Our South African holiday experience and travel information
In February 2002 we spent two weeks photographing wildlife and visiting many fabulous landmarks in and around South Africa’s south east Cape.
PLEASE NOTE that although we believe this to be an accurate account of events errors can occur and these are only our opinions, others may have different experiences and things change. If travelling to South Africa it is recommended that you contact official tour operators, travel companies and professional guides for advice.
South African Flight information
We entered South Africa on a British Passport and did not require a travel visa.
We booked on line and flew from London’s Gatwick Airport directly to Cape Town. The flight took about eleven and half hours.
Being a night flight we arrived in late morning feeling remarkably fresh – surprising given we’re not comfortable flyers at the best of times and had spent the entire flight in the slip stream of a large South African gentleman cursed with an enduring bout of flatulence. Maybe we’d been rendered partially unconscious.
Cape Town is only 2 hours ahead of London so we didn’t suffer jet lag and would certainly book a night flight next time.
Customs and airport check in
At times getting things done in parts of Africa can feel rather chaotic. There is often a laid back approach we westerners are not used to.
Consequently we were pleasantly surprised how orderly and efficient things seemed and it took little time to pass through customs at Cape Town airport.
It took considerably more time passing through Gatwick airport than it did through Cape Town.
Health and Insurance
Our local GP advised us on inoculations. Parts of Africa are infected with fever inducing diseases that make a face wash with a sumo wrestler’s jock strap a wonderfully refreshing experience. So we followed official guidance.
We experienced no illness while in South Africa – although a close encounter with one of the fastest striking snakes in the world did induce a cold sweat – and the thought of it still does!
We didn’t experience any biting mosquitoes and no insect repellent was used – this was probably because we spent much of our time in breezy coastal regions.
We were ever mindful that the outcome of too close a contact with some of the countries more testy residents, animal and human, could prove disappointing.
Comprehensive travel insurance was taken out prior to departure
Having hired a car on line from a national hire company prior to leaving the Uk there was little delay with administration paper work on picking it up from their offices outside Cape Town airport terminal.
The car was a conventional, air conditioned, petrol, two wheel drive saloon and we had no reason to later regret this choice as the roads were mostly well surfaced.
Admittedly, there were a few places where roads suddenly tapered out leaving us unexpectantly on an unmade, sandy track more suited to a 4 wheel drive.
And next time when venturing further inland into big game areas we will hire a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
Car hire insurance
We took out fully comprehensive cover with the car rental company before leaving the UK. Since our five week Australian epic in a basic family saloon, more suited to supermarket shopping trips than negotiating heavily cratered sandy tracks, we have become more attentive to the reams of exemptions embedded in small print car hire insurance conditions relating to driving on ‘unsurfaced’ roads in two wheel drive vehicles.(check out insurance small print)
Our holiday apartment on the Cape Peninsula was superb, being comfortable and conveniently close to some fabulous wildlife sites and yet not too remote for day excursions into mainland South Africa and Cape Town.
The accommodation also came with breath taking views across False Bay, endemic birds strung across the balcony and nightly entertainment put on by two porcupines in the garden below.
South African currency, exchange rate and cost of holiday
The South African currency is the Rand. At the time the exchange rate was about 12.5 Rands to one pound sterling. The cost of most things was very cheap including fuel and food. A basic fish and chip meal for 2 at a harbour side small restaurant/café was about 5 pounds sterling
Note – the pound has strengthened considerably against the rand in recent years – hitting 20 rand to one pound sterling – suggesting everyday shopping is now even cheaper providing inflation hasn’t risen significantly.
South African Weather
During our two weeks it was generally pleasantly warm – mid 20c.
Sometimes inland it was bordering on the too hot for us – we consider weather too hot that most others find pleasantly warm, but then we are often frantically rushing around weighed down with cameras etc.
The winds on the Cape Peninsula were often gusty but refreshing.
There had been a prolonged drought in the months prior to our trip hence the fire we witnessed from the fabulous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens raging above on the fynbos covered slopes of Table Mountain.
