The currency in South Africa is the Rand – there are 5 notes which increase in size as the value of the note increases. The smaller denomination coins are copper and brass coloured and the higher ones silver coloured and these too increase in size as the value of the coin increases. For collectors, there is the famous golden Kruger Rand containing 1oz of pure gold. The price varies according to the international gold price.
The Rand tends to be rather volatile so it’s advisable to check the exchange rate. Although major currencies can be readily exchanged at banks and bureaux de change, they are not accepted as legal tender by shops, restaurants, hotels etc. Most international credit cards are accepted and there are many Automatic Teller Machines where it is possible to draw money on cards.
Most restaurants do not include a service charge for individuals and it is normal to leave between 10 and 15% of the bill. It is also normal practice to tip porters, guides and drivers.
Although there are 11 official languages in South Africa, English is generally spoken and understood everywhere but the most remote rural areas. On request we are able to provide tourist guides speaking foreign languages.
There is an intricate network of roads throughout the country – we drive on the left. Four wheel drive vehicles are only necessary for off road driving. There are regular flights to all the major centres.
There are two luxury trains, Rovos Rail and The Blue Train which have fixed departures Not only between Pretoria and Cape Town but also further afield, such as Victoria Falls. There is also the “Premiere Classe” service offered by SA Railways between Pretoria and Cape Town (return)
Much has been made by the media of the crime in South Africa. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that there is crime. The majority of tourists enjoy their stay here without any problems whatsoever. As a general rule it is not wise to walk alone – especially if carrying a camera! Leave your jewellery at home and travel with inexpensive costume jewellery.
Make sure your valuables are safely locked in a safe – if there is no digital safe in your hotel room, ask the management to put them into the hotel safe. When venturing out, ask the locals about where it’s safe to go – most big cities anywhere in the world have areas where it would be unwise for tourists to wander around.
The Cape has a Mediterranean climate so expect rain in our winter months (June, July and August). May and September – the shoulder periods, are very good months to visit, not only the Cape but the whole country. Expect rain in the rest of the country October, November, December, January and February. Generally in the northern and central part of the country, the rain comes in short storms and the sun soon shines again.
Summer temperatures in Pretoria are around 28 – 30 degrees, sometimes reaching 33 or more. Johannesburg tends to be 1 or 2 degrees cooler. The Kruger Park and surrounding area, being lower lying, is much warmer and summer temperatures can reach well into the 30’s. Winters are crisp and clear with blue skies and sunny days, with temperatures of about 18.
Overnight the temperature drops to below 10 but it is very rare for it to drop below zero. Snow in Johannesburg is so unusual that even businessmen tend to forget their business and go outside to throw snowballs!
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There is a wide variety of international flights arriving in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Many people arrive in Johannesburg and take a connecting flight to Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth or elsewhere. If you fly into Johannesburg and take a connecting flight onwards it is necessary to clear passport control and customs first, collect the luggage and proceed to the domestic departures building – porters (dressed in orange overalls) will show the way and assist with luggage. We offer a meet and greet service should you require it.
There is a new high speed train service, the Gautrain, from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport and Johannesburg & Pretoria.
Johannesburg and Pretoria
The main airport for international arrivals is Johannesburg (although some airlines now have direct flights into Cape Town and Durban, with the opening of their new international airports.) This modern, vibrant city sprang to life out of the sprawling village around the early gold mines. Gold Reef City is a reminder of those early days. West of Johannesburg is Sterkfontein World Heritage Site where the first adult skull of Autralopithecus Africanus (“the Missing Link”) was found in 1948.
Pretoria is the administrative capital of the country and seat of government. It is noted for the Union Buildings, one of the last designs of Sir Herbert Baker before he went to India to work with Sir Edwin Lutyens in New Delhi. Home to the largest residential university in South Africa, the city is also noted for its beautiful residential areas and historic buildings.
Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is the best known – and largest of our national parks. covering some 19485 square kilometres or 2 million hectares, which is bigger than Israel, a trifle smaller than Belgium and about the same size as Wales or Texas! It is also well known for its rich bio-diversity. There is a variety of accommodation to choose from – the camps run by the national parks have “rondavels” – a round house with a conical thatch roof. They are air-conditioned and have a shower and toilet and a fridge. They have either two or three beds. Some come equipped with cooking facilities, crockery and cutlery for those who prefer to self cater.
