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South Africa Self Drive Trip

Travelling in South Africa is something that my wife and I love to do, for the myriad of reasons that keep enticing us back to South Africa, the same reasons that people around the world keep coming back.

So in November we set out out on our 2nd road trip together, Mirjam was 6 months pregnant with our first child at the time. This toned down the level of adventure on this trip, but never the less, we had a fantastic time.

We flew into Johannesburg directly from Zurich. Our first leg of the rip was a visit to the Pilansberg Game Reserve with my parents for a little time out together in the South African bushveld. We camped at Bakgatla Camp, managed by Golden Leopard Resorts. The camp is on the northern side of the park. We had a bit of rain the first afternoon and then the weather cleared for some fantastic sightings of the "Big 5".

The Pilansberg, located in the North West Province, is known to geologists as the Pilansberg Alkaline Ring Complex. It is one of only 3 alkaline volcanoes in the world. In its time (2000 000 000 years ago) the volcano stood at 7000 meters. Through eruptions and erosion of the crater we have today what is supposed to be a cross section topography of the old volcano. So when you visit the park, you are actually driving through an old volcano!

Mankwe Dam, Pilansberg National Park

We spent two days in the Pilansberg, but I would recommend 3. We purchased a map guide book at reception to find our way around the park. The park is 550 km squared and is only a 2 hour drive from Johannesburg, it was established in 1979. There are two camping areas with restaurants and swimming pools. There are also luxury bush lodges scattered around the outskirts of the park.

Above: On day 2 we spotted these lions relaxing in plain view.

Formerly, the park was a farming area. Farmsteads, windmills, telephone lines and even citrus orchards were removed to create this national park. It has now become a world renowned wildlife conservation area for the big 5 as well as a successful breeding ground for endangered species.

Above: Mirjam at the Pilansberg Centre. The centre used to be the courthouse built in 1936. It is now a restaurant with a beautiful viewing deck and a curio shop.

On the 3rd day we returned to Johannesburg to drop off my folks and prepare for our trip into the Kgalagadi National Park in the Northern Cape Province.

We loaded up our newly purchased Toyota 4x4 with all our safari equipment and head off to Kgalagadi via Kimberly. I was born in Kimberly, so I was keen to visit it for the first time since leaving "The Big Hole" in 1987. Mirjam was interested in visiting The Big Hole!

Thats The Big Hole, and Kimberly, a diamond rush town in the 1860's.

Kimberly had electrical street lights before London, GB. Its worth a visit if you have not been there, there are great Museums and accommodation in houses reminiscent of the bygone era. There is even a pub at The Big Hole where the great diamond magnets like Cecil John Roads and Barny Barnato would have had a pint and a meal while discussing diamond deals. There is a fantastic and informative diamond mine museum. A tour that takes you down a mine shaft is available. See more about The Big Hole here.

We had a good dinner at the Halway House which has also been standing since the town boomed. Kimberly was also besieged by the Boers during the Boer War and there are war memorials and plenty of history for those interested in the history of South Africa.

Kgalagadai National Park

Originally we were going to camp in Kgalagadi in the remote camp sites far away from roaming humans, electricity and flushing toilets, but as Mirjam was pregnant we stayed in the new luxury lodges instead! First up was Rooiputs. The Kgalagadi is actually a trans-frontier national park, it borders with Botswana. Rooiputs is on the Botswana side, no visa and passports are needed, as long as you exit the park from the gates in which you entered - otherwise have them handy.

Above: Rooiputs Lodge, Botswana side

We spent two nights at Rooiputs and we were treated like royalty. From the welcome drinks to the friendly staff and incredible dinning experiences with views of the Kalahari. We were thoroughly impressed.

Left: The talented chef, and Timothy (right)the barman treated us to tasty meals and thirst quenchers. Bottom left: Abi, the lodge manager tended to us despite looking after a large group simultaneously.

The first morning game drive in the Kgalagadi was highly rewarding to say the least. A few meters down the sand road form the lodge we spotted two lioness's on a early morning stroll, 200 meters in the other direction we also spotted Abi! On her way to work, on foot! Further down at the waterhole we saw a male lion coming for a drink of water. We got clean clear photographs as the terrain is flat and the vegetation is not thick.

These are the photographs one can expect to take while in the Kglalgadi!

And yet a little later and further down the road, another cat! This time a cheetah and her cute little cubs. She was nervous, as she could sense the presence of lions, stopping every now and then to scan the area. She kept leading the cubs away from the waterhole.

