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Two Weeks in South Africa and Namibia: Joburg, Cape Town, Sossusvlei and Kruger

Two Weeks in South Africa and Namibia: Joburg, Cape Town, Sossusvlei and Kruger

Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:39 am
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Two Weeks in South Africa and Namibia: Joburg, Cape Town, Sossusvlei and Kruger

This was a trip in the making for a long time. Africa was my final continent (excluding Antarctica) to be visited. When I first started planning the Africa trip, I had planned on visiting Ghana and Ethiopia. As planning progressed, I realized that those two countries were a tad riskier with flights and were more spread out (it's a 6-hour flight from Accra to Addis Ababa). Infrastructure, in general, was also more lacking there than in Southern Africa. So, I finalized the planning and chose to visit South Africa and Namibia. Follow along below as I share my experiences in Johannesburg's Soweto neighborhood, the vibrant city of Cape Town, the desert and sand dunes of Namibia and a safari in South Africa's iconic Kruger National Park!

From the beginning, I knew flights were going to be a problem. Delta only operates a single daily flight down to Johannesburg, South Africa (aka Joburg, Jozi) from Atlanta, which is one of the longest flights in the world. Not only that, it's almost always full, especially in Delta One business class. I devised some alternatives that I had hoped I wouldn't need to use, which ended up half-true. Intra-Africa flights I assumed would be fairly open, although I was wrong about that completely. I missed the fact that there was a major public holiday in South Africa during my time down there, which just happened to be the few days before and after I was planning on flying between Joburg, Cape Town, and Namibia, meaning flights were packed. Anyways, let's get to it!

You can use the following links to access specific parts quicker:
I: Flights to South Africa, Johannesburg and tour of Soweto.
II: Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula Tour.
III: Namibia: Driving around and the dunes of Sossusvlei.
IV: Back to Cape Town.
V: Safari at Kruger National Park and the flights back to the US.

Last edited by ChiefNWA; Mar 29, 2017 at 8:50 am
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:40 am
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Day 1
Day 1 was strictly a travel day. I raced to the airport after getting out to work early in order to catch the next flight to Atlanta since the later ones were looking pretty full. It's a good thing I did because I wouldn't have gotten on the next two meaning I would have missed my connection to Johannesburg... that would've been a rocky start to the trip. Anyways, I relaxed a bit in the Concourse F lounge in Atlanta before heading down to South Africa. The flight down was blocked at 14 hours and 47 minutes air time, not my longest flight but pretty still long. The flight landed just a bit after 5 in the afternoon. I took the shuttle to my hotel and grabbed some dinner. I tried to get to bed early to start adjusting to the new time zone, although that didn't really work out. The next day was my first real day of exploration in South Africa.

Today's flight routing was Tampa - Atlanta - Johannesburg. I flew Johannesburg - Cape Town the next day.

The Boeing 777 taking me down to Joburg pictured in Atlanta.

Trout to start.

14:34 to go.

Seared tuna for the main.

Pre arrival.

After ~13 hours in the air, I finally see land! Below is the Namib Desert which is where I'd be driving around and exploring about 5 days later.

Almost there...

Landing on a stormy autumn afternoon in Joburg.

Welcome to Johannesburg, South Africa.

After landing I found myself passing through immigrations pretty quickly. I stopped at a nearby cell phone store and picked up a local sim card for the next two weeks so I would have internet. The hotel I booked was only a couple miles from the airport. The reason I did that is I had booked a morning Soweto tour then planned on flying to Cape Town later the next day, so staying near the airport made sense.

Not a bad room for $55/night.

Day 2
The next day my tour guide was a little late picking me up due to a taxi cab protest against Uber. They had blocked off the N4 (a major highway) meaning traffic was horrendous that morning. Either way, my driver, Thato, picked me up right outside the hotel. Thato grew up and still lives in Soweto, which stands for South Western Township and is Joburg's largest and most famous township. It's where the famous Soweto Uprising occurred in 1976 and it also the only place where two recipients of the Nobel Peace Price grew up on the same street, those two being Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

The Nelson Mandela Bridge located in downtown Joburg.

Something to touch on. The separation of wealth and poverty in South Africa is still very real. The crime statistics also speak for themselves. Although I felt completely safe during my time down there, that doesn't mean that Joburg or Cape Town are completely safe. Unlike most cities, things don't simply go from safe to edgy, they go from safe to legitimately dangerous, so you have to be very careful with where you drive and walk. Theft in South Africa is also a huge problem, but like most places, criminals typically target those that appear vulnerable. Thato drove us through some of the more dangerous areas of downtown, which until recently were "off limits" to foreigners, and for the most part, white people. New investment recently by the government is hoping to clean up the area and make it more "trendy".

Driving around downtown Joburg.

Technically a billboard for Johnnie Walker in downtown Joburg.

The first stop on the tour was the Apartheid Museum which was quite interesting and powerful. It's a highlight of any visit to Joburg. I'm glad this was included because I wouldn't have had time to visit on my last day as initially planned.

Poster of Nelson Mandela at the Apartheid Museum.

There are two entrances to the museum. Both converge into one once you enter.

"Apartheid: The system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race in force in South Africa 1948-1991."

"One day I will be the first black president of South Africa." - Nelson Mandela

South African flag.

The FNB Soccer Stadium, renovated in 2009 for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final.

The next part of the tour took us on a driving tour of Soweto itself. Homes within the township range from small concrete buildings, like the one below, built by the government to small tin shacks like we'll see later.

