Our incredible road trip of South Africa took place in 2019. We spent over a month in South Africa. We were thrilled to be on the African continent and curious to see more diversity here. We were just eight months into our world travels then, so our planning and decisions of what to do and how to do it were still new.
We started with a list of what we wanted to see in South Africa, with wildlife on top of it, and began our adventures.
After eight months on the move, especially a very hectic three weeks touring India, we all needed a slower pace. So we decided to rent a car and slowly go from Cape Town to the world-known Kruger National Park, driving along the Garden Route. For those who don’t know, the Garden Route is over 300km long, stretching along the southern coastline of South Africa, from Mossel Bay in the west to Storms River in the east. Its name comes from the green forests and abundant streams, rivers, and waterfalls you will find here. It runs parallel to a coastline featuring lakes, mountains, tall indigenous forests, rivers, and golden beaches.
The plan was to book as we went and gradually explore the coast on the southernmost part of the African continent.
We flew into South Africa from Zambia. We planned to spend a week in Cape Town, explore the city, and head out.
After walking up and down the shore for a few days, we rented bikes and pedaled around instead. However, we realized that the city is pretty big, so if we wanted to get around to see something more, considering our kids were still pretty young and got tired faster, we needed to book one of those hop-on, hop-off buses. When traveling with young ones, this is an excellent comprise. You get to see what you want, and they don’t waste time complaining about too much walking!
First off, we drove downtown. As we looked at our surroundings, my attention went to the Cape Town City Hall balcony. Nelson Mandela made his first public speech just hours after being released after spending years in jail; it was on the 11th of February 1990. It marked the beginning of a new era for South Africa. His statue is standing there, and for a moment, if you are not paying attention, it looks so natural. You can nearly imagine that moment in history.
We decided to get off the bus and walk around as we heard music on the streets. A festival was going on, and we wanted to be part of it for a while. So with music, art stalls, and crafts for kids to make, the street came to life with people smiling, dancing, and enjoying the moment.
Back on our tour bus, we headed to the colorful neighborhood of Bo-Kaap. It is one of the oldest areas of Cape Town, inhabited by the Cape Malays. These people are descendants of the enslaved people who the Dutch imported in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was (and still is) inhabited mainly by Muslims, who used to paint the houses bright colors to celebrate Eid. Somehow the tradition stuck, making this one of the most distinguishable (and striking) neighborhoods in Cape town.
Up to Table Mountain
A trip to Cape Town is only complete with a hike or ride up to Table Mountain. So yes, there are two ways to get there: hiking or taking the gondola. We were tempted to take the adventurous way up but then decided against it because no one wanted to carry our 2-year-old once he decided that walking wasn’t fun anymore! There are more than 350 trails that you can take! The views are spectacular, and many people climb the mountain to watch the sunrise or sunset from the summit. Unfortunately, that was not going to be us!
Anyway, the gondola was a great adventure! The construction of the gondola dates back to 1929, and at the time, the capacity of the first cable car was just 25 people. However, nowadays, it can carry up to 60 people!
Once we made it up, the view was stunning but so windy!!! You can see over the Atlantic Ocean and the city from the top. It is incredible. If you come here on the right day, your view can stretch for miles in each direction. The skies were clear on the day we were there until a fire started in the mountain right in front of us, which took over 24 hours to tame!
But what inspired the name Table Mountain? The indigenous Khoisan people of the Cape named the Mountain Hoerikwaggo, which means “Mountain in the Sea.” Portuguese explorer, Antonio de Saldanha, was the first white man to hike the mountain in 1503 and named the Mountain Taboa de Cabo, which means “Table of the Cape.” Following this, around 1652, Dutch settlers started calling it Tafelberg, which translates as Table Mountain.
The rocks of Table Mountain are approximately 600 million years old, and Table Mountain itself is 240 million years old, making it one of the oldest mountains in the world. It is older than the Alps, Andes, Rockies, and Himalayas. Table Mountain is part of and forms the highest point of the Cape Fold Mountain range. This mountain range stretches from the Cape of Good Hope in the south to Table Mountain in the north.
