South Africa surprised us with all it had to offer. From Sodwana Bay, which offered the best scuba diving we’ve ever done, to St. Lucia, home of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever walked along, to Cape Town, which is now one of our favorite cities on earth, there is something in this country for everyone. South Africa is truly a world-class destination, and one that we’ll be recommending to anyone who comes to us looking for travel ideas. We think we chose the best way to see the country, too–our 30-or-so-day roadtrip from Johannesburg to Cape Town was something we’ll never forget. (Renting a car in SA is a great idea, particularly because public transportation options are nearly non-existent.)

While South African food isn’t yet one of our favorite cuisines (one can only eat so much pap, which is basically like stiff cream of wheat), SA restaurants offer the foods of the rest of the world at prices far cheaper than we’d find at home. And the wine, ahh the wine. It’s cheap, plentiful and delicious. After paying $4 for great bottles of the stuff here, it’s going to be really tough to dish out $15 for mediocre ones at home.

We felt lucky to be in South Africa at such a historic time for the country, too. Being here just 14 years after apartheid ended allowed us to gain insight into a nation that is still trying to heal its vast racial divisions. The disparity between the haves and the have-nots here sometimes overwhelmed us; just 1/2 a mile from some of the mansions owned entirely by rich, white people, we saw shantytowns occupied entirely by poor, black people. In almost every instance, the guests at an upscale restaurant were white, while the people serving them were black. We’re really hoping that, when we return to South Africa at some point in the future–which we definitely plan to do–we’ll find that it has made even more progress in advancing the well-being of the 88% of its citizens who, until just recently, were treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

Blog Entries We Wrote

  • To see all the blog entries we wrote about South Africa, please click HERE.

Pictures We Took

  • To see some of the pictures we took in South Africa, please click HERE.

Cities/Areas We Visited

  • Johannesburg (May 8-12, 2008; June 9-10, 2008)
  • Graskop/Blyde River Canyon (May 12-13, 2008)
  • Kruger National Park (May 13-15, 2008)
  • Sodwana Bay (May 17-20, 2008)
  • St. Lucia Estuary (May 20-21, 2008)
  • Durban/Umhlanga Rocks (May 21-22, 2008)
  • Umzinyathi (May 22-24, 2008)
  • Northern Drakensburg (May 24-26, 2008)
  • Kokstad (May 26-27, 2008)
  • East London (May 27-28, 2008)
  • Wild Coast (May 28-31, 2008)
  • Jeffrey’s Bay (May 31 – June 1, 2008)
  • Knysna (June 1-3, 2008)
  • Franschhoek (June 3-5, 2008)
  • Cape Town (June 5-9, 2008)




















Places We Stayed


  • Craighall House (May 8-12, 2008): This bed and breakfast (about $80 a night) was charming and clean, and the breakfasts were great. The only slight drawback was the proprietor who, while well-meaning, was abrupt and awkward to the point that we avoided speaking to her.









  • City Lodge Airport Hotel (June 9-10, 2008): At about $100 a night, this place wasn’t cheap, but it was the least expensive of all of the decent hotels near the airport. It was clean, comfortable and newly remodeled, and it had cable. The only drawback? They charge about $7 a person for the airport shuttle.








Graskop/Blyde River Canyon

  • Valley View Backpackers (May 12-13, 2008): This hostel has a great, communal atmosphere. For $35 a night, we got a rondawel (picture a round, mud hut with a thatched roof) all to ourselves. It was basic but very comfortable.







Kruger National Park

  • Timbavati Safari Lodge (May 13-15, 2008): This place was a great value, and we really enjoyed our time here. For about $50 a night, we got our own rondawel, as well as tasty dinners and breakfasts. The staff is helpful and very laid back. The French rugby team was also staying at Timbavati on our first night there, and we’ll never forget their drunken, French renditions of the Hokey Pokey.








