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So I'm headed to South Africa, what do I need to know?

April20

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Aug 1, 2008
Messages
3,312
DH and I are going to be in South Africa for June, July and August and possibly longer doing some volunteer work. We're leaving next Wednesday (June 1). We've never been to South Africa and don't really know what to expect. I would LOVE to hear from those that live in the region or have spent some time there. We're going to be about 30 km east of Johannesburg (I think). I would love to get an idea on the following:

  • What food should we not miss? We've got a SA restaurant here in ATL and we've been to it, but I'm sure it's just a hint of what's really there.

    Please reassure me DH can get a steak. I swear, he's beem more concerned about that than anything else! Crazy man.

    Since we're going to be working regular work hours, our free time is really limited to weekends. What things should we make sure we see/do that could be done in a weekend?

    Is the winter as mild as my friend, Wikipedia, tells me?

    How safe is Johannesburg? I'm assuming it's no more or no less safe than any large city.

I must admit it's nearly comical how much research I HAVEN'T done about where we're going. I've been figuring that we're there long enough that I'll figure it out once we get there! I'm more of an overall planner any way, rather than a super specific, must do this on this day type of person (I really tweaked some of our friends with my "itinerary" for our trip to Turkey. Or lack there of.)

Thank you in advance for input! And if anyone is in the ATL area and would like to come do all the packing I haven't done because I've been procrastinating, I'll let you know where to find me. :cheeky:
 

Nomsdeplume

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Mar 23, 2009
Messages
1,671
I live in Johannesburg.

1) You should try Carnivore or Moyo (restaurants) for an African themed dining experience. We have Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC etc etc... it's pretty much just like any other big city. Your DH will be able to get a steak anywhere you go, so don't worry about that. :)
Try some biltong as a snack, it's a South African favourite and very tasty.

2) There are a few interesting places around Johannesburg, depending on what interests you have. The Cradle of Humankind, the apartheid museum, FNB soccer stadium, bungee jumping from Orlando Towers in Soweto (with a group) or just relaxing around a braai (barbeque) with your new South African friends. I would recommend an overnight trip to the Kruger National Park. It's a long drive, but you will never see anything like it elsewhere.

3) It is mild, but it does get cold. Down to -6 degrees Celcius or lower.

4) Johannesburg has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Unfortunately, we are not just talking about petty theft. The sheer violence of crime is what is alarming to most of its citizens. If you take precautions and remain alert and sensible you should be just fine. Avoid dangerous areas like Hillbrow, Soweto, Alexandra, Diepsloot and the Central Business District, don't walk anywhere (especially at night), try not to come to a complete stop at traffic lights (and remain alert at all times), lock your doors, don't go hiking by yourself, don't trust strangers and if you feel unsafe trust your gut.
That said, South Africa is beautiful, and whilst there are cons, there are also a lot of pros. :)
 

Blackpaw

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jun 26, 2008
Messages
2,469
How exciting, April! My SO and I spent a couple of months in south africa two years ago. My SO has family there so we spent a fair bit of time with them and traveled around on our own a lot as well, its a very beautiful country so there'll be plenty to do on weekends!

First up, dont worry about the steak, SAfricans LOVE it (well my SOs family at least) - seriously, we had steak with them for Christmas dinner!! And its amazing, i hadnt really been one for steak before i went there but since then i love it too...

So for weekends away!! Obviously Kruger and any other park you can get to are must-sees! Kruger is well set-up for independent travel, we pottered about it in a tiny little VW golf no trouble at all.

The little town of Clarens, in the Golden Gate nat park is gorgeous, and the scenery around it stunning, id think its a doable weekend trip from Joburg. Here's a link to the town's website: http://www.clarens.co.za/

Cape town of course, though you're best to take a flight for the weekend. And outside of cape town, stellenbosch is a beautiful wine region, and the garden route, along the coast, is also lovely - we really liked Plettenberg Bay.