There are also family cottages. Some camps have luxury guest houses. A number of concessions have been granted to private companies to build luxury lodges within the Kruger Park and run their own open vehicle game drives. SanParks also offers open vehicle game drives – at an additional cost. Most of the camps have restaurants and shops which sell food for those wanting to cook for themselves, drinks, books, clothes and souvenirs. There is a bank only at Skukuza, the largest camp and the administrative headquarters of Kruger Park, and there is also a resident doctor here in case anyone falls ill and needs his services.
Virtually all along the western side of Kruger are private reserves – the fences between them have been removed and the animals can wander freely from the Kruger and back. There are several luxury lodges all offering open vehicle game drives. A number have health spa facilities – the perfect place to de-stress and commune with nature!
The Kruger Park and adjacent reserves lie in a malaria area so guests need to take anti malaria precautions, especially during the summer months. The drive from Johannesburg/Pretoria to the southern part of Kruger Park is about 5 hours. There are daily flights to KMIA (Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport) airport near White River in the South and Hoedspruit further North. Land transport is available from there to the Kruger Park and private lodges. Many of the private lodges have their own landing strip for small aircraft. The flights take about one hour.
Cape Town & Environs
Table Mountain is the most famous landmark of the city. Although city tours include Table Mountain, the ride in the cable car to the top is optional because this is not always available (depending on the weather). The National Botanical Gardens at Kirstenbosch, although one of a number of National Botanical Gardens in South Africa, is perhaps the best known because of its magnificent setting and enormous variety of indigenous plants. There is a wide choice of accommodation in Cape Town – many people want to be near the Waterfront so hotels here tend to be more expensive. There is also a great choice of restaurants
Full day excursions from Cape Town could include Cape Point, the most South Westerly point of the continent of Africa, with a visit to the African Penguin breeding site and a short trip to get up close to seals; Stellenbosch and the winelands – visits to wine estates with wine tasting can be included; a drive to Hermanus, one of the best land based whale watching sites during the right season (May – November), or a drive up the West Coast to Darling especially for the wild flowers in spring (August – September)
The Garden Route
The Garden Route lies to the East of Cape Town and is so called because of the beautiful natural scenery of mountains and sea. Driving from Cape Town there is a choice of routes to take, one mainly inland through the area known as the Little Karoo with little rainfall, to Oudtshoorn, the other could be via Mossel Bay. It was here that Bartholomeu Dias landed after becoming the first European to circumnavigate Africa (in 1488). From here one could drive over the Robertson Pass to Oudtshoorn, or travel via George to Wilderness and Knysna. Knysna is situated on a lagoon, famous for its oysters, and many tourists like to take a cruise on the lagoon which offers lovely views of this picturesque place. Overnight stop could be here, in Knysna, or Wilderness or Mossel Bay, all on the coast. Alternatively an overnight stop could be in Oudtshoorn known as the “Ostrich feather capital of the world”! Visits include an ostrich farm, the Cango Caves and Cheetahland Wildlife Ranch where cheetah are bred in captivity. There are also other cats (lion, jaguar) and a successful Nile crocodile breeding project.
Also on the Garden Route is an Elephant Sanctuary, Monkeyland and the World of Birds. A drive through the indigenous Tsitsikama Forest on the breathtaking passes route is a must if time allows.
En route from Cape Town one could take a trip to Cape Aghulas, the most Southerly point of Africa. Geographically speaking, it is here that the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, although the warm Mozambique current sweeps round the point of Africa and into False Bay near Cape Town, leading some to believe that the two oceans meet at Cape Point. Knysna is known for its lagoon and for the indigenous forests in the area, still home to a few elephant. There is an airport at George, right in the Garden Route, and at Port Elizabeth, further East.
Port Elizabeth is the main city in the Eastern Cape and was established on the arrival of ±5000 British settlers in 1820. The area between Port Elizabeth and East London is known as “Settler Country” and the beautiful scenery is not only home to a number of private game reserves but also to a myriad stories and sites of conflict between the different migrating groups of people. The region known as the Transkei is where the Xhosa people settled. One of South Africa’s most famous sons, Nelson Mandela, was born in this area. The north-western part of this province is home to charming villages such as Cradock, Graaff Reinet and Nieu Bethesda.
