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Exploring the other side of South Africa

by Aiden

Serving safaris to you on a silver spoon.

By Amornrat Sidhu

South Africa, the home of 57 million people, including the likes of Trevor NoahCharlize Theron, and Nelson Mandela, offers a cultural and natural landscape of unparalleled beauty, diversity, and energy. While some of us in the Thai-Indian community have covered a sliver of the land via the Garden Route or a short-term stay in Cape Town, I’ve highlighted other alluring places in the country that will keep you enchanted long after you return home.

Courtesy of Madikwe Game Reserve


Game viewing can be enjoyed by all. Technically, all you have to do is pay the fees to enter any national park or reserve. However, the levels of ‘adventure’ differ according to how you want to experience your holiday.


This is your standard, run-of-the-mill, ‘take your own tent’ experience. I’m not going to dwell on this because none of us city cats would survive in the face of a real cat outside our tent.

Game drives occur at your own pace…in your own vehicle. You go looking for the animals yourself. You escape the animals you encounter yourself.

Self-catering chalets

This is when you are provided with basic facilities (a toilet, bed, etc). The compound might offer a pool or a restaurant, but you are to bring your own food. Many locals enjoy this because they get to braai (have a barbeque) every night.

Depending on where you stay, your compound may offer game drives. If not, you take your own car and see animals at your own pace, with your own luck.

Glamping and Fully-Catered Lodges

Now this is where us city cats thrive. Like the Maldives, these safari experiences are all-inclusive. Instead of sprawling ocean, you are in the untamed wild. Either way, you are at the mercy of your hotel and can enjoy the exhilaration that brings. Standard packages include all meals provided, two game drives per day (one in the morning and one in the evening) accompanied by an experienced guide and one spotter. There is usually a fully- equipped spa, fully-stocked bar, a beautiful pool, and bonus experiences like tribal dances and bonfire buffets. The rooms are also lush and luxurious. Most lodges do not provide TVs, as the purpose of these safaris are to unplug and connect with nature.

On a typical game drive, your guide will relay interesting facts about the animals you pass. The tour guides on the reserve not only know how to track the animals, but possess vast knowledge about their mating, eating, and living habits. The government will usually introduce new species or more of a type of animal into the game reserve, so guides monitor and analyse data on how the animals are doing through various means, during their time off from driving you around.

Courtesy of Pilanesberg National Reserve


Pilanesberg National Park is a two-and-a- half-hour drive from Johannesburg, making it an ideal place to safari, considering that most flights terminate or transit in Johannesburg.

Why Go?

Pilanesberg National Park is currently the number one safari destination in South Africa, according to several surveys by the South African Tourism Board. I can vouch for this! The game drives that you will go on will take you across some very dry areas that resemble the desert and then, almost suddenly, across lush, green pastures with mountains forming a silhouette over a calming lake.

You will encounter the African safari ‘Big Five’ (lions, leopards, elephants, African buffalo, and rhinoceroses); the rare wild dog; and a plethora of other species.

Where to Stay

Because I am a self-proclaimed princess who had no intention of ‘roughing it out’ and ‘becoming one with nature’, camping was out for me, as well as self-catered chalets. My husband booked us into the Ivory Tree Game Lodge, which was fully catered and plush. With an outdoor area that features buffetdiningaroundanaturally-builtfireand a multi-level dining room, we could enjoy eating there as well as spectating. If you choose, you could even eat the game that you would see on the safari just hours before the meal (although that was not for me)! The luscious room boasted no TV, but was equipped with all the necessities, including turndown service and more.


If you are heading to Cape Town but your flight route forces a transit in Johannesburg, arrange it in such a way that you can take this detour to Pilanesberg National Park. Many companies offer day trips because of the distance. However, I recommend an overnight stay even though it is just one night. This way, you can do the evening safari and the morning safari before you head off to catch that connecting flight!

Courtesy of Pilanesberg National Reserve


This oasis of fun and frolic is only half an hour by car from Pilanesberg and on the way to your next destination, Madikwe. The ‘city’ offers several accommodation venues from The Lost City (The Palace) to The Cascades. Adults might want to stop over to enjoy the casino, a game of golf, or enjoy food from local chain restaurants like Roccamama’s before heading back into the bush for sweet isolation. Families with children can enjoy the waterpark with winding slides, a chilled morning by the man-made beach, the crocodile park, and the Valley of the Waves.

Top Tip

If you stay at Pilanesberg for more than a night, you can spend the day (or night) at Sun City! You can also spend it on the way to Madikwe.

Courtesy of Madikwe Game Reserve


Why Go?

Madikwe Game Reserve is a one to one-and- a-half hour drive from Pilanesberg. This national reserve holds the Big 5 along with other rare and exotic wildlife in its 75,000 hectares. This reserve is fenced, which means that no migration takes place. This is ideal for visitors as it ensures spectacular game viewing all year round. Not to mention, there are about thirty luxury lodges in total in the game reserve.

Where to Stay

Each lodge has its own charm based on where it is located (i.e. view from the room), décor, and so on. If you speak to anyone who has been to Madikwe, they will all tell you that you can’t go wrong with any lodge you pick, and I fully agree. We have stayed at Madikwe Hills Lodge and Etali Game Lodge when we travelled as a couple. Both had private plunge pool on the deck and all rooms had a view of a watering hole. This is beneficial to your experience because various animals pass by through the day to quench their thirst. Thus, from the comfort of your own room, you can watch a herd of zebra or elephants or antelope living their best lives.