Main road in Soweto.

The Orlando Towers in Orlando, Soweto. Both towers are part of a decommissioned coal-fired power station. One is used as a billboard and the other contains the largest mural painting in South Africa.

Driving around Soweto.

Some homes in Soweto.

The next stop of the tour was optional. The guide said that many times they don't stop here based on how sensitive some of the participants are to seeing such poverty. Our group all agreed that we'd make a stop at one of the many informal settlements scattered around Soweto. Most of the homes here are made out of mud and tin and typically do not contain water or electricity. The two homes we went into also only had one proper bed and 8-10 inhabitants. The government of South Africa is slowly relocating these people to government built homes in other parts of Soweto, but the process for this is extremely slow.

The homes, for the most part, do not have toilets. The people living here use communal bathrooms which are emptied, at most, twice a week.

A make-shift store near a popular hang out spot.

The "main street" in this settlement.

Walking around. Most locals we passed by smiled and said hello. For the most part, they actually seemed happy despite the horrible living conditions.

Kliptown was the name of the informal settlement we visited. Thulani, a recipient of the CNN Hero Award in 2012, was our guide for the area for the hour we were there. More about his work can be read here. CNN (and Thulani) states that the group he founded provides academic support, meals and after-school activities to 400 children.

CNN Hero award.

Pictures of successful alumni students and their current jobs ranging from doctors in Switzerland to oil contractors in Nigeria.

The flag proudly displayed in a home.

Some school children in Kliptown.

Three kids which were following our group around.

A little boy that kept yelling "shoot me!" as we were standing near him, meaning he wanted his picture taken. He seemed to really enjoy seeing himself on my camera when I showed it to him.

The next part of the tour took us to the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. The church played a big role in the anti-Apartheid movement, acting as a meeting point for protesters.

Stained glass windows.

On June 16, 1976, during the Soweto Uprising, police entered the church and open fired. No one was killed but bullet holes around the building, including the ceiling are still visible.

Signed visitor book with Nelson Mandela shown below.

...and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

We stopped for some lunch near the Orlando Towers.

Braai (South African BBQ) for lunch.

Power lines, Soweto.

One last look at Soweto before heading to the airport.

It took about an hour to drop off the other people from the tour at hotels then get me to the airport. The flights to Cape Town, about two hours away by plane, were showing as oversold so I figured I'd be sitting around the Joburg Airport for a few hours. I guess I got lucky and got on the first one I showed up for.

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Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:42 am
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My bag didn't make the flight for some reason so I sat around the Cape Town airport for an hour waiting for the next flight to arrive with it. I ended up getting to my Airbnb located on Cape Town's trendy Long Street at about 11:00 PM. I was wiped so I went straight to bed when I got there.

Day 3
Today was a mostly full day of activities. I planned on picking up some breakfast, going on a few free walking tours (tip based, so not totally free), and if the weather held up, hike Lion's Head. I woke up around 8:00 AM and checked out the view from the apartment.

View from my apartment of Long Street, Cape Town.

The free walking tours met at Greenmarket Square, which is the main square of Cape Town and houses a lot of locals selling art. Pretty cool place to walk around.

There are four walking tours of Cape Town to choose from. The first one I did was of District 6, which is a historical part of the city located about a half mile east of the main CBD. The area was a poorer black neighborhood during the apartheid. The government wasn't having any of that and came in, kicked people out and bulldozed their homes so they could build some nice estates for white South Africans. The interesting part of it is that very few real estate developers wanted to get involved, so much of the area remains deserted today.

Empty lots like this are common in District 6.


More empty lots backing up to some apartments in Woodstock, Cape Town.

A mural in District 6.

The church was one of the few structures not destroyed by the government in District 6.

Back in Greenmarket Square. The tour lasted about two hours and I had about two hours until the next one, so I decided to grab some lunch.

Lunch at some trendy place on Long Street. Cost me about $5.

The next walking tour was of the colorful Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town. The area is home to 90% Muslims and home to the Cape Malay population. There's quite a bit of history behind it but I won't get too much into it. People usually visit strictly for the colorful houses. More can be read about Bo-Kaap here.

Oh, I haven't mentioned the incredible scenery that surrounds Cape Town have I...

Every home in Bo-Kaap is heavily regulated by the South African government, meaning each home has to be painted once a year and no home can be the same color as the neighbor's house.

Blue and purple.

Bright red.

At this point it was about 4:00 PM (sunset was around 7:00 PM) and the weather was absolutely perfect for hiking. I went back to my Airbnb to stock up on water and change before heading out to Lion's Head for the hike. The tour guide for the Bo-Kaap walk was an avid hiker and said that Lion's Head is pretty moderate for a hike but lacks railings and any other safety precautions, so he just warned me to be careful. He also said it would take about two hours to get to the top.

Starting the hike. The first 30-45 minutes was on an even surface but fairly steep.

Let's just say it got a little steeper and included ladders.

On the 'neck' part of the mountain. About 30 minutes to go to the top. It got very steep and narrow at this point. Not only that, the wind was picking up.

It took my fat and out of shape self 2 hours and 18 minutes to get to the top, but that included photo stops.

Can you argue with this view of Table Mountain though? The cloud on top is known as the "table cloth" as well.

Down below is Camps Bay, which is a very wealthy part of Cape Town. Sort of reminded me of Hawaii or parts of Beverly Hills, CA.

My first photographed sunset in Africa from atop Lion's Head, Cape Town. Winds were pushing a steady 30mph at this point.

