A couple of years ago, in 2010, I went on an internship to South Africa. There were three of us. Al with good hopes and excitement. For our internship we stayed at the University of Polokwane, a city in the province of Limpopo. From there on we made some excursions to get to know the city and the surroundings of the city. We also arranged a weekend in Pretoria. The last two weeks of our stay in South Africa, we also went to Durban and Cape Town.
In this blog I will tell you what we did in Polokwane and surroundings; in Pretoria; Durban and Cape Town. We didn’t visit Johannesburg, or any other important city. We were there on an internship, remember ;-). We landed in Johannesburg, and when we left for Durban, we also took our plane there. But the only stories we could here were that it was “too dangerous”. They actually said that about every city, town, safari park, … we wanted to go to. One of the reasons we didn’t went to the Kruger Park. Another reason was that you had to take malaria pills to visit the park. We weren’t to keen about that.
Maybe some background information about South Africa, very short. It’s a parliamentary republic, whit it’s three branches of government split over different cities: Cape Town (legislative capital), Pretoria (administrative capital) and Bloemfontein (judicial capital). Of the three, I only visited two.
It may be surprising that Johannesburg isn’t one of them. Jo’burg still holds the Constitutional Court of South Africa though.
In South Africa there’s been a long story of apartheid, which basically means that there was a racial segregation: the whites vs. the blacks. I have to say, there was still something to be seen in 2010, although the National Part was abolished from 1990. But you could (can?) still find people who, I think, find that the apartheid should come back again, rather soon then later.
To start with, I would say: avoid Polokwane. It really isn’t worth visiting. Passing by is sufficient. I think. What you can do in Polokwane, is the Polokwane Game Reserve. It’s an animal reserve that you can visit by foot or by car. We did both: an old Volkswagen van and the Acacia walking trail. Rather cool. It was said that there were rhino’s in the park. We didn’t see a rhino, only his faeces. Yeah…
What we did see were a lot of kudus, some sort of deer or antelope, I think we spotted some zebras in the distance, we also saw a lot of giraffes. I think they were the highpoint of our trip. Some ostriches and moose were also on the list.
Not far from the Game Reserve you have the little town Mokopane. Not worth it neither. When we were there, some little festival was happening at the same time. Music was playing, bands were (badly) performing, you could eat and drink at some booths, there was a playground for children, …
Other places in the neighborhood of Polokwane, are Haenertsburg and Tzaneen. In Haenertsburg you will not find black people, I think it was the white area. It was actually a city that gave me the feeling of being in Great-Brittain. In Haenertsburg you could also find a monument of the
Boer War, the World Wars and the Slave War.
After that we passed by the Duivelskloof and the Magoebaskloof to go to Cheerio Garden, a place where you could find fisherman with really big cars. We took a walk there. Our personal guide couldn’t stop saying how beautiful it was, but we all had seen nicer places than this one…
After that we went to the Wheel Barrow. That started out with a vegetable and fruit store but turned out into a very nice garden, with a lot of trees, flowers and animals. Very picturesque.
One weekend we went to Pretoria, ignoring all the warnings that we “would return without even or clothes on” and so on. The people were really friendly there. I say.
We hitched a ride, via a “friend” we knew from campus to Pretoria. We stayed in an inn there, with a swimming pool. Our cabins were… small. Really, really small. But the lady was friendly and, again, warned us not to go out on our own, definitely not at night.
But we didn’t listen, and when the night came, we went and searched for Burnett Street, the place to be when you’re young and looking for some parties. In Pretoria there are a lot of students, and the students are all gathering together in Burnett Street – a little square surrounded by bars and restaurants. We thought it was the best thing we’ve seen in weeks! What was remarkable, was that the only people who were partying, where white people. The people who were cleaning (without any respect from the partiers) were the blacks. You have to be able to deal with that sort of things over there.
We started our tour at the Church square, surrounded by a lot of big, colonial buildings, like the post office and so on. We also visited a lot of musea: the House of Paul Kruger (we didn’t see the park, but at least we saw his home ;-)), Transvaal Museum, Discovery Center and the Melrose House.
The House of Paul Kruger is the historical residence of the Boer leader and the President of South Africa: Paul Kruger. It was built in 1884 and is was one of the first in Pretoria to be lit by electricity. It contains some of the original furnishings and items of the same historical period, also some gifts that were presented to Kruger and other memorabilia.
The Transvaal Museum is now called the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History. It’s a natural history museum. You can see large collections of Plio-Pleistocene fossils, as well as late Permian therapsids. You can also find one of the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus specimen.
The Discovery Center was actually more for kids: in an interactive way you could learn a lot about animals and nature. It was actually fun to do it ourselves as well.
The Melrose House is a stately mansion and museum, built in 1886. It gained fame during the Second Boer War. It’s now a historic house museum, an example of the transition from Victorian to Edwardian architectural styles and interiors. The museum also contains the room and the table on which the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed, which ended the Second Boer War.
Our last stop on the first day, was the Union Buildings. They form the official seat of the South African Government and also house the offices of the president. There are some nice gardens in front of the buildings, where it’s really nice to walk or sit to rest. It’s a national heritage site of South Africa.
