Green Elephant traveller seeks South Africa’s hidden riches
Relieved of my last five hundred rand, I boarded the train, relaxed and enjoyed some of South Africa’s finest scenery on my way home to Cape Town from Musina, at the Zimbabwe border. Three days may be slow to eat the two thousand kilometre stretch of country-side but being affordable, friendly and safe, locomotives are now my favourite way to travel here.
Four weeks earlier, I had set off with my backpack and umbrella in search of adventure. By power of a sturdy thumb and friendly locals, I first arrived at the base of the world’s second highest waterfall. Tugela falls drops from a majestic Amphitheatre escarpment, in the northern Drakensberg.
While tourists flood trails for pictures, local villagers collect roofing thatch. Maize, wheat and cattle fill valleys flowing East of Lesotho. Production is so intense, it is likely the whole nation could be nourished from this valley alone. Yet even locals struggle in the all too familiar segregation of informal townships. Land, information and culture still heavily divide business and humanity here.
Black and busy. Johannesburg was my next stop. It is the economic hub of Africa, likely because it sits on the world’s richest gold fields. Opportunities to make more money draw a population from the whole continent. As a result, the place buzzes with activity.
Downtown was a dizzying culture shock. Many of the suburbs sit on beautiful hills with unique architecture, making them easier to navigate. Large indigenous fruit trees attract beautiful birds of paradise throughout the city. Chinatown provides a source for exceptional fresh food close to the city centre. I was interested to learn of the defiant bravery from young Sowetons (from Jo’burg’s largest township), to set wheels in motion for the downfall of the entire apartheid regime.
Sandwiched between eons of citrus farms, Kruger park, Swaziland and Mozambique, I jumped off the next train at Nelspruit, Mpumalanga’s capital. On the outskirts of town, set amongst cascading waterfalls, is an incredible Lowveld botanical garden, with hippos! Nelspruit is also a base for exploring the Blyde canyon and Kruger park.
As a keen kayaker, I like to explore canyons to paddle. South Africa’s own Blyde river canyon is the world’s third largest, behind Grand and Fish Hoek. It is, in my opinion, by far the greenest of the three. I would love to paddle there next time.
Falling asleep next to a grazing elephant was an amazing experience for me in Kruger park. “If you want to see lots of people and the big five, head south. If you want to see vast wilderness, herds of antelope, zebra, giraffe, hippos and elephants, head north”, explains the lady at the Phalaborwa park gate.
Our road trip north took us to South Africa’s most remote corner a.k.a. crook’s corner. We were not disappointed. Quickly, I lost count of the volume of animals. The whole eco-system is thriving: plants have more water from man made dams; animals have more food from the plants; tourists have more wildlife to encounter and the park stays successful from more tourists.
Rural communities, wild baobab forests, game reserves and lots of diamonds. A brief experience of Limpopo’s north left me wishing to see more. I highly recommend exploring this side of the country to anyone who is curious. Traveling by train is a great option. For now, I am back in Cape Town, working on my own mountains, canyons and wildlife.
Thank you to the Green elephant family for a warm welcome home. And great cups of tea.