I had filet probably 6 or 7 nights while in South Africa. Beef is dirt cheap down there. This meal which included a 14 oz prime filet, mashed potatoes, bearnaise sauce and a dessert ran me right around $15 (inclusive of tax and tip).

Day 4
Today was the big cycling tour in Cape Town. It's the largest cycling tour in the world so lots of main roads were supposed to be closed and the city was supposed to be bursting at its seams. Unfortunately, the Cape winds were howling today with some interior parts of the route hitting 110 kmh (about 65mph), so the tour was canceled after being pushed back a bunch of hours. A huge blow to participants that flew in from all over the world, but the winds were expected to hang around for the next few days, so the city had no choice.

The plan for the day was to do some more walking tours and take the ferry out to Robben Island to visit the prison where Mandela was held for most of his prison life. The ferry was canceled due to the winds, so the day was pretty slow but still enjoyable.

I walked myself around the V&A Waterfront the first part of the day. This is the more commercialized part of the city where most of the tourists hang around. There's a massive mall, lots of overpriced restaurants, gimmicky streets performers, you know - the whole shebang.

The V&A Waterfront.

The outside portion of the mall.

The South African flag blowing in the winds.

The V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain.

The Victoria Wharf Mall.

The waterfront is a decent place to pick up some sushi though.

V&A Waterfront.

Some nice yachts with Signal Hill in the background.

Security is a huge private sector in South Africa. Every home you walk by either has a security guard or an electric fence. My apartment in Cape Town had a 24 hour armed guard and I had two electronic keys I used to get in plus a 12 digit pin pad to get into the apartment.

Some nice condos near the waterfront.

Since the ferry was canceled I had to improvise and find something else to do with the rest of the day. I chose to head over to Camps Bay and location scout for a sunset picture. I walked around the tidal pools and the nice Hawaiian style beach. In the background, you can see some smoke, which is from a fire that started in the nearby townships of Cape Town. The area the fire was blazing is evidently very difficult to get to, so it burned for several days and killed a lot of people.

The nice celebrity rented homes of Camps Bay with quite the mountain backdrop.

Camps Bay is normally packed but the winds today on this side of the city were crazy, meaning it was pretty much empty. The mountain on the left is Lion's Head, the one I hiked the day prior.

I stopped at this famous milkshake place before the next walking tour.

The next walking tour I went on was the historical walking tour. This tour took us around Cape Town describing the good and bad history of the city.

St. George's Cathedral. Desmond Tutu (recipient of the Nobel peace Prize) was archbishop here.

A portion of the Berlin Wall donated to South Africa.

Back in the apartheid days, people had to always carry identification showing their race. If you were unsure of your race, you could come to the high court and partake in tests to determine if you were white, colored, black or Arab.

White and Non-White.

Walking around the Company Gardens, Cape Town.

This is where Nelson Mandela gave his speech the day he was released from prison.

After the historical walking tour, I took an Uber over to Camps Bay for dinner and sunset.

I was hoping to get a longer exposure to smooth out the waves, but anything more than a few seconds in the wind that was blowing was proving futile (dont mind the dust spots I forgot to fix).

The smoke billowing from the Hout Bay fire.

Sunset view of Camps Bay. Note how deserted the normally packed beach is.

Some fresh line fish and mahi mahi for dinner.

Day 5
For day 5, I rented a car from downtown and drove the Cape Peninsula route down to the southwestern most point of Africa. The drive back from the Cape of Good Hope was spectacular! I overslept so I lost about an hour from my planned day. After I got back I had wished I had an extra two hours, not a one-hour loss.

This is the route down to the Cape. Hertz Loop Street is where I started and the Cape of Good Hope was the mid-point stop of the drive. There were quite a few stops on the way down, which I'll show below.

The first stop was the Rhodes Memorial which is perched on a mountainside overlooking the Cape Flats. The flats were hazy due to the nearby fire. Cape Town isn't normally known for its pollution.

Rhodes Memorial.

Canopy trees.

Got myself a brand new Renault Captur.

A start to the fantastic scenery on the drive.

Long Beach on False Bay.

I stopped for brunch at a bakery in Kalk Bay.

I was careful not to start a ruckus at the bakery.

The brightly colored beach houses on St. James Beach, Kalk Bay.

Some pretty serious white caps.

The next stop after Kalk Bay was Simon's Town and Boulder Beach, which is home to a large penguin colony. This is not a zoo, there are no cages and you're free to roam as much as the penguins do. I don't know if that's a good thing in the long run for the penguins, but at least it's good for pictures, regardless of the harsh midday light.

Some penguins just hanging out.



Posing for a picture.

Yes, I looked.

The next part of the drive was about 45 minutes down to the Cape of Good Hope. I saw a few baboons on the way down, but not too many.

Fairly scenic drive.

Welcome to Cape Point. There's a lighthouse you can hike up to (way too many stairs for my liking) but I decided to take the other trail that overlooked the Cape of Good Hope.

I went left for the Cape Point view site first. The winds out there were unbearable. It was difficult to stand up, let alone take pictures.

The view after turning left.

Then I came back for a proper view of the Cape of Good Hope and the beach.

Many people commonly mistake the Cape of Good Hope as the 'southernmost' point of the continent, when it is in fact not. The southernmost point is about a two-hour drive from here.

Crashing waves at the Cape of Good Hope.

The drive back stayed on the west side of the Cape Peninsula taking me through Noordhoek, Chapman's Peak, Hout Bay and Camps Bay.