Our next destination was Polentswa Lodge which lay roughly 200km north of Rooiputs. We spent the day slowly driving to Polentswa stopping to view animals. We used the picnic/lunch stop sites for lunch which have toilets. Plan your drives as these stops are far and few. We had numerous sightings of bat eared fox families, baby jackals at the den - and we counted a family numbering 8.

On this day it was really hot, temperatures can reach well over 40 degrees Celsius in summer. We came across a large group of various types of vultures all standing together on the ground in the shade. We also saw a brown hyena running across the road with a giraffe leg in its mouth, later on we found the lions that who most likely killed the herbivore, lying in the shade under a tree. Their bellies were so full they looked like they would pop under the pressure.

Polentswa Lodge, also operated by Ta Shebube equalled the service and comfort of Rooiputs. We were made to feel at home and were well looked after. Once again the food was scrumptious and plentiful.

Polentswa Lodge perched on a sand dune overlooking the Polentswa Pan and waterhole.

On the early morning game drive with the lodge guide, we had more incredible lion sightings.

After our 4 nights of luxury lodging we drove back to Twee Revieren Camp where we entered the park and camped for one night. The next morning we headed for Augrabies Falls National Park to view the Orange River Canyon and Augrabies Falls and of course another game drive. Our most impressive sighting was the klipsringers, a small buck named after its abillity to jump from rock to rock. (below)

On route to Augrabies we drove along the Orange River and the many agricultural areas thriving next to the river. There are some interesting town names in the area like Keimoes and Kakemas.

The Orange River Canyon is definitely worth a visit. We camped in the camp site inside the park.

We timed our game drive in order to finish off with the sunset on top of Moon Rock. (below)

Now for the crazy part of our itinerary. We both wanted to visit Kgalalgadi, as well as have some beach days, but not the type of beach on the western side of the country, so we decided to drive right across to the Wild Coast, first through the Great Karoo to Hanover, and then to the Mountain Zebra National Park, eventually arriving in Port St Johns 5 days later.

We did the 600 km stretch to Hanover fairly quickly and comfortably. Fortunately, South Africa has good roads and plenty of road side scenery and amusement.

We spent the night just outside Hanover town at New Holme Guest Farm with PC and his wife. PC is in the process of turning his farm into part of the Karoo Gariep Nature Reserve, which is also his concept.

New Holme Guest Farm. PC mentioned plans to erect a chalet close to where the hippo's come out to graze at night - that will be pure viewing pleasure or leisure! He has re-introduced hippopotamus into the Zeekoei River which runs through his farm. The hippo pod can be viewed when staying at

The guest farm itself is set in lovely green gardens under tall shady trees - and there is a swimming pool! The rooms are layed out in typical old South African farm style, and there is a guest book daitng back for many, many years. PC and his wife Mariska were very welcoming and we were treated to generous and tasty South African dinners and hearty and healthy breakfast options.

Another attraction to New Holme is the night drives. On a night drive on this farm one has a good chance of seeing nocturnal animals such as the aardvark and black footed cat. Horse riding trails and mountain biking trails are available as well as bushmen rock engravings. New Holme is a idyllic stopover between Johannesburg and Cape Town and also a good base from which to explore the surrounding Karoo area and towns.

New Holme Guest Farm in the Great Karoo. A perfect stop over or long farm-stay for those seeking the peace and quiet of the Karoo and that traditional South African farm hospitality with a special touch.

The guest book dating back to early 1900

There are various forms of accommodation offered at New Holme. Twin and double bedrooms to complete family units,as well as tented accommodation.

Next stop: Cradock and Mountain Zebra National Parkin the Easten Cape Karoo

Mountain Zebra Nationa Park is just 200km from New Holme Guest Farm. This is one of favourite national parks. The landscape is beautiful in that arid Karoo way and this part of the Karoo is also known for its "crystal clear air". It is quiet and tranquil here and the park offers a limited amount of accommodation and camp sites, meaning it is never as busy as somewhere like Kruger National Park. Cape mountain zebra are a sub species of Zebra and only found in small pockets around South Africa. This park was established to save these zebra's from extinction.

The obvious visual difference between Cape mountain zebra and say Burchell's zebra (which you would see in Kruger) is that the mountain zebra's stripes appear broader and bolder, there is no shadow stripe between the main black stripes as in the Burchell's.