Lesotho is beautiful, we stayed at a lodge for a couple of nights and went hiking, id recommend it but not sure how realistic it is for a weekend.

From Joburg Zimbabwe probably isnt out of the question (Kribbie correct me if im wrong, we went to Joburg briefly, but went to Zim via Namibia/Zambia so im not sure of distances). Victoria Falls is truly amazing, and the best side to see it is the Zim side (90% of it is there). Further to that the Vic Falls hotel is gorgeous, and i know you can walk with lion cubs there (i spent time at a related lion conservation project in the centre of Zim).

And by flight as well you could probably weekend in Mozambique, i went there from Zim so only got as far down as Vilanculos but id think if you flew into Maputo you could get to a beach town pretty easy, and SAfricans holiday there a lot (Kribbie will know more im sure!!)

As for safety, do not underestimate how dangerous south africa is - we travelled through all of southern and eastern africa and SA was by far and away the most dangerous country we visited. By a mile in fact. You'll notice when you arrive there are bars on all the windows, everyone you meet will have been affected by crime, and at night time when driving you dont stop at red lights you just roll through...Its terribly strange, and like Kribbie said, whats really awful about it is that the crime is unecessarily violent, as in, people dont just get robbed, they're beaten too (or worse). SO's family say that they just accept that is how life is, and only really notice all the precautions they take when people come to visit and find it so oppressive.

The people you'll meet/know there will be able to give you lots of tips im sure, but be very very careful.

But otherwise do enjoy, its a beautiful country, and i look forward to going back =)
 

TravelingGal

Super_Ideal_Rock
Joined
Dec 29, 2004
Messages
17,193
I have not been there, but was interested in what people had to say, so I hopped on this thread.

In 2003, I met some South Africans who lived in Johannesburg and they kept making jokes at how dangerous it was. They told me never to stop at a red light at night. I asked them if they were kidding, and they said no. That red light thing totally stuck with me all these years, and I found it interesting that both posters giving advice actually mentioned it.

So I say stay safe, and have fun!
 

Trekkie

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Apr 21, 2010
Messages
1,303
Yay! You're coming to SA! You'll have a fabulous time, you'll see! :)

Kribbie is a Jo'burger so she definitely knows what she is talking about.

Yes, your husband will definitely find steak and lots of it! Avoid the Spur if you can, it's an embarrassment. There are many world class restaurants but if you want something good and reasonably priced, try the Cattle Baron: http://www.cattlebaron.co.za/steak_ranches.htm

While you are in SA you absolutely have to go to Cape Town! It's beautiful and definitely something everyone should do at least once. A return flight on the budget airlines usually costs around R1 500, but if you keep an eye on the specials you can get a flight for less.

Safety is a big concern for many coming to South Africa. Kribbie gave you some pretty good suggestions, so try to follow them whenever possible. I feel like a bad PSer for even suggesting this, but perhaps you should consider leaving your jewellery at home / at the bank. If you have a simple wedding band that might be the best way to avoid attracting negative attention.

If you finger feels naked you can always buy something here! :naughty: Our prices are quite high compared to PS vendors but you might find something you feel you cannot live without! ;))

Do let me know if you have any other questions!

TravelingGal said:
I have not been there, but was interested in what people had to say, so I hopped on this thread.

In 2003, I met some South Africans who lived in Johannesburg and they kept making jokes at how dangerous it was. They told me never to stop at a red light at night. I asked them if they were kidding, and they said no. That red light thing totally stuck with me all these years, and I found it interesting that both posters giving advice actually mentioned it.

So I say stay safe, and have fun!
You mean you actually stop at red lights?! :razz:

I'm joking! But not really... We don't stop at red lights at night. We don't stop at stop signs either. We just sort of cruise over them.

Oh, and we call traffic lights robots. Just another one of our more endearing quirks.
 

April20

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Aug 1, 2008
Messages
3,312
Thanks for the input everyone. I really appreciate it.

