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Sunday, 01 September 2013

Johannesburg: More than Meets the Eye - Page 5

Written by Isabel Buettner
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Our trip highlights by far were Soweto and Pilansberg. We booked a 4hrs cycling tour in Soweto, still urban but very different from Jo’burg city. After being to the apartheid museum this is history to be touched. I won’t give an account about apartheid, the museum does that far better, but it helps to have some background knowledge before going into the townships. At least you’ll understand why the place exists, what it means to locals and South Africans and why there is still a great division between rich and poor within the community. We’ve had a great day although getting sunburned and muscle aches from cycling up the hills. We drunk beer from a milk carton, had bull cheeks and pap lunch sitting in what I can only describe as a tin box. We learned the local handshake, a few words of zulu and at the end of the day ate bunny chow whilst listening to South African reggae. What else do you need? 

Safari! Of course you cannot come to Africa and not go on safari. Now Kruger is the most famous and popular option but it’s also quite far from Jo’burg. With flight, car rental or airport transfer this can easily double the cost of your entire trip. It’s so popular that you may be stuck in traffic, the only difference being having a wildebeest or zebra crossing the road instead of pedestrians. It’s also malaria country, so you’ll need to see your doctor in advance. 

Pilansberg Zebra 

I couldn’t afford Kruger and resigned to not going on safari when JJ mentioned Pilansberg National Park. Smaller than Kruger it offers everything you’d expect though. From the big five to the ugly. Situated in an volcanic crater, it’s only 2.5 hrs away from Jo’burg. You can drive yourself if you want to and with an excellent offer of well maintained roads even our little KIA could manage the trip. You have the option to venture deeper into the reserve, and maps indicate which roads require more horse power. It’s less crowded and malaria free. For a few rand we bought the area guide book with a list of animals and plants you can cross off. Animal wise we did pretty well spotting elephants, rhinos, wildebeest, zebras, ostriches, etc... We almost got down to all big five but our cheetah in the tree turned out to be just a tree with tricky leaves. There was one minor incident where a rhino almost rammed the car in front us, but I assume it was the end of the day and the rhino had said get out now. The absolute highlight were the giraffes. You wouldn’t think these large animals would be hard to spot but it turns out they are masters of disguise and in fact very had to spot. We couldn’t believe out luck when we finally managed to find them.  I’d love to return and try a walking safari next time. But you should book at least 4 days for it, and they are not cheap. 

Pilansberg Giraffe

Pilansberg Rhinos

Pilansberg Elephant Herd 

Pilansberg Waterhole


If you don’t fancy spending 2 hours driving then you can escape the city within the city. Parks are nothing like home and most offer hiking and animal sightings such as the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. But our favorite is Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. It’s not often that you go hiking in the middle of the city, spotting zebras or being chased by some horned beast, yes we were followed by a Mountain Reedbuck who thought we got to close to it’s territory. Make sure to pick up a map, enough water and sunscreen, and to wear appropriate shoes. It’s also where I learned about the art of Springbok poop spitting. Now I have spent the past week with a guy who likes the idea of antiseptic gels and although a great lover of the countryside but not so much the creepy crawlers attached to it, yet this man turns around and says “we have competitions of who can spit it the furthest”. I thought he is pulling my leg just as he lowers himself to pick up a bit, puts it in his mouth and then spits it into the distance. I only watch open mouthed. “Want to try?” , he turns around with a big grin. “NO way!’, I say. Now I regret it tough. I should have tried and it is the only time I went against my own rule of trying out new things I encounter in foreign places. After we reached the top of our hike we got an amazing view of Job’urg skyline in the distance. 


I reached the end of my trip and I was feeling sad to leave. Jo’burg wasn’t love at first sight, but exploring the place I learned to see it’s charmed beyond high rises and crime. I met warmhearted and friendly people from all backgrounds and although I may not share everyone’s political views I never felt uncomfortable or unwelcome.


I enjoyed my last day with another tour through town, ticking off a view sights we left to the end such as the brilliant Circa Jellico museum. You should go there for the building, if not for the art. Now driving through my last sunset for the final family dinner and then off to the airport. Saying good bye to JJ with Banarama’s ‘Walk-like and Egyptian’. Not the soundtrack I would have chosen but then I’ll never forget it either. It kind of fits as I am flying via Cairo. Waving good bye to the guy peering over the fence to see me off and I think it wasn’t such a disaster after-all. Only one thing I am disappointed about. I haven’t seen a single laser.


©Isabel Buettner






(Page 5 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 01 September 2013

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