Most lodges do not allow children below the age of six on a game drive. Thus, you either have to hire a private vehicle (at extra cost), leave your child with a babysitter while you sit on the game drives, or take turns with family members to go on the drives. Many lodges are family-friendly – for example, Tuningi Game Lodge and Tau Game Lodge offer family rooms and games in the common areas.

Courtesy of Madikwe Game Reserve


As my husband and I see the Abjaterskop Gate, the entrance into the game reserve, we pass giraffes, zebras, and exotic birds on the way to our lodge. We arrive at about 3.30pm. We are late. Usually, the evening game drive begins at 3pm so that you can get back to the lodge before dark, however, we are greeted warmly and asked to take any refreshments we might like from the spread in front of us. Luckily, they assigned a vehicle for the game drive just for us.

As the ride is an ‘off-road’ experience, we enjoy it thoroughly. Here in Madikwe, there are dirt pathways that are often used by the vehicles. However, the tour guides frequently abandon these roads and dive straight into the bush, zig- zigging their way to find the game you want to view. It is truly an enjoyable experience, as the guides in Pilanesberg National Park did not do that for us and stuck strictly to the (sometimes) paved roads! My husband and I didn’t care about the exotic birds that we constantly see American tourists ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over. We wanted to see the cats – leopards and lions!

Once we are back from safari, the hotel staff inform us that tonight’s dinner is a buffet – every night is different, with a rotation of dinner locations and styles (à la carte or buffet). We could also have opted to have a private dinner in our room by the fireplace, which we did end up choosing to do one night.

As we drove ourselves back from the lodge in order to head back to Botswana, we spotted two adolescent lions relaxing by the dirt road. This was 100m from the gate, in our own vehicle with no guide. We stopped to peer at them from inside the vehicle, very aware that they could and would slash our tires if angered. Almost as if they read our minds, the lions started to approach the car and chased after us as we regained speed. There is never a dull moment on a safari!


It is a three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Johannesburg.


South Africa is notorious for its crime. It is a beautiful place to visit, but you have to take precautions. It is worth paying for the pick-up and drop-off arranged by the lodge, regardless of the expense. It is not worth the risk of driving yourselves. There have been cases of theft by people in police uniforms (where the police have lent them their uniforms for a cut).


Once you are (back) in Johannesberg, catch a direct flight to Durban. It is not worth the safety risk of venturing around in Johannesburg. The sprawling hills and lush, emerald farmland on one side, and the dark waters of the Indian ocean on the other side of the plane are breathtaking to take in as you land in King Shaka International Airport.

Why Go?

For an urban yet beachside experience in South Africa, Durban is ideal. The city boasts many hip restaurants that will tantalise your taste buds (try the local bunny chow), shopping malls and markets where you can buy what you want, and an ocean that you can swim in. This is also the one city that you can drive in and take in the scenic landscape at your own pace.

Furthermore, many of the Durbanites you will find are of Indian origin—specifically from Gujarat. It is kind of a shock to walk in a mall in South Africa and get a whiff of Indian spices like you would in Phahurat! Also, many Durbanites adorn gold and silver grills in their teeth, from young teenage women to married men!

Where to Stay

Do not stay in Durban city, as it is just as dangerous as Johannesburg. Instead, rent a car from the airport and drive to Umhlanga. It is a 20-minute drive to this beachside suburb. Stay at the Capital Pearls. You have the option of staying in the hotel side, or in the apartment side. The buildings are connected to the Pearls Mall where you have a few shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and bars to fulfil all your needs. The Pearls are also beachside, so you can venture down anytime for a swim or a jog/walk on the boardwalk that goes on for miles and miles, which also connects to other hotels in the area like The Oyster Box. The Pearls are also a two-minute walk away from Chartwell Drive, which hosts a strip of cool restaurants that people from all over the city come to.

Where to eat

Unlike in safaris where you are confined to your lodge and the mercy of the staff there to feed you, in Durban you have the choice to satisfy your taste buds how and when you want. Here are just some of the options:

  • Doppio Zero: great breakfast in the Pearls Mall
  • Cane Cutters: award-winning bunny chow joint that is walking distance from Gateway Mall
  • Circus Circus: lunch or dinner joint located in Gateway Mall
  • Ciao Bella: an Italian eatery located in Pearls Mall
  • Mythos: a Greek eatery on Chartwell Drive
  • Parc: Yummy breakfast joint close to the Botanical Garden. It is a 25-minute drive from Umhlanga but the drive is scenic
  • Mary and Joe: great breakfast place on Chartwell Drive

What to do

  • Visit the Botanical Garden. Better yet, organise a picnic there
  • Take a swim in Umhlanga beach or walk on the beach boardwalk
  • Go for a short hike on the Umhlanga Lagoon hiking trail
  • Spend the afternoon at Gateway Mall and do some shopping
  • Spend a fun-filled day at uShaka Marine World. You can visit the aquarium, do the Marine Walk, swim in the waterpark, and more!
  • Visit the Victorian Spice Market

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