We did experience a few isolated showers but didn’t require water proofs throughout the trip.
And during some early mornings on extreme coastal sites such as Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope the mist did hang around for a couple of hours – but then land masses don’t really get more extreme than that!
Drinking water and eating out
We drank bottled water or boiled tap water – something we do where ever we travel abroad regardless of the reputed quality of tap water.
Most of the food was obtained from local supermarkets and seemed of similar quality to ours in the Uk.
We ate out regularly and particularly enjoyed some excellent locally caught fish dishes.
The South African wines went down well! – so well, we incorporated a brief diversion to a winery into one of our excursions.
Electricity and plugs
We did experience occasional power cuts – something we were advised was not unusual in South Africa.
We used travellers plugs inserted into power points to run computers, charge up batteries and download photos onto hard drives.
There can be no getting away from the fact that on this trip we gave our health and safety more consideration than normal. South Africa’s problems are well documented.
Given we were walking around with some valuable optics and cameras on open display we were particularly careful. Telephoto lenses in the Uk are not uncommon but still raise a few stares. In South Africa they are a rare sight and don’t go unnoticed.
Probably our, or, to be more accurate, my, most uncomfortable moment came about through my own making when taking close up photographs of one of the deadliest snakes in Africa on the Cape of Good Hope.
And I can only blame my own ignorance and not the local inhabitants for what could have resulted in a disappointing end to a holiday or worse!
Chacma or Cape Baboon
Perhaps, in reality, the greatest threat posed to us and our possessions came from the Chacma Baboons.
They certainly aren’t to be messed with. They have real attitude, are smart and capable of delivering a bite requiring more than sticking plaster.
But then again they are only doing what comes natural to them and and taking advantage of any food available to survive
And by following the tourist guidelines regarding not feeding them and keeping car doors and windows closed we avoided any confrontations.
Cape Town street vendors
Driving through Cape Town we kept windows wound up at traffic lights to deter overzealous street vendors from rushing up and thrusting sculptured four foot giraffes through the opening. This defensive ploy was inspired by nearly having an eye poked out whilst driving off at a set of lights.
I still wince at the prospect of having to seek medical assistance as a result of being impaled by a stuffed giraffe in the middle of Cape Town.
We did stop at a more permanent looking stall beside the road outside Cape Town where some of the carvings on display were of impressive quality. And judging by the stream of elongated packages entering the planes hold for the return flight some passengers had understandably found them irresistible.
To this day I’m not certain whether the man who appeared from nowhere and slickly trousered our offering for parking in
Simon’s Towns without yielding a parking ticket was officially employed or simply a self-elected protector of cars. Fortunately we had been briefed on what to expect by the owners of our holiday accommodation.
And working on the principle that it’s always best when abroad to respect and conform to local custom we paid up.
And, anyway, it was considerably cheaper than parking back home where the safety of one’s car is far from guaranteed.
Much of our time was spent away from built up areas in stunningly beautiful landscapes where people were very friendly. Our wildlife trips have taken us to many parts of the world where we have experienced far more intimidating situations – Newquay after lights out springs to mind.
Recommended South African bird identification and guide books
We found the following books very useful –
Essential Birding Western South Africa – Key routes from Cape Town to the Kalahari- Callan Cohen and Claire Spottiswoode
Birds Of Southern Africa – Sasol – Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton
Summary of our South African holiday
Our over whelming memories are of a fabulous country blessed with wonderful scenery and wildlife.
We hope to return earlier in the year to combine a Big Game Safari at a time when whales pass close to the shore and the wild flower meadows are blooming.
South Africa is a country of extremes that inspire an intoxicating cocktail of emotions. Sitting cheek by jowl there is beauty and ugliness as well as opulence and extreme poverty. The extent and squalid living conditions of the townships did come as a shock. Much has happened since our trip, hopefully for the better.
Travel companies, wildlife tour guides and accommodation providers wishing to promote their holidays and properties please contact us to see what we can offer. We may soon be visiting and promoting your country soon.
We are particularly interested in helping and promoting Conservation groups with their studies.