returned from a month of travel in Southern Africa and I’m still struggling to find the right words to describe my experience.  It’s been an amazing journey of dramatic proportions – one that has given me rare experiences, shown me the beautiful sights of Africa and blessed me with lifelong friendships.

On my previous travels, I often found myself digging deep beyond a country’s surface; although I barely scraped the surface this time, I felt like I’d gone deeper on a different level. I’d gone deeper into human relationships and I’d learned alot more about friendship, teamwork and looking at life from different perspectives.  This trip taught me about life beyond travel.

And there’s no better setting than Africa. I’ve long known about its raw beauty and wilderness, but it’s a whole different story coming here and actually immersing in the vast savannahs, rich wildlife and intriguing cultures. As I take a step back to absorb all that I’d experienced over the past few weeks in Africa, I’ll leave you with  some photos of my favorite moments during the journey. I’ll be back with more stories from Africa in the new year, enjoy!

A surreal sight: the Dead Vlei in Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Catching sunrise atop sand dunes in Sossusvlei.

Atop the Waterberg Plateau in Namibia.

A rare moment of affection: a teenage lion and its mother in Etosha, Namibia.

My favorite animal, the elegant oryx, grazing along the grasslands of Etosha National Park, Namibia.

 

 Sunset over the savannah of Etosha National Park, Namibia.

 

Exploring the Okavango Delta in Botswana on a mokoro.

A hippo pokes its head above the water as we glide past it in the delta.

Meeting the bushmen (San people) in Ghanzi, Botswana.

Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia.

Getting upclose and personal with a white rhino in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

 A buffalo looking straight into my lens. Kruger, South Africa.

We camped out under starry skies and had barbeque around the campfire every night. Absolutely loved it!

 Special thanks to this great group of people and G Adventures for making this trip special!


This experience was made possible by G Adventures ( Dune, Deltas and Falls touras a part of their Wanderers In Residence program. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about my travels in Southern Africa here or follow me on Twitter with the #gadv and #WJAfrica hashtags.


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