More beautiful scenery from the drive.

My little car for the day. Scratched the hell out of the front left wheel, guess I wasn't used to having so much car on my left.

Made an impromptu stop at the ostrich farm because, why not?

Hopefully, the visible sand in the air on the right can show you just how windy it was.

Or all the mist being blown along the top of the water.

Super blue ice cold water.

This was part of the Chapman's Peak drive, which was incredible. It rode along the side of the mountain with the cliff and water on the other side. The tiny cars on the road should give you a sense of scale.

Some more scenery.

Plenty of scenic spots to stop at.

As I was returning the car, I noticed that the Table Mountain cable car was not only running, but the mountain was also not covered by a cloud. I raced over to the cable car after dropping the car and made it just in time for the last car up.

The cable car driver advised that if we hear a loud horn that it means we need to evacuate the mountain due to wind. Being my luck, the horn started blaring after about 10 minutes of being up there. There was a massive line to get down, so I stuck around and took some more pictures as it would end up a good hour before I got on a cable car.

Camps Bay at sunset from the top of Table Mountain.

Cape Town, Lion's Head and Signal Hill just after sunset.

Some lasagna pizza to end the day.

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Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:43 am
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Day 6
For day 6, I flew up to Windhoek, Namibia. The flight left Cape Town at noon rendering the rest of the day pretty useless. I was simply using Windhoek as an overnight spot for the long drive the next day.

Boarding the Air Namibia flight to Windhoek (pronounced Wind-hook).

They upgraded me to business class as a standby, which was nice even though the flight was only 2-hours.

Over the desert.

Landing in the 2nd most sparsely populated country on the planet.

I sat in line at the airport for an hour waiting for the employees at the sim card store to come back from "a relaxing break". Only in Africa does that kind of thing happen... I finally got to the hotel around 5:00 PM. I used points to splurge and stay at the Hilton which was super nice. They upgraded me to a Garden Suite which included access to the Executive Lounge (for dinner), but yes, I'm that important.

The Garden Suite upgrade at the Hilton. Someone also delivered a box of chocolates to my room a few minutes later.

My private balcony garden. Not the best place at the time considering it was raining and there was nearby construction. I walked up to the lounge and grabbed some dinner then sat around the room researching info for the next day.

Day 7
Have you ever heard of Namibia? Yes, Namibia, not Libya and not India. Most people haven't. It's fairly unknown to tourists but it's an up and coming adventure traveler destination, mostly for Europeans. Namibia is home to some awesome scenery and is a perfect place to rent an RV and drive around for a month or to just get away from everything, and I mean everything. My main goal though with my 3 days, was to visit the sand dunes of Sossusvlei, considering it's a bucket list destination for photographers. On top of that, my goal on this trip in general was to limit my time in major cities and try to get out and see the scenery, so this was a perfect place to do that.

The drive for today was going to be a long one. Most people I talked to said to tack on an extra 20% driving time to what Google Maps states or more if you stop for pictures often, which I do. That ended up fairly accurate. Namibia classifies their roads in certain ways. B roads are paved, usually only main roads in and out of the major cities like Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Luderitz. C roads are main gravel roads, which from my experience were in decent enough condition, although flooded in some parts. D roads are district roads. They aren't cared for nearly as much and can get pretty rough in some spots. Today's route took me down B1 for a while to C24 to C14 to C19, so most of my driving for the day was on pavement and generally decent gravel roads. The woman at the tourism office advised against taking the district roads through the mountain pass even though it's 1.5 hours shorter. I left the Hilton at 8:00 AM.

There was a Hertz office located in the Hilton which is where I picked up my truck, a newish semi-lifted 4x4 Toyota Hilux. I had booked a manual as there were no automatics available for selection, but I ended up with an auto anyways.

Once I got off B1 and on to gravel, people and cars became very scarce. I went at least an hour without seeing a single car or person.

The drive was actually sort of liberating. Nice to not sit in bumper to bumper traffic for once.

At the turn off for Klein Aub, about the 1/4 way point.

Doesn't look bad, but it was pretty deep. Would've certainly been an issue in a little eco car. Let alone the poor tires on an eco car would've been shredded after 6 hours on this gravel.

The land here is literally untouched. It's not like driving through the plains of the midwest in the U.S. with farms left and right; it's just simple, vast and open space with nothing.

You know it's barren when you get excited to see rocks.

A stop at the river.

At the C14 turn-off, the 2/3 way point.

Got out to stretch my legs at the C14 turn off.

Some more scenery on the drive.

Still driving along.

A stop in Solitaire for diesel. I'm glad the truck was a turbo-diesel since at least 3/5 times I stopped for gas, they were out of petrol.

Got to my "lodge" in Solitaire a few minutes after getting gas. Each unit is individual, which is nice. It's essentially a luxury tent.

Pretty basic amenities, but at least it included hot water. The place was unbearable during the day due to the heat, but it cools down to around 65 at night, so overnight it was fine since the place didn't have AC. No WiFi out here either, but at least you get a nice big stain on the rug.

I hopped in the car for the next one hour drive down to the dunes. I had the whole next day but I wanted to at least go down for sunset and scout out the area for tomorrow.

The view from my room.

On the way to Sossusvlei.

About half way I believe. Starting to look a bit more Mars like.

A lonesome tree.

