Johannesburg doesn’t have as much of a presence as Cape Town, but then this part of the trip was more about the people – namely my friends A and L who were getting married.
We stayed in a lovely place called Villa Simmone. It’s a huge house that has been converted into separate apartments and rooms, each one modelled and named after a different city around the world. Myself and the three friends I shared with stayed in Mykonos, one of the Greek islands. It was a very interesting apartment – two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and separate toilet and bathroom, and about a million light switches! Some of the light switches in the living room controlled lights in the main bedroom and vice versa, which caused much confusion!
The first couple of days were spent catching up with friends old and new and meeting A’s family who live in Jo’burg. The second day we were there everyone that was there for the wedding went to a braai at A’s family home. It was fantastic! So much delicious food, great people, music and drinks. It was a wonderful evening.
The following day, which was also the day before the wedding, a big group of us went to Ukutula Lion Park just outside Jo’burg. We originally thought it would be about a half hour drive; whoever told us that was wrong! Two hours later we finally arrived. The price also ended up being a lot more than we expected, however by the end of the day we all agreed it had definitely been worth it.
We started out with a guided tour around the park where we saw white lions, a full grown male lion with his pride of three females, many young ‘teenage’ lions whose paws we could stroke through the fence, two tigers with a tiny three week old cub, two caracals and two cheetahs. Refreshments were then served (fruit juice and scones) before we went to see much younger lion cubs only a few months old. And by see, I mean we went in the enclosure with them and could stroke them and sit with them; amazing! One of the cubs kept nipping the shirt I had on, so I now have permanent lion teeth marks there.
I thought it couldn’t get any better but then we got to hold and play with baby lion cubs that were only two or three weeks old! They were so cute and fluffy, and just adorable. I didn’t want to leave them. So much so that I even asked if I could stay with them instead of doing the next activity; I was told I could but as I would have been the only one staying and I didn’t want to miss out, I decided to go with the others. I almost wish I’d stayed!
The final activity of the day was going on a walk through the grounds of the park with the older male lions. It was quite exciting having four rather large, nearly full grown male lions running around you. Our guides were great and obviously had built up a firm relationship with the lions. We were also told very clearly though that they are still wild animals and they must be treated with respect.
We ended the trip with a drink at the bar before heading back to the villa for dinner, welcoming another friend who had just arrived and a few drinks before bed.
The wedding day, and the reason the whole Africa Adventure happened, finally arrived. It was a perfect day in all regards. A looked stunning, L was very handsome, the ceremony was lovely, the food was delicious, the speeches were both funny and emotional and almost everybody cried (in a good way of course). Perfect.
This wasn’t the end of our adventure, however. The father of the bride had organised a trip to Sun City, a huge resort outside of Jo’burg, beginning the day after the wedding. Which meant getting up at 6.15am as the bus taking all of us was departing at 7am. Of course everyone with a hangover groaned at the time, but again, it was definitely worth it in the end.
Our first port of call was a visit to an elephant sanctuary where we had a guided tour of the sanctuary, including a walk through the monkey enclosure, we met, touched and had an elephant kiss from one elephant then got to walk hand-in-trunk with a different elephant. It was a pretty good start to the day!
We finally arrived at Sun City just after 1pm and had the rest of the day to hang out with people, catch up, chill out, eat yummy food, drink delicious cocktails by the pool and read. Just what we all needed!
Pilanesberg National Park was our destination the following day for a fantastic early morning safari. Even though the safaris we did in Botswana were amazing, we still saw animals we hadn’t seen before – primarily white rhinos, as in Botswana they are under protection and can only be seen in certain areas with a permit. We also saw baboons, giraffes, jackals, lions, wildebeest, zebra, impala, eland, tsessebe, marabou storks, sacred ibis, hippos, elephants, vervet monkeys and a corey bustard. It was a wonderful morning, and we got back just in time for breakfast!
The rest of the day was spent chilling out on the (manmade) beach in the Valley of the Waves, having a bit of a swim, a few cocktails, reading, a foot massage and a wander round the shops before changing for dinner with everyone. We ate at a great African restaurant in Sun City called Shebeen – absolutely delicious food. I had lamb potjie (which is a kind of stew) with koeksisters for dessert (kind of fried doughnut twists in syrup). A few of us decided to try out the casino after dinner and have a few drinks at the bar there (no, I didn’t gamble!). There was a guy playing guitar and singing who was really good, and we met three Afrikaans guys who were contractors renovating some of the rooms at the resort.
At first I thought they were all really friendly, until one of them told me that he hated the English. I told him that I’m English and he didn’t believe me! We almost ended up in an argument until I told him I wasn’t going to talk to him anymore and walked away. I don’t think I’d ever met someone that blatantly racist before in my life. Telling me to my face that he hates the English and they’re all bastards, then not believing that I’m English because we were having a decent conversation up until that point. It really pissed me off, so I left shortly after and went to bed.
Our final full day at Sun City began with something that completely blew the spider webs, hangover and annoyance out of my head – zip lining. We were driven to the top of a mountain then had to climb the last part up some quite steep steps to the platform at the top. An amazing view, but boy was it scary looking down! The zip line was 2 kilometres long and we were told you could reach 120-160kph in the 45 seconds it took to get to the ground. Myself and my friend J went together. We were both terrified at first, especially when they picked our legs up so we were laying face first in the harness, looking down the length of the zip line (of which we couldn’t see the end). After the initial shock of dropping over the edge, it was fantastic! We both laughed all the way down. I would definitely do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone who goes there too. Don’t think about how high it is, do it!
After that we had plenty of chill out time before going for a farewell dinner with everyone at the Crystal Courtyard restaurant in the Lost Palace Hotel. The whole thing was lovely; camembert in filo pastry with caramelised onions and figs to start, followed by butternut squash and parmesan ravioli and finished with three different desserts that I shared with A and L.
That was more or less the end of the Africa Adventure, other than doing a bit of shopping, saying goodbye to everyone and spending a day chilling out in a hotel near the airport with C, who I travelled with for the whole trip.
It’s right up there on my best holidays ever list, and I would thoroughly recommend everywhere I went in South Africa and Botswana.
Next trip: Trans-Siberian Express train from Beijing all the way to London, June, July and August 2015.
Note: I’ll add photos later as I don’t have them with me in the little café in Beijing that I’m sitting in now.