Sodwana Bay

  • Coral Divers (May 17-20, 2008): We loved this place. Our bungalows (we had two while we were there) were gorgeous and clean, with front porches that made for some great relaxation time. For about $110 a night, we got dinner, bed and breakfast. This is a perfect place to stay if you like to dive, as there’s a dive shop right on site.








St. Lucia Estuary

  • Hornbill House Bed & Breakfast (May 20-21, 2008): This little B&B ($55 a night without breakfast) was walking distance from SLE’s “downtown.” The proprietor was friendly, and our room was huge, if oddly decorated.









Durban/Umhlanga Rocks

  • Home of Ken Cross: Hooray! A free place to stay with an ocean view from every room in the apartment. Who could ask for more?











  • Sihawukelwe Lauren’s Children’s Home (May 22-24, 2008): Living at the Children’s Home was not just free, it was also a great experience, in that we got to learn how the kids lived in a way that we never would have had we been staying offsite. It was definitely one of those occasions, though, when we were glad that we carried our own sleep sacks!









Northern Drakensburg

  • Montusi Mountain Lodge (May 24-26, 2008): We can’t believe that Frommers hasn’t discovered this place and written a loving testimony about it yet. For about $110 a night, we got great breakfasts and dinners and a temporary home in an incredible two-bedroom place that was complete with a family room that had cable TV and a gas fireplace. We were definitely the youngest people there but, after our time at the children’s home, it was nice to escape into four-star luxury for a little while.














  • Mount Currie Inn (May 26-27): At $80 a night, this place was definitely overpriced, but we were driving through a hail storm and would’ve paid pretty much anything to get off of the road. The gas station and the giant, neon “HOTEL” sign out front belie the fact that the hotel is actually pretty nice, although it’s definitely not worth that kind of money.









East London

  • Meander Inn (May 27-28, 2008) – This place was about $80 a night, including breakfast and internet access. Our room was nice and the common areas, including a pool (though it was too cold to use it) and a bar, were really nice. The staff is super friendly, too.










Wild Coast (hotels all included in the price of the Wild Coast Meander, so we don’t know the specifics)

  • Wavecrest Hotel (May 28-29, 2008): The staff is not nearly as friendly here as they are at the Meander Inn. The room was fine and the view (looking out over a lagoon, the ocean, and miles of sand dunes) was so fantastic that it almost made up for the horrific food.










  • Trennery’s (May 29-30, 2008): This place was a step in the right direction, food-wise, after Wavecrest. It seems like a resort that, while ok now, is about 20 years past its prime. Its paint is chipped and everything’s a little musty. The staff is great, though.









  • Morgan’s Bay Hotel (May 30-31, 2008): This place was by far the most luxurious on the Wild Coast Meander; we’ve heard it’s the nicest in the entire area. The dining room and our room both looked out over the Indian Ocean, and we had a lovely little balcony. The rooms are furnished well, the food is great, there’s a bar downstairs as well as a room where you can watch one of the many DVDs they have on offer. The staff people in the dining room, however, are better described as “actively mean” than just “unfriendly.”








Jeffrey’s Bay

  • Cristal Cove (May 31 – June 1, 2008): At about $40 a night, we felt like we were getting a deal with this place. Our room was clean and attached to a kitchen and a family room that we shared with one other couple. Best of all, the hostel is walking distance from Supertubes, one of the best surfing (and, therefore, the best people-watching) beaches in the world. The manager was really helpful, too.









  • The Lofts (June 1-3, 2008): This place ($108 a night including breakfast and two hours’ worth of Internet vouchers) is one of the nicest places we’ve stayed on our trip–so nice, in fact, that it was hard for us to leave the room at all. Our balcony looked out over the gorgeous Knysna lagoon, and we spent many happy hours just watching the boats go by. The Lofts is walking distance from a lot of great restaurants. The only downside to the entire place is that our room didn’t have a shower–just a bathtub!