The second day we visited the Voortrekkersmonument, which is located south of Pretoria. It’s a massive granite structure, located on a hilltop – it can’t be missed. It was raised to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854. Inside the monument there are a lot of stories on the walls, telling how their journey went, picturing the black persons as monsters. Yeah, that’s definitely how it went. At the top of the monument you had a nice view over the city and the surroundings. Around the monument you could visit the ruins of a theater, a cabin of the Zulu’s, a mobile school, a park with animals, … enough to fill an entire day.
We didn’t stay a lot of time in Durban, we were only there to say hello to some friends who were doing there internship there. What we did visit was Ushaka World – an amusement park, with swimming pools, animals, … There was a huge aquarium there, also a sea lion show and a lot of slides.
We also had some time to visit the city itself. We stopped at Bat Centre (not worth it, we thought it was a barrio filled with art and beautiful artwork… but no… it was just one part of the suburb…). In the center of the city we stepped into the City Hall, which was rather nice, with a nice entrance-hall. We also visited the Kwa Muhle Museum, dedicated to sharing the history and fight against the Apartheid.
On our last day in Durban, we visited the Temple of Understanding, a temple of the Hare Krishna. Not sure why we did it, it was a special experience nonetheless. The temple itself was rather nice, with a lot of paintings, statues of Vishnu and Gauda.
We ended our trip with visiting the Moses Mabhide Stadium (cf. in 2010 the World Champion Chip of Football took place in South Africa). We didn’t only visit the stadium, we also climbed it. rather nice experience, although there was a lot of wind. We were rewarded with some nice views. The stadium itself was… well… a bit too much. In a country with a lot of poor people, a lot of money went to the stadions in the different cities, which they will never use again. It’s a pity.
We started exploring Cape Town by just walking around, starting from our youth hostel. It’s been a few years, so I don’t remember exactly where we ended up. But we came across a marketplace, that was really big, but at the same time, cosy as well.
One of the tours we booked via our youth hostel, was a tour around a Township. Only one of us was interested in seeing it, so we all went. I actually still don’t understand some of the systems they have. In the real townships, it’s all poorness, houses of corrugated iron, little babies playing with a bottle of beer, some weird toilets, … There were also some communities with normal houses, in which each room was an apartment (sort of) where they lived with an entire family. There was only a bed, a television, and four, five or more people in each room. The next step was a house where you could live on your own, without paying anything except if you had work. Then you had to pay rent. If you understand how that works… well, you understand more than me
After that we wanted something more relaxing and went to the Castle of Good Hope. It’s not actually a castle, but a fort, in the shape of a star. It was built in the 17th century and is now a provincial heritage site. It’s the most preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort. It’s worth visiting, I think.
After that we returned to our hostel via the Company’s Garden, filled with squirrels. It’s a park and heritage site, located in the center of the city. You can find the oldest cultivated pear tree here.
The next day we went to Camps Bay, one of the beaches in South Africa, and one of the better to. It was a windy day, so it’s not that we sunbathed. What we did do was building us a castle made of sand, drink a cocktail and walked around with our bare feet in the sand. Beautiful white sand. Enjoying the nice views.
In the evening we arranged a sunset cruise, which is nothing more than going on a sailboat and watching how the sun sets in the water. Add with that a glass of wine (or more) and fun is assured. It was the end of September, beginning of October – the beginning of Spring – and it was windy and cold. Luckily they had some blankets with them.
We also went and visited Robben island, the place where they imprisoned Nelson Mandela. I have to be honest, that I expected more from the tour… You go to the island by ferry, from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (=the harbor). Once arrived they take you to the main room, where an ex-convict tells you how it was. You pass by a leper graveyard, and the lime quarry where the prisoners had to work – and which damaged his eyesight because he was forbidden to wear protection. You also pass by the prison cells, included – of course – the one from Mandela himself. You walk on the courtyard and so on.
After that we took another walk around the city, passing by the stadium as well.
Also a must if you’re here, is doing a wine tour. I guarantee you: fun, fun and fun! I think we visited 4 or maybe 5 farms, where we each could taste two or more wines. Our guide also had some sparkling wine with her, which we drank in a little forest. I can assure you that the way back to our hostel was filled with laughter and music. The wines were excellent by the way.
You can’t leave Cape Town without having climbed the Tablemountain. It’s difficult. It really is. Although when you crumble your way up, taking passes of one meter height, without something to hold on to, there are always some people who are passing you by, on bare feet. Even when they’re climbing down. It’s really… depressing. But just do in on your own time, bring enough sugar and water, and you’ll be fine. I could do it, and back then I had no shape whatsoever. Once you reach the top, there’s a little store where you can buy drinks and food and some tables where you can sit to picknick.
The last thing we did in Cape Town, was doing the Peninsula tour. This tour includes a visit, by boat, to the Seal Island, which is stone with a thousands of seals on it. You get the stench for free. You also drive to Simon’s Town, where there’s a colony of penguins. Something that surprised me. I always thought you could only find penguins in the South Pole :-). After that they give you a mountainbike (say what?) and then you just go to the Cape the Good Hope. Luckely it’s more or less flat, but in the burning sun… just take some sun protection with you :-). Once arrived in Cape the Good hope you can walk around, climb some mountains and enjoy the beautiful views there. You can’t leave Cape Town without going there!
That’s, in a nutshell, some information about Polokwane, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.
I hope that someday I can go back to South Africa, to explore more, like Coffee Bay and so on. I’ve been told that’s marvelous.