When I got to Sossuvlei I checked in at the front office and bought my two-day permit. The rep there recommended I go visit Sesriem Canyon first, then Sossusvlei tomorrow. I decided to hit Sesriem Canyon first then do some simply location scouting and sunset shooting after that in the dunes.

I can't describe how quiet it was here. No insects, no people, no distant traffic noises and no wind. If you stopped walking and stood still, all you heard was the faint buzzing in your ears and your heartbeat.

Sesriem Canyon.

Made it to the dunes. The road from the main gate to the end (where Sossusvlei is actually located) is about 45 minutes at my speed (roughly double the speed limit) but at least the road is paved.

The dunes are significantly larger than I imagined.

Stretching my legs.

So surreal.

Unfortunately, since I wasn't staying at one of the two accommodation sites inside the park, I had to be out by sunset, meaning I missed most of the best light. I thought about just staying in and paying the fine, figuring the fine wasn't that much. Well, the fine is 1,000 NAD ($78 USD) and I wasn't willing to pay that. If you stay at the campsite (I didn't have a tent or camping equipment) or the in-park lodge (which looks awesome but was out of my budget) you get to enter the park one hour prior to sunrise and leave one hour after sunset, meaning as a photographer, you can be in the park for the day's best light.

Made it to the gate with 4 minutes to spare.

Driving back to my lodge now for dinner.

The mountains at sunset.

Another beautiful African sunset.

Dinner at the all inclusive lodge.

Day 8
I planned a full day at the dunes today. When I booked the lodge I was staying at, I knew it wasn't right next to the park, but I didn't realize it was an hour away. Since I made my plans so close in, I wasn't able to secure anything nearby, which left me with this lodge. Part of visiting Sossusvlei is being there for sunrise and sunset. That meant I was awake at 4:45 AM ready to drive the hour down to the dunes. Let me just tell you how sketchy it is driving a truck on super rough gravel roads in the pitch black with zero street lights and animals in the road.

The sunrise hot air balloon tours leaving.

Sunrise at the dunes.

About 45 minutes after entering the park I made it to the 2x4 parking for Sossusvlei. It's another 5km to the actual entrance which can only be reached by 4x4 or by the park provided 4x4 shuttle. Luckily, the Hilux had no issue with the deep and soft sand for those 5km. Once I got there I hiked the Big Daddy dune then essentially slid down the side of it into Deadvlei.

Starting to hike the Big Daddy Dune.

Way, way harder than it looks.

At the top looking back. All I was missing was that desert scarf you're all imagining me wearing.

It took me about 45 minutes to hike to the top of Big Daddy. Then I slid down the side of it, which is about 1,100 feet, taking maybe 1 minute. Wedged between the two dunes is Deadvlei, which is a clay pan that used to be where water would flood during rain. The trees that still stand have been dead for hundreds of years but haven't decayed due to the lack of moisture.

The sun popping up over Big Daddy.

Walking around Deadvlei.


Water flow.

This image is to give a sense of scale. I hiked to the top then 'slid' down from where the people are up there.

Looking back at Deadvlei.

This is actually Sossusvlei, although people refer to the whole park as Sossusvlei. Sossusvlei means "dead-end marsh" and is a dried salt and clay pan. Temperatures, per the Hilux, were hovering around 41C or 106F.

Sossusvlei and the dunes.

The Big Mama Dune at Sossusvlei. You can see someone hiking it (they're completely crazy doing that midday when it's 41C out) in the middle and a bit right.

The easier part of the sand I had to drive through. It was thick enough that I could at least stop here. I wouldn't dare do that about 300m further in.

Dunes, dunes and more dunes.

The landscape here is something out of this world.

Initially, I planned on staying at the dunes until sunset. I guess that was poor planning on my part, but I was exhausted by about 2 PM. I figured since I already shot them at sunset the day before and got sunrise today, that I'd be good. I stopped at the little restaurant located at the main gate for lunch. They had free WiFi, but it was downloading at 2.9kbs, about 10 times slower than dial up, so I didn't even bother.

On the drive back to the lodge where I hit the pool for an hour or so since the tent was scalding hot.

Back at the lodge, ready to go to dinner.

Sunset from my 'patio' at the lodge.

Some fried chicken for dinner. A pack (if that's what they call multiple Oryx) were hanging out about 200 feet in front of me.

A rather poor attempt at light painting the truck, but at least the stars and milky way came out. Too bad there were some clouds.

Day 9
Looking back, I should've given myself an extra day in Namibia as there were a few more things I would've liked to see. Oh well, guess I'll save them for next time. Day 9 was to be spent driving back to Windhoek and the airport then a flight back down to Cape Town for three more days. Originally, I was going to fly to Joburg and visit the Drakensberg Mountains but the weather forecast was poor, I couldn't find somewhere close to stay since it was a long holiday weekend and I already had a ton of driving on this trip. The Drakenbergs would've added about 6 more hours of driving round trip. Due to that, I chose to simply return to Cape Town. I wanted to cover Robben Island and visit the Vineyards but neither of those ended up working as the rental cars were sold out and it was windy, so the ferries were canceled.

I asked the owner of the lodge for a different way back to Windhoek. Unlike the tourism office, he recommended the district roads through the mountain pass going back. He said that clearance is important, but otherwise, it's no more difficult than the C roads and is much more scenic. Boy was he right.

Everything I read said to get gas every time you see a gas station as they don't always have gas at each one. On top of that, it can be 300-400km before you see your next one.

