Tag Archives: johannesburg

We made it to Cape Town

We got to Cape Town / Kaapstad / or just CT yesterday evening. 2 days, 1400 kms from Joburg, with an overnight stop at Colesburg on the way. A lot of it was driving through the Karoo, a semi-desert region that covers much of the lower third of the country. Greg’s dad Ron commented on how green everything looked when we were traveling north … as we headed south, it looked more like home in summer. At times it felt like we were driving through the Outback, or through Utah, and at one point the mountains to the east looked exactly like the lower Flinders Rangers.

We spent the night at the only caravan park in Colesburg, but stayed in a ‘bungalow’ rather than put our tent up. The bungalow was only about $15 more than a tent site on gravel with no shade, so it took about a split second to make that decision. Colesburg is obviously THE halfway point between JHB and CT. It’s about 680kms from JHB, and has heaps of accommodation – pubs, B&Bs, guesthouses, cabins. Bit surprising that there was only one caravan park, but then, it only had a couple of caravans in it, and we didn’t see any on the road. Most of the traffic on the N1 freeway was trucks. Loads of trucks.
About 200kms from CT, we drove down into a valley into vineyards – what a spectacular view! Mountains on both sides, with a green valley full of vines. It looked absolutely beautiful until we got a bit closer and saw the ugly side – shanty towns full of tiny corrugated iron huts where the workers live, with a new section of more substantial dwellings that were the size of a double garage. We passed a sign on the freeway warning motorists to ‘beware of robbers selling stolen grapes’. About 500 metres along the road, we spotted our first ‘robber selling stolen grapes’! Beautiful looking grapes, but I can’t imagine anyone actually managing to stop on the freeway anyway, it was a very busy stretch of road.

Driving into Cape Town was pretty easy, even in afternoon peak hour traffic. Freeway for all but about the last 10kms, and we found the apartment with no trouble. We’re staying in Observatory, affectionately known as Obz, which seems to be a pretty trendy part of town, and has been described as the city’s most bohemian suburb. The apartment is a studio on the top floor of a large building that has a catering company on the ground floor and a climbing gym/camping store opposite. You can see a couple of photos here, including a glimpse of Table Mountain in a photo that was taken from the kitchen window. It was quite a thrill, seeing Table Mountain as we drove into CT. I’ve gotten used to the idea that we’re actually in Africa, but I’m really looking forward to visiting the Cape of Good Hope – it’s one of those places that I learnt about at school, but never thought I’d get to see.

We went out to find some dinner last night, just up to the local shops in Observatory. There were at least a dozen cafes and restaurants offering all kinds of cuisines, but on our host’s recommendation we went to Cafe Ganesh, which offers ‘Cape Malay’ food and African music. It started in the 1970s and attracts locals, students, artists, musicians and the occasional tourist. I had Umngqusho with Mutton Stew, Greg had an Ostrich and Lamb burger with chips. Umngqusho is a Xhosa dish made with sugar beans, samp (cracked white corn), onions & butter. Apparently it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite food, and to pronounce it properly the ‘gqu’ sound is actually a click of the tongue. I’ll have to practice a lot before I can get it right. The food was delicious, cheap and my plate was so full, I couldn’t finish it all.
We’re hearing a lot more Africaans here than we heard further north, and a lot of the street signs are in Africaans. Lots more Africaans-language newspapers and magazines.
From the northern-most point of this trip, Kasane, to Cape Town is around 2,500kms, which is about a quarter of the length of Africa. Greg is sitting here researching 4WD hire for our next visit here. As other friends have said, this place gets under your skin.

And now, a whinge about the second rental car we’ve got. You really only need to read it if you’re keen, or if you’re thinking of purchasing or renting a VW Polo.

In a word, don’t!

Greg ordered a Corolla sedan or equivalent from Avis, and they gave him this Polo instead. Surprising as usually rental car companies do an automatic upgrade rather than a downgrade, but maybe the Avis rep thought she was being nice by giving him an almost-new car. 760kms on the odometer. But what a pile of plastic rubbish! It’s much smaller than the Corolla we had when we started the trip, heaps less space in the boot and on the back seat.
Is there a law of physics that states that the amount of stuff you have expands or contracts to fit the available space? If it hasn’t already been claimed, let’s name it “Judy & Greg’s law”.