Of course, Table Mountain got its name because of its flat top. This flat plateau is approximately three kilometers (2 miles) from side to side, and the highest point is 1086 meters (3563 feet) above sea level.
In 2012, the mountain became one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Visiting a winery in Cape Town
Our hop-on hop-off tour also offered a stop to visit a winery, so after tasting some local wine, we thought it would be a fun adventure. My grandparents used to make their own wine, so I grew up experiencing the whole process. However, it was a simple wine, just for locals. Learning more about how more prominent companies do the entire process would be fun. We went to Groot Constantia Winery.
Cosimo and I took the wine tour. The knowledgeable guide explained the winemaking process while showing us the winery; Cosimo was fascinated and asked many detailed questions, which impressed the guide. We also had a wine tasting at the end (just for me!). I must admit this was the first time I enjoyed rose’ wine! We ended up leaving with three bottles!
While we were on tour, Mass, Emma, and Luca enjoyed playing in the grassy area close to the vines since it was a beautiful day. We later reunited for a delicious meal at their restaurant with some great wine! Honestly before coming to South Africa I had no idea that there were so many wineries here, and that South Africa produces some genuinely fantastic wines; worth trying. We were thrilled with this new discovery.
Meeting penguins at Boulder beach
We finally got our rental car for our road trip, but before starting, we had a few stops to make close by that we couldn’t miss.
First, we went to say hi to the penguins at Boulder beach. While here, you will see a large colony of around 3,000 African penguins. In case you didn’t know, African penguins are endangered. You find them in the wild in just a few areas along the coast of South Africa and Namibia. For this reason, they heavily protect the Boulders Beach colony. African penguins are the only penguins found on the African continent but are commonly seen in zoos worldwide. Why? Because they can adapt quickly to warmer temperatures and are easy to breed in these zoos. However, this captive population is insurance for future wild colonies. Visiting this beach lets you get close to the penguins via a series of boardwalks suspended over the sand.
The second stop was at Cape Point. It might not be the most southerly point in Africa, as is commonly thought, it is actually Cape Agulhas which is 300 km to the east, but it is still a must-do in Cape Town. The environment is rough and rugged; the views here are something else, not to mention the gigantic waves thrashing against the rocks. It’s an incredible experience!
We packed up, bid farewell to beautiful Cape Town, and started driving on the famous Garden route!
So what is the story behind its name? The Garden Route is a 300-kilometer (186-mile) stretch of the southernmost Cape coast that traverses the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The name come from its natural bounty and beauty. Due to the incredible views which characterize the drive: lush and green indigenous forest, secluded lagoons, stunning beaches, striking gorges covered in aloes, picturesque farmland patchworks, and towering mountain peaks.
We made many stops along the way. But one, in particular, captured our hearts and made us change our plans. We did a prolonged stay in Wilderness. For some reason, Mass felt inspired here to do a ten-day course to renew his paragliding license. So while he was flying all day, going up and down the mountain and landing on the beach. We enjoyed breakfast down the street from our Airbnb and then a day at the beach. The water was pretty cold but didn’t stop the kids from entering!
Sleeping at Knysna Elephant Park
Once we completed our time in Wilderness, we found an incredible experience we wanted to experience: spending a few nights at Knysna Elephant Park. This place offers the chance to personally encounter these gentle giants and feed and walk with them, all while gaining a new understanding and respect for these incredible animals. However, what made it even more special was that they provided a few rooms where you could spend the night. So, in the evening, after interacting with the African Elephants during the day, we would sit in the common area, chatting with other guests staying here and watching as the elephants made their way into their boma (night camp). However, the elephants have the freedom to choose where they sleep, inside or out (depending on weather conditions), and in the evenings, we were there, and only one came in for a while; I guess the weather outside was too perfect for staying inside!