We enjoyed quiet game drives with beautiful Karoo landscape scenery. It is also very rewarding to view the zebra's on top of the grassy hill tops in the Karoo. We camped for 2 nights, we made a braai each night under the stars. The small shop at reception sells succulent Karoo lamb chop braai packs. My goodness were they tasty!

Here we are preparing a Karoo lamb braai and some sweet potato's.

Mountain Zebra National Park also offers a popular cheetah tracking excursion. The cheetahs are collared for research purposes, so the ranger uses a tracking device to locate them. You do a lot of walking, so be prepared with the right clothing and water. Mountain Zebra National park offers chalets, camping and two stone cottages that require 4x4 vehicle for access. (I will be using the stone cottage on my next trip.) They have recently added modern trendy looking chalets which do look very appealing. There is also a swimming pool for the hot days.

We stopped for lunch at True Living farm stall and restaurant (left) in historical Cradock town. The Karoo is dotted with farm stalls or "Padstals" in Afrikaans. Padstals usually offer a range of bottled and preserved pickles, jams, breads, biltong & droewors - from local suppliers. Sometimes they also sell wine and and local keepsakes. Just about every town in South Africa has an old church. This one is the Dutch Reformed Mother Church in Cradock. (above right)

South Africa's Secret Destination: The Wild Coast

We had never been anywhere on the Wild Coast except Kei Mouth, and we wanted to get to Hluhluwe, so we cut across the Eastern Cape on a hectic and long drive. I would not recommend this combination in this order, but we did it because we wanted it this way.

We bunked at the Lodge On Then Beach with Kat who runs a small lodge from her house. It is very affordable for a double room with your own bathroom, and yes it really is right on the beach and probably has the best views of 2nd Beach in PSJ. A one minute walk takes you in the the neighbouring nature reserve and walk along beaches and dune forest. Right next door are restaurants. This is a real break way into a lost little sea side town. One feels like you are in a tropical remote location somewhere along Africa's coast removed from the rest of the country.

The Lodge on the beach

The beach at the Lodge on the beach!

PSJ has a very interesting history. There are stories of shipwrecked European sailors washing up on the beaches who chose to stay there rather than try go back to Europe on the next passing ship. These adventurous men made home on the Wild Coast and traded and lived in peace with the Xhosa's.

Lusikisiki Waterfall about one hours drive from PSJ.

There is plenty to do in and around PSJ. In season there are excellent boat based whale and watching, dolphin watching, cruises up the wild river, visits to real world traditional Xhosa homesteads and plenty of beach side nature, waterfalls and forest.

Durban and Umhlanga Rocks

Typical of a seaside city, Durban has a relaxed atmosphere and locals are easy going. The beaches are long and the water is warm. We had a endemic breakfast at the Antique Cafe and then made our way to Umhlanga Rocks, where my mom celebrated her 21st birthday in the 60's at the well known Oyster Box Hotel. We had a full and more than enough breakfast at the hotel, followed by a long walk on the beach. Later on we drove to the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve.

The Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga Rocks

After the hot Kalahari and the Karoo, we thoroughly enjoyed luxury at the sea side...

Hluhluwe & Lake St.Lucia

Other than going on game drives, there are a range bush walks on offer at Hluhluwe/iMfolozi. The Wilderness trail which is a few nights out in the bush sleeping and camping wild, while under the care of armed rangers and guides. I only had time for a morning walk. I will be back for the full Wilderness Trail! If you do try one of the walks, be prepared for a thrilling bush walk experience.

St Lucia town is located in the iSimangeliso Wetland Park and totally surrounded by sub-tropical African bush and wildlife - Lake, bush and beach! We did the early evening boat cruise on the lake to view hippopotamus and other wildlife at the waters edge.

Unique to Lake St Lucia in the iSimangeliso Wetland Park, is the experience of getting upclose to the hippo's. Elsewhere they evade you.

As usual, the end of an adventure or exciting tour/holiday is always the same - loathing the destinations and experiences and not wanting to go home or back to "normal" life. So make sure your trip is exciting and fulfils your travel desires...

Read the feedback on our latest trips to South Africa here

Next blogs:

Ellen and Paul's Honeymoon and Cheetah Safari

Private tour to South Africa's Highlights

About the author: Jonathan Clements is a safari guide, with guiding experience throughout Southern Africa. He currently resides in Switzerland with his Swiss wife and their recently born son.

Contact him about an organised group tour or private travel planning in South Africa or Southern Africa. or

mobile: +41767011712

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