We had everything fitted into the Corolla very nicely, but in this rubbishy Polo, it’s all just crammed in wherever we can squeeze it. There are 3 narrow slots around the front passenger seat – one in the door, one under the glovebox and one at the side of the seat, and I have no idea why they are there – too thin to put anything in, they’re really just a waste of plastic. Whenever we lock or unlock the car, it beeps. To unlock the passenger doors, you have to press the unlock button 3 times, so that’s 6 annoying beeps. The only way to unlock the boot is via the clicker-thingy, no button to open the boot in the car, and it beeps too! Greg had trouble starting it this morning, so we’re not even all that confident that we’re going to get it all the way back to JHB. It really is a cheap heap of crap.

Waiting at one of the many road blocks on the N1 through the Karoo
Waiting at one of the many road works stops on the N1 through the Karoo in Southern South Africa
We find our first grape vines along the N1 waiting waiting at another roadworks stop (click on picture for a larger version)
We find our first grape vines along the N1 waiting waiting at another roadworks stop (click on picture for a larger version)
Grape vines at another road works stop
Grape vines at another road works stop

Out and About in Johannesburg

We bumped into our host this afternoon and filled him in on what we’ve been up to since we saw him on Sunday morning. He was gobsmacked when we told him that we had travelled on a suburban train – none of his other guests has ever done that … in fact, he has never caught a train in his own city. He’ll probably dine out on his ‘crazy, stupid Australians’ story for months. But we were completely safe in that train, no one gave us a second glance. Wouldn’t do it late at night or in the early hours of the morning, but then I wouldn’t do it at home either. And now I think about it, I’ve never actually caught a train in Adelaide.

The Hop On, Hop Off bus worked well for us today. We really only wanted to use it to get to the Apartheid Museum, but they had a commentary running that could be accessed via headphones and we learnt a lot about the city and its history as we drove along, and we got to see a lot more of the city, without Greg having to deal with the crazy busy traffic, pedestrians and non-working traffic lights.

Jozi was originally founded because it had the world’s largest gold deposit running beneath it. It’s world’s largest city not situated on a river, lake or coastline. Just having heaps of gold was apparently enough of a reason, although the orginal founders (several guy called Johannes, plus a few others) didn’t expect the settlement to last. Cheap, black labour was brought in to mine the gold … and that indirecly lead to segregation and to the Apartheid policy being implemented in the late 1940s. I don’t need to write any more about apartheid – there are already millions of words written about it, but I’ll tell you about what we saw, and how the museum made me feel.

When we bought our tickets, we were allocated to be ‘white’ or ‘non-white’ and entered the museum through separate doors depending on the colour of our skin. All of the museum is very well done, it traces the history of South Africa and features biographies of early prominent citizens, including Mohondas ‘Mahatma’ Ghandi who lived in South Africa for 21 years, from 1893–1914. His experiences of discrimination, racism & injustice in this country influenced the rest of his life.
The tour through the museum took us through the timeline of segregation to apartheid, life under apartheid in the 1960s, political executions, uprisings, the fight for freedom, Mandela’s release on this day 25 years ago, February 11th, 1990, the violence of the early 1990s, the transition to democracy, the 1994 election and beyond. Lots of photos, videos, mementos and other items on display.
I spent most of my time there with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It is incomprehensible that people could be cruel to other people because of the colour of their skin AND that there were laws allowing such cruelty to occur, for decades. 2 images from the museum are imprinted in my memory – the nooses hanging from the ceiling in the Political executions room, which listed the names of hundreds of people detained without trial and subsequently killed, although officially many of them ‘committed suicide by hanging’.
The other image is an aerial shot of a long, long line of people queuing to vote in the 1994 election. I couldn’t find that photo, but there are plenty more on the internet, the one below is from the Australian Electoral Commission website. The ballot papers listed the political parties, with a photo of the party’s candidate rather than their name, beside each party.
The museum was confronting, heartbreaking, optimistic for the future and definitely well worth visiting. I’m glad we got there on our third attempt.

