I was exhausted after almost 30 hours of travel from Adelaide to Johannesburg and then to Hoedspruit located on the western boundary of Kruger National Park. We’d had an hour or so to settle into our accommodation at Kapama Southern Camp before our first game drive, and then we were there, in the bushveld, listening to the sounds around us as they changed from a sometimes raucous cacophony to the quieter pitch of the night dwellers.
It was just getting dark as we were partaking in the African tradition of ‘sundowners’—a beverage or two of your choosing accompanied by some light snacks—while gathered around the safari vehicles. I can highly recommend the Amarula crème liqueur. It was a glorious way to herald my first night in South Africa.
Then, everyone stopped. Off in the distance, we could hear the quiet calling of lions. Almost without a word, we packed up and were once again on the prowl, hunting for the hunters.
The world is opening up again post-pandemic; in some ways, travelling is almost back to pre-pandemic conditions. There are still restrictions, but mostly, they are gone now. To travel to South Africa, you must produce a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate, but restrictions have been lifted otherwise. The pandemic hit South African tourism particularly hard, with visitor numbers dropping by nearly 73% in 2019, from 10 million to less than three million visitors annually. Thankfully, those numbers are recovering, with the country’s 2022 Census showing tourism numbers have grown 152% to about 5.7 million, although still only a little more than half their pre-pandemic figures.
I visited South Africa before the pandemic hit. I had wanted to visit since I was a child in the late 1960s, but something had always held me back. Apartheid played a big part in that, but even after it was abolished in the early 1990s, there was still something stopping me. I’d heard many stories about the violence and dangers of travelling there, as well as stories of awe-inspiring natural beauty and wildlife. Still, I was hesitant. Finally, in 2018, the timing was right, and I joined a group tour organised by Genesis Travel and Cruise.
I had been worried about travelling to Africa alone, but now, having experienced it, I wouldn’t hesitate to go again, alone or with a small group. South Africa is an amazing place, with some of the most friendly and genuine people I have ever met. The people, landscapes and wildlife experiences are all priceless, and with visitor restrictions lifted, it’s a great time to visit the wide open plains.
Getting to Africa today is relatively easy. In Australia, Qantas has daily flights from Sydney directly to Johannesburg with connecting flights between Australian capital cities. You can also travel onward to other African destinations utilising one of the many Qantas codeshare flights out of Johannesburg. Easy to get to, Africa should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Safari experiences are one of the most popular things to do in South Africa, although there are many other activities that are equally attractive. Hiking, bird watching, museums, Winelands tours, shark and whale watching, cultural activities, beaches, and scenic drives are just some of the ways to spend your time in South Africa. There really is something for everyone!
While there are many things to do in South Africa, the thing at the top of my personal list was to go on safari. Luckily, that’s exactly how our tour started. Separated into three Toyota Landcruiser open-topped safari vehicles, each with an experienced guide and assistant guide, we headed off into the bush. The guide in charge of our group was Rayna. She steered us around various tracks inside the game reserve, working in harmony with Joseph, her assistant. It was like they had a secret language. Watching Rayna and Joseph communicate, sometimes without speaking, was fascinating. A little glance this way, an almost imperceptible nod that way. Finger movements and eye-tracking. It all paid off in spades.
I don’t know if it was a lifetime of anticipation, the long hours of travel, or the cool evening breeze in my eyes, but I sat there in the safari vehicle with tears rolling down my cheeks. The smells of the bushveld were all around me – animal dung, dirt, plants. Everything was mingling in the air, filling my nostrils, and right in front of me were two male lions sauntering along a dirt track towards us. They were so close I could reach out and rub their ears, although that probably wouldn’t have been a wise move. I just sat there, watching, smelling, and listening to every soft, padded step as they passed our stationary vehicle. I had waited a lifetime for this, and at that moment, I was overawed. I sat there and wept silently as two kings walked by.
There’s something special about Africa. It’s hard to define, but the continent continues to call, beckoning those who hear to come and visit. And when you do, you sit there with tears streaming down your face, wondering why you waited so long. Africa is inviting. It’s a welcoming but also wild and dangerous place. It is a wonderful destination, full of contradictions. But once you visit, you’ll want to visit again. And again. And again.
You can learn more about Africa and book your first—or next—trip on the Qantas website.