We have friends here from Pretoria and they moved to the US because they didn't want to raise their kids with the crime level. The not stopping at red lights tweaks me a little, I must admit, but there have been times in ATL when I haven't wanted to stop as well, so there you go.

I was actually wondering if I should take my e-ring or leave it at home with my inlaws. I've got a plain band as well as a little vintage piece with a 12 pt stone that I may take instead. It has a little fire and would keep me happy enough while I'm there and if something happened to it, it wouldn't be a major loss, though I do think it's sweet.

I'd really like to try and see as much as possible on our free time while we are there. Cape Town is definitely at the top of the list, we've been told by many not to miss it. I'd also really love to see Victoria Falls. Obviously, I'm going to have to start doing some research. I've actually got a friend vacationing in SA with her Mom right now and she sent an email update out of everything they've done thus far but with NO PICTURES. Useless I say! But it did make me want to spy things out more than I have been.

I just thought of another question. DH loves to eat street food. He thinks it gives you a better idea of what's truly local. Is there street food around and if so, is there anything to specifically try or avoid like the plague? Because he'll be eating it before I even know he's bought it if he sees it.
 

April20

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Aug 1, 2008
Messages
3,312
Oh, and I thought we were going to be east of Jo'burg. I think we're actually going to be west.

I really gotta dial into this gig.
 

Trekkie

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Apr 21, 2010
Messages
1,303
Hmmm... Street food. To some it's an absolute no. To me, it's a maybe.

I can tell you that the very best pap en vleis in Jo'burg can be found just at a stall just outside Sandton City shopping mall. I frequently see doctors and lawyers and all sorts buying there.

I generally don't buy from street traders unless I see a sign saying the food is Halaal. Not because I'm Muslim (I'm not) but because my experience has taught me that those stalls pay more attention to hygiene. YMMV.

Street food is generally ok if it was prepared in front of you, like much SA street food is. It's perfectly normal to see people standing around with little gas grills selling wors rolls (similar to your hot dogs, but WAY tastier!) for around R10. If you're adventurous it's an experience not to be missed!

You absolutely have to do some research! Maybe not excessive research (like I usually do) but perhaps you could start with a "to do" or "must see" list and we could give you advice based on that? :)

Ooooooh! I'm getting so excited thinking of your trip! You will enjoy it, I'm sure!

Hmmmm... Maybe we could even arrange a JHB GTG? :naughty:
 

Nomsdeplume

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Mar 23, 2009
Messages
1,671
Yes, there is street food available... In the townships (areas which you should avoid if you want to live).
Our local foods include boerewors, biltong, chakalaka, pap, koeksisters and walkie talkies (chicken feet and heads, if you are feeling brave). Most of these are available at any supermarket and will give you a 100% accurate feel for the local tastes.
 

Blackpaw

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Jun 26, 2008
Messages
2,469
ROBOTS!!! :bigsmile: i forgot about that, i can tell you between our SAfrican cousins and us being Aussies there was so much slang flying back and forth im sure none of us knew what the other was talking about it!

Im not one for dried meats so i didnt have biltong or the like, but i loved pap, it became a staple all through Africa - but mostly you have to try a bunny! and a chip roti if you can find one. Bunnies are a half loaf of bread, hollowed out, and filled with curry :lickout: i also really like rusks (type of biscuit eaten mostly with tea/coffee). Speaking of tea (im a big tea drinker), the standard tea in SA is actually rooibos! i got a taste for it there...oh man i miss rusks!

Re jewelery, i would take only the plain band. If you draw the attention of a thief its sadly likely that not only will you be robbed you'll be beaten, raped and worse. (sorry to be a downer, just think its an easy precaution to take as you're only there for a couple of months)

Another nice spot (although a flight) is St Lucia on the coast - beautiful marine environment and hippos come right up into town at night (though they're best avoided of course!!)...
 
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