The drive back to the Windhoek Airport ended up taking me about 5 hours. Instead of heading south to Klein Aub and Rehoboth, I took the more direct route on the District roads through Namibgrens and Isabis. Other than those small towns (or collection of 3 houses and a cow), I didn't see a single car on the three district roads I used, so about 2.5 hours.

At one of the turn-offs.

The District road route involved a fairly steep mountain pass. Luckily it was paved on that portion, otherwise, we would've had some issues.

Driving along.

Part of the mountain pass. It was a lot steeper than it looks, just doesn't look bad since this was taken on the way up.

A good place to stop and rest for a few minutes.

It's funny to think that this is a main road.

Almost hit this guy as he was hanging out in the road just as I came to the top of a hill.

Still driving along.

I dropped the truck off with Hertz at the airport. No questions asked regarding the mud and dirt, even though the contract states that the vehicle can't be driven off road (not sure how that's possible in Namibia anyways). This is where things got interesting, though. British Airways had canceled their flight to Cape Town earlier in the day, so my flight to Cape Town was now full and I didn't get on due to that. Instead, I chose to list for Joburg making the last connection of the night to Cape Town. Of course, I get on the flight to Joburg and they announce that we're going to make an unscheduled stop in Walvis Bay to pick up more passengers #Africa . I ended up overnighting in Joburg because of that, but more on that later.

I booked a cheap and quick overnight at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Airport. I didn't get there until almost midnight and Joburg isn't the best place in the world to roam at night, so I opted for some quick room service for dinner.

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Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:44 am
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Day 10
Today sucked for the most part. Since I missed the connection to Cape Town last night, I was stuck with the busy Saturday morning holiday traffic. The flights were completely packed to Cape Town so I ended up getting pushed from 9:00 AM until 3:30 PM when I finally got on. The whole day was supposed to be spent in Cape Town, instead, most of it was spent in the Johannesburg Airport. South African Airways wasn't even willing to sell you a full fare ticket to Cape Town today, that's how full the flights were.

The airport viewing deck, where I spent most of my hours since I couldn't clear security without a seat assignment.

It was about 6:00 PM by the time I got to my Airbnb in Cape Town. That gave me just enough time to head out to the beach for sunset with Table Mountain as the backdrop.

My room for the next two nights.

Another filet for dinner of course.

Day 11
The plan for today was originally to visit Robben Island but the ferries canceled due to the wind. Instead, I decided to head over to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which are on the opposite end of Table Mountain. Then I did some more exploring around the V&A Waterfront and walked around admiring the $8m homes in Camps Bay.

Backside view of Table Mountain from the gardens.

Walking around the gardens.

The tree canopy walk.

I Ubered over to the Waterfront again and walked around. This ball at the top of this tower used to go up at 1:00 PM to signal boats to enter the harbor.

Some seals hanging out at the Waterfront.

These two were fighting. I guess they'd had enough of each other.

Some sushi overlooking the water. Ran me about $10 for lunch.

I took an Uber over to Camps Bay strictly to look at all the mega expensive houses that the celebrities rent out when they visit Cape Town. Note how no one really has a yard, just a big wall, a reminder of the security concerns present in South Africa.

Well, that's enough admiring homes I'll never be able to afford... It was around 4:00 PM at this point. I decided to skip sunset and head back to the Airbnb, relax and sort some final things out for the safari in two days.

I went back to the first steakhouse I visited in Cape Town and got the 14oz bone-in filet. All in, less than $20 for dinner.

Day 12
I flew from Cape Town back to Johannesburg today, that's about it. I picked up my rental car for the safari and also picked up the lens that I rented. If you're ever in Joburg and need a lens rental, hit up Peter at A Lens for Hire in Sandton, good guy, and fair prices.

I bought a ticket as it was only $8 more than the standby fee, so no headaches today!

I picked up my rental car from Hertz at the Joburg airport after landing. The rep offered me an upgrade from the economy car I reserved to an Audi for ~$30/day. Gas was more expensive than anticipated, so I declined the offer. Instead, he gave me a brand spankin new VW Polo (slightly smaller version of the Golf) with only 9km on it. My first call of action was to pick up my lens from the rental place in Sandton, about a 35 minute drive north of the city. That area of Joburg sort of reminded me of Atlanta; lots of clay and hilly. My hotel, the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Rosebank was about 10 minutes from the lens rental store.

My room for the night at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Rosebank

Another steak for dinner of course.

The lens for the safari that I picked up.

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Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:45 am
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Day 13
Well, today marks the final step to the trip, the safari at Kruger National Park. I didn't get to bed as early as I would've liked the night before, so I cut out the Panorama Route I was going to take to Kruger. However, I woke up early for some reason anyways, so I raced out of the hotel to try to hit that more scenic route. It tacks on about 1.5 more hours of driving (likely not worth it in hindsight) but there were some fairly scenic spots to stop at on the way. I had a sunset game drive booked through the restcamp at 4:15 PM so I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough to get to the park, go through check in at the gate, check in at the restcamp and set up the camera.

Today's drive out to Kruger via the Panorama Route.

The drive to the Skukuza Restcamp in Kruger, including the Panorama Route, was roughly 6.5 hours, so I rolled out of the Holiday Inn at almost exactly 8:00 AM. After about 4 hours, I made it to the first stop, the Blyde River Canyon view point.

Three Rondavels/Blyde River Canyon View Point.

The next stop was supposed to be Bourke's Luck Potholes, but I got the last two stops swapped in my head, so I wasn't looking for the right turn-off. By time I realized my mistake, I had gone too far to turn around, so I just kept driving until I hit God's Window, the final stop on the Panorama Route.