  • Auberge du Quartier Francais (June 3-5, 2008): We bargained hard to reduce the price of our room here to about $115 a night, at which point we were paying less than 50% of the posted rate. This is apparently the nicest hotel in town, and it felt very luxurious. From the in-room fireplace (lit whenever you want–and we wanted quite frequently) to the gourmet breakfasts that were delivered to us each morning to the extensive book and DVD library to the fact that it was right in town (and therefore walking distance from lots of amazing restaurants), this place has lots to offer.









Cape Town

  • 18 on Crox (June 5-9, 2008): We bargained the price of this four-star place down to about $100 a night, which made it one of the best values we’ve had so far on our trip. Overseen by the incredibly friendly and helpful owner, Andrew, this gorgeously decorated, well-located, luxurious bed & breakfast has all the amenities one could ever ask for (right down to a DVD player, a laptop for guest use, a large lending library and–get this–scented pillow spray). 18 on Crox was one of our favorite finds so far.










Places We Ate


  • Wangthai: This Thai place in the upscale Sandton City Mall was fairly good, especially because we hadn’t had Thai food in a really long time.
  • Karma Restaurant: We ordered takeout from this Indian place, and we really enjoyed our lamb korma and paneer tikka masala.










  • Gramadoelas: This famous place in Market Square has seen the likes of everyone from Hillary Clinton to Nelson Mandela. Although we didn’t spot any celebrities while we were there, we really liked the food. Derek’s sampler platter had all kinds of South African goodies, and Shanna’s vegetable tart was really flavorful. The eclectic decor inside was cool, too.










  • Moyo Restaurant: This upscale chain restaurant seemed to be popular with tourists and locals alike. Our new friends, Gert and Johandie, took us there, and we all had a great time. Derek really liked his ostrich, and Shanna loved her oxtail stew. Two great bonuses: They have a little wine cellar in the basement from which they offer free tastings, and staff members come around and paint tribal patterns on the faces of all those who feel up to it.









  • Classique Grill: This place in Kliptown catered to locals and served up all kinds of traditional South African food, from pap to pumpkin to a tasty sausage called Boerwors.











  • Nando’s Restaurant: This chain restaurant is everywhere in South Africa. It serves decent rotisserie chicken, either by the piece or in wrap form.











Graskop/Blyde River Canyon

  • Kadisi Restaurant: The buffet lunch in this huge resort was pretty extensive, although the food was just ok. Our meal on their patio was made more interesting by the fact that we had to constantly look out for the monkeys who were making every effort to eat their share of our lunch.









  • Canimambo Restaurante (in Graskop): The night we ate at this great Portuguese restaurant was the first time we’ve ever had a waiter shake our hands before he seated us. From the incredibly friendly staff to the tasty Portuguese specialties like chicken livers and salted cod, we really enjoyed our dinner here.













  • Harrie’s Pancake House: This incredible place rivals Nashville’s Pancake Pantry, and that’s saying a LOT. It’s the fillings at Harrie’s that really set it apart in a town that’s full of pancake places. Shanna’s came with figs and creme fraiche, and Derek’s contained a huge, tropical fruit salad. There were all kinds of savory options on offer that we’ll have to try if we ever find ourselves in Graskop again. Oh, and the ginger beer’s great, too. (It’s non-alcoholic, so you can even have it for breakfast!)











  • Pappa’s Pizzeria (in Nelspruit): We stopped here for a quick road-trip lunch, and we really liked their personal-sized pizzas. (Though Derek probably could’ve eaten three of them…)










Kruger National Park

  • Restaurant at Timbavati Safari Lodge: The food at this little cafe in Kruger is just basic, but everything tastes good when eaten while watching zebras in the wild.









Sodwana Bay

  • Wimpy: This chain restaurant is in a lot of South African gas stations (which, as a rule, seem to be really nice). Wimpy’s, on the other hand, wasn’t great.









  • Restaurant at Coral Divers: The buffet meals at our hostel varied by the day. When the cooks were on, the meals were great. When the cooks were off, the meat was too tough to chew.











St. Lucia Estuary

  • Quarterdeck Seafood Grill: The atmosphere at this place (on a sunny deck full of wooden picnic tables) was better than the seafood platter, although even that wasn’t bad.