While we were waiting for the bus this morning, we chatted with the tour guide, a young man who was born at the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto and lives in one of the townships, Orlando, which is where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu also lived. His family is from near Louis Trichard in the Limpopo province in the north-east of the country, and he was excited to hear that we had been there. He speaks 8 languages! He was aghast when we told thim that a house in our street had recently sold for almost $1 million. Housing here is much cheaper, but then, housing in most places in the world is much cheaper than in Australia.

It’s my birthday today, so let’s celebrate with a song that will get your toes tapping. Its origins are South African township music.

Line of people waiting to vote in South Africa's 1994 election
Line of people waiting to vote in South Africa’s 1994 election


Train travel in Johannesburg

Cost of train ticket to travel less than 2kms on fancy, almost-empty airport train – $15.00
Cost of train ticket to travel 10 stations on very crowded suburban Joburg train – 80c
Time it took us to get the 14kms from the airport back to Maboneng – 2+ hours
The experience of being the only 2 white people in a 12 carriage train packed full of people – priceless!

We had to return the rental car yesterday morning. For complicated reasons, we couldn’t just hire one car for the 6 weeks we’re here, so Greg will pick up another car this afternoon, then we’ll head to Capetown tomorrow. The first car got bits of tar on it when we were in Botswana – we drove on a section of roadworks near Francistown and ended up behind a tar truck. Ick! First stop yesterday morning was a car wash we spotted from the freeway on the way to the airport. It took them a while, but they did a fantastic job, got all the tar off and we returned the sparkling clean car to the Avis desk at the airport. Then the fun began.

There is an airport train that goes part of the way into the city, but not where we wanted to go, or it is possible to change to a suburban line and get closer to where we’re staying. The nearest station to Maboneng is Jeppe. The first train trip all went smoothly and lasted about 3 minutes, then we walked around the corner to the Rhodesfield suburban line, past lots of empty bus stops. There was a sign up at the airport warning that there was an ‘illegal strike’ and that buses would not be running. Um, what other kind of strike is there?

So, to the new Rhodesfield Station. 4 people sitting at the security gates to check that everyone had a valid ticket, but no one actually selling tickets at either of the 2 ticket windows, and no automatic ticket machines. 4 platforms, but absolutely no information about which platform our train left from. The woman mopping the steps told us to go to platform 1 and asked us to take the lift so we wouldn’t mess up her clean floor. Fair enough.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The fancy digital signs on each platform stayed blank the whole time we waited, no clue there about where any of the trains were going. When the first train heading in the direction we wanted to go pulled in, we asked a fellow passenger and he told us it wasn’t the one we wanted. It turned out that he was waiting for the same train as we were.
The other stations had sellers offering various items for sale – fruit, lollies, newspapers, but Rhodesfield had nothing interesting, unfortunately. We watched 4 workers pick up rubbish off the tracks … well 2 picked up the rubbish along the tracks, 2 walked on the platforms beside them waving white flags. No idea why, it’s not like a train would be able stop because of a couple of people picking up rubbish. Absolutely no rubbish bins anywhere along the platforms, hence the rubbish on the tracks.
We waited over an hour for the train, and so did other people around us. No one got impatient, everyone just waited. Greg went and checked the timetable at the top of the stairs and learnt that there is meant to be a train every 30 minutes. We had probably just missed one when we got there, the next one just never showed up, and the one we finally caught was about 10 minutes late. The best way to make sure you’re on the right train is to match the train number on the timetable with the number on the front of the train’s engine.
It was quite full when we got on, and got much, much fuller as we headed into the city. However there were sellers on the train, battling their way through the crowded carriages, selling ice blocks in plastic bags, newspapers, chocolates, shoe polish, coloured plastic document folders, biscuits. When the train emptied out a bit and we got a seat, we bought a newspaper. It cost 30c.

Only a few blocks from Jeppe Station to the apartment, but all that waiting had made us hungry, so we called in to Soul Souvlaki for lunch. There’s a photo of their ‘shop’, made from parts of a shipping container, in the Soweto post. The souvlaki were delicious.