Some afternoon weather started rolling in, so that made for a flat, but more moody look to this picture of God's Window.

By time I got to Kruger, it was about 3:00 PM since I stopped for lunch. You know you're entering the park once you pass over the Sabie River. It took about 15 minutes to get into the park as it's not exactly like entering Yellowstone. They had me get out and go through a 'docs check' with reception, then they searched my car and luggage for weapons since poaching is a serious concern inside the park. I was cleared and good to go though, so off to Skukuza I went.

A little bit on Kruger. Kruger National Park is located in eastern South Africa and is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which extends into Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. The park is roughly 7,500 square miles in size. All of the Big Five can be found in Kruger which includes the African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and the White Rhino. It's also home to the endangered African Wild Dog, of which there are an estimated 400 remaining in all of South Africa. Other animals such as impala, giraffe, cheetah, hippo and countless others can be seen here. For my purposes, I chose Skukuza, Kruger's oldest and largest camp for my accommodations and game drives. They were decently cheap and were located in Southern Kruger, which is better for game viewing.

Crossing the Sabie River at Kruger Gate.

Checking in at my bungalow at the Skukuza Restcamp.

Basic, but it'll do.

I had four game drives booked through the camp; two sunset and two sunrise. After checking in and sorting out the camera equipment, I was off on my first sunset drive. First thing we saw was a Tawny Eagle.

African Elephant.

I don't recall the name of this one, but it's related to the antelope. They rest on top of rocks to hide from predators.


We were exceptionally lucky and came across a pride of lions feasting on a fresh kill.

The male lion, the leader of the pride.

Mom relaxing.

The kids waiting for their food.



Then we came across a lonesome zebra.

The sun coming down.

Before the sun went down completely, we came across a spotted hyena. We didn't see much once the sun came down but we did stop since we all heard loud growling. The guide said it was a lion and couldn't have been more than 20 feet away, but we couldn't see him due to the thick bush.

Some dinner at the lodge.

Day 14
I had two game drives today, one sunrise and one sunset, so this meant I had a 3:45 AM wakeup call in order to make the 4:15 AM meet up time. This drive was completely full so we ended up using two trucks. Each truck held 22 people.

The first animals we saw once the sun was up were two white rhinos.

They both stood with their backs to us for about 3 minutes. The guide said that is normal until the rhinos can assess whether they are in danger or not.

Just a few minutes later we came across a group of elephants.

Including some baby elephants.

The guide stated that the one on the left is no more than 3 months old. Interesting fact about elephants; they live to about 45 years in Kruger and usually die from starvation shortly after losing their last tooth.

We then spotted some baboons in the trees. As we were taking pictures of them, one came running out of the bush and ran behind the truck. We all turned quickly and saw a leopard dart across the street. A leopard hadn't been spotted in two months by any drivers from Skukuza due to the thick bush caused by recent heavy rains.

We saw a few more elephants.

The sunrise drive went until 7:00 AM. Initially, I planned on taking a nap and relaxing until the sunset drive. Instead, I picked up a Redbull and drove myself around the park since it was my last full day in Africa. I didn't see too much, at least nothing out of the ordinary since mid day isn't a good time to spot animals. I saw tons of impala, a few elephants and a couple giraffes. It was still enjoyable to slowly drive through the park and observe though.

There are about 200,000 impala in Kruger National Park, so you saw at least 20 every time you went on a drive.

This one was blocking the road.

Just no privacy in this park.


A colorful bird.

A male impala.


Sure, you can see most of these animals at the zoo or even Busch Gardens. But to see them in the wild makes them that much more exotic.

I drove up to the top of a rock to get a nice overlook of the area. The bush isn't normally this thick, but Kruger has been experiencing record amounts or rainfall recently, making game viewing much more difficult.

I got back to the restcamp with an hour to spare before the sunset drive. I freshened up and cleaned the camera. The first animal we saw on the sunset drive was a Kudu. It's also the animal featured in the park's logo.

And another elephant.

Then we came across three lion cubs hanging out in the street.

The guide said that the morning is prime hunting time for mom and dad. They normally leave the cubs in one spot and come back to them with the kill.

There were two other people on the drive with lenses like mine but they were using strobe flashes, which were irritating all the animals. Not only does that scare them, but that pushes them into the bush so now other people can't spot them. I'm not sure why Kruger allows flash photography. Obviously, one can photograph them just fine without flash...

That African sunset.

We saw a few zebras way out in the bush. The versatility of the lens is astounding.

A hippo. Fun fact, hippos use only one way in and one way out of their watering hole, so you don't want to get in their way. It's not unheard of for them to knock over a safari vehicle.

Remember when I said that a leopard hadn't been spotted in two months? Well, here's a second one. This time it stayed still too. We saw 4 of the Big Five on this single drive, which is incredible and we saw multiple of each one as well. The driver said that was his best sunset drive in months! Leopards hang in trees in order to spot prey more easily.

We had spotlights in the vehicle, so we were able to light him up.

Day 15
My last day in Africa. Today was hectic and tiring. I woke up at 3:45 AM again for the sunrise game drive, which lasted until 7:45 AM (instead of 7) so I had no time to nap before having to drive back to Johannesburg. On top of that, the Delta nonstop to Atlanta wasn't looking too hot so I had a long coach flight to Europe to look forward to. More on that later though.

One final sunrise.

Saw three hippos this time.

Some zebras in the distance.

