My last trip to South Africa saw me stay at luxurious camps and sip expensive wine - alongside trips to the mainstream tourist venues of Cape Town and the Garden Route. So when South African Tourism invited us on a trip to experience the rustic side of the region, my rucksack was out of the loft quicker than you can say ‘white rhino’.
I joined four individuals from different areas of the travel industry to see the less discovered areas of South Africa.
We were met on arrival at Nelspruit Airport by PJ, our trusted guide and ambassador for Thompson, our South African ground handler and co-host for the week.
From the beginning, PJ was the oracle of South Africa, with endless facts to share from wine and wildlife to cricket and golf (he was an avid Chelsea FC fan too!).
Within moments of landing in the country, we were back up in the air, enjoying breathtaking views of the Drakensberg Mountains from the comfort of a helicopter.
Our first night was spent in a comfortable 4 Star lodge, Hotel Numbi & Garden Suites, in the sleepy town of Hazyview. It was the perfect starting point for one of the best South African excursions, a guided Panorama Route tour. PJ guided us through spectacular beauty as we made pit stops at God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the incredible Blyde River Canyon.
Our next adventure and home for the night was Mtomeni Safari Camp. A jewel on the banks of the Letaba River and unfenced from Kruger National Park, Richard - our ranger - took us on an evening game drive where we listened to the sounds of the bush before enjoying an incredible sunset with a gin and tonic. It was an unforgettable experience.
Life under canvas is eerie and exciting and as I lay in my tent that night, the distant snorting of hippos and rustling of grass was as exciting as the delicious home cooked food dished up by Suzy, the camp cook and gastronomic genius.
We got the chance to sample real African culture, known in the Limpopo region as the African Ivory Route. We spent the day watching the locals harvesting salt, an activity they have practiced for over 2,000 years, visiting a craft area where visitors can learn to make their own garments and watching a local music concert. We rounded off the day with a tasty dinner of ‘chicken dust’ and ginger beer in a restaurant on the side of the road.
Our final day in Limpopo was not for the faint-hearted. The words ‘canopy tour’ incited thoughts of a slow walk in the forest. It actually involved ziplining through 10 sets of wires above the rainforest canopy, where your quivering legs are dangling and your hands are clinging onto your harness for dear life. Do you know what? I loved it! The Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour staff were with me every step of the way and, despite the nerves, I felt very safe in their capable hands.
We said our farewells to the Limpopo and Kruger area and headed to Johannesburg for our final night. Despite its reputation as potentially crime-ridden and unsafe, things are changing, and the vibrant city was full of colour and history that should not be missed.
Hallmark House in Maboneng was home for the night. Maboneng is one of the 70 districts in the city and overflowing with art, jazz music and vibrant bars. If you’re a Londoner like myself, you’ll be instantly reminded of Shoreditch. A modern twist, with endless energy and ultra cool inhabitants.
We met our walking guide and travelled to Soweto - home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Nelson Mandela's house is now a museum on Vilakazi street and a wonderful place to learn about his inspiring story.
At the top end of Vilakazi street is Hector Pieterson Square where we learnt about the heartbreaking protest that saw hundreds of students killed, a turning point in South African history.
On our farewell lunch in central Maboneng, our amazing host asked us what the highlight of our trip was. Most, unsurprisingly, said the Soweto tour - which was so full of history and very humbling. I loved every minute of it and couldn't possibly choose.
Thanks to everyone who made my trip so fulfilling. Please do contact me if you would like further information or to plan your authentic South African experience.