  • Fishy Pete’s Restaurant & Pub: This is the ultimate hole-in-the-wall seafood joint, and we really liked it. The seafood platter was great, except for the shrimp, but we forgave them for that when they made up for it with free ice cream! Lots of locals were here, drinking cold beers and watching cricket.










  • Mighty Bite Restaurant: Shanna’s fish sandwich at this casual place with outdoor seating was pretty good (though it could’ve used some more flavor), but Derek’s hoagie was just ok.











Durban/Umhlanga Rocks

  • Olive & Oil: We took Ken Cross to this popular place to thank him for his hospitality. Sitting in the upscale dining room, we felt like we could’ve been in any American suburb. We loved the focaccia and the salad, and Derek’s steak was pretty good. Shanna’s pasta was just ok.












  • Sihawukelwe Lauren’s Children’s Home: Despite the fact that they didn’t serve a single vegetable during our two days here, the meals were pretty tasty. (Lots of pap and rice served alongside various kinds of flavorful stews.)











  • KFC: The Colonel never disappoints. The best part of our meal was watching two of the ladies from the children’s home make a very serious dent in a 24-piece bucket.












Northern Drakensburg

  • Restaurant at Montusi Mountain Lodge: The dining room was a little stuffy, but the dinners and breakfasts were great. Their dessert chef should win some sort of award–the sweets were incredible.














  • Cassandra’s: Although the menu was really limited by the fact that the restaurant didn’t have power (a very, very common occurrence in South Africa), the food we did get (mutton stew and spareribs) was surprisingly good, if a little pricey.










  • Steer’s Diner (in Mtatha): This fast-food restaurant was anything but fast–it took 20 minutes for them to make our chicken pitas! Once they finally arrived, though, they were pretty good.









East London

  • Al Mare: This fairly upscale seafood restaurant looks out over the water (make sure to make reservations if you want a table by the window). We liked our food fairly well, and there was a decent crowd for a Tuesday night.











Wild Coast

  • Restaurant at Wavecrest Hotel: Augh. The restaurant here was by far the worst of the ones we visited on the Wild Coast. From the mediocre-to-outright bad food to the lackadaisical service, we definitely wouldn’t recommend it.









  • Restaurant at Trennery’s: This place was a nice change from the Wavecrest. The food was pretty good (anytime Shanna can get a cheese plate, she’s happy), and the staff was really friendly.










  • Restaurant at Morgan’s Bay Hotel: This was the nicest restaurant that we visited along the Wild Coast Meander. The food was good and plentiful, and the view from the dining room was incredible (right out over the Indian Ocean). The only drawback was that the staff in the restaurant was so mean that they were actually scary–placing an order sometimes felt like an unintentional confrontation.










  • Butler’s Riverside Restaurant (in Port Alfred): We stopped here for lunch after we finished the Wild Coast Meander. It’s located right on the river, and we loved our little table near the water. The owner here has an almost-unrivaled passion for food–rather than just handing us a menu, she came to our table and talked us through all of the options. Our selections, from the imported Portuguese anchovies to the ostrich in cherry and port sauce, were inventive and tasty.








Jeffrey’s Bay

  • The Mexican: Anyplace we can get Tex-Mex is going to get good reviews from us; it’s been tough to find on our trip. The margaritas and Coronas here were delightful, and we liked our fajitas and nachos, too. It wasn’t as good as the stuff we can get at home but, at this point, we’ll take what we can get. The atmosphere was great, too–it’s definitely the place to be on a Friday night, and our waitress was fantastically friendly.












  • Knysna Oyster Co.: Ahh, if only the oysters here weren’t quite so expensive, Shanna would have found her own version of utopia. A casual place right on the Knysna lagoon, this place serves up platters of raw oysters (both wild and farm-raised) alongside icy draught beers. (We really liked Mitchell, the local brew.) Sadly, our tab was way too high to allow us to visit more than once, even though it was walking distance from our hotel.











