23 Jan – 3 Feb 2016

Bible Bus; Livingstone Zambia – Jo’burg South Africa

We had pre-booked the next leg of our journey on the Intercape bus (www.intercape.co.za), aka “The Bible Bus”, from Livingstone, all the way through Zimbabwe, to Johannesburg South Africa. Intercape are an outwardly Christian company and their on-board entertainment has a distinct Jesus Christ theme. This was not a problem for us as it also had a nice clean toilet, air conditioning and only cost $25! Hallelujah.

It was an uneventful trip until we were all wakened at 2am for passport control at the Zimbabwe/ South Africa border, it took around 2 hours and we were shattered.  At one point I was on my own as Aidan had gone to the toilet and out of nowhere some guy hands me a phone saying it was for me! I was disorientated and pretty confused and when talking on this random phone I felt a tug at my bag. I pulled it in front of me and noticed the zip was opened! With hindsight, the phone was obviously a clever attempt to distract me for a second and fortunately for me the accomplice wasn’t a very good pickpocket. Then the phone guy reappeared and took his phone back saying wrong number! Close call, but it reminded me to not be so relaxed with my stuff so I suppose you could say he gave me a wakeup call… and a blog entry.

Johannesburg, South Africa.

In Jo’burg we choose to stay in the world famous township of Soweto for an authentic South African experience that we just wouldn’t get staying in a city centre hotel.

Soweto was originally formed as a ghetto for black Africans expelled from the city during ethnic cleansing in the early 1900s.  The township was brought to the eyes of the world in the 1970’s when a peaceful anti-apartheid student march was confronted by the guns of the state police and ended in the slaughter of 600 young demonstrators. They say the defiance of these brave students was the catalyst that brought the anti-apartheid movement to every corner of South Africa and to the world stage which eventually brought the regime to an end a few decades later. Even though Nobel peace prize winners Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have called Soweto home, the worlds perception is of shacks, poverty, violence, a no-go area for those with a white face.

A clever entrepreneur, “Lebo” started Soweto’s only youth hostel in his own home in 1999 to try and dispel this myth.  He invites the world to stay in Soweto instead of passing by on an air conditioned bus.  He encourages us to walk its streets, use his local shop, drink in the local shebeen, to talk to the local people. He has created something unique and inspirational and is working towards changing the image of Soweto while enriching the local community, especially for the kids and young people of the Township.  They are doing a fantastic job and certainly enriched our time in Johannesburg  www.sowetobackpackers.com

Whether staying in Soweto or not, a must do activity in Jo’burg is one of Lebo’s Soweto cycling tours.  Ours was led by a local girl who educated us on its history as well as her life in the Township. You can cycle around and observe the contrasts; tin houses with no running water alongside middle class brick houses with a modern car, right up to mansions with Mercs and BMWs such as Winnie Mandela’s current residence in what is known as the “Beverly Hills” of Soweto.

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We decided to cover the city on the big red city sightseeing bus which was excellent. We made the Apartheid Museum our first stop, where we learned lots about how it came about, how it was enforced by law and the hardship it forced on the people.  A must-see for any visitor. We wanted to visit the cradle of human kind one hour outside Jo’burg but ran out of time. It’s where you can visit the excavation site of some of the oldest human-ape ancestor fossils ever found (3.5m years old)

Having grown up on the outskirts of a city struggling with a troubled past (Belfast), we couldn’t help but draw comparison to Soweto. We were humbled by the attitude of the people, privileged to be able to visit such a unique place and grateful for their warm welcome.  Despite enduring so much hardship, their attitude could be summed up by their phrase “Lets tell the story, put the past behind us and focus on the future”.  Northern Ireland is currently going through a difficult period of truth and reconciliation and could learn a lot from the people of Soweto.

Train from Jo’burg – Cape Town, South Africa

It was time for us to try the African train again, and to be honest we approached it with some trepidation. We had pre-booked the Scholozoza Mehyl Tourist train (www.southafricanrailways.co.za) to take us through South Africa from Jo’burg to Cape Town. It was supposed to be a scenic 27-hour journey, but true to form on this great continent it was a little delayed… an hour or so into the journey the train stopped. After a while word spread throughout our carriage that the train need a new unit, but not to worry, a new unit was on its way from Jo’burg… we are still not sure what a unit is… but it must be important… four hours later we were back on track and arrived into Cape Town as the sun was setting.

Cape Town

Wow, what can I say about Cape Town!? It is definitely in my top 5 cities (Sydney, New York, London, Ballymena, Cape Town). For me it ticks all the boxes; amazing setting, beautiful weather, great food, wine, beaches and a unique vibe with lots to do. We stayed in the Amber Tree Lodge for 6 nights (www.ambertreelodge.co.za) following a recommendation.

Our Cape Town experience began with a hike up Table Mountain in 30 degrees heat, it wasn’t easy and Aidan nearly died, apparently. We definitely earned the ice cream at the top, and the breath-taking views made the climb worthwhile. We caught the cable car back down as it’s definitely not cheating.

My favourite part of this city has to be Camps Bay with it’s gorgeous beach and holiday vibe. The seafood restaurants are a great place to refuel and enjoy a few sundowners after a day catching rays. It’s where the rich and famous like to hang out and cruise about in their Ferraris… we just got an Uber (and one time the 107 bus, but the Uber was cheaper!)

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The view from camps bay beach

We hired a car and drove to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, this has to be the most understated coastal drive in the world, it is absolutely breath-taking around every corner. Boulders Beach was a highlight with its penguins! It’s quite surreal and the penguins are some craic. We had dinner on the beach that evening in Houts Bay and watched the spectacular sunset.

  • Beautiful coastline
  • More beautiful coastline
  • beach packed with wild penguins!
  • Cape of Good Hope

If there’s one thing Cape Town is famous for it’s cage shark diving with the great whites, so we couldn’t really say no! Unfortunately, the great white sharks said no and didn’t show up. Disappointing, but they’re wild animals after all and don’t follow any rules… maybe next time I’ll come back when it’s actually the season for it!

Robben Island is well worth a visit, it’s a short ferry ride from the V&A Waterfront and they offer tours of the old prison with an ex political prisoner as your guide. They are a little sketchy on detail and we found it helpful to have recently been to the Apartide Museum in Johannesburg so the history was fresh in our minds. This is where many men, including Nelson Mandela were imprisoned and suffered during their long walk to freedom.

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Long Street is where it’s all at, well after 6pm anyway. The street is lined with restaurants, bars and clubs, but it’s the atmosphere that makes this place stand out, as the evening goes on the road floods with fun loving people there to soak up the vibe.

There is just so much to mention on this captivating place that I could go on forever, you should just come and experience it for yourself!

If I must leave this amazing city of Cape Town, then it may as well be for… RIO!