The Addo Elephant Park is another of our famous National Parks and has been extended down to the coast so that, in the right season, it is possible to see, not only the “Big Five” land mammals but also whales and dolphins, all in their natural habitat.
There are several private game parks and luxury lodges in the Eastern Cape, all of them Malaria free.
Durban, on the East Coast of KwaZulu Natal, is the most important commercial harbour in South Africa. The climate is warmer and sub-tropical as is evident in the vegetation. This is a major sugar producing area. It is also home to the Zulu people, once famous warriors who defeated the British Army at the battle of Isandlwana in January 1879, and there is a number of places one can visit to see how they lived and learn more about their culture. Durban is also home to the largest Indian population outside the sub-continent of India and Sri Lanka. The first Indians arrived in 1860 as indentured labourers and were followed by merchants and traders. Their presence enriches the cultural melting pot which makes up Durban.
North of Durban is another World Heritage Site, the Greater St. Lucia Wetland park which stretches along the Zululand coast from Mapelane in the south to Sodwana in the north. It incorporates St Lucia Game and Marine Reserves, False Bay park, Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, Mkuzi Game Reserve and the Maputoland Marine Reserve. Migrant whales cavorting
along the coast, leatherback and loggerhead turtles, nesting on the beaches at night in summer, add to the park's special attractions.
The Drakensberg Mountains extend over a great distance on the Eastern side of the country and the highest peaks in South Africa are found in this mountain range. A large part of the area has been declared a World Heritage site and some caves are open to the public to view ancient rock art painted by the first people to inhabit the country – the San, or Bushmen. In the midst of the mountains and surrounded by South Africa, lies Lesotho, the “Mountain Kingdom” where there is hiking, pony trekking and other things to do for those not seeking luxury.
Nearby is the famous Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve founded in 1895 and the oldest such sanctuary in Africa. It was here that the world- acclaimed Operation Rhino was introduced during the 1960s, successfully capturing and relocating white rhino to havens within South Africa and abroad. As a result, this country's white rhino population is now 12 times the 1960 count of 500. Today Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is focusing its efforts on saving the endangered black rhino, whose number in Africa has dwindled from 14 000 to a pitiful 2 550 in the past decade. You'll find at least a fifth of the world's black and white rhino population here.
Further north, close to the border with Swaziland, lies the Pongola Reserve. There is a lot of tourism development in the Zululand area, with a number of establishments ranging from luxury lodges to simple camping.
Swaziland, billed as the smallest kingdom in the world and home to one of the last remaining absolute monarchs in Africa, is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa. If travelling by land between the Kruger Park and Durban, it is worth travelling via this mountainous kingdom, spending one night en route.
On the western side of the country, stretching more or less from the Namibian border to 100km north of Cape Town is an area known as Namaqualand. For most of the year, it is dry and hot, but after good winter rains, the whole area comes alive, from August to early September, with wild flowers, an unforgettable sight.
Situated in the centre of the country, this province is home to the Judicial Capital, Bloemfontein, and is known for its wide open spaces with the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains along the East. There are charming towns and villages such as Fouriesburg, Rosendal and Clarens known for the many artists in the area and the Golden Gate National Park offers amazing scenery with impressive sandstone mountain formations. In the South-West is Phillipolis, birthplace of Sir Lourens van der Post, godfather to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. It is also his final resting place.
Home to Madikwe Game Reserve and Pilanesberg National Park, which are both within easy driving distance of Johannesburg and Pretoria, North West extends to beyond Taung in the South-West. It was here that the partial skull was found which was later identified by Dr. Raymond Dart as Australopithecus Africanus – the “Missing Link” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. This province has the world’s richest platinum reserves.
The northernmost province of South Africa stretches from just North of Pretoria to the Limpopo River. In the northwest corner, where South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet, lies Mapungubwe National Park, famous for its golden artefacts from a civilisation which lived there from about 800 to 1200 of the present era. Part of the Kruger Park lies in this province and several private game reserves. In September the area around Magoebaskloof is ablaze with azaleas of a variety of colours