Almost every trip to South Africa will start with Johannesburg, as it is the flight hub of the country. Johannesburg gets a bit of a bad rep, but don’t let that put you off, just remember to take care in this city, basically don’t drive at night is the best advice, and as long as you practice a few street smarts, then nothing will happen. Saying this, we got lost late at night and pulled over at a random petrol station, the people there were incredibly friendly and helped us out with directions. Spending a few days in the city to recover from any jet lag and see some of the sites is definitely worth it. There is a lot to do in Johannesburg, and we did not have time to do everything, but the two highlights were visiting the Cradle of Humankind and the Apartheid Museum. The Cradle of Humankind is an area in Johannesburg where some of the earliest evidence of humankind and evolution were discovered – proof that humans originated from Africa. It’s a great display and interesting place. Nearby is the Sterkfontein Caves where a lot of excavations have been done and fossils found. Admission to both of these is only NZ$20.
The highlight of our stay in Johannesburg was the Apartheid Museum. The museum is set out fantastically well and is such an eye-opener to the repression that many people suffered under the very recent Apartheid regime. It is a fascinating place and an important part of history to learn about when visiting South Africa. Admission is about NZ$10.
We also went on a little drive around the city and stopped at the recently built Soccer City Stadium in the township of Soweto. Soweto is an interesting place to visit and when in Johannesburg you should definitely go there. We did not take a tour but we wish we did if we had had more time. There are many companies that offer tours for very reasonable prices.
Kruger National Park is the largest game reserve in South Africa and only an approximately 5 hour drive from Johannesburg. The drive to the Park is quite beautiful but unfortunately all we got was rain. Luckily, it stopped once we arrived. We stayed in Hazyview which is a small town on the edge of Kruger National Park. We stayed at a place called Bushpackers, which offered a really reasonably priced package for a tour in Kruger National Park, a zip-lining excursion, a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary and accommodation. We paid approximately NZ$300 each for all of this. If you can organise to stay in the Park itself, then even better! However, these options can get quite pricey. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hazyview was a very interesting introduction to African Elephants. They were very large and we had the opportunity to touch them and feed them. It was great to learn about these wonderful and intelligent animals.
After our time with the Elephants we then headed over to the Sabie Valley for a zip-lining tour in the canopies. The cables were incredibly high above the valley and we had an absolute blast!
For our tour of the Kruger National Park, we were picked up at 5am for a private tour by our guide Shadrick. We were really lucky and saw an incredible amount of wildlife. It was such an amazing experience. We even got to see Cheetah, which are incredibly rare.
We had a few funny moments like when we stopped to look at some baboons and saw one of them jacking off. And another moment when we desperately needed a bathroom break and had to go next to the truck, about 10 metres from a bull elephant. Well, at least it wasn’t a lion…
Visiting Kruger National Park needs to be at the top of your list when visiting South Africa. Our time here was fantastic and can be really reasonably priced if you do your research. We were lucky that we stayed with a family friend in Johannesburg and managed to find a cheap deal on accommodation near Kruger. But backpackers are pretty inexpensive in Johannesburg and great deals for visiting Kruger National Park are easily found online. We ended up spending approximately NZ$100 (US$70) for our time near Kruger National Park and approximately NZ$50 (US$35) for our time in Johannesburg.
Editor’s Note: Visited South Africa in 2010, updated in 2017.