Rediscovering My Home Country of South Africa

Posted December 9, 2013 by Lauren Manuel in Expat Life

After quitting our jobs, my husband and I we ventured out to experience life in Thailand. After teaching and exploring Asia, we returned home for a short hiatus.

Thereafter we made the best decision ever, to explore our own country and its treasures.  Luckily for us, South Africa is one of the most richly diverse countries in the world–in its landscapes, people and cultures. But even if that isn’t the case back home for you, I encourage you to let your passport rest for a month and travel around your own country.  Here are a few things we tried out and loved:

1. Mode of Transport

If you only use public transport at home, rent a car instead and road trip along your coastline or inland through the country.   If you are sick of city traffic and long for the romance of the train, give your local and long-distance trains a chance.  We were able to start our journey on the Rovos rail, also known as the World’s most luxurious train.  In opulent carriages from the 1920’s, we relaxed in pure luxury whilst the barren Karoo passed us by.  Three course meals and high teas were the order of the day and there was nothing quite like experiencing this semi-desert landscape and grazing cattle from your suite.

Rovos Rail through the Karoo

The Karoo from the Rovos Rail

Thereafter we rented a car and road tripped around the entire country from Pretoria, through the Drakensberg down to the Wild Coast and all the way back to Cape Town through the Garden Route.

2. Be a Tourist at Home

Choose a few activities that tourists always do when they’re in your country-whether it’s visiting an ancient monument or museum, taking the cable car up the mountain or doing a famous trail/walk.  Often we steer clear from the touristy things at home and miss out on some of our home town’s best offerings.

For most South Africans, going on safari is out of reach in terms of lodging prices and game drives, which are really marketed towards foreigners.  During our road trip we stayed at Jock Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park, Maqeuda Lodge in Marloth Park and Sibuya Game Reserve and fell in love with the bush. Maqueda Lodge provided a delightful oasis in dense bushveld. With zebras and impalas wandering around outside, we relaxed in true African chic.

In the Kruger, we did bush walks and enjoyed 8 hours of game drives through the hot bushveld before coming home to Jock Safari lodge our own splash pool and private dinner at our villa. We witnessed lions stalking warthog, wild dogs attacking hyena and rhino, elephants, giraffe and zebra with their adorable young.

SA Roadtrip

On a bush walk in the Kruger National Park

Sibuya Game Reserve offered a unique experience of accessing its game reserve by boat only. Once across the snaking river, we camped in a luxury tent, enjoyed drinks with zebra and bontebok wandering nearby and sat around the camp fire at night.

SA Roadtrip

On a game drive in the Sibuya Game Reserve

3. Venture Off the Beaten Track

No doubt there are a few nooks and crannies that don’t get a lot of foot traffic or visitors in your country.  Do a bit of research and ask friends to share their secret spots.  You’ll be surprised what you may find just a few hours away or in the neighbouring state/province.

Off the beaten track in South Africa usually means owning a 4×4, so there are many parts of the Wild Coast I had never laid eyes on.   We heard from a few people, that cars survived going off road here and we decided to give it a go, but not before taking our car and tire insurance.

First up was Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay, tucked right beside the ocean, a river and a hill.  Each day we had to cross the river from our hut where cows munched the grass and the aloes formed part of our view of the sea.  We surfed in the warmer ocean, did a coastal hike in the rain and chatted to backpackers from all around the world to the sound of drum beats and a roaring fire.

SA Roadtrip

A coastal walk in Coffee Bay

Bulungula was next and by far the hardest to reach.  It was so far off any semblance of road that we wished we were staying longer than two days.  We had pancakes on the beach at sunrise, floated down the river mouth and learned to play the drums with children in the village. A more surreal and rural place did not exist and it was unbearable to tear ourselves away from the views of boys herding sheep down the hills and canoeing down the Xhora River.


4. Get Adventurous in your Own Territory

You may be limited when it comes to various adventures in your neighbourhood or home city. Mountains, ocean and rivers are not found in everyone’s back garden, so take the plunge and try some new things out on the other side of the country. I loved horse riding through fields of fynbos at Grootbos private nature reserve and exploring ancient caves down in Walker Bay with one of their guides.

SA Roadtrip

Horseback riding in Grootbos Nature Reserve

Whilst staying at Amphitheatre Backpackers, we did a grueling guided hike up to the Drakensberg’s Sentinel Peak.  It was the highest I had ever climbed and there were sections such as a steep ascent through the gulley and the descent down chain ladders that tested me physically and mentally. The triumph I felt at the top with the blue, undulating mountains in view made it all worth it.

Hiking in the Drakensberg

Hiking up the gulley in the Drakensberg Mountains

In Hogsback we stayed at Away with the Fairies and signed up for the mountain biking through the mountains with Hogsback Adventures.  With no real background in mountain biking, three hours in I pushed through the pain in my jelly thighs and transcended what felt like the 100th hill to see over eight waterfalls, immerse myself in an evergreen forest and stand atop the Madonna and Child Waterfall.


Mountain biking through Hogsback

5. Experience Aspects of a Different Culture

Whilst at Buccaneers Backpackers, we joined a cultural tour of Ngxingxolo Village in Chintsa East.  Our tour guide was a part of the community and showed us the clinic and introduced us to teachers at the school and the crèche.  We visited Mama Tofu, the oldest tour guide at the age of 94 years, who shared the traditions of Xhosa wives, unmarried girls and families. I learnt how to grind maize on a rock and watched the girls of the village dancing to the beat of a drum and their own singing.

SA Roadtrip

Trying to learn the art of grinding maize on a rock

Have you embarked on a trip around your country? Did you enjoy new experiences and discover things you didn’t already know?

Thank you to Around About Cars for taking us around South Africa.

About the Author

Lauren Manuel

Six continents later, Lauren still has itchy feet and wanderlust for adventure in all corners of the earth. Together with her husband, she is traveling the world pausing only to find work, take photos and write. She is currently mentoring English teachers in rural Malaysia and sharing everything about her expat life on WildJunket. Follow her wanderings on The Travel Manuel .

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