Later in the afternoon we walked up to the Carlton Centre. 50 storeys high, the tallest building in Africa, and apparently it used to be the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Part of it was formerly a posh hotel, the lower storeys are now a shopping centre with a large supermarket. We got more internet access at Vodacom and food to cook for dinner at the supermarket – chicken breasts and vegetables that I cooked in an oven bag. My first ever attempt at using an oven bag, it was all delicious and I realised that oven bags are perfect for cooking in an oven that you don’t want to dirty … but you all probably knew that anyway. We also bought a 1 liter carton of white wine, for $3. Yep, we’re classy when it comes to our wine choices.

We’ve found out that there is a ‘Hop on, Hop off’ bus that goes to the Apartheid Museum, so we’ll have a third try at getting there today.

On the way to carlton centre there are lots of ads for "services". If most people are not on the internet, and you cannot send them spam emails what else can you do?
On the way to carlton centre there are lots of ads for “services”. If most people are not on the internet, and you cannot send them spam emails what else can you do?


The short version: went to Soweto, got lost few times, lived to tell the tale.

The longer version:
Yesterday morning (Sunday) we went to a market near where we’re staying in Maboneng – lots of great food including stalls set up by the cafes and restaurants around here, probably a good way for them to showcase what they sell and attract customers to their real places of business. Design and fashion stalls on the first floor, but we didn’t get up there, we were so busy looking at all the food. We had morning tea – Persian minted lemonade and 2 flavours of homemade marshmallow between chocolate biscuits for me, a jam & cheese roosterkoek (bread roll) for Greg.
And then we had other things to do while we still had the car, which we returned to the airport this morning. The hardest things to get to without a car are Soweto and the Apartheid Museum. Although after it has just taken us 2 hours to travel the 17kms from the airport back to the apartment by train, I think everything in Johannesburg is hard to get to without a car.

We tried to visit the Apartheid Museum. Twice.
This country suffers from insufficient power, and a lot of Jozi was affected by ‘load-shedding’ yesterday for 5 or 6 hours. The lifts in the building we’re staying in weren’t working, neither was a lot of the emergency lighting in the stair wells and the emergency exit signs just stopped at the ground floor without pointing us to an exit. I’m glad we weren’t trying to find our way out in a real emergency. We have learnt to take torches when we go out anywhere now, and we’ve checked out fire exits, just in case.
Throughout Jo’burg there were no traffic lights, some places had their own generators, the rest were in darkness. I’ve gotta say though, motorists here are much better at coping without working traffic lights than Australian drivers. They treat each intersection with blacked-out lights as a 4-way stop sign, and everyone takes their turn. Very sensible.
The Apartheid Museum is next door to a casino and they share an entrance, but the boom gate wasn’t working and the security guy warned us that the museum was closed.

So we went to have a look around Soweto instead. People and minibuses everywhere, we got lost a few times and ended up in suburban back streets, but it didn’t feel unsafe – people were just getting on with their Sundays, mowing the lawn, kids playing, the usual stuff. We drove past the Regina Mundi church, the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided over several meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Apartheid in the second half of the 1990sMore recently Michelle Obama visited the church on the South Africa leg of her tour of the continent and she addressed the Young African Women Leaders Forum there.

We drove through several of the townships that make up Soweto (South Western Townships) and tried to find Vilakazi street, where both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived – probably one of the very few streets in the world where 2 Nobel Prize winners have lived. We didn’t find it, possibly because we were distracted by the tour bus full of white people who were standing on the corner and we didn’t see the street’s name. We drove around a bit more, passing a large group of people dressed in white and singing something religious. Beautiful harmonies. Then past 2 beautifully painted cooling towers from a decommissioned power station, a large new shopping centre, the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital (reputedly the 3rd largest hospital in the world) with Africa’s largest taxi rank opposite. Approximately one third of Joburg’s population of nearly 4 million people live in Soweto, and over 98.5% are black.
On our way back to Maboneng, we tried the Apartheid Museum again, but the power was still out. So we took the car to a ‘secure parking lot’ near the apartment and went back to the Arts Market for lunch. Greg went back to the roosterkoek lady for a pork rib one, the only kind left by 2.30pm. I had an Ethiopian platter that cost all of about $9 and would have fed 2 people easily. The platter was lined with injera (Ethiopian flat bread), then had spoonfuls of different curries and sides on top of it, including a chicken drumstick, lamb, beef, pumpkin, spinach, potatos, lentils, cabbage, beetroot and probably a couple more that I’ve forgotten. To eat, you break off pieces of the injera and use it to scoop up small portions of the food. I’m sure the Ethiopians are much better at it than me, but it was all delicious and fun to eat. We were interested to note that the first time we visited the market, most of the patrons were whities, and then when we went back later in the day, it was mostly blacks.
The Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School were selling a range of delicious pastries and cakes, and I bought a lime cheesecake and a chocolate-drizzled churro which ended up being dinner for me and himself respectively.