  • Firefly: This mother-and-daughter-owned place consistently wins awards, and we can see why. The gourmet food here (particularly the bobotie spring rolls) was creative and delicious, and it certainly didn’t hurt that one of the owners came by to give us her own recommendations. It’s so small and boutiquey that we felt like we were in New York, and it was packed on a weeknight, mostly with locals. We highly recommend stopping by here if you’re ever in Knysna–make sure to make a reservation first!













  • Caffe Mario: The price of our hotel in Knysna included breakfasts here, and we’re glad it did. The food was good and the location (right on the Knysna lagoon, albeit in a really touristy area) was even better.











  • Persello: This Italian place is family-owned, and we stopped by on a slow Monday night to try some of its specialties. The highlight was definitely our fried calamari starter–super light batter and a great dipping sauce. Derek thought his chicken and pasta was just ok, but Shanna really liked her spinach lasagna.












  • Art Cafe (in Stanford, on our drive to Franschhoek): Right in the middle of tiny Stanford, this place is half-cafe, half-art gallery. The food took awhile to arrive, but that was a testimony to the fact that it was prepared from scratch after we ordered. The menu, while small, was light and inventive, and we really liked the Portuguese casserole (complete with preserved lemons) that we got here. The owner was really friendly, too, and the place seemed to be full of regulars.











  • Reuben’s: In Shanna’s opinion, this place can compete with the best gourmet options in Napa Valley. (Derek liked it, too, but not as intensely.) It has a bistro feel, and it’s both incredibly affordable and delicious. It’s reputed to be the best restaurant in Franschhoek, and we can certainly see why–we’d highly recommend it.














  • Room Service at Auberge du Quartier Francais: The restaurant here was closed for remodeling, so they served us breakfast every morning in our lovely room. And what a fantastic breakfast it was–from stewed fruit to great omelets to incredible jams, this was a meal befitting our four-star surroundings.










  • Bread & Wine Restaurant: Ahh, we loved this place so much. Owned by the same folks who own Quartier Francaise, it’s located on a vineyard. We loved the flights of wine that we sampled, and the food (kind of laid-back gourmet) was delicious. Of course, the bread was fantastic, too. This is a great place to stop for lunch during an all-day visit to wine country.













Cape Town

  • Dassie Den: Located at the top of Table Mountain, this casual place was far better than we expected, given that it was geared entirely toward tourists. We liked our grilled chicken and veggies, and it was very reasonably priced.










  • Willoughby & Co.: After going for a long time without sushi, this place was a fantastic find. Packed on a weekday night with locals and tourists alike, this restaurant’s rolls were inventive, fresh and so addictive that Shanna had to stop herself from eating here every night that we were in Cape Town.








  • Kauai: This chain restaurant was kind of a combination of Jamba Juice and Baja Fresh. Shanna liked all of the healthy options here, but Derek thought his ostrich burger was boring.










  • Cape Town Fish Market Restaurant & Sushi Bar: We came here after Derek convinced Shanna that she couldn’t eat at Willoughby & Co. two nights in a row. The sushi is served on a revolving conveyor belt and, while the rolls weren’t as creative as the ones at W & C, they were tasty.










  • New York Bagels & Deli: This is the Jewish deli we’ve been looking for for pretty much our entire trip. Sadly, though, we came here for a very early breakfast, so matzah-ball soup wasn’t yet an option. Our lox-covered bagels, however, were delicious.








  • Ginja: This little gourmet place was recommended to us by pretty much everyone we met in Cape Town, and now we can add our own voices to the chorus. It was faaantastic. Incredibly inventive (Shanna got the oyster starter, which included an oyster shooter in some sort of fantastic foam) and delicious (we’re still talking about the pear & gruyere tart that we had for dessert), we loved every bite we took here. We also loved our waitress so much that we wanted to befriend her and go out with her and her boyfriend after dinner. Oh, and they have dirty martinis. AND, our meal was incredibly affordable. It was pretty much restaurant paradise, really. If you’re in Cape Town, you have to come here–just make sure to get reservations first.










