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South Africa – Johannesburg/Kruger National Park

Amsterdam to Johannesburg

There is a daily non-stop flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, leaving around 11 am with a late evening arrival I didnt want to take a day off work, so instead I opted for an early evening flight from Amsterdam to Paris and then on to Johannesburg leaving Paris at midnight.

On the day of departure, we had probably the worst storm of the year in Amsterdam, and as a result, loads of flights were heavily delayed or cancelled alltogether. Planes just could not land due to heavy wind.

So obviously I was a bit worried and when I got to Schiphol it didnt get any better. I have never seen so many people queing at the KLM service desk – it was so bad that airport staff were handing out bottled water to all the stranded passengers.

My flight had not ben cancelled but it was a few hours delayed – even so, I should still be able to catch the midnight flight from Paris – or so I thought.

All passengers were onboard and gate closed at around 10 pm (so there is still time) but then we just sat there with nothing happening for about 45 minutes – turns out, we had luggage onboard but the passenger had not showed up, so now obviously that luggage had to be found and taken off. As a result, I landed in Paris pretty much at the same time as the Johannesburg flight took off.

There must have been 30-40 passengers onboard who had all missed a connection, so Air France staff was ready at the gate and we were all taken aside to a separate area to get new flights sorted out. I had the option of either staying in Paris and get on the next day midnight flight, or return to Amsterdam in the morning and cath the non-stop flight from there. I chose to return to Amsterdam so AF gave me a small amenity package and a voucher to a hotel right next to the airport.

I was at the hotel at around 2 am, but had to get up at 4.30 to get back to the airport and catch the first flight to Amsterdam.

So with not much sleep, I was back at CDG only to see that the Amsterdam flight was delayed. I could still change my mind but decided to go for it, and despite the delay, I just about made it in time and finally was on my way to Johannesburg where I arrived at around 10 PM.

It was obviously not the best start to a holiday, but give credit where credit is due. All the staff at KLM/AF and Schiphol did what they could, they were all very friendly and accomodating, there were no screaming and shouting irrate passengers (meaning there were no drunk Brits onboard), and when I filed a compensation claim after I had returned home, it was paid out in a week or so, no questions asked and no stupid excuses for the delay either.

Johannesburg to Hazyview

Finally in Joburg although with quite a delay. I had booked a really nice hotel, Michelangelo, mainly because I thought I would be spending nearly a full day there – I was leaving very early the following morning, and did not plan much going out this time around. The hotel was indeed very nice, but due to my very late arrival, I didnt get to enjoy much of it, other than the bed.

Johannesburg is not my cup of tea – there is a huge mall connected to the hotel, but the reception would not let me go down there (to get some cash fromm an ATM) without an armed guard!! So much crime around and sure enough, I saw several rather suspect looking persons so actually suddenly appreciated my personal body guard 🙂

This was around 6 am and I was supposed to be picked up at 6.30 to go towards Kruger National Park. I had chosen Hazyview as the starting point but it turned out to be a bit hard to get there. Its roughly a 400 km but roads are excellent so should be doable in 4-5 hours, however I was unable to find anybody who would take just me (I would have to pay for minimum 2 persons) but instead I was offered to join another couple on what was described as the “panoramic” route.

It turned out to be a great trip – even though it added another 160 km or so (and another 3-4 hours)

First 200 km or so are quite boring – very flat landscape – just a long endless (but excellent) road. If you are driving yourself (and want a little bit of sightseeing along the way, follow N4 until you reach Belfast, the go left on R540 and head north. The landscape is totally different with lots of hills/mountain – very pretty drive.

Pilgrims Rest

The first stop we made was at Pilgrims Rest. Pilgrim’s Rest is a small museum town in the Mpumalanga province which is protected as a provincial heritage site. It used to be full of goldminers but today its a bit of a very picturesque tourist attraction.

Pilgrims Rest

There is a restaurant, a bar and a small museum and its just a very pretty little town to stop in.

Lisbon Falls

Next stop, Lisbon Falls. There are several waterfalls in the area but this is the tallest – dont expect Victoria Falls, but still its a very nice area and another good option for a short stop.

Lisbon Falls

Then came “Gods Window” a very scenic viewpoint. I think there was a small entry fee (cant remember) but again, worth a stop.

And finally, finish off by heading towards Blyde River Canyon.

All in all, indeed a “panoramic΅ route, instead of heading straight for Kruger (or Hazyview) and if you are OK with adding a few hours to the journey, go for it.

I had chosen Hazyview simply because its cheaper to stay outside of the park itself. I was happy just to be in easy driving distance of Kruger , and Hazyview seemed just about right. Its a small town with just a few restaurants and bars (there is also a reptile center) and there are literally hundreds of lodges in the area – good prices and only about 20 km from Phabeni Gate, entrance to Kruger.

Hippo Hollow is just outside of Hazyview and right on the banks of Sabie River. A lovely place, 2 swimmingpools and the river chalets have a deck where you can enjoy the view of the river. Be a little careful as there are hippos and crocs in the river so swimming is probably not a brilliant idea.

River chalet, Hippo Hollow, Hazyview
River chalet, Hippo Hollow, Hazyview

Kruger National Park

There are a whole bunch of activities which can be arranged from here, including, of course, game drives. I went on 2 and was actually a bit dissapointed. The southern part of Kruger at that time of year, has quite high vegetation and drivers are not allowed to go off the asphalted roads. As a result many animals are hard to spot, and, its probably just me being weird, but going on asphalt roads just isnt a real safari experience. On day 2 I actually used a stopwatch and for a full 30 minutes we didnt see a single animal.

Traffic jam in Kruger

Maybe I was just unlucky because i know Kruger can be fantastic, but for those 2 days at least, it wasnt.

Kruger National Park

Back in Joburg, I had 2 night booked at (unfortunately) Hilton Sandton. Totally not worth the (high) price – not only expensive, they also have the nerve to charge extra for wifi !! Wauw – in this day and age – incredible.

Anyway, all photos can be seen here

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