I’ll write about today’s experience travelling by train later. That’s a whole post by itself!

The view outside the building where our AirBnB apartment is located
The view outside the building where our AirBnB apartment is located
Sharp Braai where we ate dinner the first night
Sharp Braai where we ate dinner the first night
The food market where we ate morning tea and lunch
The food market where we ate morning tea and lunch
Judys Ethiopian meal
Judys Ethiopian meal
Fox Street Johannesburg CBD
Fox Street Johannesburg CBD
Street food in a shipping container - Lunch at Soul Soulaki
Street food in a shipping container – Lunch at Soul Souvlaki
The Twin Towers. The old power station cooling towers in Soweto
The Twin Towers. The old power station cooling towers in Soweto

Driving through Soweto. Sellers at every intersection selling ice blocks, papers, beads, sunglasses and more:


Back in Johannesburg

Wildlife tally for Friday & Saturday Feb 6 & 7

antelopey thingies – impala, springbok, nyala and a new one that we hadn’t seen before
New to the list – a bontebok that was beside the path as we drove out of Malolotja Nature Reserve yesterday morning.

The day started off cool and misty, but once the mist had lifted, it warmed up. We had planned to have a drive around a couple of the places of interest in the nature reserve, but the first track we took was so bad, we gave up and left the reserve. The previous afternoon the receptionist had marked a map to show us the ‘roads’ we could take, and the 4WD-only tracks, but they all seemed more like 4WD tracks!

I’m feeling even more relieved that we spent the night in the log cabin rather than the tent – a Swazi newspaper headline this morning reported that ‘2 students were struck by lightning, 1 died’ after the Thursday afternoon and evening thunderstorms.

We drove to Mbabane, the capital to find some internet access and lunch. We tried an internet cafe, paid for 30 minutes each, but it was so slow we gave up after 15 minutes, having achieved absolutely nothing for the $5 we spent. The steakhouse chain we had lunch at offered free wifi, so we were able to get a few things done while we had lunch.
Then on to Manzini, the largest city in Swaziland, just for a look. We wandered around the local market, but by this stage our nerves were so frazzled by the appalling driving that we really just wanted to get off the road and stop for the day.

We got an unpowered tent site at the Mlilwane Wildlife Santuary – all the powered sites were reserved by a large contingent of campervans, the most we’ve seen in Southern Africa. We could have stayed in ‘beehive hut’, a round, domed structure made of woven grass arranged in 3 circular ‘villages’, but we were both happy to get back to our tent. We were visited by the local wildife – zebras, warthogs, impala – and a couple of other families arrived later and set up their tents.

Today we have driven back to Jo’burg, where we’ll spend the next 4 days staying in a loft apartment in Maboneng, a newly trendy part of town. Formerly an industrial area, the developers have bought up a lot of factories and warehouses and turned them into housing, restaurants, arts spaces and shops. The apartment we’re staying in belongs to a young man who works for the developer. You can see photos of it and the surrounding area here.

It’s all happening down on the street, 2 floors below us, and we’re heading out to find some dinner. The Maboneng Precinct website lists over 20 local restaurants & cafes offering a variety of cuisines, so I’m sure we’ll find something interesting down there.

Malolotja Nature Reserve
Malolotja Nature Reserve
Camped with the beehive huts
Camped with the beehive huts
Camped with the Zebras
Camped with the Zebras



A few first impressions, probably pretty disjointed as I’m writing through the haze of jetlag …

We’ve been here for a day now and managed to stay up till 7pm last night by keeping busy most of the day. We stayed at the Mercure Hotel and Conference Centre at Bedfordview in an apartment with cooking facilities, but no cooking utensils. That’s okay, I wasn’t planning on cooking anyway. I just have to give a mention to the shower set-up. It’s so astonishingly poorly thought-out, I shake my head every time I walk into the bathroom. A hand-held shower mounted above the bath, but the hose from the tap to the shower-head is so short that the only way to get water on the upper half of your body is to kneel or sit in the bath.