  • Wangthai: We stopped by this Thai chain restaurant when we were in JoBurg, too. Like its neighbor to the north, the Cape Town version was just ok, but it’s a decent option if you need to satisfy your pad thai craving.










  • Gran’s Coffee Shop: This homey place was located across the street from our Cape Town B&B, and breakfast here was included in the price of our room. The menu is long and varied, and the breakfasts were pretty darn good.










  • La Perla: This small Italian restaurant served an excellent chicken marsala and a huge salad for very reasonable prices. Plus, it’s right on the ocean.











  • Salty Sea Dog Fish & Chips: Augh. This place had such potential–it’s in a little shack right on the water, which is usually the sign of something delicious. We came in with high hopes and left feeling a bit sick. The fish & chips were incredibly heavy, and the mushy peas (why on earth did we order THOSE?) tasted like baby food.










Things We Did


  • Walked around Market Square











  • Toured the lackluster Museum Africa










  • Went on a tour of Soweto, during which we visited a local church, saw the Freedom Charter memorial and walked around the impoverished township of Kliptown











  • Watched an amazing drum and dance performance in Kliptown










  • Visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial









Graskop/Blyde River Canyon

  • Drove the Panorama Route through Blyde River Canyon, stopping at the many viewpoints along the way









  • Hiked the Tufa Trail in Blyde River Canyon










Kruger National Park

  • Drove our car through the park and saw amazing wildlife










  • Went on a night drive though the park with our friend Catherine










Sodwana Bay

  • Went on three amazing scuba dives









  • Braved some very strong wind and walked along the beach

St. Lucia Estuary

  • Took a boat tour of the estuary and saw both hippos and crocodiles in their natural habitats











  • Drove through the St. Lucia Wetland Park to Cape Vidal, home of stunning beaches








  • Visited the Crocodile Centre











  • Volunteered at the Sihawukelwe Lauren’s Children’s Home, helping to purchase winter clothes and other items needed in the home and organizing a library room












Northen Drakensburg

  • Hiked to the Amphitheatre along the beautiful Tugela Gorge trail










  • Toured the Nelson Mandela Museum









East London

  • Walked along the Promenade










Wild Coast

  • Did a 3-day version of the Wild Coast Meander, hiking along the unspoiled coast













  • Took a guided walk with Trevor of Trevor’s Trails












Jeffrey’s Bay

  • Saw a one-man Bob Dylan cover band









  • Watched surfers ride the amazing waves at Supertubes Beach











  • Walked around “the Heads,” taking in the amazing beauty of the Indian Ocean









  • Watched the sunset from our balcony










  • Drove the Wine Route and visited several vineyards, including Haute Cabriere and Boekenhoutskloof















Cape Town

  • Rode a cablecar to the top of Table Mountain









  • Hiked around the top of Table Mountain










  • Watched an amazing sunset from Signal Hill













  • Toured the District Six Museum, which documents the forced eviction of black people from their homes in the once-vibrant District Six neighborhood










  • Rode the ferry to Robben Island and toured the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years











  • Drove along the gorgeous Chapman’s Peak Drive










  • Viewed hundreds of African Penguins at Boulder Beach near Simonstown











  • Hiked the windy trail from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope











Country Facts

  • Capital City – Pretoria
  • Currency – Rand
  • Exchange Rate – 7.6 Rand to $1

Special Thanks

  • We would like to thank the following individuals who gave us a wedding gift that we used in this country: Laura & Jay Brothers, Lea Tatelman, Steve & Aimee Simpson, Krista & Tom Parker, Grandpa & Grandma Doom, Andy & Kathy, Larry & Jackie, Larry & Ine, Tosh & Jill, Ozzie & Meredtih, Jim & Margaret, Clarence, PooBear & Cathy, Ron & Betty, Brad & Marilyn, Leon & Deb, Chad & Deborah, Ben & Jen and Nate & Jessica. We really appreciate it!


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