South African Road Trips

[Editor’s Note: We have been without steady internet access for a month, a problem that was remedies today.  As a result, I am WAY behind in posting thoughts and pictures.  This post has been ready to go for some time, as these trips took place back in October.  But alas, better late than never!]

Over the past several weeks, we have squeezed a couple of semi-close road trips in.  Among the many extraordinary things about visiting South Africa is the enormous range of types of activities one can encounter.  In these two trips (picture albums below), trips that were 3 and 4 days respectively, we experienced the following:

TRIP 1 – Golden Gate Highlands, Clarens, Lesotho (lots of pictures HERE)

  • An incredible hike up the mountains of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
  • Horseback riding through the Highlands
  • Cherry Picking in an orchard in the eastern Free State
  • Shopping and hanging out in the artists’ village of Clarens
  • Detouring into the mountain nation of Lesotho, a somewhat failed experiment that landed us at KFC when our phones stopped working as soon as we crossed the border
  • Learning how cheese is made at a dairy in the town of Tweezpruitt, confirming for Sadie that despite what Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, most modern cheese is made with non-animal rennet



TRIP 2 – Cradle of Humankind, Lesedi Village, Pilanesburg Nat’l Park (lots of pictures HERE)

  • Visiting the caves of the Cradle of Humankind, the location where some of the earliest human ancestor bones have been found and where homo sapiens are thought to have emerged
  • Spending an evening and night at the Lesedi Cultural Village, an educational village with representative villages of several of the indigenous South African tribes, including Zulu (where we stayed), Xhosa, Pedi, and Sotho
  • Doing two days of safari at Pilanesburg National Park, seeing, most notably, lots and lots of rhinos and cape buffalo


That such a diversity of experiences can be had from two fairly simple road trips is remarkable to me.  Another great thing about road trips is that in driving through the country, you get a better sense of place.  Unfortunately, often times my desire to capture that sense of place leads me to spend more time than I ought to looking out the window, a tendency that leads first to my drifting off the road and subsequently to Meggan bringing me back to attention using various levels of zeal.

Within the car, a KielsAbroad road trip consists of me driving, Meggan navigating with the assistance of our phones, while the kids sit in the back entertaining themselves and each other.  Games with their lovies as main characters have been popular lately, and Sadie spent a fair amount of the drive to the Golden Gate Highlands “talking” on a house phone we found in our cottage and unplugged for a prop on the car drive.  There are stretches of game playing (“I went to South Africa and I saw an African elephant; I went to South Africa and I saw an African elephant and a baboon…”) or story listening (still can’t get enough of Curious George Goes to the Hospital, though our Kruger trip was highlighted by a full rendition of The BFG) or, perhaps most frequently, eating (cheese penguins, a stand-in for goldfish, are a particular favorite).

Outside the car, there are the various landscapes offered by our surroundings, which range from vast, flat farmlands in the Free State to green hills and windmills of the Eastern Cape to the edges of the Drakensburg mountains in eastern Free State and into Lesotho, complete with colorful rocks and endless views.  Near Kruger, we saw our first Jacaranda trees with their dazzling purple blossoms, a treat that we’ve witnessed in different climates at different times.  In our drives south from Cape Town, we are on the edge of the continent, cruising on thin roads chiseled into rocky, green cliffs and overlooking the ocean.

Aside from the scenery, there are other regular elements of our South African road trips.  These include stray farm animals, evidence of extensive mining for gold, platinum, diamonds (especially en route to and beyond Johannesburg) in the form of equipment and gigantic mine dumps that look like hills but are too perfectly groomed to be natural, and road closures where one lane of a two-lane highway is being worked on so vehicles going one direction are stopped for 10 minutes or so to allow cars going the opposite direction to pass before the same thing occurs at the other end of the construction zone.  There are also towns and townships along the roads – in many cases, the townships are obviously affiliated with a town so that it is clear that at one point, the “local population” was displaced into township settlements while white South Africans were allowed to stay in the town centers; in other cases, the townships are more isolated, popping up seemingly out of nowhere.  Along the drive, it is obvious that a rural township is near, not only because of the concentration of homes of varying quality packed together in coordinated developments, but also because there are numerous hitchhikers and walkers and hitchhiking walkers lining the sides of roads near them.  There are people transporting things, often on their heads, as they move near the road.  There are small vans that pick people up and drop people off along the way.

My favorite custom on the South African road trip is a gentlemanly practice of pulling into the emergency lane, where there is room, to allow an oncoming car to easily pass on a two-lane highway.  This is invariably followed by the passing car flashing its blinkers a few times, “thank you,” and the deferring car responding with a flash of its brights, “you’re welcome.”  I intend to bring this practice home, so look out for it.

My least favorite thing to have occurred on a South African road trip was being pulled over for speeding in rural Mpumalanga.  I was shown a laminated sheet of paper that suggested that the fine for exceeding the speed limit by however much I was exceeding it would be a thousand rand ($80).  It was clear immediately upon my producing my Tennessee driver’s license that the officer wanted nothing to do with the hassle of writing me up, particularly as I told him that I simply did not have that kind of cash on me (which was mostly true, since our cash was not technically on me, but stashed away in the glove compartment).  He suggested that I should pay him 500 rand and promise not to speed anymore.  I gave him the 300 rand I had in my pocket and was sent on my way.  It seems unlikely that 300 rand made it into the government’s coffers.



Spring Road Trips Pics –

Here are two albums from road trips we took this spring….

Golden Gate Highlands National Park, town of Clarens, and more


Click on the picture for an album of photos from our trip to the Golden Gate Highlands


Cradle of Humankind and Lesedi Cultural Village, plus a visit to Pilanesburg National Park


Click on Sadie for an album of photos from our trip to the Cradle of Humankind, Lesedi Cultural Village, and Pilanesburg National Park