There’s a large shopping centre right opposite the hotel, so after we checked in we went and found second ( or was it third?) breakfast at a Wimpy. Seems to be a popular chain here – there is also one at the shopping centre on the other side of the road. Food is cheap – using our trusty Big Mac Index, a medium Big Mac Meal is around AUD $5.00. We had dinner last night at a Spur Steak Ranch, which is a US Wild West themed steakhouse. 2 mains and 2 huge beers cost $26.  We wandered around a couple of supermarkets to get a feel for what’s available. We need to buy food and camping gear before we head ‘out bush’. Loads of familiar shops in the shopping centres – Gloria Jeans, Jay Jays Jeans, Typo and like most shopping centres around the world, the majority of it is clothes. So many clothes.

Intersections with traffic lights are a popular place for people to try and make a bit of money – washing windscreens, selling flowers, begging, advertising. Car wash services are set up in shopping centre carparks, fluoro vest-wearing men watch over cars in sections of car parks for a small fee. Lots of mini-buses which seem to be a popular form of transport for people who don’t own cars, although the main form of transport for a lot of people seems to be walking.

Weather here is mild. Jo-burg is at 1600 metres, and so far we’ve had cool mornings and pleasant sunny days. The hills around the city are still green, whereas at home by this time of the year they have been brown for several months. Lots of similar garden flowers and shrubs to the ones we grow at home.

We visited a fresh food market which seems to be a chain, can’t remember its name. Great fruit and vegetables, plus meat, fish, prepared take-home meals and a few shelves of groceries.  I noticed 5kg bags of beetroot for $2.50 sitting beside bags of potatoes and sweet potatoes. The butcher section sold various cuts of ostrich.

I sat next to a South African woman from Capetown who had been to Whyalla to visit her daughter and family. As we were disembarking, she reminded me that we need to be a lot more careful here than at home. I don’t feel unsafe here, but I am more watchful and careful of my belongings … no leaving my bag on the floor beside my seat like I do at home without even thinking about it.

Okay, that’s enough rambling. Time to go and do some modern-day hunter-gathering.

The shower for very very small people
The shower for very very small people
The electrified fence that runs on top of the wall that surrounds the hotel
The electrified fence that runs on top of the wall that surrounds the hotel
Looking over the compound wall


The Plan

After our very successful camping trip in the USA and Canada in mid-2014, we started thinking about where we might like to go next. We keep thinking about South America, but feel that we might be better off waiting until after Brazil has hosted the 2016 Olympics. Neither of us has visited any part of the African continent, so that seemed as good a reason as any to plan a 6-week camping trip there. Greg read a great article on DIY Africa by Seth Kugel, who writes for the New York Times as The Frugal Traveller which got the cogs turning and so our travel plans got underway.

We got inexpensive return tickets to Johannesburg using as many Air Miles as we could then we paid the balance – the Singapore Airlines office in Adelaide were very helpful in explaining how to do it because information on their website was a bit … thin.

So … we’re sitting at Adelaide Airport, having checked in 40kg of camping gear. We’ll hire a car at Jo’burg Airport, stay in a nice hotel overnight, buy more camping gear and food and head north to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. Fans of the Alexander McCall Smith No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books will know exactly what I mean when I say that I’m going to be keeping an eye out for the Tiny White Van. If I find it, there will be photos, I promise.

What we’re really like to do is drive through Botswana to Zambia to see the Victoria Falls, but we’re not sure if the rental car company will let us do that, or whether we’ll have to switch to Plan B … or even Plan C. We’re also planning on spending time in Kruger National Park, and also want to travel  south through Sth Africa to Capetown and Durban. As always what we think we’ll do and what we end up doing may not be the same things … but come along for the ride and we’ll try and keep you up to date as we go along.

The Sturt Desert Pea in the banner photo is from my mum’s garden. I found the photo of the King Protea online, but we’ll keep an eye out for some to photograph.