Knysna Elephant Park opened in 1994, and at the time, it was the first facility in the country to take in and care for orphaned African elephants. Over the years, the park has cared for and raised more than forty elephants, including those relocated, orphaned, and rescued from culls. Some of them have become part of the resident herd. Others, after healing, have been moved into other reserves and facilities in the Western and Eastern Cape, depending on their personalities, bonds with other animals, and welfare needs.
This experience was magical for all five of us and gave us a better understating and respect for these gentle giants. It was also essential to witness firsthand that there are places around the world that try to do their best to help wildlife
Exploring Kruger National Park
Finally, it was time to go to the Kruger National Park! We spent days deciding where to stay and how to explore it. It is a vast park, and we debated whether it was better to stay inside and do one of the many safaris offered. However, a property caught my eye as I was looking at booking.com. It was a beautiful house in Phalaborwa on a golf course outside the park. It was perfect! The most memorable moment for all five of us was arriving in our driveway and finding four giraffes (including a baby) walking around. We got out and just looked at them, amazed!
After reading many blogs and remembering chats with a few south African families we met along the way, we opted for a self-drive safari. Why? We weren’t sure how long Luca would last patiently on a safari, so we wanted to be safe and not be a problem for others. Plus, I cannot deny they were also a bit pricy. However, I’m happy to confirm that wildlife got Luca’s attention immediately! He was 100% into this adventure the whole time. We spent so much time in the park that we almost got in trouble for arriving late at the exit, but once they saw the kids and we apologized 300 times, we were good to go!
One of the most memorable moments here? While driving, we stopped because a colossal elephant approached the road and blocked it to let the others from the herd pass safely. As we turned around, we realized another giant elephant was doing the same in the back of our car. We were stuck in the middle! Of course, it was not the safest situation, but we quietly waited as they all passed, and finally, the big elephants left after giving us a final look. I held my breath the whole time! It is one of our favorite stories to tell up to this day!
I was amazed by how much wildlife we could spot without an expert, between many different birds, elephants, giraffes, hyena mamas with their babies, crocodiles, hippos, impalas, and more. We spent two memorable days driving as far as possible and then back out! So yes, I can confirm it is doable!!!
One final stop to Pilansberg National Park close to Johannesburg
Our flight was out of Johannesburg, and I would lie if I said we had visited the city because we didn’t! After being in the park and seeing so much nature, it was hard to be in a town. However, Mass decided to go paragliding. He spent the morning doing a quick flight with a local paraglider; however, the weather changed, so he suggested going to the Pilansberg National Park right down the road from the paragliding spot. This game reserve is a provincial park northwest of Johannesburg. It’s set in an extinct volcanic crater, with grasslands, wooded valleys and multihued rock formations.
There is a national park at every corner here in South Africa!
It was truly unique, our last hurrah in South Africa! We came close to destroying our car, though; why? As we were driving around the park, a Rhino crossed a tiny path just as we approached; he missed us simply because Mass has fast reflexes and accelerated as soon as he saw it! It was crazy!!! Another great story to share today, however, one of our friends told us that, unfortunately, a Rhino in the same park destroyed their car, so we consider ourselves very lucky!
Our thoughts about our trip
At the time of our travels to South Africa, we weren’t making Youtube videos. However, we did record some moments and, of course, took many, many photos. So we are happy to be able to share this with you now in our Memories of South Africa video.
Although it took me over three years to write this blog post, as I went through photos and memories of our moments there, it felt like reliving the South African experience all over again.
Traveling opens your mind to the world and the diversity in many aspects, such as nature, traditions, people, languages, and religion. As we continue to encounter this diversity, our souls are continuously being enriched by it. Every new place, experience, and moment of growth lives inside us and makes us whole new people from who we were when we started. So also, if this trip happened years ago, it was one of the many seeds that have been planted inside of us, forming our new idea of actively being part of the world.
Wishing you all Happy Travels!!!