We spotted two lion cubs wrestling. Once we stopped though they sat still. You can see the 2nd one hiding behind the bush on the left.

Wildebeest. They aren't the most intelligent of animals, hence why they are good prey. Their one way of defense is to stand still hoping the predator doesn't see them...

The safari truck we were driven around in. The opinion on whether to take a guided drive or self drive is about 50-50. The guides have radios and talk to each other when they spot certain animals, so that's one positive. They also know what to look for and are better at spotting game than the average person for the most part. They're also allowed to drive around during the dark, while on a self drive you cannot. Self driving gives you more freedom though and it's possible to sneak up on the animals in a small and quiet vehicle.

We saw a pack of wild dogs, an endangered species in the park.

One final giraffe.

Well, vacation is officially over. This now marks the beginning of the very long venture home. It was only 5 hours straight to the airport, but I had to pass the airport by ~35 minutes to drop off the lens. On top of that, I encountered a hail storm once I got to downtown Johannesburg, so that drive ending up being over an hour instead of 35 minutes. I made it to the airport by 5:00 PM.

Kruger Gate on my way out of the park. They searched my vehicle again on the way out.

Back at the Joburg airport. The Delta flight had 3 seats up front with 9 upgrades. I would've been cleared me in a center in coach, so that flight was going to be a no go. 17 hours in a seat like that is inhumane to be honest. I was able to fly on Virgin Atlantic to London in coach, but at least I had a whole row to myself and the flight was just over 11 hours vs 17. Still the longest flight I've done in economy, but I was wiped by 9:00 PM when we departed, so it went by fairly quick.

The long, but more comfortable way home.

New 787-9 for tonights flight.

On board before I got moved. A family with an infant was split so I lost my full row. The row I got moved to though still had an empty middle however, so I still had plenty of space.

A while to go. Cant even see the destination

Only 23 minutes out. We encountered some severe turbulence over Paris, the worst I've ever encountered. I stopped by the cockpit on the way out since I had 6 hours in London and the captain said it was the worst he's flown through in his 24 year career.

Premium Economy looks nice.

No jetway in cloudy and cold London this morning for some reason.

I ended up routing home through Philadelphia and Atlanta. Not the most convenient but it broke up the trip nicely.

Skyteam 757 to PHL.


Landing in Philly.

At least I got some much needed sleep up front from London to Philly as well.

I'll end it here since the rest are just boring domestic flights. Glad to be back in the US though.

This trip to Southern Africa was fantastic overall, even if I was solo the entire time. Sure, there were some flight troubles, but that was essentially expected from the beginning. If I had to do it over again, I would add two more days in Namibia and two more days in Kruger, splitting the time evenly between the north and south parts of the park. I'm glad to have finally ticked off Africa but that won't stop me from seeing more of the continent. In the future, I still hope to visit Ghana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Lesotho, Senegal and Tunisia. My next trip is scheduled for the 2nd week of May which is tentatively planned to be Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia.
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ChiefNWA is offline  
Old Mar 29, 2017, 8:46 am
Join Date: Dec 2001
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You had a better tour of Soweto than we did on a Private tour. Our guide completely skipped the most interesting part. Seems better to go on a Group tour and cheaper.

There was too much wind in Cape Town to go on the cable car for 6 days so it's good you made it at least.

Your pictures of Namibia make me want to go today. Thanks.

Last edited by Bretteee; Mar 29, 2017 at 9:02 am
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 9:11 am
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WOW. Amazing trip report and photos, thank you for sharing ChiefNWA! I was very happy to read the Lion's Head was a struggle for you too...I feel better now
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 9:42 am
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Incredible report. Thank you for sharing.

Might add South Africa on my list of places to see. Just concerned about security.

To visit Namibia and look up at the night sky. That alone would be worth it.
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 10:29 am
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This is known as a Klipspringer [Oreotragus oreotragus] The name Klipspringer is the Afrikaans for 'rock jumper' and alludes to the animal's ability in rocky territory where it can be seen moving freely, seemingly on tiptoe.

Glad you enjoyed the trip. Pity about the Drakensburg, but when the weather is so unpredictable, then rather avoid. As you mentioned, Namibia also offers so much. Pity about the winds in Cape Town - again, unexpected. I have friends who went down for the cycle race and of course, that ended in tears.

Thank you for such a brilliant TR!! Your photos and narrative has really made for a pleasant and exciting read.

Here is to wishing you many more safe travels. ^^
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 12:44 pm
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Absolutely incredible report with awesome photography. DanielW / sfo777 will no doubt be along soon - they have some serious some competition at last.
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 1:55 pm
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Amazing report - I'm planning Cape Town and the Namib over the new year, so its very much appreciated! Awesome pictures!
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 2:59 pm
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Very, very cool. Namibia is now on my list, just for the landscape. Thanks for posting!
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 3:20 pm
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Phenomenal trip report. Each picture was better than the one before. Can't wait to get to Africa one day...
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Old Mar 29, 2017, 7:52 pm
Join Date: Oct 2011
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Thanks for sharing a really nice report.

I was in Namibia for 2.5 weeks last November, and its easily one of the most amazing places I've ever been. I camped inside of Soususvlei, and they don't enforce the "1 hour before sunrise" rule at all. It was nearly 2 hours before sunrise, and everyone was driving all the way to the end of the road already. To be honest, I enjoyed the southern half of Namibia way more than the north. Way too many tour groups up north bouncing between Etosha & Soususvlei.
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