Helen’s South Africa Travel Diary

24/05/2019

I spent three weeks working in South Africa, which was an amazing opportunity. I got to explore the amazing cities of Durban and Cape Town and experience some world-class wineries and safaris. Here’s a summary of my time there.

Durban: Beachfront Neighbourhoods, Sunshine, And Brilliant Local Food

Durban was my first stop, and I spent a week there... it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. The 6km stretch of golden coastline fronting Durban comes with Miami-like skyscrapers and a beachfront promenade, but the feel is still South African. 

You’re right on the Indian Ocean here. Durban itself is pretty spread out, but there’s lots happening in places like the harbour, there are great breakfast beach cafes, and an amazing food scene. Little India in Musgrave is now world-famous, and you can get yellow potato curries for under £2. Mostly, this coastal city comes with a relaxed beach feel. Florida Road is the main strip with lovely, white-painted colonial architecture and plenty going on. You’ll see locals meeting here in the day, endless bars and restaurants, and a good buzz once the sun goes down. There’s also the Durban Botanic Gardens, Suncoast Casino complex, uShaka Marine World. 

We stayed at the Southern Sun Elangeni. It’s a glitzy high-rise that’s right on the beach. It offers amazing sea views from the poolside terrace and from all of its rooms, so I’d definitely recommend it. The weather was also gorgeous, so we got to sample local outdoor braii barbecues.

Cape Town: My Absolute Favourite, And Here’s Why

Cape Town won me over for its setting alone. It’s beachfront, artsy, interesting, and set in the humbling shadow of Table Mountain. I flew direct from Durban and stayed about a week. 

What to do in Cape Town is really about what takes your fancy. Anyone wanting something bohemian they can head to the out artisan cafes in Bo-Kaap. Anyone with a street food appetite can eat their way through Neighbourhood Market. The rest of the city has craft beer breweries, offbeat boutiques, fascinating museums, and you’re within an hour’s drive for wineries.

For Cape Town, I’d definitely recommend the V&A Waterfront. The city meets the sea here, and it’s a prime dining spot. Restaurants like Wang Thai and the Green Dolphin offer everything from Asian bites to fresh-grilled seafood, so you can eat your heart out. Alongside the V&A’s great shops, there’s also an amazing aquarium, diamond museum, clock tower, and a ferris wheel.

I went up Table Mountain (you can get a cable car). Panoramic views here span the whole city, and they’re breath-taking. I also stopped by Camps Bay which has a stunning palm tree lined white beach and I’d highly recommend exploring the Cape Peninsula and visiting the penguin colonies.

I was really pleased with my hotel choice for Cape Town. The Southern Sun Waterfront is between the city and the V&A, so you get the best of both worlds. It’s also got a great outdoor pool with lawns and fantastic on-site food and drink.

Port Elizabeth: Smaller, By The Beach, Plus A Trip To Elephant Park Safari

After a major city like Cape Town, there’s a smaller feel to Port Elizabeth. It’s less built-up. You’re right on the Eastern Cape’s Algoa Bay here, and there’s a nice boardwalk which feels really laid-back. I didn’t get a chance to visit the beachfront Craft Market, but it’s brilliant for picking up wood-carved animals, seashell necklaces, and various souvenirs.

I did make the most of being in Port Elizabeth with a day safari trip to Elephant Park. This is actually a brilliant way to get a safari experience without booking a full game holiday. Also, it allows kids (a lot of reserves have strict age limits). Elephant Park can be done as a day drive, but you can also stay in a safari lodge. If you’re an animal lover and don’t have time for Elephant Park, absolutely go to St Croix Marine Reserve.

Port Elizabeth wasn’t quite as impressive as the previous stops, but the Blue Flag beaches here are gorgeous. The weather was also fantastic, and the biltong and barbecue dishes are just incredible. We stayed at the Garden Court Kings Beach. It’s got a great commercial centre across the road and you’re a stone’s throw from the beach. I was here for 4 nights, which I’d say is a good amount of time to experience the town.

Johannesburg: Hipster Neighbourhoods, Street Art, And Cracking Food

Johannesburg is nicknamed Africa’s “Big Apple”. I’ll admit, not every part of this city is scenic. Stay in the right places though, and you can really enjoy the offbeat feel. Sandton is probably the fanciest area. It’s got the Montecasino, Nelson Mandela Square, and a great boulevard with theatres, shopping, and organic markets. Soweto is more cultural with local restaurants and a feel for the country’s Apartheid past (but I’d recommend visiting it rather than staying in it). Downtown Melville also has independent boutiques, leafy streets, and the 27 Boxes shops and restaurants complex. 

Grafitti street art also makes Johannesburg quite unique. It isn’t necessarily glamorous, but the urban murals and side-alley coffee shops are definitely an experience. I also liked that you’re well-placed for a drive to Pretoria. The Butcher Shop restaurant also gets a special mention from me- if you’re in JoBurg, go for a grill here.

We stayed at the Garden Court Sandton City. It’s over the road from Nelson Mandela Square and slap-bang in the best part of JoBurg there is- Sandton. It’s also got a nice outdoor pool with sunbeds and parasols. Price-wise, it’s also totally reasonable for what’s on offer.

In Summary: South Africa Is A Must

Whether you’re into beaches, barbecues, safaris, or the kind of wine list where everything is a great pick, this country’s got your name on it. We can also tailor an itinerary to your exact needs, so whether it's just a bit of city and beach you're after, or whether you have a specific interest such as the vineyards, wildlife or the activity sports, we can make a holiday yours. If you want some inspiration though it's worth taking a look at our most popular itineraries on our South African Multi Centre page. Otherwise just give us a call, and we'll be more than happy to help.

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